Thursday, February 26, 2015

Swim Bike and Run are All About the Fun

Just after 8 am this past Saturday morning I set out on a 10+ mile run with The Mayor. In case you have been living under a rock, the winter has been crazy cold in Eastern PA. When we started it had warmed up to about 4 degrees with just a very mild breeze. Not ideal conditions (in fact most everyone would probably call it nuts to be out there) but great, great fun. Because what's not to like - Saturday morning running with a good friend, shooting the s**t for 80 minutes.

In fact, it was the conversation that led to this blog post. Like many of us, The Mayor went through a period of time where he really wasn't enjoying the whole fitness thing and he had been struggling to keep up with the running and riding. Much like myself, he has been doing this for a long time.

After more than 20 years of racing I can assure you that if you are not having fun it is impossible to stay motivated to train and race. Here's what I've done over the years to keep my training mojo:

1. I Don't Take Myself So Serious

Yes, getting "better" and going faster is important to many of us. I would be lying if I told you I didn't care when I blew up those 20 or 30 times. But unless you are a professional athlete you are training/racing for the pleasure of it all. Sure, you may tell yourself that it's about getting a Kona slot or a Boston Qualifying time ... but really it's not. Or at least it shouldn't be. I enjoy the competition against myself and others. Truth be told, you race on Sunday and on Monday you are back at work and nobody cares what happened at your local 10k the day before.

2. I Race the Races I Want to Race

If you want to do an Ironman, do an Ironman. If you decide you are happy racing Olympic and Sprint distance races, that's fine too. What is important is racing for yourself, not because you feel pressure to do a race or a specific distance. When I started racing triathlons I took a bunch of slack from a training partner who is a damn good runner. He couldn't understand why I would even think about Swim/Bike/Run when you could skip the first two and just run. It's his thing and he is damn good at it. Me? I really like riding bike. I also really like the challenge of triathlon. Needless to say I do pure running races, but haven't even thought about giving up triathlon.
The Complex Triathlete
Firecracker 4 Miler, July 4, 2014

3. I Race and Train With Friends

Can you get more work done - more specific work done - when you are training alone? Yes. Can a group ride turn into an unsanctioned race? Sure can. Does that mean you should do all your training alone? No. No. No. No. No.

Training with others might not be the "best" thing you can do for any specific goal you may have but it sure is fun. When you train with others it isn't all about you. Sometimes you will run too hard or lose some training time because someone punctured their rear tire. It happens. There are also times on the Wednesday night ride that you pull the boys for 8 minutes, nobody will come through to take a pull, then you have to lay the hammer down the rest of the ride. Or maybe that's just me ...

Anyway, what you lose in specificity you more than make up in smiles - be they a result of an easy day in the saddle or mutual suffering through a hard workout. And racing with friends gives you camaraderie while (hopefully) killin' it on race day along with people to share the experience with.

Also, if you train and race alone, who would you grab a post-training/race meal with?
The Complex Triathlete - Jonathan Soden
What a fine looking group, no?

4. I Also Train Alone

As awesome as it is training in a group, there are times you just need to be alone. I do a lot of my training in the early hours of the day when few people are out on the road. From time to time I have a training partner with me but for the most part I'm out there alone. That time alone on the roads is some of the most pleasurable time I have while training. If I have a specific workout scheduled it gives me the ability to do the work I want to get done without worry of what someone else is doing. This past year I stopped riding with the Sunday morning group when I hit my race prep period for Ironman Florida. I always enjoy the rides with this great group, but I needed to be alone to get specific long rides.

5. I Enjoy the Process

Yes, there is always "that guy" who seemingly gets up off the couch on race day and manages to get to the finish line. I'm not that guy. Doing my best on race day means actually training for the race. Being truly prepared takes time and effort. You build fitness, gain strength, then do the specific training for your event. It's a process. No matter what happens on race day you I enjoy the journey.

6. Help Other With Their Training Goals

When I trained for my first Ironman in 2006 my training partner Low-Jack (of Jack & Jon's Saturday Morning Run fame) would call me every Friday afternoon and asked me what I needed to do on Saturday morning. Come Saturday morning we would do the work that I needed to do. There were a lot of running miles we put in on the roads and trails around Bethlehem together that year and I was truly grateful. Over the years I have payed this forward with a variety of people.

Heck, the run with The Mayor I referenced at the beginning is just that - helping a bud get to the start line. For 2015 a part of my motivation is to be out there helping friends get ready for their big races. I already know that I will be spending some quality time running and biking with some great people in support of their goals (Trust me Barb, there will be an epic bike day for you and I in the near future).

At the end of the day it is important to remember why we do this. Think back to the early days of your journey, when you completed that first 5k or time trial or swim meet. I bet you had a big smile on your face when you crossed that finish line. That smile came from reaching a goal, but it also was a result of your enjoyment of the sport.

If for some reason you have lost the joy that comes from all things endurance, I hope this helps sparks some ideas on how you can get it back.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 Race Schedule and a Training Update

There's a good reason why I haven't talked about training all that much lately: since Ironman I haven't done a whole lot of training. Yes, I have exercised. But very little of what I have done since November 1, 2014 could be considered training.

And to be completely honest it has been a great thing. Getting ready for an Ironman is a huge task, taking up not just massive amounts of time, but also major amounts of mental capacity. I have done enough long distance racing to understand the need to give it a break. As someone with a long-term perspective on sport, I always pick and choose what I do with the big picture in mind.

I raced my first race in 1995 and have been around the Lehigh Valley scene ever since. I have witnessed many fine athletes come and go for a variety of reasons. Most leave the scene because they either physically beat their bodies up to the point where they can no longer do it, or they burned out so bad they just flat out quit. And here I am 20 years later, just like the Energizer Bunny, still going and going and going. Not the best athlete you will ever meet, but consistent.

The difference has been my ability to kick it back and embrace not always being "in shape." My off-season has never included a race schedule. Yes, I have done races - specifically xMas City 5 Miler - during my down time, but always as a fun run, never pushing the envelope.

Right now, I am not "in shape" for much of anything. I am weighing in 7-8 pounds heavier than my race weight with my longest workout this year being an 11 mile run with The Mayor two Saturday's ago. Hard to believe I ran a marathon off the bike just 3 1/2 months ago.

January had two goals: 1. Start the process of getting strong again and 2. Train consistent.

Win! Win! The first four weeks of the year I stuck to an unaggressive training schedule with what I consider to be low volume. Monday's were no-cardio days and I was lifting weights 2-3 days per week. Some of the strength training has been done in a traditional sense with functional strength workouts thrown in on a regular basis. Long workouts have been limited to 1 hour.

The first two weeks of February have been a continuation of January with a slight increase in what a long workout looks like. In the pool I have not done more than 3000 yards in any one session, no run longer than the one 11 miler, and there is no way in hell I'm spending much more than an hour sitting on my trainer.

Six weeks into the year I can honestly say I am in nowhere near competitive race shape ... which is perfect. If you are in race shape in February, come June you could be in trouble. And by October ... maybe you are more hardcore than I am, but I would be physically and/or mentally wrecked.

Been there. Done that. Not going back.

Anywho ... I have always felt that racing is a personal thing. When I choose to do an event or a distance I choose to do it because I want to do it. Yes, I will race with friends, sometimes even to just help them reach their own goals. But even when doing that, I am there by choice.

Which brings us to 2015. After so many years of racing long I am taking a much different year for myself. One thing with racing long is you can only do so much of it. When I was running marathons I would do 2 or maybe 3 each year. Ironman years are dedicated to one or two races at the most. For a few years I have been talking about changing things up and racing bike and racing shorter events. This is the year.

Jonathan Soden - The Complex TriathleteFor triathlon my goal race is the TriRock Philly Triathlon in June and the NJ State Tri in July. In Philadelphia I am looking to grab a PR at the Olympic distance and (finally) win my age group. I know you can't control who shows up, but I still want to win my age group at this race. It is one of my favorites and I have come so close in the past. In NJ I want to put together a great race. The bike is long (25.5 miles) so it is not a true Olympic distance. I always love racing in my native New Jersey as the competition is always high quality and it feels like being home.

There is also the possibility of a September Ironman 70.3. I haven't made a commitment to it yet. Honestly have to see how things go and if I want to commit to the work necessary to be in shape. Right now I'm leaning yes. Getting ready would be committing to long runs of 1:45 and long rides in the 3 hour range, not 3 hour runs and 5 hour rides.

On the bike there is a Thursday night crit series in Trexlertown. My plan is to start riding these races on a regular basis and try my luck at one or two of the local time trials that are held in the Summer months. It is time I test my bike and see what I can do without the need to run to the finish line.

Current 2015 Tentative Race Schedule:

March, 22 - Warm Hearts 5k (paid)

April 12 - Emmaus 4 Mile Classic (paid)

April 26 - St. Lukes Half Marathon (paid)

May 16 - Jerseyman Sprint Triathlon (paid)

May 31 - Black Bear Triathlon (OLY) (tentative)

June 28 - TriRock Philadelphia (OLY) (paid)

July 19 - New Jersey State Triathlon (OLY) (paid)

August 9 - Steelman Triathlon (OLY)

October 16-18 - Runners World 10k or Half Marathon (tentative)

And there you have it. For the first time in years I plan on racing more and racing short.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rest, Recovery and the Aging Athlete (Me)

Training is easy - get up, loosen up, out the door, then work your ass off. Depending on the day it may be intervals or something as simple as an aerobic-paced run. No matter what the schedule says it is fairly easy to get up and put the work in when you are a motivated, Type-A kinda athlete. Triathlon is a sport made up of Type-As.

Science tells us that once we hit roughly age 35 the body starts to fight us a bit. Now I am not talking about your average Joe who spends more time sitting on the couch or a bar stool who "suddenly" realizes he has a 42 inch waist, surprised by the whole situation. No, I'm talking to you, the athletically inclined soul who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to get that run in before work or sits on the trainer, pedaling away at 9:30 pm because that was when you finally had the time to get it in. Even as we deny it, things get different as we age. Vo2Max levels decline over time and the body doesn't recover from hard workouts as fast as in the past.

As we get older we need to adapt. Joe Friel said it better than I can:

"... it appears that aging athletes are fighting an uphill battle. But for most I don’t believe the issue is aging so much as it is detraining, misuse and disuse. We simply fail to adequately and appropriately change our lifestyles and training regimens as we get older. When younger one can make more mistakes in lifestyle and training without significant negative consequences for performance. As we age there is less latitude for mistakes." Source

Change my lifestyle and training regimen? Are you crazy!!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE my routine!!!

Yeah ... reality is, just like everyone else, I'm getting older. Doesn't mean I need to give things up, just means I need to adapt. I have the whole nutrition thing down as well as the must lift weights thing. Sleeping 8 hours a night is something that will never happen (I am sure I fall on the need less sleep spectrum) but I do get more sleep these days than I ever have. I love the Saturday afternoon power nap!!!

The problem for me is the whole rest thing. I remember the days of training for my first few full Ironman events with some crazy, crazy workloads. I had a peak week that included 14k in the pool, 300+ miles on the bike, and 45 miles of running. Sounds nuts because it is. But just like any other motivated athlete I remember those days and see no good reason why I shouldn't be able to do that now. 

Just as a little side note: if you've ever been out for a post-run breakfast with me and you think I eat a lot of food today, should have been there 8 or 9 years ago.

Anywhooo ...back to that age thing. Can't put in the type of workload I did "back in the day." In fact, back then I remember training like I was trying to bury myself in a training hole. Now that I'm in my mid-40s I can still make that happen. Difference is, too much training today is not only digging that hole but also jumping right in. For example, read this

And while I would have to admit that killing myself with intensity and/or volume is fun, the days of suck that follows I could live without. Thus, I have continued to modify my training to fit the reality of the workload my body can handle. 

1. Redefining Rest Days - Ten years ago a rest day might be an easy morning run and an aerobic/casual bike ride in the evening. Today a rest day is either a complete day of rest or a short, easy swim.

2. Diet - In 2010 I was having trouble recovering from workouts and made the decision to eat more fruits and vegetables. Today I give zero thought to calories in/calories out and focus more on the nutrient density of what I consume. Is my diet perfect? Heck no. But 80-90% of the time I'm eating real, high quality foods. Basically I follow the wise words of Michael Pollan - "Eat real food. Mostly plants." A synopsis of his seven rules for eating here.

3. Recovery Weeks - This is really new for me and am currently in the middle of one right now. Some of you would call it barely training. With the crappy weather we have been having in Eastern Pennsylvania this hasn't been so hard to do. This will take some work to do when the weather breaks and I can get outside on my bike every day. 

4. Taking the Warm Up and Cooldown More Serious - There was a time when I could go from head on the pillow to out the door for a run in about 10 minutes. Today it is more of a process.

5. Foam Rolling - This is something I have done on and off for some time, but have been more consistent about this year. 

6. Massage - I have the best massage therapist who I see on a regular schedule. If you don't do this you should call Joe (610-865-1418). You can find his website here.

Simple but not easy. I'm not a physically gifted athlete. I'll never be the fastest runner, strongest cyclist or best looking swimmer. My results come from hard work. If I have a default mode it is to put my head down and work, work, work. For 2015 I'll be taking the more cerebral approach my body needs.

Thanks for reading!!!

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ready to Run by Dr. Kelly Starrett - Book Review

There are many books on the market available today that will give you a training program to complete every race distance from the 5k all the way up to the marathon. Heck, you can save some money by searching the internet for a program if you really want. I don't recommend that as there are some classics available that should be on every runner's bookshelf. Running to the Top by Arthur Lydiard, Pete Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning, Daniel's Running Formula (Dr. Jack Daniels), and the Hanson Marathon Method.

There are other books out there that are designed to teach you HOW to run. The POSE Method is probably the most well know system. But there is one book that is missing from the world of running - the book designed to help keep you running. Running is a destructive sport that can play havoc on the body. You can have the best training program in the world or the world's greatest coach, and it doesn't matter if you keep getting sidelined with running injuries.

This is where Ready to Run steps in. Dr. Starrett is not who you may expect to buy a book on running from. While he surely does some running in his life, I am fairly certain he wouldn't describe himself as a runner. What Starrett is, however, is a man obsessed with movement, mechanics and mobility. What he strives to do in Ready to Run is help those of us who are runners improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Or, as the first chapter is titled, he wants to help you become a durable runner.

The book is divided into four parts. Part one is Starrett's philosophy and basic ideas on running. Part two is a breakdown of his twelve standards with each receiving it's own chapter. The third part introduces the mobility work that relates to runners, and part four goes into specific running injuries and the applicable mobilizations.

As a runner or someone who runs you will want to concentrate on part two and the twelve standards where everything from posture to footwear is addressed.  Some of what he discusses here you may find controversial (flat shoes) while some is just common sense (hydration). You need to go into this with an open mind, understanding the standards presented are designed based on science and research, not myth and folklore.

Within each chapter there is a briefing, a "runner to runner discussion," a test for the particular mobility being discussed, as well as recommendations for mobility exercises (where applicable) located in the third part of the book. If you are good with the standard you can either move on or use the information presented to make your body even better at the standard. Your choice, of course.

Personally, this is a book I have been waiting for for a long time. I purchased Starrett's first book, Becoming a Supple Leopard in hopes of keeping my body highly functional for the long term. It has been helpful, but a bit overwhelming. There was all this information but I had trouble connecting the information to practical application. This book connects those dots, allowing anyone the ability to get your body to where it should be on a functional basis. This book shows you how to get your body organized, eliminate pain, and get your body ready to run.

Who Should Read Ready to Run?

If you are an athlete who has to run in your sport of choice or while training for your sport, this book is for you. Staying healthy should be the number one goal of anyone who is active in sport. Staying healthy, unless you are a freak of nature, takes some work. When you run you put stress on the body that will help you improve performance, but it also puts stress on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. If you run you will inevitably have some "issues" at some point ... most of us sooner rather than later.

As someone who loves to run I want to be able to continue doing it for as long as possible. If you are reading this I suspect you feel the same. Over the years I have been relatively injury-free, which I am grateful for, but am always concerned about my body wearing out from the stress I put on it. Ready to Run is the resource that will allow me to continue on for years to come.

Thanks for reading!!!

Train hard. Stay focused.