Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Research Shows...the Need For More Research

After a recent discussion on a friend's Facebook page regarding a new research study, I thought it might be a good idea to share my thoughts on current research for the uninitiated as it relates to health, fitness, and training.  The study that prompted the discussion was from researchers at Duke University who published in Journal of Applied Physiology, December 15, 2012.  The general conclusion they reached was that aerobic activity is more effective for weight loss in obese individuals compared to weight training or aerobic activity and weight training combined.  Having only read news articles and the study's abstract, I cannot comment on the quality of the research.  However, I do have several questions that prevent me from giving the study much credence.  My fear is that people will read or hear about this study from popular news outlets and take the conclusion as fact--that everyone who wants to lose weight should do only aerobic exercise; that aerobic activity is the magical solution to all weight loss.  Instead of ranting about it with my friends and colleagues, I am choosing to educate people.

First, let me say that I believe research to be very important to justify what we do and learn ways to do it better--that is intentionally vague.  However, many challenges exist regarding the usefulness of any individual study.

Any one study can have faults, thus it must be replicated to be sure that the results were accurate.  Hopefully, subsequent studies can improve upon the original study as well.

The environment studied in research is not real life.  To get any information at all from the study, you have to control the environment, limiting variables that can change.  So, the results can be helpful, but are limited, certainly not definitive when considered alone.

Analysis of the same statistics can yield multiple results or conclusions.  Also, in therapy, we frequently talk about clinical significance versus statistical significance.  That is, while a research article concludes that a particular treatment does not work, we may see in the clinic with a particular patient that it does help.

Just because it is on the news, doesn't make it true.  One study can be reported through multiple outlets, potentially leading people to believe that it must be true because they heard it or read it several times.

Here is my advice for reading and considering information in research studies or news articles. Keep in mind I am referring specifically to topics related to health, fitness, and training.

Consider the source of the information.  Look at the credentials and experience of the person.  Should they know about the topic?  Are they trying to sell you something?  Are they promising you anything?

Experiment.  If you read something that you think may help you, a new product, a novel exercise.  Try it.  See if it helps.  Maybe it will.  Also, keep in mind that just because it works for Ryan Hall for example, does not mean it is appropriate for everyone.

Consult an expert.  If you have questions, find someone to answer them for you.  Get clarification.

Educate yourself.  Look for supporting or contradictory evidence.  Read, read, read.  Knowledge is power.  (Look here for some good resources.)

By the way, there is no magical remedy for obesity.  Nor is there one perfect training program.  There is not a simple answer.  The real solution is a comprehensive, individualized program including good nutrition and physical activity leading to lifestyle change.

Side note:  for a little motivation, read Brenda's story.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Healthy Holidays

We are in the midst of this year's holiday season: the span of time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day in which we, as a country or culture, have a propensity to overindulge in food and drink.  Typically, our dietary choices during the season lean toward the less healthy as well.  Our schedules fill with parties, pageants, shopping, etc, potentially taking time away from our training and exercise.  This provides added challenges or barriers to those of us who have goals related to weight loss or control, sport performance, and health or wellness.  Here are my thoughts.

First, enjoy it!  Live a little.  I saw a statement from someone in recent years--probably on Facebook--that went something like, it's not as important what you do between Christmas and New Year's, as much as what you do between New Year's and Christmas.  It is a short span of time.  Be merry!

Keep in mind however, the more you overindulge, the more work you'll have in front of you starting January 2.  So, here are a few tips:

1.  Be good most of the time.  When you aren't partying, stick to healthy eating.

2.  Just like the rest of the year, emphasize water, vegetables, fruit, and reasonable portion sizes.  Limit processed foods.

3.  Keep in mind: if you are not training as much or as hard, you do not need to eat as much.

4.  Make time for at least some type of workout on most days.  Perhaps you can incorporate mall walking into your shopping trip.  Alternatively, this is a good time for recovery.  You can opt for total rest (no exercise) or relative rest (less exercise.)  Another option would be to use modes of exercise you don't usually include in your training, e.g. swimming instead of running.

5.  Stay focused on your goals.  If you haven't already made a plan for 2013, now would be a good time.  Do you want to go faster, longer, be lighter or stronger?  It may serve as a reminder for moderation regarding your diet.

I intentionally kept this one short because we are all so busy.  Happy holidays from Personal Best Training & Coaching!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fall Races Review

The 2012 race season officially ended for me in August--at least my "A race" season.  My final goal for the year was a PR in the 5k which I achieved.  Following that, my primary focus has been on the 2013 Illinois Marathon, my first.  So, I've increased my mileage, completed some marathon-paced workouts, and worked on strengthening and cross-training.  However, to replace some of my monotonous training runs on the road, I substituted a few long races.

I already wrote about the FLATS Trail Half Marathon, but I will share my top reasons for other runners to participate.
1.  It is close to Quincy.  It is a pleasant autumn drive, taking about ninety minutes to two hours.  Of course, it was more scenic on the return trip after the sun was up.
2.  Nice trails.  The surface was mostly firm-packed soil with minimal rock.  The race planners had done an excellent job clearing the trails of debris, even going so far as to take a leaf blower to them the day before the race.  The undulating terrain was surrounded by fall colors and offered frequent views of the lake.  The course was marked every mile and there were no confusing intersections or turns.
3.  Frequent and well-stocked aid stations--water, sport drink, gels, M&Ms, salty snacks, and smiling faces.
4.  Swag: water bottle, cotton short-sleeve t-shirt, reusable back pack.  I was initially disappointed by the shirt being cotton and short-sleeved.  However, the first time I wore it, I was very pleased.  The texture is very soft and it fits me better than any other medium, cotton t-shirt I have.  The back pack has an outer zip pocket with an outlet for an earphone cord; I've used it often since the race.
5.  As with many races, a photographer was present at several points during the race taking action photos as we ran past.  The difference this time was that after the race, the digital photos were available online for free!
6.  Pizza and beer afterward.  Do I need to explain?

I also ran the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio on November 11.  My best friend, Tony had run it last year, so I thought joining him this year would be a good excuse for a Texas visit.  He lives in New Braunfels just to the east of SA.  Having not seen him in two years, the entire weekend was a good time, but I will stick to the RnR specifics.  This is by far the largest event in which I have participated.  There were something like 25-30,000 participants.  The magnitude of the event became apparent when we visited the expo on Friday afternoon immediately after my arrival in SA.  I found that we were assigned to the twenty-third corral!  (We were registered with a finishing time of 2:30.)  The expo itself was massive; it was like a big trade show.  The selection of vendors was impressive--I could have spent a lot of money on things like shoes, bottles, Garmins, gels, jackets, singlets, etc.  We passed through the maze of booths, picking up a few things and tasting free samples.  I shared my experiences with some of the products with Tony--he's relatively new to running, only completing three races at this point, usually training solo.

We arose quite early on race day to drive into SA and park at the AT&T Center (where the Spurs play.) There we hopped on a shuttle to the starting line downtown by HemisFair Park.  The last one was at 6:30; the race started at 8:00.  The bus dropped us off, we stood in line for the porta-potty, and we waited...  We chatted with those around us in our corral and people watched.  A friend of Tony's found us in the corral and we wished each other luck.  Then, the race started, and we waited...  It took about thirty minutes for us to reach the start line.  There, it finally started to thin out a bit, but just a bit.  We were weaving in and out of people the entire race.  My plan for the race was just to hang out with Tony.  I had no goal time; I just wanted to hang out with my friend and support him as needed.  So, all I did was keep him in sight so we would not get separated.

The course was nearly all flat, just a few over/underpasses.  I enjoyed seeing parts of SA that I had not seen on my many previous visits--big old houses, various residential areas, off-the-beaten-path commercial areas.  Of course, we passed the Alamo at one point.  The crowds were lively and encouraging throughout the course.  I enjoyed reading their signs:  "Your feet are hurting because you're kicking so much ass."  "If it were easy, it would be called your sister."  "Run faster, I just farted."  Tony and I had a few of our own laughs along the way too.  I'm not sure they are appropriate for this blog though.  We saw another pair of his friends running along the route at one point too--surprising, considering the size of the crowd.

As I said, I did not have a time goal.  Tony did, but he didn't achieve it; his training was insufficient.  In fact, he struggled toward the end, cramping up during the final mile.  Regardless, we both enjoyed ourselves.  It was a novel experience for me: running a race for fun instead of being competitive.  I got a good, long training run in, possibly longer than I would have on the road solo because of our pace (we finished in 2:20.)  So, from a training perspective it was good.  It was also enjoyable because of the grandness of the event...and running with my best friend.

Finally, on November 17, I ran Abe's Trail Trek 15k at Lincoln's New Salem State Park near Petersburg, Illinois.  5k and 10k options were also available at this first-time event.  As it was affiliated with the Abraham Lincoln Triathlon Series and I had been impressed with their Pioneer Sprint Triathlon in April, I had high expectations for the event.  They did not disappoint.

I was first impressed by the race details on the website--very thorough.  All my questions were answered before I left my house.  I was a bit concerned about finding my way to the start, but it was perfectly obvious as we approached New Salem.  I was next impressed when I received my race bib and packet--nice shirt.  It was a long sleeve technical tee--looked good and felt nice.  I wore it home after the race; another perfect fit too.

The race started on time after we received our final instructions. The course started with a jog around the parking lot before we entered the trails to spread us out a bit.  The first section was wide and mostly grassy.  Then we ran up the road a bit before entering the mountain bike trail which they had warned was very technical.  It was.  I was happy to follow another runner, so I could watch her figure out our path.  It was obvious at a walk, but while running, it was easy to nearly go the wrong way.  I believe we exited that section at around the three-mile marker.  Next, we ran on pavement again for a while in between trails.  This happened  a few times during the race which was a bit rough for me in my minimalist Merrell trail shoes.

The remainder of the course was mostly more of the same, but no trail as technical as the mountain bike trail.  There were two sections that were very slick.  I still cannot believe I didn't wipe out on them.  One was very steep and we had to go up it and later down it, but I kept my feet under me.  Another section, I actually came to a complete stop in the process of trying to keep my balance and remain upright.  As a bonus, there were a few sections of stairs too.  One section was a bridge over the highway.  The other consisted of more rustic stairs, unevenly spaced railroad ties.

But, I conquered it all.  It was a very challenging course at times.  If I were to do it again, I would probably wear road shoes, considering all the pavement and the steps.  It was a beautiful day too, by the way--sunny and cool; great for racing.  However, not good for standing around.  Fortunately, at the post-race 'do, they had several fires burning and served hot vegetable soup and chili (very tasty.)

The overall awards were created by a local artist; I didn't get one.  However, I did earn a mug for being third in my age group.  They also had raffle prizes: some sport drink powder, Road ID vouchers, and running water bottles.  I didn't get any of those either.  Anyway, it was a great event and the response was probably good enough for the second annual event next year.  It was also another goal achieved for me--a fun, long training run.

Unfortunately, the race helped aggravate a case of plantar fasciitis which had been annoying me for a few weeks.  It became more than an annoyance--I limped around for the remainder of the weekend.  I plan to share more details about this adventure in an upcoming post, hopefully soon, and hopefully after I have conquered this challenge.

Monday, October 22, 2012

F*L*A*T*S Trail Half Marathon Race Report

I chose to do this race because it is a trail race and few of them are held this close to Quincy.  I have run three trail races now--all half marathons--plus a few adventure races that included some trail running.  I enjoy them.  They actually pass quickly because you must pay so much attention to each foot placement.  Generally, I would say they are easier on the body too, but that is arguable.  Easier on bones and joints, perhaps...assuming you stay on your feet.

It fit well into my schedule as a long run.  I am focusing my training toward an April 2013 marathon, so I am building up my base.  Running a trail half marathon substituted well for a potentially boring 10+ mile run on the streets of Quincy.

The temperature was somewhere in the 50s when we started and the sun was shining--just about perfect.  We started by the lake in Thousand Hills State Park, near Kirksville, Missouri.  After running about one and a half miles on pavement, we entered the single-track trails.

The fall foliage was beautiful and the trails were in great shape--a little soft, but not slick.  Some sections were a bit rocky and a few others passed through open grassy fields.  It was mostly up-and-down, but there were a few flat-ish sections too.  The course was marked every half mile with aid stations every two miles or so where volunteers passed out Gatorade, water, Hammer Gel, peanut M&Ms, and other snacks.

I started off fast on the road to bank some time.  When we entered the single-track, I settled into a comfortably challenging pace.  I wanted to beat my Quivering Quads time of 1:59:48, but wasn't too serious about it.  The primary goal of the run was about training, not racing.  Anyway, about halfway through, I was on target to beat QQ.  About ten miles in, still on target, I tried to pick it up a bit to finish strong.  I thought I sped up, but my Garmin disagreed.  I was struggling.  With about one mile to go, the course turned upward again, but I could hear cheering.  That last hill was tough.  Then, I had to run on about a quarter mile of gravel with my feel feeling every rock through my minimalist trail shoes.  That was probably the worst part of the day.  I tried to run in the grass on the side of the road, but it was off-camber.  I could see the stables where we would finish, so I soldiered on, finishing in 1:51:32.  Goal achieved!  But, sore...and hungry.  Pizza and beer for me, please.

This was the second year for the FLATS 13.1.  It is growing and plans have already begun for next year.  It was very well organized.  The race director was easily reached when I had questions before the event.  The trails were picturesque and well-maintained.  Great volunteers, food, and swag--shirt, water bottle, reusable backpack.  The race is a point-to-point race within the park, so the bag check and transport were very helpful as was the school bus shuttle to the start.

I can definitely recommend this race specifically and any trail race to break the monotony of road running or to supplement your training.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lewis County Leviathan Race Report: Ready For Anything

Sally Edwards is a former professional triathlete and a member of the Triathlon Hall of Fame.  She is also an entrepreneur, author, and professional speaker.  When she speaks to athletes about health and fitness, she frequently uses the phrase "365-fit."  Sally describes 365-fit as being fit enough and ready to participate in any sport on any day 365 days a year.  That is her personal goal and mine.  

Three weeks ago on a bike ride with some friends, one asked if I would be racing in the Lewis County Leviathan.  When I said "no" he suggested I take his place.  I had already been considering it, so I thought about it for a day tor two.  Then, I spoke with our mutual friend, Gary Hackmann, the other half of the team, and decided to join him in the adventure.  I was still in good condition after the spring and summer race season so I didn't do any specific training for it.  I knew it would be challenging, but I figured I was ready.

The Leviathan is an adventure race of seven parts, with an emphasis on having fun.  It is different than most adventure races in that everyone starts each segment of the race together.  So, it actually is seven individual events.

1. The race started with a canoe trip across the Mighty Mississippi.  It was windy and some water was coming through the dam, so the river was a bit rough.  We had to paddle across and turn upriver around a flag, then return.  We had some trouble steering for part of the trip, but our IndoRow training paid off.  We finished second among the two person teams and stayed mostly dry.  It actually felt easy.  However, after being out of the water for a little while, my arms started shaking.

2. The second event was a four mile trail run.  Since both Gary and I are runners, I expected we would do well.  I had heard of another runner--the race director's son--who was quite fast though.  As always, I just ran my own race.  I started near the front and trotted along at a manageable pace.  I passed two or three people in the middle section and kept up my pace.  Toward the end when we came out of the woods and the finish was visible (with about a half mile to go) I decided to pick it up.  I wasn't sure who was in front of me, but I thought If Gary was close to the front (he was) and I could finish close, our total time might be good enough to win.  It worked.  We won by less than a minute.

3. Third was target shooting with a .22 rifle.  I have not fired a gun in quite some time and my inexperience showed.  I only hit the first of the five progressively smaller targets.  I could not hold the rifle steady and had trouble lining up my eye with the scope.  Gary was only one shot better.  I'm not sure how we placed there.

4. A twenty mile mountain bike ride was the fourth segment of the race.  The course covered mostly gravel roads--freshly graded!  Lucky us!  There was also a short section that went off road on some farm lanes and a bit of single track that was quite rocky.  We started down a big hill and I just bombed down entering the short section of blacktop in the lead.  Then, as I shifted into a high gear, my chain came off.  #$%&!  Did I mention I was riding a borrowed bike?  I quickly replaced the chain and sprinted to the front of the pack, entering the gravel road toward the front.  That is where I stayed.  The chain came off one other time, but there were just three of us at the front then and I quickly returned to the lead.  I finished several minutes ahead of the second place rider.  That was the highlight of my day.  Gary finished fifth, I think, which was good enough for us to win the bike portion too.

As I stated earlier, all competitors started each race together.  So, the early finishers had plenty of time to rest before the next one.  The cyclists where greatly spread out, so I had lots of time to rest (and eat) afterward.  

5. The fifth segment of the race consisted of several strength challenges to be completed as fast as possible.  We started with a wheel barrow carry--I carried; Gary walked on his hands.  He. Was. Fast.  That put us in the lead.  Next, Gary flipped a tractor tire end-for-end, while I worked the post hole digger fifteen times.  Then, Gary worked the post hole digger while I started carrying two five-gallon buckets of water to fill a fifty-five gallon drum.  Gary joined me to finish the water carry.  Finally, we had to roll a round straw bale and stack eight square bales on top.  All the Cross Fit workouts paid off.  We smoked the competition, finishing first by quite a margin.

6. The part I was dreading most was speed golf.  My goal was to focus on "speed" more than "golf."  I do not golf.  It was painfully obvious.  I think I had two good shots on the nine holes, two whiffs, and several unintentionally short shots.  By the way, the format was to alternate shots, playing as fast as possible.  Putting was only necessary on the ninth hole, otherwise the ball just had to land in the chalked circles on the greens.  We placed third in our division.

7. We had alternated being in the lead with another team a few times up to the last event.  Basically, whichever team finished first in the obstacle course would be the winner.  We first had to climb over a pyramid of straw bales, then a cargo net.  On the way to the cargo net, I was feeling the previous events of the day and not hitting top speed.  Next, we went under a barbed-wire fence, rolled a propane tank, and under another barbed-wire fence (this one grabbed my shorts.)  Then we went off the island green into some mud that would have been several feet of water if not for the drought and over a seven-ish foot tall wall (I needed a little push there.)  Next was a floating tire bridge which bounced me off about two thirds of the way over.  No worries.  Being wet helped me to slide downhill through the fifteen-ish foot pipe next.  We had to run through some more mud, crawl through another pipe, walk across a utility pole, then run up hill to the finish.  

I was completely spent; I had nothing left in the tank.  In fact, I struggled most of the way.  We finished second on the obstacle course and thus, second overall.  We celebrated immediately with a beer.

It was a hard day, but fun.  I was completely satisfied with my performance.  I did well in the areas that I train: running, cycling, strength.  My accuracy limited my performance in the other segments, but my fitness helped me to be competitive.  I could participate in this event and be competitive, because I train to be 365-fit.  I'm ready for anything.  Or, at the very least, I can be ready with minimal focused training.  I certainly recommend this event to anyone interested in adventure racing.  It is beginner-friendly and a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why I Do What I Do

When discussing my training and racing, I am often asked by less active people why I do it.  My first thought is usually, "you won't understand."  But, then I attempt to explain, using one or several reasons that motivate me to seemingly torture myself.

My most common explanation relates to staying healthy and looking fit.  I generally do better when I have a goal to work toward, so I race.  Over the years, the goals have become loftier and the races have become tougher and thus, more intimidating to others who don't train like I do.  They don't realize that I started out like everyone else, trying to run just one mile or swim one lap, for example.  While this response is still very true, now I emphasize it less in my own mind because I have reached the point of maintenance with respect to these goals.

Now, I have other goals to maintain my focus.  I want to push myself and discover new limits; see what I can accomplish.  I think these struggles help me in other pursuits as well, rising to the challenge, learning life lessons.  I also appreciate the mental health benefits, when a hard or long workout cheers me up and eliminates frustration or anger.  It can be meditative at times.  I often solve a lot of problems during long runs by myself.  I think I am a more productive person as an athlete.

There are still other reasons: the feeling of accomplishment and pride when I do well, the recognition.  It validates my hard work and my approach to training.  It is frequently a culmination of all my education and experience.  The successes are personal and professional.

By the way, I thinks it is fun too!

But...why?  Why should anyone else care?  Well, because they can earn these benefits also.  This is my blog, it is all about me.  Some might see it as bragging, just like some of my Facebook posts.  Of course, I smile when I receive acknowledgement of my athletic successes, but I am trying to show others that these things can be done.

Everyone can improve themselves. It is possible to lose pounds, inches, body fat; increase strength, endurance, flexibility; feel better and sleep better; decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, preventable cancers, and a multitude of other maladies saving health care costs and improving the quality and longevity of life.  It is not easy.  It may not happen quickly.  But, it can be done.

Choose to change your life for the better.

Start right now.

Set a goal.

Make a plan.

Start simple, earn some small successes and build upon that.

Be consistent and diligent in working your plan.

You. Can. Do. It.

Helping others to realize this starts with me setting a good example, illustrating these points.  I am proof.  I did it and you can too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Heal Thyself

In the twelve or so years I have worked in physical therapy and sports medicine, I have had the opportunity to help a lot of people.  I fixed a few, but mostly, I helped people manage their conditions.  That realization has formed my approach to therapy--educate and empower my patients.  Give them the knowledge and tools necessary to take responsibility for their own condition and health.  This is generally the same approach I take with personal training and coaching and why my work in fitness is so important to me: if I succeed in helping people take responsibility for their fitness, they will develop a healthy lifestyle and hopefully need the health care system less.

Now, this is not a rant about the state of American health care.  This is not the outlet and it won't help--complaining about a situation accomplishes nothing.  I propose a solution.

The problem is the high incidence of obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease, preventable cancers, and other chronic diseases.  These conditions are greatly treatable, preventable, and reversible.  One of the challenges to solving this is that our society has become reliant on technology and medicine to "fix" us.  I propose that each of us should choose a healthy lifestyle.  If we opt for a nutritious diet and regular physical activity, we would no longer need "fixing."  Countless research studies prove this and it's not a new idea.  Hippocrates said "walking is man's best medicine" and "let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

Doctors are constantly recommending diet and exercise.  The challenge is figuring out what "diet and exercise" means.  Of course, everyone has at least some idea.  However, most people are better off consulting an expert of some type--trainer, coach, therapist, dietitian--at least to get started.  Then, educate yourself.  Seek out good information.  Learn.  Education is power.  As I said in a recent blog post: mainstream media--GMA, Dr Oz, Runners' World, Men's Health, Yahoo news, etc--should serve only as a starting point.  Talk to friends and colleagues too, but remember: what works for one person won't work for everyone.

So, take responsibility for your own health.  Choose to take action.  Consult an expert and educate yourself. Implement a plan and reap the benefits of feeling better and being healthy.  You can do it.  In fact, you are the only one who can.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Hull of a Race" Report

On Saturday, I ran the Hull of a Race 5k in Hull, Illinois.  It is a fund-raiser for Parkinson's disease research.  My wife likes to participate because her father had Parkinson's, so we try to run it annually.  This year, I chose this event to attempt my goal of breaking 21 minutes in the 5k because it has a fast, flat course.

I didn't have that goal in January.  I set it in the spring when I realized how fast I had become.  I ran a 5k time trial to determine my training paces and set a PR...on a training run!  A few weeks later, I went just a bit faster during the run in a sprint triathlon after swimming 300 yards and cycling 13 miles!  My times were around 21 minutes and 10-15 seconds.  My previous 5k PR was two and a half years old (21:45).  I had been thinking that perhaps I was not going to get any faster.  So, I was quite encouraged by these runs and set my goal to break 21 minutes in 2012.

Recently, my training has not been consistent.  I have missed workouts due to conflicts and waning motivation and heat.  It is time for a change in my training, a change of focus or something.  I figured I probably had a sub-21 race in my legs, but it was going to be a test of mental toughness more than just pushing my legs to go fast and hard.

Race morning was cool--in the 50s when I awoke--sunny and calm.  Conditions were nearly perfect.  I had my usual race-day half-caff coffee with some toast before we left for Hull.  After arriving in Hull, getting our numbers and chips, and donning our gear, I took off for a warm up.  I jogged a bit, went through my dynamic quick-stretches, and did a few lunges.  At 8:00, I toed the line with the beginnings of a sweat.

I started near the front and took off quick at the start.  I felt a bit fast and checked my pace after about  200 meters.  Yep, too fast; I think I was about 6:30/mile or so (my goal was 6:45/mile or less.)  I slowed down a bit and watched a few people accelerate away from me.  No problem.  I intended to run my race against the clock.  Besides, lots of people start out too fast and don't realize it until it is too late; I expected that I would be passing some of these folks later.  My plan was to finish the first mile at around 6:50 - 6:55 and gradually speed up from there.  There was no one mile marker and I wasn't watching my distance on my Garmin, but I was close to 6:50 for one mile.  I gradually pulled pack a few of the runners who had sped ahead of me.  On the way to mile two, I slightly increased my pace, nearing 6:45/mile.

I was struggling a little, but I focused on my form and periodically checked my pace.  I felt like slowing down several times, but knew I only had to suffer for several more minutes.  Somewhere around 2 miles, I started to feel a little sick to my stomach.  That usually means I'm nearing my maximum heart rate, so I was working pretty hard.  Just after the two-mile marker, the course turns back into town, the home stretch.  Along this section, I saw that my pace was in the lower 6:40s.  I just had to maintain my pace, accelerating if possible.  As the distance-to-go decreased, I gradually sped up.  There were two young men in front of me that I was attempting to catch if I could, using them to pull me to the line.  I didn't catch them, but the challenge helped--all of us, I think.

I crossed the line in 20:38 (6:38/mile.)  Goal achieved!  And, exceeded!  An improvement of over 30 seconds!  Of course, I was satisfied.  I may have been able to go a bit faster, but not much.  I was just about at my red line.  What a great year!  I've PR'ed everything this year.  I have trained smart, pushed myself, and discovered new limits.  I am validated.

While chatting before the race, my wife told a friend of ours that I was racing for a PR--a friend who has inspired me with all of his athletic accomplishments.  After the race, he said that I had inspired him to attempt a 10k PR which he did.  That was just as satisfying as my own race performance.  It was a great morning, finished off with a tasty brunch at Thyme Square in Quincy.

Now...I wonder if I can break twenty minutes...

Thank you Karrie Butterfield for the photos.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Inspiring a Generation

I heard recently that the Olympic games inspire more people to exercise than New Year's Day.  I have no idea if that is true or not, but it would not surprise me.  In fact, the motto of these games was "Inspire a Generation."  And, I have it on good authority that this was printed and displayed all over London.

Personally, I was inspired.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed watching the Olympics until I saw the opening ceremonies, then the men's bicycling road race, and everything else that followed during the first weekend.  I didn't care what event I watched or who was playing and winning.  I enjoyed seeing athletes at the top of their games participating in the biggest tournaments and races in the world.  It is also encouraging that the countries of the world can meet peacefully and unite through athletics.  In my opinion that is the most important reason to have the games.

So many people, athletes and viewers alike, focus on only winning the gold or winning a medal.  They think that finishing fourth or even second is losing.  I disagree.  First, the "gold medal club" is just as exclusive as the "silver medal club" and the "bronze medal club."  Second, these participants will always be described as "Olympians."  Always.  I think they are winners just for making their country's teams and earning the right and privilege to participate.

Not everyone can be an Olympian.  But, everyone can improve themselves and push their limits.  Every person can inspire another.  What will you do?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lakeland Bi-Tri Classic Race Report

I competed in the duathlon at the Lakeland Bi-Tri Classic in Canton, Illinois last weekend for the fourth time in five years.  I suppose it is my favorite race in the region.  The duathlon is a small event, but it is run simultaneously with a triathlon so there is a good crowd.  The race consists of two three-mile runs with twelve miles of cycling in between.

Last year I was fast enough for second overall.  So, of course, this year I wanted to win.  My training this year has gone very well.  I am as strong and fast as I have ever been.  I was optimistic about my performance on race morning.

I arose at 4AM to leave by 5 to arrive by 7 and race at 8.  I was basically ready the night before, but I do not like to rush and risk forgetting something if I can help it.  (Last year I forgot my helmet. (!) Fortunately, there was a bike shop with a tent on site to buy a new one, which I needed anyway.)  So, I made my half-caff coffee and forced down some cereal--I frequently have trouble eating early on race days.  I topped off the air pressure in my bike tires and filled my water bottles, loaded up the Jeep and hit the road.

I arrived with plenty of time to spare so I could register, set up everything in transition--check and recheck--and get warmed up.  I have developed the habit of setting up near either the entry or exit of transition, thinking it will save time.  I found a spot near the run in/run out side at the end of a rack with plenty of room.  I had planned to leave my cycling shoes on the pedals, but after a quick warm up on the bike I decided against it.  There was too much random gravel between the bike dis/mount line and the entrance to transition.

The run course is mostly on a hilly, paved path through Lakeland Park.  We run clockwise the first time, counter clockwise the second.  The out-and-back bike course exits the park onto a rural blacktop road.  It has some gradual inclines/declines and two smallish hills.

My goal for the first run was to average between 6:50 and 7:00 per mile, faster if I felt really good.  About a quarter to half mile into the race, I looked ahead where the course turned left in front of me and saw two guys way ahead and moving fast.  I hoped they were really weak on the bike.  I however, stuck to my plan.  As I watched me average pace on the run, I sped up from around 7:00/mile to finishing at 6:57/mile.  First goal achieved.

I streamlined my gear to decrease my transition time.  I only had to change shoes and trade my sunglasses for my TT helmet with visor.  41 seconds.
The bike ride is always the fun part for me.  My legs felt good and I took off quickly.  Unfortunately my exit from the park was hindered by two other slower riders taking up most of the lane.  I was able to pass on the corner just before the exit.  Then I got up to speed and went aero, elbows on handlebar. I maintained this position as much as possible on the flat, straight, smooth sections.  I passed a lot of riders and no one passed me.  The course just has 2 hills and 3 turns that we take twice each, plus the hairpin turn-around.  I would call it a relatively fast course.  However, on Saturday, we had a significant wind that I felt really slowed me down.  I was .6mph slower than last year.  I finished with a 21.3 average.  My goal was 22, but I could not have gone much faster.

Transition 2 was just a reverse of T1, with more fatigued legs.  40 seconds.

I started the second run with heavy legs, but not so bad as in Tri-Jesus.  One thing I've learned racing this year is that I can push myself farther than I have in the past.  So, with my heavy legs, I just focused on my running form, emphasizing the forward lean from my ankles.  It was pretty warm and very humid by this point.  I drank at every water station and poured water over me trying to stay cool.  As always, I watched my average pace.  My pre-race goal was to run sub-7s again, but I modified that during the race to be within ten seconds of my average pace on the first run.  I was a bit conservative on the first run, knowing that I had to bike and run again.  This time, I was going as hard as possible, but still trying to run my race and ignoring the other athletes.  I was passed by a few guys early in the run, but I pulled them back by the end except one guy who sprinted the last 50 meters or so.  He probably should have been working harder during the first 2.9 miles.  I finished at 7:05/mile.

My overall time was 1:16:17, more than two minutes faster than last year, improving mostly in the transitions and the second run.  That time would have been good enough for the overall win last year.  This year...well, I couldn't catch those two guys that I saw take off like bullets on the first run.  I was third overall and second in my age group.  Officially, I actually won my age group, because the overall winner was in my age group and thus not eligible for an age group award as well.

In summary, I earned another PR, just like every other race in which I've competed this year.  I'm very pleased.  It is so satisfying to continue to improve into my forties.  This year, I have trained thoughtfully with purpose and I have pushed myself closer to my limits.  Nearly every race this year, I have finished with nothing left in the tank and thus, no regrets.  What more could I want?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Should I Eat?

First, I must state that I am not a dietitian.  However, I do have some formal education in nutrition and a lot of instruction in physiology taken on the way to earning my degrees and certifications.  Additionally, I read a lot and continue to learn more and more about nutrition for my own benefit.  Of course, this is of great additional benefit to my clients, patients, and readers as well.  If you read my profile you will see a sampling of nutrition books that have influenced my perspective.  I also glean a lot of information periodically from and various other sites and news outlets.  Generally, if I see an article on nutrition, I will at least skim through it, consider the information, and perhaps, incorporate it into my nutritional paradigm or research it further.

There are several challenges to eating well.  It requires knowledge, planning, time, and it is generally more expensive but, it is certainly worth the effort.  Good nutrition combined with regular physical activity will prevent many chronic diseases.  It will improve quality of life and probably length of life.  I see my role as helping with the challenge of knowledge, and perhaps, forming a plan.

The challenge with improving nutritional knowledge is that there is so much information around us about food--advertisements of all types, labels, news stories, personal testimonials--and not all of it is good or accurate.  It can be overwhelming.  It's also very easy to eat poorly because of the ease of access to junk food.

I generally avoid telling people exactly what to eat.  I'm afraid they might eat only those foods and nothing else, then get tired of it and return to old habits.  I prefer to tell people how to eat and what to emphasize in their diets.  You know, "teach a man to fish and he'll never be hungry again..."

I also avoid telling people what they cannot eat.  I don't want them to feel deprived.  I don't want to introduce a negative; I want to take a positive approach.  Look at all these wonderful, healthy foods that you can eat...  By the same token, I avoid labeling foods as "bad."  Some foods are just better choices than others.

So, what should you eat?  If you look at the really good diet plans, they have a few things in common. They emphasize whole foods and limit or eliminate processed foods.  That is the key.  Eat real food and emphasize quality over quantity.  

So, eat what you like, but emphasize fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables (organic and local, if possible), whole grains (that is, you should be able to recognize it as a grain, not a flour), nuts, beans, and lentils.  This should compose two thirds to three quarters of your plate or of your daily intake.  Fill the rest with portions of fish, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy.  Try to eat this way about 80% of the time.  Then, 20% of the time, if you've earned it, you can eat whatever you want without guilt.

I decided to include the following diagram as a representation of my guidelines.  Just don't get hung up on the title, it's just happens to be the best visual representation I could find.  Several other "diets" are similar, the glycemic index diet for example.

My last blog discussed how to eat.  I've shared general guidelines for what to eat here.  Now, choose to make a healthy choice in your life by improving your nutrition.  Educate yourself about nutrition--read, talk to professionals, find good resources.  Tip: mainstream media should only be a starting point in your search for nutritional knowledge, e.g. Good Morning America, Dr Oz, Runners' World, Men's Health, Yahoo News, etc.  Then, take the time, spend the money, and plan your meals, making healthy dietary choices most of the time.  Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hunger vs Appetite

I recently attended a continuing education seminar titled Food, Stress, & the Brain.  Much of what I heard confirmed my approach to nutrition but, I also learned a lot of new information and concepts that I'd like to share.

First, let me get the boring physiology stuff out of the way, starting with a simplified version of what occurs when we are hungry.  Much of the process is hormonal.  "Hunger pangs" are thought to be caused by the hormone, ghrelin.  Ghrelin is released, we feel hungry, and we eat.  When we've consumed enough, leptin and insulin are released which decrease our drive to eat and we stop, if we're paying attention to our body.  Please see the following scale.  Try to live between 4 and 6 on the scale.  This is homeostatic eating or eating for fuel to live.

Appetite is the desire to eat when we don't necessarily need fuel, eating when we are not physiologically hungry.  Some examples: when co-workers bring freshly baked cookies to work, parties, holidays.  This is emotional eating or hedonic eating.  It can also be stress-related.  Many times we eat to feel better, cheer ourselves up.  We eat highly palatable foods (usually full of sugar and fat and frequently low quality) and the brain releases dopamine and we feel good.  The problem is twofold.  First, the dopamine subsides and we no longer "feel good" so we eat more, more dopamine, and so on.  Second, there are no hormones to tell us to stop eating, because we weren't physiologically hungry in the first place.  Oops.  Thus, the obesity pandemic.

Great!  Now, we know what should happen--homeostatic eating--and what frequently does happen--hedonic eating.  What now?  This a big challenge; we are social and emotional beings.  Well, we can't control our emotions, but we can control how we react to them.  Listen to our bodies and the signals being sent.  Eat high quality food.  Be disciplined about it.  Manage stress.  Exercise.

I'm sure many people are wondering now that I've described how to eat, what should they eat?  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Leg Speed vs Running Pace

Since this has come up in conversation at least twice recently, I decided to share my thoughts.

Many runners are talking about increasing their leg speed i.e. running cadence or stride rate. I frequently discuss it with my running analysis clients. It also happens to be a major component of the Chi method of running. I utilize stride rate as a method of modifying stride length. Many runners over stride which for the purpose of this discussion I define as landing with their foot in front of their center of gravity. This usually introduces a braking component to the stride which is not economical--each subsequent stride must be more powerful to overcome the increased resistance of braking. Also, this is associated with increased forces at impact and thus a higher risk of injury. Usually I try to help my runners decrease their stride length by increasing their cadence, possibly along with other changes outside the realm of this discussion.

So, the question is: How does this affect speed?

Leg speed and running speed are not necessarily related. For example, a person can run eight-minute miles or eleven-minute miles and have a cadence at 180 steps per minute in both cases. The difference would be related to the amount of forward lean and the power with each stride. Stride length may change too, but that is not necessarily desirable as I mentioned above.

Then, what does happen?

Increasing cadence will decrease stride length and thus, distance covered with each step. However, more steps are made per minute. This may or may not increase speed; it will depend on the person. The purpose of making this change with my clients is to limit their risk of injury and ultimately improve economy. So, as they train with better form and develop more power, they should be able to improve performance, either by going faster or farther with similar effort.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TriJesus Sprint Triathlon Race Report

This was my third battle with the TriJesus course, seventh triathlon overall--all sprints.  Having an excellent 2012 race season thus far, I was optimistic leading up to the race--possibly more optimistic than realistic--and I set aggressive goals for myself.

Total: <1:14 (good scenario)
Total: 1:10 (better scenario)
Total: 1:05 (best scenario)
400m swim: 8 minutes
T1: 30 seconds
13mi bike: 35 minutes, ~22mph average
T2: 30 seconds
5k run: 21 minutes, ~6:45/mile
Top 5 overall
First in age group

Although I have greatly improved over the last five years, I continue to struggle with swimming.  I have been swimming once or twice a week most of the year so far, but the workouts have been short due to my busy schedule.  However, my form has improved and I am generally more efficient.  Last week I swam a 400 yard time trial at the QU Fitness Center in 7:43.  I'm sure that must be a PR.  So, on race day I lined up with the 8-9 minute group toward the front of the line.

I jumped in on cue, kicked away from the wall, and off I went.  I started okay, but was soon passed.  (I don't think we were spaced apart far enough at the start.)  My form soon deteriorated.  There are no lines in the pool to follow and the lane lines on either end of the pool were just a thin wire, so it was difficult to know where I was at times.  The water was quite choppy too--I got some added hydration for the bike.  That's about all I can remember from the swim--a blur as usual for me.  I just don't enjoy the swim.  The training is okay, but I dread it on race day.

Official time: 10:00.  Nine seconds faster than last year, but well off my goal pace.

My shoes were already attached to the pedals and I had borrowed an aerodynamic helmet with a visor (thanks, Martin!), so I did not need to take the time to put on my shoes or glasses in transition.  I dropped my goggles, donned the helmet, grabbed my bike and trotted to the bike mount line.  22 seconds--fastest T1 of the day!  It's the little things...

This is always my favorite part of the race.  Because I start out behind so many swimmers, I generally get to pass a lot of people on the bike.  Fun!  My training on the bike this year has gone very well, owing to a mild winter, power training indoors early in the year, and perhaps, a new saddle.  I have been training with the Quincy Bicycle Club on Wednesday evenings and a group in Hannibal on Saturdays, both speedy groups.  With both, I have been able to stay at the front most of the time and win the occasional sprint.  I am stronger than ever.  I rode the course last week to reacquaint myself with it, so I would know where to work hard and where to conserve my energy.  I hopped on the bike with my feet atop my shoes, slipping my feet into the shoes before I exited the park.  I started hammering as I left the park and turned north, traveling with the wind.  I was watching my average speed on my Garmin and I quickly neared 21mph.  My mantra during the first section was "22. 22. 22."  I knew from last week's ride that the course became more difficult during the latter half, so I would have to exceed 22 mph in the first half to meet my goal average speed.

I got as aerodynamic as I could on the early, flatter sections, leading up to the rollers.  Then, I worked hard up and flew down.  This lead to another straight, flat section where I tucked and hammered some more.  Then, the course got hilly.  Leading up to the first big hill about halfway into the course, I was averaging 22.  I started gradually losing speed as the undulations in the terrain increased, but gaining on several cyclists in front of me.  As we turned back toward Quincy and we faced our last big climb, I passed three riders in turn. When the road flattened again for the return, I went aero' and monitored my average speed that had crept down near 21 again.  Over the last few miles, I worked hard to gradually increase my average speed.  I slipped my feet out of my shoes after I entered the park, pedaled up to transition, and dismounted onto jelly legs.

21.4 mph average according to my Garmin.  PR split!  Better than my previous PR performance this year in Petersburg on a much tougher course.  According to the official results, I was the sixth fastest cyclist.

After racking my bike, I had to sit on the ground to put on my running shoes.  My legs were fried.  I, of course, dropped off my helmet and grabbed my race belt and glasses, before I trotted through transition to begin the 5k.  37 seconds.

Usually, I descend hills quickly when I run.  I just relax, lean forward a bit to attempt to stay perpendicular to the road, and go as fast as possible while maintaining control.  After exiting transition, the road hairpins and drops.  I struggled to maintain control; my legs were bloated with lactate and weak.  Then, the road goes back up right away.  Now, I train on hills, but I was still struggling.  I soon realized, monitoring my pace would not help.  I was red-lining it.  I was just going to have to be happy with whatever time and pace I could achieve, gauging my pace by perceived exertion.  As the course snakes around the park, it is rarely flat--lots of up-and-down.  However, during the latter one to one and a half miles, I started to feel a bit better and felt like I could speed up. Perhaps, the gel I took during the first half-mile kicked in.  I think I passed a few guys on the run; nobody passed me.  The highest pace I saw was 7:30/mile.  The little push during the last part of the run helped.  I was able to finish strong and average 7:22/mile according to my Garmin.  I didn't meet my goal, but it was a course PR for me.

My total time was 1:10:19, an improvement over 2011 by more than four and a half minutes and good enough for ninth overall and first in my age group.  I didn't meet all of my goals, but several.  Most importantly, I finished with nothing left in the tank--I performed as well as I could have on that particular day.  It was definitely a clear representation of my recent training.  I had been swimming enough to maintain; cycling strong and regularly; and, missing a lot of run workouts.  My nutrition the previous week wasn't as good as it should have been either; I made a few poor choices.

It was a successful race and I had fun.  I also identified areas of weakness where I can focus my training.  Next.....I may race a triathlon with a team as the cyclist--it is the best part.  Whatever I do, I'll write about it here.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bridge the Gap Half Marathon Race Report

I have goals for every race in which I compete, sometimes several.  Almost always, one of them is to improve over my last performance in that particular event or over that particular distance.  The Bridge the Gap to Health half marathon on May 12 was one of my "A" races for the year.  I wanted to greatly improve my road half marathon time; I set that goal last fall.  I have run 2 such races prior to this year, both at this event.  In 2008 my time was 1:52:32 and in 2009 I finished in 1:45:38.  In the meantime, I ran two trail half marathons, but none on the road.  As my training progressed and I tested myself, I calculated my training paces and predicted finish times.  Based on my recent 5k time trial, depending on the method of calculation, my predicted half marathon pace was 7:30 - 7:33/mile.  So, that was my goal--the lower end of the range, of course--challenging and a great improvement, but according to the science, doable.

After a quiet late summer/early fall 2011, I starting my base training for 2012.  My original plan was to run a spring marathon before this half, but had a few setbacks that convinced me to postpone, yet again, my first marathon.  However, I was able to keep my mileage at appropriate half marathon training levels.  Since I started early, was making better nutritional choices, and doing more strength training and cross training, I got to my race season weight a lot earlier than most years.  Of course, this improved my running economy by carrying less weight.  Obviously, the strengthening had other benefits as well.  During this time I also learned more about running form and applied it to my own running gait which definitely helped.  This is how I arrived in race week--lighter, stronger, faster, more efficient--I was supremely optimistic about my ability to achieve my race day goal.

Working at the race expo on Friday night at the NuFIT For You table, chatting with fellow competitors, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues was an enjoyable evening.  It also helped to increase my level of excitement--I probably could have raced about 7:00 that evening.  I was pumped up!  Anyway, after the expo I went home to carb load--no pasta for me; I prefer rice or potatoes.  This time it was home-made chips, as my Scottish wife would say, and a veggie burger--minimal meat for me on pre-race day too.  As is my usual routine, I hydrated with bourbon.  It has anti-inflammatory properties dontchaknow?  I was up after ten, which is uncommon, but I rarely sleep before a race anyway.

This night was an exception.  I slept well and was up soon after five, feeling rested.  I started my half-caff espresso--I drink decaf most of the time, but like a jolt on race morning--and my oatmeal.  Most of my race day gear was ready the night before, but I checked everything again.  After chillin' at home for a while, I made my way to Clat Adams Park for a pre-race photo op with some of my spring runners who were racing or cheering.  Then, I warmed up, had a gel and some water and made my way to the starting line to wait for the cannon shot.  I seem to enjoy race days more and more as I get to know so many fellow competitors.  It's so much more festive when I see dozens of people I know in the crowd and can share words of encouragement.

My plan was to average eight-minute miles during the first three or so miles until I descended the hill out of Riverview Park, then gradually work my pace down to an average of 7:30/mile.  That meant, pulling back three seconds/mile for the last ten.

As I said I was feeling good, but my optimism increased a bit more when, after the cannon fired the song on the PA was "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey which always makes me smile.  Then!  When I remembered to turn on my iPod over the first bridge, it was again the first song that played.  (don't hate)  I started off a bit fast, but wasn't too worried.  I thought eight-minute miles was a bit conservative anyway.  I was also banking time on the downhills when I could.  I started off back in the crowd to prevent myself from trying to keep up with all the rabbits at the front, but I passed a lot of folks as I traveled west.  As we turned around in West Quincy, the crowd had thinned out and everyone seemed to be settling into their strides.  My pace was 7:4something at this point, so I eased back a bit.  Then, I flew down the hill after the bridge and made my way to Riverview Park.  I do a lot of hill training so I picked off a few people here, then flew down the hill on the other side banking time.  I was still around 7:4something, so I backed off again.  Soon after, I decided I needed to make a quick pit stop--I didn't think I'd drank that much--but, wasn't too worried.  I thought the short rest would slow me down and help prevent bonking.

Now I was entering the tough part of the course--the monotonous section.  I settled in and spent a lot of time with a few other runners who were in my age group so I could keep an eye on them.  I walked through all the water stops, being sure to stay hydrated.  I took a gel about fifty minutes in.  At the turn-around, it was time to speed up.  I was somewhere around 7:45/mile with about five miles to go--I had to make up three seconds/mile to finish at my goal.  Basically, I was on schedule, but it was time to get to work.  I was getting warm too without the headwind, so the shirt came off.  I started to get uncomfortable around mile six or seven and it wasn't getting better.  My feet and ankles and thighs were talking to me.  So, I had to do a lot of talking back, reminding myself of my goal and telling myself to leave it all out there and have no regrets.

The miles left dwindled and my average pace lessened, but with great effort.  I kept checking in on my form and making small adjustments.  Heading back into town on the final stretch, I was able to see everyone still behind me on their way out.  It certainly broke up the monotony.  But, on a more positive note, what a boost I got from all my friends!  The smiles and gestures and encouraging words from everyone as I struggled pushed me to soldier on.  Of course, I did my best to reciprocate as well.  As a result, that was one of the easier sections of the course for me.  That got me over the hump.

I had another gel in there at some point, which I hadn't planned to do.  It just felt right and it was available on the course.  With 2 miles to go, I was around 7:35/mile.  Doing well, but more work to do.  At 1 mile to go, I was around 7:32/mile, I think.  That little rise leading up to the railroad tracks seemed larger than I remembered, but I was nearing my goal.  I. Was. Not. Quitting.  Speed up!  Finish strong!  I will feel nothing when I finish on my goal pace.....

I put my shirt back on as I neared the finish.  Since I'm self-sponsored by NuFIT, I figured I needed to represent at the finish line and display my NuFIT shirt--just like pro cyclists in the leading breakaway who zip up their jerseys during the final kilometers of a race.  I saw a guy in front of me I thought I might try to catch.  I knew he was younger than me so it wouldn't affect my age group placing, but I needed someone to pull me home.  During the final quarter mile or so, I was gaining on him, but I couldn't catch him.  Regardless, I finished strong.  I pushed stop as I crossed the line and checked my average: 7:29/mile (after uploading to my computer, my report showed 7:30--it must have rounded up.)  Jackie gave me my medal.  My wife was nearby (she had walked the 10k.)  I put my hands on my knees to attempt to stay vertical, but had to show her my watch.  I had met my goal and left nothing in the tank.  I think my eyes were even a bit misty I was so pleased.

Official results: 1:37:15.  7/27 in the 40-44 age group.  18/153 for all males.  20/410 overall.  (Official results had me at 7:26/mile, but my Garmin showed only 13.0 miles.)

That's my report, but what does it mean to you?  First, set challenging, but realistic goals.  If you train appropriately, you can achieve them.  If you're achieving your goals too easily, maybe you're not setting goals that are lofty enough.  Second, one can continue to improve into your forties.  Age is just a number. Don't think you're too old to improve.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pioneer Sprint Triathlon race report

On April 21 I competed in the Pioneer Sprint Triathlon in Petersburg, Illinois along with several other Quincians.

This triathlon is part of the Abraham Lincoln Triathlon Series and consisted of a 300 yard pool swim, a 13 mile bike ride, and a 5k run.  This was my fifth event of similar distance.  I greatly enjoy the cycling and running.  However, I have struggled with swimming.  I am now feeling much more comfortable in the water and thus, I am improving.

I always start a race with a performance goal, frequently several.  For this race, I thought if everything went perfectly I could finish in under one hour and 6 minutes: 6 minute swim, 30 second T1, 21mph bike, 30 second T2, sub-7s 5k.  Considering this was not a priority race for me this year, I decided to take a bit of a chance.  My plan was to go as hard as possible even at the risk of bonking.  I wanted to see how far I could push my limits, or if I could find my limits.

We (I was accompanied by my lovely wife, Pat who was official photographer and my own personal cheering section) arrived early so I could register.  Abe's Mini triathlon (a beginner event) was held before the sprint so we had to arrive a bit earlier to get in and out of transition and stay out of the way of those competitors.  I enjoyed watching the race and the time waiting passed quickly.  I placed all my gear in transition, checking and rechecking, looking around at everyone else's setup to get ideas.  I had set up near the Quincy Iron Men right by the "swim in" and "run out" side of transition.  It looked good to me and I trusted those with greater experience.

Swim:  The pool was a bit chaotic even before the first swimmer leaped in.  We were supposed to get our chips and line up according to expected swim time, but we didn't get much instruction after our earlier meeting.  So, I talked to several guys near me in line and we tried to line up appropriately.  When my turn came up, I hopped in and took off.  Someone quickly overtook me during my second lap, I think.  The swim segment was mostly a blur.  I know I was passed several times.  One guy alternated between walking and swimming in front of me which was a bit frustrating.  Several times I had to slow down or move over or look up to keep from running into that guy or someone else.  The lanes were pretty narrow too which added to the challenge.  Anyway, I finished my 300 yards, exited the pool, and ran to transition.  After the race I saw that my official time was 6:03--best swim pace yet for me.  Considering the jog from the pool to transition, I most certainly was in and out of the pool in less than six minutes.  And, I wasn't completely exhausted by it.

T1:  Goggles down.  Shoes on. Helmet, glasses.  Grabbed the bike and I was off, starting my Garmin as soon as I reached the "mount" line so I could watch my average speed.  My official time was 32.5 seconds.  I probably could have been under 30 if I hadn't hopped around trying to put on my left shoe.  The above picture doesn't capture the humor of the moment unfortunately.  Otherwise, it was a pretty fast transition and I was pleased.

Bike:  The fun part!  I took off like a bullet.  I wanted to get up to speed quickly....and dry off.  It was quite chilly initially; I'm not sure if the temperature reached 60 degrees and it was windy--a cross wind on the bike route.  The first several miles were mostly flat, then we hit a few rollers.  My average speed before the hills was about 22mph.  The hills slowed me down a bit.  I passed one guy right away, then maintained my position.  The best part of being a below average swimmer is passing people on the bike segment of the race.  I generally do pretty well climbing and with my aerodynamic bike frame, I descend quickly too.  So, I caught several people in the middle section of the course.  My recovery times are great right now thanks to my winter training, so I continued to pass people when the course flattened out again.  I was going all out; I don't think I could have gone any faster.  I was actually a bit worried how I was going to perform on the run, but I was sticking to my plan.  As I neared the end, I decided to take my feet out of my shoes before I stopped moving to save a bit of time.  I was pretty sure I could do it safely.  And, it went smoothly.  My official time was 37:12 with an average speed of 21mph: goal achieved.  And, nobody passed me.  Well, anyone who did, I overtook again.

T2:  Racked the bike.  Helmet off.  Running shoes on.  Garmin on the wrist.  Go!  I struggled a bit here because my feet were numb after being wet and cold on the windy bike ride.  Official time, 33 seconds.

Run:  Starting the run with numb feet was a bit of a challenge, but I quickly found my stride.  The runners were well strung out, but I started passing people right away.  I looked at my average pace early on and saw that I was around 6:30/mile and decided to slow down a bit.  I wanted to go all out, but didn't want to get crazy.  The elevation map I saw before the race appeared to only have 2 hills, or the same one twice--it was hillier than that.  I guess there were 2 major hills, but it was an out-and-back course.  I descend pretty well and I've been doing a lot of hill repeats this year so far and it helped.  I passed people up and down both hills.  Around the half-way point we meander through a cemetery (where Ann Rutledge and Edgar Lee Masters are buried).  Here, I was passed by one guy, but I passed him descending the hill just outside of the cemetery and didn't see him again.  No one else passed me on the run.  Through this section I was able to cheer on all my fellow Quincians as we passed each other.  At the top of the last hill, I checked my pace which was somewhere under 7:00/mile and I picked up the pace a bit.  Around the half mile to go point, I dropped the hammer with the intent to empty the tank and I finished strong.  According to my Garmin, I finished at 6:48/mile, a 5k PR!

Official results: Swim 6:03; T1 0:32; Bike 37:12 (21mph); T2 0:33; Run 20:46 (6:42/mile); Total Time 1:05:07.  I was 18th overall out of 133.  7th in my age group.  7 of the top 18 finishers were aged 40 to 44 years!  Tough group.  Of course, I was very pleased with my performance.  I basically met all my goals and achieved some PRs.  It was an opportunity to practice a few things, mainly transitions, that I hadn't done since last summer.  I also learned a bit about myself: how hard I can push myself and how quickly I recover.  Overall: a top notch experience.

Bonus: we received nice cotton t-shirts at registration and a hot meal of chicken and noodles and green beans after the race.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Training Smart

Just last week I ran my fastest 5k ever at the age of 41 (21:14).  It was significantly faster than any I ran in my 20s and my previous PR was about two and a half years ago (21:45).  When I looked at my Garmin at 3.11 miles and saw my time and pace, I immediately had a big giddy grin on my face.

My winter training has been going especially well.  I am getting faster at all running distances.  My swimming and bicycling have greatly improved too.  After having an exceptional 2009 and early 2010, my performance started to decline or at least I met a plateau in progress.  I think I had been overtraining, so I sort of took 2011 off.  I did okay, still setting some PRs, but progress slowed.  Then, in late 2011, I refocused.  My recent improvements can be attributed mostly to training with purpose and listening to my body.

First, I emphasize quality over quantity.  Workouts have specific goals.  Some examples: a swim workout focusing on form or maybe just one aspect of the stroke; a bike ride with 20-minute intervals at lactate threshold to improve muscular endurance; or, running hill repeats to improve VO2max, leg strength and power.  My training regimen is designed by keeping the end goal in mind.  I first answer questions like: What metabolic systems do I need to train?  What are my weaknesses?  How much time do I have?  Next, I consult my resources, do a few calculations, and draw up a plan.  Then, it's time to get to work.  However, the training plan is always subject to appropriate modification.

Second, I pay close attention to how I feel.  If I experience abnormal pain, I address it right away.  I won't try to work through it.  If my performance declines or it takes significantly more effort to achieve the same performance, I rest.  I'll even skip workouts if I don't feel I can achieve the goal of the particular workout.  I want to continue training and racing as long as I can.  I won't sacrifice longevity for a given race or goal.  On the other hand, if I feel really good, I push the intensity.  I also monitor how I respond to my diet: what works, what doesn't, what causes distress.

My training and coaching philosophy is "train smart, not hard."  I didn't make that up, but I have no idea where I heard it first.  A fellow personal trainer is not a big fan of this motto.  He's more of a "train hard" kind of guy and training hard is important.  I just believe it is important to train appropriately hard.  An athlete can be successful just by training hard, but sometimes plateaus in progress occur that cannot just be gutted through.  That's when you need to start flexing the brain muscle.

So, that's the secret to my success (such as it is):  training smart.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Quivering Quads Race Report

Running the 2011 edition of the Quivering Quads trail half marathon was a blast--slipping and sliding and splashing through the trails and water of Cuivre River State Park near Troy, Missouri--so it was an easy decision to return this year.  With about six other Quincy/Hannibal-area runners who I know and a former coworker also racing, I expected even more fun this time around.

[Shout out to Kris, Lorc, and Mace: the Facebook banter leading up to the race was greatly amusing, causing anticipation of the increased fun factor]

I picked up my packet and number at a busy Fleet Feet in St Charles.  The packet didn't contain much, but the shirt is a nice, bright green, long-sleeve technical one.  It also contained a coupon for Great Harvest Bread Company, so we crossed the parking lot to taste and purchase some bread.  I was reminded of the cinnamon rolls they provided after the race last year--certainly worth running 13.1 miles for.  Then, Pat and I spent the rest of the day browsing around old St Charles and a few other shops in Town & Country before returning to the (especially nice) Super 8 in Troy for the night.

Race morning: up early, shower to wake up, free continental breakfast with so-so coffee, repeated checks of radar and temperature to finalize clothing and gear choices--mild temps, potential rain.  As the caffeine kicked in and I started to get jittery, it was time to head to the park.  The BriPod was rockin' en route (probably the caffeine.)  There is limited parking, so racers park elsewhere in the park and are shuttled to the start.  As I waited for the shuttle (being the boy scout at heart--always prepared) I was able to give a fellow runner one of my spare bags for his gear to leave at the start/finish area which, of course, made me feel good.

I arrived at the start and immediately found some Heartland Road Runners and their friends.  It's nice to be able to hang out with people you know and make new acquaintances to pass the time before a race.  In this instance I got a review of some shoes I was considering buying too.  How fortuitous!  The event starts in waves of 25, departing every 3 minutes.  Since we had a couple of speedsters, our group shrunk quickly.  I was set to go in the fourth wave.  I was betting against the rain and sun, taking a minimalist approach to the event--no hat, glasses, rain jacket....just my Garmin, one gel, two shirts (one long-sleeve), shorts and shoes (no socks--Merrell Trail Glove minimalist shoes.)  Fortunately, I knew two people in my wave to chat with as we waited.  As I said, I was caffeinated and jittery.  The clock reached 9:09 and we were off.

The route starts downhill on a fire road for about a half mile.  Then we backtrack to near the start and enter the single-track trails.  I believe the purpose is to spread out each wave a bit before we enter the single-track.  I generally try to race with negative split times.  My modified plan this race was to bank time whenever possible and I generally do pretty well on the hills since I include hill repeats regularly in my training.  So, I took off quickly, turned around and ascended quickly, entering the single-track at around 8-minute pace.  Time to slow down a bit and settle in--still twelve miles to go.  The course conditions were a lot different than last year--rain came down in buckets the night before last year's race.  This year it was mostly dry.  I was cautiously optimistic about my goals.

Last year I finished in 2:16:33.  I had previously become a bit burned out and was trying to shake up my training and racing schedule.  I hadn't been pacing any of my workouts, just covering the distance.  My goals were to first, finish safely and second, to finish in around 2:15.  Afterward, I was pleased and had greatly enjoyed the race.  This year, my training was more focused on pace as were my goals.  My workouts were going very well--fast at low heart rates, economical, quick recoveries and I'm lighter than last year.  Thus, my goals were to: 1, be faster than last year, hopefully break 2:10; 2, have a really good day and break 2:05 (aggressive goal); 3, kick ass and break 2:00 and/or 9-minute miles.

About four miles in, I looked at my Garmin and saw my average pace was 8:40/mile. Two thoughts: I'm too fast! And, oh yeah!  I was feeling good and having a great time.  It was just like I recalled from last year, only drier.  I felt like a kid galloping and bouncing around in the woods.  So, I kept going, but felt okay about slowing down on the more treacherous sections; there were several.  The park is very rocky.  Some sections had more rock than soil.  With my minimalist shoes, I was stepping quite gingerly at times.  At about five miles or so, a tricksy root or rock attempted to slow me down by reaching up and grabbing my foot and tripping me up.  I hit the deck, but was apparently unhurt except for a mild sprain of my pride.  Okay.  I think I had been zoning out a bit.  On the trails, you have to watch where you place every step, ever diligent. Time to refocus on the task at hand.  Soon after this I doffed my second layer to cool off a bit. It felt great out: upper 40s, partly cloudy, no rain in sight.

At about 6.75 miles was a water stop and, for me, a loo break and mid-race gel.  Then, back on the trails.  I had been seesawing with several other runners, but at this point the group thinned out.  I was still at about 8:40/mile.  I was comfortable, but not having as much fun.  My feet, due to the combination of rocky terrain and my minimalist shoes were getting a bit sore.  However, I was over halfway done and my pace was good.  I focused on that.  Time to be mentally tough.  We took a loop and came back to the same water stop at around 10 miles in; 5k to go and I was still around 8:50/mile.  I was feeling the effects of 10 miles but still feeling strong as well.  My highest goal was in sight.  Right after the 10ish mile water stop was a short section of overlap of outgoing and incoming traffic.  Seeing other runners on the way out was inspiring along with the decreasing miles-to-go. Here also, I saw two new acquaintances and cheered them on.  Then, we entered a section of the trail through the pines that was nice and soft.  Time to pick up the pace a bit.  The last mile was the same as the first mile.  I soon heard cheering and the PA system.  Time to speed up again.  I turned the corner to go down the fire road again with an average pace of around 8:50/mile.  I relaxed and lengthened my stride, avoiding rocks and the muddy sections.  I got to the bottom and grabbed a quick gulp of water.  Half mile to go uphill.  I recalled every trip up Jackson Hill in Quincy--form, economy, quick and short steps, ignore the pain 'cause it's almost over......I checked my watch: 8:4something.  About fifty yards to go: 2:08:something on the official clock.  Sprint.

At first look, my Garmin said 8:44/mile--woo-hoo!  Goals achieved!  My Garmin also said 13.7 miles.  Officially, my time was 1:59:47.  Overall, I was 36/369 and 6/44 in the 40-44 men age group. Ecstatic!

Other local finishers:

Kris Koeller 1:52:50
Lorc Weir 1:53:37
Lori Griffith 1:57:32
Mace Colgrove 1:57:57
Rick Shover 2:16:41
Damon Vincent 2:30:13
Nancy Colgrove 2:31:51
Mary Lynne Richards 2:35:34
Jeff Spencer 2:42:43 (there's another story here)
Paul Richards 2:54:17

Time for some more of those amazing cinnamon rolls.  I've only tasted them after running 13 miles, but I think they're divine.  In summary, another great race for me.  Hard, but fun.  Two tips: first timers should have reasonable goals for any trail race and everyone should pay constant attention to the terrain.

The day after:  sore and tired, but it was worth it.  I don't know if I'll return.  Considering the conditions, it would be very hard for me to improve on my performance.  However, I can certainly recommend the event:  fun, but hard and very well organized.