Thursday, September 17, 2009

Race Report: Patriots Half Iron

Well, my big race for the year is in the books. I completed the Patriots Half after a long six months, pretty much focused on this race. I raced no other triathlons this year, but did a handful of bike rides to keep me focused on my training throughout the season. This was a drastic change from seasons before, where I would race 4-6 races. It kept me focused on one goal, so my training priorities never shifted. At the same time, without a true race to test my progress, it was a challenge to stay motivated at times.

With that, I give you the executive summary, because someone I know, doesn’t like my long reports. So without further ado for you attention deficit folks, here ya go. For everyone else, continue on reading.

Swim – 47:30

Felt good throughout first half, got off course in 2nd half due to not being able to review the changed course (current shifted) before the race, and probably swam a good bit extra.

T1 – 3:40

LONG .3 mile run up hill to transition area. Took wetsuit off after getting out of water so I could run easier to transition. Due to difficult mount line set up, pulled the plug on flying dismount, so I hopped on at the line.

Bike – 2:41:02 (21.6 MPH)

Fast, mostly flat course with a few rollers and false flats. Had an amazing ride and passed tons of people even though I was in the 1st swim wave. Kept my nutrition plan on pace until I got sloshy in stomach with 10 miles to go.

T2 – 1:12

Stomach started cramping a bit as I slipped on my shoes and headed out

Run – 2:01:29 (9:15/pace)

Ran first 3 miles faster than expected - pace based on my HR. Tried gel at mile 3 and after taking first squeeze, nearly threw it back up. Stopped for a few minutes at mile 5 to remove any and all contents that I had eaten in the past day. Ran/walked the rest of the way, but started feeling better by mile 7 at the turnaround. Crossed the finish

line and lost any additional liquid that I didn’t lose at mile 5 or took in since then.

Finish Time: 5:34:52 (PR by 32 minutes 54 seconds over last half IM)

OK, if that wasn’t enough information, here is the full version. Just as a side note, all pictures in this report were taken by Rebecca, while out on the course. There are also a few pictures I added from the race photo company because I actually found a few of them that they took worthy of making it into this post.


Rebecca and I drove down to Williamsburg Friday morning so we could take care of some of the day before details like packet pickup and driving the bike course. After seeing the way the race was set up, I decided to scrap the planned swim/bike/run. The swim was too far away from transition, the tide was coming in (against the way I’d be swimming), the race site was still being set up so there was no way to do it, other than use my car as the transition area, and I just didn’t feel like messing with anything and taking any chances.

I was able to get to bed by 9 pm and with an expected wake up at 4:30, I wasn’t feeling so bad, since that would work out to 7.5 hours of sleep. Except for one thing. These fire alarm in the building went off at 11:30! I woke up thinking the alarm clock was going off, so I tried shutting that off first. Then Rebecca told me it was the first alarm. We were faced with a big decision – do we take all my tri gear (including my bike) with us as we leave in case we won’t be able to get back in, or do we just leave ASAP since it IS a fire alarm and usually those are pretty much urgent? Well as were deliberating (not a good idea in an emergency), the alarm stopped. Rebecca called the front desk and we were told there was no emergency. Phew! However, it took me another 1.5 hours to fall back asleep, so there goes my big night of sleep.

DSC_0852 by Scurry&Whirl.

Race morning came and we zipped off to the race site. Once there (in nearly pitch black darkness), we took all my gear and headed over to transition to begin setting up. Except I forgot my floor pump, so I had to go back and get it. Then I forgot something else, so I went back to get that. Before I knew it, after I had been body marked and gotten my chip, I only had like 20 minutes till I needed to head over to the swim start (which was moved the morning of the race due to a shift in the tide, so it was a solid 10 minute walk away). I quickly finished setting up my transition area with 15 minutes until the race start time, but I needed to make a pit stop at the wonderful porta-loo first. Fortunately, most people had headed over to the swim already, so the line wasn’t anything too bad. We then quickly walked to the swim start, where I put on my wetsuit and jumped in the water for a quick stroke or two. Following the national anthem, they suddenly began the 10 second countdown! And off we went in the 1st wave…


Quick, someone guess how many open water swims I had done this year prior to the race? And one more - How many times did I wear a wetsuit prior to the race? If you guessed zero, then you are the winner. I just had to laugh about that fact AFTER the race (during the race, I think I repeatedly asked myself "why?, why?, why?"). I honestly don’t know why. I planned every detail leading up to this race, except for making sure I got in enough open water swim time. I guess I figured that I am going to be slow-ish regardless, so I didn’t want to commit a perfectly good weekend morning to a swim, when I could be running and riding long. I had planned on doing some open water swims during the summer, but my schedule never worked out. My focus this summer was bike (and it showed in the results) and I participated in long bike rides over an opportunity to get in an open water swim. Given the lack of open water swims in the area (that also have to fit my schedule), it just never happened. My bad. I'll do better next time, I promise.

So, back to the swim. They reversed the swim course the morning of the race, due to a change in the direction of the tide. I just figured, great, so long as it was advantageous to us, which they assured us it was, because we’d be swimming with the current instead of against it (I always prefer that option). However, while standing on the beach shortly before the swim start, I was unable to see all the buoys, due to glare and the placement of support boats out on the course. I knew what it looked like on the website, so I figured it would be close, only reversed. I lined myself toward the inside and was rather close to the front of the pack. This was not by choice. I found myself there, as did many others, when they started the 10 second countdown after the national anthem. With the current pushing the left (turns were on to the left), most people were offset to the right. I wanted to avoid contact, so I stayed where I was and let the sprinters take off first before getting into my swim zone.

DSC_0823 by Scurry&Whirl.

I was actually swimming pretty well through the first turn buoy. I was getting pushed a bit left, but I stayed right on course the whole way out. There was a little contact at each orange buoy, but especially the first yellow turn buoy, but that’s expected. The turn brought us diagonally out to the furthest point on the course, where we were to go straight across for the longest stretch of the course, before hitting the next yellow buoy, which would turn us back to shore. Read that last sentence again - That’s what I THOUGHT the course was supposed to do.

But after the orange buoy, the course turned back to shore. (Note – yellow buoys were the turn buoys, orange was supposed to mean no turning.) Anywho, I proceeded straight (while still sighting) after passing the orange buoy. It wasn’t too much further that I realized I was no longer seeing other swimmers (or buoys). I paused to tread for a second so I could get a good look at the course and came to realize that the course took a pretty hard “turn” toward the shore. So I swam off course a bit and had to swim back to the right and against the current, which was pushing left. This is where my swim turned sour. But eventually, I reached a point where people were standing up (it was still a good 100 yards from shore). In my now frustrated state, I stood up and dolphin dove a couple of times, while also walking a bit. I started taking off my top, but wanted to get in one more drive to get some water in my suit so it would be easier to take it off. As I dove, both hamstrings started cramping up and I started to worry. I walked the rest of the way out of the water like a robot so I didn’t cramp anymore, which worked, but made my look like a robot in the pictures Rebecca took of me.

DSC_0835 by Scurry&Whirl.

(walking like a robot, but happy to be done with the swim)

Time: 47:30 (1:22 WORSE than at Eagleman)


With such a long way to transition, I knew it was going to be much easier to take my wetsuit off right after getting out of the water, than waiting until I ran .5 miles with it on, likely making it even tighter and more difficult to take off.

DSC_0837 by Scurry&Whirl.

It came off in only about 20 seconds and I jogged the rest of the way back to transition. This long run actually helped quiet my hamstrings by the time I finally entered the physical transition zone. With my shoes already on my pedals, the only thing I needed to do was put on my socks, helmet and sunglasses.

DSC_0841 by Scurry&Whirl.

The bike out was on a short uphill piece of grass, with the mount line being an immediate 90 degree turn onto a small asphalt path, which was then another 90 degree turn about 20 feet later headed up hill. No thanks to the flying mount this time, so I just straddled the bike and got cooking on the bike.

DSC_0846 by Scurry&Whirl.


After driving the course the day before with Rebecca, I pretty much knew where to keep an eye out for things. For example, there was a“climb” on the course came at mile 5 and again at mile 50 to go over a bridge. It wasn’t long or steep, but something to be prepared for, because it had a few grates in the pieces of concrete connecting it together, plus it was under construction, so I knew to look out for stray nails or anything that might cause a flat. There was also a 5-7 mile section of road that was on packed pebbles, which made for quite the bumpy bike ride. Nothing I could do about it, since everyone else had to ride the same section, but it was nice to know so I didn’t ruin my focus out on the course.

My goal for the bike course was to push it comfortably hard. I’ve done more cycling this year than ever, so I knew I could post a good split. My mid zone 3 HR on the bike was right around 148-150. Fresh off the swim, my HR was pretty high for the first chunk of miles out on the course. I didn’t push too hard out of the gate, per my plan, and just took the first 30 minutes to settle my body into a solid pace/HR (see green HR line below).

The first 10 miles, with the exception of the bridge (little blip toward the left in red), were a very slight downhill (think false flat), so I was pushing some good looking numbers early on. I figured that I’d be a good bit slower on the return, since I’d be tired and on the up hill part. I felt like I kept my pace steady almost the whole ride. Every 3-4 miles, or when we came to a turn, I got out of the saddle to stretch out of legs and use some different muscles. Other than that, I stuck in my aero position the whole time and flew.

About half way into the bike course, a peleton came up on me. Seeing as how I was in the first wave of the swim, there weren’t THAT many triathletes out on the course yet, so I found it interesting when a pack of 12 tri-geeked out people came up on myself and another guy who had been passing and re-passing each other. Normally when I see something like this, I just stick to my own game plan and don’t worry about them. But the problem was that they were taking up the road and definitely not following USAT rules, hence the drafting. I was hoping an official would come by, but there was no such luck at this point. It was basically 4 rows of 3 riders abreast riding on the left side of the lane. But what made it worse was that they were going the same speed as me, so it wasn’t as if I could avoid them. I was essentially boxed in (which means they were both blocking and drafting at the same time). I did my best though, by getting out of the saddle to get in front and waving through them, so I couldn’t get busted for drafting (it sure beats slowing down, which was the only other option). A few minutes later, they’d come up on me again. We went back and forth in this manner for the next 5 miles. It was quite frustrating. But then, there was redemption! An official finally pulled up and literally rode right next to the pack for at least 2-3 minutes while they continued illegally riding. One guy in particular got busted twice I believe (I confirmed it in the results), as I watched this all unfold from my safe (and legal) distance of just over 3 bike lengths back. The official was shaking his head, unable to comprehend the stupidity of the group. As a spectator to this whole event, I witnessed AT LEAST 10 penalties committed over the course of my interaction with the group (one of the benefits to being an official is officiating the race in my head while I’m out on the course, so it takes away from having to think about being tired while on the bike).

(one of the pictures not taken by Rebecca that I particularly liked - and am actually considering purchasing one for the first time)

With that whole peleton ordeal over, I had about 10 miles or so left in the course. Though I was looking forward to getting off the bike, I started to feel the rumble of something not good. My stomach was sloshy and I could tell that the run would not go as I would have hoped. I did not take in any more liquids or Shot bloks for the rest of the bike, in the hopes that it would help settle down my stomach. I was still able to keep my effort strong through to the bike finish. After going over a 10 ft long really rough patch of road (quoted by the Race Director pre-race as “the worst stretch of pavement you will ever see” in his pre-race speech) that resembled the moon craters, I came to stop with my flying dismount and entered T2.

Time: 2:41:02 (15:04 PR over Eagleman)

Avg Speed: 21.6 mph

Avg HR: 151


I was able to make a pretty quick transition, though it could have been faster, based on some T2 times I have posted from previous races of a similar size transition area. I only had to put on my shoes, rack my bike, take off my helmet, and grab my run hat (which already had my race belt and nutrition sitting in it), so it was pretty simple. I think I got a stomach cramp (the first sign of trouble) as I began running out of transition.

Time: 1:12


I started off at what felt like a controlled pace on the same up hill that we had to climb out of at the start of the bike. After about ¼ mile, it flattened out, where we continued on for a short out and back section, which we only had to do once, before entering the first of 2 laps. I hit mile 1 in 8:20 to my shocked amazement. I felt alright and kept checking my HR to make sure I wasn’t going out too hard too soon. Mile 2 came through in 8:40, as I forced myself to pull back some on the pace, because I just wanted to play it safe so early into the run. Per my plan, as I neared mile 3, I was to take a gel. I went to grab for my first squeeze of it and within seconds of hitting my mouth, I wanted to yack (see drop in HR shortly after Mile 3 - ie walking). No gels for me. I spent the last ¼ mile before the aid station with a nasty bit of gel just kind of hanging in my mouth, because I was too nauseated to swallow or even spit it out. So I finally got to the aid station and washed it down with some water. Mile 3 came through in 8:45. Around Mile 4 is where I started to get the bad stomach issues that I knew were coming while I was on the bike. I was still holding a decent pace (8:50 mile split)I had to take a short walk break (about 20 seconds) to compose myself. Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to take in any more calories as planned from gels, I tried something different at mile 5 – flat coke. Only, the coke wasn’t cold. So my stomach didn’t like it and I proceeded to empty all contents of my stomach for a solid 2+ minutes (see giant gap with lower HR during Mile 5). Plenty of people offered salt tabs, etc, but the only thing that I knew would make me feel better was emptying my stomach. I forced myself to continue the release of everything with my trusty finger. I took a few steps, and found out I hadn’t released everything, because I went through 2 more heaving episodes. And THEN I was done with that.

I started with an easy jog and progressively felt better. I passed by Rebecca and a friend who came down from Richmond to watch the race around Mile 6 and though I was running well for them (and the pictures I knew they were taking), I still felt kinda crappy. I rambled something to them about my body falling apart when I passed by and just heard our friend go “That doesn’t sound too good.”

DSC_0882 by Scurry&Whirl.

I finally hit the turnaround for lap 2/mile 7 and actually started to feel alright. A very short while later, I was in much better spirits and I passed by them again and told them I’d see them soon at the finish. I even smiled for the camera.

DSC_0872 by Scurry&Whirl.

The next several miles were kind of a blur. I felt ok running, but for some reason I continued with more walk breaks. These only happened at the aid stations, but a couple of them got longer than I should have let them and cost me time. I was very diligent at first with only walking for 15-30 seconds, but I found myself in a few cases on extended 1 minute walks. I’d tell myself “I feel fine and there is no reason to be walking. The quickest way to finish is to run.” And I’d start running again to the next aid station. My last couple of miles were back on pace with my shorter walk breaks, but to be honest, I am regretful that I continued to take walk breaks in those last few miles, because there was no reason. I should have just pushed through.

DSC_0891 by Scurry&Whirl.
I ran the last 1.5 miles and began picking up the pace once I could hear the announcer. I finally entered the path to the finish line, when a guy came up on me from behind and encouraged me to pick up the pace even faster and we’d push it to the finish.

DSC_0904 by Scurry&Whirl.

I didn’t really want to, but I was only about 50 feet from the finish, so we pushed it hard, coming in at 5:34:51, a PR by 32:54 minutes!

Happy to be done :)

Time: 2:01:29 (PR by 17:13 over Eagleman)

Pace: 9:15/mile

Avg HR: 151

Once I stopped moving, I felt another wave of stomach issues coming ASAP. The volunteers were handing the medals, taking our chips off our ankles, and giving us water. I needed it done much faster than they were moving, so I grabbed mine and ran off to the side about 3 feet from the finish line. Everything else that I took in from Mile 5 – 13.1 was released onto the grass. And I think some internal stuff too, because I saw some colors coming out of me that I know didn’t come from any food I ate. I had an extended session with nature for a solid 5 minutes, while Rebecca, my parents, and our friend (and all the other spectators) looked on. It was WONDERFUL. (sorry, no pictures!)

After I was finally done, I grabbed a regular coke in the hopes of taking in some calories and having the carbonation help to settle my stomach. And it did. I took in a little bit of the mac and cheese they had as part of the post race food and began feeling much better. After that, I didn’t feel sick again.

On our way headed out of town, we stopped to get gas, and I noticed this sign.

Are there really hot dogs that AREN't all meat?


This race was the culmination of nearly 6 months of training for a single race. I rode my bike more than I ever have, completing my first century several weeks earlier in the process. My run training wasn’t quite where it should have been, and my swimming still sucks. Bottom line is that I need to have help with my swimming. I put in a lot of time in the pool, and despite being able to cover the distance with relative ease, I am still way slower than I am, when compared to how I fare in cycling and running. Something has to happen with my swimming for me to think about improving my times. But that’s the good news – there is still plenty of room for improvement, despite the huge PR.

So with that, I’d just like to thank Rebecca for her support of my training throughout this summer. I really wanted to hit this race hard and race close to my potential. I feel like I accomplished that goal, but I couldn't have done it without her support. I know it was difficult not having me around as much on the weekends, while I was off on my long bike rides. It means a lot to me that she supports this crazy lifestyle and all its demands. I couldn't have done it without her.

Now that my season is unofficially over, we have lots more time to explore all the fun things we (I) had to put off over the last few months.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Washington Post Article: Running For My Life

I know, I owe a race report...its coming. But in the meantime, I came across this amazing story today and had to share. Well worth the read.

By Daniele Seiss
Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I did it, I thought in disbelief, and I even sprinted at the end. Did anyone notice, I wondered. I somehow managed to find it in me to sprint across the finish line. Then I tried not to collapse right there on the road.

My body ached, and after hours of sweating, I was quickly becoming chilled in the 50-degree wind. Desperately trying to keep moving, I suddenly found myself in a crowd of post-marathoners shuffling slowly, cattlelike, along a barricaded corridor, as volunteers handed out water and enshrouded us with thin mylar blankets and then others handed us medals, all alike, to commemorate our run.

This should have been my greatest hour. After all, I had secured the grail of marathons, the holy Boston, something I had been dreaming about for years. Yet it seemed strangely pointless, so after-the-fact, so anticlimactic. And then it dawned on me. Finishing the Boston Marathon was nothing in comparison to the real hurdle I'd been able to surmount and the one that had turned me into a runner in the first place: major lifelong depression.

Long before Boston, in fact, running had saved my life.

* * *

I can't even say for certain when dark thoughts started to take control of my life. But I remember, when I was just 6 years old, crying every day. I didn't sleep at night. When I did, I had nightmares. I stopped eating. When I did eat, I often couldn't keep the food down. I felt that something terrible was going to happen, to my parents or to me. I was soon plagued by bad headaches. The condition became severe, and I began to develop paranoid thoughts and panic attacks, though at the time no one, including me, would recognize that's what was going on.
I told them my head hurt, which is the best way a 6-year-old could describe it, so my parents took me to a doctor. They said the headaches were caused by tension. They gave me Tylenol with codeine. This stopped the headaches, but the nightmares, the crying . . . everything else continued.

I remember once that year, in first grade, I had had a good day. I hadn't cried, and I was able to keep my lunch down. My teacher was so impressed by my "good behavior" that she gave me gold stars and colorful stickers. I can vividly remember smiling, yet now I cannot think about this without shaking, at the realization of how bad I always felt and how little they understood that stickers really weren't going to help me.

I believe they wanted to help me: my parents, my teachers, the doctors. But it was the mid-1970s, and much of the medical community still didn't think it possible for young children to suffer severe depression. It was, in a lot of ways, a decade of living in denial, and the doctors seemed to think painkillers fixed everything. I don't believe they had the slightest idea of the hell I was experiencing.

Over those early years the darkness came and went. When I hit my teens, though, it hit hard. On the worst days, of which there were too many to count, I would stay in my room or I would disappear into the woods near my house in rural Pennsylvania. I wouldn't speak to anyone for days. For a while, I lived in a state of overwhelming dread. I would look at a perfectly normal object, or a scene out a window, and feel like I was staring at something horrific. When I could bear it no longer, I started planning my death.

* * *

At this point, my mother interceded. My silence and withdrawal were enough to grab her attention, and when she asked, I told her how I was feeling. This began a long series of treatments. Like many depression sufferers, at first I was prescribed cognitive, or talk, therapy. When that didn't work, often-mammoth cocktails of medications were added: a tricyclic antidepressant, SSRI and SNRI medications. I was told I had a severe and resilient case of major depressive disorder. But talk therapy proved emotionally draining and often left me feeling worse, so it was hard to get any sense of progress. And the medications were either ineffective or mildly effective, or they lost their effectiveness over time, and they often had terrible side effects that, even if they had relieved the darkness, made normal life impossible.
And then I discovered running. Or running and long walking, to be exact.

One day, particularly agitated, I fled my house and began walking toward a nearby mountain. I walked for a long while that first day, discovering some old dirt tram roads that seemed to snake all over the mountain. When I got home I was excited about my discovery -- and happy. My mother was curious about how far I'd walked, so we got in the car and tracked it. I had walked about 27 miles, and it did more for my emotional state than all the therapy and pills.

From then on I walked, hours and hours, nearly every day. I filled nearly all my free time with it, walking all weekend when school was in session, from sunup to sundown or later, sometimes covering as much as 35 to 40 miles at a time. During the summer I went even longer. I walked through the seasons, through summer thunderstorms and winter snow, all day when possible, often into the dark. I got lost on more than one occasion and even once had to hitchhike home. Then I started taking a backpack and staying overnight.

At first my new hobby worried my mother, especially since I insisted on going alone. But the dramatic improvement in my mood and the enthusiasm with which I would describe the details of my treks proved enough to keep her from stopping me or insisting I take a friend. I led a pretty isolated existence at the time, and I knew no one who would have joined me for those mammoth distances anyway.

* * *

At some point I began adding running to my long-distance walks. At first it was just through fields and up the mountain with my dogs, but as I got fitter, school friends on the track team noticed I could easily keep up with them, sometimes beat them, in running during gym class. They persuaded me to join the team, which I did because I had begun to realize that I really loved to run. I decided I wanted to be a distance runner and started doing the long training runs with the track team. But as the track season approached, I became anxious about competing, and I finally quit before the meets started. When I created the excuse that I had too many after-school conflicts, my coach told me that I had already put in the hard work and time and that I owed it to myself to continue. The truth of her words in the face of my lie stung, and though I still quit, I never forgot them. I silently decided I would somehow make it up to myself, and I imagined that someday I'd run the Boston Marathon.

I didn't fully realize the huge impact all the running and walking were having on my moods until I graduated from high school and started college not far from home. I no longer had time to walk or run that many hours. By my second year, my mood swings began to spiral out of control. I could feel the darkness descend over me. I had been an A student but soon I was in and out of class, then in and out of jobs. Finally, I dropped out of school completely, lost touch with my family and fell into abusive relationships interspersed with periods of isolation, into bouts of illicit drug use and homelessness.

Much of what came next is a blur. Mostly, I don't dare think about it. The reckless behavior -- little things such as balancing in high places, playing chicken with trains and cars, and careless use of drugs -- grew more serious, more intentionally destructive and was accompanied by physical abuse, self-inflicted and from others. There were many close calls. There were ambulance rides and quiet talks from well-meaning police officers. There was family support, and more therapy, and medication off and on.

But what started me back on the path to health, what I remember the most vividly, were long, quiet walks, then runs, often in the woods. I found it helped clear my thoughts and made me feel more in control. I still hadn't put together how dramatically it was affecting my brain chemistry.
Slowly, I began the climb back. I re-enrolled in school and got a degree. I got married. I weaned myself off all the depression medication, a slow and often painful process. I sought to create a support system. People were there for me, but sporadically, much as they had been throughout my life. And their support didn't always help despite their good intentions. Depression is an isolating disease. But I found that when I ran, I could be my own support system.

* * *

There's a lot of medical research that confirms my experience of mental health through running. Although studies show the benefits vary from person to person, most reveal exercise to be as useful as medications and psychotherapy in reversing mild to moderate depression. It's not totally clear why that is. Many believe exercise has neurochemical effects on the brain that closely mimic the effects of antidepressant medication. But while antidepressants tend to boost a few select mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, studies show exercise boosts the supply of several of them, including serotonin, dopamine, endorphin, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which play key roles in depression. Exercise may also reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol.

A March 2006 article in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found evidence that major depressive disorder is linked to a decrease in neurogenesis, the process of synthesizing new neurons in the brain, and that exercise, which is known to promote the growth of new neurons in the brain, may be effective for this reason.

In a study comparing the therapeutic effects of walking to stretching and relaxation, researchers found even mild exercise to provide fast and effective relief from depression. Researchers had college students facing a major depressive episode begin exercise walking. After 10 days, the results were compared with a similar group whose members had been told to do stretching and relaxation exercises. The proportion of walkers reporting a significant decline in depression was 65 percent, compared with 22 percent for the relaxation group. Their conclusion: Endurance exercise may help to achieve substantial improvement in the mood of selected patients with major depression in a short time.

There is also evidence that the therapeutic benefits of exercise increase with intensity.
"With just 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, you get five or six hours of lasting effects -- reducing anxiety, anger, fatigue, and other negative emotions," Keith Johnsgard said in a 2007 Runner's World article. Johnsgard is a clinical psychologist who has studied exercise's effects on depression for decades.

However it works, it works for me.

I began to run more and more regularly and to rely on it to get me through tough times. Eventually, I learned that it was something -- sometimes the only thing -- I could really depend on to get me through, and that it could get me through just about anything. A year or two after I had finally weaned myself from all depression medication, my mother succumbed to cancer. I suddenly stopped running. And soon I crashed. Not knowing exactly what else to do, I decided to go back on medication.

* * *

I had once been warned that the type and severity of my depression made it very likely I'd relapse after going off medication, that it was just a matter of time. So I had somewhat expected the crash. But going back on medication didn't help. And finally I recognized what I should have seen all along, that running had saved me, and so I hit the streets again. At first it was three to five miles at a time, three days a week My mood improved quickly. But it wasn't until I started running long distances -- 30, then up to 50 miles a week, regularly -- that I began to really experience its full benefits for health and happiness.

Now, if I am feeling down, I go for a run. I usually start feeling better almost as I head out the door -- in part, I believe, because I am taking charge and doing something. But by mile four, I can actually feel my thinking beginning to change, from negative to positive, as if four miles, or about 30 minutes, is some kind of threshold. On longer runs, by about mile 13 or 14, I start to feel a mild euphoria. If I run faster, I'll notice it earlier. If I'm doing an easier, slower run, it takes a bit longer.

On really long runs, of 18 to 20 miles or more, the nature of my thoughts go beyond just positive to creative. I start having brainstorms, one after the other, and I begin to feel "one with things," for lack of a better way to describe it. It's like deep meditation in which your personal boundaries open up and you no longer notice where you end and everything else begins.
I have figured out that if I run at least four miles, I feel relaxed, positive and clearheaded, feelings that can last from hours to days. And if I do so consistently, I won't fall into a really dark state.

Every once in a while, though, I'll have a day when it's as if no time has passed since I've gotten better. It's hard to describe, but it's more than just feeling down. There's an awful familiarity to it. But it never lasts very long. This, I believe, is due to my keeping around me a safety net of mood lifters -- talking to positive people, listening to uplifting music, etc., but especially running.
You can overdo it, though, and this is something to be very careful about if you suffer from depression. Keith Johnsgard addresses the effects of overtraining, citing evidence that the "stresses of unremitting increased physical demands, like any other chronic stress," can actually bring on a depressive episode.

I have experienced overtraining and know what that feels like: It's as if the running doesn't work anymore. So I've learned to back off and rest for a few days, and then I am fine.

Now, in addition to other forms of exercise, I run five or six days a week, and miss it when I don't. Sometimes it functions as a therapy for me, as it did recently on a routine run to work through a summer rain. The day happened to be my 39th birthday, and so I had been caught up in thinking back on my life. I remembered again that frightened 6-year-old I once was, lost in that cold, dark place. I imagined visiting her at school, picking her up and holding her. I dried her tears and told her everything would be all right, that there was joy in her future. One day she would discover she is an endurance runner; that this would help her endure any challenge life throws her way -- even the Boston Marathon -- and that that would lift her out of the darkness, hopefully for good.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Transition Practice

As I mentioned in a recent post, one of the things I love about the taper is that you get to change the workouts up a bit. Now clearly with less than 48 hours till race day, I'm not trying to squeeze in any last workouts to give me extra fitness. Each taper workout has a purpose. And today was one of my favorites - transition practice!

It wouldn't surprise anyone to say that effective transitions can help to save a significant amount of time. And more importantly, its FREE time! Why spend hours in the pool to improve seconds in your swim, when you can nail your transitions and save the same amount? That's not to say you shouldn't try to squeak out every second you can out of each discipline, but the point is that working on your transitions can give you a huge return on your investment. And really, by practicing transitions a few times, there is minimal investment on your part. The benefit is confidence going into race day that, once you enter the transition area, you know exactly what you have to do, without really needing to think about it. This creates less stress on race day, and saves you time - its a win-win!

So I set up my transition area, just as I will this weekend, trying to cram everything into as small a space as possible, because you never know how little your area may be. You can see that my set up is pretty simple:
- Bike stuff is mostly on my bike (shoes on pedals, helmet and sunglasses placed on aerobars facing the direction I will approach it), with my socks (pre-rolled for easy slipping on) ready to go, and my little tic-tac box that I use to keep Endurolytes in (a little secret I came across after much trial and error with various methods to easily take them while on the bike - you simply shake it and pop the pills)
- Run gear is laid out in order with my shoes (with Yankx laces), and all my other run gear (race belt, gels, etc) placed into my hat, which I will put in their respective places while running out of transition

Practice usually consists of 3-5 transition sets. I typically start off by spinning around a few times to simulate the diziness after the swim. Once I can move right, I slip on my socks, grab my tic-tac box, put on my glasses and helmet and I am off with a flying mount on the bike. Once I am able to get up to a good speed (18 mph-ish), I split my feet into my shoes and tighten the straps so I am good to go on the bike. After a quick lap around the neighborhood, I slip out of my shoes while on the bike, and execute a flying dismount, while running my bike back to my transition zone. A quick re-rack of the bike and I split on my shoes, grab my hat, and within the first couple of steps, my hat and race belt are on, and my nutrition is stored away in my pockets. So that's it...just repeat till it feels like you can go through the motions without much thought.

Before you know it, your transition times will be lightning fast and you will at least be able to beat the rest of the field at something!

The rest of my "workout" was spent laying everything out for packing. I'm good to go!

Good luck to everyone racing Patriots or Nations this weekend. I'll be officiating Nations on Sunday, so be on the lookout for the guy in the officials outfit limping around ;)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Product Review: GNC Amplified Whey Protein and Amplified Muscle Meal

Below are product reviews for two of several products that were sent to me by GNC, which are part of GNC's new line that caters toward the endurance athlete. The line is called AMP, which is short of Advanced Muscle Performance. You can check out their info on each product for more technical details of how each product works to make you a better athlete. I have chosen to use these products individually, so I could best determine if there was a correlation between taking them and my performance. Once I use the other products they sent me, I will give my review of them as well in a follow up post.

Throughout this past summer (as any readers know), I have training exclusively for a half ironman race, Patriots Half, on September 12 and used these products through the peak/build phase of my schedule. My training has consisted of weekly time volume of anywhere between 6 hours and 12 hours a week of training, with a large bulk of those hours (typically 5-6 hours) committed to long workouts on the weekends. Specifically, a long bike ride (anywhere from 50 - 100 miles) and a long run (from 10 miles to 15 miles). It is following these workouts that I used these two products as a recovery source. Typically, I'd come home and within 10-15 minutes, I serve myself either one of the Muscle Meals or Whey Protein drinks. Below are my comments as they pertain to each product:

Amplified Muscle Meal:

- The logic behind this product makes complete sense - it is a product used to fuel the body following extended activity. And that is exactly what I felt like it did. Over the course of the past 2 months, I've taken this following my longest workouts and my recovery was quick, leaving me with minimal fatigue the next day.
- I also like that the product contains about 350 calories in each package, as this is an ideal amount of calories (combined with protein) to take in following endurance activity. When I come home from a long ride or run, it is always difficult to find something healthy that gives me this ideal ratio of intake. This easily solved that problem.
- The flavor of these drinks was also very good. I particularly liked the chocolate the best out of the three - strawberry and vanilla being the others. Once finished, I felt satisfied and sufficiently refueled, therefore not forcing me to ravage the rest of my kitchen to take in additional calories.

- The directions of the meal state to mix with 12-14 ounces of liquid, but there is an awful lot of powder to mix into such a small amount of liquid. I found the most effective way to take this product was to split it into 3 glasses of 10 ounces of liquid each. There was still a full flavor in each glass but the amount of powder was not overwhelming to stir in with this ratio.
- I think the naming of the product is confusing, since this is being marketed toward endurance athletes. As an endurance athlete, I wouldn't particularly seek out a "muscle meal" following long workouts. Many other competitors market their products as a "refueling formula for optimum recovery", most of which include protein like this product. I think this naming would appeal more to the endurance sports community, rather than "muscle meal", which implies bulking up, and is not something an endurance athlete seeks to typically do. While I did not experience any type of weight gain while using it (in fact, the opposite, but this was more likely a function of the increased volume of training), I think marketing it as a recovery drink may be more effective to the endurance athlete demographic.
- This product contains wheat, which as someone who is sensitive to gluten/wheat allergies because Rebecca (who has celiac disease), it would be nice to see this product be made without wheat based products. I personally have no allergic issues with these products, but I do maintain a mostly gluten free diet as a result of living with someone who must. However, many endurance athletes are moving toward unprocessed foods, many of which happen to be gluten free. This could be another area where this product could appeal to more athletes by offering a recovery product that is also gluten free. I realize the challenge this brings, as many other GNC products do contain wheat, so to have separate equipment/facilities for a gluten free product may be too costly. However, I do believe there is a market for it.

Amplified Whey Protein:

- Similar to the Amplified Muscle Meal, I used the product as a recovery drink following long endurance workouts and felt that the drink helped aid in my recovery by leaving me with minimal residual fatigue the next day.
- I also liked the flavor and consistency. Some competitor whey protein drinks that I have had can get very clumpy and can be "off" on the flavor. I enjoyed and looked forward to drinking this following my workouts.
- The serving size mixture was a little bit better in this product, but I still found that I had too much powder to mix with only 14-16 oz of water. I usually split into two 10 oz drinks to get the serving size caloric intake right.

- As I had just mentioned, I think the directions for mixing should either recommend more liquid or provide a higher concentration of powder to account for less need for drinking multiple glasses of the product. In any case, when I return from extended endurance workouts, I have no problem drinking 2-3 glasses of liquid, because I am usually somewhat dehydrated, so requiring me to do so in order to take in my calories, forces me to drink more than I may have done otherwise.
- As I stated above under the Muscle Meal, this product contains wheat and it would be nice to see this product be made without wheat based products.

Following my race on September 12, I will begin incorporating the other products into my program and will provide a follow up post regarding my thoughts on them.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Patriots Half Race Plan

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about my upcoming race (go figure - its less than a week away!), and though I know sort of know what my race plan will be, I always feel better writing it down. Seems to stick into my head a bit more effectively. So without further ado, I bring you may race plan.

Week of race (till race morning)
- Get 8 hours of sleep each night
- Eat smart, stick to the basics, and don't over eat despite the constant feeling of hunger
- No caffeine
- Double check all gear to make sure is in working order
- Pack everything that is needed for race weekend by laying out by event
- Stay hydrated

Day Before Race (Friday)
- Sleep in and only wake up when body says so
- Have a stress free drive to Williamsburg, VA
- Do short swim, bike, run into and out of the race transition area for mental preparation of race day
- Drive bike course
- Attend packet pick up when it opens (3 pm) so there is no rush
- Attend pre-race meeting @ 4:30
- Stay hydrated throughout day - always carry water bottle with me
- Eat satisfying dinner with simple foods
- Pack everything the night before by laying out what is needed for each event
- Go to bed by 10 pm if possible

Race Morning (Saturday) - Pre-race
- Wake up at 4:30/5 am
- Eat Gluten Free Waffles w/PB and syrup on top for breakfast
- Stay hydrated by drinking by thirst and not over hydrating
- Set up/finalize transition area
- Take care of business before lines get crazy
- Double check transition set up and nutrition needs
- Take 2 Endurolytes before swim

- Go out comfortably without spiking HR/effort
- Stay smooth in the water
- Focus on form not speed
- The swim is the warm up, so don't get flustered if it doesn't go perfectly

- Take 2 Endurolytes before leaving T1 to prevent typical cramping I get early into bike
- Execute flying bike mount only if mount line is not too crowded - not worth the risk if crowded
- Give legs 10 minutes to adjust and keep HR steady
- Once legs are loose, find the zone that allows a steady effort - don't force the pace too early
- If course requires aero position the whole way, get out of saddle to surge every 10-15 minutes to use other muscles and stretch back and legs
- Sip ClifShot drink every mile or so as needed (1 bottle per hr = 200 calories)
- Take 1 Clif Shot Blok (30 calories) every 20 minutes with water
- At 1 hr and 2 hrs into bike, take 2 Endurolytes - if feeling like cramping, take more
- Finish strong - 2nd half of course should feel better than 1st
- Only water for last 15 minutes of bike

- Take 2 gels with me out of T2, along with bag of Endurolytes
- Don't let adrenaline of leaving T2 take over for early pace - START SLOW, FINISH FAST!
- Legs will take 10-15 minutes to feel good again - early pace should focus on quick turnover with easy effort
- Water/ice only at each aid station on first lap
- Take 2 Endurolytes at Mile 2
- Take gel at Mile 3
- At 3 mile mark, start focusing on picking up the pace - each mile should be gradually faster than the previous mile till mile 6, which should be at race pace
- Constantly assess proper run form - staying focused on form will keep me in my goal pace
- Take 2 Endurolytes at Mile 6
- Switch to flat coke/whatever seems appealing at aid stations on second lap
- Take 2nd gel at Mile 8
- Miles 6 - 10 should be run at solid z3 goal pace
- Last 5k should continue goal pace, but if feeling strong, keep pushing through to the finish


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