Friday, November 26, 2010

It's All About The Pace...

On the upper east coast we live at a fast pace, on the west coast it's a bit slower. When we run 3 miles we run it at a certain pace, and use another for 10 miles, and yet another for 18 miles. We have a pace we run whether it's for weight loss, general fitness, for fun or for competition. No matter what we do and why, we have a pace for it.

Most of us never set foot on a track. We pound out mile after mile on the road or on the trail or on the (shudder) dreadmill and feel good about it, as we should. We enjoy it and it's good for us. We lose weight, get fitter and faster, at least for a while...

Eventually it all plateaus. The pounds no longer melt away. We no longer feel like we are getting better, stronger, faster. Our workouts and pace remain the same but the gain is gone. Sure we still enjoy, but what about the rest?

Simply put, it’s our pace that is doing this to us. Yep, that same pace that got us to the point we’re at, is now the blockade that keeps us from continuing on. After a while our bodies adapt. We may still feel like we’re working hard, but physiologically we’re now on cruise control. Our bodies aren’t stressed the way they were before and we need to give them a jump start to get them going again.

The easiest fix is to start hitting the track a couple of times a week and cranking out the intervals. Mixing up the workouts and forcing our bodies to respond to new stresses and demands. If we stir things up enough we’ll find that we are once again improving. However, for many, like me, the track takes the joy out of running and makes it work. I do enough work that I get paid for; no one is paying to run laps around a track. I don’t enjoy it and I’m not going to do.

There are alternatives though. Interval training on the track may be one of the best and ‘easiest’ but there are ways to continue to improve without going anywhere near one. All we have to do is change our pace. I don’t mean to simply run everything faster, as many of us have found, pushing the pace on our runs only works so long. We just simply need to change the pace. Mix it up and keep our bodies from adapting to it.

There are many ways to do it. Go on 4 mile run, but at a 5k race pace (basically a Tempo run). When you can no longer hold the pace, let it go and find a pace to carry you to the finish. Try going on a 15 mile run at a pace significantly slower than your marathon pace. If you run an 8min pace for a marathon, try running those 15 miles at a 9:30 pace. Sounds silly? See how your legs feel in those last miles and see if you still think it’s silly. Chances are your muscles will be getting sore and your legs feeling tight. Why? You’re using your muscles much differently than normal. Your stride is shorter, and you’re spending more time on each leg bearing weight on every stride. I doesn’t seem like running slower will make you faster, but yet it does help. Our muscles strengthen from using them differently. Our body has to adapt to a different set of motor function parameters which causes a positive form of stress.

Another way to change the pace up is the old classic fartlek (Swedish for speed play, as if you didn’t know) run, where you keep throwing in changes in pace. There is no set distance for the total run or any of the changes in pace which may be anywhere from 50 yards up to ½ mile or more with no exact number to how many you throw in. Fartlek runs are very effective, but not really much fun (at least to me).

I know none of this sounds exciting and most of us have tried these and others as ways to improve, but unless we keep at them, their effectiveness is minimal. I know I will realize I’ve gotten to a plateau and I’m just logging miles at the same old pace day after day and I’ll start adding in Tempo runs and Fartleks for a while. They get old quickly and soon I’m back to just cranking out the miles, unless I find ways to make them interesting. As far as I’m concerned, intervals, tempo runs and fartleks all suck. But, they don’t have to…

This is where the more creative you are, the more you can start having fun with things. You may still be basically be doing a tempo run or a fartlek, but it doesn’t feel that way. One of the ways I’ve found to help mix up the pace and keep things fun is to race everyone that passes me. Granted, I don’t get a lot of runners passing me when I’m out a run, but I don’t limit it to runners. If someone on a bike passes me I chase after them for as long as I can or until I lose sight of them. Same with rollerbladers. Best part? If you actually hang with them for a while or better yet, pass them back, it drives them nuts. I actually went back and forth for over 2 miles once with a lady on a bike. By the time she finally broke free of me she was talking to herself, called me a name and probably rode harder than she ever had before. Did I feel bad about it? Heck no! We both got a better workout, even if she didn't like it.

Another tactic I've used is any time I see someone on foot I chase them down like it's between me and them for the win at Boston. It doesn't matter if they are walking or running, toward me or away. I chase until I catch them, lose sight or we go seperate directions.

When running with a friend I've made a challenge of it. We each get to pick 5-10 sprints of any distance during the run. They can be called at any time and for any distance. Loser of each sprint owes the other runner some prize to be determined. I used to do this with a friend on Sunday mornings during NFL season. Local bar had wings for 25 cents. For each sprint lost, you bought the other guy a chicken wing. If you don’t call all of your sprints before the end of the run, you owe the other guy a beer. It brings some strategy into the runs and can keep focus on what the other guy is doing. Notice that they aren’t paying much attention and call a sprint and take off before they know what happened. If other runner hasn’t called all of his sprints and you’re nearing the end of the run you can try to hold one of yours back and use it at a point that will block the other runner from calling their last before end of run. My friend used to call his last one about 50 yards from end of the run and one day I held my last one to the end and called for one remaining 200 yards of run. Got a free beer out of the deal and made future runs more interesting.

There are many other things you can do to keep things a little more interesting. Every time a Corvette (or other vehicle or color vehicle of your preference) passes on any and all runs, it’s a 200 yard sprint. Doesn’t matter if you’re already doing a tempo run or a fartlek, Corvette passes, sprint. If already sprinting, add it in. This one overrides all.

Another one I like is to do a 6+ mile run and start out at a 5k race pace. I have to hold 5k pace until I see a car with an out of state plate or I absolutely can’t hold on any longer. Some days this may mean a ½ mile, others 2 miles, and some until I crash and burn. But not knowing the distance ahead of time keeps things interesting and by focusing on passing license plates, I’m no longer focused on how hard I’m running.

I use some of these same tactics while cycling. See other bikes and I give chase. Or I may decide every time a red car passes I have to sprint. I may do a mile sprint of first one, half mile on second, and a quarter mile on third and then reset to a mile. If another passes before I’ve completed my sprint I tack on appropriate distance. If sprinting a quarter mile and it suddenly becomes a mile and a quarter, it really shakes things up. I usually set limit only one additional distance can be added on to a sprint already underway and will put a cap at max number of sprints on a ride. Some days I may only see a couple red cars and others it seems like every car is red.

There are so many different things you can do to mix things up. The important thing is that whatever you do forces pace changes, doesn’t allow runs to be the same time after time, and makes things a little more fun and interesting. Keep the body guessing, don’t allow it to adjust, and keep your mind distracted from the actual work out and enjoy. Before long you’ll find the miles melting away and that plateau you reached a thing of the past.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Do Race Directors Hate Me?

Well, maybe they don’t, but it sure seems like it at times. It is like they’ve banded together and decided, hey, what can we do to make it impossible for this guy to run our races. We don’t like him, we don’t want him, make him go away…

I guess a little more explanation and background would be helpful. I work as an athletic trainer at a private school working with athletes in grades 7th-12th. And, for those that don’t know, an athletic trainer works in the field of sports medicine. We’re often confused for coaches, personal trainers, fitness trainers, etc. If you’ve seen a college or pro football, basketball, baseball or other game on TV you’ve seen an athletic trainer. Someone gets hurt; we’re the first one on the field to take care of them. There is more that we do, but that is relatively unimportant to this. What is important is that even though I get 2 months off during the summer, I usually work 6 days a week and occasionally on Sunday. I am the only one at my school that is qualified to work with injured athletes, so if I leave, I put my athletes at risk. I need to be here for all contests.

Believe me I’m not complaining about my job, or my hours, what I’m complaining about is how hard it is anymore to race during the school year. Trying to find a ½ marathon or full marathon (or triathlons) that I can do is almost impossible. It’s not that there aren’t any Sunday races or there aren’t any on my few Saturdays off, it’s just that they’ve become impossible for me to do, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

Every time I look for a race during the school year I check for days that I will have time to get out of town and get to a race. Granted it would be nice to race locally and save travel expenses, but how many ½ and full marathons are in your neighborhood? So, when I find a date that works for me, I look for races that I can get to in my limited travel time and budget. There are many places online that make it easy to look for races and just about every time I have several to choose from. Unfortunately, most are closed to me.

This is where the crux of the problem arises. I will find a race that looks like a possibility and check out the info for it. The first thing I look for is if they offer race day packet pickup. I’ll check, and nope, no race day pickup. Next I’ll look at when pickup closes the day before. Most of the time it is too early for me to get to due to work. Strike two. Finally, I check to see if someone else can pick up my race packet for me. NOPE! Strike three! I’m out. I got to the next race site, same thing. The one after that, again, same thing. The next, yep, no go.

It gets frustrating as hell. I need these races. They help provide motivation for my training, allow me to see where I am physically and it gives me a release that training alone can’t do. But race after race, I am blocked from doing. And the trend is growing. Ten years ago this was never a problem for me, but each year there are fewer and fewer races that allow same day packet pickup or allow someone else to pick up your packet for you. And, it makes no sense.

Is the Taliban really going to target the Podunk Corn Fest Marathon and strap a bomb to a runner and make him detonate it at the finish killing 4 people and 2 cows? I don’t think they’re really interested in it. Am I going to sell my race number to the Small City ½ marathon for a huge profit? I don’t think so. So why can’t someone else pickup my packet? What’s the big deal? Is it because I registered online and so didn’t actually sign a release form? Hell, I’ll download it, sign it and either mail, fax or email it in. What’s the big deal?

Like I said, I’m sure I’m not the only one that faces this difficulty and I’m sure that many of you are able to work around it, but do you really want to? Who really wants to give up a vacation day or personal day just so they can make it to packet pickup on time? I’ve known people that raced locally and had to take a ½ day off to make it to packet pickup on time. This is a trend that really makes no sense and needs to end. I’d gladly stop by a booth race morning to show ID, sign form, whatever to prove that it really is me racing with the number I was assigned. Ban me for a year from all races nationwide if someone else ever races with my number, whatever it takes, but let me race!

Why do race directors hate me?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rev3 Quassy Olympic Distance Triathlon 2010 - The Next VFF Step

I arrived at the Quassy Amusement Park early Friday (6/4/10) afternoon. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The amusement park was much smaller than I had expected, but it looked like a great area for a triathlon. It was on a pretty, but small lake with clean clear water which would be ideal for the swim. The parking lot wasn't very big but they were in the process of clearing the field next to it readying it to handle all of the race day parking.
I wandered over to the registration area to check-in and pick up my packet for the Olympic distance race the next day. When I walked up to the table at registration they asked which race I was registering for, which gave me a momentary surprise, I had thought I would have to come back after Saturday's race to pick up packet for Sunday's 1/2 iron distance race. So I told them I was doing both and the problems began.

I should start off by saying that even though this race would prove to be one thing after another for me, the volunteers and staff at the race were incredible. They quickly took care of me, and made this as easy and pleasant as possible. The problems that occurred that were under their control were all computer glitches that were taken care of very promptly.

When I told them I was doing both races they checked their lists but could only find me listed for the Half and not the Olympic. I told them they I had definitely registered for both. Without questioning me or placing any blame they got me my stuff for the Half and went to work getting me set up for the Olympic. I was given my numbers, swim caps, t-shirts, etc. and then personally escorted over to the timing chip area where they explained the situation and made sure my timing chip was set up for both races.

While getting timing chip taken care of I was asked to check my info they had on the computer. Half of it was correct, but my address and birth date were wrong (I would find out later this was a common problem as there was some glitch between registration site and race site that scrambled that info). When I told them they corrected that and had me on my way to transition to check in my bike.

Checking in my bike and racking it was quick and simple. I did have two young female racers that asked me to switch rack spaces with them because one of them had a hybrid bike that didn't fit in their assigned spot. We made sure it was ok with the person in charge of the transition area and I put my bike in the new spot. I put my race numbers on it and before I left I let a little air out of the tires because I didn't want to risk them blowing from sitting in sun on hot pavement.

This done I made the short drive to my hotel. I got checked in, moved everything into my room and went after pizza. I brought the pizza back to my room and spent the rest of the evening relaxing, eating pizza and slowly getting everything ready for race morning.

The next morning I got up extra early. I almost missed the start of my race the previous weekend and didn't want to make that mistake again, especially since I was in the first wave. This time I vowed I would be on the beach and ready well before the start.

I got dressed in my race gear while eating my breakfast pizza, grabbed my gear bag and headed out the door. It was only a 15 minute drive to the park and it was raining lightly. The forecast had been for scattered showers most of the morning and they were here. The light rain didn't affect the drive and I was in transition a short time after leaving the hotel. I grabbed my gear bag and trudged off to setup my transition area. I had plenty of time, but I wanted to get it done and relax and maybe even warm-up a bit before the race. A short swim would be nice.

During my short walk to transition the light rain stopped. The sky looked ready to dump some more, but for the time it was done. When I got to my space I started unloading my gear and setting things up. I pumped up my tires to full pressure. Then I pulled out my helmet put and put it on my aerobars. Then I pulled out my bike shoe bag and went to put the shoes in their correct place. Unfortunately, I had grabbed the wrong shoes. These were my old ones that really, really hurt my feet. I could use them, but didn’t look forward to torturing myself. So I ran back to my truck hoping that I had my new ones with me too.

I got back to my truck, dug around in the back a bit, and there they were. Whew, as much as I didn’t look forward to do any Olympic distance race in the old ones, I was really afraid of having to come back the next day and do a ½ Iron distance in them. That might have been too much.

I ran back to transition and put the bike shoes in their spot. I dug into my bag for my sun glasses only to find that they weren’t there either. Back to the truck!

I ran back to the truck grabbed my sunglasses and ran back to transition. Put them in my helmet and then pulled out my gloves and secured them to the handle bars. I quickly looked over everything and felt confident my bike setup was complete.

I then focused on my run gear. I dug in my bag for my Vibram Sprints and, yep, they weren’t there! WTH! Did someone slip something in my pizza last night?!?! I swear I had everything set and in my bag ready to go. So, once again, I ran back to the truck, dug through it, found my Sprints, and ran back to transition. I put them in place w/ my run hat, and gel packs.

Gel packs? Shit! Forgot my nutrition bottles! I finally remembered that I had stuck them in a separate bag from the other gear in case they leaked. So back to the truck I ran and back to transition again. All this extra time I thought I was going to have before the race was quickly being eaten up. So much for a warm-up swim I thought, at least I’d done enough running to and from the truck that my legs should be ready to go.

Finally, I had everything in its place. I checked the time and saw that I had a few minutes left before I needed to grab my swim gear and head to the beach. So I sat down to relax for a bit and sip some water and munch on a granola bar. About 10 minutes later I got up, grabbed my wetsuit, dug in my bag for my goggles and timing chip and they weren’t there. Now I was really starting to get mad at myself. I’ve done probably somewhere over 1000 races in my life and I was making every beginner mistake possible. I didn’t have a single thing ready.

Calling myself derogatory name after derogatory name, I ran back to the truck for what I was hoping would be the final time. I quickly found my goggles, timing chip, swim cap and my number belt with my bib numbe
r on it. Oh yeah, swim cap and bib number, kind of need those too! I ran quickly back to transition. Now I was going to really be cutting things close.

I stuck my bib number with my Vibrams, slathered myself in body glide, stuck my timing chip on my ankle, grabbed my swim cap, goggles, wet suit and sprinted for the beach. They were giving final instructions as I ran up. I rushed into my wetsuit, pulling the legs on as quick as I could, and then the arms. As I was pulling on the second arm I felt the wetsuit give and sure enough, I had torn a hole in it. Perfect! It wasn’t a huge hole and it was repairable, but just one more thing to add to the list. This day really wasn’t getting off to a good start.

I was finally zipping up the suit as they were starting to line my wave up on the beach. I hurriedly pulled on my swim cap and got my goggles positioned correctly as I ran over. I had all of about 5 seconds before the gun went off and we were plunging into the water.

I was slightly winded from all of the running around so I struggled the first 100 yards getting my breathing under control. After that though, things smoothed out and I started to swim well. I’m not a fast swimmer, but I am a strong swimmer. It is always hard to tell during a race, but I seemed to be holding my usual position toward the front of the middle of the pack fairly well.

The water was like glass it was so smooth and it was crystal clear and cool. Perfect conditions for swimming and despite my normal dislike of this part of the race I was actually enjoying myself. I was holding a good line and moving past the buoys steadily. It seemed like no time before I was making the final turn to head in to the beach and the swim exit.

The muscle milk swim exit was next to impossible to see. It's brown and white coloration blending into the trees and the sky. Fortunately there were a couple more buoys and I focused on them, but soon I was past them as well. I tried to get a fix on a point on shore straight ahead and kept going. However, as I neared shore I started hearing a lot of shouting near by that I knew had to be out in the water. I popped my head up for a better look and found myself about one stroke away from swimming directly into a swim raft. Thank you kayaker! That would probably have hurt.

I veered around it and was finally able to make out the swim exit and I raced quickly through the final stretch. As I reached shore I pulled off upper part of my wetsuit while I ran for transition. I wasn't sure of my swim time but felt I had put in a decent one (for me that is).

As soon as I reached my bike I jerked and yanked and tugged the rest of my wetsuit off. I quickly pulled on my cycling shoes, helmet, sunglasses and number belt and took off with my bike.

As soon as I reached the bike mounting area I jumped on my bike and almost wiped out. Both feet slid right off the pedals. I tried clipping both in again and again both slid right off. I tried the right one, nope. The left, nope. Right, no, left no, right... I was swerving all over the place like a drunk on ice skates. I couldn't get either foot to lock in. It was like I had a cover on my cleats...

Shit! That was exactly what it felt like and I was sure I knew why. When I bought the new shoes I got new cleats for them as well. And, I figured I would get some some coffee shop covers for them to help them last a bit longer. I fricking forgot to take them off!

Sure enough, reached down to bottom of right shoe and grabbed a cover. I pulled it off, locked in, pedalled a couple strokes and did the same for the left. It only took about 100 yards but I was finally off and riding. Over the next mile I pulled my gloves off the handle bars and put them on. Finally, I was fully on the hammer.

The roads were a little damp, but were drying quickly. The clouds had started to part and it looked like the rain had given up totally for the day. There were almost no riders on the road (I was 12th in my wave in the swim, so I really was almost alone out there), which felt very weird, but was not surprising since I went off in the first wave. There was nothing to slow me down and I cranked away at the pedals.

The bike course turned out to be much more challenging then I had expected. There weren't any hills that I considered tough, but they just kept coming at you. There was virtually no flat anywhere on the course. That coupled wiith the lack of other riders in visual range most of the time made for a tough ride, but I kept the speed up pretty well.

The bike course wasn't closed to traffic, but there were plenty of police and volunteers limiting cars and keeping things safe. About one mile from the finish of the bike I heard a car coming up slowly behind me. I glanced over and saw an elderly lady driving. She took over 1/4 of a mile to fully pass me. Just as she got slightly ahead of me, still in the other lane, we came over a hill and I saw stop sign right in front of us.

I start to brake, but not fast enough. She pulled over at an angle and came to a complete stop directly in front of me. I locked the brakes, but had no chance. My rear tire slid around to the left of me and I slammed right into the side of her car. I no sooner hit and she starts driving again. I'm leaning against the side of her car trying desperately to get my balance again while not sliding down the side of the car toward the rear wheel. I can see the volunteer that is working the intersection over the top ot the car. He was a teenage boy and his mouth is just hanging open in shock. He had no clue what to do.

I rode on the of her car almost 50 yards before I finally got enough control that I was able to push off with my shoulder and get off the side of her car. I'm positive she had no clue I had hit her or that I was still there. We turned seperate ways about another 50 yards down the road, but I was unable to really get going again. I just spun the pedals the rest of the way in.

When I got back to transition I slowly dismounted and jogged my bike back in. I was in no hurry. I pulled off my helmet, gloves and shoes and stuffed my toes into my Vibram Sprints. I took a sip of water and jogged out of transition.

It took me a good half mile to get anywhere near pace and longer than that to get my mind back into the race. At the first water station I yelled out for a couple of people I knew on twitter, so I could at least put a face with them, but didn't see a response. I found out later that they heard me and yelled back, I guess my mind was still too unfocused.

Somewhere between the 2 and 3 mile mark I finally got my game face back on and started pushing the pace. I still had the 1/2 iron distance tri the next day, but there was no reason to hold back and I emptied the tanks. I finished the last 4 miles at a strong pace and had a solid race, despite everything, in my first attempt at the distance.

I finished with a final time of 2:44:03 (swim – 24:47, T1 – 2:44, bike – 1:22:28, T2 – 1:33, run – 50:29). A lot went wrong, but it was a solid performance on the day and I was happy with it. The run was the only section that was completely problem free. My feet felt great in the Vibrams and I was confident they would work great for longer distances. Now it was a matter of getting ready for the 1/2IM the next day, things could only get better…