Thursday, January 22, 2015

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Top 3 Tips for Off-Season Run Training

With all of the major triathlons finished for the year, now is the perfect time to put in a run focused block. The shorter, colder days are less amenable to biking making for a natural transition into running. Too many triathletes place the bulk of their training emphasis on the bike and obtaining killer bike splits leading to under-performance on the run.  An 8-12 week block of run specific training during the winter months can lead to improvements that will last throughout the rest of the year.

There are three components to a run specific block that will enhance your running: practicing running at a higher cadence, running faster and competing in running races.

High cadence

It is easy to ignore the fundamentals of running; working on run form is not nearly as much fun as running itself. Certainly, run form is like a fingerprint; everyone has their own unique style that cannot be undone (I, for example, run like a duck, no matter how hard I have tried not to run like a duck). But, there are certain isms of running that apply to everyone that should be blended into the natural gait.

Most importantly, running at a high cadence of 90 (i.e. 180 for both legs) or above is the key to more efficient and faster running.

You can obtain your cadence by counting each time your right foot hits the ground over a 15 second period and multiplying that by 4 (if you double that number you will have your whole gait cycle).  If that number is below 90 (or 180), your cadence is too low.

Triathletes notoriously run at a low cadence, hence the moniker of the “Kona shuffle”. If there is one thing you master this winter, it should be running at a higher cadence and getting comfortable at a higher cadence at any speed or distance.

Running at a higher cadence will prevent over-striding, a form error that can cause all sorts of injuries from the foot (e.g. planter fasciitis) to the shin (shin splints) up to the hip (e.g. bursitis) and lower back (e.g. sacral iliac joint pain).  Over-striding occurs when the foot lands in front of the body’s center of gravity. Shortening the stride so you land with the foot underneath the body will result in a faster turnover and more efficient gait. In terms forefoot, mid foot and heel striking, well, that is a conversation for another day. The bottom line is this: landing underneath the body with a fast turnover is more important than where you land on your foot.

This quick skip drill will help you with high cadence running.

Increased intensity

The winter months are the perfect time to work on higher intensity running. With the training load presumably lower, your legs should be fresher and better able to handle faster running. As we get older, top end speed (i.e. VO2 max) is usually the first thing to wane.  Working on your VO2 max will have benefits for all running distances. You can do these types of workouts on the track, treadmill, or on the road.

Once per week, incorporate run intervals from 15 seconds up to 3 minutes long at a 5k up to a fast 1 mile pace.  Now, don’t just go out there on your first day and go bonkers with speed; that is a sure-fire way to get injured. In fact, it reminds me of a group track workout I did many years ago. We did a set of fast 200’s at speeds none of us had seen in years. We all relished in how fast we were running, giving each other high 5’s. Well, it was all fun and games until someone got hurt, which inevitably we all did. The next day, we were all too sore to walk.

Begin with very short interval segments and then gradually work your way up to longer segments. For example, start off with an aerobic run with 8-10x15 seconds at 5K pace building down to a mile pace for last several reps with 45 seconds rest. Over time, you should be able to do 8-10x2 minutes with 1 minute rest at these faster paces.  Indeed, that workout of 200’s was actually a really good one and an excellent way to build speed; however, it is not the type of workout to jump into without good preparation.


Training is just that: training. Nothing puts you to the test like a race. The winter months are rife with running races of every distance. Choose a few and test yourself. Pick distances that are out of your comfort zone (hello 5k) and take your running to a new level.

Running races allow you to practice pacing strategies, test out new nutritional products, and are a great way to have fun. Many of the athletes I coach choose a half or full marathon as an “A” race and use other distances as lower level races to gauge fitness. Going into the triathlon season with the experience of running in races will allow you to push harder on race day.

Bonus tip: Run more

    Add an extra one or two runs each week for increased fitness and resilience.

Friday, November 1, 2013

How Should I Approach the End of the Season?

Get loose this off season!
The end of the season is an interesting time and is approached by athletes in many different ways. No matter what, though, it is a time to rest and relax. At least a little bit. With so many races spread throughout the entire year, it is very easy to become a 12-month racer, and delay the end of the season to the next year or even the year after that. Since everybody’s physiology and psychology are different, I do not take any single approach to my athletes' end of the season routine. The only commonality is that everyone takes some type of downtime to recharge the batteries before it is time to ramp up the training for the next season.

In my years of coaching, I have found that there are 3 distinct categories of end of season attitudes. Which one are you?

  1. "I am so glad the season is finally over! I am taking 2 months off.” This seems to be the rarest category of racer, but, they do exist. They cross the line at their last race and then they hang up their athletic equipment for a while. Once the holiday imbibing catches up and the waistlines start to expand, they don their running shoes and get back to training. 
  2.   “Phew. That was a long season. I need a little time off and then I need a real decrease in training.” This is most common category of athlete – the person who may need a total break from training for 7-14 days and then wants to get back into a regimen that includes less frequency and intensity. This is a very healthy perspective on the end of the season.  Where can I obtain this sane outlook for myself? 
  3.  “When’s my next hard workout coach? I’m forging through until my Ironman 10 months from now.” Ok, ok. I confess. I fall into this category. C’mon, don’t tell me you are surprised! The Twin Cities marathon was incredibly disappointing, but, perhaps due to my slow down at the end, I was not sore. Usually, I am crippled for a week after a marathon, but not so this time. My legs recovered at warp speed, so I relished the idea of running the California International Marathon in December. My body is much smarter than my brain though, and it shut me down loud and clear. I got sick and was relegated to weeks of forced rest – the very kind of rest I impose on my athletes but was rue to take myself (bad Coach).   Everybody needs some down time at the end of the season. That amount of time is very individual though; there simply isn’t a formula to know how much time someone will need before they start feeling peppy and motivated and ready to take on their next set of goals.
After the initial time off (whether it is 2 weeks or two months), I devise workouts that have drills to work on form and shorter intervals to maintain some fitness but not incur fatigue. The total number of training hours is drastically reduced. I view the end of the season as a time work on weaknesses and hone the skill set needed to excel the following season.

Create some end of season objectives that make the transition from heavy training into restorative training easier. Determine your race schedule and goals for the next season. Is your bike fit maximizing your power? Find an expert to help with you with your swim stroke. Make sure you haven’t developed any bad run habits that might lead to a future injury. And, speaking of injury, the end of the season is the time to get into the gym and get stronger.  I am not suggesting a regimen of Olympic lifts, but I do recommend sorting out muscle imbalances that are typical in endurance athletes.

The bottom line is this: you cannot cheat recovery, so tackle it with the same vigor you do with training.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 5

And they're off!
Ironman is not a spectator sport. I know I am stating the obvious, but, wow, it just isn't. Like many sports events, it is the palpable excitement of being there that draws people in, even when such an event is better watched on TV. The most action was in the first 90 minutes where we saw three separate swim starts (pro men, pro women, age groupers), the swim itself, and then the droves of people precariously rounding the Hot Corner (the junction of Palani Rd and Kuakini Hwy) and back again. The riders zoomed by so quickly it was somewhat of a game to pick out who they were.

And, then, that's it. The athletes were gone into the abyss and there was nothing to do but wait for some information to trickle in. Even though we were right there, we could've been anywhere.

Beautiful morning to spectate

After a run to the Energy Lab and back we had nothing but time. The wireless networks were bogged down with everyone trying to get updates, rendering us ignorant of what was transpiring just a few miles away. I had to text other people located elsewhere for information about how my athletes were doing and to find out how the pro race was unfolding. The Athlete Tracker was almost impossible to bring up due to the overwhelming overload. Every now and again, one of us could pull it up and that person would whoop like a lottery winner.
Damn funny!

All of that internet searching caused my phone to bleed battery life. It would drop 10% in the blink of an eye. All around me, people were cursing at their phones and iPads. As my battery was about to breathe its last breath, I stopped into a shop, gave my sad face, and asked if I could plug my phone in. It was a common sight at the restaurants to see people with their phones charging. Next time, I will have an alternative battery plan.

The crowd on Alii Drive

We stood along Alii Drive waiting for the athletes to come through. Among both the pros and the age groupers, the pattern was similar, some people looked so smooth and happy while others wore the pain of the day on their faces. Some people ran tall, other were stooped over. It was easy to pick out whose quads were trashed, whose hamstrings were cramping, and who managed their ride well enough to run with relative ease.

Of all the runners that ran past, none looked better than Mirinda Carfrae. She makes running look effortless; she is strong and solid and runs with confidence. It was a sight to behold.

My athletes fared well. Two had Ironman PR's, one said "I raced to my level of fitness" and another had to face the Ironman demons. Overall, it was a successful day.

Lessons of the day:
1. Spectating an Ironman is hard. I always knew that, but now I really know.
2. Reapply sunscreen on a regular basis.
3. It is easy to forget to eat and drink.
4. The photographers are really good at what they do. I missed just about every photo op; the athletes go by too fast.
This is the only action photo I managed to capture.
5. Pick your spot on the course wisely and stay there.
6. Bring phone battery back ups and sell them for large sums of money to desperate spectators.

All in all, a fun and successful day. I hope to do it again next year!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 4

Since I arrived on the island, the best word to describe how I have felt is reminiscent. Every place I visited, every person I bumped into, every nook and cranny that I passed created an overwhelming sense of nostalgia with a funny or sad or exciting story attached. Nothing made me miss racing here, though, until yesterday at 2pm. When I walked by the finish line, I felt a catch in my throat, and I envisioned myself running under the gantry in the tired and elated state of an Ironman finisher. The feeling left as quickly as it arrived and I came to my senses as sweat trickled down my body in the unbearable heat and humidity of the afternoon.

Yesterday morning we skipped the Kona pier and headed north to Hapuna Beach. The vast nothingness that surrounds the beach is stunning in an ugly sort of way.

We ran along a connector road and met up with another that took us to the quaint town of Puako. The madness of Kailua was nary a thought in our minds as we ambled down the road admiring the houses, foliage and unique smells.
Brandon and I laughing at a joke during a run.
Nothing like a running selfie!
After our run, we cooled off with a swim at Hapuna Beach. The cove is huge with crystal clear water. Unlike Kailua Bay, there were few fish to view, just endless sand and the bubbles created by my hands entering the water.
It is hard to imagine the desert directly behind this beach.
The Big Island, particularly the Kona side, is infamous for vog, a form of air pollution that results when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles emitted from the erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. In the past, I rarely noticed the vog. This year, the vog has been wreaking havoc and causing my asthma to flare up and blocking my sinuses. The result is that I have been wheezing and coughing changing my voice from its normal timbre to that of a husky, pack a day smoker.

Yesterday afternoon I finally took some time to do nothing. I lay on a couch in a friend's condo and stared at the ocean. I guess that qualifies as relaxing.

Today is race day. I am psyched to see how everything unfolds. More later...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 3

Kona is a vortex; or, perhaps, it's vacation in general. My awake hours account for about 18 hours of each day in which I have been spending 90 minutes exercising and 2 hours working. I have not seen a TV, read a newspaper, browsed the internet, done housework, taken care of the dog or cooked a meal. Clearly, I am not busy. Yet, the time here flies like I am. It is truly vexing. Perhaps it is the fact that every task seems to take twice as long as it should. The beauty of not racing is that I don't care. I have no particular schedule to follow. It doesn't matter if I skip a meal or spend too much time in the sun or walk too far.

The house at which I am staying is a coffee farm. I was half hoping that coffee beans would be in abundance, overflowing in every cabinet. Alas, much to my chagrin, that was not to be, as all of the beans were given away in the last harvest.
Coffee trees and farm animals.
Yesterday, I swam the course and then did a short run with Team JZ. Everyone seems to be relaxed, which is a good sign. Pre-race nerves are natural, but a relaxed nervous is imperative to a good race.

Happy faces before the run.
Somehow, breakfast materialized into brunch, as we did not eat until 11. And, right there, is a perfect example of the "vortex". We swam at 7, ran at 8:30, and then what the heck did we do until 11? I do know that I was terribly disappointed to arrive at Huggo's, a restaurant that serves potent coffee that I can only assume is laced with speed based on the reaction that I had the previous day, and find that they were closed. I was looking forward to another cup of their coffee that got me so amped up 6 hours later I was still talking at warp speed.

Instead, we made the requisite trip to Lava Java, the most in vogue spot on the Island during race week, a perfectly good reason not to go there. I was pleasantly surprised by the haste at which they took my order and served my food considering the length of the line.

The Lava Java coffee was good, but not Huggo's good.

We did manage to spend some time off of Alii Drive and away from the race mania. A trip to the cliffs and the beach were the afternoon activities. We did some video taping for our Race Ready Coaching website at the cliffs. The backdrop was perfect. My hair was not. The humidity and salt air have combined to create a chemical reaction that doubled (tripled?) the circumference of my hair. We kept patting it down and then tried various hair ties. Eventually we gave up and just let it do its own thing.

Yup, I am in a two piece. And, my hair is a planet.
The color of the water at the cliffs is something you see in movies. The contrast of the blue water and the black lava is stunning.
Seriously, doesn't it look like someone dropped in blue dye?

People do actually jump off the cliffs. I am not a thrill seeker, so I just watched in awe laced with a little fear.

This guy jumped from a low level. Another guy was doing back flips off the top.
We spent a pleasant evening with a group of friends who gathered to celebrate Teresa's birthday.
I despise leg photos, so here is mine.

Nothing to say here.
I fell into bed, exhausted and confident that I would sleep all the way to 4:30. Nope. I was wide awake at 3:30.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 2

The view from the house
Today I woke up at an entirely more civilized hour: 4am. Somehow that has a more humane ring than 3am, the time at which I awoke yesterday. I love the solitude of the morning, though, and today, there is a hush in the house, where the only sound is the whir of my ceiling fan.

The house at which I am staying is a coffee farm located at 1800 feet above sea level. It is probably 10-15 degrees cooler than Kailua and the views from above the town are magnificent. The house is nestled into the hillside, with an access road so steep it could qualify as a high level ski run should global warming ever cause a blizzard here. Sleeping, for the few hours I have managed to do so, is a different experience here, with perfect temperatures, utter darkness unmarred by streetlamps or other houses, and complete quiet.

When people come to Hawaii, they leave with souvenirs of coffee or chocolate covered macadamia nuts or ugly shirts that seem to fit in on the Island but never look right anywhere else. My special memento of the Big Island, one that stays with me long after the tan fades and I've slept off the jet lag, is a cold sore. In my dozen trips here, in spite of all my efforts and use of various lip tinctures, I start to feel the telltale tingle in my lip that signals it is going to erupt. This trip is no different and within 20 hours of my arrival on the Island, I started to feel sensitivity in my angry lower lip. That now precludes me from eating anything remotely spicy, lest it touch my lip causing me to scream and disrupt the other diners.

Yesterday was a busy day. I went to the pier to swim with Jen T, Jen C and Scott, three of the four athletes I coach who are competing here. It was so nice to see them and listen to them swap stories of qualifying and I could just feel their general excitement about the race.
Jen T and Me after the morning swim

The buzz at the pier was so familiar, even though so many of the faces were not. I had not swum in open water in three years, so yesterday's swim was particularly exhilarating. The clarity of the ocean meant that I felt like I was swimming in an aquarium. I was absolutely giddy with delight as I moved through the swim course, craning my neck to make sure I didn't collide with anyone. I even stopped to talk to one of the paddlers manning the course to share my enthusiasm.
I don't think Scott will mind that I stole this photo off his Facebook page. Or, will he?

One of the best parts of yesterday was running into old friends and acquaintances I had not seen in so many years. We have all added age to our faces, but we greeted each other with gusto and with genuine interest in what transpired over the last many years.

C'mon, you know I have to put up at least one sunset shot!
My trip here has been purposeful, fun, and in so many ways cathartic. As I sat on a friend's patio, admiring the sea view, the island whispered in my ear, "What took you so long?"