Thursday, July 14, 2016

Less than two weeks to Ironman Lake Placid

Hard to believe but Ironman Lake Placid is just 10 days away and the taper is well under way. Like many long distance racers I find the taper period harder in many ways than the long training. My legs feel like hell even as I have barely done anything this week!!!! In a rational way this makes no sense, yet this is how it always is. Next week I expect to get hit with a case of the "marathon flu"* for at least a day or two.

This will be my 6th time at the distance, 3rd try at this particular course. Lots of thoughts about making it to the line as well as what I have to do on July 24th. Just getting to start an Ironman-distance race is incredible. To be healthy enough at 46 years of age to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles in the Adirondack Mountains, then run a marathon is just incredible. I am truly grateful I have the ability to do this. No matter what happens on race day, just getting to the beach for the start is a win.

Like past efforts this one has been a long journey. Last July I was in Lake Placid as a race day
volunteer with Cassie and The Mayor, signing up for this year's race the following day. While it hasn't consumed my life, I have thought about race day a lot since the moment I handed over my credit card to pay for the race.

Ironman training is a discipline. The past few years I have been self-coached which takes a different kind of discipline. The only person I'm responsible to is myself. When I was coached in the past it was a great experience, but one that began to not suit me. Just as you need to be disciplined enough to get the work done, you also need to know when the workload is too much. I am wired to work my ass off, which worked for a good long time. As I moved from my 30s into my 40s I found what had been my strength (the ability to get the work done) had started to become a weakness. Drilling yourself into the ground is great, but not if you can't function correctly for three days, or it leads to injury.

I think back to last December and a run I was doing with a few of my training partners. Both of my mates had never trained with me when I was really focused on getting into top shape for an event of this distance. Yes, they were with me for my Ironman Florida training, but that was done after April knee surgery. I trained hard, but training had to be limited. I pretty sure they didn't believe me when I said I had a way I would be training, which is different than what they had previously experienced. Going into this year I had a plan.

This might not be exactly what tapering is, but after weeks of
long training days it's sure what it feels like.
There were some notable departures from years past. My overall mileage was much less than I did for any of my other Ironman events, with the exception of run training for IMFL (just 6 months post-knee surgery). Intensity was higher than ever via intervals. But more easy as well. Hard is hard and easy is easy. That grey area many of us have a propensity to train in? Not me.

If my body wasn't ready to go I would bag a workout. If I felt a little niggle in my calf I would stop running for three days then reevaluate the situation. Still an issue? Two more days with no run. These two simple, rational things kept me able to train on a consistent basis with no injuries.

So now that the training is over it is about getting race ready. These two weeks are about getting rid of fatigue and getting my head ready to race. This is not my first rodeo. Tapering is something I don't necessarily like but I am pretty good at getting the body ready to race. Mentally I need to be prepared to suffer. Specifically, here is I think I need to do come race day:

Pacing - This isn't just me, this is really what we all have to do. OK, the pros are a different story, but for the rest of us a successful Ironman is all about proper pacing. On the swim I have no worries. Every time I have raced a 70.3 or longer my swim has either been paced where it could be or, more so than not, slower than I am capable of. I am not a swimmer and am mostly self taught. I am good, but in a non-swimmer kind of way. My expectations are very reasonable. On the opposite end of the race is my run. Even at IMFL I had trouble on the back end holding it together. Go out at my slow and maintain it. Which leads to ...

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008
Control myself on the bike - I love, love, love to ride my bike. I have expectations on the bike. I can climb. Give me a series of rollers and my smile can get in the way. And that, my friends, has been my biggest problem at this distance. Ironman is a controlled effort that I am not programmed for. As much as I dislike the deep suffering one can have on the run, I really enjoy it on the bike. This is completely backwards!!! For 112 miles I need to make sure I ride within myself so bad things don't happen later on. That means I can ball down the descent to Jay, but "just ride along" for the long climb from the base of Whiteface Mountain back into town ... TWICE. Must. Have. Control.

Nutrition and Hydration - One of the problems I have always faced at this distance is the desire to keep shoving liquids and calories into my pie hole. What makes this worse is I am a heavy, salty sweater so "forgetting" to hydrate for 45 minutes can be devastating. Ten years ago at my first Ironman in Lake Placid I screwed it up so bad that my upper body was cramping, I thought I had a little green man walking the last few miles with me, and the last half-marathon took 3 1/2 hours to complete. I think I figured it out in Florida two years ago, but that was a cool weather race.

This is what bad bike pacing looks like at
mile 15 of the run.
Listen to My Body - I have always had a habit of getting a bit too robotic when I race long. When I considered myself to be a runner I would have a marathon pace and stick to it until it didn't work. Over the last few years I have changed my approach and started to listen to the signals the body was giving me at any given time. Racing the Philadelphia R&R 1/2 Marathon last year I beat my goal time by not running a pace but by letting how was was feeling dictate weather I pushed the pace or held back for a few minutes. Given my history this is probably most important for me on the bike.

Discipline - Everything up to this point comes down to discipline. I have always told my coaching clients who are racing the Ironman distance for the first time that they should think of it as the longest training day of their lives. That takes the ability to stay within yourself and just continue to move forward while staying present enough to do what needs to be done to continue on. The first four items on my list come down to maintaining my discipline all day long.

Keep the Demons Away on the Run - That little voice inside your head can be the best thing, and the worst thing, when racing. At this distance I have never found that voice to be very helpful. This year that has to change. I have a mantra. I will count my steps. I will focus on my form. I had this for almost 17 miles in Florida before my legs just gave out on me. With the almost nonexistent run miles I had for that race I was happy to make it that far. This year I have another 9 miles to quash the negative self-talk. Bottom line is I just need to harden the F&$k up and shut down the negative self talk.

As always, thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

*The "Marathon Flu" is what I have always referred to as that feeling during race week that you are getting sick. That little scratch in your throat that you normally ignore, or the achy body that is a result of actual muscular healing? That's the marathon flu. Can really screw with your mind.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Syracuse 70.3 Race Report

There are some days that go exactly how you planned. There are other days that surprise as you outperform your expectations. The days that don't go your way are hopefully rare. On June 19th, 2016 I hit the rare trifecta as I outperformed, performed as expected, and laid an egg all in the same race. That's my day in one sentence. What follows is the extended version of how my day went down.


Travel from Bethlehem to Syracuse took about 3 1/2 hours with a stop to stretch the legs and get some food. Unlike travelling to race Eagleman on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a race I have done numerous times, this trip involved no traffic hassles. Cassie, Jeff and I went right to the race site for packet pickup and a quick tour of the first 11 miles of the bike course. Packet pickup was the usual WTC affair - four stops, three waivers putting all the race-day liability on you, and a final stop for the goody bag and t-shirt.

After the bike course reconnaissance we headed to the hotel to relax. A little before 6 pm we headed out for dinner with Kim and Lauren at what turned out to be a pretty good Italian restaurant. I had my usual pre-race salad + margarita pizza while the others feasted on salmon and pasta. Good food and good conversation are a great combination.

Sunday morning we woke before the sun and were on the road by 5:30 for the 20 minute drive to the race site. The traffic line on site moved smoothly as we parked with everyone else in a big grass field less than 1/2 mile from the transition area. In transition I got my space in order before heading off to find a port-o-john. Fortunately I was in the 11th swim wave and had enough time to walk to the finish
area where there were no lines for extremely clean facilities (for race day) with plenty of toilet paper.

From there I found a quiet area to get my wetsuit on and get my mind focused on racing. At 7:40 the gun went off for my swim wave (male AG 45-49 l-z) as my day officially began.

Swim: 1.2 miles 30:44 

The swim course here is as simple as it gets. The course is rectangle shaped with a right hand turn before the halfway mark, another right handed turn about 100 meters later, followed by a straight swim into the swim finish. After a scrum for the first 150 meters or so things opened up and I was ready to go to work.

My game plan here - like all big races - is to go out hard, wait for a slightly faster set of feet to pass me, then draft for the rest of the swim. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. This time it didn't.

As can happen I picked the wrong set of feet. After letting my heart rate settle down I realized I was hardly working and would be better off swimming solo. By the 300M mark I was out on my own, settled into a steady pace. With 10 waves going off before me this was also the point where we started to catch the slower swimmers. Fortunately navigation was not a problem and the swim went off without a hitch. After telling Jeff I planned on a 32 minute swim, I was pleasantly surprised to see 30:24 on my watch when I stood up to get out of the water.

T1: 3:26

This was a long transition. The run from the lake up to the transition area was not a short run as was the run to the bike mount line. Everyone had the same distance so it just is what it is. I was as efficient as I could be and made it to the bike without incident.

There was, however, a huge bonus for the day which I just have to mention - wetsuit strippers. This is a staple at Ironman events but I have never had this luxury at a shorter distance. Big shout out to the race director for making this happen!!! 

Bike: 56 miles 2:43:22

I like me a hard bike course. When I hear people complaining about the hills I get a big smile on my face. Syracuse did not disappoint. With 3200+ of vertical and a 9+ mile climb that started 5 minutes after we started riding, your day will likely get set up by what you do in the first 45 minutes of riding. Go out and kill it and you are almost guaranteed to suffer later on. Ride within yourself and you have a shot.

I decided to take the smart approach and just carry on at a sustainable pace as we slowly climbed. I made sure to take advantage of the flatter sections while fueling (which is a subject I will address later on in the post). After the initial climb you have a course that is many miles of rollers with the periodic flat section and a fair number of turns.

As we only drove the first 11 miles before the race, I was a little surprised at how slow the course actually raced. Every time I felt like I would get into a groove there would be another turn. Pre-race I determined, based on the course profile, that I should be able to ride around a 2:30. And if this was the course I thought it would be I would have been disappointed with a 2:43. After riding the loop I am satisfied with what I rode.

As for fueling, I was testing out a new approach. With Ironman Lake Placid on tap this July I saw this race as an opportunity to try out some new things. The bike change was with my bike nutrition. I separated my calories from my liquids, using S-Tabs to keep my electrolytes up. With the temperature rising I was drinking like a fish, but noticed excessive amounts of salt accumulating on my tri suit (I'm a heavy, salty sweater). Something wasn't right.

The last time I had something like this happen was at Ironman Coeur d'Alene in 2008 when seemingly all my internal salt left my body about halfway through the run. Like that day in Idaho I was caked in salt. I upped my liquids as well as my electrolytes. Coming off the bike I didn't feel great but I didn't feel terrible.

T2 - 3:06

This was longer than it should have been. Two things happened. First, someone had kicked aside one of my socks and it took a bit of time to track it down. 13 miles without socks would have destroyed my feet. Second, with the temperatures around 85 degrees as I got off my bike I decided to use my Zoot arm coolers. I had some trouble getting them on, wasting a minute or so. With the hot sun beating down on me wasting a minute is better than going without.

Run: 13.1 miles 2:15:18

Almost immediately I had issues. After leaving T2 you very quickly run through a grassy field then a short rocky trail before getting out to the main road. Overall that section is less than a 1/2 mile. You run it four times on the two loop course. Being a road guy I did not find this fun ... at all.

Unfortunately the uneven off-road terrain was the least of my worries. By mile two I started to get some cramping in my upper body and then my hamstrings. Remember all that salt that was lost on the bike? Here it is coming back to bite me hard. Didn't help that the run course has 1200+ ft of vertical, including the mile from hell going into the turnaround point.

I'll spare you the horrid details. On the negative side I went 2:15. On the positive side, my cooling plan worked well from the beginning. And if I'm being honest I packed it in around mile 9, knowing my day was done and not wanting to beat the body up for a few less minutes that would get me nothing. Instead of majorly suffering for no good reason I chose to walk/jog it in while talking with fellow competitors.

Overall: 5:35:56  M45-49 22/144, 190th overall

I was quite surprised at how well I did on a relative basis with what I consider to be a slow time, basically quitting at mile 9 of the run. All I can say is that course was a beast.

How Could I Have Raced Better?

I used this race as a test of fitness and a test of a fueling plan. From a fitness perspective I'm good. My taper was spot on and I felt great coming in. My swim was much better than I expected and my bike came in where I should have expected it. The run? Well, I blame that on the fueling plan. Come the big dance on July 24th I'll be back to my fueling routine that worked well at Ironman Florida. And while it did have a major impact on my results on this day, it could have turned out much differently. If you don't take a chance you don't know if there is something that might work better.

Overall Impressions

Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was a really great race that I hope to do again in the future and I recommend to anyone who likes a challenge. I am not an Ironman-branded race fanboy, although I feel generally satisfied with World triathlon Corporation (WTC) races. I like to race local races and support my area of Eastern PA and New Jersey. When I travel I have tended to stick with either Ironman or Rev3 events as they tend to be larger, competitive races. They also tend to be very well organized.

Syracuse was not only well organized, but it also was a great course to race. The lake was clean (a big thing for me), the bike course was challenging and fun to ride, while the run was a beast. This is not the venue for a PR effort. To do well here you need to bring your A-game. To do well here you need to be in great shape. But isn't that the point of racing to challenge yourself and find your limits?

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Confidence and My Athletic Endevors

I've been missing for a while. It has been more than three months since I last posted. THREE MONTHS!!! Time flies I guess. But it wasn't a planned hiatus, just one of time, or lack there of, and desire to write. More to the point ... Ironman training. More specifically, Ironman Lake Placid on July 24. The MIA act started with the workload increase necessary to have a good day come 7/24. These days I'm a bit more tired, certainly more fatigued, and from time-to-time a little less focused.

But I'm back. In the coming week(s) I'll be caught up with my monthly training reports as well as recaps of the three races I have done since I last posted. With the large amount of time I have spent doing swim/bike/run there are other things I have been thinking about which could easily turn into a post or three.

Today I want to talk about a pretty lousy week in the pool. A few weeks back my normal training schedule got screwed up because of a combination of work commitments (gotta hate when that happens), a pool shutdown due to over-chlorination, and no desire to swim at 7 pm on a Friday evening. When I did get to the pool at a more routine time/day the workout was crap.

Like I said, not a good week.

It happens ... more than I would like ... but like I said, it happens.

Right now my main focus is training for Ironman Lake Placid, my sixth time preparing for this grueling distance.  In preparing for these events I have had my fair share of good workouts, great workouts, and workouts from hell. Two weeks out from Ironman Coure D'Alene my final 5 hour bike turned into 38 miles of hell, where I actually stopped and laid down under a tree in someone's front lawn for almost a 1/2 hour because I bonked.

Seriously, that happened.

Then I freaked out a bit.

Then I pulled it together, figured out my final two weeks and raced a good race.

What I learned from that horrible bike ride is that fitness is important, but can be utterly useless without the confidence to deal with the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-by-month grind of training for a big event. Yes, you may look back on your training and only remember the good. But really, in real time, we all have bad days, bouts of anxiousness, and the occasional freak out.

Nothing good comes from succumbing to those voices in your head. That's where confidence comes in. Losing confidence can absolutely destroy any chance you have of reaching your goals as you do what can only be called "stupid shit" in an attempt to get your confidence back.

What is "stupid shit?" Doing hard intervals three days out from your "A" race to "test" your fitness. Overly long, long runs every weekend for weeks on end to "make sure you can make the distance" (whatever that distance may be) falls into that category as well. Or just as common, running through a minor injury because three days without running will completely rid you of all your fitness.

So what is confidence?

Confidence is knowing that a bad workout is just a bad workout.
Maybe you didn't get enough rest or are a bit dehydrated. Or maybe your legs are tired from that long ride you did over the weekend. Or maybe you just mentally weren't where you needed to be. I had a hard "long" run recently because I made the rookie mistake of not getting enough food in me the day before. Pretty obvious in retrospect. Instead of getting down about it, try to figure out the why and move on.

Confidence is knowing that a bad week, or a bad week in swim, bike or run can happen.
Just like a bad workout you can have a bad week. In my case this tends to happen because I have over-cooked my body and the bad week is my body's way of telling me to back off.

Confidence is being able let your peak fitness go as you take a much needed off-season where you let the body actually heal itself.
Fitness is fluid. It comes and goes with the amount of training stress you put on your body. Ideally we would like to have this be a continuous straight line up, but that's not how it works. The body needs a break from time to time. And by break I mean a real break from the stress of training, not an easy 10 days followed by an "off season" trying to PR at the 5k or 10k distance. It takes true confidence to let your peak fitness go away, understanding you can get it back after the body and mind

Back when I was focused on marathons I would always shut things down between crossing the finish line of my fall marathon and January 1. Nothing structured. Nothing long. Nothing very intense. I could do this because I knew over the first few months of the year I would regain that lost fitness.

Confidence is knowing that you don't have to be in Ironman shape in February when your race is in July.

This ties in with letting your peak fitness go in the off-season. Fitness takes time to build, brick by brick, one day at a time. If not taking an off-season will break you down physically due to the continuous stream of stress put on the body, trying to whip yourself into shape too quickly puts your body at risk. The "real" training didn't begin for Lake Placid until April 4th.

Confidence is having the discipline on race day to properly pace your day.
One of my favorite bonks of all-time happened at the Philadelphia Marathon (I forget the year). Looking to run a 3:10 Lo-Jack and I hit the half way point in 1:29:xx. We did this to "bank some time," thinking that extra 10 minutes would be helpful on the back half. What happened instead was an ugly, ugly final few miles with more walking that I would like to admit, some of which was more like staggering.

Being fit is vitally important to athletic success but so is the ability to have confidence in your ability to perform. By trusting in your program, trusting in your body, you give yourself the best chance of success come race day. If you let something get in the way - a bad day, a bad week, or just that little voice that tells you you need to do a little more - your chance of success goes down drastically. Pretty soon you are adding "junk" miles, hard workouts and your off-season becomes non-existent. Not good for the body; not the formula for a PR.

I have found I do my best when I keep the workload in perspective, listening to the signals my body is giving me. If I need some extra time to recover, I take it. If I feel a twinge in my calf I take a few days off from running. But if I bonk because it's 87 degrees outside I see it for what it is and move on.


Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Ironman Lake Placid Training: February, 2016

Properly preparing for an Ironman is a long process that occurs over a period of months, not weeks. The work that is necessary is not really the most exciting stuff. After going through this process in 2006 I came to the conclusion that you could take a look at what I would do on almost any day or week and not be overly impressed. There is nothing spectacular about an 8 mile aerobic run before work or a Wednesday night group ride. Even the interval work doesn't come off as being of the rip-your-face-off variety. No, training for an Ironman is more about the day-to-day building of fitness with occasional bouts of speed.

Bethlehem, PA
Will be spending much time on one of my favorite trails
Right now I am in the base building phase. The major goal for this month was to continue to build on what I did in January.Base is not just about putting in time/miles. After more than a decade of training for long course events I have a descent aerobic base but need work on my strength and speed. After a good start to the year in January I was looking for a solid follow up month in February.

Here's how things broke down for the month:

Swim:  February started out with a solid few weeks of training, but ended up being not exactly what I had hoped. Sometimes life gets in the way of training. Sometimes the weather gets in the way. And sometimes the space between the ears is the problem. As good as the weather has been in Eastern Pennsylvania this winter I don't have that as an excuse, so I have to go with schedule and mental.

With a number of evening work appointments over the second half of the month my available time to train became limited. Add in my lack of desire to swim in the early morning hours I missed a few sessions in the pool. So while I did continue to work on my kick I didn't make as much progress and I wanted. My longer swims were a tiny bit longer than in January, but not nearly enough. March will be better.

Bike: I feel rather fortunate this year as the weekend weather has been relatively mild, allowing me to get outside three out of four weekends this month. And unlike getting in the pool I have no hang ups keeping me from riding. Inside I have continued to focus on interval work with short, concentrated workouts. Power numbers are up, right where I was at the end of the 2015 riding season. Overall volume is good, not great, but nothing unusual. When I can get outside I have been riding in the 1 1/2 to 2 hour range, just getting in base miles. My goals for them month were successfully reached.

Run: As I enter March I am starting to feel more confident in my run. My 2015 was dedicated to low run volume as I worked to strengthen up the musculature around my right knee. December and January were about adding volume, getting back to comfortably running many more miles than I have done in a few years. February was a it of a hybrid in that my overall volume increased slightly, but I began to add training stress via hill work. Over the four weeks I did 3 hill workouts, two on the treadmill and one out on the roads. Hill sessions have me feeling stronger. The consistent training miles have enabled me to be consistent and feel good while doing it.

Strength and Mobility: Nothing new here. I have been very consistent making sure I get a good combination of traditional strength work (squats, deadlifts, chins, etc.) and functional strength work. I continue to get stronger on the major lifts. Mobility training has been positive as well.

Racing: Once again there was no racing this month.

Overall: Other than my bad week in the pool things are going well. I continue to get stronger, back where I was at the end of 2015 on the bike and far better in many ways than I was last year on the run. My swim is doing just fine. With the start of March, however, things start to get a little more real.

What's Happening in February? After not racing since early December I will be racing the Warm Hearts 5k on March 26th again. Hopefully we get better weather than last year. As for my training March is a transition month which will see a noticeable increase in total volume. In the pool I will continue to focus on developing my kick and increasing the long swims to the level I want to maintain during my Ironman specific raining. On the bike I really need the weather on my side as the plan is to start cranking out some good miles on the weekends to compliment the short, hard stuff I do during the week. If all goes right my FTP numbers will be up as will my endurance. On the run I am adding in a speed component. Yes, that's right, I will be back on the track again. Not my favorite place to run but I understand the benefits.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How Should the Long Distance Endurance Athlete Pace Workouts

After many years of racing marathons and shorter triathlons, 2006 was the year I finally stepped up to the Ironman distance. I knew I couldn't do it on my own and I hired Coach to train me for the race. I knew what I knew, and at that point I knew that I didn't know how to prepare for 140.6 miles. I put my trust in the one person I personally knew who could get me to the start line prepared.

We sat down on January 2, 2006 to go over the big picture of what I would be doing for the next seven months as well as discuss the first few weeks of training. That morning I ran 8 miles before work. After work, before getting together, I swam. After 10 minutes with Coach I felt like I was already behind in my training. Ironman training, like any plan for a long race, is A LOT of volume. I think I may have peed a little when I saw what the first 10 weeks looked like.

While I cannot remember all of the specifics of what we discussed that evening there are two things that stick out in my mind, and stay with me to this day. To start, I had it in my mind that I would follow along with the plan until I inevitably hurt myself with what I thought was a massive load of swim/bike/run. Once I went down for the count I figured we would see where I was and adjust as needed. Mind you, I don't have an extensive history of injury, I just assumed something would happen.

The second thing I remember is being told that in order to get through the first 10 weeks, which by design would be run intensive, I would have to run many, many miles at a pace "that would feel embarrassingly slow, to the point of you feeling like people are driving by and laughing at how slow you are running." The only way to increase my mileage to the point we were planning on would require me to spend many a morning just getting in the miles.

Being the good student I was, I followed the plan - lots of volume, most of it at a slow, aerobic pace. Was I embarrassed at the pace? No. Hard days were hard and, truth be told, the total volume was so high relative to what I had previously done, I had no choice but to slow down when I wasn't going fast. Hell, there were days I had trouble actually getting to an aerobic pace.

In the end the plan worked. My body got stronger and more resilient over the 7 months of training. I was able to adequately recover between hard sessions. I made it to the start line fit and ready to go.

The moral of the story is simple - properly pacing my workouts allowed me to build fitness without breaking the body down. 

But what is proper pacing? 

This is going to depend on how you are training. If you are training based on heart rate (MAF training for example) and are looking for higher volume training it is going to be quite different than if you are using a more traditional plan based on interval training. I have personally used both styles of training and have experience in success and failure with both. I have definite opinions on what is necessary to get to the start line injury-free and feeling good.

Pacing for the Heart Rate Training (MAF) Athlete

MAF stand for Maximum Aerobic Function. For the person who is training in this style you are training to build aerobic capacity. I have found much success in training in this matter as it has allowed me to avoid injury, both small and large, for a very long time. It is less exciting than a set of 12 x 400 on the track or working your FTP on the bike. With this form of training you will be getting in miles at a set heart rate range. You will do this day after day. Depending on how you feel (and the conditions) your pace can/will vary on a day-to-day basis, but should trend faster as you get more fit.

For example, if your MAF zone is 140-150 bpm and you can run an 8:00/mi pace, you can reasonably expect to see days where you are faster as well as days you are slower, depending on how you feel/how recovered you are on a given day. If you are doing things right you will see a gradual increase in pace that would be confirmed when you periodically test at the track or on a repeatable course.

Eventually you will hit a peak and gains will level off. This could happen in a few months or it can happen in a year or more. It all just depends. Everyone has a different level of volume the body can absorb as well as having only a limited amount of time to actually train. Once you do see a peak happening you will need to change things up for a period of time. Until that point pacing is simple - stay within your training zone.

One issue some people have is with the intensity of the training. At the beginning many people find this type of training to be rather easy. A 3:30 marathoner might find that when they start training based on their MAF that their aerobic pace is closer to 9:00/mile or maybe even 10:00/mile. Hills might even reduce you to a walk. In such a case the training will feel easy ... very easy ... maybe even easy to the point of being unsure you are getting benefit from the work. That is more than likely a result of working really hard in the past and not even realizing it. The point of this training is to develop your ability to work at your MAF and not stroke your ego. Going too hard - well above your specific heart rate zone - defeats the purpose of training in this style.

The other side of the coin is when one gets extremely fit and the MAF pace is very fast. It is not unusual for a fit athlete to run at MAF heart rate in the 6:xx or 5:xx/mile range. Do this day after day and it can become very taxing on the body. At this point one would start to do intervals at MAF and the recovery periods would be at lower heart rates. This is a problem that happens a lot on the bike as well.

Specifically, once you start getting into doing interval training you will want follow these guidelines for proper pacing:

- train in your specific range most of the time
- interval work should be dictated by heart rate, not pace
- intervals are in your aerobic zone when your muscular system isn't as strong as your cardio system

For more information on this style of training I suggest you pick up either The Maffetone Method or The Endurance Handbook, both by Dr. Phil Maffetone.

Pacing for Traditional Periodization Training

If you take a more traditional approach to your training your weekly workload would have a combination of hard interval work, easy recovery days, and some tempo work thrown in to the mix. Over the course of a training cycle you will move from general fitness building to more specific work that is geared toward your "A" race for the season or year. There are a number of different ways to go about this and a lot of books available to you for reference. Here are two great examples:

Going Long by Joe Friel and Gordo Byrn

Daniel's Running Formula by Dr. Jack Daniels

Unlike MAF training which is focused on one energy system - aerobic capacity - training in this style will have you doing a variety of workouts designed to work specific energy systems. One day you may do some short, high intensity bike intervals to work the anaerobic system then do a long run the following day that is designed to work your aerobic system. It is important to make sure you are training at a proper pace for each workout or you risk not accomplishing what the workout is designed to do.

The first problem I have seen people make is over-estimating one's fitness. And I get it. Not only do I get it, but I have made this mistake myself. We all think we are better than we really are, right? We have all, at some point, justified a "poor" performance on poor nutrition/ dehydration/ lousy pacing/ a bad night's sleep/ or some other justification. Whatever. Unless you got hit by a bus while racing it is safe to say you are only as good as your last race or test in training.

So as an athlete it is important to put your ego on ice and take a realistic look at where your actual fitness level is at the start of your plan. Yes, your goal may be to run a 3:15 marathon or an 11 hour Ironman, but if you ran a 3:34 marathon or a 13 hour Ironman last November that is a much better indicator of where you are now than your ultimate goal time, and that is what your training paces need to be based on.

Yes, you read that correctly, the paces you run in training should be based on where you are at now and not what you thing you might be able to do on your best day in perfect racing conditions.

Once you have decided on what your actual fitness level is, the second problem I see people make with this style of training is pushing the pace in the given workouts. In my experience this seems to happen more with the run than the bike. Here are two examples of what I'm taking about:

  • Sally has a track session planned for 12 x 400 at 1:40 with a 1 minute rest interval. The pace is hard but doable. After hitting pace in the first few intervals Sally starts to run a bit faster, now crossing the line in 1:35 for each 400. Because faster is better. 
  • Joe has an aerobic run on the schedule that his plan dictates should be run at an 8:00/mile pace. After a few mile warm up Joe settles into a 7:35/mile pace for the rest of his run. Because, again, faster is better.
No. Faster is NOT better. The track workout is designed to work a specific energy system and the faster pace has compromised what the main purpose of the workout happened to be for that day. And while running a general aerobic run at a faster pace than prescribed seems makes sense, it is over-stressing the body. That extra stress might not show up that day or that week, but eventually it will show up in your training in a negative way. Maybe you become over-tired or maybe you get an injury.

While we are all attached to our digital devices and obsessed with pace, the body knows effort, it doesn't know pace. I repeat, the body knows effort, it doesn't know pace. Workouts are designed in a way to get you to work work at a certain effort, pace (or watts on the bike) are just the manner in which your coach can convey the effort level required.

(side note: Is it just me or do the majority of triathletes seem to want to put a ton of effort into their run training but not so much effort on the bike? I like running fast and hard, don't get me wrong, but pushing the pedals is so, so much fun. Sorry for the detour ...)

Training at the wrong effort/pace is not always about going too hard. Sometimes it is about the third pacing mistake - training in the grey zone. This happens when one runs the hard workouts too easy and the easy workouts too hard. Basically when you train in the grey zone you are kinda, sorta, working your different energy systems but not really. You aren't going hard enough to have an affect on your anaerobic system or your Vo2Max, but harder than necessary to efficiently work your aerobic capacity. This level of effort will tire you out but not give you great results. It is the worst of all worlds.

How does one go about making sure they don't make these mistakes:

  • If a workout comes with set paces, stick with them. Your body knows effort and the prescribed pace is the vocalization of the necessary effort
  • Remember Rule #1 - Hard is hard, easy is easy
  • Set your training up based on what you CAN do, not what you think you can do
  • Periodically test your fitness either in training or with a race, then adjust pacing in training as needed

Final Thoughts

Effort in your training is important to athletic success. Some people would interpret that to mean that you always need to "work hard." For the Type-A  athlete this makes total and complete sense - outwork the competition. When it comes to real world application, however, the outwork the competition model by pushing your limits in training on a daily will more than likely lead you down the wrong path.

Proper training requires you to properly pace your workouts to accomplish the training goals for that workout. A recovery spin should not turn into a throw-down with your buddies in the final 3 miles of the ride. Likewise, an aerobic run should be run at an aerobic pace, not slightly faster or a whole lot slower. If you stick with the plan and hit your proper training intensities you give yourself the best chance of staying healthy and racing successfully.

As always, thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Ironman Lake Placid Training: January, 2016

As we entered the new year my training had just started to get more structured in nature. After taking some real downtime, December was about getting workouts in on a consistent basis, making sure I would be ready to get back on the straight and narrow path with my training. With an Ironman on the race schedule it is important for me to get fit enough to do the training necessary to get in Ironman shape. If I'm not "ready to train" by April 4 I have basically no chance of reaching my goals come race day.

A few years ago I started to think of my training over the course of a month as opposed to just thinking about what each particular week was about. The change in focus has allowed me to back off when the legs feel a bit spent without the guilt of missing or having a poor workout. If that long run gets bounced from Saturday to next Tuesday, no big deal.

For the month of January the main goal was to start the process of rebuilding my fitness. Over the 31 days of January the goal was to get my training back up to full capacity, building volume and workload over the course of the month. Strength and muscular endurance were an overriding theme.

In general I achieved these goals. Training volume was consistent from week to week, averaging 12+ hours consistently. The final week of the month was scheduled for recovery. After the Lehigh Valley was hit with 32 inches of snow on January 23, I decided to move the recovery week up a few days. By making such a switch I took any internally produced pressure I may have had to run long on a treadmill out of the equation. Plus, shoveling and snow blowing all that snow was an added bit of work not. Having monthly goals made the funny looking weekly workloads OK!!!

Here's how it all broke down:

Swim: The goal here was to get in the pool on a consistent basis, build up total volume as well as yardage per session, and start working on my pathetic kick. All of that happens. I was in the pool 4x each week, increasing my weekly yards from roughly 10k the first week to 12k the last week. I added a kick set to 3 workouts each week, with the exception of week 2 due to time constraints. I did a 1k test at the end of the month, swimming it in 14:10. Not great, but a good place for me at the end of January.

Bethlehem PA January 2016 Blizzard
Sometimes a run outside is just not an option ...
Bike: The major goal for the month here was two-fold: first I needed to get my winter volume up after taking a few months essentially off from riding; and, two, start the (hopefully) two month process of rebuilding my FTP. Most of the mileage/hours were done solo on the trainer as Bethlehem in January is not conducive to early morning riding. Weekend weather did allow for a few rides outside, which gave me a nice break. Overall I would call the month a success as I was seeing better numbers during intervals while not destroying my body for days after. Not back quite yet, but another month of consistent saddle time should do the trick.

Run: As I stated last month, of the three disciplines this is the one that requires the most care. After two years of low run volume/frequency, it is a process to get me back to where I need to be come July 24th. This month the concern was frequency, making sure the body can handle the pounding of running on a regular basis again. Total volume was less of a concern with no real target for weekly mileage. I did not want to put a number in my head that I "had" to reach. More important to see the gradual increase than hurt myself right out of the box.

After 31 days and 21 runs I enter February feeling much, much better when I run. Overall mileage has been trending up while average pace has been trending slightly lower. Just as important running feels easier than it did in December and I feel like I am starting to get my legs back under me.

Strength and Mobility: This was an easy success for me in January. After a few months of consistent focus in this area I have continued forward in a consistent manner. Even as my swim/bike/run have started to increase I continue to get stronger on the major lifts. Mobility training has been positive as well.

Racing: No racing this month. Sometimes you just have to train.

Overall: December turned out to be a good month. The workload was not unreasonable by any stretch of the imagination, but slowly built over the 4 1/2 weeks. I started the new year feeling fresh and fit enough to start the base training period on January 4.

What's Happening in February? Once again there are no races on the schedule, just steady training. In the pool I will continue to work my kick, extend my longer swim sessions, and work the high end. By the end of the month I expect to be hitting the same FTP numbers on the bike I held at the end of my 2015 racing. Assuming the weather cooperates my weekend long rides will get a bit longer, but nowhere near long. I enjoy riding outside in the winter, but I do not believe in putting in overly long rides before it is necessary. Mentally I will be better come April if I keep these on the (relatively) short side. And if weekends are for $h!t, I'll stay inside and get less volume as a result. On the run the goal is to continue to build muscular endurance and durability. After "just running" in January, February will feature hill work during the week. Strength and Mobility work is about continuing to build on the work I have done these past few months.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry

Over the course of a year I read quite a few books on a range of issues. Some are related to my day job and would be of little interest to many of those who have found this post. Those that are related to my triathlon obsession will get streaky in the topics I choose. Sometimes I read a lot on cycling, or injury prevention, or diet, or whatever I have on my mind for a period of time. At other times I just go randomly from subject to subject. Lately my reading has been more diverse.

Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS is a book about running that is about more than just running. What you won't find here are training plans or how to reach your marathon goals in 16 weeks. Instead what you get is a book that the runner or triathlete can use to avoid being a part of the 75% of us who get sidelined with an injury each year. Anatomy for Runners is the book you can use to keep you out there running on a consistent basis.

The author states very clearly that the "book's aim is to reveal how the musculoskeletal system responds to running and how to optimize this relationship." He does this by taking you through the real basics of running - physics, anatomy, mobility, biomechanics, footwear and the runner's gait. While you could skip along and just go to the assessment and corrective exercises, having an understanding of what could be wrong (and figuring out what is more correct for your body) is an important step for long-term success.

After getting through the background information, Chapter 9 (Assessment) is where you start to find out what might need to be corrected. There are ten tests - 5 focused on mobility, 5 dealing with stability. Dicharry believes the best time to take these tests is, in his own words, "Now!"

If you are suffering from injury or not, he believes it is important to figure out what underlying issues you may have and correct them asap. Because "if you fix the factors driving your problem, you not only help your current problem, you also decrease your chances of getting another injury related to the same cause. Imbalances that take our body away from the norm cause problems, and these problems are usually present well before you have pain." With each test you get some suggestions on how you can improve what is being tested.

In Chapter 10 (Corrective Exercises) you get the exercises needed to fix your underlying issues. For each exercise you get a picture or to as well as an explanation of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Very easy to understand.

I took myself through the tests and found an interesting little connection to an ongoing thing I have had going on with (I thought) my hips. Really what has been an issue appears to resonate from my glutes, and can be fixed in about 2-3 minutes per day. To simply integrate it into my life I do my have two exercises with my normal warm up routine. Since I don't miss my warm ups I don't miss my prehab exercises.

Who Should Read Anatomy for Runners?

Everyone who runs and doesn't want to get hurt doing it. This book is written for everyone from the beginner training for her first 5k or the grizzled veteran going for Boston Marathon number 10. The novice triathlete or the Ironman world champion will be able to utilize the information presented.

Running is simple yet it can be so destructive to the human body. The most effective way to get faster is to train consistently combining long runs, tempo efforts and speed work. But consistency is the key. If you get hurt, even just a "nick" or a "little niggle," you will interrupt your training plan. Taking some time out to read a book, take a few simple tests and then do a few basic exercises on a regular basis seems worth it to me. It should for you as well.

I know more than a few bicycle enthusiasts who started off as runners or triathletes who eventually either wore something out due to poor biomechanics or got tired of getting injured all the time. Running should be enjoyable. When you are constantly coming back or running hurt the fun just goes right out the window. If this sounds like you, or feel that it cold be you someday, pick up a copy of Anatomy for Runners.

Bottom line: I recommend this book to anyone who runs and wants to continue to run for a long, long time.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Training Review: December 2015

If you've been following me for a while you know that I have become very comfortable looking at my training on a monthly basis, having an agenda that extends for roughly 30 days at a time. Back when I was a coached athlete I had trouble with the weekly nature of the focus. The problem wasn't the plan, but me. If it was on the paper I would do it, regardless of how I might have been feeling that day. Pushing through worked for a while, eventually leading to tired legs and sub-optimal performances.

Winter has finally arrived.
December was a transition month from the restfulness of the off-season into the day-to-day grind of Ironman training. Looking back at my training journal November was a month of little training volume and virtually no intensity in any of the three disciplines. This I expected. October, while I did train for and race in the Philadelphia R&R 1/2 Marathon, was much more relaxed than I remembered. I continued to run, even increasing mileage in mid-month as part of my prep. where I surprised myself was the lack of swimming and biking. For the most part I had taken October off from both.

Needless to say, I entered December with a dropped level of fitness.

Fortunately, this is exactly what I was going for. In order to get better you need to sometimes take a step backwards, allowing the body and mind to heal. Taking time away from training (but still exercising) brings back the desire to train and train hard.

My goals for December were simple. Over the 31 days I needed to just be consistent, slowly building volume over the month.

Swim: Started out the month with a few easy swims and gradually built up the total time per week each week, with the exception of Christmas week, which schedule just didn't allow me to get to the pool as much as I may have wanted to. Or not. It's the holidays and there were things more important than trying to squeeze in a swim workout just to get some yards. By the end of the month I was feeling better in the pool and swimming a reasonable amount.

Bike: After pretty much taking the previous two months off, December was very consistent. The good weather helped, giving me time outside every week, including a Christmas Eve ride in shorts and a short sleeved jersey in 70 degree weather!!! Not being exclusively stuck in the basement and/or riding in extreme cold weather is big motivation. Still, reality is no matter how warm the weather is for December, riding at 6 am requires me to embrace the trainer. The volume this time of year is always low. Power gradually started to come back to a respectable level, but not where it eventually will be.

Run: Of the three disciplines this is the one that requires the most care. My mileage has been low for two years now, averaging under 20 mile per week over that time. With Ironman on the agenda, December started the slow process of rebuilding run specific fitness and muscular endurance. It's a big project that will take months. December was a good start. I did run a 5 mile race (see below for some details) as well as my annual NYE South Mountain Run.

Strength and Mobility: For the first time in years I managed to not slack on strength and mobility work during the Summer and Fall. Turns out that is helpful when you get to the off season as you don't have a rebuilding process. I ended the month stronger than I have been in years.

Racing: I did actually do a race in December. I ran hard but didn't truly race it. Every year since 1998 I have done the XMas City 5 Mile Run in Bethlehem, PA. It is held on the second Saturday of December and is a great excuse to hang out with friends, grabbing a post-race meal with anyone who can come. Once again Rick did a great job, putting on an excellent race, selling out early with what had to be a record number of participants. I ran a 33:32, which was fine. More important, I enjoyed myself doing the only speed work for the month.

Overall: December turned out to be a good month. The workload was not unreasonable by any stretch of the imagination, but slowly built over the 4 1/2 weeks. I started the new year feeling fresh and fit enough to start the base training period on January 4.

What's Happening in January? There are no races on the schedule, just steady training. In all three disciplines I intend to be at full winter volume by the end of the month. In the pool I will be working on my weak kick. On the bike it is about building strength and getting the wattage back up to where I was at at the end of last season. Running is all about building muscular endurance.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Why I Run Over South Mountain Every New Year's Eve

A long standing tradition of mine has been a fun out-and-back 10 mile run on the last day of the year that just happens to go over South Mountain in my adopted hometown of Bethlehem, PA. In the beginning it would be just me and Jack who would make the treck. Over the years I have been joined by as many as 10 and as few as one other person in my personal end of year ritual. And while the weather was favorable for the 2015 edition, weather conditions can add an additional challenge beyond the 1200+ ft of climb.

Last Thursday me and three of my regular training partners got together for my annual trek. With a 2:30 start time we had good daylight, the warmth of the day (for December) with a 10 mph wind from the North. The best New Year's Eve running weather we have had in a few years.

As for the run it went well. The warm up - from Sand Island Park to the corner of 4th and Hayes St. - was a bit faster than I would have liked. The climb from there to the mountain's peak at Lehigh University's Mountain Top Campus felt hard but good, while the backside decline was a nice relief on the legs.

Jonathan Soden - South Mountain Run Crew
Apparently we color coordinated beforehand.
After regrouping at the turnaround point, which is just past Stabler Arena, we started the trek back to Mountain Drive South for the final 2 mile climb at a moderate pace. My goal this year was to make it to the top without stopping to walk after blowing up spectacularly the year before. As we started the climb I settled into what I felt would be a sustainable effort level, not concerning myself with who was in front of me and who was behind.

While the front side (north) of the mountain is steeper to start and flattens out in the final quarter mile, the backside (south) is a sustained climb that gradually gets steeper as you go up. My preference has always been the front side and I almost always struggle on the backside.


This year I successfully ran the final assent without a walk break or major blow up.

After regrouping at the top we eventually made our way back to the cars

Not a bad view while kicking your own arse!
But why? Why do I run this same route every year instead of running the NYE Peeps Run, or the trails, or just take the day off?

After taking some downtime at the end of racing triathlons and running races this is a hard run that I am never ready to do. Which is exactly the point. Jack and I didn't start running this because we could run it fast or to prove we could do it or boost our egos going into the new year. What got this run started as a tradition was that it would kick our asses every single year.

Every. Single. Year.

Some years that comes in the form of walking a portion of climb number two. Many years it comes with sore legs during the first few days of the new year. Every year it is a good reality check on where the fitness level is and what needs to be done in the coming months. A reminder that fitness can come and go.

Over the years there are people who have come and gone from this run for a variety of reasons. Some have moved, others have moved on from running, as others haven't really connected with the value I find in doing this run. Others have been invited but never showed up. The one steady presence over the past 16 years has been me.

And come December 31, 2016 it is a good bet that at some point during the day you can find me running over the mountain, getting a lesson in just how fit or unfit I will enter 2017.

If interested you can find the exact route we run here .

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.