Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Year!

Here we are again, the end of the year. The past 12 months have both flown by and crept along. As I have written in the past, I am not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, think this time of year is perfect for reflecting on the positives, learning from mistakes and using the lessons as an opportunity for growth. While I do not plan on making specific resolutions, I have come up with a very seemingly simplistic goal that I am sure will be maddeningly difficult to achieve.

My goal stems from a daily observation of Diesel the Dog. He wakes up every morning in a glowingly happy mood; he is unequivocally excited to start the day. He jumps on our bed with a brilliant smile, tail wagging, and licks our faces until we get up. He bounds down the stairs, goes out to do his business, and eats his breakfast with a gusto usually associated with a special meal not the same old kibble (seriously, he does the happy dance for every single meal). He approaches the day with such cheerfulness and wonder and possibility: Will I play Frisbee or chase a ball or run? Will I get some table scraps or a snack? Will I get to bark at the passersby? Will I nap for 18 hours? Will I get scratched behind the ears?

In stark contrast, I wake up without much thought.  Some days I am happy, some days sad, some days sore, and some days wondering what the heck that crazy dream meant.  I get out of bed and mindlessly go through the morning routine, looking forward to my first cup of coffee to jump start my brain. 

What if I make an effort to wake up eager and ready to seize the day? Will my days reflect that enthusiasm?
Now, I am not naïve enough to think that morning jubilee will make each day a special day. I do think, though, if I am positive and happy in the morning, even if the rest of the day goes to shit, at least I had a few moments of glory before it all went wrong and perhaps the more positive outlook will become a self-fulfilling prophesy; feel good things and good things will happen.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

5 Tenets of Racing

 Managing a race is like putting together a puzzle; the pieces have to fit together just so for a perfect day. Rarely, if ever, do the pieces coincide in such a manner during a race which always leaves me with a feeling that things can be better next time, that if I can change “x” than I can have that elusive perfect day. The problem is that once I think I have learned it all, a new “x” pops up and throws me for a loop and I am therefore enticed to the start line to fix that problem. You can see how this cycle repeats itself time and again, continuously beckoning me back to the races. Hence, the puzzle is never completed.

I have learned, though, that there are certain givens in racing, the so-called “tenets of racing”. If you learn these, you can at least eliminate some potential problems, which of course, leaves room for any number of new problems that will leave your puzzle forever incomplete.

1.    What feels easy at the start feels hard at the end

Having just run a marathon, this tenet is fresh in my mind. The first few miles of the race I was amiably chatting and joking with the competitors around me. By mile 20, I was solemn, not noticing or caring about those in my vicinity. The pace in the first 20 miles felt like jogging, but by the end it was arduous and instead of holding steady my pace was bouncing around like a ping pong ball. Proper pacing is essential; do not be deceived by the relative ease at the beginning, which brings me to point 2.

2.    Don’t go out too hard
The feeling of comfort at the start of a race lures people into a false sense of what they can achieve. An athlete I coach recently competed in an Ironman. He went through the first half of the bike 10 minutes faster than any half Ironman he had done. The result? A DNF. I asked him why he went so fast in the beginning and he replied that it felt really good. Going out too hard is not necessarily a subjective measure – you cannot rely on how you feel, because you should feel good.  You need to preset a pace, wattage, or heart rate, all of which are objective measures, to dictate how you will execute the early stages of your races. I always tell my athletes before an Ironman, nobody ever finishes an Ironman and says, “I wish I had gone harder on the first loop of the bike.”

3.    Training never lies
When deciding race goals and strategies, look to your training. What wattage did you hold on your long rides? What pace did you run your intervals? Were you consistent in your workouts over a long period of time, or were you hampered by injury or illness? All of these parameters will guide you toward making the right decisions in race execution. Leading into the Twin Cities marathon I had many workouts that indicated I was ready to run a PR. But, I also had many workouts hampered by my rib injury signifying I was ready for a DNF. I ran the race hoping for the best. My training told me I should expect the worst, and so when I was unable to finish the race due to rib pain it was not a shock. Conversely, my training leading up to CIM was much smoother and I did not miss any workouts due to the injury. My race pace and finish time mirrored my training paces.

4.    It is hard to imagine things going wrong when things are going so right
Races often start off spectacularly. The execution is perfect, the weather stunning, the day unfolding according to plan. Then, suddenly, you get a flat tire. Or, your stomach starts to rebel. Or, your bottle with your nutrition falls off your bike. Or, your legs start to cramp. Or, you get dizzy. Or, you go off course. Or, a recurring injury flares up. Or, your body just falls apart. Or, … Any number of things can happen during a race ending a seemingly ideal day . The most you can do is manage the problem if possible or call it a day if your health is at risk (or if your bike is unrideable).

5.    Have fun
This is the single, most important tenet of racing. If it isn’t fun you should find another hobby. Success in sport is difficult and requires time, patience, perseverance, and heart ache. Ultimately, there must be an element of enjoyment to make it all worth it, to balance out the negatives. I distinctly recall, at mile 16 of the marathon two weeks ago, thinking to myself, “Wow, I am really enjoying this race.” The crowd support was motivating, my body was cooperating, the course was suited to me, and I had people to run with. I truly took some time to enjoy the moment.

I realize that these 5 tenets represent a mere fraction of the overall “tenets of racing.” I have many more and I am sure you do as well. But, I cannot spill all my secrets at once, can I?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fast Tracking Marathon Recovery

I admit it. I am a compression sock junkie.
 I read something this morning that jolted me. The marathon Olympic Trials are in 31 days. That is really soon. When I signed up for California International Marathon, I knew the turnaround time until the trials would be short, but seeing it on paper like that was disconcerting. I have no illusions that I might make the Olympics; unless of course, all the top contenders don't show up. But, I would like to have a race within the bigger race. A race amongst the middle of the packers looking to improve their times, have a respectable day out and be a part of history.

I have no idea, really, how long it takes to recover from a marathon. Every person needs a different amount of recovery from a race, and even within individuals recovery will vary depending on how the race unfolded. Finishing a race in which you cramped badly will garner a longer recovery than a race that went smoothly. My calves seized up at the end of CIM and not surprisingly these are the muscles that have been slowest to bounce back.

So here is how I have handled the last 10 days.

I didn’t run for a week, but I swam, walked, ellipticalled and started back at the gym. This was a more aggressive plan than after the LA marathon in March, but I felt good last week and I kept the intensity low and the duration short. When I finally did run, it felt stale and slow (so slow that Diesel the dog kept imploring me to run faster by going in front and pulling me) but yesterday I actually felt quite peppy despite the cold temperature. The gym workouts are incredibly necessary, as there is still some re-building to do from the rib injury. I am hoping that what I lack in running between these races I can make up for with added strength and further healing from the injury.

Non-training aspects of recovery are also imperative. I have been sleeping and eating a lot. The extra rest has been helpful, although it has been odd sleeping later and not having the accountability of morning workouts. I have embraced this extra sleepy time, especially since it is so cold and dark. In terms of diet, I included two meals of red meat for iron, lots of veggies every day, plenty of V8 juice for electrolytes,  as well some of my favorite sweets – because if you can’t enjoy junk food after a good race, when can you? I also started taking fish oil which is supposed to help with inflammation.

Massage has been an integral part of my recovery for my entire triathlon career, so I am used to massage discomfort. Nothing prepared me for my first post-CIM massage. I felt like I was being attacked, my muscles were so tight and swollen they did not welcome sharp elbows and strong hands trying to calm them down. The massage, coupled with dry needling, ultrasound and stretching, eventually allowed my aching muscles to relax and within the week the hobbling slowly morphed into regular walking. Compression socks have become a regular wardrobe accessory. They go great with jeans and fit nicely under boots. I know that ice baths come highly recommended, but it is winter and I am already cold without stepping into a mound of ice.

I still have no idea how the next few weeks will unfold. All I can do is listen to my body (and my coach) and hope for the best.

Monday, December 5, 2011

CIM - Olympic Trials Qualifying

The day before the California International Marathon I was confronted with two very tough decisions, both involved water bottles.

Many marathons offer the elite runners tables at the aid stations to place special fluids. This is an incredible perk, one I did not have available at the LA marathon in March (I actually used a fluid belt and carried a bottle with me). The athletes go to all kinds of trouble to decorate their bottles in an effort to make them stand out. When I got to the hospitality suite with my strikingly unadorned bottles, I realized I would need to remedy the situation.

This was my first dilemma. What could I use that was available in the room to beautify my water bottles so I could easily detect them on the fly? I got creative and used some pink and silver packing tape and ripped up some note paper to make my name and number visible.

I was quite proud of my artistry, but it seriously paled in comparison to the bling that some of the other athletes placed on their bottles.

This particular bottle, though, wins the contest for best dressed.

The second quandary was choosing which 5 aid stations to place my special needs bottles out of the 17 total aid stations on the course. This may seem like a trivial issue, but I assure you this is a very strategic problem. Should I evenly space the bottles? Should I front load the bottles? What happens if I miss a bottle? In the end I chose to place them at miles 5, 10.3 15.5, 19.3 and 22. I successfully retrieved the first 4 bottles and somehow missed my last one. Luckily I had an extra and Power Gel and SaltStick tablets to keep me going.


Tell someone you are running the California International Marathon and they will reply “Wow, that is a really fast course.” What a ridiculous comment. The course is only as fast as the runner who runs it; it is like saying a high tech bike is fast, which it isn’t if the rider can only manage 10 mph. Anyway. Here is the course profile.

The eye immediately notices the marked downhill nature of the course. What the eye does not immediately notice is all of the bumps that comprise this net downhill. Take a closer look. The starting elevation is 366 feet and the finish line is at 26 feet. Yes, that is a quite a large drop. But. It really isn’t. You see, if the course dropped from, say, 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet, then it would be almost entirely downhill. This course is made up of lots and lots and lots and lots of rollers. It is up and down the entire way until the end where it flattens out. It is a grind and a killer on the legs.

My race strategy was to run behind the designated pacer, a fellow brought in to help the hopefuls acquire the Olympic trials standard of 2:46.00. A gaggle of women followed behind what one racer declared was “the luckiest man in the race”.  After a mile or so of tripping over the people around me and altering my gait to stay in the pack I made a decision to move ahead and run my own race.

Luckily, I found another pack of 4 men and women to run with and through 24 miles I sailed across the course easily running up the hills and floating down the hills. For the first time ever, I felt like a runner. I was smooth, in control, charging forward with purpose. It was amazing; until it wasn’t.

The last 2 miles I started losing control of my limbs. I stumbled over my own feet. My form deteriorated making me feel like a marionette. I stopped checking my pace. I started calculating in my head how many more minutes I had left to run. They ticked by ever so slowly. I was relieved, elated, emotional, when I crossed the finish line in 2:43.48 a PR by 3.5 minutes. I was 6th overall and 4th masters. Those old ladies are fast.

Qualifying for the Olympic trials in the marathon was a goal set almost on a whim earlier this year. It took three tries with a series of ups and downs that tested me physically and emotionally. Was it worth it, you ask. Unquestionably!

I cannot say enough thank you's to my friends, family, supporters, therapists and well wishers. All of you make all of this possible.