Tuesday, January 28, 2014

... that darn treadmill

I don't understand how some people spend most of the winter months indoors. Living in Eastern PA I know it can get cold, wet, slippery, windy, and every other nasty weather you can imagine. Sometimes we get these all at the same time, others at different times during the day. We don't have it as bad as Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example, but it can really be not so good at times.

One of my rules for training is that in the off season - usually from Thanksgiving to January 1 every year - it is ok to avoid lousy training weather if I just don't feel like heading outside. This allows me get a bit of a break and avoid running in a 40 degree rainstorm by either skipping a workout or changing a workout. Once January comes, however, there are no excuses. I will shift workouts to take advantage of what's happening weather-wise ... sane schedule flexibility ... but there is no bagging a workout because conditions aren't ideal. That said, one must have at least a little sanity and, dare I say it, play it smart.

Casa de Soden's Landice 2000
Over the years I have done a limited number of runs on the treadmill, all by necessity. Last year, for example, I ran a grand total of one time (other than a quick transition workout or two) - some intervals - because there was too much snow on the ground to get out the door. And by too much, I mean 5 inches and it was still coming down.

The past few mild winters with not a lot of snow were great. 2014, however, has been a completely different beast with brutal cold, wind, and a whole lot of snow (by Eastern PA standards). Damn you polar vortex!!!

This ... situation ... has forced me inside more than I like. Last week, for example, I had a run on the schedule for Thursday. The day before was snowy and the roads were still a mess. It was 7 degrees, but the ice on the roads is what forced me inside. Pre-dawn running has many advantages, but ice is not one of them. Funny story: the week before we had this 28 degree fog I tried to run in which ended up with me flat on my 44 year old ass, almost crawling to the grass so I could stand back up. Ugh.

I know some people run exclusively on this torture machine and claim to enjoy it but I don't get it. Yes, there's the tv. Yes, it is a controlled environment. I still can't stand it.

Running is an activity that should be done outside. The joy of running is that connection to the world, step-by-step, heart beat by heart beat. You, the road, and your surroundings. Time to think ... time to enjoy those familiar roads. Running on a treadmill is the exact opposite experience - a sterile environment surrounded by other electronic devices with no connection to nature.

Since it's January and there's work to do I've been doing what I have to do. In my world, this means getting on the dreadmill when necessary. It sucks, but what are you going to do. Last time I looked, they don't push the race back a few weeks because of crappy weather Eastern PA had in January and Jon couldn't run outside.

For the first time on a long time I can't wait for warmer weather. No more treadmill; No more bike trainer. In the meantime, just suck it up and get 'er done.

Thanks for  reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Swim Training is Important for Triathletes

The other day I'm sitting on the side of the pool with my feet in the water contemplating the workout I'm about to start, knowing just how much parts of the next 65 minutes will suck. This is a common occurrence, as I rarely just jump in the water and get 'er done. I am not a swimmer. Prior to joining a masters swim program when I was 32 years old, the extent of my swimming was confined to jumping around in the ocean when I was a kid and my grandfather's 16x32 backyard pool.

Yes, I did take swimming lessons in Lake Carasaljo when I was a kid, but I was not a swimmer. I didn't swim laps when I was 4 years old, nor did I swim for my high school team (because we didn't have a pool, let alone a swim team). I started to swim as a way to cross-train for my marathon training, not because I was planning on doing an Ironman (well,  it might have been in the back of my mind ...).

I can honestly say I will never be a great swimmer. I like to refer to myself as a "great" non-swimmer, as I have put in enough quality pool time to have reasonable swim splits at all triathlon race distances. It's taken quite a few years - and a whole lot of work - but I have found it to be worth the effort. And, not sugarcoating it, becoming a competent swimmer does take effort.

Not surprisingly there are many a triathlete who would prefer to only put in just enough pool time to make it through the swim and get to the glamour of the bike and the grind of the run. In a way I cannot blame them. Swimming sucks. If you have been swimming most of your life you are probably burned out from all the time you put in during your school years. And if you are not a swimmer, you don't have the technique and, without the technique, swimming is a huge challenge. Doesn't matter how much run fitness you have or how much power you can produce on the bike, poor technique = slow swim. To get the technique it takes time ... lots of time. Making the argument further, the swim is such a short portion of a triathlon relative to the bike and the run.

I'm here to say putting in the pool time is hugely beneficial.

For all distances of triathlon.


For racing short - Sprint or Olympic Distance - you can "get by" with little swim training and finish the race. If that's your plan, you are fine. If, however, you want to be competitive, do you really want to give your competition a 3 to 10 minute (or more) head start out of the water? Maybe you are that bad-ass of a biker and/or runner, but even on a local level you are putting yourself at a big disadvatntage at best. Same goes for the 70.3 distance.

For the Full Ironman Distance, swim training is so much more important. If you have ever gone the distance you are fully aware that 140.6 miles is a completely different beast than other, shorter distances. Long course racing is about your fitness level and not fatiguing over the course of the day. Sure, the swim is the shortest portion of your day ... almost like a warm up to the bike and run. But, in order to really treat it like a warm up, you need swim fitness in you so as not to burn energy on the swim.

See, the energy you burn in the water has a direct effect on your bike and your run. You may not know it. You may not believe it. You may even deny it. Truth is, if you burn a few matches as you make your way around the swim course you will pay for it later in the day. In the worse case, you go into the event undertrained and the swim kicks your ass. And nothing says fun times like being drained before you even get on your bike ...

From a training perspective, smart swim training has a nice spillover effect on your bike and run. If you ever watched "real" swimmers train you may notice the amount of training they actually do, and the intensity level they hit for some sets. From a triathlete's perspective, integrating high intensity intervals in the pool allows you to work your anaerobic engine without putting stress on your body. Think about the stress you put on the body running short intervals around the track vs. a set of hard 50s or 100s in the pool. Both suck; Both stress your upper levels of fitness. But only the running places a high level pounding on your body.

From a racing perspective, swim training helps condition the mind to deal with the physical and mental exhaustion that comes from racing all day. Don't believe me? I don't care how fit you are, do a set of 3-4 x 1000 on 30 sec. RI and tell me you aren't at least a bit drained by that set. Kudos if you aren't talking to the black line by the beginning of the fourth set.

The moral of the story? STFU, apply ample doses of Rule #5, and Get. In. The. Pool.

So next time you run into me at the pool and I'm sitting on the deck, staring at the water and I tell you I'm trying to decide on what I'm going to do ... now you know what's really going on.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2014 - The Year for Racing Ironman

I have always taken the view that my racing is something that is very personal and should be what I find enjoyable. Some years it is about doing the familiar races, other years about destination racing. Over the (many) years it has changed.I started out just running a few 5ks, then I added some half marathons ... then marathons ... then triathlons ... then finally Iron-distance triathlons. This evolution has occurred over way too many years.

My opinion is every season of racing is, and should be, different. While I do have a number of races I enjoy doing most every year, I am not the guy who races the same 6 or 7 races every year. I enjoy a new challenge and I enjoy riding/running a new course.

In 2013 I raced 13 events - 7 of which I do most years and 4 that were new to me, and 2 that I have done at some point in the past. There were triathlons, running races from 5k to the marathon, and even an open water swim.  It was eclectic. It was enjoyable. Maybe I'll do a recap ... maybe not ... I don't know.

2014 is a much different beast. In 2013 I raced what I wanted without much thought about building a season to a pinnacle event. This year is much more focused. My habit of racing more will be put on hold with many more weeks of "just training." The races I have on the schedule have a purpose in the big picture. For 2014 is not just an Ironman focused year, 2014 is about TWO FULL Ironman races.

Ironman Coeur D'Alane, 2008

Such a big year is both exciting and a bit scary. Exciting because I have some big racing on the docket. Scary because I have some big racing on the schedule. The Full Ironman races will be #5 and #6 for me so the distance isn't my issue. My concerns come with keeping focused and healthy for the next 11 months. To stay healthy I need to listen to my body and not overdo it, which is easier said than done. In the past when I had a coach my problem had always been doing what was no the paper for that day/week. If I was sore or tired or a bit nicked up ... it was on the page so it had to get done. This is good, but can lead to really bad stuff - injury, overtraining, dead legs on race day. The problem was never Coach, it was always me.

Since I have been self-coached this problem hasn't been as much of a problem for a number of reasons. First, I have stopped thinking in week time periods and more in terms of the month. By extending my time frame I find I am better able to listen to the body and push a workout off if needed. The next thing I have done is be more out there with what I am doing on this blog. By putting things out there I force myself to stop listening to that little voice inside always telling me to just keep working harder, and listen to what is the more reasonable approach.

That said, the key phrase in that last paragraph is "hasn't been as much of a problem." I still find the voices in my head always wanting to do more, more, more with not though of what my legs feel like. It's a constant fight to stay on track.

Here's what I have planned for 2014:

January 25 - Fred Lebow Manhattan Half Marathon - This 2-loops around Central Park course is not about racing, but about getting a solid, early season 13.1 miles in on a hilly course. I've done this a number of times in the past as a way to get the legs moving a bit faster with no pressure of performing. This time around I have no goal other than enjoy the company of 10,000 other runners, see where my run fitness is, and a great post-run breakfast at the Country Griddle. In other words - a catered training run.

February 15 - Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon -  Heading down South for a long weekend to visit my parents and this race was conveniently happening during my visit. Many years ago I ran this marathon and decided it was way too early in the year to race a marathon. Might use this as a test of my fitness level.

May 17 - Jerseyman Tiathlon (Sprint Distance) - Tuneup race. Two years ago I raced here as a way to go through the motion of swim/bike/run in order to make whatever transition mistakes I had in me at a low-key event. Once again this will be a training race. Located in Clinton, NJ the race is close to home AND close to the Country Griddle (do you see a theme here?).

June 8 -Ironman Eagleman 70.3 - This race comes a few weeks before my early season "A" race and I plan on using it as a tuneup/test for IMCDA. The goal is to race the swim and bike at 1/2 Ironman pace and then run at Ironman pace. If I feel good on the run I'll pick up the pace. Right now, that's the plan. As a side note, why do we call these 70.3s now instead of Half Ironman?

June 29 - Ironman Coeur D'alane - First "A" race. Did this back in 2008 and we loved the venue. The town is great, the people friendly, and the race day temperature featured a high of 73 degrees. The course was to my liking with a hillier bike and mostly flat to rolling run. Right now I have an idea of what I want to do here, but my training will ultimately dictate what the goals are come race day.

August 11 - Steelman (Olympic Distance) - This is one I race every year with the same two goals. First, I want to finish in the top-10, which requires me to have a good day, but as an old man is a good challenge I have been mostly successful at in year's past. The other is to have a top-3 bike split, which I have accomplished once. Coming off IMCDA I should have plenty of fitness this year. (2013 Race Report)

August 31 - The Great Six Flags Triathlon (Tentative) -Did this race in 2013 and loved it (race report) ... with the sole exception being the 1/2 mile run from the swim to T1 (seriously, that's a long way to run with a wetsuit on). They moved the race from the 3rd Sunday in September up to the end of August. It fits, I just haven't made a decision on doing it or not. If I do race this, it will be right before I start gearing up for IMFL. I will be racing this all out, looking to make up for the tactical mistake I made on the bike in 2013.

September 14 - Rev3 Pocono Mountains 70.3 - WTC put this race on for two years before deciding it didn't fit with their agenda. Rev3 revitalized the race and moved it from early October to the second weekend in September. The weather should be pretty good and I hope to race well on a short taper as part of race prep for IMFL in November.

November 1 - Ironman Florida - Final race of the year and the second "A" race on my schedule. This will be an interesting challenge for me as I have never raced two full Ironman-distance races in the same year. I worry about two things - motivation to put the swim training in the Fall and being mentally prepared to race this distance so very late in the year.

So that's what my year is going to look like. I am looking forward to the challenge of not just racing two full Ironmans, but also staying fit, fresh and healthy.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Rule #5: Harden the F#$k Up

"Embrace the suck." - Chris "Macca" McCormack

The Queen comes into the kitchen this morning and asks me if I rode my bike this morning. I tell her I did ... in the basement,on the trainer. Hard intervals. She responds with three words: Rule Number Five.

I'm pretty sure my wife just called me a wuss for staying inside.

All endurance sports are hard, both physically and mentally. If you race a 5k it hurts a lot, but only for a relatively short period of time. Race an Ironman or a 100 mile run and it still hurts, just in a really different and sadistic way. Add to that conditions - heat, rain, snow, wind - or hilly terrain ... it doesn't get any better. No matter the distance, if you are looking to find your limit you are going to suffer.

So harden the f#$k up.

The point of racing and training is to push/test your limits and see what you have inside you. You CANNOT do that if you keep backing off when things start to get a bit uncomfortable, in both training and racing ... which is the exact opposite of what you want to do. When you hit that point you want to just push right through to the other side. Put your head down and get 'er done.

Chris McCormack has referred to this as embracing the suck. I say harden the f#$k up.

Hardening up is simple. Maybe not easy, but really simple.

1. Train outside whenever the weather conditions allow, using personal safety as the limiting factor to move a workout indoors - Limiting conditions include 10 inches of snow; sub-zero and windy conditions; a hurricane; icy roads; flooding. There might be something else I can't remember right now. The point is, you race in whatever the conditions are on race day unless there is a very compelling reason for the race to cancel (like a hurricane). In 2009 me and 20k other people ran the Boston Marathon in a Nor'easter because that's the day we got.

2. Stop complaining and/or finding excuses - We all get tired from time to time, just as we all have days where we just aren't our best. That's life. Deal with it and keep going. If you wait for the "perfect" day to do your track workout you might not get there. Cut the complaints and you will be more consistent with your training, which will make you a fitter athlete.

3. When it is time to up the intensity in training, hit it hard -  Interval training can and should be hard. Just like racing, the short stuff will hurt bad but for a short period, while longer intervals are that grinding kind of suffering. Whatever it is, hit your numbers and hold on for your dear life. And remember, fitness gains come on the last interval (or set) and not the first.

4. When things get hard, turn the mind off - If there is one thing that will kill me it is when I start to think late in a race. The mind is a powerful thing. That's good and bad. I have found as soon as I start thinking about the finish line ... or breakfast ... or how much whatever it is I'm in the middle of sucks, I'm toast. I'm not talking about when you get grumpy at mile 80 on the bike (you need to eat). I'm talking about when you start telling yourself that your done. For me I start doing the math: "If I run at x pace I'll be home in x:xx:xx stuffing my face with chips." Turn the mind off immediately and get back into the moment.If that doesn't work, try getting this song stuck in your head:

With all that said, you need to stay on the correct side of the smart/stupid line. The best way to do this is to know your body.  Recognize when the pain is bad pain, such as a strained muscle, twisted ankle, or severe dehydration. Understand when the weather just isn't conducive to training. There is a fine line between being tough and being stupid. Better to live to fight another day than put yourself on the sidelines with an injury. I've been on the wrong side of the smart/stupid line and it never works out well.

Here's an example of how to do it wrong:

Years ago I was out on a 20-mile run during a July heatwave with Lo-Jack down at the towpath. We got started late (around 11 am) and never even gave it a second thought that there we saw literally no one else on the path.We thought it was hot (90+ degrees) but we had tree cover. On the last 5-mile stretch things were getting ugly. Really, really ugly. The pace slowed and we were both clearly dehydrated. We finally stopped running when we saw his son who was going fishing. We got some water from him but it didn't matter. A few minutes we started to walk because our bodies forced us to stop. Barely made it back to the cars; wasn't back to being right for about a week.

A few years later, I did it right (kinda):

Again, I'm out on a hot Summer day doing a long run. I was working hard and felt good, all things considered. Around mile 12 I started to feel less good. By mile 14 I started to feel bad. Then I realize that I wasn't sweating, which is not ideal. In fact, it's really not good at all. Fortunately I realized this and stopped. I had water stashed about a mile away and walked to it. Drank the whole bottle, walked the mile and a half back to my car, lived to fight another day.

And that's that.

Getting back to me being a wuss this morning ... I did stay in, that is true. But I live in Eastern PA, not SoCal, and we have 8 inches of show and the thermometer reads 11 degrees as I write this. But after hitting the intervals hard, I think I held to the intent of Rule #5.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Off-Season Training Done ... Bring on 2014

After completing the Philadelphia Marathon on November 17th I consciously shut down my training and racing in a very real way with a simple goal - refresh the body and mind. For the first time in a long time the plan was to embrace the off season. I have a big agenda for 2014 (separate post for that) and I wanted to make sure I started the year in a good place, ready to put in the work.

In order to put the Type-A personality aside I had to consciously deal with the reality of being "out of shape," a bit heavier, and without the endorphins associated with my normal workout routine. And deal with it I did. As I write this, I am nowhere near peak fitness and five pounds heavier than I was six weeks ago. So, congratulations to me, I can successfully get out of shape!!! As for the feel-goodness that comes from training ... let's just say I'm ready to get out there and get 'er done.
Source: www.illustriationsource.com

But just getting "out of shape" wasn't the point. The point was to get ready for racing in 2014. These six weeks were not just the end of 2013  but also the beginning of 2014. There were four things I wanted to accomplish in my down time - heal the body, take a mental break, get other stuff done, get stronger. How did I do?

Letting the body heal itself - With one exception my body feels better than it has in a few years. My legs are the exact opposite of heavy; most all of the minor aches and pains have gone away; I haven't needed the services of my chiropractor for 5+ weeks and counting. Even the shoulder strain that happened while moving a desk at work in late November is long gone. The problem is, the one exception is a recurring calf issue that has me away from running for almost two weeks now. It's a whole lot better but not 100%. Thus, I'm not running and will continue to fight the urge to run until it is completely healed. Better to miss a few weeks of running in December and January than in April or May. Due to injury I give myself an Off Season Mark of C.

Taking a mental break - For 5 weeks I trained when I felt like it with little or no intensity. I swam a little, ran a little, and rode outside whenever I could. Last week I started to get it together and did keep to a truncated training week schedule. On Thanksgiving morning I ran the Pumpkin Pie 5k in 27:xx, with no Garmin and no heart rate monitor. The only "mistake" of too much intensity was at the xMas City 5 Mile Run where I ran faster than I promised myself I would. It didn't feel bad and it was maybe 90 seconds slower than I could have done if I really pushed it. Being that I am ready to get to work, I give myself an Off Season Mark of A.

Getting other stuff done - I'm a pack rat. For years I've held onto stuff that I really didn't need to and this off season I changed most (some) of that. Over the past six weeks I went through the mess in the basement closet and got rid of a lot of the unnecessary clutter. Along with the cleanup I managed to read a few books, get caught up on my Feedly read list, visited the Weavers Way Co-op Grocery Store, better organize my digital life, got my money's worth of my Netflix subscription, and get caught up on my sleep. Not everything I want to do, but more than I realistically expected. Off Season Mark - A

Time to focus like it's game 7 of the World Series
Get strong - A few days after the marathon I got back into the gym and started the process of rebuilding some strength. As a former gym rat doing this has never been a problem. Over these last 6 weeks I have slowly increased the workload, sticking with mainly the big, multi-joint exercises. I'm stronger than I was last year at this time and almost back to where I was in 2013 when the strength work took a back seat to more specific triathlon training. Off Season Mark - A+

Overall - Starting the year feeling genuinely refreshed is a good feeling.This calf thing is a real bitch. I really find that I'm fighting my inner urge to just start training, assuming that it will just work itself out. Because that always works. Overall Off Season Mark - A-.

So here we sit at the beginning of 2014 and I enter my base training feeling really good, but not yet running. While it sucks, I'm trying to be ok with it. It feels like taking a step backwards will help me move forward and reach my racing goals this year. Time to focus like Andy Pettitte in Game 7 of the World Series.

Train hard. Stay focused.