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