Tenants of a Successful CliftonStrengths Development Program on Campus

Tenants of a Successful CliftonStrengths Development Program on Campus

According to the Gallup Organization, the CliftonStrengths assessment is in use at over 600 college and universities with approximately 2 million codes used each year which values at a cost of over 20 million dollars annually. Higher Education is also one of the fastest growing area for strengths and that number of codes purchased continues to increase each year.

Given the above information, it is important for us to explore what might be the most important components of a Strengths Development program at a college campus. Based on my personal experience using the CliftonStrengths assessment over the past four years at UC Merced, I would recommend two major tenants of a quality program at your campus.

First, knowing the cost of the assessment per student, it would be unwise for a campus to invest in the CliftonStrengths assessment without building a long-term strengths development program for students. This program could be integrated into orientation, first-year seminars, and career planning throughout students’ entire time at the university. While self-understanding is important for students, the opportunity to use themes repeatedly can have a greater influence on their experience using the overall concepts of Strengths. Additionally, lack of support could potentially lead to self-doubt and the muting of themes, which would be the opposite of what the program sets out to accomplish. Investing in trained facilitators and coaches across campus could also increase the potential yield of the development program.

Second, Strengths Based Development programs should be both widespread and locally focused. By widespread I refer to the fact that the more people with Strengths language on campus, the more likely students will receive the support and guidance needed to continuously use their themes and reflect on those experiences. Strengths Based Development should not be limited merely to students. Staff and Faculty and possibly parents could engage in this program. This would allow for students to discuss their themes with anyone at any time, which would result in continual improvement.

By locally focused I assert that natural teams with a better understanding of their peer’s talent themes could influence greater agency, self-confidence, and thinking about multiple pathways to goals. In my office, I use CliftonStrengths as the major focus of team development. My staff have shared that their experience working on a strengths-focused work team was of great influence in their self-awareness and use of strengths, and did not lead to increased self-doubt. Replicating this type of environment in multiple areas of campus could influence students’ strengths development and their overall collegiate experience. This could be done in offices, student clubs, lab environments, and athletic teams.

If campuses wish to maximize their investment in the Strengths programming, it is important to go all in or it may not be worth it at all. If a Strengths program is implemented on campuses, a robust and long-term commitment would be needed to see sustained impact on the collegiate experience of students. Do this and you can see how the assessment and related development activities can make a lasting impact in the lives of members of your campus community.

For more information on ways to develop a CliftonStrengths program on your campus, contact me and we can chat!

Check out my Gallup Coaching Website: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Coach/en-US/Profile/5457444

Find the UC Merced Margo F. Souza Center at our Website



Musings of a Recovering Higher Education Wanderer

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“If you want to move up, you have to move on”. This quote is one many higher education administrators have heard countless times during their career. While I am sure it is not a quote unique to the field, I often find myself wondering if this idea of location mobility is as pervasive in other industries. It is so strong in this field that we instill the idea in our aspiring graduate students before they even apply to graduate school. How many of us find that the first two pieces of advice we give to interested undergraduates are, “Don’t do your Masters at your undergraduate institution” and “You should look to leave this region so you can get perspective”? I have said those sentences many times even though I have no idea why I believe them to be accurate and true. Have you?

Now, putting aside for this discussion the massive amount of privilege we assume when making those statements, I encourage you to reflect on the environment we create for wellness when a significant amount of practitioners persistently have one foot out the door. I am one of those people, or at least I was. As of a few months ago I have started to view myself as a recovering higher education wanderer.

For eight years we have lived in California but, until this April, California was not our home. It had always been a way station to the next and better thing. When we first moved the thought was that it would be great to have a story for our kids about the time we lived in California. For four years at UC Riverside, we saved money for that house we would buy at our next stop. For four years now at UC Merced we rented a home and did not become engaged in the community because it was only a matter of time before we would leave and move back to New Jersey.

In early January, new job opportunities arose for my spouse that could result in our continued residency in Merced, CA. Though we were excited, we both simultaneously said “Well then, three more years for the bump in retirement, and then we’re out”. In no time we had moved on from the present moment and were, once again, planning our departure. We both felt the anxiety this caused but chose not to mention the feeling.

It took a long bike ride on a sunny Saturday afternoon for things to change. While on this ride, I reflected on how great it was that I could ride for hours without hitting a stoplight. This led to a mental list of all the good things now and in the future Merced had to offer. Soon, a paradigm shift occurred. I came soaring back into the house and said the line my spouse has grown to dread “So, I was thinking…”

Who would we be, how would we behave, what would we do, if we treated Merced as a possible permanent stop? What does it mean to our children who, born in Merced, constantly hear their parents say that this is not their home? What would it look like for our lives and our children’s lives if we stopped thinking that the grass would be greener at our next location and started watering the grass here, now?

As soon as those questions were uttered, you could sense the great weight of anxiety and stress lift from our shoulders and for the first time in eight years, finally, a sense of calm.

I share this story because I know there are many of us out there looking to the next job, the next home, the next something, and I think we have it wrong. We have created a career environment, in my field specifically, that is not conducive to wellness through community engagement and this is terribly damaging to us as human beings. I see so many professionals who work incredibly hard to get the next job that they are summarily forgotten once they leave. I am one of those people, and that needs to change, for all of us.

Beyond health, fitness, seven hours of sleep, balance, and finding a hobby, I am beginning to understand that wellness is really about connection. Connection to your community, connection to the people who surround you, commitment to improving the area in which you live. If you are truly connected, deep roots connected, I believe that the other aspects we discuss when talking about wellness will soon follow. We should, every time we arrive at a new home, lay down roots so deep that it causes significant pain to tear them free. It should not be easy to up and leave a community every three to five years for a new job. It should be hard. It must be hard.

Now, I am by no means saying that professionals should spend their career in one company or at one university. I am not that naïve. I am also not saying that our current home is going to be our final home. That is probably unrealistic. What I am saying is that finally, Merced, for the first time, is our home. For now and for the foreseeable future, we are Mercedians, and that is kind of nice.

Who would you be, how would you behave, what would you do if you treated every stop on your journey as a potential permanent home instead of a resting point before you continue on? What would it mean to you if you dug roots so deep it would hurt terribly to pull them free? How would you be a better professional if you weren’t just an employee of (Insert Name Here) University and became an invested member of the community around you?

For me, those questions triggered a paradigm shift in perspective; I hope they can do the same for you.

Ironman Vineman: Do It Once, Brag Forever.


A huge thanks to my wife Virginia for supporting me through this endeavor. Being pregnant and managing a 2 year old was not easy when I was training 15+ hours a week. Also a thanks to my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their kids for cheering me on throughout the race. I could not have done this without all your support.

About a year ago I raced in and completed my first Ironman race. It was one of the most challenging things I have done and probably will ever do. For those who do not know, and Ironman distance triathlon is the pinnacle of multi-sport, the longest and most grueling version of an already difficult contest. The race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full 26.2 mile marathon. All said and done, 140.6 miles in one day.

Each race has it’s own specific difficulty and with close to 4000 feet of elevation gain on the bike and over 1000 feet on the run, the Vineman Triathlon is no slouch when it comes to difficulty. Lucky for me I was training in 90+ temperatures so though some were complaining of the high if 82, I was ready to go! I’ve already written about my twenty weeks of training for the race so I will start with the arrival at the hotel through the finish line.

Arrival in Santa Rosa

On Thursday, July 23rd in the evening, we arrived in Santa Rosa and checked into our room at the Marriott. Upon walking into our room I noticed the distinct smell of marijuana and we were immediately upgraded to a different and much large room (Thanks Residence Life). After check-in we met the family and settled in for the night. Friday would start the race prep.

Friday, the Day Before

Friday morning started out with a brisk tune up ride through Santa Rosa. Just thirty minutes to keep the legs nice and loose.


Next it was prep time for all of my race nutrition. The one thing you do not see that much on timelines is the massive amount of planning that goes into proper nutrition during an Ironman. Over the course of 140.6 miles, you’ve got to eat, drink, and take enough supplements to that you can avoid the dreaded BONK and finish strong.

It took me about three years to figure this out but thanks to my friends at Hammer Nutrition, I finally got on a good plan. I basically take all of their supplement and electrolyte pills. An hour before the race began and each hour thereafter I averaged 5 supplement pills. Depending on which hour it was in a three-hour cycle, the mix of pills would vary and this is the cycle that works well for me on long training days. In addition I would eat a GU gel (Blackberry with caffeine) each hour, totaling 15 gel packs in a day. It got kind of rough.

Specifically on the ride, I had two water bottles at all times. The first was a 24oz filled just with water that I refilled every 2 hours on the bike. The second was a 28oz that had a double serving of Hammer Perpetuem Strawberry that would last four hours. This mix would be made a second time halfway through the bike. I also ate a Hammer bar at the start of the bike and at the halfway point.

On the run, I would drink at every mile marker table, and carry with me a tablet version of Perpetuem or “Solids” as they call them and eat one every 20 minutes (These are chalky and very rough to chew but totally worth it). This food, if you choose to call it that, allowed me to avoid anything they offered at the assistance tables so that I wouldn’t cause tummy problems late in the race (It happens, always stick to your plan).

You may be thinking, that is a ridiculous amount of supplies, how did you carry it all? Well, in an Ironman race, since it is so long (At least for me), you can pack a bike assistance bag and a run assistance bag in advance. The bike bag would be left for you at the 55 mile marker and I packed it with my second half supplies, sunscreen, and new bike tire tubes just in case. My run bag, which I could stop at when I began each of the three run loops, had two full water bottles, supplements, new socks, baby powder, sunscreen, and Vaseline. These assistance bags were glorious!

All totaled, I likely consumed close to 3500 calories and 350 ounces of water during this race. Seems like a lot but it is nowhere near what I burned and sweated off over 14 hours. Ok, that was a long aside but totally important so now onto the rest of race prep.

After getting packed it was time for my Dad, Sherpa extraordinaire, and I to go on an adventure.

First stop was Windsor High, the main site of the race where I could do packet pickup and set up my run transition area. Since this was my first Ironman, I didn’t realize how serious they were about you knowing what was going on. After standing in line for twenty minutes waiting to get my packet, I learned that I could not have it unless I sat through a half hour orientation. So off we went to orientation. Sat through it, didn’t learn anything new, but got my yellow X that allowed me to get my packet and bags.

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After checking in I and getting my run transition ready we were off on a course charting car ride. First we drove out to Johnson Beach where the swim and bike transition would take place in the morning. This gave me a good idea on timing for arrival, where to park, and the look of the river in which we would be swimming.

Next it was time to drive the first loop of the 112-mile bike ride. I felt like this was important since I would spend the majority of my time on the bike. This decision proved fruitful right away because we missed the hard right turn down basically an alley at mile 5. That would have been bad on race day. The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful if not scenic with a quick stop to check out Chalk Hill Road, the largest climb (Elevation gain 385 feet) that I would hit at miles 45 and 100.

When we got back to the Windsor high school I decided to forgo driving the 5-mile connection road back to the 2nd loop and go back to the hotel. This almost proved to be a very bad decision (More on that later).

Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel, check into my separate hotel room, eat some Clif Bars for dinner, and get to bed early (Like 7am early). Luckily, unlike other races I slept well, so thankful for that.

3AM Saturday Morning, RACE DAY!

Though it seems early, 3am had and continues to be a normal wakeup time for me and probably most Ironman triathletes. I woke up, ate my normal spoonful of peanut butter, a Clif Bar, and had a cup of coffee from my portable Keurig. I took the “Don’t add anything new to your routine” advice pretty seriously. Next I finished packing up my two assistance bags and the rest of my swim and bike gear and hopped in the car with my dad for the drive to Johnson’s Beach.

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We arrived about an hour before race time, which gave me more than enough wiggle room to get my bike transition all set up, and pee 75 times (I get nervous). I dropped off my assistance bags, donned my wetsuit and it was time to race!


The 2.4-Mile Swim AKA “Wait, I can just stand up?”

Vineman Swim

Twenty weeks and really three years had been leading up to this moment. It was time to see if I could become an Ironman. I was in the first wave at 6:30am with the elite racers (Whom I would never see again, just sayin). Though I can safely say that for the first three minutes of the race, I was keeping pace in the front of the pack!

I waded into the water and waited. Finally, the gun went off and it was time to swim.


Like my other races, I waited 30 seconds to let all the competitive people go so that I could avoid getting kicked in the face. While this helped initially, the course was so narrow that getting kicked in the head, neck, body, and legs, was all but inevitable during the eighty minute swim, but oh well.

This swim course was two loops with the second loop ending a bit before the beginning at an exit corral. I got into my rhythm quickly but it was broken up periodically by the shallow river. At points, the river got so shallow that I was raking the ground with my hands. At the far end of the loop people were even standing up since it was too difficult to swim. Admittedly this was a little strange and led to minor calf cramping but I powered through.

2.4-miles is close to 4000 meters or 80 laps in a pool so things get boring pretty quick. Also swimming in open water requires you to pay a lot more attention lest you add to your swim by going in a zigzag. There are also no water or supplements to be had so you just need to get it done.

I’ll be honest this was the part of the race for which I was most prepared as I tend to overdo it on the swim training. The shallow water and my inability to swim straight made things a little difficult but I took down that swim with little issue in 1:23:40, only 2 minutes off my goal time!

I trudged out of the water feeling pretty good and got caught in picture and video by my brother, Evan, who had arrived to see me complete that portion of the race. After that he got really into the day and we had some fun interactions over the course of the race. Now it was time for the bike!


Transition #1: Swim to Bike

I will say it now and always, I suck at taking off wetsuits. It’s not really something I can practice and I was not on board with someone ripping it off of me. Oh well, after fighting my suit off and downing some water and a GU gel. I tossed on my Rutgers cycling kit over my tri-suit for some additional butt padding and I was off. Taking some awesome advice from a volunteer I walked my bike up the initial steep hill so I had flat road on which to clip in. After that it was 112 miles to the run.

The 112 Mile Bike AKA “Please God No Flat Tires”

 Vineman Bike

As I mentioned before, my brother really got into this race once I left the water. At first I complained about the car in this picture below until I realized that was him driving behind me until I hit the 5-mile alley turn. I didn’t miss that turn and the first set of hills and then settled into my race. The course was beautiful. Almost every few miles we would come across another vineyard. Some riders even dismounted to take photos (I did not, not a chance). Really the first 2-3 hours were my time to get settled, lower my heart rate, and shovel in some much needed nutrition.


At around hour three I hit the first pass through Chalk Hill Road, the largest hill at an elevation gain of 385. I had been training on hills ranging from 300-700 so the first pass through this hill was not too bad, the second time though…

After Chalk Hill it was all downhill back to Windsor. I was flying down the much nicer roads trying so hard to hit my 3:45 split, that I tore by my entire family with only a wave. And they were all ready with signs and everything.


Now, I thought they would be closer to the halfway point but I admit I did see them about a quarter mile out; I just wasn’t going to stop with so much momentum behind me. Do I regret that now, yeah. Would I go back and stop if given the chance…probably not. It’s all about the timing chip y’all.


IMG_0283Anyway I reached the halfway point and stopped to restock my gels and water bottles. So far no flats but I grabbed my extra tire tubes anyway. After a few minutes there I was off on the last 56 miles of the bike.

You remember that I mentioned the choice to skip driving the 5-mile connection to loop number 2? Well this was the reckoning. At this point the riders were spread out and I was practically alone for this stretch. For the whole 5 miles, there were no signs, no arrows, no volunteers, and only one rider about a mile behind me. This is where I encountered the real challenge of Ironman, the voices inside your own head. “You can’t do this, you’re too weak, just quit…” Well this time the voices were screaming, “You went the wrong way, you’re lost, that guy shouldn’t be following you”. Hearing that for 20 minutes of riding gets tough and I almost pulled up and stopped on some random bridge to turn around but then, in the distance, I saw the road come to a T and decided to see where that would take me. I was elated to see a right turn arrow on the road just at the T and knew I was going the correct way, voices be damned!


Again things settled in for a few hours until the real test, Chalk Hill Road pass #2. This was mile 100 and I could feel the downhill stretch calling my name. I was feeling good so those voices urged me to push hard up that hill. “This is your chance to pass a bunch of people,” they said. And I listened. I fought my way up that hill, passing rider after rider until I crested the top. Super proud I sat down to catch my breath and then….CRAMP!!!

It was mile 100, what the hell was I thinking! This cramp was on the inside of my right thigh and got worse with every rotation of my pedals. There was nothing I could do but stop, get off the bike, and massage it out. Luckily I had a few emergency salt pills and downed those with half a bottle of water. Sadly, all those people I passed victoriously sailed by probably thinking “What an idiot”.

A few minutes later I was able to gingerly mount my bike and continue on my way. The final twelve miles were relatively uneventful. All I wanted was to get off that damn bike and start my Marathon. I made it back to the high school with no more incidents and hit my goal time on the bike at 7:30:10!

Current amount of time in motion: 8 hours and 53 minutes. Yeah, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. Just a reminder, the race began at 6:30am, just some perspective. Now onto the final transition! Oh and by the way, NO FLATS!!!!

Transition #1: Bike to Run

This transition was a bit weird. You had to dismount a significant distance away from the transition zone and run, in cycling shoes, to your stuff. I took the 10 seconds and removed my shoes to avoid slipping and maybe cramping from that awkward walk. My feet did not like that but it was my only option. My family was around again and got to see me fly into this transition, my dad and brother even got photos and video of me coming though and getting ready for the Marathon.


I stripped off my Rutgers kit and was finally down to the bare bones. Tri-suit, shoes, hat, and race belt. It was time for the final 26.2

The Marathon AKA “No Way In Hell I’m Getting a Glow Necklace”

Vineman Run

Loop #1: I’m feeling good!

All that stood between me and Ironman glory was 26.2 miles of running. No big deal. The run course of the Vineman consisted of three ~8.75 mile loops and about 1200 feet of elevation gain mostly set in miles 3 and 4 of each loop. That final hill was brutal…just brutal. I started out pretty strong logging my first mile at around 9 minutes but as I came past mile 3, I hit the hills. It was at this point on my first loop that my mile time crossed into the 10 minutes zone and climbed each time I hit those hills. For the first loop I was doing pretty well with nutrition. The GU gels were getting old and my Perpetuem solids were not too chalky just yet. I was very thirsty though and I was drinking 1-2 cups of water at every mile marker. The 82 degree heat didn’t help much either.

Anyway, as I approached the high school, my family was there waiting to cheer me on. My nephews Owen and Ari ran with me when they could.

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I hit the first loop marker at 1:34:15, a bit faster than goal pace and I was still feeling pretty good. Stopping at the aid tent for my aid bag, I restocked, drank some water, applied Vaseline where it was needed, and changed my socks. Then I was off on lap number two.


Loop #2: Pit Stops Galore

My issue on the second lap, aside from the hills knocking my mile time over 11 minutes, was over hydration. I had consumed way too much water on that first lap and damn did I have to pee. Often. This was unpleasant but at least there were Porto potties at every mile marker. I used almost every single one on this lap. I tried to dial back the water and added ice to my hat to deal with the heat but the damage was already done. Stopping to pee every 10 minutes really makes it hard to get into a rhythm.


Once I hit those mile 3 and 4 hills I knew I couldn’t keep running anymore. I had to start cycling in a walking minute. I began doing 9 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking which seemed to help. But I was starting to feel the pain of the day take on a life of its own.

There was one thing that pushed me on this lap. The race rules stated that if you finished lap two past a certain point (Where they knew you would finish in the dark), you would have to wear a glow in the dark necklace. There was no possible way I was getting one of those at the start of the third lap; I would not be out on the road in the darkness. NO WAY. You could see my pace pick up slightly in the final two miles of that loop, all to avoid the dreaded necklace and as I came back to the high school, I knew I had beaten the clock!

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This loop was finished in 1:43:50, slower than my estimated pace but I was there, only one loop to go! Once again I restocked, said hi to the family and was back on my way.

Loop #3: You Can Do This! Just Keep Moving!

The third loop and final 8.75 miles were the hardest I have ever done in my life. As you draw closer and closer to the end, your body truly begins to recognize the magnitude of punishment you have bestowed upon it. I hurt. In my soul. While this loop was a war with my body, it was more so a war with my mind. My brain was tired and it stopped wanting to take in any more GU gels, powders, or water. Everything began to taste foul and it took every fiber of my being to place one foot in front of the other. Those voices were back in full force telling me I wouldn’t make it and that I just wasn’t strong enough. This time I started to believe them.

When I came back to the final set of hills, I could barely run anymore. I went down to a 4 minute jog, 1 minute walk and on those hills it was mostly a walk. My mile time peaked here at 12:50 and I began to feel like I was carrying another person on my back. I made it up those hills to the final turn around and knew only 4 miles remained and it was all (Mostly) downhill from there

Pacing out the 4/1 split on my watch and counting all the people with glow necklaces still going out on their last loop was all I could do to keep my brain active. I forced down one final GU gel, ignoring the urge to vomit, and pressed on. Finally reaching the last mile.

It was there that I spotted my brother and my nephew, Owen, who wanted to run with me on the final mile. I tossed my disgusting hat to my brother and Owen and I made our way to the finish line. Sadly, yes, at the end of the Ironman, a 6 year old could pace me. That’s how bad things really were.

As I rounded the final turn and saw the finish line funnel, it hit me for real that I was going to do it. I was going to complete an Ironman!


With the finish line in front of me, I reached over and grabbed a hold of Samantha who was waiting, confused and exhausted, and together, as is family tradition now, marched triumphant across the finish line. I had done it! IMG_0357


It is hard to describe the feeling that comes with accomplishing a feat so challenging but crossing that finish line was and will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life. Period. I had completed something I never thought I could and didn’t think I would until I did. With a final loop of 1:50:27 and a 5:08:35 marathon, I was finished! I was an IRONMAN!

Final Time: 14:17:23

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So You Want to Train for a Full 140.6 Ironman

In April of 2015 it was time to begin serious training for the Ironman Vineman that was to take place on July 25th of that same year. I had done two triathlons leading up to this event, one Olympic distance in 2013 and one Half-Iron in 2014 but nothing could prepare me for the massive amount of training that would take place over the next sixteen weeks.

For the first two triathlons I created my own training plan based off of a little research and some assumptions on how far I would need to be able to go in each sport to survive the race distance. I had also incorporated weight training and insanity workouts into the mix just for good measure. For the Olympic race, this worked out well but it became readily apparent that I was not up to par for the half-iron distance. That race was the hardest thing I had ever done and I honestly thought I wouldn’t finish. When you are on the side of the road trying to fix a flat tire with hands shaking from the onset of heat exhaustion, you come to the realization that you do not know what you are doing and need some expert help.

For the Ironman I knew I should find a training plan that could help me finish and hit my goal time of approximately fourteen hours. Luckily the Vineman had a training plan designed specifically for the race by someone who had completed the race for many years. Upon opening up the first four weeks of training, I realized immediately how bad my self-designed plans really were. Here is a sampling of the revelations in training I discovered from this plan:

  1. Train by heart rate with a heart rate monitor. This was a game changer
  2. Swim way less and with a purpose. I was swimming a ridiculous amount.
  3. Shorter distances with intervals during the week then long and slow on weekends.
  4. Short runs after most weekend bikes just to get used to transition.
  5. Full on triathlons at the end of each four-week block. This was intense but worth it.
  6. Don’t lift weights after week two. This made me so happy.
  7. Proper nutrition and supplements are super helpful. Enter Hammer Nutrition

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As a final note before I get into what it was like to train for this race it is important to say that proper gear is a must. I got a carbon fiber Cannondale, new racing gear, new shoes, a Garmin, and so much more. It was really costly (Though probably a tenth of what others spend) but all worth it to make the transition to Ironman.


Ok, here we go!

Training for an Ironman, no matter how you cut it, is totally ridiculous. If I was single and worked a 9-5 maybe, but I was married, with one child, another on the way (Born now, hi Brianna!), in a job with long hours, and starting a PhD program. Not the best grouping of responsibilities to which to add fifteen or so hours of training. Luckily, it was quickly approaching summer, which meant slightly less intensity at work and warmth in the early morning hours.

The first four weeks were really the ramping up process so it was not too intense, only 4-5 hours of training on each Saturday and 1.5 on each Sunday, no biggie. Average of 13 hours of training each week. Even the 1.5 mile swim, 2.5 hour ride, and 1 hour run was manageable. Then I received the second block of the training plan. I had wondered in the beginning why the coach sent out the training plan staggered in blocks of four. Now I realize that it was a way to stop me from panicking and quitting had I seen the whole plan up front.

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During the second four-week block of training things started to get a bit interesting. This was the time when I started to read for my first full week of PhD class and when the doctor told Virginia that she could no longer pick up our daughter. This meant that I had to be home as much as possible and had to substitute training during naptime for reading for class. All in all this materialized as waking up earlier, like 3:30am earlier for training. Weekends also started to get tough. Over five hours of training on Saturdays followed by two hours of training on Sundays start to take a toll on family life. It was not uncommon for me to need to shift things around in order to get Sammy to gym class or to meet a job commitment.

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The worst was the five-hour full triathlon on the last day of the training block. Since I had to swim at the gym and then drive home to bike (Lest my bike get stolen) things were complicated by the fact that the gym opened at 6am on weekends. Why does it open that late on weekends? Good question. Couple that with closing at 8pm and weekend training is really hindered. This issue resulted in me biking an hour, swimming, biking, and then running. This really sucked but it was the best I could do. It was also around this time that I started burning through books on tape at a nice and expensive clip. Block two, fourteen hours of training each week.

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Week nine of training began what we call the “Triathlon Widow and Orphan” phase of the Ironman experience. Average training time per week increased to sixteen hours and there were only so many hours before Sammy awoke and when I had to go to work each day. This also began the very apparent sense of solitude. I also had to randomly travel to a Risk Summit in Oakland so, my gear came with me. Walking through a hotel lobby with a bike over your arm surrounded by suited up professionals is interesting.

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Once you pass over 4.5 hours of riding each Saturday you have to become very comfortable with yourself, especially when you are training for an Ironman all alone. The most ridiculous part of this stage of training was that I began to need to stop at home to replenish water bottles on every Saturday ride. You can only have so much water on the bike and 5 hours was my limit. There is also an alpaca farm at around mile 35, we have become friends.

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Week ten I hit 88 miles on the bike, which was a very interesting distance. This meant that I needed to start a second loop since my longest loop was 68 miles. It also meant that even though I would begin my rides at 4am I would inevitably run into the other cyclists in town as some point. There is something very satisfying about the look on their faces when they ask you what mile you are on and you reply with “Eighty” at around 9am. I was also reading a ton and basically had given up on balancing everything. My only recourse was taking Sammy along on some of my runs; the Bob Ironman stroller was a godsend.

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The final practice triathlon in week twelve was the most intense of them all; in fact, it was a true Half-Ironman. This week was also the tail end of June and super hot. In order to make sure I was prepared for what was coming in four weeks, I did the workout in order, which meant I started at 6am and finished around 2pm. By 2pm it was 97 degrees out, which was both good and bad. Bad because I almost passed out from heat exhaustion, good because the predicted high for the race was 82 degrees. Let’s just say I had almost reached my breaking point.

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Week thirteen was the peak and by far the most intense week. Topping off at seventeen hours of training, the only blessing was knowing that the taper would begin the following Monday. This was also the week I would leave for Colorado for my first class yet somehow I still had to get all my training in before leaving (OK, that didn’t work out so well). That weekend was when I realized how nonsensical training for an Ironman really is. I had to ride six hours and run thirty minutes on Saturday, but it was going to be super hot. My solution, just get up at 2:45am. 2:45!!! How stupid is that?


Anyway, I did it and then had to follow up with a 2:30am wake up the next day to go for 2 hours of the total 2:45 run. This is because I then had to catch a flight at 8am down in Fresno. And of course I picked up the last 45min that evening in Fort Collins in the pouring rain. Cause, why not?

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Thankfully things began to calm down and that next week in Colorado I was able to get some elevation training in which would give me a big boost on race day but since I had no bike, I had to ride in doors. That is no fun, no fun at all. I’m pretty sure my cohort thought I was very strange since I would go swim most days at lunch and then workout 1-2 more times each day. But that’s ok; they know I am strange now.

The final two weeks of Ironman training are kind of odd. They are a mixture of rest, reconnecting with that family who forgot me, planning for the race itself (That is a whole other post entirely), being confused as to why I’m not running seven hours, and reading articles that tell me I am going to die during the race. Really, I searched a lot of articles and had numerous panic attacks in the final weeks. Luckily, I also had a paper due for school so that distracted me…I guess.

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Before you know it, race day is upon you and you forget what you went through leading up to it but I still say that the training is what gets you, not the race itself. 240 hours, which is 10 days of my life, went to preparing for my first Ironman and I don’t regret it for a moment.

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One Year of Adventures With Blue Apron


A year ago this week, we received our first box of mail order meals from Blue Apron and we have not looked back. Virginia and I decided to try out this service because we had fallen into a dinnertime rut after Sammy was born. Every week had pasta Monday, grilled chicken Tuesday, pizza Wednesday, hamburger Thursday, and dinner out Friday. We also found that so much of our food was going bad in the refrigerator and we had to keep an annoying amount of spices on hand. For a while we tried cooking for the week plans but the meals were terribly unhealthy (Like six pounds of cheese a week), and I just could not spend eight hours cooking every Sunday. With our busy schedules it seemed like mail order meals were a good idea so sixty dollars later the game was on.

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Our first week of recipes, it did not go well.

I have to say that this was the best food based decision we have made in a long time. As a foodie living in Merced, where there are very few places to eat out, I was getting very food depressed and Blue Apron allowed me to bring the restaurant into our kitchen. The meals are healthy, varied, worldly, and, after you get used to them, easy to prepare. I’ve cooked dishes from twenty different countries and used ingredients I had only ever seen on Chopped… gochujang.


The biggest plus by far was that Virginia is trying new foods and has really liked a lot of what Blue Apron has to offer, except eggs. She just won’t eat them, won’t. But we just had the “Hey, there were mushrooms in the last four meals I made, so stop saying you don’t like mushrooms” conversation. With the ability to opt out of fish and seafood, and the ability to skip weeks, Blue Apron has made this mail order thing a snap. Also, their customer service is top notch; they give me credits and free boxes every time there is any sort of issue with my shipment. And customer service is almost more important to me than the food itself.

The most fun part of this whole adventure is all the people with whom I have shared this experience. Blue Apron gives me copious amounts of free boxes to send to others and so far a dozen or so friends have signed up (I should get a cut…you hear me BA?). For those of you who may sign up here are my top ten pieces of advice for success with Blue Apron:

  1. Read the recipes completely. Seriously. Read them before you start heating up oil. Once you turn that pan on it is go time and you are going to forget stuff. Then you burn things and have to eat toast for dinner. Toast is sad.

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    Crispy Chicken Thighs with Kumquat Relish & Freekeh Salad
  2. Prepping the food takes longer than you think. Most of the time, the prep is what takes the longest, but you have to do it all before you start cooking. See #1 and the toast. I usually prep at night or in the morning so I can just cook after work.

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    Lentil Bolognese with Fettuccine & Crispy Rosemary
  3. Buy a garlic press. I fought this but it is awesome. They send you so much garlic…so much…they love it. Stop mincing and start pressing. You’re welcome.

    Center Cut Pork Chops with Beet, Heirloom Carrot & Hazelnut Salad
  4. Never use all the lemon or lime juice. Save half of what they say and add on top of the dish if needed. I have not found one dish where the juice of an entire lemon makes any sense. Unless you really like lemony food, and are just weird.

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    Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Miso-Dressed Spinach & Candied Cashews
  5. This one is really a complaint. Stop telling me to salt and pepper to taste. Not five times in one recipe and especially not on raw meat. How the hell do I salt and pepper raw chicken to taste. Should I taste it? Do you like Salmonella, tell me Blue Apron! They never, ever give you measurements for salt and pepper so be really careful. I have ruined a few dishes this way.

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    Blackened Chile-Dusted Chicken with Zucchini Rice & Corn-Tomato Salad
  6. Read the recipe card again. Carefully now. Did you notice the one that says makes three servings? Yeah, I didn’t either for about four months. That sucks. Also, how do you make two sandwiches into three servings?

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    Roasted Poblano Chilaquiles with Sunny Side-Up Eggs & Avocado
  7. Figure out that whole recycling everything thing. Then tell me how to do it. Please.

    Chile-Rubbed Steaks with Quick Kimchi & Tomato Rice
  8. Gochujang is really spicy. Virginia hates it. That is all.

    Roast Port & Braised Endive with Green Apple & Endive Salad
  9. Take pictures of your food and Instagram away. People hate it, but your Blue Apron friends will totally comment and say, “I made that too, it was awesome”. Then you can feel like part of a super cool cooking club and turn your nose up at all the others. Tag Blue Apron in your pictures for some additional ego stroking. This may sounds like sarcasm, and it is, but I totally do this every time I rock out a beautiful dish.

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    Shiro Miso Soba Noodles with Poached Eggs, Yu Choy & Turnips
  10. Finally, the most important advice. Complain like hell when Blue Apron gets something wrong. As I said before their customer service is great and responsive. Sixty bucks a week is expensive so every ten dollar credit is totally worth it.

    Goat Cheese & Kale Quiches with Butter Lettuce & Chive Salad

Well there you have it, my Blue Apron cooking advice. We love this meal delivery thing so much, we now tacked on Plated to try for six days week. Soon our pantry will be empty except for kids stuff. Now, if only Sammy would eat more than buttered pasta every day, but that is another adventure.