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.