Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Run Faster: The Most Overlooked Component

This past year has been one of my best race years. I've PR'd at pretty much every distance (5K, 10K and 1/2 marathon). I'm running the Chicago Marathon with a pacing target of about 3:02-3:05, which would be a 5-8 min PR - and I'm feeling better about going into that race than I have in my past 6 marathons.

In all of my races I've felt strong, solid and fluid - almost perfectly timing my pace to the distance (meaning I felt like I left it all out on the course but didn't gas out prior to the finish line).

So what was my big training secret for this year? (and this is where you 'quick fix' folks will navigate away from the page ;-) - it's just been back to one core 'old-school' concept.

You have to train like you want to race. Specificity leading into a race is key. 

In other words - you need to run at race pace for a significant amount of time that is proportional to the distance of your race. Of course you need to build up to this and balance it with making sure you can recover from your workouts in time for the next workout, but I think too many people run slow and then wonder why it is that they run that same speed in a race.

It's more complicated than that of course. And I'm a BIG fan of LSD (Long Slow Distance) in the base building phase. In fact, one of my fastest years ever racing bikes was after a winter of riding the rollers for hours on end and commuting on my bike to/from work 35mi round-trip 4x per week when the weather cooperated (or cooperated just enough - i.e. it was crappy outside; but ride-able).

My point is that I think too many people get hung up in the base phase for too long. They avoid the suffer sessions - not the super-high intensity ones, but the grueling, medium burn ones that just gnaw away at your resolve over miles and miles. Kind of like..... well... in a race.

Look, specificity training hurts. It physically challenges you, but most importantly; it mentally challenges you. But during a race - it's exactly that mental fortitude that will help you to endure a pace to hit your PR goals.

Anyway - rather than belabor the point; I think this concept is captured REALLY well in an recent article in Running Times with legendary distance coach, Renato Canova.

It's written from a marathon training perspective, but you can apply it to any other distance and even any other discipline. In this age where people are looking for an easy path, such as being able to run a marathon on only 25mi a week (reality-check: yes, you can 'survive' a marathon, maybe even without injury on 25mi per week, but you are not going to 'run' it and certainly not going to 'race' it) - or the "train for Ironman on 8 hours per week using mostly Cross-Fit" (reality-check: maybe there are a few people that have done it, but probably not you, not me, not most people).

Look, I'm not saying periodization, LSD, strength training, cross-training, interval training, etc.. doesn't help. Rather, they are part of the puzzle. And the one part you absolutely DON'T want to omit (but many do) is specificity.

There's an old training joke where a guy wants to run a marathon at a certain pace. His training plan is simply.

Day 1: Run 1mi at goal pace.
Day 2: Run 2mi at goal pace
Day 26: Run 26mi at goal pace.
Day 27: Rest
Day 28: Run the marathon at goal pace
Maybe with a little more structure - it's not such a silly joke :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Most Nervous Race - EVER!

Last Sunday, neither Paige nor I were racing. We agreed though that we were more nervous at the start of this particular race than we had ever been for the start of any race in our lives.
Yep - this was Luke (our newly minted 5 year old's) first race at the Kid's that Tri Duathlon (1/4mi run / 1.6mi bike / 1/4 mi run).

First, let me say - the kid has been training. Last weekend I took him to ride the 1.3mi loop around a local lake (which he did twice). Then he got off the bike and said to me, "Ok, now I need to run" - and headed off down the path. He's done this several times now. I suspect if he could write, he'd have a training schedule all worked up for his weeks leading into his big race.
On race day, he didn't seem nervous until the kids were all lining up. They age group was 5-7 year old, and he's not a huge kid to begin with. Toeing up on the line - he just looked so small. And I could see in his face the nerves setting in a bit.
I had decided to run along side him for the race. I kept my distance in the opening segment because all the kids went out like bullets. Pretty quickly they settled back into an even pace on the first 1/4mi out and back.
Going into T1, he was pretty self-sufficient getting his bike and snapping on his own helmet. He started to mount to ride out of transition and I had to remind him to run to the mount line first. He still mounted a bit early - the ref just smiled at me. Not many penalties handed out today :-)

On the bike I was glad to be running next to him. His bike is a 12" wheel bike - no real match for the 'big kids' bikes hauling along. So at times he was out there all alone. Sorry - I'm an over-protective parent and there were a couple sections of the path where a wrong turn could have sent him down a pretty steep incline and into the lake. Plus, it was nice to keep offering words of encouragement - mostly, "I'm sooooo proud of you!"
On a couple of the downhills, he was hauling along. I had to put out more speed than I would have thought to keep up with him. Estimating somewhere around my 800m pace (which is around 10.6 mph). I did a quick calculation - that means his little 12" wheels were spinning at about 300 RPM! (this is about equivalent to my road bike going (I think) about 24mph).
Coming into T2 he was visibly pretty tired, but man the kid just pushed through it. I was really so proud of him on his final out and back run. As he ran into the final 50m, I peeled off and a couple of the older kids ran next to him to carry him across the finish line. He was on cloud nine crossing that line!
Luke then learned the best part of the race - heading to the food table. And man, that kid got his money's worth. We were cracking up at how much he was chowing down and drinking.

So what was his placing? 

Well, if you look at results it becomes apparent that the 7 year olds dominated with finish times about 2x faster than the 5 year olds.

Kids were pretty well distributed by age as you'd imagine. Luke was 4th (out of 7) other 5 year olds in the race - they did one set of awards for the whole group (5-7) so he didn't podium ;-) but he was pretty happy to win a gift certificate to Kompetitive Edge (local tri shop).
Paige and I were just so proud of our little racer! I don't think it ever even occurred to him to quit.
Needless to say - he crashed hard that night and slept like a rock!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I could use... a little more cowbell !!

Whenever I'm at a race (spectating), one pervasive thought that constantly dogs my mind is:

"Man, we need a decent cowbell!"

Yeah, some races pass out those dinky, party favor type cheap-o ones, but I wanted something that racers can actually hear!

Well, this one off Amazon for $13 bucks (and free shipping) does the trick!

It passed the indoor, 'make the dog run for cover' test.

Paige said it hurt her ears.


ps: If you've never seen the SNL skit, then you must watch.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

LittleFoot Triathlon - Race Report

Last triathlon of the year - and the bonus was that it was in Bear Creek park. The entry to the park is only a mile from my house, and the start at the lake was only another 3mi into the park. Perfect pre-race bike warm-up - although riding a TT bike with a 20lb transition pack feels a bit sketch on the downhills into the park!

The race is a sprint distance (750m swim / 20K bike / 5K run). Right now my biggest constraint is the swim, although let me say something about short distance races - (bike TT, 5K runs, 10K runs..) - they hurt.... allot! You are basically red-lining the whole time. Especially on the run - you just so want it to be over. But more on that in a bit. First things first:

Swim: So I've been REALLY working hard on my swim over the past few months. Lessons, stroke analysis, skills work, masters and of course open water. All paid off. While I'm not blazing fast, I've gotten pretty comfortable at least at *being* in the water. And my biggest fear going into my first open water swim was the 'washing machine' that is a mass swim start.
But by the time this race rolled around, I felt really great about the open water swim and even the mass start. I had zero anxiety about it and was really looking forward to it in fact. Standing there on the beach in my wetsuit, I felt like I had done the work to belong there. We were all laughing and joking about the start. The water was a bit nippy (72 degrees), and the air temp was even cooler (about 64 F). After warming up in the water I was standing on the beach and my teeth were chattering. But once I got swimming, it was perfect temperature all through the race.
The other funny thing was that due to the end of season drought and Denver Water pumping out the reservoir, it had exposed about 50ft of beach. So the entry and exit was on these big slippery rocks that necessitated a water start - and some careful footing on the exit.
I was in the second wave, so sighting was helped because I could see the splashing of the first wave out near the first turn when the siren went off. There was a little bumping and such, but it wasn't too bad and I could just move into clearer water pretty easily.
I held on pretty well to the lead pack, but then realized I was going way too fast and I had to let up and breast stroke a bit to get my breath back. From there on out it was a combination of decent freestyle pace and taking a couple backstrokes or breast-strokes to recover. I still swim way too fast in open water and end up getting out of breath. But pacing is coming along.
On the last turn I was able to speed up a bit and was just starting to find my pace, but by then we were bunching up a bit again to exit the water and run up the beach to T1.
My T1 went pretty well, although I still struggle with getting my wetsuit to clear my big feet and also need to get some tri shoes so I can set up a flying mount, instead of struggling with my road bike shoes.
Bike: This was my first race on my new TT bike. It's set up really well for me, but I'm still getting used to it. I felt good, but feel like there's room for improvement on power generation overall. Still, it's a strength and my split is usually high up on in the rankings (as is my run). I spent the ride reeling in folks that had gotten away on the swim (or in the earlier wave). There was one guy that just kind of stuck out there. We noticed each other (there were four 180 degree turn-arounds on the course and we got a good look at each other and exchanged some smiles as we passed. He was in my age group and had good bike handling skills through the turns and descents ("Damn, I hope he's not a good runner", I kept thinking - turns out he was :-)
I did notice that he faded ever so slightly on each of the steady climbs (nothing in Colorado is flat) and on the last climb I finally passed him pretty strongly and tried to put some distance on him. But then this truck turned in front of me and I got blocked for a bit (string of slow moving riders on the right). I yelled out, "C'mon!" and the driver waved me to pass on his left. But still, it messed up my ability to gap the guy and we both entered transition just about the same time. Good flying dismount and smooth T2 (although I had to spend an extra 10 seconds to fix the bike rack that had folded back up when one of the other riders had pulled their bikes out.
Run: Out on the run and I just kept working on winding my feet up. I didn't see the guy I was chasing and figured he was slower out of T2. Now I just started picking up pace and picking more people off that had burned a bit too many matches on the bike. I especially liked the hills on that run because I run that park ALL the time and know the topology of the whole run course like the back of my hand. Every roll and drop - I knew where I could spin up and recover.
It was an out and back, and on the final climb to the turn-around, I could hear someone slowly bearing down on me. As they got closer, I could just tell it sounded like a woman, so I stopped worrying too much - turns out I she was the top AG women finisher. She passed me on the turn-around and we exchanged 'nice work' as I tried to pace behind her.
Finally, with about a mile to go, I saw the guy I had been chasing on the bike. Crap, that means he left T2 'ahead' of me! I was making time on him and tried to stay quiet, but he looked back and started to speed up a bit. The gap (about 13 seconds) held until the finish. I just couldn't close it, although we both had picked up the pace and were now passing a few 30-39 year olds in the closing mile. With 1/4 mile to go, I knew I couldn't kick to close that gap because he would just kick as well. I looked back - nobody in sight. Time to cruise in.
He and I talked afterwards. Really great guy. We both exchanged thanks because we knew we had each pushed each other on the course. Turns out he was from San Antonio. He had actually ridden in his running shoes and didn't have to mess with a collapsing rack. We had nearly identical splits (I actually was slightly faster on the bike and run overall) but his transitions, especially T2 was where I lost that position. He ended up being 3rd in our AG with me like 13s behind him. Ahhhh well.
We both also had similar backgrounds, although he was more of a runner. I can't say enough about how nice a guy he was and how fun it was to share perspectives and thoughts on the cat & mouse throughout the race.
I ended up 4th in my AG and 20th overall (including the 6 elite men ahead of me). Not shabby although I beat myself up for losing a podium spot in transition. Then again - that's a painless problem to fix for next season!
My biggest area of improvement continues to be the swim. I came out of the water 4 minutes behind the number one guy in my AG. That's pretty tough to make up over just a 20K bike and 5K run. But over the winter, I think I can knock at least a couple minutes off my sprint distance swim time with some good attention to that.
I also think that with some attention to my bike (I really did just some cursory bike training this season and rested heavily on my run fitness and laurels of past riding) - I think I can bump that up by quite a bit and make it a real strength again. Also need to work on being able to put out power and keep my bike handling smooth while in the TT position. Throw some decent race wheels in that mix and I feel pretty good about my splits - especially in the longer races (Olympic and 70.3) on next season's agenda.
Post race: I actually didn't hang around for awards because Luke's 5th birthday party started at 11am. We did a big Star Wars theme party for him and about 15 of his friends. Paige and I put a lot into it including some great decorations and her dressed as Princess Amadala and me as - well who else? Darth Vader! (Luke's mother and father for those of you not in the Star Wars 'know'). The kids loved the guest appearance of Darth Vader. Although two things - you 'cook' in that costume in the hot sun (as well as fog up the full helmet eyes). And '2' - when a kid pummels your helmet from behind with a light saber (that we made from pool noodles and black duct tape) - it echoes pretty loud in that helmet!!
Needless to stay, Luke and I took a nap mid-day once the party was a success and in the bag!!
Great Saturday!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Paige - Utah 70.3 (and diversions during :-)

Paige raced her first 70.3 triathlon a couple weekends ago. For those of you that aren't familiar with the distances involved, 70.3 is the total distance (in miles) of the race broken out as follows:

1.2mi open water swim
56mi road bike race
13.1mi road running race

All strung into a single event with 2 transitions (swim to bike and bike to run). It's also referred to as a half-ironman (the ironman distance doubles all of the above).

She came in 3rd in her age group and Luke and I couldn't be more proud. She trained so hard for it. Over the summer I got to run, ride and swim with her a few times. While she's always blown the doors off the swim, her cycling especially this year went to another level. I noticed a few months back riding with her in Albuquerque. Last year she did her first 1/2 marathon - but to tack one of those at the end of a 70.3 takes on a whole new meaning.
Luke and I didn't go. Paige and I talked about it and as great as it is to have the whole family at these events, it can be a little stressful for the racer. So instead, her dad drove up from Albuquerque to support her and text me the splits during the race.

That leads me to the other cool thing about that long weekend - it was just me and the biscuit for 4 days in a row. We had a blast with 'Luke and Daddy' time. In addition to flexing my exceptional baking skills and creating a celebration cake, we made the banner for outside the house to welcome her home.

We also went on a few excursions including (w/pictures):

Camping Trip to Bear Creek - this was his first 'non-backyard' camping trip. Complete success and he had a blast. He wanted to know why we couldn't just stay camping all weekend - so I think the next trip will be multi-day.

2 Trips to the Beach - one I ran to / from with Luke in the jogger. On the way up a pretty steep hill, pushing him, the jogger and a bunch of gear (I'm guessing total weight of about 80lbs), Luke asks, "Daddy... are you running or walking" to which 'dad' replied, "Luke, in a second you're gonna be walking". He redeemed himself on the way back when he said, "Wow - we are going really fast!" (I think I was being played). The other trip was via car after my long run on Sunday. He loved the beach and I don't know why we haven't gone there before. It's close to the house and we were able to build a sand castle village as well as collect about a billion sea shells.

Mystery Trip to a Pedestrian Bridge - it's near our house. They built it a few months back. Every time we pass it, Luke asks about someday walking over it. So we made a mystery trip out of it and he had a blast just walking over it, seeing the views and then walking back.

Beyond that, it was just some other runs with him in the jogger, some trips around town, goofing around the house and a special Saturday night of pizza and watching every episode of Shaun the Sheep. I'd say a fun and successful weekend all around for the family and we had quite the celebration when Paige returned a little weary, but happy on Sunday night!