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?