Friday, September 28, 2012

Creating A Confident Athlete

It's about this time in many runner's training that you're gearing up for the Fall racing season. Whether you are training for Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, or a local 5k down the road from your house, you are bound to reach a point where you start asking the question - "Did I do enough?". And in 99% of the cases, my recommendation for an answer is always YES.  Why?  Because contemplating that answer will not only drive you crazy, but also make you do stoopid things.  What kinds of stoopid things?  Well, I'll get to some of those in a second, but suffice to say, it isn't something written in your plan - you know, the one you follow to achieve your goal.  

 It always amazes me how much time people invest in going through the motions of doing their workouts, hitting their mileage goals, etc. but then something happens and all that goes out the window for chance to "test" yourself.  While testing oneself can be beneficial, and should be part of a regular training program, it shouldn't come as a result of changing your schedule.  While you need to be able to make it to the starting line confident, once you start questioning your training, that confidence goes out the window and you go down a slippery slope of modifying your training to achieve short term goals of seeing instant gratification of your fitness.  So I'm here to tell you to step back from the ledge, take a breath, and listen to what I have to say.  Because hopefully this post will prevent you from ruining your hard earned fitness and potential for achieving race day success, for short term gains.

Let me share with you my top three reasons for why you should stop letting that question dictate your actions:

1) Success is most defined by your ability to execute on race day

As you hopefully know by now, race day success is not so much a factor of your fitness on race day, but really more about how you execute your race plan.  Your fitness will dictate what paces you might run on race day, but you can be the most fit person and have a terrible race if you fail to execute to your ability.  So with that said, no amount of last minute cramming of workouts or changing workouts to "test yourself" will have a significant impact on your race.  You are always better off taking the conservative route and either running your workout as planned, or if something comes up, taking the day off.  Why?  Because both results won't risk injury like a spontaneous workout change might.  Your training plan was designed with your race in mind, so why modify that?  Your fitness on race day is what it is, and as long as you stick to your plan of executing to that fitness, race day will be a success.

2) You can improve your confidence by nailing race paced workouts
One of the most common reasons why people start questioning if they did enough is simply because they reach a point in their training when they lack confidence.  This could be due to chronic fatigue that has set in (those of you in the thick of marathon training know what I am talking about) or it simply could be because you don't have workouts embedded within your training plan that let you "prove" to yourself of your fitness.  These could be something as simple as race paced workouts that progressively get longer as you get closer toward race day.  For a marathon, it might be a gradual build up toward 10+ miles of marathon paced running within one of your long runs.  These workouts serve 2 purposes:

1) They allow your body to get used to what race pace feels like, so it become more economical at that pace
2) Gives you a mental boost by showing you how "easy" it is to maintain that pace. 

While shorter than the actual race will be, those race paced workouts always leave you more confident.  If you are running paces that are in line with your fitness, these workouts are huge confidence builders.  They also let you know very quickly if your goal paces are off.  Specifically, if your goal paces are too fast.  No race paced workout should leave you wiped.  If they do, its time to adjust to slower paces.  And if it goes perfectly and you end the workout feeling great, well you just had a successful workout and built confidence.

3) Simply trust in your training
Hopefully, before you entered your training cycle, you found a training plan that fit your needs.  Whether through an online or a locally coached program, you made a decision many months ago to base your training on a specific system.  And I can tell you from experience, these plans are designed specifically to get you to the starting line.  The workouts are programmed to build your fitness and peak for your goal race.  So why then would you want to throw a wrench into the middle of that plan by adding in workouts that probably will not achieve the same goal of the workout you are replacing?  Common sense advice here is to trust in your training and leave all the testing new things for after the race when you don't have anything large looming on the horizon.  I like to make a list a all these kinds of things so that I can try them at another time.  This list grows (especially during taper) and gives me the motivation to keep me on track as a nice reward for after my key race.  So do me a favor, and just trust your training, because that is what will serve you best on race day, not some random workout that has the potential to cost you your race.

So going back to stoopid things people do - I'm pretty sure I've seen it all.  Here are just a few examples and why they should be avoided:

- Easy runs turned race paced - If your plan said to run easy, it probably means you had a hard workout the day before or you are not at the appropriate time to add race paced miles into your training.  Most plans should contain about 70% of your runs to be done at an easy pace, so get to know this pace, because you do a lot of it.  So many people just start a run and "feel good" and before you know it, boom, race paced miles.  Unfortunately, these will prevent you from the adaptations you were supposed to have as a result of the easy day and may impact your ability to nail your next hard workout.

- Race paced runs turned faster than race paced - Often times during race paced workouts, the pace feels so easy that one ends up running the workout significantly faster than race pace.  Any time you run a race paced workout, you SHOULD be able to run faster.  But that's not the point.  You are trying to teach your body what race pace feels like to become more economical.  Running faster simply changes the purpose of the workout.

- Time trials shorter than 5k - This is primarily for people training for longer distances (ie half/full marathons), but running an all out time trial of shorter than a 5k in the midst of long distance training serves no purpose other than your head.  No training you do prepares you to run a hard shorter time trial, so whatever results simply is what it is, but isn't much of an indication of fitness for a long distance runner.  It also forces you to run much faster than your body typically pushes, increasing the chance of tweaking muscles.  I find that a 5k ensures the pace is restrained enough to minimize risk and also translates more to being indicative of fitness for a distance runner.

- Adding in bonus workouts - If following the plan is good, then doing more than the plan is better, right?  Well, your training plan was designed the way it was for a reason.  And any reasonable plan should have enough flexibility to accommodate your abilities and running schedule.  So when you start adding in bonus workouts, you not only introduce risk of injury, but change the intent of a workout depending on what you add.  While simply adding in a few easy miles might not compromise a schedule, adding hills, tempo, or long runs does.  So if you are considering doing this, be sure to talk to your coach or a trusted resource first.
At the end of the day, your mind is an important muscle and you need to build it too.  But they key is doing it in a more risk averse way than many of these types of methods.  A confident athlete is what I ultimately want to see on the starting line of any race.  But I also want to make sure the person gets to that starting line first.  Because without making it to the actual race, you will never achieve the goals you set out to achieve when you started this journey.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back To My Old Self

With the recent uptick of miles I've been logging, combined with more focus on improving my body comp, I am finally starting to feel the effects.  In total, I am down about 5 lbs from my post-baby weight height, and I have noticed running getting a lot easier and my paces dropping accordingly.  Truth be told, I was starting to wonder a number of weeks ago, whether or not my body was actually going to shed those lbs, because I felt like I was running a fair bit and not eating terribly.  And as a result, started questioning how I will be able to get back to the faster times I posted earlier this year.  However, my focus on the timing of when I take in certain types of foods and my  shift in priority to get more sleep has played a crucial role.

So with the newfound glory of speed and lower weight, I have my eyes set on the Fall racing scene a little.  My single remaining goal for 2012 still remains the same - break 40:00 in the 10k.  And based on my workouts recently, I am starting to believe I can get there.  Just last night, we had a great track workout, primarily targeted for marathoners prepping for MCM.  However, with a little bit of tweaking, I was able to make it work for my training and turn it into somewhat of a progression tempo.  The workout was as follows:

- 3200 @ goal marathon pace
- 1600 @ goal marathon pace
- 4 x 800 @ tempo pace

Each of these had rest intervals of 2-3 minutes.  The tweaks I made were to run the 3200 the same, but use the next 1600 at my half marathon pace, and then the 800s progressing from 10k pace down to 5k pace, all with slightly shorter recoveries than prescribed.  What resulted was a huge confidence booster with a solid 5 miles of tempo work and 8 miles on the day.  All intervals were run without pushing (except for the last 2 800s) with my mantra being to just "keep it smooth".  And that's what I did.  Here is how it played out:

- 3200: 14:18 (7:10, 7:08)
- 1600: 6:45
- 4 x 800: 3:10, 3:08, 3:05, 2:59

So now that I feel great, I just need to find me some races to sign up for!

(Brief note about properly running speedwork)

Now remember, the goal of any speedwork is not to go all out, especially if you are distance training.  The goal is to run fast with good form at appropriate speeds around your threshold (typically between 10k-10 mi pace).  If your form can't be kept, you are going too fast.  If you find yourself amazed that you are running "faster than planned", you are going too fast.  Training at the proper intensity ensures you get the adaptations you are trying to get from the workout.  Run them too fast and it doesn't help you much, because you aren't at your threshold and are not just running hard and creating excess fatigue.  I'd rather athletes run these too slow than too fast, because usually "too slow" is about right where they should be.  Its very easy to go too fast on the track.  Do your best to control your efforts and get out of the workout what you intend.  Don't sell yourself short by changing the purpose.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Feeling the Effects of the Weekend

This weekend was a mess of lots of different things - all fun and exciting, but a mess when you slap it all together into a package of things to do from Friday - Sunday. So let's start with Friday and work our way through shall we?

Friday - Up early (5:30 am) for an easy 4 mi run (would have been a moderately long run, but my alarm never went off) and then shower, eat breakfast and off to the Nations Tri expo. I spent the day (10 am - 8 pm) working for CLIF, sharing the love (and LOTS of samples) with the 5000+ triathletes and their families. Working an expo is exhausting since you are on your feet all day, lifting heavy things, and constantly engaging with others. However, it is an opportunity to speak with passionate people and share knowledge and advice with others - something I absolutely love to do. Before I knew it, it was 8 pm and we were shutting down for the day.

 Saturday - Up early (5 am) for coaching our =PR= DTP runners through their weekly long run. Many of them are in the midst of building toward Marine Corps, New York, and Richmond, so the miles area really starting to add up. Its always exciting to see how much stronger they are, when they come back from an 18 mi run that only a month ago had them crawling to the finish. It was still warm and humid, so the weather was still a bit rough. Can't wait to see how things play out come race day for everyone! As for myself, I got in 12 miles with 1.5 of them at 10k pace (6:30/mi). Being on my feet all day from the expo left me lacking some zip, so I felt like I had to work a little harder than normal for those miles. Still a solid run, nonetheless. After DTP, it was back home to shower and eat, and then back to the Nations Tri expo to work the remainder of the day. Again, a very enjoyable time - energized by my solid run earlier in the day and a few cups of coffee, speaking to so many athletes excited to take on the race.

Sunday - Rather than officiating Nations, I decided to be even more local and officiate the Reston Triathlon, which is only a few miles from home. Though I still had to get up early (4 am), I would have had to get up even earlier for Nations. With a major storm having blown through on Saturday, Sunday morning brought about chilly temps in the 50s - perfect for racing! As an added bonus, it brought down the water temps to make for a wetsuit legal race. Overall, the race was great. Great weather, great course, great race management. Though I've long wanted to race this local tri, it never worked with my schedule and it always sold out early. Now I know why. It is simply one of those races that any local must do - and with a lot of local speedy athletes, great volunteers, support, and race swag! And since there are so many speedy people, everyone likes to call it - The World Triathlon Championship of Reston.  One day when I decide to get back into triathlon I will race this.

Overall, a great weekend of doing lots of different things.  However, missed spending some quality time with Rebecca and the Z man, since I only got little snippets of time with them.  And I never really had a chance to sit down until Sunday afternoon when I crashed pretty hard, despite the excitement of all the NFL games.  That continued through this morning, where I had zero interest or ability to get myself up to go for a morning run, despite temps in the 50s, so I slept in.  Instead, I promised Tucker that we'd go in the afternoon, since temps will still be cool enough for him to run, so that's the plan.  Hopefully, by tomorrow morning, my body will be back to normal, because that's my only real chance to get in a good run. And with this cool weather, I'm mentally ready to get after it!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nations Tri Expo - Come Say Hi

For those of you racing Nations Tri (which means at least 5k of you out there), CLIF will be sampling products at the expo as in years past. If you are racing, or plan to stop by the expo to check out some good tri deals, swing by the CLIF table and say hi. If for nothing else, we always provide more sustenance in the form of samples than pretty much any other vendor there. Hope to see you there - I'll be there all day Friday and after 2 on Saturday. P.S. - If enormously large triathlons aren't your thing and you are racing the Reston Triathlon, I'll be the head ref officiating that race. Look for me in the zebra uniform and say hi. Yep - its shaping up to be quite the tri related weekend.


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