Friday, March 28, 2014

Five Reasons Your Training Run Should NOT Turn Into a Race

Around 10 am on most Sunday mornings if you head on over to the Velodrome in Trexlertown, PA you will see cyclists slowly spinning around the parking lot in anticipation of the start of a training ride that is known by two simple words - The Derby. For anyone who has rode The Derby knows, this famous Sunday morning ride is really an unsanctioned race. After rolling out at a very modest pace for the first 17 miles or so, once you hit the turn it is game on. If you are an amateur rider like myself the thrill is in just trying to hang with some of the best in the world (current and past). It's a bad ass ride, for sure. But nobody shows up on any given Sunday expecting to cruise through an easy workout. You show up to race from the turn on in.

This is not only really, really cool, but totally acceptable. It is what it is and you know it when you clip in to start circling the parking lot. If you are world class you are there to try and get the win. If you're an amateur, you are there to test your personal limits. For most everyone out there, The Derby  works out to be a pretty good workout. But, what happens when this is what happens whenever you get together with friends? More to the point, what happens when your training becomes a constant race against the clock?

Before we go there I want to take a step back for a minute. Since 1998, just about every weekend which I am not racing, Saturday morning is spent running with friends. It started with a group of about five at the old Body Dynamics. After about a year it was me and Lo-Jack, with the occasional guest appearance by a variety of characters. There were times where others were regulars - Two Banana Time and The Mayor being the most notable - but for years it was Jack and Jon most every Saturday morning. Stick around the group long enough and you earn yourself a well deserved nickname.

After years of small numbers and guest appearances something changed. For the first time ever there is a group of regulars. Some I have been trying to get to show up for longer than I can remember, while others jumped at the chance to have familiar faces to train with on a regular basis. There really is something to be said for comradely. We have what I can say is, not only a good group of regulars, but a truly great group of people.

The run is referred to as Jack & Jon's Saturday Morning Run.

What I have come to really like about this run and this group is everybody can show up and do their own thing. Most all of us are going long, but sometimes with different agendas and almost always at a number of different paces. For example,one Saturday Craiger went off on his own to get 12 miles in while Lo-Jack and Mean Gene ran an easy eight. I got my miles in with the ladies, somewhere around 14. When it was all over we ended up together in the parking lot where we figured out where to go grab some breakfast. It was a good morning.

Among the group there was a lot of camaraderie that morning, along with wondering conversations filled with laughter. What there wasn't on that day was any competition among friends. Like most other Saturday mornings we were just a group of friends out on a friendly training run.

Much to my dismay there has been a subtle shift at times on our Saturday morning runs. See, one of us has had a little different thought process recently. For the first time ever we have a rogue runner. As most of us our on a training run, our rogue runner has a racing mindset. Every Saturday becomes a test of "how fast are we going." Every Saturday becomes a mental struggle. Every Saturday is run like it's the Boston Marathon.

It's killing my mojo.

Putting my mojo aside for a moment, consistently having a racing mindset is bad. Here are my five reasons for keeping your training run, a training run:

1. Weekly (internal) Pressure to Succeed - If you are racing on a training run you are really racing. And a big part of racing is mental. you have to prepare to push yourself, and then suck it up when you do. If you have ever raced, you know they don't always turn out exactly how we want.  If you have a bad day, poor time, whatever, you are going to take a mental hit. Have this happen multiple times and you become a bit of a mental train wreck. Nothing good comes from digging such a mental hole.

2. Burnout - Speaking of becoming a mental train wreck, constant racing will take all the fun out of your chosen sport. The constant push will take its toll, eventually leading you burnout. Get to this point and you may come back to race another day, or you become a couch potato who has some great stories from "back in the day."

3. Not Actually Training - Racing is a way of measuring your progress. But you can't become better if you are always racing, be it in actual races or in your training. See progress is a result of training, which is about the body gradually adapting to increases in stress by getting fitter and, thus faster. Hard as it may be for some people to believe, that easy ride or easy run have benefits. Pushing the limit every week - or every session - however, may get you faster for a short while ... and then you hit that plateau ... and then ...

4. Injury - If you are constantly pushing your limit eventually something bad is eventually going to happen. Nuff said.

5. Your Training Partners - If you have good people you train with you want to keep it that way. If your training strays from productive training and becomes a constant hammer-fest you might find yourself in need of a new crew.

So what's the moral of the story? Training is training and racing is racing. If you are serious about your sport, both should be done with a purpose. That purpose is to race better IN YOUR RACE. Break this simple rule and bad things are likely.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thinking About Healthcare in America and Personal Responsibility

The other night I was out to dinner with a group which happened to include an old friend I had not seen in about 15 years. Let's call him Zoltan (I always wanted to know someone names Zoltan). Last time I saw Zoltan he was maybe just out of college, lean, and very active. Zoltan had been a member of the health club I owned at the time - Body Dynamics. Today, my old friend is a much different person than the last time we spoke.

The person I had dinner with is married with a child, working a white collar sales job, and would never be confused with an athlete. To use a word this person is frumpy. During the conversation among the group Zoltan said flat out that exercise used to make him feel good ... but now, eh, who wants to get off the couch.

I bring this up because, during the two hour conversation among us, we ended up talking about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the health care system in America, health, and of course how I'm that "crazy" triathlete who eats healthy. On my way home that night I became more agitated by the whole thing. Here's why:

There were a number of people who were outright complaining about Obamacare and how it is "destroying" healthcare in America. Costs are exploding; people are losing their coverage; all the talking points we have all heard ad nausium for years. I asked if anyone knew of someone who lost coverage and the answer was no. I explained that my business has saved money this year due to the implementation of the ACA. Zoltan, looking surprised, claimed to have never heard that from anyone. More shock when I explained that a policy for The Queen and I today through the exchange would cost less than I paid 17 years ago. I then went on to explain how the Obamacare "horror stories" have all turned out to be false. Again, looks of surprise.

From there the conversation turned to the cost of healthcare. Long story short, what most everyone at that table couldn't understand can be summed up in this infographic:

Moving on, Zoltan starts talking about his own health situation and how he is glad he sees a doctor on a regular basis. He's glad because he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which he says is something he is genetically susceptible to having. He is currently on medication, which I assumed are statins from one of the major drug manufactures. His doctor did say that if he lost weight and exercised he could once again live without the prescription medication (I give huge props to his doctor for even bringing up the fact that a simple lifestyle change could make all the difference in not just managing the problem, but eliminating it). And if you didn't figure this out already, Zoltan is in his mid-to late-30s.

So here's what bothers me about the entire situation. I sit through a good 20 minutes of listening to people bash the changes to the health INSURANCE system (Obamacare) and complain about all the problems with it, giving no solutions, of course, with concern for only what it would cost them in the long run. What was failed to be understood is the why we have such high costs. Yes, we pay more than other developed nations for the services we are provided. Yes, we have an aging population which will need more care in the years to come.

But ... and this is important ... what was NOT mentioned by anyone, was the cost of many not taking personal responsibility for their health. 

Wait. What?

See, my friend Zoltan was very straight up in admitting that he is overweight and doesn't exercise. He was also straight up about the fact that his doctor told him that, if he did both, he would not have to take drugs. Yet, he wasn't doing either. Instead, he was basically going on with life as it was before he found out that he had a health issue, taking the medication he was prescribed, inevitably paying whatever the co-pay is for said drug.

Which would be perfectly fine with me ... really it would be ... after all we have personal freedoms, right? I can do to my body whatever I want to for the simple fact that it is my body. Except ...

Except for the fact that we, as a society, through the health insurance system, bare the cost of those personal lifestyle choices. 

As a healthy 44 year old who takes the time and effort to eat healthy, exercise, not smoke, and generally not take stupid risks with my health, this lack of personal responsibility is sooooooooo not right in my eyes. And there are many people just like me. You can see many of them running or biking on the side of the road. Or maybe you make fun of them at work because they ate a salad for lunch instead of Taco Bell. You may see them at the gym or yoga class, but it is likely you are one of them (us). And by us I mean those who take the personal responsibility for our health.

While these numbers aren't as current as I would like, I think it's safe to say that the situation hasn't gotten better in the last eight years:

"Several investigators have evaluated the cost of obesity on an individual level. Finkelstein and colleagues found that in 2006, per capita medical spending for obese individuals was an additional $1,429 (42 percent higher) compared to individuals of normal weight. (7) Cawley and Meyerhoefer, meanwhile, found that per capita medical spending was $2,741 higher for obese individuals than for individuals who were not obese—a 150 percent increase. (1)
Thompson and colleagues concluded that, over the course of a lifetime, per-person costs for obesity were similar to those for smoking. (10) In middle-age men, treatment of five common obesity-related conditions (stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol) resulted in roughly $9,000 to $17,000 higher costs compared to normal-weight adults."  Harvard School of Public Health
So the next time someone brings up healthcare, our healthcare system, and how much it costs, I hope you give some thought to how much better off we would be as a society if everyone took some responsibility for their personal well being. Yes, I know there are conditions out of our control (like type 2 diabetes) that I have no problem paying for with my health insurance dollars. But when it comes to paying up for care and procedures caused by the poor choice of someone who doesn't care for themselves ...

Train hard. Stay Focused.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rule #7: If You Are Out Training in Horrible Weather, You Are a Badass. Period.

Last night it was 60 degrees when I got out on my bike for a typical early season ride. With the change of the clocks over the weekend I am now able to squeeze in 75 minutes before it is dark ... which is a whole lot better than sitting in the basement pedaling away on the trainer. As I rode by the park there were a lot more people than I have seen there in some time, surely a result of the unseasonably awesome March weather. A few miles down the road another cyclist caught me and sat on my wheel before turning toward his home. And over the next 60 minutes or so there I passed more runners and cyclists out doing their thing.

Winter Running - The Complex Triathlete
I don't blame anyone for being out there last night. In fact, if you ride or run (and even of you don't), you needed a real good reason for NOT being out there last night. It was the kind of day where getting out and getting it done is easy - warm weather and little wind after almost three months of mostly horrid conditions. To totally understate the situation, Winter 2014 has been a tough one for endurance athletes who live in the Northeastern United States. Some years we get really frigid temperatures and others we get big snow totals. This year we had both!!! Making it worse is the fact that the big snow total was a result of a large number of small storms and not just one huge Nor'easter.

It was bad ... real bad ... and if you were out there this winter, you are a badass. Period.
Cold Weather Cycling - The Complex Triathlete

So here's the deal: Getting outside and riding or running or walking or whatever it is that you do when the conditions are picture perfect is no big deal. Going for a run when it is 4 degrees takes an effort, a touch of insanity, and a real dedication to your chosen sport. As bad as this winter has been, I have many a friend who have either been out there training with me, or out there doing it on their own. They are true badasses.

But there is more to this story than just training in lousy weather. As a badass, you are out there training in that garbage with a purpose. You are out there working towards something. You have goals. You. Are. Driven. Because really, NOBODY decides it's a good day to go out for a run when the wind chill is 2 degrees!!! NOBODY!!!

I know many a badass who are putting in the miles in prep for an Ironman later this year and I know some badasses who are getting ready to run Boston in April. I even know a badass who hadn't raced in years but trained in all kinds of horrible weather just because. That, my friend, is a special kind of badass.

Of course, there is that fine line between sanity and stupidity one really shouldn't cross. Lo-Jack tells a story about a guy we refer to as "Township" running down William Penn Highway in the middle of a snow storm around 7 pm years ago. Really surprised he's still alive. Then there's another friend of mine who showed up for a group ride with his road bike and a layer of ice on the roads. Didn't really work out for him. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 21,000+ badasses who ran the Boston Marathon with me in 2009 in a Nor'easter.

And then there is me ... Many, many years ago at a young and naive age, me and Lo-Jack (Lo-Jack and I?) thought it was wise to do a 20 mile run one Saturday at 11 am. It was July and about 90 degrees when we started. Who knows what the humidity was. We were good - or so we thought - because we were "protected from the sun" on the towpath. Long story short, we ran just fine until we didn't. On the 5 miles back to our car we stopped to walk for good between the point where we pretty much mugged Lo-Jack's son of his water jug (he was down there fishing) and when the world started to spin because we were so dehydrated. We made it back AND we somehow avoided the hospital. We were baddasses, but on the wrong side of the line that hot Summer day.

So when the weather gets bad, embrace your inner badass and get out that door for some good ole' fashion training. But please, be smart about it. In the rare occasion that getting out the door to train is on the other side of the sanity/stupid line, hit the trainer, run on the treadmill, or hit the pool for a swim.

The moral of the story: If you are out there training in horrible weather you are a Badass. Period.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Here are some horrible weather resources:

Cold weather running safety tips 

Layering for cold weather cycling

Hot weather running

Stay cool while riding

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ironman Training Review: February, 2014

Last month I ended my review of my January Ironamn training by noting that I can't wait for the weather to break. Well, here in Eastern PA we are still waiting for something that resembles nice weather. Turns out,  as bad a weather month as January turned out to be, February was worse. We had snow, and more snow, and then a bit of ice in the middle of more snow. The Queen had half the month off from teaching!!! It hasn't been the worst winter season, but it is darn close. Fortunately the temperature has been cold enough to keep the snow around ...

Last I looked, nobody ever moved a race date because of crappy training weather in the months leading up to the race. Thus, we carry on ... albeit with more inside training than I would like. Not always the most fun, but sometimes you do the workout because you have to, not because you really want to. I would much rather suck it up inside in February than suffer in June because I let the weather be an excuse to blow off workouts.

Snow Covered Car - Bethlehem, PA
We've had more than our fair share of snow this year.

February training was designed to be a continuation of what I was doing in January with slightly more volume. On the bike, build strength; in the pool, speed and technique. The run, due to my knee issues, the plan was to simply run and not do damage.

Strength Training: February was a continuation of January with 2x/week of hitting the weights. Still doing basic exercises my overall strength is good as we enter March. On my to major lifts - squats and deadlifts - I ended the month stronger than I entered it. There was much core work done as well as specific training to address some imbalances that are contributing to the knee problems. The focus starting in March will change with less overall emphasis on basic strength training and more on core as well as swim/bike/run.

Swim: Weekly yardage was up a bit to an average of approx. 9,000 over three swims per week. I tested early in month (400Y/200Y) swimming both timed intervals faster than January and surprisingly faster than expected. Since the beginning of the year I have been working on my threshold using the protocol from Swim Sense. You can find the deets here. I have worked my way down to where my CSS pace is 1:21/100Y. For my main set each week I have mainly stuck with 8-10x200 on 20 sec rest. Sounds easy enough, right? Don't bet on it.

Jon Soden - Cold Weather Biking
First time in 3 years I've had to bust
out the really cold weather gear.
Bike: The weather in February was more of the same. And by more, I mean more snow, more rutty roads, more brutally cold days, and more time spent on a trainer than I would like. The HIIT sessions during the week are getting me strong, but workouts are relatively short in duration. Fortunately the weather on weekends was just good enough so I could get outside and ride on 3 of the 4 weekends. All things considered, I'll take it. I enter March feeling good about my strength but knowing I need to start getting in some longer, endurance rides soon.

Run: January run training was a bit of a disaster due to injury. Still not where I would like to be, I have been able to start running again, working to slowly build mileage in a sane way. I was scheduled to race the Myrtle Beach 1/2 Marathon on February 16, but 18 inches of snow cancelled the trip. It was a bummer, but totally out of my control. Instead, I spent some quality time with my snow blower (one way to get outside) and treadmill ... something I have used more this year than ever before. Between the snow and the poor road conditions, I was much better off inside than I would have been on sketchy roads.

The good news is I have been able to run. Overall run mileage is still down, but I have been able to run, even getting in two short transition runs. Long runs have been around 12 miles.The bad news is there is still some pain and all my runs are just running - no intervals or hill repeats, or tempo runs. I am choosing to be positive about the situation, believing it will get resolved and the lower run volume early in the year will benefit me come race day.

Overall: Total training volume was up a little from January. I feel great in the water, strong on the bike, and happy to be able to run. Fitness is up, but bike endurance is a bit behind where I would like it to be.

While the first two months of the year were designed to build strength, March is a month of transition from base-type training to race specific prep. At the start of the month I am just 16 weeks away from IMCDA. Total volume will start to increase in all three disciplines. In the pool this means my endurance sets will be longer as will overall volume. On the bike I will be outside as much as possible. Fortunately, the clocks change on 3/8 giving us light in the evenings. Hopefully this allows me to get outside a few days each week. On the weekends, I'll be outside getting in the miles if at all possible. If the weather doesn't cooperate, longer trainer rides will have to happen. And assuming my knee is ok (I go back to see Doc on Friday 3/7) mileage will slowly grow this month.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Ironman Training Review: January, 2014

2014 - The Year for Ironman Racing