Friday, December 30, 2011

The First Time I Heard Its Heartbeat

As you may know by now, there is a bun in the oven.  If you haven't learned that yet, I'd urge you to read this.  About 2 months ago, Rebecca and I went on our first official visit to the doctor, where they would do a bunch of tests and we'd learn a bit more about the status of things, as it was relatively early along at only about 6 or so weeks.  Well one of the highlights of the visit was our first sign of something existing in there - its heartbeat!

It was so exciting to actually hear something, since I won't actually get to feel anything until some karate kicks start happening later on.  But the funny thing is that when I looked right up at the device amplifying the heartbeat, I couldn't help but make the analogy back to running (go figure).

The baby's heartbeat was hanging right around the low 170s at the time, at which point I told Rebecca that it was out for a tempo run, since that is my heart rate average when I do a tempo run.

So it seems as though we have a little runner in there!  Not a bad way to cap off the year and have something amazing to look forward to!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How I Spent My Day Off on Monday

Like most people this year, we got Monday off work due to Christmas being on a weekend.  Its a double win this year, because New Years is the same way.  It also makes a perfect time to take the days off around it to make for an extra long weekend.  So with Monday off, I took to the trails for a nice relaxing hour long run.  For this run, I went over to Algonkian Park, which is a place I've never run before.  This is also the site of the North Face Endurance Challenge races, so I figured I might as well explore some.

What I found is a nice network of trails that while relatively flat, offer scenic overlooks out along the Potomac River.  I didn't go very far, and I know there are much more technical sections that are part of the 50 mile race, but I found the trail to be easy and flat, but quite muddy.  It rained a bunch earlier in the week, but it had been a solid 4-5 days since any rain, so I thought it would be more dried out.  While most of the trail was dry, there were some sections that where my foot was nearly submerged in mud.  But isn't that what trail running is all about -  Facing unknown conditions and making the most of them?

One of the nicely packed singletrack trail sections along the Potomac River
What I like most about trail running is that each time you go back to the same trail, the conditions are different.  This means that every time you run, you get a different experience.  Unlike hitting the paved roads/trails, where you know nearly each and every step along the way, trail running has the distinct advantage of forcing you to think each time you place your foot.  And as a result, time flies!  While I only spent an hour or so out there, I felt like I just went for a 15-20 minute jog.  Turned out, I had covered about 7 miles and my shoes were caked in mud.  Overall, it was a fun day and a great way to spend a day off from work.

A Good Meal The Night Before A Long Run?

I've read a lot of nutrition articles out there telling you "the perfect meal" the night before or morning of a long run or race. I don't typically follow what they say because, 1) They are very generic advice to the mass population and each person is an individual and needs to find what works best for them, and 2) Because I've found that I like to feed myself differently depending on what I am craving. Yes, you need to be careful and not go for spicy Indian food (unless of course that works for you), but I tend to place more emphasis on my overall diet and less on one or two meals. I mean, you are what you eat and whatever you've been feeding yourself for the last 48-72 hours really has a greater impact on your ability to perform today than what you ate 30 minutes ago or the night before. I like to think of those meals as the icing on the cake. They top you off, but they aren't the foundation.

So I knew that my meal before my last long run might not have been the best pre-long run meal, but being that it is Hanukkah, we decided to make latkes. Or more specifically, 5 pounds of them. In addition to the 10 pounds we made the week before when we had a party. But don't judge me - they were soooo good!
Just the beginning of 1 hr straight of scooping and flipping

So with a 16 miler planned the next day, I knew I wasn't exactly doing myself any favors.  However, potatoes have potassium, which is good right?  And starchy carbs - those are good, right?  I guess the only truly bad thing is the oil.  Lots and lots of oil.  Did I say they were really good already?  Where was I...oh yea, running...

So the next day, we met as per our typical weekly long run sessions for the DTP program.  My 16 miles were broken into 10 miles at my long run pace and then 3 x 1 mile at my tempo pace with a mile of long run pace as recovery between each mile.  Running 16 miles is hard enough on any given day, but knowing that the true work doesn't start until 10 miles into the workout always has me a bit worried about whether or not this will be a "good" long run or a "bad" long run.

So I guess the moral of the story here is that latkes are ok as a night before long run meal.  Or at least they didn't make me have a bad run.  Either way, I was fine.  I averaged right around 8:00/mile pace for the 10 miles and then 6:45/mile for the 3, one mile intervals and 7:30/mile for the miles in between.  I couldn't seem to slow back to 8:00/mile, so 7:30s it was.  Overall, a great run on what turned out to be a pretty windy day.  I finished the run feeling fine, with thoughts of running more.  But I had to show restraint, because 16 was the plan and that's what I'm sticking to!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An Obvious Sign of Some Sweating Going On

What's the tell tale sign of someone who works out a lot?  A simple answer might be that they always smell and that'd probably be true, especially if they are a swimmer.  You never can seem to get that chlorine smell out completely, can you?  Of course, for basic runners and cyclists, a good old fashion shower can usually do the trick.  But let's say you step into someone's house - how would you know?

Here's the short answer - check their bathroom for hanging/discarded workout clothes.  Take Example A below:

I mean, its not even laundry time yet, as I'm only about 1/4 way through my workout stash of clothes.  I guess the lesson here is that colder weather brings about more things to dry.  And yes, there is even a pair of cycling shorts in there, because I went to spinning with Rebecca - always fun to mix things up.  So while laundry will be done shortly in the new few days to reset the bathtub from looking like the throwaway pile from the startline of a marathon, I don't foresee this pile looking much differently a week from now, as it will be layered with a new batch of clothes.  I mean, who uses a bathtub anyways for bathing?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stop Racing Me Dude

First, let me say - holy moly wind Batman!  That was nuts out there!  Despite temps being in the 50s in mid December (awesome!), the wind was really a pain this morning.  Especially in that first mile when it really made me want to turn around.  While going up hill.  Into the wind.  Yea, not a great way to start off the run.  BUT, once we crested the hill, it was smooth sailing (literally) as the wind was now at our backs and we were flying!  But I digress...

Have you ever had those moments where someone is racing you, but you aren't racing them?  I'm pretty sure you have.  Or maybe it was reversed and you were racing a person that didn't realize they were being raced.  Anyways, let me set the stage for ya:

Me: shorts and a t-shirt, light colors for best visibility a 6:30 AM, out for an easy jog (tomorrow IS a long run)
Dude: long baggy pants, hoodie sweatshirt, wool hat, gloves, all black colors top to bottom

The story goes like this - Tucker and I were running our usual 4 mile route and after cresting a hill, we came upon this dude and quickly passed him.  Of course, about 15 seconds later, I can hear his heavy footsteps and breathing, so I know he just drastically picked up the pace.  Perhaps, intimidated that he just got passed by someone barely breathing audibly (remember this was an easy run - keep it easy!) and by a dog, also not audibly breathing (Tucker's getting in good shape!).  So I take extra steps to not look back, because I don't want him to think I am actually racing, because I'm NOT.  Luckily, its time for Tucker to take care of some business, so I give ourselves extra time to let a gap open up, so there won't be any racing today.  Well what do you know - in less than 1/2 mile of running, we catch back up to him.  He obviously slowed down, since I was running the same easy pace the whole way, and now his form is sloppy with arms crossing over and a terrible, terrible heel strike in what look to be cross trainers.  So we once again make a pass (what else could I have done?) and he picks the pace back up!  Only this time, his breathing is loud and I can hear the wheezing.  So I did what any sane person would do in that situation and tried to turn down a random road, knowing he probably wouldn't be following me.  And thankfully it worked, because he didn't follow.

So what is the lesson here?  The lesson is: RUN YOUR OWN WORKOUT!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Are You Discplined Enough To Race Less

I am linking to an article I think a lot of people should read, called Are You Disciplined Enough To Race Less, by Jay Johnson.  It may sound familiar, since I've touched on this before.  If you don't read his blog already, I strongly recommend you do.  Between the strength routines and workout videos to the candid discussion on what it takes to be a better runner, his blog is one resource I frequent for advice for myself and for the runners I work with.   

So take a read through and let me know what you think

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Must Read - Rebecca's Philly Half Marathon Race Report

May I call your attention to my lovely wife's race report from the Philly Half Marathon she ran?  Yes, it is a few weeks late, but you'll understand.  Trust me, you'll want to read it.  So proud of her and so excited for the future!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Epic Training Day

I don't use the term epic often, but certain conditions or circumstances call for its use.  Last night was one of them.  Though I fully regret not taking any pictures, you'll have to take my word for it - it was an epic training day.  No, this wasn't one of those epic long runs or epic fast runs.  It was simply epic because of the fact that I, along with 20+ other looney people braved pelting rain, 30-40 mph wind gusts, and temperatures dropping from the high 40s into the upper 30s. Earlier in the day, it was 60 degrees and by midnight, they were calling for a chance of snow (though we never actually got any).

You see, this was the first track workout for our Winter Distance Training Program.  And it was epic because not only was the weather crazy, but I was so impressed with all the other committed people that chose to brave those conditions for an hour of some solid mental and physical work. 

Since it was the first workout of the season, it wasn't anything terribly challenging - 1600, 2 x 800, 2-4 x 400 each with 3 minutes of rest between sets, but given the conditions, just getting out the door is something I consider a victory.  So I use the term epic, because I was able to share in the enjoyment of so many other die hard runners.  It didn't matter what you wore last night.  By the end of the workout, you were cold and wet...and a little bit tired.  In fact, more than 12 hours later and my running shoes are still soaked!  The track's lanes were also partially flooded by the more than 2 inches of rain we received throughout the day.  So at any given time on the track, you'd be splashing and sloshing.  Of course, then the winds would kick up and blow you a lane or two over.  Fun times I tell you, fun times.

So while the conditions weren't ideal, I have to say we still pretty much nailed the workout.  I was joined by a group of 3 others and mostly served as the pacemaker.  It was fun and painful at the same time (aren't intervals always that way?).  The goal of these intervals was not to run them all out - merely 10k pace or something at or around threshold.  Otherwise known as "comfortably hard".  We ended up running them as a progression, with each one faster than the previous.  And this is what we ended up with:

1600m: 6:28
800m: 3:08
800m: 3:05
400m: 88
400m: 83

I did get a little excited to be done on the last one (about 5:30/mile pace), so I took that a bit faster than I should have.  It's just my old high school track instincts that come back out whenever I step on a track nowadays.  I can't help but feel at home.  Surprisingly, it didn't take much out of me and I feel great today.

If this workout and the turnout on a crappy night like we just had was any indication of the commitment of the runners in our program, this is going to be one heck of a season.  Can't wait to keep the momentum going!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Naked Running - Its Good But Not Necessary

Many on the popular running magazines/websites have posted about the virtues of running naked.  You know, sanz Garmin or whatever device you use.  The claims of us having become so dependent on technology, while true, don't necessarily hold up in this argument IMHO.  You see, its not the watch that is the problem.  Its the OCD runner that keeps checking it that is.  In other words, the lack of ability to temporarily tune out and just let things be.  So while removing the watch is an easy solution to the problem, I'd like to argue that the benefits of running with a watch outweigh the cons that come with it.  So met explain further...

There are many reasons why people say to remove the watch, such as:
  • Obsession with pace at all times takes away from running enjoyment
  • Inability to self pace
  • Complete reliance on readings from the watch, resulting in panic when watch isn't working correctly
  • Self judging pace readings to determine how "good" a run is and speeding up to "beat" a time
  • You can scare yourself into running too fast even though it might feel fine, preventing breakthough performances
I'm not arguing that these aren't valid reasons.  And in fact, I'm probably just a guilty in achieving some of these.  However, there are also many other reasons why wearing a watch is beneficial:
  • You know what pace you are running with one, which serves as a consistent metric
  • Sometimes the mind can keep you from your potential and seeing numbers can be motivating
  • Mental math is much easier when you factor in your current pace/distance vs nothing/guessing
  • Properly pacing simulation workouts and/or races becomes much easier with a guide (the watch)
  • Utilization of features such as uploaded workouts, virtual training partner, etc can enhance the user experience
  • Recording workouts and tracking them on a regular basis ensures you are training most effectively
And it is this last point that in my opinion serves us most beneficially.  If you document your workouts, you have a better grasp on what you are doing.  Now can you do that without a GPS watch?  Sure.  But for me, it is the combination of the readings that I get, that provides the value, which is something you wouldn't otherwise get.  Things like HR, splits, elevation, etc all play a valuable role in analyzing the data.  For example, I track training stress on a rolling basis, which is based on a combination of duration, distance, and effort (HR).  I do this so I can verify what my body may/may not be signaling.  Have what feels like a bad run?  Look at that rolling fatigue and I guarantee you'll have an answer.  In most cases when I have bad runs, it correlates exactly to that metric.  It also helps me know where the threshold is, so that I don't cross over from very fatigued to overtrained due to stacking too much work into a given period of training.  So without this information, it leaves one having to do a lot of guesswork.  But since I can quickly discover these things, I can adjust workouts on the fly to schedule an easy run or a day off (gasp!) to let the fatigue settle before moving on to some tougher workouts.

Now like I said, there are plenty of people who can just get by without this information.  And that's fine.  But I think that most people, especially those that are self coached, getting the numbers is an important part of training.  Now with that said - if you don't USE the information, then it is just data.  In order to get the value, you need to use it in a way that allows you to make sense of both the macro and micro elements to your training program.

In the end, we all have our reasons for using devices or for going without one.  So when I don't feel like wearing one, I simply cover it up, but record the data.  Because when the run is over, those numbers play a role in how my workouts are managed.  Without that information, I'd be training naked...and nobody wants to see that!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Motivational Fall Running

Took this photo a few weeks ago while running.  I stopped dead in my tracks, because this is exactly why Fall running is the best time of the year for running.

PS - Sorry for the poor quality - it doesn't quite do it justice

Monday, November 28, 2011

Misuse of Bonk Terminology - A Pet Peeve

As endurance athletes, we hear lots of terms all the time, whether through articles, blog posts, or conversation.  And I think sometimes, people take a word that the see often and turn it into something its not.  Specifically, I'm talking about the term "bonk".  Most people commonly use this term to describe the act of "hitting the wall" in training or in a race.  But this act can be accomplished through a variety of means, many of which have nothing to do with bonking.  Let me explain further.

Bonking happens when you deplete your glycogen stores in your liver and muscles, which ultimately leaves you weak and unable to continue on at the same effort as you were moving at.  This is why we fuel during endurance events - to prevent complete glycogen depletion.  And we do that by consuming carbohydrate rich foods, such as gels, sport drinks, etc.  On average, your body can store between 1500-2000 calories worth of glycogen that is spread throughout the muscles, so needless to say, you can bonk relatively easily in endurance events that last many hours (ie marathons, ultras, half ironmans, ironmans, etc), when you can burn 500+ cals/hr.

However, this is where we see the greatest misuse of the term.  Bonking is NOT slowing down toward the end of a 5k or a 10k.  That is what I like to call "improper pacing".  You simply went out too hard for your current fitness and your body could no longer sustain that effort.  Either your muscles are too fatigued, or your mind gave up wanting to deal with the pain associated with running too hard.  You did not however, bonk, as you clearly have not depleted your glycogen stores in such a short effort.

So with that said, let's just talk about some basics for preventing bonking:

  • Properly fuel during workouts and races - Don't go into key workouts or races on empty (unless that is the purpose of that particular workout), especially if it is a morning workout.  This means you've been fasting since dinner (or that midnight snack) from the day before.  Not a good way to ensure full effort from your body.
  • Properly re-fuel after workouts - Make sure you replenish your glycogen stores following hard workouts (preferably within 30 minutes).  30 minutes is a general number that people give for optimal recovery following hard bouts.  Typically, anything in the 90 minute range (or something shorter but very intense) is what I consider hard bouts.
  • Pace according to your fitness - In longer endurance events (read: not 5/10ks), pacing is just as important, because at higher intensities, your body is working harder and using more of your glycogen stores to maintain that level of effort.  Pacing according to your fitness ensures you are more efficient to handle the workload so that your body doesn't have to work harder than it already is to keep up with your effort.
  • Practice race pace - This goes in line with pacing, but your body needs to know what race pace feels like in order for your to race it efficiently.  Race pace will differ depending on the distance, so make sure you train according to that particular race.  Practicing 1/2 marathon pacing bouts when you are training for an ultramarathon might give you a good workout, but it isn't going to help you become more efficient at race pace.  You can practice this through tempo runs, specifically designed race pace runs, and in parts of your long run, especially toward the end.
So I think that about does it.  While I enjoy seeing someone misuse the term (sarcasm), I prefer that people use words they understand. 

Ok - I feel better now that I've got that off my chest....(sigh)...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Philly Recap

I don't have much more to say than she came, she saw, she conquered (her 1st half marathon!):

Running along South Street

After the race, we made sure to take part in the one thing that everyone must do - partake in cheese steak eating.  However, ours had a little spin to it, since 99.9% of cheese steaks aren't served on gluten free rolls.  However, we came across Paesano's through some research, and they made one heck of a sandwich!  It wasn't wit wiz in the traditional sense, but the beef brisket and the potatoes were amazing!
No, its not Pat's or Geno's, but it IS gluten free and DELICIOUS
So proud of Rebecca for not only chasing her dream of running a half marathon, but by doing it with such ease.  She seemed calm and cool when I saw her out on the course and managed to finish strong up the last hill when I saw her make her way toward the finish.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rockville 10k Photos

Its been a few weeks since the race, but I managed to find some photos online to document a few key parts of the race.

In those last couple of photos you can sort of see some of the chaos we had to deal with for weaving around people.  Sadly, I have no finishing shots, but I can assure you it was pretty darn close.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Three Years

My how time flies!  Its already been THREE years since the happiest day of my life.  And much like that day, I went for a run in honor of our three year anniversary.  With running playing such an important role in the activities surrounding our life, I couldn't think of a better way to represent it than with a run in honor of those three years.  Nothing epic needed here, but it was purposeful.  You see, I ran three miles, with each one representing a year since our wedding.  And in honor of time flying by this past year, I made it a fast one, clocking in at 6:55/mile just because time flies when you're having fun ;)

Happy Anniversary Rebecca

Age Group Categories and Awards

In my last post, I mentioned that although I placed 1st in my age group at my 10k race, I received no award for it.  Unfortunately, the reason is because this particular race decided to alter what I consider the standard for age group categories.  So let's review exactly what I mean for a second before going any further.

Aside from traditional overall awards (which can be anywhere from top 3 to top 10), age group categories in running and triathlon races seem to be primarily set to a specific standard of 5 year groupings, such as 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, etc.  And in some cases with smaller races, the categories expand slightly to 10 year groupings, such as 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, etc.  Simple right?  And on top of these groupings, some races throw in an occasional Masters, Clydesdale, Athena, Physical Challenged, etc categories to further differentiate all the participants.  Still with me?

So when I came to find myself having placed 1st in my age group (based on the assumption of it being 30-34), I was shocked that the awards ceremony presented 5 year age group awards for 15-19, 35-39, 40-44 all the way up to 80-84, but nothing for that gap of 20-34 year olds.  So what happened?  Well, at the race I was told that 20-34 year olds fell into an "Open" category that went five awards deep and that my name was not on their list.  I thought that was strange, since all that really meant was they were giving away 1 less award (age group awards were 2 deep at this race) and after looking at the results once they were posted online, I saw that even in that age grouping, I placed 4th, which still should have meant getting an award.  So I followed up with an email to see if perhaps something was mistaken in the process and they just messed up the awards.  Well I came to be told that "Open" means open to everyone, not just 20-34 year olds, so those 5 deep awards went to the top 5 overall.  So it seems as though 20-34 year olds were certainly being left out, huh?  I responded with a question asking this exact concern and was told:

"The race had a lot of fast Masters runners, so they shifted the awards to reward them"  

 WTF is that!  Oh any by the way, they also had a Masters category on top of the age group category and mentioned that this awards arrangement is "common".  And people who placed in the "Open" category included runners that fell outside of the 20-34 age range, which means even more awards went to runners that already had their own age group categories.  Lastly, the race website lists no information regarding the age groups, but simply:

"Awards will be given to Open Placed finishers, Top Age Group finishers and Second Place finishers"

To me, I would read that to say overall placing runners and the top 2 finishers in each age group.  Well little did I know, this race decides to omit 15 years worth of people.  

So let me ask you - Is this common?  Are you familiar with this type of age discrimination in awards?  Does a race have the right to predetermine how they believe the results will be and customize the age group awards based on that assumption?  What would you do if this happened to you?

I'll tell you what - I'm not pissed because I didn't get an award.  I could care less, though everyone does like to have a physical item to show for their hard work.  But what I am pissed about is this blatant disregard for everyone else like me who was racing for an age group place.  I won my age group by 1 second by out sprinting someone in the last 100 meters of the race.  In my mind at the time, I was thinking that the guy looked about my age, so I went for it and was rewarded for that effort.   I paid the same amount as everyone else to enter into that race and I feel cheated that I don't have the same right to earn an award.  I also feel deceived by the race website, as it did not specify categories other than open, and top 1-2 age group finishers.  Cheated and deceived are the only words I can use the describe how I feel.

Curious on your thoughts?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Race Report: Rockville 10k - The Comeback Edition

LL Cool J said it best, "Don't call it a come back, I've been here for years...." Ok, so maybe the rest of the song isn't so applicable to me, but I couldn't help but run that part of the song through my head after yesterday's race.  The last race I ran was back in April, but it was only 2 weeks removed from running a marathon, which I would truly consider my last real race.  And then we all know about my injury, which brings me to Sunday.  So to say I was a bit excited to get back into racing would be an understatement.  Coming off a solid 2 month block of training, I knew my fitness was right were I left off before getting hurt, so I felt it was appropriate to get back out there and see what I've got.

After a process of scoping out every possible 10k race in the area, I finally settled on the Rockville 10k.  In most cases, the other races I was considering were either on dates I couldn't race due to other obligations or recently forced to change to 8ks (gotta love how DC can just pull the permits of established area 10k races and force them into 8ks in the name of "security").  But I digress.  After reading a brief description of the race on the site which says "Montgomery County’s oldest-continuing and fastest-growing race - the 2010 race featured a record number 1,206 finishers coming out and tackling the rolling hills of the King Farm community featuring lengthy straight-aways to make this a PR-friendly race.", I figured it was good enough.  I even charted the course out on MapMyRun to get a better sense of how to pace it.  It helped a lot, and I got took note of the mention of the dreaded "rolling hills" as well as the fact that there was three 180 degree turns and ten 90 degree turns(never PR friendly in shorter races).  Now typically, "rolling hills" and "PR-friendly" don't go hand in hand.  So the morning of the race, I drove the course to get a better sense of what I saw online and came to realize that the course was going to be a bit hillier than I planned.  Oh well I thought, this is MY COMEBACK, so it is what it is.

I got a solid 1.5 mi warm up and then did some 20s strides at race pace and everything just felt really good.  I lined up 1 row back from the font with about 10 minutes till the gun was to go off and took in the perfect weather - sunny, no wind, 40 degrees.  After my nice warm up, I was just fine wearing a racing singlet and shorts.  Never a moment where I felt cold and I couldn't have been more comfortable while running.  After some words from local political figures, we were off!

In my pre-race prep, I had developed a pacing plan based on my knowledge of the course/terrain that would handily bring me in under my PR (41:37), which I have always considered "soft", since I've run 5ks in the 19:05 range, but never raced a 10k while in that shape.  So needless to say, among my goals for the day, a PR was one of them!

Mile 1 started with a flat/downhill for the first 1/4 mile before making a right turn for the biggest uphill of the course to the first turnaround right about at Mile 1.  The grade is pretty steady for about a 1/4 mile, but then kicks up to about 8-10% for the last bit, before you crest the hill, run downhill for about 100 meters, hit the turnaround, go back up for 100 meters, and cross the Mile 1 marker.  I was a little bit fast through here at 6:22, mostly due to the fast start, but letting my legs and HR stay within myself for the entire climb.  My goal was to stay around 6:27, but my RPE was well within where I should have been.

Mile 2 was mostly downhill, going back down the big hill (which felt nearly as hard going down as it did up), a few rollers after a right turn, and then a left to head to more downhill.  Of course, in my head I was thinking about having to push back up this when my legs are tired later in the race on the return trip.  However, I hit the Mile 2 marker in 6:22, still feeling pretty fresh and just rolling with the course.  My goal was to be right around 6:25, but I had not anticipated the downhill to be as steep, which gave me the extra few seconds.

Mile 3 included another left turn while continuing the downhill and onto the start of the longest out and back stretch of the course.  While Mile 3 started downhill, it ended right at the base of  the start of a steady uphill till the eventual turnaround.  I came through Mile 3 in 6:24, with a goal of 6:25.

Mile 4 was where things started to unravel a bit.  In my research online, I hadn't noticed that this section contained such an uphill steady climb (it looked more like a false flat), so when I drove the course, I made a note that I'd have to make up the time I'd likely lose on this mile in those previous miles, which is partly why I took them a bit faster than goal pace.  The constant climbing, combined with the 180 degree turn at the top of the hill slowed me more than I would have liked.  I didn't want to blow my race up by pushing too hard, because I knew I'd have more up hill than down hill on the way back, so I ran strong and passed a few people, but decided to hold  back a bit.  My split was 6:36, with a goal of 6:25, however that goal was before I knew about the longer hill that this section entailed.

Mile 5 was where I could mentally start to force my body to push harder as I knew it was only 2 miles-ish to go.  It started mid-way down the hill, so I was trying to use that momentum to pick the pace back up.  Unfortunately, at the bottom of the hill, I had to make a sharp right turn into an uphill for about 100 meters, before doing another 180 degree turn to head back down that hill and make a right turn (dizzy yet?) to head uphill again and back onto the main road.  I managed to pull it together enough to eek out a 6:28, despite all those turns, but started to feel the race a bit out of my control at that point, due to the course.

Once I hit the Mile 5 marker, I really started to push now.  Only problem was it again, was largely uphill.  This was the same hill I ran down for part of Mile 2 and 3, but with an added bonus!  You see, they started the 5k runners 10-15 minutes after the 10k runners started.  I don't really get the logic here, but needless to say, that by the time we got to the 5k turnaround, the course was littered with walkers, runners, etc without any organization.  So while I was charging uphill at 6:25 pace, I was having to weave in, around, and through people that were in the 11-12 pace range.  Not smart and downright dangerous if you ask me.  To add to the complexity, after reaching the top of the hill and making a right, there was a water stop, which was further congested with people, some of which were running perpendicular to the course by cutting over, while those of us in the 10k are trying to blast on through.  Despite that, I kept on pushing, passing a few more of the 10k people I was running with as we crossed the Mile 6 marker with a 6:25 split.  I think as future recommendation for this course, the last half of the race (at the 5k turnaround) should be coned off to split the road between the 5k and 10k runners so as to avoid situations like this.

Looking down at my watch, I could tell, despite my best efforts to run the tangents on the course, that the last 1.5 miles forced me to run a good bit extra and that I wasn't going to quite hit my "A" goal for the race of running sub-40.  But with the competitive side of my still running, I pulled past 2 more people in that last .2, only to hear the crowd and the announcer join in cheering us on as we made it into an all out sprint to the finish after the final left turn with 100 meters to go.  As a former sprinter, I couldn't let anyone by (not to mention, I knew I was pretty far up in overall placing, so every spot counted) and I turned on the afterburners and held off both guys to the finish.  My pace picked up as I averaged in the last .2 miles a speedy 5:30 pace, but the 100m sprint at the finish clocking as fast as 4:27 pace!  That's adrenaline for ya!  Turns out we were so close that one guy got the same finish time as me and the other guy finished 1 second back! 

As I crossed the line, I looked at the clock to see 40:20 as my finish time, a PR of 1:17, on a pretty tough course, especially compared to the relatively flat courses my previous PRs were set on.  And with that, my official comeback is complete.  I was patient, trained hard, and the results speak for themselves.  I also know that if I ran a 10k on a flatter course that didn't have 5k runners to weave through, that sub-40 is well within reach.  I ended up covering 6.29 miles (give or take minus Garmin standard deviation) and my average pace was 6:24/mile, which in an exact 10k distance (which I know isn't possible), would have translated out to a 39:40 10k and my 6.2 mi split was 39:55, so the fitness is already there, especially on a faster course.  Even my pacing was rock solid.  If you use the 6.29 mile distance and split it, I came through the first half in 20:09 and the 2nd in 20:11.  Can't really do much better than that!

But that's why there's always another race to sign up for - to improve!

Overall, I finished 16/539 racers.  If I had an age group for 30-34 (which will be a topic for another post), I would have won it.  However, the details of exactly why there was none will be described, so stay tuned for a follow up on this and the larger topic of age group categories...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Race Mojo

There are few moments in life where you are just in awe of everything around you.  I think that being at the start of one of the largest marathons might just be one of those moments.  Tons of people, music is pumping, the buzz in the air of the helicopters circling around, and oh yes, the flyovers over impressive aircraft.  All of that going on at once is like crack for a runner.  Simply standing there to take that all in gives you enough motivation to do virtually anything.  As one of those people standing there to wish our runners off at the Marine Corps Marathon, I couldn't help but get caught up in the moment just before the race was about to start.

It was like an electric pulse throughout my body.  I. wanted. to. race.  Now unfortunately, I wasn't racing MCM.  Because I'm pretty sure that feeling right then and there would have propelled me 26.2 miles, despite not being adequately trained to run the race, given my comeback from injury.  But it did get me going inside.

Reliving that day in my head has me more excited than ever for this weekends 10k.  Sure it isn't going to be a big race, nor is it a marathon.  But when I need to reach deep down on race day, I'll think about those moments on MCM morning and use them to my benefit.

We all need some race mojo and I think I just found mine!

Can you see me?

I'm really looking forward to "falling back" once daylight savings hits, if for nothing other than the fact that I can't walk or run with Tucker in the morning like we typically do, because it is so dark.  He's got this high visibility vest now and even a blinky light, but I'd still prefer the sun, because I get worried cars might not be able to spot him as easily.  However, he certainly looks pretty visible here: 

Yes, day light savings means the evenings will be darker earlier (which means many of my workouts will be done in the dark), but I like my morning time and I think Tucker does too.  Does he look happy its so dark out this morning on our walk to you?

Poor guy just needs some sun!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Interesting NY Times Christopher McDougall Article on the Running Industry

Say what you want about Born to Run, whether you consider it gospel or great storytelling "based on a true story", it has put running and more specifically minimalist running right on the map.  Dead center.  A lot of that attention can be attributed to the success of the book, but much of the engine behind the movement lies in outreach, case study research, and general discussion of the topics.  So when I came across this article yesterday, I was interested to see what else McDougall had to say.

While I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of the title of the story, "The Once and Future Way to Run", I think he once again tells a great story and sheds some more interesting light on the industry.  The story is long, but I strongly recommend reading it, as it hits on multiple angles - both the industry and running form.  I'll address each one below.

On industry, we have no specific way to validate all the facts as they are laid out, but it is one heck of a story.  Whether it is the anecdotes of Dr. Mark Cucuzzella being scoffed at, at the Boston Marathon by big shoe industry leaders for praising the benefits of natural running style, or the idea that a single study done in the 80s by Benno Nigg contributed to the mass development of built up, motion control shoes as a means of "fixing" our natural gait (despite Nigg much later stating that he believed that thought process was a mistake), or of the lack of a honest shoe review in magazines such as Runner's World due to a grading system that essentially gives everyone an "A" - he covers a lot of territory in a single article.  And all them are valid arguments that merit further discussion and consideration when looking at where running is headed into the future.

On running form, we go back to the basics - recounting an exercise called 100-upping that was developed in the 1800s.  As basic as it sounds, it rings true as something all of us should probably be doing today as part of our regular routines.  Practicing form and balance is something we all need to do and this exercise is certainly one way to do it.

But this is where I think the article goes a little off, IMO.  If history is any indication, there is no SINGLE solution to anything.  And despite McDougall's claims that this might just be the "smoking gun" we are all looking for, it isn't.  It is one exercise that incorporates many elements of what properly learning to run should be.  But he is definitely spot on with this:

"Learn to run gently, and you can wear anything. Fail to do so, and no shoe — or lack of shoe — will make a difference."

So what say you?  Have a read through the article and let me know what you think.

PS - there is also a good video associated with the article explaining the 100-up drills so you see exactly what it entails.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Like Running With a Parachute and Pulley

The title probably doesn't quite make sense right off the bat here, so let me explain.  In high school track, we used to do some drills late in the season to both build power, focus on form, and increase our top end speed.  For some of these drills, we'd use parachutes attached to a belt around the waist and run 100m sprints down the track, while the parachutes would create extra resistance and allow us to focus on technique.  Obviously, these were the form and power component of the drills.

The other drill we'd do was one in which a bungee system was attached to one person at one end of the track and one person at the other end.  By having the person pull the other, it would create the effect of forcing the person being pulled to run faster than their natural legs would have them go.  The idea was to give the body a new stimulus of running faster than it is used to, stimulating your nervous system to adjust to the new speeds.  These were short (maybe 50m), but pretty effective.

Anyways, the reason I am describing these drills is because I experienced something similar to that effect while running with Tucker yesterday.  Most of the time, he generally runs within 1 ft of me, so there is minimal tension on his leash and we are both going about the same pace.  But occasionally, this ratio gets flipped upside down.  In some cases, he's like a rock I am dragging around (not that I am forcing him to do anything, its just that he needs a little encouragement to keep up!) and in others, he's like a bolt out in front of me and pulling me along.

So I've come to the conclusion that either of these scenarios isn't necessarily a bad thing for my running.  If he is behind me, I am building strength by having a bit of extra force pulling me in the other direction, so I can focus on form and driving my legs (especially on hills).  If he is out in front, he forces me to run a bit faster than normal, but with reduced effort since the force of him pulling me encourages faster running, which has a similar nervous system effect as the bungee drills.

Makes me wonder why I didn't have a dog to run with for all these's best friend, right?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Watching Others Succeed

It goes without saying, but sometimes it seems like the most rewarding activities are enjoying the success of others after seeing them work so hard for something.  Marathon training is one of those things, although training for anything takes hard work and dedication.  Most endurance sports are individual sports in that you alone are responsible for the success on race day.  While this is true, since I can't run a race for you (we might call that cheating), there are many more aspects to a successful day that one's ability to making it across the finish line.  Certainly, in a group training program like the Distance Training Program, the success lies in the effectiveness of group dynamics and the impact of getting a large group of people to run every week, week in and week out for the duration of the program.  So while running is an individual sport, many people certainly play a part in each person's success on race day.  And to be able to watch an individual go from A to Z over the course of a training program and to be able to see them realize their goals - there isn't a much better reward than I can think of than that!

I love the feeling of having a great race and the glow of success you feel afterwords.  That is what we all strive for.  But having gone through another season of coaching and connecting with the runners, I can't think of a much better feeling than I have right now.  This weekend was the Marine Corps Marathon (surely, you knew that) and the majority of our runners were training for it.  After being there the morning of the race and seeing how excited they were to run, it gives me great satisfaction to see that excitement pay off.  Lots of PRs were set, some of which included 20+ minutes in time improvements, while others simply reached their goal of finishing their first marathon (hopefully the first of many more to come).  In every case though, it brings a sense of fulfillment in simply being able to play a role in their enjoyment.

So even though the program is over and today is Monday, which means going back to my "normal" work routine, it is a pretty good day if I may say so myself.  And hey, the next training program starts up again in about a month....hopefully, this feeling carries over till then!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

See You At The Expo

Running Marine Corps Marathon this weekend?  If so, I'll be at the expo like in year's past working for Clif.  See you there...Oorah!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why It Took So Long To Sign Up For My First Race Back

Given that I have been back running now for more than 3 months, you would have thought I would have wanted to sign up for a race at the first chance I had in order to see where I am fitness-wise.  Well, I may be different than a lot of folks are when it comes to racing and I firmly believe that I won't enter a race unless I am prepared to RACE it.  Now obviously, there are some exceptions to the rule, like helping to pace someone or getting a comp'd entry or some really sweet swag.  But as a whole, I have a pretty firm self policy on not signing up for races for the sake of signing up for races.

More specifically, my policy is this: It is a waste of money.  Many may disagree.  However, I have plenty of race shirts, so I certainly don't need more of those.  If I need to run "x" miles hard, I'll just go out and do it.  I don't need the excitement of race to be able to simulate that.  Although, that race day excitement when I do race just gives me free speed when I do in fact race.  Otherwise, the body begins to lose that magic race day sensation and races become just another day at the office...ho hum.  Either way though, I see no point in spending my money when I can't find a specific reason for it.  So that's my policy and I'm sticking to it.

Of course, there is also another side of things: psychological.  When most people come back to something from an unplanned break, whether it be running or something else, they probably aren't as good at it as they were before they took the break.  I have a hard time signing up for a race, when I can pretty much predict what I'm capable of or at least know approximately how it will turn out.  I've been running long enough now to know my body pretty good.  I know what a given easy pace might equate to or what an interval set at "x" pace might put me in a given distance race.  After a while, you tend to notice trends in key workouts and how they result in specific race performances.  So I also chose not to race, because of the potential psychological result of running slower times than I know I can run.  In other words, I wanted to be in good enough shape so I can be proud (internally) with the result.  It sounds kind of stupid though, because one can't always expect to be in top form all the time.  I don't want to run a race and end up with an excuse of, "Well, considering I've only been running for 1 month...".  So does that mean I won't let myself race unless I know I can hit a PR?  Absolutely not!  But in this case, it is more to me about proving a successful comeback from being down and out.  I want to RACE and finish knowing that I prepared adequately and give it my all.  I want to declare - "I'm back" with conviction.

This latest journey to me is more about a personal chase to be what I know I can be.  So in a few weeks when I return to racing, I'll have no excuses.  I've been working hard for a couple of months and know what I am capable of.  Let's just hope my body is willing to show it!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Getting Back to Racing

Well, its finally about time to start racing again.  I've been back running now for the better part of 3 months, so I have a pretty solid foundation to work with.  I finally settled on a 10k to serve as my comeback race.  For some reason, I had it in my head that a 10k would be better to see where I am versus a 5k.  Probably more about the unknown I guess.  I can pretty much pinpoint where my 5k fitness is at any time, given that it is what I use as the baseline for my training paces.  So needless to say, it isn't so important for me to come out and race one.  I want to do something more, but just enough to get a solid effort in to see where I am.  Enter the 10k.

So the date is set - November 6.  My return starts then....

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Tucker Running Update

Been a little while since I mentioned any runs with the pup, so I figured I'd give an update.  With the cooler weather, he's also had a similar fitness boost to what most people experience after training in the hot summer temperatures.  Seems like every time we head out for a run, he's pulling me along for the ride the whole time, instead of just sprinting out the first mile and then pooping out.  He's building up some endurance! 

For right now, I've been taking him along on all of my shake out runs and/or easy paced runs.  Nothing crazy like tempos...yet, since those tend to be in the 7-8 mile range and we aren't quite there.  Though, he has been working on his hills lately, as his owner (me) has been doing quite a few hill repeats.  Yesterday, while doing such a hill workout, we set a new distance/pace record.  We ended up running a total of 4.5 miles at an average pace of around 7:40.  I could tell he was getting pooped on this one though, because he kept trying to take "breaks" when we'd be stopped for a car or a light by rolling around in the grass.  But before long, we'd be back on our way clicking off the miles. 

And since my training has really kicked back up into solid form, my weekly mileage with Tucker has also increased progressively over these last few months.  Just last week, we logged 16 miles together.  Not bad for a dog!

Today was a rough run though.  We did a an easy shake out run this evening, which turned out to be a hair over 3 miles, but after we were out the door for a bit, the rain started to come down.  Normally, he has a raincoat which works pretty well at keeping him dry and preventing him from having to stop every 2 seconds to shake his fur out.  But since we were already in the middle of the run when it started to rain, we had to tough it out.  By the time we finished, we were both soaking wet and I spent a good 5 minutes drying him off before letting him inside.

Oh, the things we do....but such a small price to pay for a great running partner.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Army 10 Miler Spectator Report

Sunday was a beautiful day - clear skies, cool weather and oh yea, the Army 10 Miler.  Though I wasn't running it myself, I knew a lot of people that were, including one special person.  So we were up and out there nice and early so I could drop Rebecca off and still manage to find a decent parking spot in the vicinity of the Pentagon, where the race starts and finishes.

After dropping Rebecca off and wishing her well, I got parked and set out on my own little running adventure for the day, where I'd eventually be meeting up with a friend in DC to watch some of the race.  So with that, I took off from Crystal City along the Mount Vernon Trail

DC awaits 20,000+ runners
It was still before sunrise, but I managed to snap a shot of the view of the Pentagon from a few miles away on the trail as I made my way north on the trail.

Pentagon as seen from the trail - Big white building in the middle

Pretty soon, I found my way along the Potomac for what I consider the most iconic part of the trail, with endless views of DC.  About 2 miles into the run, the sun was just starting to come up over the town.  And soon, I approached the Memorial Bridge, where runners would be crossing after only 1.5 miles into the race.  The view to the east of DC is a great one.

After climbing a short hill to get from the trail to the bridge in order to cross it, I noticed that the famous Army paratroopers were slowly making their way down to their landing spots right at the startling line of the race.  This is always my favorite pre-race event that goes on at the Army 10 Miler.  Not the greatest photo, but if you click to zoom, you can see 2 of them just over the top of the tree by the car with its lights on.

Then, I quickly turned around and headed over the bridge just as the sun was rising up.

Since I still had a bunch of time to kill, I decided to extend my run a bit and headed out onto Hains Point, which is one of the key parts of the Marine Corps Marathon, only a few more weeks away.  While halfway out, I could still hear the music coming from the Pentagon and caught a small glimpse of it from where I was.

Pentagon - right in the middle between the trees and where I had been running only a few miles before
 A quick lap around the remainder of the park and I made my way back around the Tidal Basin just in time to catch up with the leaders of the race as they were about to come through.  I was surprised to see that the leader already had a solid 20s lead 5 miles into the race, so I took 2 clips: one as he came through and one of the chase packs. 

After they passed, I made my way a mile further up the course to stand with a friend and spot Rebecca and others who were out on the course.  As is expected for a race of this size, spotting people can become difficult.  And since I told Rebecca exactly where we'd be, she was able to spot us!  I guess when you figured that there were 20,000+ runners and probably a lot less spectators, it might be easier for the runners to spot spectators than vice versa.  Unfortunately, I couldn't grab a picture of her though, so I took a field shot to give perspective on the crowding of the course, as it is pretty much a steady stream of people the whole time.

Despite our best attempts to cheer for runners along the 14th St Bridge for the last few miles of the race, we were ordered back by the police and forced to metro to the Pentagon and the finish area.  But not before, I got to see the leader come through Mile 7.5 with an even bigger lead.

If you zoom in, you can see how far back the next runner is
 So we got to Pentagon and found the steady stream of runners still making there way through the course.  This year was the first year with a new course, so the finish area was pushed a bit further than years in the past and added what I consider an unfortunate hill for the last half mile or so, before the downhill finish. 

Nothing like the sight of thousands of runners climbing a hill in the last mile of a race!
 Lastly, we found Rebecca and learned that she rocked the course and set a personal best time on the course by more than 10 minutes!  Does she look proud of her awesome race or what?

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning, huh?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Faster Than a Speeding Bu.....g???

We all know that Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, right?  I mean, its practically scientifically proven.  But did you ever wonder what YOU were faster than?  Nope?  Neither have I!  So truth be told, when I set out for my run today, it was never my intent to find out what I am faster than.  So science didn't really play a role here...just sayin...

So I'm out there doing some mile repeats at around 6:30 pace and while I'm running my cool down, I look down at my arms only to find a lot of black spots on them.  Often times when I run on some trails, I pick up my fair share of road grit, especially after/during rain.  Today's weather was sunny, but pretty warm and humid.  Kind of stuffy relative to how it has been.  But with all the rain, it seems like there are a lot more bugs out there.  So imagine my surprise when I look a little closer only to find that it isn't road grit on my arms, but a whole collection of little bugs!  I counted 17 in total between both arms!

Apparently, I was running fast enough that bugs could not get out of the way in time.  So look out Superman...I can claim I'm faster than a speeding bug.  Hows that for cache!  Now, I'd be lying if I said didn't have some sense of satisfaction out of seeing this.  I mean, I was a bit disgusted at first...but in a bizarre way,its kinda cool too!

Have you ever discovered later in a run that you picked up something interesting?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Ramblings

I started thinking that sometimes I have a few stray thoughts, but not enough to comprise a full post, so I might as well go bullet point style and get it out here goes nothing:

  • Last week, I put in more miles than many of my marathon training weeks.  Of course, many of the miles were easy, relative to some of the similar weeks I was putting up while marathon training.  I did this for 2 reasons: 1) To get an immediate fitness boost, and 2) To build some durability.  Quick spikes like this can be useful IF you've been there before and are just looking for a bounce back.  Otherwise, it can be pretty risky to suddenly jump mileage by a lot.  But don't worry, this week is back to something resembling my normal mileage.  I'll probably do another bump like this soon though.  I got a nice kick of about 10s/mile faster for my easy long run pace, so it can be pretty effective when done properly. 
  • Now that I am back into a regular routine, I am struggling with what to do.  I want to get faster (ie 5/10k speed), but I also would like to run something between a 10 miler of a half marathon this Fall and time is quickly running out before I need to make a decision.  I'm not expecting to PR just yet, since I'm still a fair ways from my fitness of the Spring, but it would provide a good indicator of where I am.  I was also thinking about doing a trail race, which happens to be held only a few miles away.  That would be purely for fun, just because I haven't done any trail racing since my last Xterra race.  Decisions, decisions...
  • Last weekend was the culmination of the perfect running weather.  After dealing with rain and heat for much of the summer, temperatures finally dropped into the 50s with minimal humidity.  I rocked a sweet long run of 10 miles, with 7 at my long run pace and the last 3 at or below 7 min/mile.  It felt really good to hold a solid pace on tired legs, being that it came at the end of a much higher mileage week.  Of course, that good long run got me thinking more about my second bullet even more.
  • This weekend, on the other hand, is looking to be wet, warm, and humid - bleh.  Like a quick punch back to reality.  I did some intervals last night on the track and the humidity was just nasty.  However, the workouts itself went pretty well, so all is not lost in nasty running weather.  Just makes you appreciate the good days.
Alright, I think that's about it.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Don't Be That Guy

I just had to post this video, because I think it is hilarious.  If you've run on the same trail or been in enough races, I think you'll have seen all of these guys.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

7 Links

Though I'm not a particularly big fan of these kinds of things, I do feel obligated to at least take part in it, since I was nominated by It's all about Pace.  I thought it would be interesting to read some older posts in the process of doing this, so why not?  Here we go...

Here are the rules:

1. Blogger is nominated to take part
2. Blogger publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog – 1 link for each category
3. Blogger nominates other bloggers to take part.
4. These bloggers publish their 7 links and nominate more bloggers
Most beautiful post:  While I wouldn't consider many of my posts "beautiful", I do consider the photos that were taken by Rebecca in this race to be among the best I have, so I think that meets the criteria here.  (FYI - I see that some of the photos aren't showing in the post, but if you click on them, you will see them).  Bonus entry: I also really like this post on a Tour of Clifton - a great little town nearby that I cycle through often.

Most popular post:  My most popular post of all time is this one, simply because I did a product review of a major nutrition supplier and I'm pretty sure people continually see that it comes up in searches.  As far as my most popular non-review post, it happens to be my 2nd post popular post of all time about whether or not to heel strike, which seems to be awfully popular these days.  It is short and sweet (unlike most of my posts), but the point still holds today.

Most controversial post:  Maybe not the most controversial as a topic, but I think this post might rub people the wrong way.  I know a lot of people love their Runner's World magazine and don't want to hear people put it down.  I do enjoy flipping through it (notice I didn't say read, because there isn't really much to read), but I can get through a whole magazine in less than 30 minutes and STILL find a way to walk away in frustration over some of the advice in there.

Most helpful post:  I consider this one of my post helpful posts to others.  I've gone through a number of posts aimed at trying to help others figure out what it is they want out of training/racing and this was one of them.  My hope was to get people thinking long term, rather than just focusing on short term immediate thoughts.  Not sure if it worked, but I like to think that at least the seed was planted ;)  Bonus entry:  I also think this post deserves some credit as being a helpful post.  I took a lot of great information away after attending this event and hoped that the post helped convey some of the key takeaways.

Post whose success surprised me:  I obviously didn't write this post for others, but ended up finding satisfaction from the contributions from everyone in agreeing that some people Are. Just. Idiots.  It surprises me that with a title like that, the post is among the heavily read posts I've written.

Post I feel didn't get the attention it deserved:  I obviously wrote this series of posts (you can find links to each part from this link if you so choose to read them) for myself, but also in the hopes that others might learn from it.  And while it never really got many comments, nor does it show up as being frequently read by many people, it was a pretty epic effort of writing to get that all down to a series of posts that I am pretty proud of.  I've read through it several times and I still feel pretty much the same way.

Post I'm most proud of:  While I didn't end up with nearly the result I was hoping (and was trained for), I couldn't have been more proud of the way in which I approached this race.  Knowing the weather wasn't ideal, I faced this marathon head on with everything I had that day and fought as hard as I could.  I wouldn't have changed a thing, because now I know what it is like to truly attempt to race a marathon versus survive it.

And now for the nomination process for this to continue.  I really do hate this part...but those are the rules...  With that said, here are a few people - of course, if anyone else out there feels compelled to write one up, have at it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Proposed Solution to Crowding/Drafting at the Nations Tri

As many people who have witnessed and/or raced the Nations Tri know, it tends to get a little crowded.  And by a little, I mean A LOT.  There are nearly 6000 racers, spread out over a 25 mile course, some of which consists of a single lane of road with both out and back bike traffic each way, separated by cones. With crowding comes a whole host of other issues, the least of which includes (at minimum), the following:
  • Cases where it is nearly impossible to prevent drafting from occurring in the vast majority of people racing
  • Cases where passing large groups of riders all moving at similar speeds within a single lane becomes a game of tetris to find out where your little piece of a bike can fit between the other objects
  • Passing on the right, other times between people, and worst of all, crossing over the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic, simply because there was no room to successfully execute a pass
  • No room for officials who are on motorcycles trying to observe what is going on to safely ride within the same course as participants
  • An inability to issue any penalty violations due to the aforementioned issues with the course and resulting crowding on it - you simply can't fault someone for drafting if they have no other option for where to go
To make matters worse, this year's race was forced to cancel the swim.  The race was unable to secure an additional run course to start to race, so it became a Bike --> Run race, with participants running into transition with their assigned swim waves.  Separation out on the course was based on how quickly one would transition onto their bike.  Needless to say, large packs were both leaving transition and racing the course together with minimal spreading of the field.

I realize little could be done at the last minute to make this any different and I applaud the race for adapting quickly to the changing environment.  However, I still feel like this race leaves so much to be desired, based on the way it is currently structured.  So I came up with a few ideas that I feel could help improve the race experience and minimize many of the issues that cause others to make the same complaints:

  • Make the race draft legal:  Doing so would not only establish this race as one of the few unique draft legal races out there, but it would negate the need for everyone and their mother to complain about how much drafting was going on and how little control over their race they had as a result of trying to stay out of the draft zone of other riders.  While you can try to stay out of trouble by avoiding packs, I find it nearly impossible to do so in the current design.  With 5000+ participants, I find it highly unlikely that this race can create a method where participants are not forced into draft packs out on the course.  Despite most people's best efforts, unless you are in an early wave, you will be on the course surrounded by others.  And once you get to those single lane roads, there is nowhere no go, which forces participants into a situation where they are drafting, but in most cases unintentionally. Making the race draft legal provides an opportunity for people to ride however they wish.  If they choose to ride solo, they can do it.  If they want to jump on the train of riders coming by (which I observed many people doing anyways), then have at it.  Making it draft legal gives people the option to ride within their means of comfort, whatever that may be.
  • Change the bike course route:  While I am not a fan of looped courses, I feel like changing the course to remain almost exclusively on Independence and Constitution Ave would result in wider roads to minimize some of the crowding, create an enhanced spectator experience, and offer a true tour of DC monuments and sights.  I know they tried to get a permit for use of the GW Parkway this year, which was ultimately denied, but I still feel like this option would provide a better race experience.  The current course barely covers much of what I consider "recognizable" parts of DC. You do a quick loop out and back on Independence and then head out to Clara Barton Parkway, which is a nice tree lined road, but not (in my opinion) something that would draw people from all over the world to come experience.  And neither would riding on GW Parkway, although it could potentially provide wider roads.  If I were traveling to DC, I'd want to be on a course that showcases the best of DC and to me, that is the notable monuments and sights.  Rather, I'd propose a 3 looped course, such as the one shown, that covers the entire Mall, passing by every notable monument and Government structure, while on much wider roads.  And since we've now made the race draft legal (see point above), there are fewer issues due to the likely crowding that would occur as a result of a lopped course.  However, there are also a number of hills to keep the race honest and not just turn into a super flat cycling crit.  3 loops is sure to cause a number of its own issues with crowding from earlier/later waves as more people are out on the course, but having much wider roads would negate that somewhat in my opinion. With the wider roads, slower riders can remain to the right, while faster riders continue to pass on the left as they normally would.
I think these are the only major changes that I would  make, but I believe they would drastically improve the race.  Would this create other issues?  Probably.  But I truly believe that the safety and enjoyment of those that participate in these events is what keeps people coming back.  While I realize 3 loops of a bike course is not not appealing at first glance, I think it is pretty darn cool to be able to bike that route on a closed road.  And for someone who comes from out of town to do that, I can only imagine it is even cooler.

It is one thing to travel to a location and race in that city to see its unique characteristics (and sometimes, there aren't even any unique characteristics!).  DC offers a unique experience no other city anywhere can offer - to race among the historic landmarks representing those that that helped found this country and continue to influence it today.  Placing a race smack in the center of it all would be the epitome of a race worthy of the title as one of the premier triathlons in the world.  And adopting these principles to achieve that would, in my opinion, put it well on its way to achieving that.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lesser is More

You'd think by now I'd have written a post that was titled something similar to the name of my blog...or at least explained much of the reasoning behind the title.  So I figured it is about time to do so.

For anyone who has been reading for a while, I'm sure you can gather that part of the reasoning for the name has to do with a play on my last name.  And that was pretty much the reasoning why I went down the path of the name I ultimately decided on many years ago.  But that wasn't the only reason...

After having been involved in sports for a long time, I've come to analyze and interpret the various training methodologies that I have been coached under and implemented myself.  And having started competing in triathlons and having been a runner for much longer before I started the blog, I also began studying and testing out the different training techniques to see which ones work best.  So I guess what I'm trying to say is that over the course of my history as an athlete, I've found that a "less is more" approach tends to work well.  Of course, a simple statement like that starts churning gears in people's heads which leads to assumptions about what that means.  When I say "less is more", I don't mean not training a lot.  It is just relative to what I consider "most" people do.  I just tend to believe that you can achieve more efficient and effective results that way, as opposed to some other approaches out there.  And I'll explain a bit further down more specifically how.

Now, what you'll find if you scan around the interwebs long enough are a whole bunch of people posting about epic this and epic that.  And then you come to find out they are training for something shorter, relative to the workouts they are putting themselves through.  Overdistance training is one thing, but even if you are training for an Ironman, there is no need to run a marathon and/or ride 150+ miles as part of your build up.  There is a law of diminishing returns and at a certain point, all you are doing is creating more stress, but without the equivalent benefit coming to your for that effort.  And for people that are training for an Olympic distance triathlon, riding a century is something I'd consider excessive as well.  In order to ride 25 miles hard, training for 50 mile rides seems more reasonable if you feel the need to go longer, but centuries offer very little benefit to someone who will be racing 25 miles.  We call this the volume approach or, to play on my motto, "more is more"...or for another explanation - nuts if you ask me.

The theory here is that by scaling every mountain and leaving no stone unturned, your body will be prepared to handle anything.  And that may be true to an extent, but you are also leaving yourself without much preparation for your actual race.  You may be fit, but you aren't race fit.  The key here being specificity in what you are training for.

Training philosophies should be determined by what you are training for and focus on specificity for that particular event.  However, killing yourself through epic workouts that are either way too much for a particular distance or way too early to serve the intended purpose of such a workout and the reasons where I think a lot of people go wrong.  And while this isn't to say you can't get by with that kind of approach, you certainly can.  But you risk injury, burnout, and a lack of specificity that isn't going to get you race ready.

What will get you race ready? A logical approach that allows you to put in hard workouts consistently, relative to the event you are training for, so that you can stress, recover, adapt, and improve over time.  One that doesn't require epic workouts for 6-8 months to train for one event.  Seriously.  If you are training for a marathon, running 20+ miles with 4 months till your race isn't going to do anything other than prevent you from getting in a ton of quality training.  Instead, you'll be spending a fair amount of time recovering, or worse, pushing through continued fatigue for months on end, only to find yourself injured or burnt out by the time your race actually happens.  Think this sounds silly?  It isn't.  I see it a lot and when people explain how awesome their training was going and how bad their race was, I can usually point to something like this and say why..

I also get that some people enjoy the journey and that the race is only part of the equation.  I'd call these people endurance lifestyle athletes.  To some of them, the race doesn't matter.  It's the epic workouts that do and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  So if that is you, keep doing whatever makes you happy.  We do this to make ourselves healthy and happy, right?  However, if you are trying to train your best, you better hunker down with your workout log and look at your approach, because you may be falling victim of an excessive training approach for your race.  More is not always better.  Sometimes, lesser is more.


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