Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I'm Making the Most of My Triathlon Downtime, and So Should You

It has been more than three weeks since my last race of the season and the start of my off season. In my last post I laid out what I hoped to accomplish while taking some downtime from the grind of training for racing. What I really mean to say is I had some goals for my downtime, which just sounds weird to say because, you know, I'm not training for anything. Having goals for downtime is very much a Type-A issue.

But really it isn't as crazy as it may sound at first. If you are an endurance athlete, or a competitive athlete, you know it's not so simple. It is damn near impossible to just walk away for 1-2 months and completely forget about your running, or biking, or cross-fit, or whatever it is you are competitive in. More to my point, just chilling on the couch is probably the worst thing you can do. You lose the fitness gained over the year and you don't fix whatever problems that need fixing. Downtime is downtime yet it is so much more.

Three weeks into "doing nothing" has felt pretty good so far. I am doing what I want, not forcing anything on myself, and embracing having less fitness. Just this week I started to feel like adding a bit of structure to a workout or two, which in the past has always been a good indicator of where I am physically and mentally. I am making progress in three areas - fixing the body, getting the mind ready, getting strong.

Fix the Body

This is the #1 reason I take downtime. I'm a 46 year old man who has been competing in long endurance events for almost 20 years now. Prior to that I was a guy rat who could squat and deadlift A LOT of weight. Hard to believe now, but back in the day I would give my body a beat down, just a different form than what I do today. In athletic years I am quite old.

With athletic age comes issues. Fortunately for me most all of mine have been small. I fix them with my Body Work Team, which consists of my Chiropractor Kyle Werkheiser and my massage therapist Joe Przybylowicz (pronounced: Pro-bill-o-wick). I have been to Kyle twice and Joe three times since racing the RnR Philly 1/2 Marathon October 31st. The tightness in my back and the little niggles I had in my legs are just about gone.

Mental Break From "Training"

Getting out to the track and knocking out some mile repeats or doing some Vo2Max bike intervals are awesome, but one of my favorite runs is an early morning run on my "home course" (a 7.6 mile loop) at whatever pace is comfortable. There is no internal pressure to run a pace, nor any preconceived notions about what needs to be achieved. It is running for the joy of running. It is the reason why I got involved with this spot to begin with.

The past three weeks have been nice. After 4 days completely off and barely doing anything the final three days of the week, I have slowly increased the amount of swim/bike/run I have been doing. Nothing is forced; nothing is hard. Just doing what feels right. Last week a "real" swim workout felt right so I pushed a little ... just a little. This week I did a more formal workout. Six weeks ago physically I could do more in the pool but mentally it was hard. Last week the work set kinda sucked, but an enjoyable suck.

Strength Training

If you are an old man like me the only way to can really continue to race fast - or fast for you - is to hold onto your strength. Fortunately I enjoy this part. In 2015 I did a good job in-season in maintaining a strength base. Now that I'm back at it more regularly I'm pushing weight I haven't done in years. Along with traditional strength work I mix in functional strength training. This should pay dividends come next summer in the buildup for Ironman Lake Placid.

Even if you're not an "old guy" you should still embrace the weights. It can be traditional weight training or functional strength work, whichever you are more comfortable with. You will feel better, hold more muscle mass, and keep the body strong.


The best time of the year to work on your swim is right now. Outside is dark and cold. You have no race commitments to train for. You have extra time as you aren't training all that much.

Over the years I have transformed myself from a very mediocre swimmer to a pretty good "non-swimmer." I will never be able to hang with the guy who joined a club team at age 4 and had a college swim scholarship. Yet come race day my swim is usually in the top 7 to 10%, no matter what distance I race. The gains I made came from the work I put in in November, December and January over a period of 4-5 years. With the emphasis on swimming and not running or biking I could get to the pool 5 days a week. And that is real, not, "I was gong to get to the pool but blah, blah excuse," but actual pool time!

Right now I am just starting to ramp up swim volume. I am not behind by any means as I don't need/desire to start putting in solid yardage until January. As long as I continue to slowly up the volume and intensity for the next five weeks all will be well. As I am feeling some motivation to be in the pool these days I have no reason to believe I won't be where I want to be at the start of the new year.

What's Next?

I do have two races on the schedule in the coming weeks. Tomorrow (Thanksgiving) I will be in Nazareth at the annual Pumpkin Pie 5k preemptively burning off the pie I will consume later in the day. I will be running with The Mayor and not racing. This has been on the schedule for years as a fun run for me. Same plan at the Christmas City 5 Miler on December 12th. Both these races support good causes. Both have been a tradition of mine for years.

Other than that, I'll be letting my body dictate what I do while slowly getting back into training.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Patience, Confidence and Taking Some Down Time

When was the last time you took some time off from training? I'm not talking about a day (or "a day" by not training in the evening then the next morning, using the 24 hours without training as a "day off"), I'm talking about some good old fashion period of doing pretty much nothing.

After running the Philadelphia RnR 1/2 Marathon on October 31 my official downtime began. For four straight days I did not swim, I did not bike, I did not run. Four straight days. On day #5 I got back into the pool (first time in 2 weeks) for 20 minutes of what barely qualified as swimming. Day #6 was more of a real swim, totaling 40 minutes and 1600 yards. On the seventh day I ran 5ish miles in the morning then spent an hour on my road bike in the afternoon.

Week #1 in the books.

This week has been a bit more work, but not a whole lot. I have been doing what I feel like doing, making sure that there is zero intensity. This will last for a few more weeks before moving from down-season to off-season.

But here's the thing: taking time off when you are used to training on a regular basis to increase fitness is a hard thing to do. It takes both patience and confidence to have the discipline to decrease both the volume and intensity of training. Patience because it is a process which takes time. You don't beat your body up for 10+ months and then expect all those little pains to go away after three down days. It takes confidence to knowingly let fitness go away, looking to regain it and then some during the next training cycle.

In my world, 2016 is an Ironman year (Lake Placid in July). Preparing for an Ironman is a big commitment in time, energy and money. I have seen people who have trained half-assed for long course and have yet to see it turn out well. You need to be 100% on race day, an impossible task if you don't take care in your prep, which doesn't start 12 or 16 weeks before, but long before the real training begins.

The idea is to be ready to start building base on January 4. Between now and then, here's what I'm trying to accomplish:

Heal Thy Body

After a training cycle the body usually feels a bit beat up. String a few cycles together at an age that stars with a 4 and not a 1 or 2, the body needs some rest. I could fight it, but we all know the body will eventually revolt and force the down time on me.

Heal Thy Brain

Training for a race is hard mentally as well as physically. I enjoy swim/bike/run but there are times it can get overwhelming when you are training for an Ironman or some other important race. But getting outside to do a 10 mile run with 6 miles at tempo before work in the rain (as hard as this may be to believe) isn't as fun as it may sound. But when one has a goal you do what has to be done.

There is a difference between training and exercising. Without those periods of exercise the training becomes mentally unbearable.

Strengthen Up!

In 2015 I have done a better job of keeping the strength work in my weekly routine. In years past it got pushed aside and I entered my down time really feeling weak. Today it is different, but the goal right now is the same as always - get strong.

There are a number of different ways to gain strength. Some prefer CrossFit, others functional strength work. Personally I have always been a fan of traditional strength training. These days I add in functional strength as a compliment to basic movements. This starts in the down-time and continues into the off-season.

Do Other Stuff

Away from sport there is life to attend to. If you train a lot there are things that simply get put off. I've been catching up on some of that, and you should too. Seriously, there is more to life than endurance sport. It should be noted that my definition of doing other stuff might differ from The Queen's list of me doing other stuff.

Sounds easy, right? Take some time off, lift some weights, all's good. Yeaaaahhhh ... not so much. If you're a Type-A personality you know exactly what I'm talking about.

It takes some real patience to make it happen. When you are programmed to swim, bike and run as much as you can it is hard - really, really hard - to just stop and rest. Physically you want to keep going. Mentally you want to keep going. Get a 68 degree Saturday afternoon and the road bike is just calling out to be your afternoon companion. And sometimes we try to fool ourselves and pretend to rest. Cutting your run volume by 60% for 6 weeks doesn't work if that mileage includes three 5ks and a 5-mile races.

Deep down I have never really understood the whole theory on rest anyway! Isn't it whoever can grin and bear the most work reaps the most rewards with speed? Apparently it doesn't work that way.

Look, I get it. Getting "out of shape" sucks. I hate it as much as you do. Yet, over the years I have learned to understand, if not necessarily like it. Time down allows the body to repair and recharge, giving you the platform to build a stronger and faster body for the next big race.

To make it happen it takes patience and confidence in knowing the time down right now will do for you what no amount of work can do. After many years of racing I think I have what it takes to let some fitness go in the immediate to reap the benefits when it counts on race day.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Race Report - Rock-n-Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon

The Rock-n-Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon is a race that has been on the race calendar for more than 20 years. Originally this race was known as the Philadelphia Distance Run, and is traditionally run the final weekend of September. For 2015, however, race organizers were forced to change the date because of an out-of-town visitor ... the Pope. And apparently his holiness' schedule is not very flexible. With the craziness that is a visit from the Pope the race couldn't happen as usual and a new date of October 31 was agreed upon by the powers that be.

Other than the race date, nothing changed. The race course is one that I have run more times than I remember and is one that I really, really like. The race starts and ends at Eakins Circle which is right in front of the iconic Philadelphia Art Museum. The first three miles (which has changed over the years) tour you around center city, including a loop around city hall. After an out-and-back on Spring Garden Street that gets you to about mile 4 1/2 you take a loop around the Schuylkill River, heading out on Kelly Drive and returning on MLK Drive. The finish is right in front of the Art Museum.

I signed up for this with Cassie and The Mayor as my last race of the season. With 2015 being about racing more, shorter events, I thought it would be a great way to end my season. When I plotted out my season one goal was to run an open half marathon at 1:30:00 or better. With a knee injury in 2014 it had been a while since I ran that fast so the motivation was there.

As I got closer to race day I knew the big goal would be unattainable. Unfortunately sometimes stupid happens. After climbing Pike's Peak over Labor Day weekend I raced a 10k in Colorado on Labor Day, then proceeded to run the first leg of the Via Marathon relay for a team The Queen had put together six days later. I could have cruised the 10k but ... just had to race that sucker.

Which turned out to be a stupid decision.

The next day my left calf ached, forcing me to shut it down for the next five days then taking it easy for the next few weeks. I raced the Runner's World 10k on October 17, gutting out a 41:59 on low miles and zero intensity. Fast (for me) but no way fast enough to expect a sub-1:30.

New plan - 1:32:xx.

With the race being held on a Saturday I drove down on Friday morning to pick up my race packets for me and The Mayor. After a quick loop around the expo, which I thought was just OK, I was back at my office for a late lunch. I had no traffic issues which made the trip less stressful than it might normally be.

Philadelphia Rock-n-Roll Half MarathonOn Saturday me and The Mayor left my house at 5:30 am for the drive to center city Philadelphia. Things went smooth with a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts for some eats and no problem finding parking in my favorite race day neighborhood. Our timing turned out to be perfect as I entered Corral #1 about 30 seconds before the start of the race.

My game plan was simple - go out comfortably hard for the first few miles without looking at my speed. If I feel good at mile two, continue to push. If I feel too much on the edge, pull back a notch. Whatever happened, race by feel and not by the pace on the Garmin.

After the gun went off it took me about 20 seconds before crossing the start line. Even though I had a no look at my Garmin policy I happened to be directly behind the 1:30 pacing group, which included 40+ athletes. With a few turns at the beginning of the race this caused some congestion, but also told me just how fast we were running. Just before the two mile mark I had started to slowly fall back from the pacers, knowing that a 6:50ish pace would not be sustainable for 13.1 miles.

As I looped through town at a slightly slower pace I felt good. Good enough to decide that I would run smartly on the edge and see what happens. In practical terms, it meant I would work to stay faster than a 7:00/mi pace for as long as I could, then hang on to the finish. My thought was that I could sustain to mile 10 or 11, before sucking it up for the final few miles.

Once out onto Kelly Drive I felt darn good. Running totally by feel the miles were clicking off at a 6:50 pace, amazingly right on target for a 1:30 through mile 7. Mile 8 and 9 were slower (7:01 and 7:05), but that was a conscious decision to kick it back a bit. I still felt good, but this section is on a slight incline, including the Falls Bridge.
Philadelphia RnR Half Marathon

Just after crossing the bridge you pass the 9 mile mark on MLK Drive, which is where I picked it up again. At this point I just kept thinking about one mile at a time. I also started to recognize a number of people who went out with the 1:30 pacers who were coming back at me. Mile 10 was a 6:58 and Mile 11 clocked in at 6:55.

With just 1.1 miles to go the pace became harder to maintain. The legs were moving, but hurting. Picking the pace up would no longer be an option. At the 20k mark I felt like toast, but continued to move forward at a solid pace. I became very aware of the people around me, hoping to not get passed by anyone. I almost succeeded, but did get taken on the final stretch by a young woman who still had an extra gear, which I certainly didn't have.

After crossing the line I stopped my watch with an unofficial time of 1:31:38 and a big smile on my face. Success!!!! I thought I could race a 1:32 and I did. Just as important, I raced it smart. As for Cassie and The Mayor, they both ran well.

Technology can be good or it can be bad. When I first started to race we had a $20 Timex and assumed that the mile markers were set correctly. Over time I have become too tied to the Garmin, using it as a pacing guide on race day. In my experience this is not a great situation as it can cause you to go too hard on a day you aren't 100% (because if I think I can run a 6:50 pace well damn it, I'm gonna run that pace no matter what) or hold back on days you feel great. I have worked this year to regain that feel for my run and become more aware of my body while racing. Over the 13.1 miles I only glanced at my Garmin a handful of times. Those looks were earlier in the race and more about having an idea of how close my perceived exertion level was to what the data had to say.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.