Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Some People Just Love To Race

I get it - some people either LOVE the sport, or are new to it so much so that it just consumes their life.  And what better way to show how much you love a sport than to do a race every weekend right?  Well...maybe depends.  Let me explain what I mean.

Whether from people I know personally or through various blogs I follow, there are quite a few people who tend to race a lot.  Like every weekend, which I consider a lot (unless it is just a 5k, which you can easily recover from).  Not that there is anything wrong with that per say if that is what you want to do.

But, depending on the distance and the effort expended during the event, you may be doing yourself more harm than good in the long run (pun intended).  I mean, if you have enough self control to race a lot, but train through a race and not go all out, then you won't be doing nearly the damage to your system as you would if it were an all out effort at each and every race.  But here's the thing with this mentality - people want to have their cake and eat it too.  And it most cases, you might end up with a little cake on your face, because you lost focus of the big goal (eating the whole cake)....has this analogy gone too far???

I think you get the point though - racing creates a certain amount of stress on your body  and mind and we need to recover from that stress to build fitness.  Otherwise, you dig yourself in a deeper hole (physically and mentally) that sometimes only injury or worse forces you out of.  This can also leave you feeling flat on race day, because you have no more "juice" left.  The stress created during a racing event is typically more than your average training run, mostly due to a shift in mentality and nerves/endorphins on race day to dig deeper and push past physical and mental barriers that are there during everyday training runs.  Despite thinking you might go easy or moderately hard, most people tend to throw caution to the wind and go for it because "they got caught up in the moment" or "they were feeling so good".  But that fatigue may not rear its ugly head until it is too late.

Let me put it another way - if you were faced with two options, which one would you chose:

Option 1 - You can try to race to your potential by training hard with a few races thrown in during your build up to simulate your goal race, but mostly train with the intent on peaking for a given race.

Option 2 - You can race lots of races and have fun being out there, but performance will be somewhat limited due to progressive fatigue and a failure to peak for a particular race.

Well, which one do you prefer?  Some people fall squarely into one of those options, but many people want both.  And that's the problem - too much of anything will limit your potential.  People want it all, because it is difficult to make a decision and stick to it when friends and others are out there doing something else.

So here is what I would like to say:

- If you are looking to PR a race, develop an approach that builds you to that race, train as if that is the goal, and use all that extra energy and enthusiasm for the sport to propel you on race day.  I can assure you that the patience you exhibit saving your racing legs for your goal race will result in a better chance at a good race than if you just went out and raced a ton. You will still have fun in the races you do and will get to experience race day as everyone else.  But if you decide on this path, stick with it.  You made a thoughtful decision to run to your ability, so don't sell yourself short for short term gratification.

- If you are just looking to get out there all the time to have fun with friends, experience a lot of races, get some cool shirts, travel to cool towns, then by all means go for it.  Sure, you may pick up a PR here or there if you never trained hard enough to race to your potential, just based on the general fitness you'll build over time.  I mean, its not as if running races all the time is worse than not running at all.  You are going to build some fitness along the way.  But don't go into that situation under the impression that you'll still be able to race to your potential.  Without being able to focus your efforts, due to it being spread over a number of races and overlapping fatigue, it is very difficult to consistently race hard and most often, results in mediocre results.

There are generic freaks out there that tend to challenge this assumption, but the vast majority of us "normal" people aren't machines.  So when you are considering your approach to training and racing, be sure to consider what it is you want out of your sport.  Whatever your decision is, remember that you made it for a good reason, and remind yourself frequently of that reason anytime you find yourself drifting away from that goal.

So which type of person are you - seeking a PR or doing lots of racing and getting out there for the experience?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Recap of The Re-Evolution of Running Event

Last Friday evening, I attended the Re-Evolution of Running: Where Science and Shoes Meet event in Shepherdstown, WV.  Contrary to what most locals think, getting to Shepherdstown, WV really wasn't all that difficult.  After a scenic, 1.5 hr drive, I got to the Bavarian Inn and found a full parking lot.  I'd estimate about 60+ people were in attendance and for those who made it, it proved to be well worth the slight effort to get there.

The event was at the tail end of a multi-day conference organized by Dr Mark Cucuzzella, the 2nd such conference this year (previously conducted in January) on running injuries and prevention, bringing in experts from all over the world.  This informal discussion served to provide insights and inform the public about some of the topics of discussion and the expert opinions of those individuals involved.  As mentioned in my last post, the panel included a wide range of industry experts:

Dr. Robert Wilder
  • Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Medical Director of the Runner’s Clinic at the University of Virginia.
Dr Hiro Tanaka
·         Fukuoka Japan; Chair Exercise Physiology University of Fukuoka
·         Author of over 100 papers, ran 2:38 marathon age 50 and 3:11 age 62
Blaise Dubois PT/Sean Cannon PT
·         Quebec City, Canada; International Leaders in running injuries
·         Authors and Instructors of over 40 international conferences
Doug Bertram
·         Boulder, Colorado;   Newton Running
·         Clinical Acupuncturist and Manual Therapist treating elite runners for 15 years
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella,
·         West Virginia University, Coach USAF Running Team, National Level Masters Runner
·         National speaker/teacher of healthier running; sub 2:35 marathons in 4 decades
Golden Harper
·         Orem, Utah; Ran 2:45 marathon age 12
·         Founder of Altra Running Shoes
Jon Sanregret
·         Rockford, Michigan
·         Lead Training Rep Merrell Barefoot Division
Curt Munson
·         Okemos, Michigan; Running Retail leader for 30 years
·         Developer of Good Form Running- system now taught to 1000’s

Below are some of the notes and key points I made throughout the event that I thought would be useful to others as it relates to running form/mechanics, proper running shoe selection, and injury prevention/health issues.

Run Form/Mechanics

- Body awareness, running form, and good mechanics are the keys to staying healthy.  Constant awareness of these elements are the best form of preventative medicine.  Rather than reactive response following an injury, maintain a constant sense of your body and take the necessary actions to PREVENT injuries, rather than respond to them.

- The most important aspect of running form is landing under your center of mass.  However, your heel should still settle on the ground, which creates the elastic recoil that will propel you forward.  Without this element (heel kissing the ground), you limit your body's ability to move itself forward, which creates inefficiency.

- Learning how to run properly should be the number one priority for any runner.  Once you have developed proper run mechanics, you have eliminated one of the most frequent causes of injuries and can select a shoe that allows you to maintain that form throughout. 

- Learning proper run mechanics is best done barefoot, as it provides the best sense of proprioception.  However, it can be done with shoes, which may allow a runner to fall back  to improper form due to the built up cushioning and lack of ground feel.  In other words, cushioned shoes will not do as good a job at forcing proper run form.

- You need to have specific mobility and stability in your legs in order to run effectively in minimalist shoes.  This can be accomplished through routine strengthening exercises, mobility work, and learning proper run mechanics. Going straight into minimalist shoes without properly assessing these factors is a frequent reason for injury among runners using minimalist shoes.

Proper Running Shoe Selection

- Shoe selection should be based on the shape of a healthy foot.  If your foot cannot fit comfortably inside your shoe, it will not provide your foot the ability to perform as it was intended.  A good method to determine this is to remove the footbed from the insole of the shoe and stand on it.  If your foot does not fit inside the footbed, the shoe will not properly fit and may cause your toes to be pushed together, limiting your body's natural stability and proprioception. 

- The common approach to properly fitting individuals for shoes based on whether or not they pronate (gait analysis) is a flawed approach.  Pronation could be caused by weaknesses in the hips/pelvis, but this is rarely considered as a reason for pronation during the shoe fitting process, forcing many people into shoes with excessive pronation control, when it is not necessary.  Multiple studies have concluded that instances where individuals were fitted for shoes based on their pronation (ie placed in shoes with anti-pronation technology if they pronated), the rate of injury increased.  However, there are people that may need shoes with pronation control - but it is a very small minority where there is a true issue going on. 

- Regardless of shoe type, people tend to be less injured in the shoes they are the most comfortable in.

Injury Prevention/Health

- If you want to prevent injuries, you must be consistent and gradual in your approach to anything - whether it is new shoes, increasing mileage, increasing intensity, etc.  You should calculate the total stress you put on your system at a given time and use that as a baseline for any attempts to increase it in the future.  Too much to soon is almost always the cause in the onset of injuries.

- The most common patterns of injuries involved muscle weakness in hip strength/stability, glutes, abductors, hip flexors, ankle mobility, calf, achillies, and plantar fascia.  Single leg stands that incorporate multiple functional movement exercises can help resolves the kinds of imbalances.

- When compared to a sedentary lifestyle, running reduces one's death rate by up to 63%.  In order to ensure you remain a runner for life, you must be able to remain healthy.  And a healthy runner is a happy runner.

- For high mileage runners transitioning to more minimalist shoes, it will take much longer for your body to tolerate the osteo-structure adaptations.  If you are undergoing this process, you must be patient to give your body the necessary amount of time to adapt to the new stress.

- Glucosamine chondroitin may only provide a slight benefit in symptomatic osteoarthritic conditions to help with pain, but it does not sustain cartilage.  In order for it to take effect, it requires approximately 4-6 months of usage.  However, there are no known harmful side effects, so there is no inherent risk in trying it if you are experiencing joint pain.

- Use of NSAIDs is strongly discouraged at all times, except for a very, very short term acute injury.  Even if taking it after exercise to reduce inflammation, it will continue to dehydrate and stress your body, which will limit your body's ability to recover by taking away its resources to naturally heal itself.

I really enjoyed attending this event and found the practical information that was shared to be useful.  While I already was aware of many of the topics and conclusions discussed, I will certainly incorporate all of this information into my knowledge base and apply it to my training and coaching techniques.  I'd strongly encourage others to attend similar events if they are held in the future.

Being a runner is always a learning process and you should never believe you know all there is or that you know enough.  Constantly challenging what is considered "normal" can lead to innovating approaches to tackling problems that we all face.  As runners, we are bound to get injured at one point.  Knowledge is power and the more of it you have at your disposal, the better equipped you will be at managing yourself and remaining a runner for life.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Free Event : Re-Evolution of Running Tonight

For anyone in the proximity of the DC area and interested in running, this should be a must attend event.  It is located in Shepherdstown, WV which isn't nearly as far as it sounds.  Either way, I know I'll be there.

The event is hosted by Two Rivers Treads, a local store that focuses on natural running and walking.  If you were lucky enough to attend his lecture at the Mid Atlantic Multisport Expo, Dr. Mark Cucuzella gave a great overview of natural running form.  You may have also seen this video posted below floating around the interwebs a while back of Dr. Cucuzzella running through some incredible scenery at the Antietam National  It is pretty awesome - just watch it for a few minutes in awe of his perfect form.

Anyways, below is information from the press release regarding the event.  I'll be there and I hope to see others, because free events like this are the best ways to further your knowledge.  In the release below, take a look at the panel of people speaking - its pretty solid.

“The Re-Evolution of Running: Where Science and Shoes Meet” will be hosted by Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking,  the Bavarian Inn, and the Running Clinic Canada on Friday Night June 24th at 7-9 pm at the Bavarian Inn.

Guest panelists include leading clinicians, researchers, teachers, writers, athletes, and footwear experts from around the globe:

Dr. Robert Wilder
  • Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Medical Director of the Runner’s Clinic at the University of Virginia.
Dr Hiro Tanaka
·         Fukuoka Japan; Chair Exercise Physiology University of Fukuoka
·         Author of over 100 papers, ran 2:38 marathon age 50 and 3:11 age 62
Blaise Dubois PT/Sean Cannon PT
·         Quebec City, Canada; International Leaders in running injuries
·         Authors and Instructors of over 40 international conferences
Doug Bertram
·         Boulder, Colorado;   Newton Running
·         Clinical Acupuncturist and Manual Therapist treating elite runners for 15 years
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella,
·         West Virginia University, Coach USAF Running Team, National Level Masters Runner
·         National speaker/teacher of healthier running; sub 2:35 marathons in 4 decades
Golden Harper
·         Orem, Utah; Ran 2:45 marathon age 12
·         Founder of Altra Running Shoes
Jon Sanregret
·         Rockford, Michigan
·         Lead Training Rep Merrell Barefoot Division
Curt Munson
·         Okemos, Michigan; Running Retail leader for 30 years
·         Developer of Good Form Running- system now taught to 1000’s

Speakers will share their most important discoveries and then allow questions and conversation with the audience.   

“This is an amazing public awareness and interest now in the concept that you do not have to be in pain to run.  Medical and footwear leaders are working together to help runners stay healthy.  We have assembled the most expert panel one could imagine on the topic for an interesting night of stories, debate, and discussion.” says Mark Cucuzzella MD. “We need to develop entirely new approaches to running injuries and staying healthy for life”

The event is free to the public and geared toward walkers and runners of all abilities.

Date: June 24 2011  7pm-9pm 

Location: Bavarian Inn

Shepherdstown,  WV  25443

Free to the public.  Coffee and dessert will be provided.  Cash bar

For those wishing to dine prior at the premier Bavarian Inn call 304-876-2551 for reservations

For more information contact  Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking  ph 304-876-1100

Thursday, June 23, 2011

PSA on Ibuprofin and Racing

I've noticed recently that a lot of people mention in their race reports that they take ibuprofen either before or during their races.  I wanted to mention that there are some serious health risks associated with taking NSAIDs.

First and foremost, taking NSAIDs before or during a race means that you are taking it with the intent of masking pain.  In other words, you are less likely to experience the pain your body may naturally indicate when something is wrong.  Obviously, there is good pain (wow, this race is making me tired) and bad pain (my ankle hurts, but I sure am glad I took that ibuprofen).  In the good pain situation, you should feel some pain - you're racing!  But in the bad pain situation, you risk further injury by inhibiting those pain management receptors that NSAIDs block.

On the other hand, if you experience an acute injury (you just returned from a run and feel immediate pain), it is OK to take some kind of NSAID to help manage the pain AFTER the workout.  However, this is not a long term solution and it will not necessarily help solve the problem.  A better solution would be to reduce inflammation by ice and let your body heal the issue.  Depending on what it is, it could just be a case where ice and rest can resolve it.  Other issues may require more focused therapy/self massage.  In either case, NSAIDs are not going to cure the problem and they should not be replied upon to do so, despite their frequent use among endurance athletes.

This post was partly inspired by a recent article describing the inheirent risks of NSAID usage amongst endurance athletes.  Among the many side effects of NSAID usage is GI bleeding and additional stress on the body, which can create further dehydration.  When you carry that over the course of a long distance endurance event, you find that cramps and other muscular issues result - something everyone tries to avoid if at all possible  An interesting result from that study referenced in the article was this:

Between 2002 and 2006, Dr. D.C. Nieman, director of the human-performance lab at Appalachian State University, conducted a study comparing the finishing times, rate of perceived exertion and physical states (using pre- and post-race blood samples) between two groups of competitors at the Western States 100. Members of one group took between 600 and 1200 mg of ibuprofen before and during the race, and members of the other group took no pain relievers.

Dr. Nieman's study found little variance between the two groups when it came to muscle soreness or  race performance, but did find greater instances of inflammation and endotoxemia (when toxins leak into the bloodstream from the colon) among the ibuprofen users.

"Ibuprofen had no beneficial effect on muscle soreness or pain," says Nieman. "When I presented these findings at a seminar for Western States runners, just about everybody said they would continue using ibuprofen."

So ultimately, you're doing yourself more harm than good by taking NSAIDs.  As far as natural anti-inflammatories go, fish oil is always considered one of the best sources.  I think the common perception that taking a pill is somehow magically better than taking something natural has led to the misuse over time.  And if you notice the conclusions from another study regarding the increased risk of heart attacks and stroke when taking NSAIDs, I think you might be able to draw some type of relationship between the recent increase in deaths during endurance races.  Sure there are other factors at play, but it is highly likely that many of these same people took a few NSAIDs (because everyone else was doing it) and suffered.  Each person is different and just because you're friend has taken something with "success", doesn't mean you should. 

Hopefully the next time you are thinking about popping another pill, just remember that it very likely isn't going to benefit you the way you are hoping it will.  So save yourself the risk and use an alternative approach.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


After a follow up appointment on my foot yesterday, I'm happy to say that things are moving in the right direction.  The good news is that there is no longer a gap between the chip fracture and the rest of my bone.  In other words, new bone has formed and is slowly taking back its shape.  The bad news is that it has to continue to develop and get stronger, so I will be in boot city for another three weeks.

In reality though, its not all that bad.  Hopefully by the end of this 6 week period, I'll get the approval to being able to get back out there.  In my mind, 6 weeks is long enough to really get my motivation and excitement for running back, but not too long where I will lose a ton of fitness.  I still feel fit and my weight hasn't really changed much at all, thanks to a small cut back in my regular diet and keeping up with cycling.

So all is not lost.  I thought I would have a harder time dealing with this than I am.  The reality is that I am looking forward to the start of our Fall distance training program starting up this weekend and the beginning of coaching lots of runners through a successful build to the Marine Corps Marathon (or whatever marathon people might be signed up for) in October.  So in the meantime, all my focus is toward helping others achieve their goals.  In some ways, this can be even more rewarding.

So that's all the news I got.  Hopefully better news to come in the 3 weeks.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Eagleman 70.3

Yep - that's where you'll find me this weekend.  No, I'm not racing.  I'm officiating

As an added bonus, here's a highlights video from Eagleman 70.3 in 2008 when I raced it

BTW - I make a cameo appearance at 3:07 clipping into my bike and again on the run course at 8:52!

Temperatures look a bit cooler than it has been in previous years - upper 80s and sunny, so it will still be hot, but not a death march.  Anything is better than the 105 heat we had to deal with back then.  Its funny in the video that as the day goes on, you see how much people were suffering out there!  Took me back to some rough memories....(shakes head and quivers)

To those who are racing, good luck!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lessons Learned From Triathlon Officiating And How It Can Benefit You

In honor of triathlon season truly kicking into high gear, I wanted to write something that I felt would be helpful for those racing.  And to those of you who are locals, I better not catch you doing any of the items mentioned below at any races I am working...otherwise, shame on you for not listening to my plea ;)

Having been a USAT official for nearly 3 years, I can say that I've seen my share of stoopidity and awesomeness while working various races.  Anywhere from people wearing their swim goggles on the bike course due to heavy rain to people riding over the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic to pass cyclists even though there was plenty of room to do so within their given lane.  I can't say I've seen it all though, because every time I think I have, someone proves me wrong with a new trick ;)

With that said, I also thought it would be useful to document just some basic concepts that I think people not only misinterpret, but may get penalized for failure to understand the rules.  Let me caveat this all by saying that as USAT officials, we are not out to penalize as many people as possible.  We are simply there to ensure a fair and competitive race.  Please reference the USAT Competitive Rules for the specific details of each rule described.

Just because you get a penalty, does not imply that you were trying to cheat - it could just be that you aren't clear on the rules or that you had a mental lapse during a challenging event.  As a competitor of these events myself, I am fully aware of what it is like in race situations.  This is why I am writing this - to try and give a better idea of the things I see and how you can avoid them to ensure a penalty-free race yourself.

Most Frequently Penalized Rules
Although a copy of most frequently penalized rules exists on the USAT site, I wanted to document my own observations, along with specific recommendations as to how to avoid being penalized.  All too often, I speak to people who are familiar with the rules, but find themselves in situations where they don't know how to navigate within their legal right.  Similarly, I've spoken to many people who were not aware of many of the intricacies of the rules, so this is also a refresher for people to understand that there are a lot more penalties besides drafting.

1) Drafting - Duh!  You are probably already aware that drafting is when you remain within 3 bike lengths of a cyclist in front of you for 15s or longer.  But what most people fail to realize is that you CANNOT enter the draft zone and drop back out of that draft zone.  Once you have closed that gap, the only way out is to successfully make a pass, which is when your front wheel crosses the other rider's front wheel.  Most people enter the draft zone, realize they can't pass, and drop back.  This causes a penalty.

Solution: Only enter the draft zone when you are confident you will make a pass.  It is better to stay just beyond 3 bike lengths for a bit to gauge your situation first before attempting the pass.  The most effective passing strategy once you are ready to pass is to close the gap to be within 1-2 bike lengths for the first 5-10s and use that momentum to slingshot yourself around as you definitively make your pass attempt.  This is almost always a successful pass, because you are legally using your 15s to receive a temporary benefit of being in the draft zone.  Just make sure you keep track of time, otherwise, you could get a penalty for hanging onto someone's wheel for too long.

2) Overtaken - Next to drafting, this is probably the most common penalty I see.  This penalty occurs when the person being passed fails to drop back to 3 bike lengths within 15s after a successful pass has been made.  Remember that the pass is complete when the other cyclist's wheel crosses in front of yours.  At this point, that 15s clock starts and you must drop back.  All too often I see someone get passed and immediately they get out of the saddle to hammer in front.  This is an illegal move and will result in an overtaken penalty.

Solution:  Too many people complain that this rule forces them to stop racing by having to drop back.  But if you use this tactic that I'm about to explain, it won't.  My recommendation is to SLOWLY ease back.  If you are going fast and are overtaken, you still have 15s to drop back so its not like you have to slam your brakes right away.  Try something right now - count 15s in your head.  Did you do it?  You were probably bored because it took a long time.  Further, if you were passed by a strong cyclist, you may not even need to ease back at all as their momentum may take them past the 3 bike length distance.  Just remember when this happens that you can minimize its impact on your racing by using the full time or close to it to your benefit.  As a racer, I've rarely found myself in the situation where I actually had to slow down to let that gap open up.  It almost always developed naturally.   

3) Unauthorized Assistance - This is essentially when someone accepts assistance (could be food, equipment, pacing info, etc) from any person (other than a race official).  I've seen sandwiches handed off to racers from significant others out on the course, friends running with a racer out on the course, coaches jump onto the course to help their athlete change a flat tire, etc.  All of these things are considered unauthorized assistance.  Triathlon (in non-drafting style races) is an individual sport and as such, you are responsible for your day, with the exception of nutrition and support provided on course by race officials. 

Solution:  Use the resources provided by the race or bring enough gear so that you can handle a multitude of situations.  Afraid of flat tires?  Bring a spare tube (or 2), Co2 canisters, and tire levers in a small seat bag.  Don't know how to change a flat?  Learn before the race - just like training for the race, you should be training yourself for all the other things that can happen.  Research the race website to see if the race will have tech support on the course.  At least if you have issues, tech support can help you. 

4) Illegal Equipment - This can be anything from propulsion devices on the swim (think fins and paddles), to headphone on the bike and run (think mp3 player devices).   The rules banning headphones seem to strike a chord with a lot of people for some reason.  Perhaps because USATF, who used to ban headphone, now only bans them for elite athletes?  I don't know why people have such a hard time with this rule, but honestly, it is for your safety first and foremost.  Triathlon races have a LOT of things going on, with multi-flow traffic, open roads to vehicles, and in some cases, runners and cyclists on the same part of the course.  For all of these reasons, headphones create the potential for accidents to happen.  And I'd prefer everyone be safe out there.  Further from a competition standpoint, there is no way to tell if headphones are connected to a communication device, so in theory, someone could be providing advice throughout the race.

Solution:  Seriously - you shouldn't need any special equipment to complete these races.  Music is great and all, but leave it at home or in your transition bag during the race.  Triathletes are mentally strong people, so I am confident that you can use the energy of the spectators and the race to push through the pain and race to your best ability WITHOUT needing your own personal soundtrack.  So do us all a favor and stop trying to sneak them into the race course, because while you may intend to just get your amp'd up for the race, it could leave you injured due to confusion out on the course that you were distracted from. 

5) Traffic Violation - This one shocks me every time yet it seems to show up frequently in our penalty sheets.  Competitors need to remember that most races occur on open roads, many of which have car traffic on them during the race or even in cases where there is no car traffic, many races have out and back portions with 2-way traffic of competitors.  Yes you are in a race, but I tend to think that your life is more important than trying to pass someone in a manner that makes observers say "Oh $h!t" to themselves.  In nearly every case I've witnessed, the situation was totally avoidable.  If the cyclist had waited only a few more seconds to look at the situation, they could have made a safer decision that still would have resulted in passing through the field of competitors.  Just recently, a competitor chose to pass the motorcycle I was riding on, on the left by going over the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic to do so, when there was a fully open lane to safely pass through on the right of us (since the Race Officials always ride the motorcycles on the left side of the road to avoid cyclists, who should be riding all the way to the right, unless they are attempting a pass).  I'm not sure what the competitor was thinking at the time, but sometimes people do crazy things and this is why I need to write this.  If it is just a simple double yellow line crossing, it is a variable time penalty.  But if it truly is an "Oh $h!t" moment, the penalty is considered Endangerment and the competitor can be disqualified.

One other note is that Traffic Violations also can occur when the competitor does not follow direction of police officers that are on the course.  There have been circumstances where, for whatever reason, a police officer had to hold up race traffic during the race.  If this happens, you are REQUIRED to follow their direction.  Does it suck?  Absolutely!  But you know what?  You wouldn't run through traffic in your car if a police officer told you to stop, and just because it is a race, it is no different.  To the extent possible, these situations are minimized, but sometimes they happen and we just have to go with the flow.

Solution: Be aware of your surroundings at all times.  If you are planning to pass someone, look where you are on the road.  Assess whether or not you can make a pass within the lane.  If not, consider waiting 5s.  As a frequent observer of the group dynamics of competitors during the cycling portion of the race, things are always in flux and it is rare that 2 or more people are moving at the same exact speed.  Opportunities will come for a pass safely within a short period of time.  Lastly, remember that your safety is the most important thing out there and a risky move into oncoming traffic just to save a few seconds is not worth the risk of a penalty, disqualification, and/or injury.

6) Helmets - Oh boy, this is a favorite of mine!  By rule for any USAT sanctioned event, all helmets must be worn at ALL times.  Emphasis on the ALL.  Riding your bike from your car to transition before the race?  Better have that helmet on.  What about during that warm up before the race?  Yep - better be buckled!  And after the race as you ride your victory lap?  Yep!  At ALL times.

And while we're on helmets, let's note that ALL helmets must be Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) certified.  CPSC is the governing body in the US for all helmets to ensure they meet specific safety standards.  They slap a sticker on EVERY helmet.  Trust me, yours has one on it on the inside.  But here's the kicker - some people buy bootleg helmets online.  Those typically do not have the sticker.  Also, some people (and to this day I can't comprehend why) removed the sticker.  I kid you not - someone told me they thought it would make them more aerodynamic!  So needless to say, we need to see those stickers on the inside of your helmet.  Traveling to the US from abroad with the intent on racing?  Better make sure you have a USPC certified helmet.  The price for not having one is a stiff one - Disqualification.

Solution:  First, don't be stoopid.  When you ride your bike, your safety is on your hands.  Wear your helmet and make sure it is buckled at ALL times.  I am still amazed at people I see on the trails that don't wear helmets.  Safety, safety, safety!

Second, before any race make sure your sticker is still looking back at you when you flip your helmet over.  If not, either get a new one or see if the store you bought it from or manufacturer can provide you with a new one.  What I can say is this - I have sweat more in my helmet than I like to admit, but my sticker is still on there.  So don't tell me it peeled off!  Worst case, bring a 2nd helmet to any race as a back up.  Some races have the bike tech supply spare helmets as well in the event that there are any issues, but they will not be fit to you.  Just do yourself a favor now and make sure you've got your little CPSC sticker on there.

General Race Conduct Recommendations
I also wanted to list out a number of things that I tend to see that can cause penalties or just force you into situations I would think you'd want to avoid.

Balloons, pink streamers or anything else you plan to attach to your transition row or area - This is considered an unfair advantage, because you are uniquely identifying your rack or row.  Every competitor should be able to remember their rack location.  This also is an environmentally unfriendly way to participate in a race.  Your balloon or whatever you might attach could get blown away and end up as trash somewhere.  Since many races take place in state parks, this is even worse, because it could impact the habitat of the many animals that call that area home.

Recommendation: Don't do it! If everyone in the race had a floating balloon of Spongebob Squarepants, it would make for quite the messy transition area.  Bring a bright colored towel if you need a visual.  Otherwise, before every race,  I always walk to the swim out and trace my route to my transition area so I know exactly how it will be when I am in the race.  Practice makes perfect.  You practice your transition mounts, so why not practice your transition entry as well?

Excessive stuff in your transition area - This one is a biggie for me.  I see people with giant coolers, garbage pails, buckets, etc.  I'm not sure who started recommending people use those, but all they do is take of your valuable space.  There is nothing wrong with having a lot of gear in your transition area (other than the fact that it will slow you down) UNLESS it impedes other competitors.  If that is the case, an official will ask you to kindly move it elsewhere - frequently to your car.  If the transition area is large enough such that you can place your gear bags to the side of the fencing without impacting other competitor's ability to get by, that is also an option.

Recommendation:  The reality is that you need only a few basic things - bike, helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, racebelt, running shoes, nutrition, and maybe socks.  That isn't a lot of stuff.  Less stuff = faster transitions.  Too many people complain about the tight spaces in their transition area, but if you only bring what you need, you can easily set up within a small space.  Your bike is racked, with your helmet, sunglasses, and bike shoes on the bike.  All that you need space for is your run gear.  It is as simple as that.  You don't need a pail of water, or any other "tip" someone told you will help you.  All that does is slow your transition times down.  And since you are there to race, you might as well be in and out of transition as fast as possible.

Nutrition Storage - I frequently see people holding a gel in their mouth as they exit transition with their bike, only to see a few moments after they have mounted their bike, that they dropped the gel and now it has become littered on the course.  In SOME cases, the athlete went back to grab it.  This is good, because littering on the course is considered Abandonment and is considered a penalty.  The bad news there is that the person just waster precious time to dismount the bike and go grab the gel.  I've also seen littering happen in any number of other ways, ranging from gels taped onto the top tube of the bike only to come off after the 1st turn on the course (not all tapes are created equal!) to full on PBJ sandwiches stored in the back jersey pocket.

Nathan Bento Box Bicycle Frame Feed BagRecommendation: Please just go out and buy a bento box.  They are cheap, super simple, and allow you to keep everything right in front of you and secured by a zipper or velcro strap.  I've been using one for years and found that they are handy in tons of situations other than races, such as storing my cell phone, a spare tube, or even a remote control during a trainer session.

So I think that about does it!  Enough of my rambling.  Now use this advice and get racing!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Delayed But Important Spectator Race Report

As we all know by now, I can't run.  Boo hoo.  But that doesn't mean I can't cheer for others.  In what has now become a tradition (2 years in a row means tradition, right?) for Memorial Day weekend, we trekked all the way over (just down the street) to the Fairfax Government Center, which was the race start for the Fair Oaks Fire & Rescue Ambulance Chase 5k.

Rebecca and our friend were going to race it  (while pushing a jogging stroller with her son), while I spectated and took a few photos.  It was a really nice day, so I just enjoyed watching and cheering everyone on.  As you may remember, I had a very successful race last year at this event, so I was interested to see how this year stacked up against last years results.  Turns out, pretty darn close!

Here are some of the pictures I took:
Start of the race - Who doesn't love the idea of actually chasing an ambulance?
Coming down the homestretch at Mile 3

Oh what's that?  An Age Group award!

As you can tell, another tradition was been established during our 2 year stint at running this race - getting an Age Group award!  I may not have been able to run this year, but at least someone was able to come out victorious!  But I'll let Rebecca tell you that part of the story....Congrats Rebecca on a well deserved award!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why Runner's World Frustrates Me

I'll be honest - I still like to read Runner's World.  I mean, I love running, so why wouldn't I want to read about a sport I am so passionate about?  But sometimes I just have to shake my head at some of the things I read in there.  And while I feel like there are better running sources out there on the web, I try to take in as much information as possible, so I don't discriminate resources - I'm an equal opportunity learner!

For the average runner who hasn't read a ton about running, science, physiology, training techniques of running experts, etc, many people use Runner's World as a source of reference for training approaches.  I mean, there are some very useful resources there, but I can't help but wonder sometimes.  While I've written before about my feelings on how people all too frequently take a workout from a magazine and do it because they read it, I feel that this topic needs to be repeated and reiterated.  You should only do this after you have considered how it fits into your training.  When you read a workout, whether it is from someone's blog, a magazine article, or described by some pro as being "the single key reason they won their race", you need to take a step back and be a smarter athlete and consider the following:

- Am I properly trained for that workout? 
- Am I trying to peak or am I still building my base? 
- Where does this workout fit into my current plan and how will it impact the other workouts I have planned?
- Will this workout help me achieve the goal of this part of my training or am I just doing it because it sounds cool?

But back to my original reason for writing this post - reasons why I shake my head at some of the things I read.  In this July's edition, there is a piece on doubles (running twice in a day).  In it, the article states:

"If you are currently running 5 days a week for at least 40 minutes a day, you're ready for doubles."

I hope you just shook your head after reading that too.  I'm pretty sure many runners run 5 days a week for 40 minutes a day - but I would NEVER recommend anyone start doing doubles at that point.  Why?  Well, multiple reasons:

1) Injury risk - running twice always creates more potential for injury.  Many people run "easy" at a harder effort than easy should be.  So when you add in a 2nd "easy" run as part of your double, you end up running it a bit harder, therefore creating additional stress to your body.  Some stress = good.  Too much stress = injury.  Focus on adding quality to your single run workouts first, which would be more than sufficient to give you comparable stress.  I promise that you can continue to add quality to workouts for a long time, before you need to start considering doubles.

2) Time - In order to run twice a day, you need to create more time in your day (duh!) - something many people have difficulty doing.  It's hard enough finding time for one workout, let alone two!  Within less time than you'd spend on two runs, you could run a quality workout and add in a focused core or stretching session.  For most people, you'll get more benefit from this 2nd strengthening/stretching session than going out for an "easy" 3-4 miles. 

3) Mileage - Most "experts" don't recommend you begin doubles until you have maximized your ability to handle single workouts.  Again, for most people running 5 days a week for 40 minutes, I can assure you that they have not maximized their handling of single workouts.  For example, Pfitz recommends doubles only after your mileage exceeds 55 miles/week for 5k runners or less and up to 75 miles/week for marathoners.  That's a far ways away from 5 days of 40 minutes per run!  Both of the above reasons (injury risk and time) are two such factors as to why you should be at much higher mileage before considering doubles.  Another, is that you get greater quality stress from a single run on a given day than something close to that distance broken up into two runs.

Now, is there a benefit and reason for doing doubles?  Absolutely!  It helps boost fitness, enhance running economy, and increase your weekly mileage - all of which will help you become a better runner.  In fact, nearly all elite runners incorporate doubles in one fashion or another.  But that brings me back to my reiterated point from above - just because they do it, doesn't mean you should do it.

In conclusion, when reading training advice from any source, make sure you consider the important factors listed above before just throwing your existing plan out the window in favor of a new concept.  Always changing approaches and never sticking to a plan will rarely result in exceeding the goals you set when you started training in the first place.  And worst of all, it may result in injury.

Train smartly and consistently and you will improve!


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