Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review - Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, andMove with Confidence

Back pain sucks. Not only does it suck, but it can suck the life right out of you. For me it all began when I was 19 and spending many hours in the gym lifting weights. First it was a small twitch. Then it was a little more. Shortly thereafter I was at a chiropractor trying to correct my issues. I did get the problem corrected - even if just temporarily - but, like many other people, have dealt with periodic back pain for a long, long time.

After moving on from heavy strength training to Ironman training it can still be an issue for me. Don't get me wrong, it is not the chronic pain many people deal with. But it is there and, while core work has helped, having pain still sucks.

In 2013 I was having more trouble than normal with my back, specifically when in the aero position on my bike. I was looking for a positive solution to the issue when I heard Ben Greenfield mention the book Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move With Confidence during an Endurance Planet podcast. Greenfield described the book as a different approach to both core work and reduction of back pain. I decided to make the $17 investment and see what the fuss was about.

Foundation is a very fast and informative read for 288 pages. The book's author, Dr. Eric Goodman, was a young athlete who had problems with back pain that was much more debilitating than my own. In his search for a solution he developed what eventually became the core idea of the book - that lower back pain comes as a result of overloading smaller muscles due to poor mechanics.

Essentially, we can get lazy with the way we move, causing bio-mechanical issues. When this happens, the body needs to be reconditioned to use the correct muscles while moving through the world. Based on a series of 10 simple but powerful movements, Foundation teaches you how to properly load your muscles and move. The focus turns to the large muscles of your posterior chain - glutes, hamstrings, middle back, hips - to take the pressure off of the smaller muscles that have become overworked.

Going through the routine takes less than 10 minutes. For those of you who have done some basic yoga you will recognize some of the movements. Goodman does change the focus of the specific movements to create the desired effect.

In the few months I have been incorporating these movements into my routine I have noticed a number of positive changes. First, my posture is much better. Like many others, I had become lazy without noticing. The change is not just when I am standing, but when I am sitting, running, or biking. When I swim I feel like it is easier to maintain a streamlined position (or at least what is streamlined for me).

The second big change is a noticeable decrease in lower back pain. As I began properly loading up my glutes, hamstrings and middle back with the stress of swim/bike/run - even standing and sitting - I became more comfortable, my body more stable. While I know I will never be 100% pain-free, I am as close to it as I can be. A nice side benefit has been not needing to see my chiropractor for quite some time.

The approach that Foundation takes to core training and/or back pain is both different and more effective than anything I have ever come about. I feel better when sitting at the office, and I feel better while exercising. If you have chronic back pain I highly recommend giving this approach a go. All you have to loose is $17 ... and that chronic pain in your back.

Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move With Confidence can be purchased at here.

You can find more out about Dr. Goodman and Foundation Training at his website.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rule #4: The 20-Minute Rule

Ever have one of those days. Maybe you didn't sleep real well, or just had a stressful day at work. Whatever it is, you just don't feel like working out. Sure, you have a 3,000M swim workout on the schedule but man, hitting the couch and watching some tv sounds like a great option.

Then you remember reading somewhere about overtraining. Not so sure exactly what the advice was, but "everyone" knows overtraining is bad. So you head straight home, convinced that you are in a state of overtraining and need "rest" to avoid digging a deeper hole.

But is this the right thing to do? Maybe. Maybe not. If you are deep into a training cycle, pushing your personal limits, it is a real possibility you may have pushed beyond your recovery capabilities. A few days of active recovery or even straight up rest could be the right course of action. A seasoned endurance athlete will know exactly what this feels like. It is different than your normal heavy legs or dragging at the end of the day. And true overtraining and adrenal fatigue are a completely different beast that can happen. You can read more about that here.

So, assuming you haven't been beating down your body for weeks/months without adequate rest and recovery, my experience tells me that lack of desire to train is more of a mental thing than a physical one. Thus, the 20-Minute Rule.

When you are having THAT day, go and start the workout. Using the 3k swim workout as an example, get to the pool, stretch out, and get in the water. If you're anything like me, not so hard getting in the water, a challenge to actually get your head under water and push off for the first length.

Suck. It. Up.

After warming up, give yourself a minute and start your main set, whatever it may be. One of two things will happen - you will either start the main set, hit your expected times and start to feel better, or you won't. After a few reps in the main set - about 20 minutes into the workout - you will know where you're at, and you will know what to do.

Still feel like crap, not performing well? Get out of the pool, shower up, call it a day.

Hit your times? Continue on. Finish the workout as planned.

I've been here more than I care to admit with all three sports. Of those, I can count on one hand the number of times I called it a day. Every other workout, once I got moving I started to feel better, sometimes even great, and was able to get the scheduled work done.

Properly training for your "A" race is a process that takes months of hard work. Over that time you won't always feel great, and you won't always have that gung-ho attitude every time you swim, bike or run. Give it a go for 20 minutes and see what happens.

Train hard. Stay focused.

You can find the first three rules here, here, and here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Off Season Update

It's been almost one month since I started my off season and things are going well. For once I have decided to embrace it and can honestly say that I have lost some fitness, gained a little weight, and caught up on the sleep I had been neglecting. I have also gotten some of the stuff I had been putting off completed ... but not nearly as much as I (or The Queen) would like.

Weavers Way Bulk Bin Maddness
Quick side note: I did have the time to head down to Philly last week for a gathering of local co-ops as a representative of the Bethlehem Food Co-op and visit the Weavers Way Grocery Food Coop. Neat little store with really, really awesome bulk bin section (which was really the entire upstairs). The selection was amazing. Can't wait to get our store up and running in Bethlehem. If you are interested in keeping your food spend local, supporting your community farmers, and/or higher quality food for your family, you should check out our website, come to a meeting, then become a member.

The one big problem I have this time of year - even when I'm faking an off season - is a lack of focus. I love my routine, which means I fall apart when I don't have a clear, well-packed agenda when I wake in the morning. But maybe it's a good thing that I'm as relaxed about it as I am ... maybe that's the point.

Physically I'm feeling pretty good. Most all of the nagging little things have gone away and the legs have some life in them. The one little hitch has been the strain in my right shoulder, a result of moving some furniture last week. While it sucks, at least it happened in December and not January.

I've also been enjoying my time back in the weight room. Yes, there are some who feel that strength and power needs to be developed specifically for the bike or the run, which is an argument for another time. What I will say is, I believe in the power of straight-up strength training, the basic, multi-joint exercises variety. No better way to get stronger and add power than some good old fashion squatting and deadlifting. As a side benefit, both these exercises, when performed correctly, are probably the best way to build core strength.

Anyway, my training has been sticking with the plan and rules I laid out here. I haven't raced since Philly and don't plan on racing until February. Mileage has been low as has the intensity. And yes, I have been training outside in the cold weather, caught the snow storm on Tuesday (both by choice), but I have avoided the cold rain and have avoided riding outside for weeks.

Swimming has been completely put on hold due to the shoulder strain. I really haven't been consistent in the pool since September, lacking motivation, so this really wasn't a big deal ...until it was a big deal. Funny how this works. Now that being out of the pool isn't by choice, the motivation to swim has started to come back. I'm now thinking of the injury/timeout of the water as a good thing.

Starting this week my training volume will slowly increase into the new year. My plan is to put in a solid run base starting in January, so, by design, the next few weeks will see most of the increased volume go to the run. Any biking I've done has either been on my $400 mountain bike, in a spin class (believe it or not), or some easy spinning on the trainer. Hopefully I will be back in the pool next week for some short, easy yardage.

As usual, we are planning on welcoming in the new year by running South Mountain on December 31. I think this is the 12th time, maybe. Always a lot of fun, with the added benefit of knowing just how out of shape you've become over the holiday season. The run is about 10 miles, starting at Sand Island. The loop takes you over the mountain via Hayes Street, through the Stabler arena area, then back over on Mountain Drive South. If you are local and are interested in the deets let me know.

Finally, Mrs. Claus had her annual visit to Casa de Soden with the annual cookie delivery. And when I say cookies, I'm talking 86 varieties made from scratch, freshly baked two days ago. I question my ability to make a batch of cookies from a mix and she does all of this. Always appreciated at home, then by the Magellan Financial crew at work.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Joy of Running

Before I called myself a triathlete - and after my weight lifting days - I viewed myself as a runner. Training for a marathon I would follow Pfitzinger or Jack Daniels (the coach, not the whiskey) in my pursuit of whatever the time goal was this time around. Chasing a goal is motivating. Running in heat, cold, rain, snow was fine with me, just get me to the race fit and with happy legs. Training for a race gives purpose. Training for a race gives focus. There are goals, both big and small.

And then it happens ... the race arrives and the season ends. All of a sudden there's not a race on the schedule. Well, not a "real" race anyway. After the big goal race, racing becomes more a social thing. More like a hard workout than something I was training to do. With no structure, nothing to point at for motivation, motivation can be hard to find. At this point in the season, many people have trouble getting out the door. I am not one of those people.

As I have discussed recently this is my off season, which I describe as a time for easy workouts, when and if I'm motivated to do them. Every year, so far anyway, a strange thing happens. Every year I'm motivated to run.

This morning I left my house at 5:45 am in the dark of the morning for a run. It was early, but it didn't bother me one bit. The pace was casual. I wore my Garmin, but didn't look at before hitting the stop button. I ran my favorite route; the one I am most comfortable with;  the one I refer to as my "home course."

If you don't have one of these you should. My home course is 8 miles, but I can shorten it to as little as 5 miles or extend it to 10 miles.I know these roads better than the township road crews that care for them. I know the tangents and I know ever mile marker. I run these roads enough to have a waving relationship with the school bus drivers as well as the regulars on their way to work. There's even a long distance runner who drives to work about when I'm out there, Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand, who raises his cup to me when we pass.

I'm not the only regular out there either. "Old Man Ed" was out walking today, as was "Bike Guy" on his way to work. "Bike Guy" made me think for a second that I should be on my Madone. That feeling quickly passed.

Funny thing about these roads - I think of them as mine. I got really upset when the chipped and tared a section a few years back; I cheered out loud when they properly paved that same section six months later. Come springtime, when the fair-weather athletes start to hit the streets again, I admittedly get a little offended that they are on MY ROADS. Where were they on that cold, windy days in February?

Running is my gateway drug and the reason I ended up an Ironman.

Don't get me wrong, I love riding my bike and I (for the most part) enjoy hitting the pool. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to the joy of  running ...

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Off Season Triathlon Training

A few days ago I started talking about my off season training and how I want to make sure I don't screw up next year before my annual New Years Eve South Mountain Run. I am embracing the down time from triathlon specific training. If you missed it, you can find that post here.

One of the first things I thought about after I crossed the finish line at the Philadelphia Marathon was getting back into the weight room. While you would never know it looking at my 160 pound body, I really get an enjoyment from lifting me some weights. Back in the day I was quite strong and almost 40 pounds heavier. My roots are old school, going back to the days of Ottmer's Iron Den in Lakewood, NJ. No heat in the winter, no AC in the summer, the most advanced machine in the place was the cable crossover. I was "the kid" and we lifted barbells and dumbbells. Back to the present day, as an "old guy" I'm still in love with some free weight fun.

One of my goals in the off season is to get stronger. If you hit the magazines and the interwebs there are a number of thoughts on getting strong for triathlon. I'll let you find that on your own. I know what has worked for me in the past - basic, multi-joint exercises. And in my world that comes down to a basic routine that focuses on two exercises: squats and deadlifts.

This may or may not be what I looked like in a past life.
I know, I know, I know ... these are great for overall strength, not so good for sport-specific strength. I agree. The strength you gain now, with the right training, converts over nicely to swim/bike/run when you add in the specific training. No way in hell am I doing big pull sets or riding/running up the side of mountains in the month of December. And I love, love love to squat and deadlift.

Seriously. True story.

Sorry for the side story. Focus Jon. Focus.

If you haven't figured it out yet I am a big believer in rules. By calling them rules it forces me for some reason to stick with the plan. So even an unstructured period like I am in right now has a set of guidelines (RULES!!!) that I will stick with the best I can. And truth be told, there ends up being more structure there than I care to admit. As I get closer to January 1 my training does start to migrate from goofing around to something getting close to structured. I'll go into that as well, but first the rules:

Rule #1: No racing. You'll see me a a number of races in the next few weeks, you just won't see me racing. On Thanksgiving morning The Queen and I will be at the annual Pumpkin Pie 5k in Nazareth. Not sure who I am running with yet, but it should be an 8 minute mile pace if I'm pushing it. Might even run with The Queen. Using it as a chance to support a good cause and hang with some friends, not looking to win a pie.I like pie, but not enough to break my body down.

This was right before I fell on my a$$!!!
Rule #2: Don't do anything you don't feel like doing. If you wake up and don't feel like running, don't do it. Same with biking and hitting the pool. This is predicated on two things I know about myself. First, I am prone to over-training, not under-training. If my mind says "no" I need to listen to it. Second, once January comes around I suck it up if I'm not so motivated for a workout.

Rule #3: Stay active and cross-train, but do NOT obsess over triathlon. I took a yoga class last night and plan on hitting Ants spin class a few times this December. So looking forward to taking the mountain bike out this weekend.

Rule #4: Get strong. Not only is this hitting the weights, but also core training. Speaking of core, I'll be reviewing the book Foundation by Dr. Eric Goodman soon, which will change the way you think about core.

Rule #5: Work on correcting any muscular imbalances that last season produced. Eventually this happens to all of us. Better to take care of it now than have to deal with the injuries next race season.

Rule #6: Eat and gain some weight. It makes no sense to stay at your racing weight so I don't. The body is more durable a bit heavier and, honestly, I really, really like to eat. Besides, you're just kidding yourself if you think you will make it through the holiday season without partaking in cookies, candies, etc. For me, the normal 90% good /10% not-so-good eating becomes more like 75/25. By January 1st I should be about 5 pounds heavier than I was on November 17 and teh diet will tighten up.

Rule #7: Avoid training in poor weather conditions. I have no problem running in a 35 degree rain or riding when temperatures are in the 20s. But, not in the month of December. There is no reason to be out there when the whole point of training is to recover and take a mental break.

Now that we have the rules set out, how do we proceed for these 6 weeks? It will look something like this:

Week#1 - Almost complete rest. For me this was last week and I ran once, swam once, and sat on my trainer to spin the legs out right after the marathon. Intensity for everything was nil. I hit the weight room but made sure to ease into it, concentrating on good form. No need to get overly sore.

Week #2 - Do something every day. Most every day there will be something swim/bike/run related with a cap of 60 minutes, all at a recovery intensity. I will make sure to run 3 times during the week. Strength training continues and the weight used increases.

Weeks #3 through 6 - The intensity remains low for swim/bike/run. Over these weeks the total hours each week will increase, as will the number of workouts (which still remain short). For the run I will be back at base mileage by week #3 and increase that mileage slowly each week. Years ago I read an article in Triathlete Magazine by Mark Allen on off season training. The one recommendation he had was to continue running during this phase, due to its pounding nature. He argued (correctly) that the body loses the ability to absorb the abuse that running puts on the body when you take an extended vacation from the activity. This advice has stuck with me. Bike volume stays low and I'll visit the pool with more frequency. Strength training continues.

Of course there is one big caveat. The goal here is to be 100% physically ready for base training come the new year.  If there are any lingering issues that need fixing I will back off and fix them. So if there is some compelling reason to not run I will stop.Time off in December is no big deal, while time off running in May could be huge.

So that's the simple plan. Train easy, don't race, and make sure the body feels great when it is time to start base training. Giving the body a break allows old injuries to heal, any overuse issues to subside, while working to prevent next year's potential injuries. I have no desire to be a January national champion, so I save the hard work and energy expenditure for when it is needed closer to race day.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Embracing the Off Season (or How to Not Screw Up Next Year Today)

One week ago I ran my last race of the year. I put a lot of work into it and, even though it reach all my goals, I did ok. In contrast to the days and weeks leading up to that race, this week has been the exact opposite of the last 10+ months. Since January I have been concerned with things like run volume, bike power, and my stroke in the pool. This week I was more concerned with sleep ... and my couch ... and food ... lots of food ... different food ... not always the "best" food. Did I mention food?

Yeah, it's the off season!!! This is the time of year where training takes a back seat. It is not just a physical break, but also a mental break. Will I get "out of shape?" Absolutely. Do I care? No. In fact, more so this year than in the past, I am embracing being "out of shape." 
Did I mention taking a break from training is oh so important for long-term racing success? Well it is.

The number one reason endurance athletes don't take an extended off season is a lack of true self confidence. (see the end of this post for a definition of the three types of self confidence) That's right. If you are the type of person who trains through the holidays with your "A" race 10 months out because, you know, you have to get ready for that big "A" race in 10 months, or you don't want to "get fat," or whatever it is you tell yourself, you have some thinking to do.

If you are reading this and it feels like I am calling you out, I assure you I am not, but you should take that as a sign. This has been a problem of mine in the past, although it looked a little different than most people. I would cut back on my training. When I thought of myself as a runner I would back off to base mileage of approx. 30 miles each week. Once I entered the world of multisport it was the same, just a bit more complicated. Sounds reasonable, and it was, with one teeny, tiny problem.

See, I would race during my downtime. Nothing long. Nothing that would appear to be out of the ordinary. A 5k here and a 5 miler there. No big deal I would tell myself. Running a 5k or a 5 miler, after all, isn't such a bad thing in and off itself. But reality is, those small little races (and the short hard set in the pool) would kick my ass more than I ever cared to admit out loud.

It would go something like this: After taking an easy week I would race a 5 miler and clock a good time (for me). Then I would ache for a week. What this did was nullify any healing I did the previous week and lose another week of true recovery by having to get over the damage from racing.

Sometimes I'm such an idiot.

Right about now you are probably saying "that's great Jon, but I don't need to take time off from training. Sounds to me like you are just getting old and lazy. I've got big things coming up next year and have no time to just sit around for weeks on end."

The off season is NOT about being lazy. As counter intuitive as it sounds, for a Type-A triathlete doing what needs to be done this time of year is hard to do, and can be hard work.

So what is the off season about?

1. Letting the body heal itself. After 10 or 11 months of swim/bike/run the body is a little beat up. Or a lot beat up. Taking some time to focus on losing that niggle in your knee or the tightness in your shoulders will allow you to be better next year and hopefully keep a small problem from becoming a major issue.

2. Taking a mental break. Racing, and the training to race, takes a lot of mental focus. It can become consuming. And the bigger the event, the greater the mental burden. While I find it awesome at the time, if you don't take a break from it burn out is inevitable. Much better to take some time to refresh and refocus than to hate the sport you love.

3. Get other stuff done. You know what I'm talking about. Long weekend rides and runs are not conducive to a big social schedule. Hang out with your friends and family who have supported your crazy over the last 11 months. Get some stuff done around the house. Read a non-sports related book. Watch some tv.

4. Get strong. A long season can take its toll on your body. If you race short course you need to be strong to go fast. If you race long course you need to be strong so your body doesn't break down. Hit the weight room, try some yoga, or maybe find your local crossfit box.

Not only is it ok to take some time away from serious training, it is in your best interest to take the time away. Time away from serious endurance training will help you set yourself up for better results next year. The mind and body will heal while you build some extra strength. Do it right and your body will feel real good come January 1 and you desire to train again will be high

Later this week I'll post up my thoughts on what I'll be doing the final six weeks of the year.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Three types of self confidence:
1. Temporary Self-Confidence: This is based on your recent past performance. You feel good because you ran a great 5k or hit your times on last weekend's bike interval workout. It is fleeting and only sticks around until your next not-so-great race or training session. Think about how you feel coming off a PR.

2. False Self-Confidence: You've seen this before. The guy who talks big and poses like a big shot. And then he gets on the bike ... and quickly flys off the back of the peloton .. Needless to say, you aren't impressing anyone and you're only fooling yourself.

3. True Self-Confidence: This isn't based on recent performance or impressing people, but a sense of great inner trust in who you are, what you are doing, and the people around you who are helping you be successful. True self confidence allows you to be resilient and trust what you are doing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Race Report: Philadelphia Marathon

The Philadelphia Marathon is a race that has been on my schedule many year. It is close to home, a nice course to run, and the timing is perfect for both my schedule and my desire to race in cooler conditions. Of all the race distances I have raced, the distance I have been the most inconsistent at is the marathon. It should come as no surprise that  I've had some very good races and some very bad races in Philly.

Late last week I posted up my thoughts Sunday's run and what I wanted to accomplish, what I would consider a success. I defined success based on two things - discipline and process. You can find that post here.

On Saturday morning I woke up early and ran an easy three and a half miles with some strides at the end of the run. After a stretch, a shower and a hardy breakfast, I headed down to Philly with The Mayor and The Queen. What would normally be a 75 minute drive turned into a 2 1/2 hour slog due to a major accident that shut down rt. 309 for 6 hours. Sitting in stopped traffic is never the ideal situation, it isn't any easier when you are full of pee because you are very well hydrated energy at the end of a taper week. Fortunately, the company made it a little more bearable. We did finally make it to the expo, picked up our race packets, walked the expo floor, then headed to our hotel for a little r&r.

Sunday was an early start due to the 7 am start time and the "heightened security" around the staging area. In the pre-race materials it was highly suggested that participants get to the race site by 5 am as the security would be tight. We decided a 5:30 arrival would make more sense. We walked through security, waited in the port-o-john line (why are there never enough of these at any race), dropped our bags at the UPS trucks, and hit the starting corrals.

Rant: I get that in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in April there is a need to increase the security around big city marathons. I get that. What I have a problem with is a security plan that makes no sense. All they did was have a perimeter with a limited number of entrance points from  the art museum on the west and the start/finish area to the east. While would be fine, except there was no bag checking, or pat downs, let alone metal detectors. We literally just walked right in with only a "good morning" from "security."

Back to the race ... The conditions were as ideal as one could ever expect with a light breeze and temperatures around 50 degrees. A no excuses day made my time goal of a 3:15 finish time (with a BQ time of 3:25 as my fallback) reasonable. Still, success would be truly defined as sticking with my five predefined goals. This race was about discipline and process.

So how did I stack up against my five pillars of success?

1. Start the race at a controlled pace without burning off too much energy trying to get space. Here I was successful. The Mayor and I started at the back of our start corral, crossing the start line approx. 2 minutes after the start of the race. The first three miles were really tight with less space than I like to have. It was uncomfortable and I had the urge to weave around some of the slower runners, which would have happened in years past. This year, I kept my discipline and eased into the race with my first three mile splits coming in at 7:45, 7:36, 7:20.

2. Pace the run for a negative split. The time goal was a 3:15 and I hit the 10k mark in 46:34, the halfway mark in 1:37:19, and the 30k in 2:18:12. Good pacing for the most part, but a little fast from 10k to the half, which had more to do with the terrain than me actually pushing the pace. Success.

3. Proper fueling. I have a real bad habit of just forgetting to take on nutrition. Here, I drank water at all but two of the 17 water stops and took a Power Gel at miles 8 and 17 as planned. My stomach wasn't an issue and energy levels were fine to the very end. Success

4. Push myself in the last 10k.So I did and I didn't. I was on pace for 21 miles to get the 3:15. And then my hip flexors tightened up like you wouldn't believe. Forced to walk a bit my attitude remained positive and I decided to gut it out the best I could. I stayed positive for the next few miles, even as the periods of running got shorter and shorter. Then it happened. Mile 25 was a dark place for me as I mentally started to check out. It was also by far my slowest mile at 9:58. I did the math and knew I could still get the BQ, but I was in that mentally dark place. Half Success

5. Leave it all out there on the course.Yes, I broke a bit mentally. Still, I think I gave it everything I had. More important than the breakdown is the fact that I came out of it to finish up as strong as possible. I'm sure it looked ugly over the last few miles, but I got it done. Success

Overall that's a 4 1/2 out of a possible 5 which we can call a win. Unfortunately, discipline and process did not result in a sub-3:15. Instead, I finished in an official time of 3:24:04 and a 7:46/mile average pace, which did not come as a surprise to me.

Going back over my training I had some really good long runs. Four weeks out I had a great 20 miler on the tow path with Phil, followed up one week later with a 17 miler on the roads. At that point all things were looking and feeling great. But ... isn't there always a but ... the day after the 17 miler I woke up with a strange pain in my right quad. It was a muscle strain which led me to take five easy days with no running. When I got back to running I did a 10 mile long run, not the 20 I had intended to do. Also, once back running I stuck to flat terrain so as to decrease the muscular stress.

It worked, in that I got to the start line ready to run. In getting to the start line, however, I gave up some strength as well as my last long run. No training block goes exactly as planned, but I have to believe that losing the consistency and mileage when I did factored into how the final 10k played out. Not making excuses, it just is what it is.

Finally, I want to give a big shout out to everyone who raced last weekend, and specifically Cassie (3:04:02, 5th in F20-24), Danielle (3:25:18 6th in her AG), Barb (2:08:20 in the half), and The Mayor (1:41:16 in the half).

I want to give an extra special shout out to The Queen, who completed her first half marathon in an official time of 2:35:21. What she did on Sunday was a huge accomplishment and is much more impressive than anything I did last weekend. Cannot express in words how proud I am of her.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thoughts on this Weekend's Philly Marathon

There was a time when the marathon was the focus of my training. I was a runner - not a great runner, but a runner - and the marathon was the defining distance in my mind. I raced other distances, sure. But my training was built around a spring and fall marathon.This went on for a number of years, eventually leading to cross-training, which led to a duathlon, which led to a triathlon, which led to a full Ironman ... but even as the level of craziness in racing increased, I always managed to ran a standalone marathon every year. It was just something I did ... until 2012.

I did start the D&L Marathon last November, but pulled out with a hamstring injury around mile 19, making 2012 the first year since 1999 I failed to complete 26.2 miles. It's now been more than two years since I finished my last marathon.

With my focus on triathlon the past 7 years the marathon has taken a back seat, almost an afterthought. In fact, my training for a marathon always came AFTER my last race of the year. Talk about an afterthought!!!

This time around I am not taking the distance for granted, and have made a few changes to my prep. For example, I actually have been preping specifically for a marathon. Getting ready for the Rev3 Half/Full Triathlon I made sure that my run mileage was up and my long runs were sufficiently long for marathon training, as opposed to get through 13.1 miles off the bike.

The taper has also been a real marathon taper with just enough running, no bike mileage, and a few short swims to work off enough idle energy to keep me from going insane. Rest time is actually rest time as well, including more sleep (not 8 hours, but more than the 5 I usually get). For me this is big. I don't like to slow down and I don't like the taper.With that said, my last "real run" on Thursday morning went well. Not exactly where I want to be on race day, but the legs had life in them. This gives me hope for a good race.

As for what I'm expecting to do on Sunday morning ... first, I don't plan on making any of the mistakes I have made in the past. I've gone the distance enough to (hopefully) not sabotage myself with stupid. To do this I am focusing in to process and not a goal time, although I do have that in mind as well. If I don't get that goal I will run to the top of the stairs in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and throw myself down them in disgust be fine. IF I stick to a sound game plan. So what will define success?

1. With more than 25,000 participants the Philadelphia Marathon is a big race. There is also a 1/2 marathon running at the same time. These two facts make it challenging to find pace and stay in control in the first few miles. Thus, goal number one: Start the race at a controlled pace without burning off too much energy trying to get space.

2. Pace the run for a negative split. The best run marathons are run either evenly paced or at a slight negative split so it doesn't make any sense to put "time in the bank" when that really doesn't work.

3. Proper fueling. I have had a habit of getting behind on liquids and calories. I need discipline.

4. Push myself in the last 10k. While I really, really like the pain of pushing the limit while on a bike, I find it less enjoyable on the run. As Macca would say, "embrace the suck." As we discuss within my circle of friends - Rule #5!!!

5. Leave it all out there on the course. Doesn't matter what I feel like on Monday because this is my last race of the year. You might see me at some small, local races, but I will be participating, not racing.

So there you have it, my definition of success for Sunday's race comes down to one word: discipline. I have to fight my inner urge to do stupid and stay focused.

And ... with all that said ... it really comes down to two numbers: Three Fifteen. That would give me a qualifying time for Boston, 2015. I'm 44 now and will be 45 then so a sub-3:15 gives me enough space from the BQ standards to qualify and get a spot come race day.

Good luck to everyone else who will be racing, including Cassie, Danielle, Barb, The Mayor and The Queen.

If you have an interest you can get race results here.

Stay focused. Train hard.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Running Shoe Review: On Cloudrunner

In the past I have been the type of runner who found a running shoe that worked for me and stuck with that shoe until it stopped working - either due to changes in my feet/running gait, or changes to the shoe. The theory was a simple one - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Over the years I have gone through most of the more popular brands and the shoes that are made for my feet - Nike Air Structure Triax, Asics 2100 series and Kayano, and more recently, I've been running in the Brooks Adrenaline GTS.

Early this year I gave the Brooks Pure Cadence a go and really liked the change of pace. Because this is a lighter, lower stack shoe, I was mainly using these for shorter and/or faster runs. After slowly introducing these to my routine with shorter and easier runs, the change of pace was nice. I found the Pure Cadence's lower stack height put a different stress on my legs than my main shoe. This experience has opened me up to trying other options.

Over the months I had read some very favorable reviews about the Cloudrunner, from the Swiss manufacture On. Review after review raved about the feel and comfort from the very first run. This is not normal I thought. So, I went online, purchased a pair, and waited for them to arrive.

First Impression - The first thing you notice when you take the shoes out of the box is the CloudTec - the ringlets on the bottom of the shoes - designed to give you a softer landing than your typical running shoe. The second thing you notice is the shoes are pretty cool looking. The dark grey shoe with an aqua colored sole come with two shoelace options.

First Run - Putting these shoes on for the first time is a different experience. Walking around you can feel the pods under your feet, a bit unusual in feel. Once out on the road, however, the awkward feel quickly went away. Much to my surprise the Cloudrunner was comfortable, responsive, and easy on the legs. After 10 miles my legs still felt relatively fresh with a lot of life in them.

If you are interested, you can see how the technology works here.

The Next 200 Miles - Over the past few months I have put a little over 200 more miles on my Cloudrunners, on mainly mid-distance runs of 7 - 13 miles. I have run faster and I have run slower, but I have not done any speed work in these shoes. The feel on all surfaces (asphalt, concrete, dirt trail) remains great. The feel while running for the first time has carried over to future runs. 

In that time I have had no problems and the shoes have worn less than I had expected. From a durability standpoint, anything less than 400 mile from a pair of shoes is unacceptable, but won't be surprised if I can easily squeeze out an additional 50 to 100 miles out of this pair.

Overall Assessment - At $150 the Cloudrider is not a cheap shoe, although not the priciest either. I have enjoyed my experience in these shoes and will continue to keep them in the mix. While I have not run more than 14 miles at a time in these shoes, I will be in the future.

A neutral shoe, the On Cloudrunner does offer a bit of stability. This is perfect for my feet, but is something to be aware of if you are going to give them a try. For a heavy pronator these shoes probably won't work. The fit is a little different as the toe-box gives plenty of room and the width is fairly standard. I ordered an 11 - same as I do in most brands - but my next pair will be a 1/2 size smaller.

Train smart. Stay focused.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Joy and Stress of Tapering

On November 17 I'll be racing the Philadelphia Marathon. After a completing my triathlon season I have returned to my running roots and put in a short, but solid, block of running. While the mileage wasn't as large as past cycles, the mileage was focused. With a solid triathlon base, "junk" miles were not necessary. The only issue was a slight muscle strain that put a twist in the plan. Now, in the final two weeks, it is time to heal and get ready to physically race. It is time to taper.

There are some who enjoy the taper. I don't. I like to train. Let me rephrase that ... I really like to train. A lot. I think back to big Ironman focused weeks and I smile. Big weeks when you are fit make you feel strong; big weeks make you feel like you never need to stop.

Tapering is the exact opposite.After weeks of building fitness these final two weeks are about rest and recovery - getting the legs to feel awesome on race day. I totally get the theory. The problem I have with this process can be summed up in four words: It feels like shit. 

Here is the not exact analogy I always go back to: When I was in college, the end of the semester was always a time of high stress and focus, making sure that papers were done and the studying for finals was complete. A lot of time and energy expended with little sleep to ensure my final grades were up to the standards I expected of myself. During those weeks it was easy to be focused. During those weeks it was easy to be efficient. During those weeks it always felt good. This is the equivalent of the big work you do during the build phase of a training cycle. And then it happened ...

After weeks of focused work I would crash. Hard. All of a sudden I didn't feel good, slept a crazy amount, got lazy and unfocused. Some semesters I would get a bit sick (although, as usual, I would go into total denial). This is the taper of the analogy.

About two weeks later I would come out of the funk and could once again contribute to society. In my mind this is like race day.

Back to today. My legs ache. I'm tired. A little moody. And I really want to crank up the training. Hasn't happened yet, but I'm sure the "marathon flu"* will start sometime soon. Other than some riding while down in Florida last week (post to follow), I haven't done any serious riding for some time, while swims have been limited in duration and intensity. Now the run miles are dwindling. Ugh.

I know it has to be done in order to have a chance to reach my goal of running a Boston Qualifying time. It sucks. It feels like shit. It's annoying. It's necessary.

Train hard. Stay focused.

* The Marathon Flu is that feeling you get during the taper period where you constantly feel like you are getting sick. The fake sore throat or the sniffles are the main symptoms

Monday, October 28, 2013

8 Easy Ways to Blow Yourself Up During a Marathon

In three weeks I'll be lining up on the streets around Eakins Circle for the start of the Philadelphia Marathon. This won't be my first rodeo. I'm not exactly sure, but I have started somewhere around 30 stand alone marathons - the first one back in 1999 - dropping out of two due to injury. I may not be the fastest at the distance, but I certainly have some experience.

Some races have been quite successful, while others complete disasters. Getting it right is fun, but getting it wrong tends to bring more knowledge and understanding of what works and what doesn't. The combination of doing a good number of marathons and my propensity to race kinda stupid from time to time, I have managed to blow myself up in an embarrassing number of ways.

Here are the top eight ways I have destroyed a training cycle:

1. Start the race not in marathon shape - There is a difference between being fit and being marathon fit. Before I started competing in triathlons, this wasn't much of a problem as the marathon was the point of my training plans. In the last few years, however, I have been really fit but not necessarily marathon fit. The marathon is a totally different beast from any other race. Trust me, if you aren't trained for the specific stresses of a marathon you won't run your best race.

2. Race at "wish I could" pace, not "what I should" pace - Listen to your training. If your training indicates a 7:30/mile marathon, going out at a 7:15/mile pace will be a disaster. Here is how it plays out: the race starts and you feel great, as you are running on fresh, tapered legs. After passing through the half feeling good, you start to tire a bit around mile 15 or 16. From there it gets worse and worse until you are shuffling along or walking most of the final 10k. It took me some time to figure this one out (I can be a bit thick headed).

3. Start the race with a known injury - My second try at the marathon distance was at the Jersey Shore Marathon in April, 2000. Going into the race I was coming off a strained calf ... or at least that's what I told myself. I really wanted to do the race and convinced myself I was good to go the distance. Around mile 15 it started to ache. Buy mile 18 I was walking. At mile 21 I caught a ride to the finish line to meet my family.

4. Run too fast a pace in the early miles - I forget the year, but back in the mid-2000s I felt great going into the Philly Marathon and we (Jack and I) decided to go for it. We went out fast. Really fast. Stupid fast. We reasoned that even if we slowed down a bit we would still run a good time (by our standards). Yeah ... By the time we hit the turnaround in Manayunk (mile 20) we were hurting. Bad. By mile 22 we were staggering across Kelly Drive. We did eventually finish ... eventually.

5. Improper fueling - I have never over-fueled, but I have under-fueled on a number of occasions. If you don't get enough calories in early on you will run out of fuel and hit the wall. On a hot day, not enough liquids can cause cramping and over heating. Best thing to do is work on this during your long runs and have a plan.

6. Overeat the night before the race - Eating a huge plate of pasta and all the bread they will give you at the Italian restaurant isn't the best option. It takes time for your food to completely digest. Eating a big meal too close to the start of the race can, and likely will, leave you bloated and/or with intestinal distress. I have found that a better alternative is to make breakfast the largest meal the day before a marathon (or triathlon for that matter). As a side note, don't go crazy at the race expo with the free samples. 

7. Show no respect for hot, humid conditions - I am just terrible in the heat. Sorry, that's an understatement. I'm like a 300 pound guy wearing cotton sweatpants and sweatshirt. If I were in a blizzard in my underwear I would break into a sweat. Now that you have that picture in your head, understand every race isn't run in ideal conditions. If you have a goal but it turns out that your race will be run in 85 degrees, not "average" mid-50s you expected, bag the original game plan. This is more important for early season races when the body isn't heat acclimated. Don't believe me? Ask anyone who ran Boston in 2004 or 2012.

8. Overdress in the cold - This is the opposite problem from #7, and one I have only done once - at the Boston Marathon in 2009 (?) when a major storm rolled through causing havoc. The rule of thumb is to dress for 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. If you are one of those people who are always cold or always hot, modify this rule to fit your needs. The problem is, over the course of 3 to 6 hours the temperature can change drastically. I've done races where it's in the high 30s at the start and mid-50s by the time I cross the finish line. Best thing to do in that situation is to dress in layers. Use arm warmers, vests, two sets of gloves, ear warmers, and "throw aways." In Boston I wore a jacket which was fine for a while. When the weather changed I was stuck and soaked, which really sucked.

And there you have it, some of my dumbest racing mistakes there for the taking. Fortunately for you, all of these mistakes are easily avoidable with just a bit of forethought in your training and race prep. I put this out there to help others speed  up their personal learning curve while reminding myself of the dumb mistakes I have made in the past, hoping to not make them (again) in the future.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Week Review: October 20, 2013

The week in review is a look at what I have been up to in training, a (sometimes) look into the other side of my life as well as links to some of what I have found interesting on the interwebs. Spent about a month racing more that training so there wasn't much to review. Now that I'm into marathon training (Running Philly on 11/17) racing has again taken a back seat to training.

Training Update:

Now that the focus has moved from triathlon to marathon, the bike and swim have taken a back seat to running mileage. As much as I enjoy the bike, it is good to take some time away from riding with focus to instead get some nice, casual rides in when I desire. Same goes for hitting the pool. I'm swimming when it feels right and without much of a plan when I get there. There are things to focus on ... just not right now.

The decrease in bike miles has my running legs starting to feel pretty good. I was just shy of a 50 mile week, including a run in St. Louis, where I spent a few days on business. It's a nice town, but with limited areas to run early morning, at least in the downtown area. There was little traffic pre-dawn so cars were not much of an issue. There is a nice hill down by the Mississippi River that allowed me to do some hill sprints. Not my favorite, but practical and useful.

On Saturday I ran my first 20 miler of the year with Phil. The weather was as close to ideal as you get, with temperatures in the high 40s and a good amount of sunshine. We paced it out steady with most every mile around a 7:30 pace through mile seventeen. I held a 7:23, 7:22, 7:08 for the final three miles, ending with more in my legs. Not a bad day for Jon!!!

Let's Talk About the NY Jets:

Who would have ever guessed that the Jets would be 4-3 after the first seven games of the season? Going into the regular season I figured that the defense would keep the Jets in most games, but I didn't expect the offense to be as dynamic as it has been. Yes, Marty Marnhinweg has a scheme that can move the ball and put up some points. What was unsure to me was if he had the personnel to get the job done. Two months ago it looked not-so-good. Today, not so bad. Here's how it has panned out so far:

Quarterback - The position was in flux with either a rookie (Geno Smith) at the helm or Mark Sanchez.
There was even talk of Chris Simms after the 4th preseason game. Now, Geno looks good in most situations, but still makes rookie mistakes. On the plus side, he has shown the ability to forget about a bad play or a pick 6.

Running Back - Bilal Powell was slotted as the starter, Chris Ivory had some leg issues, and Goodson was suspended. Now they are all available and effective. Also, Tommy Bohanan has been solid at fullback.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Came into the season with an injured Santonio Holmes, a young group of receivers behind him, one tight end with 12 NFL catches (Cumberland), and a reclamation project in Kellen Winslow. As it has turned out, Holmes has been mostly injured, the young receivers have developed what appears to be good chemistry with Geno, while both tight ends are working out. The only negative is Winslow's current 4 game suspension.

Offensive Line - These guys are solid as I expected. This is an experienced group of veterans and it shows.

So right here right now there is every reason to be happy with the season so far. The defense has been very good while the offense progresses. Right now they look like an 8-8 team, or about 5 games more than most people expected. This may sound crazy because, you know, this is the Jets, but if the offense can start putting up points against some of the better defenses ... I don't think it will take much - continued solid defensive play, Geno limiting the turnovers, and a balanced offensive approach. They are close to this right now. Close, but not quite there.

Interesting Stuff From the Interwebs:

Curious why Rinny can bust out a 2:50 marathon at Hawaii Ironman but you can't? Well, besides the fact that if you are like me you can't run a 2:50 marathon without a swim/bike warm-up. Here's some insight (Sami Inkinen)

Speaking of running, if your form is in need of a makeover, here's a good place to start (Strength Running)

Serious Recovery for Serious Athletes (Endurance Corner)

The food industry is lying to you. Here is the most horrible of the lies (Cracked)

Music Video of the Week:  The Wire by Haim is a catchy little tune with a familiar sound.

 Video of the Week: Ron Burgundy is back!!! Or at least he will be soon.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Proper Gym Etiquette - aka Don't Do This!!!

I have been around the gym/health club business almost my entire life. I started working out at one in high school, continued on in college, built and ran one for almost 10 years, and am currently a member at two clubs in the Lehigh Valley, PA. After years decades in and around the business I have just about seen everything there is to see. I can't remember the last time someone surprised me with something they did ... well ... now that I think about it I can (see #3 below).

For the most part, as long as the dumb stuff that goes on doesn't affect me, I have learned to let it go. Because, really, I don't own the place now, and I don't have a deep affinity for either gym I use. After almost 10 years of owning a club where I didn't let a lot of dumb stuff happen, it was not so easy at first to let things go. Over time I have mellowed out about this. But, for whatever reason, it has started to get under my skin again.

Here are my list of 10 thing NOT to do at your local gym:

10.  Do NOT leave your s*** all over the place (Clean up after yourself) - While you may think this is common knowledge and logical, in the gym environment it is not. Put your plates back on the rack when you are done. Re-rack your dumbbells. And spry down the leg curl machine when you sweat all over it. Seriously, have some common courtesy.

9. Do NOT throw dumbbells at the end of your set -Yes, yes. I know you are really big, and really strong, and you went to "complete failure" with those 70 pound dumbbell presses ... except for the fact that if you were at "complete failure" you wouldn't be able to throw those dumbbells. This is a safety issue. Just as you don't want a broken toe, neither do I.

8. Do NOT Loiter on the equipment - Your gym membership gives you the right to use the equipment, but so does everyone else. Use it and move on. The last thing anyone wants to do is waste time while you sit on the pec dec talking it up with your best bud or that girl who is never going to go out with you. Seriously, get on, do your sets, let someone else get their workout in.

7. Do NOT spend an unusual amount of time looking at yourself in the mirrors - Need I say more.

6. Do NOT go into the hot tub in your tighty whities - Or, really, anything other than a bathing suit. This is not your house, this is a facility that is being used by many other people who just don't want to see it ... especially when you get out.

5. Do NOT go into the hot tub - Because, think about it. People workout then get their dirty, disgusting bodies into that overheated water. You are sitting in other people's filth. And if you do get in, you are probably going to be sitting next to someone in their underwear (see #5).

4. Limit the nakedness in the locker room as much as possible - There are very legit reasons for not being fully clothed in the locker rooms. You need to change from work clothes to workout rags. You also use the shower. These are totally legit. But ... you can shave in a pair of shorts, or at least a towel around you. Also, don't sit your unclothed butt on the bench.  

3. Do NOT use the club provided hair dryer to dry anything other than the hair on your head -
Nobody wants to use that thing after it has been in your sweaty shoes or shorts. And nobody wants to see you blow dry your nether region. Trust me, the naked old guy with one leg on the counter drying his ... you get the picture.

2. DO NOT ABUSE THE EQUIPMENT!!!! - As one who has owned the equipment and a user of the equipment this is my personal number one issue. When I owned Body Dynamics I would get the same story from the abusers that can be summed up as this: I pay my money, I have the right to treat the equipment as I choose, la la la la la.. No. You. Don't. Your gym membership entitles you to use the equipment, not abuse the equipment. That $35/month gives you rental rights, just like everyone else who pays their money. And just like you, they are paying to rent good, not broken equipment. If the gym owner has to replace a dumbbell or a bar or whatever, that costs money. Eventually, that money adds up and your rate has to go up. Or, they don't replace the damaged equipment and you eventually workout at a craphole. And btw, if you have to throw those 60 pound dumbbells because you went to "total failure," you really didn't because, you know, you had the strength to launch them across the room.

1. DON'T Be a Dick - This is the general catch-all for anything for anything that doesn't fit in above that is just not cool. Washing your feet in the sink would be a good example, as would stalking that cute girl who really wants to just work out and could care less about you. In general, if you think it might not be socially acceptable, it probably isn't.

Thanks for Allowing me to rant. If you think I missed something, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Race Report: Rev3 Half Full Triathlon

Every race that goes onto the schedule is there for a reason. Some are those old favorites that you do every year and others are destination races, or an excuse to go somewhere cool but still race. Others are "A" races, or the race you put on the schedule as your one or two big efforts of the year. These are the races you (should) choose based on how they work into your training plan, but also are likely to provide you with the best conditions for your personal success.

On Sunday October 6, 2013 me and a group of friends towed the line at the Rev3 Half Full Triathlon in Columbia, MD. For me this was looking to be an "A" race with a great opportunity to test my fitness. The timing was good, the course was on challenging terrain (close to 3k ft of climb on the bike), and the weather is usually cool. 

And one week out, everything felt like it was falling into place. I was coming off a few good race efforts, the body was feeling, good, and we were talking about arm warmers, gloves and taking time to dry off before the bike. Fresh legs, a hilly race, and cool weather suits me fine. Looked like I would get my day.

Yeah ... about that weather forecast ... A few days later the last blast of heat was heading up the coast ahead of a tropical something or another. So much for the best laid plans ...
Getting transition set up pre-dawn.

Pre-race was fairly uneventful. Me, Em, and The Mayor drove down and met Phil, Becky, and Cassie at packet pickup. After stopping for some food we got our stuff, racked our bikes and checked out the lake. From there we drove the bike course and checked into the hotel. Em's friend Emily was also racing and we ended up eating dinner at her parent's house.

Race morning brought surprisingly cool temperatures and fog. There were three races going on - a college championship, an Olympic distance, and an almost 1/2 Ironman distance, with the rolling swim start going in that order. Except for Phil we were all racing the half.

I was in the third wave of the half, all men 40+, behind the survivors and those racing for The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. With the rolling swim start I chose to start toward the back of my group. The rolling start was spreading things out, keeping me from catching a draft, but fighting little traffic. The only place that jammed up was the swim exit as I caught the back of the Olympic race. 1500M Swim time: 23:32

Transition 1 was a fairly long uphill run but otherwise uneventful. T1 in 2:55

The bike was a lollypop-shaped, two loop course. The course was rolling terrain with a few climbs thrown in for fun. Areas of flat terrain were few and far between and my Garmin registered almost 3k feet of verticle. The weather was temperate to start ... until the fog burned off. With the expected heat my plan for the ride changed. Instead of attacking I held back and stayed well within myself. Most of the ride I was alone, passing a few and getting past by a few younger guys who started in the wave behind me. Letting them go was no problem. I entered T2 in the top 10. The ride was a few miles short of a traditional 1/2 Ironman distance. Bike 53 miles: 2:30:01

Change shoes and grab what I need for the run. In and out of T2 in 0:55.

The run. Yes, yes, the run. By the time I hit the trail out along the lake the temperature was north of 80 degrees, the sun was out, the humidity high. The course was two loops of hilly paved trails and roads. My goal was simply keep my heart rate in a sustainable range so I didn't blow up early. Energy-wise I was fine and I felt hydrated. I left transition at what felt like a sustainable pace ... for about five minutes  ... and then I hit the first hill. My HR spiked and I had to choose between blowing up or walking a bit. I power walked it. At the top I grabbed as much ice and water as I could and started the process of keeping my body as cool and hydrated as I could. This process continued on for the next 12 miles. Run 13.1 Miles: 1:57:26 

Overall: 4:58:50 6th in AG40-44 22nd overall (266 finishers)

If you add up the times listed you may notice my final time includes an additional 4 minutes, which I can only assume was some sort of penalty on the bike. Somewhere around the 12 mile mark I did see the USAT officials as they came by me, with the non-driver writing down what must have been my number. There were no bikes within a quarter mile of me at the time (or most of the day) so I couldn't have been blocking or drafting. I was riding the best tangent that I could ... but I never crossed over the double yellow line. Whatever. It was apparent at the pre-race meeting that the officials were looking to give out penalties so congrats to them. Again, whatever. I lost one place in the overall standings.

I also want to give a big shout out to the crew. Emily, Cassie, and Becky had great days at the Half distance, all placing in their respective age groups, while Phil took 2nd in his AG racing in the Olympic Distance race.

Overall I really enjoyed this race and would consider doing it again. The organization was good, the roads had volunteers all over the place for both the bike and the run, and the course was a nice challenge. And instead of the traditional t-shirt, everyone received a technical long sleeve jacket. There were, however, three issues, two minor and one larger, that need to be resolved to make this race top notch.

The major issue was one of safety. There were a lot of high school kids working the bike course, which I'm fine with, as long as they are paying attention. A large majority of them, however, were consumed with their smartphones, paying little attention to the traffic at the cross streets that they were responsible for. After the race I spoke with the race director who reacted in exactly the correct manner - he thanked me for the feedback, apologized, and said he would work on correcting the situation for next year.

One minor issue was the limited post-race food spread. Normally there is an area set up specifically for the athletes. Here, there was food available, but it was not clearly marked, and it was the same food they were selling to spectators. The choices, other than the free beer, were limited and not all that appealing. I do like me a bratwurst, just not 20 minutes after a 5 hour race. To be fair, I compare every post-race spread to the one at Timberman 70.3, which is simply awesome.

The other issue that I must mention is the race distance. The traditional distance for a Half Ironman is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a half marathon. They bill this race as a 70.0 for the 70k young adults diagnosed with cancer every year, which is cool ... but the distances didn't match. They were very public about the swim being 0.9 miles, but the bike was only 53 miles and the run course a bit short, neither of which were well publicized. If I'm racing for almost 5 hours, I want to know before hand exactly what I'm racing.

Next up: A week of recovery and then prep for the Philadelphia Marathon on November 17.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rule #3: Don't Become a Slave to Sports Technology

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." - Bob Marley

Ok. So right up front I have to say that I love me some technology and really, really, really like what my Garmin can do. I find the data extremely helpful and, very honestly, I like to see all that data. Distance. Time. Speed/Pace. Heart rate. Cadence. And on and on and on. From a training perspective having and using data can be very, very productive.

What I am talking about here is how we train and how we race. When I started running back in the late-1990s I would go out dressed to run with a simple Timex watch on my wrist and a general idea of the distance of my course for that day. How did I figure out the distance? Maybe by riding my bike on the roads, or maybe driving my car. After a while I got to know how far almost every section of road was within a 10 mile radius of my house and Body Dynamics (the health club I owned and operated at the time).

I did tempo runs and occasionally would go to a track for a speed workout. Well, truth be told, hitting the track was and still is something I try to avoid due to a total dislike for running in 400M circles. Any run that was done on the roads would have guestimate feedback as we didn't really know exactly how far it was to the next intersection, or telephone pole, or the designated mile marker. Point is, when we ran we didn't have instant feedback like one has today and we never knew exactly how far we had gone. Needless to say, there were no HR Monitors or run cadence sensors ... but things were a little more advanced on the bike.

Not knowing if I was in "Zone 2" or "high zone 3" never crossed my mind. It was more like, am I going easy, moderately hard, hard, or holy crap I'm gonna' blow up in about 30 seconds.

Fast forward to today and it is a whole different world for many runners, bicyclists, and triathletes. For many it has become more about training in exact zones or hitting some power numbers or certain speeds. Many an Ironman competitor will be more focused on his/her power numbers than how they are actually feeling (let alone the awesome courses we get to ride on). Theory is, if I ride at X I will be able to run.

What is missing is an understanding of the body and how it reacts to the training or racing stimulus, both positive and negative. See, there are other factors that need to be considered. Racing and training can and should be science-based, but do have an art component as well. Sticking to the numbers, without an understanding of your body has three potential outcomes, two of  which are negative:

1. You become a slave to the technology and you run the perfect race/training run. POSITIVE
2. You become a slave to the technology and you train/race below your potential. NEGATIVE
3. You become a slave to the technology and you blow up or race below your potential. NEGATIVE

The only way you are successful is if you are exactly right and any outside factor has no affect (positive or negative) on your performance. Because, you know, you never have a day where you feel like a million bucks and you never have a day where you feel like S**t. And heat, humidity, excessive cold, your bowels, that fight you had with your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, stress from your job, a bad night's sleep .... that never happens, right?

Here's how it should work in racing: At the Philly Tri a few years ago I decided to just go for it and raced the swim and bike aggressive but controlled, then just go for it on the run. I had my Garmin on my wrist but only used it for total time, allowing me to post-race assess how things went and come to some conclusions as to why. After a faster than expected swim and a quick transition, I hit the bike course and quickly moved up to the front end of my age group. I rode the steep, technical hills aggressively, allowing my heart rate to spike, while making the most of the downhill sections to build speed and recover. On the flats I rode right at my perceived limit. On the run I held back a bit for the first mile, getting my legs under me, then gradually pushing the pace faster. By mile four I was running right at capacity, a pace where I knew I was in my final gear. Not once did I know my average pace or heart rate (I could see current pace on my bike computer), only my perceived exertion.

The result was a PR for the Olympic distance and some of the fastest miles I have ever run off the bike coming in the back half of the run. I felt great all day, well within myself. The data, however, showed me racing above what a technology-based approach would have had me doing. I felt unbelievable that June morning, leaving everything out on the course. Racing by the numbers would not have achieved the same results.

So how do I use technology?

Honestly I use technology more to hold me back than to push harder. On a recovery run, for example, I will usually just keep the heart rate information visible to allow me to really keep it easy. IMHO this is a very good use of technology as there are days where I am looking for simple recovery but my perceived exertion and actual exertion are not synced up. If I'm looking to hit a tempo or threshold pace, on the other hand, I will use the data in a traditional manner ... which is much more effective than guessing how far a mile repeat is or how fast I am moving.

While racing I have found that the data is valuable after the race to try and understand what happened and why, but also a great tool for long-distance racing. For me, long-distance racing is any running event longer than a 1/2 marathon or a triathlon that lasts more than three hours.

Last year at Augusta 70.3 I used my Garmin 910xt to keep my heart rate within a range while on the bike. I rode relatively easy for the first few miles to get down into my zone, then held within my pre-determined range for most of the ride. On the rolling/hillier terrain I did allow heart rate to go above this range, but only so far. Because I held back I felt scary good on the back third of the ride, able to run as I wanted out of transition, setting a 13 minute PR in teh process.

The moral of the story: Use sports technology for what it is - a great training and racing tool that can help you more effectively reach your goals - but don't forget to listen to your body.

Stay focused. Train hard.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Race Report: The Great Six Flags Triathlon

Every race gives you the opportunity to gain experience and learn something. With triathlon, more than single sport events, there is more variability from venue to venue, making it all the more interesting. Sometimes that experience is really, really good ... other times, not so much. This past Sunday at The Great Six Flags Triathlon in Jackson, NJ, there was plenty of good happening.

The Great American Scream Machine. Source: Wikipedia
This race was a late edition to my schedule with two things going for it. To start, it fell two weeks before my late-season 1/2 Ironman (Half Full Triathlon). As important, it was located at Six Flags Great Adventure, about 10 minutes from my parent's house and 15 minutes from where I grew up. This would be the first time in 24 years that I would be inside the park, having not been there since the last day I worked there during my college years.

Early Sunday morning Emily and I rode over and had no problem getting into the park and setup in transition, which was located in the parking lot right next to a roller coaster. Being a second year race, I was impressed with the size and quality of the group racing. There were more than 400 people racing different race variations. Both Em and I raced the Olympic Distance.

The race was a fairly simple setup - swim in a small lake located inside GA, a 1/2 mile run to T1 (that is not a typo), a 40k ride through the NJ countryside, then a 2-loop, 10k run inside the park. There was no wave start but a self-seated rolling swim start that was effective.

My day started with a 1500M swim in 22:41, exiting the water in 13th place overall. After a long transition run I rode my way through the group, entering T2 in second place with 4 guys right behind me, and the fastest bike split of the day, riding the 40k in 1:03:48. After a quick change of shoes, I ran the 10k in 44:01, for a 2:17:00 finish time, 6th place overall and 2nd in the 40-44 age group.The race was fun and my overall my race results were very satisfying. Race results can be found here.

Looking back, I think I made a tactical mistake on the bike that might have cost me a few places. I passed a few guys around the three mile mark and another two between miles 10 and 12. At mile 18 I caught the front pack of 5 guys (the winner was up the road) and sat in for a few miles, taking a bit of a brake. All of us, BTW, riding legal. By mile 22 I had enough and put a small gap on the group. If I had it to do again, for better or worse, I would have rode through the group, either blowing by them or forcing whoever came with me to leave their comfort zone.

Beyond the tactical, there were a number of good lessons Sunday morning:
  1. You don't have to feel great to race well - Not great from beginning to end, but kept my head down, moving forward as fast as I could.
  2. Running 1/2 mile in a wetsuit kinda sucks - T1 felt like it took forever and my heart rate was redlining. Not. Fun.
  3. Racing at the front of the race is different than racing in a late wave - Because of my old age, a wave start generally means I am swimming, then riding through those who started ahead of me. Hitting T1 in 13th place I spent most of the day chasing, not passing. On the run, I ran most of the first loop alone.
  4. If you just keep running, sometimes you start to feel better and go faster - Spent some energy on the bike and struggled the first few miles of the run. Around the halfway mark my legs got some life and the pace picked up.
  5. Know the course you before you race - Looked at the profile online for the bike and run but they were totally different than what I expected. The bike was almost all rolling hills and a bit on the technical side. The run had a 1+ mile portion that was on a rocky trail. we also ran past the monkeys, so that was a pretty cool surprise.
  6. It is possible to race on very few calories - I took in maybe 50 calories on the bike. That's it.
  7. A steady set of feet to draft = good swim - Anyone who tells you that drafting isn't worth it is full of crap. Didn't feel great swimming, but that draft pulled me right along while conserving energy.
  8. My run is my weak link - Used to be my swim. Got some work to do.
  9. Competing in races not normally on the schedule is a good thing - There is something to be said for racing the familiar, but something different is a nice change of pace.
Overall a good race all around. I paced well, feel ready to race on October 6th, and I learned a few things along the way.  After three straight weeks of racing I'll be getting some work in this week then a proper taper next week leading up to the Half Full Triathlon.

As for the Great Six Flags Triathlon, I would recommend it to anyone. The venue is nice and the race director did a good job of organization. Out on the bike there was a NJ State Trooper at every turn (and there were a lot of them) making sure traffic wasn't an issue while making sure we were staying on course. The run was well marked, but about a mile of each loop was on a very rocky trail. The only complaint I have is the finishers metals were really lame, and the awards were small, standard  plaques. IMHO it would be easy to come up with something a bit different that connects the race and the theme park, much like the spikes that are given for the Saucon Valley Rail Trail 10k.

Stay focused. Train hard.