Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Starting to Run After a Layoff is both Awesome and Horrible

I started running in 1994 as a supplement to the strength training I was doing at the time. Powerlifting was my thing back then, but I did enjoy the few miles I ran each week. Even ran the Chilipepper 5k with Matt that year, mainly for the free chili and beer at the finish line. I forget what I ran it in, but I still have the unwearable, heavy cotton t-shit.

Between then and a few months ago there wasn't a period of more than a week in which I didn't get out and run.  I remember reading an article in Triathlete Magazine by Dave Scott on off-season training where he specifically said to keep running. His basic argument was that if you stop running completely your body would have to rebuild its ability to withstand the impact that running places on the body. I'm sure it wasn't scientifically researched, but the theory made sense to me. Maybe it's because I enjoy to run. Who knows. Either way, even in the off-season I might ship out on swimming or biking, but would make sure I ran 20-30 miles every week.

A few weeks ago I started to run again after a three month layoff. The first run was 10 minutes - doctor's orders. I made it without stopping and without pain. Success!!! Not very fast, but speed wasn't really the point on that Monday morning.

A few days later I tried again with success - fifteen minutes of running (the upper limits of my allowable daily run). Since then I have been able to slowly increase the time/distance of my runs as well as the frequency. Last week I ran three times for a total of 8 miles.

And it was Awesome ...

Rev3 Race Finish, Columbia MD
After the horrendous winter weather we had in Bethlehem, keeping me inside most every day, it has been nice to be back out on the roads running and/or biking on a daily basis. Even on a muggy, humid day like today, just being outside doing what I have done for two decades is a pleasure. Now, more than ever, I find it hard to believe there are so few people out on the roads with me during the early morning hours.

As great as it has been to be back out running it hasn't been all good. Starting up again is essentially starting over from day one ... with a few big differences. The biggest difference is that I am fairly fit from swimming and biking. This is a good thing, but humbling when I run. The body can do what it can right now which is nowhere near what my cardio system could handle. As a result, running is both hard and easy. Hard because the body has to rebuild its ability to run fast(er) and long. Easy because, even when "pushing it," my heart rate can't get up where I would like it to be. Just not able to work hard. All part of the process I guess.

The other issue I have faced is the soreness. That first day back I ran a little over 1 mile. The next day my calves, quads and hamstrings were sore. Back in the day (literally 9 months ago) I could run 20 miles, grab some breakfast and be on my way like nothing happened. Now, one mile and I'm sore for 48 hours. Again, all part of the process.

Back to the awesome: I'm able to run and I will be able to do triathlon again. I've been saying it all along, but now I know it's going to happen ... because it is happening.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Eagleman 70.3 Race Review -

Every race, every race season, has its own story. Sometimes the story has a happy ending with goals being met and new PRs being set. Other times you struggle or, worse, you crash and burn. Hard. From these extremes, however, come new knowledge about yourself. You learn what you have inside you and you learn your limits - for better or worse.

Eagleman 70.3 is a race that I have done many times in the past. On paper it looks so simple. You start with a swim in the Choptank River, hop on your bike for a almost completely flat loop around the eagle reserve, then finish it up with a half marathon on a completely flat track. Simple. Easy. Right?

Well .........

Here's the thing about Eagleman 70.3. On paper it looks like a dream. In reality, the conditions are often a huge factor. I've swam here in almost flat water and I've swam in water so choppy you couldn't see the person swimming in front of you, let alone the shoreline. The bike is flat, but there is usually a nice headwind from about mile 40 on in that will take some energy out of your legs and mess with your head. And then there's the run. One year I was here and it was mid-70s and overcast. The run course was spectacular. The other years? Hot and humid with the sun beating down on you. Did I forget to mention there is almost no shade on the run?

Clearly, race day in Cambridge, MD can be a challenge. Making it even more interesting and fun is the fact that every year a lot of great athletes (both armature and professional) show up to race. Every year I have competed here I would catch the end of the professional race during the first few miles of my run. Not only is it a cool experience to have a world champion like Marinda Carfrae or a Craig Alexander come flying past you on their way in, but it helps take your mind off the task for a few minutes.

For me, the 2014 edition of Eagleman 70.3 was going to be a different experience - a different story - than in years past. When I signed up for this race this past December the plan was to make this a good, hard workout three weeks before racing Ironman Couer d'Alene. Injury changed those plans. Seven weeks after surgery I was happy to be in Cambridge with the ability to swim and bike. With 6 total miles of running in the last 3 months, the smart thing to do was to plan on a DNF. For once in my life, I thought I'd play it smart.

Playing it smart, however, does not mean blow it off. On the contrary, just as every race has its story, every race has its lessons. So while my friends who were racing beside me were racing one of their "A" races for the season, I decided to use Eagleman as an opportunity to test out some things for my big race of the year - Ironman Florida.

So here's how things went:

Pre-race - Over many years of racing I have figured out some things that just work through trial and error. As I normally do when racing this distance, on Friday morning I swam some 1100 yards of short intervals, using the rest of the day to take in calories and take in adequate amounts of fluids. Saturday consisted of a 40 minute bike with some short pickups, just enough work to awaken the leg muscles. Normally I would have also run two miles, but not this year. I ate a big breakfast, adequate sized lunch, and a normal sized dinner. One lesson I've learned is to eat my big meal of the day 24 hours before the gun goes off, not 12 hours. By shifting your big meal ahead 12 hours you allow the body to fully digest your food before you jump in the water.

As with any good experiment I only changed one variable. For me it was an experiment with adding sea salt to my pre-race diet. I'm a heavy, salty sweater, which can cause issues while racing in warmer climates. This started about a week out. Much to my surprise I didn't feel bloated at all. In fact, I credit the added sea salt with helping my legs feel fresher, earlier in the week. By Wednesday my legs were feeling good and by Sunday morning they felt great.

The Complex Triathlete - Eagleman 70.3
Me and my "problems."
Around 4 am the alarm went off on Sunday morning. Jeff, Ant, Barb and Nick were taking the hotel shuttle over to the race site, while I drove to the middle school to take the race shuttle bus, where I met up with Emily, Allison and Cassie. The weather was about as good as it gets with no wind, highs predicted to be in the low-80s, and low humidity levels. My wave start was at 8 am, which gave me more than enough time to get prepared.

Swim - I am not a swimmer. I have developed an OK swim, but I have not been swimming since I was 4 years old. What this means is I can put up a respectable swim split, I will never be hanging at the front end of any swim I do. Over my 10 years of racing triathlons I like to believe I have developed the ability to maximize my speed and minimize my energy expenditure by racing smart. Racing smart in my world means catching a pair of feet to sit on that are fast enough, and straight enough - to get me through the swim with a respectable split (for the day and distance) feeling fresh and warmed up. For the day, this was the main objective.

Overall it worked well. I started at the front of my swim wave (Male AG45-49 M through Z) and within 250 meters I was sitting on feet. After a few minutes it felt a bit slow, but after a minute of trying to break away, I jumped back on these feet and let my guide lead the way. From that point to the final turn it worked out great. I was able to move through the back end of the previous waves with little effort as the feet I was sitting on was doing the work of finding a line. All I had to do was follow and sit in his draft.

When we hit the final turn he started to drift so I made the decision to go it alone for the final stretch. While it did keep me from doing some extra swimming, it did cost me some energy. The Choptank River current had come alive, slowing us all. As I came toward the finish things got a bit weird. Approximately 300 meters from the shore this gut stood up and started to walk in. Obviously the water was low, but more and more people started to walk and I found myself swimming through walkers. Like everyone else around me, I could no longer swim about 1 minute from shore. Total swim time: 33:59

T1 - Nothing really to note here. Without a wetsuit I was able to efficiently move through the transition area and get out onto the bike. Might have been a bit quicker if I could run and not easily jog but, whatever. Total T1 time - 1:36

Bike - Getting out onto the bike I felt good and relaxed. The course here is flat and not very technical. For IMFL, I will be racing a course that is very similar. Thus, my game plan was to work on things that will help me in November - some nutrition things, pacing, keeping the body from getting too tight from staying aero. Because I live where I do (Bethlehem, PA), even my "short and flat" rides tend to have at least 800 feet of vertical over 20-25 miles. According to my Garmin there was 92 feet of vertical in 56 miles of riding.

On the nutrition I won't bore you with the deets, but I have personally found that First Endurance EFS works very well. It gives my the calories I need along with the electrolytes my body craves. I'm a salty sweater who needs to stay on top of my intake. When I hit T2 my stomach felt great and my energy levels were high. If I could physically run, it would not have been an issue due to nutrition.

As for pacing my plan was simple. Over the first few miles I got settled in and let my heart rate settle down. From there I wanted to hold an average hart rate of between 135 and 140 for the ride. For me, this would firmly put me at an aerobic zone. At mile 47 I wanted to step it up a notch and finish the ride strong, knowing I physically could not run and would be handing in my chip.

And this is exactly what happened. After settling in I found a nice groove. Just as important, I found some new friends who were pushing a similar pace to me. So here's how it went down. Around mile 5 a guy from my wave caught up to me and, when he passed me, I followed right along. LEGALLY!!! There are rules for drafting in triathlon and it is very important to follow them. Which I did. But .. and this is a big but ... you can use the rules to your advantage.

Between mile 5 and mile 50 I ended up riding through a lot of people from the start waves before mine with between one and four other age group men. We all rode legally and respectful of each other. This helps in a number of ways. First, when you are riding through you can catch a bit of the draft zone as you are passing the slower riders from the earlier waves.  Having other riders around at a similar pace allows you to not have to waste energy on pacing or line. You simply can follow along. It may not seem like it would help, but it does. There were long stretches of time when I simply rode along, following the guy in front of me. If we had to pass some one he moved then I moved.

Here is the official rule from USAT:

"Drafting--keep at least three bike lengths of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds. Position--keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing. Blocking--riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass. Overtaken--once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear, before attempting to pass again."
Source: USA Triathlon

Around mile 47 I consciously picked up the effort, pushing a bit harder from that point on. While I wasn't too concerned about what my time would be, I kinda really was. Doing the math I knew I would have a great time for me, even with my fitness not being where I would want it to be. In all honesty, a few minutes of that had to do with the push over the final nine miles. Most of it, however, I attribute to just having a solid aerobic base from years of racing and training. You can see from my Garmin files below that I was able to stay within my plan, keeping myself in the right zone to be successful. Total Bike time: 2:22:14

Final Thoughts - Eagleman is one of my favorite races. The swim is a challenge, the bike is fast, and the run, if you have made some mistakes, can be unforgiving. For me, the 2014 edition was a change to work on some things for later on in the year while travelling and racing with my friends. I call it a success. Physically I was able to do what I expected of myself coming off injury and less than idea training. Base fitness can do wonders!!! My pacing plan worked. I learned what I need to do to stay loose on the bike while still pacing where I feel I can. Finally, race day nutrition was spot on, giving me energy and happy legs throughout the day.

Turns out, this story turned out to be pretty good.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rule #9: When You Train or Race, Dress Event Appropriate

I swear this has happened at every marathon I have ever done.  I show up, usually in shorts and a technical t-shirt, focused and ready to run my best. At the smaller marathons you can go about your business quickly, while at the larger races you need more time to check your bag, clean the pipes, and line up. Eventually you make it over the the staging area. You look around at other runners, taking notice of the good or the bad.

If you're The Queen, you look absolutely impeccable in your well thought out outfit. If you're me, you might kinda, sorta match. Either is cool by me unless ... you're dressed like a tri geek.

Seriously, you know who I'm talking about. There's always "That Guy" (could be a girl or, many times, they travel in packs), who decides the best option is to tri geek up with a $300 tri suit, $60 compression socks, a pair of Hoka One-Ones on his feet, and a fuel belt on to hold his race day nutrition.

I hate "That Guy."

Here's the thing. It's great that you're proud to be a triathlete. I know I am. It takes a lot of dedication and athletic skill to be able to swim AND bike AND run. Even for the slowest racer at the shortest distance!!!

But you showed up for a RUNNING RACE, not a triathlon. You are there with runners AS a runner. On this day you are not required to warm up with a swim and a bike. All you are doing is running. This being the case, dress like a runner.

Banana Hammock
And this ... this is just never acceptable.
Same thing goes for any activity you are doing with single sport athletes. Or just at the pool for a swim

A few years ago I show up at LA Fitness in Allentown to get a swim workout in. I get changed and enter the pool area ready to get some work done. I don't remember how many people were in the pool at the time. What I do remember is the guy in a $200+ trisuit telling everyone he could about the open water swim he did, what a great swimmer he was, blah, blah, blah.

The whole scene this dude made was embarrassing on so many levels. I was embarrassed for him; I was embarrassed that he was representing triathletes in this matter; I was embarrassed because none of this was necessary if he followed the simple rule of looking the part of what you are actually doing.

And just for the record, the dude could barely swim a straight line for 25 yards.


Very, very slowly.

Anyway, here is a fairly comprehensive breakdown on appropriate training/racing attire:

  • Running a 5k, 10k, marathon, or any other running that isn't preceded by a swim and/or bike? Dress like a runner
  • Doing a Giro, riding The Derby, or out for a group training ride? Dress like a roadie and ride a road bike
  • Out for a training ride on your tri bike? Still dress like a roadie.
  • Hitting the pool for a swim? Jammers. Speedo. If you would consider riding your bike in it, don't wear it.
  • Doing a swim meet? Break out the Speedo if you're good, wear the jammers if you are me.
  • Your Tri Suit is very appropriate for a triathlon ... but only a triathlon.
  • Hitting the gym for some strength training or some Crossfit? Shorts and a t-shit

Tri Babes
This, on the other hand ... 
There are some very limited exceptions to this rule. If, for example, you are transition workout (swim/bike or bike/run), it can be totally appropriate you wear your tri suit or tri shorts and a tight fitting bike jersey (depending on how long of a run you have off the bike). Another situation tri geeking out is appropriate is while training with a group of triathletes, be it at home or at a training camp.

Moral of the story: dress for the activity you are doing.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ironman Training Review: April & May, 2014

It has been two months since I last posted a monthly training review and a whole lot has happened during that time. Of all the things that have happened, almost none of them were on listed on my season training plan. If all had gone according to schedule I would be just about ready to start tapering for Ironman Coeur D'Alene on June 29th. Instead of being Ironman race ready, I'm just starting to build fitness. Here's what's been going on:

First, Ironman Coeur d'Alene isn't going to happen this year. The Queen basically told me that there was no reason to travel across the country to go have a bad experience. With training not being what it should have been for a variety of reasons (see below for more details), she made too much sense for me to disagree. There are always other races, including Ironman Florida, which I'm signed up to do this November.

Second, Knee Surgery. On April 16 The Queen drove me over to the Westfield Hospital to get surgery on my right meniscus. The actual procedure took only 30 minutes, but the process took up most of the day. We headed home and, for most of the next 5 days, I sat on our couch with a few books, my iPad, and Netflix. The long version of the story can be found here.

That post was written one week after the surgery. A few days later I was cleared to ride bike inside on my trainer for no more than 30 minutes ... which, of course, I heard to mean "ride for 30 minutes." Over the course of a week I gradually pushed a little bit harder each day. Not hard, mind you, just a bit more work than the day before. Then, after spending a weekend in Washington DC cheering on The Queen at the Nike Woman's Half Marathon, I received the OK to start riding outside again.

Third, the reality that my pre-surgery training hadn't been all that great. Looking back, even discounting for three months of not running, my swim and bike were both affected by the tear in my meniscus. I was in denial at the time, but soon after getting back on the bike it became obvious just how much I had been struggling. With my knee constantly swollen and painful, riding outside became a different experience. For all but one ride I stayed close to home and on flatish roads.Why? Well, it hurt to pedal in a standing position so hills were out of the question. And with some pain and swelling, I thought it was prudent to stay close to home as I preferred to not have to make the call for the pussy pickup (and by pussy pickup I mean when you have to call to get a ride home because something happened, not this).
The Complex Triathlete - Bike Riding in Farmland
With playgrounds that look like this, who
wouldn't want to ride their bike 

Fourth, the combination of crappy weather, too much indoor training, and my achy knee resulted in a lack of motivation to train. Nothing more to say here, but hard to preform at the Ironman distance if you aren't willing to do the work.

Fifth, said lost motivation has been found once again.

So here's how it all has gone down. April started off with no running but some good swims and (finally) some riding outside. Swimming was fairly normal but the bike, not so much. While I was happy to be outside again on a somewhat regular basis, I was counting down the days to get my knee fixed.

After the April 16 surgery I basically spent 5 days on the couch, followed by a week of limited riding bike on the trainer. for no more than 30 minutes ... which, of course, I heard to mean "ride for 30 minutes." Over the course of a week I gradually pushed a little bit harder each day. Not hard, mind you, just a bit more work than the day before.

That weekend we traveled to Washington DC where The Queen was running  the Nike Woman's Half Marathon. She pulled off a big 5 minute PR. Probably not the ideal situation, my knee was able to withstand some 5+ miles of walking and too many hours in the car.

April 28th I was cleared to start riding outside which I did immediately after work that day. Not fast. Not hard. But I was back outside on two wheels. Happy, happy, joy, joy!!!
Running Shoes - The COmplex Triathlete
After three months in the closet, had a little
dusting off to do.

Using the same structure as I did for the indoor riding, I started with a few short, easy rides, gradually adding a little more intensity to each ride. By the weekend I felt comfortable with adding in some vertical, which went off without a speck of pain or swelling.

May 1st I was cleared to start swimming again. Never been so happy to be back in the pool.

May 17th I raced the AquaVelo division (aka "The Injuryed Guy Division") at the Jerseyman Triathlon in Clinton, NJ. I had signed up early in the year for what was to be a shake off the cobwebs race. You can find the race report here.

From there it has been a matter of continuing to rehab the knee, which won't be 100% for some time, working on rebuilding my fitness and building a plan for November's IMFL with the least amount of running necessary to be successful.

Which speaking of running, I did some of that last week!!! Three short and slow runs, but it was actual running.

Anyway, I fell really, really lucky. The recovery has been on the fast side of average and I am back doing what I enjoy. In fact, last week was the first week of 2014 I was able to get a full week of training completed without any issues. Which leave me looking forward once again to a great 2014 race season.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.