Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What, me worry?

Preparing to go 140.6 miles in under 17 hours gives one many things to worry about. Can I swim 2.4 miles in open water? What if the waves are too high? What if the current's going the wrong way? Will my goggles work? Will I have a flat tire? How high are those hills? Will there be a headwind? How in the world am I going to run a marathon after biking 112 miles? Will I look good while doing it?

So many worries, and so many miles and hours to dwell on them. Paying attention to the details, big and small, is one of the keys to getting through the day. But stressing over details you can't control wastes mental energy, at best, and can sabotage your swim, bike, and run if you let the wrong details take control.

What not to worry about

On the swim. No Ironman takes place in an indoor swimming pool, so there are probably going to be waves. You're going to swim right through those waves, and you'll find they're much less of a problem than you thought. Remember: you float. At Providence 70.3 in 2009, the swim was in a semi-protected bay, but with the trailing end of an overnight thunderstorm still overhead at start time, the waves were around 18 inches. Consider that the pro's still came out of the water in about 21 minutes, and my own swim time is still my fastest 70.3 swim at 41:22.

On the bike. Popular theory is that somewhere around 1492 this guy from Spain proved once and for all that the Earth is not flat. More recently, this other guy from Spain proved that mountains are no obstacle, especially in France. Oh yeah, you're going to find some climbs, even (relatively speaking) at Ironman Florida. They aren't going anywhere, and they are not getting any smaller, so take 'em as they come, get to the top, and keep on going. Nearly every climb has a corresponding descent, so get ready to enjoy that free speed on the way back down. And that headwind thing? Somewhere along the 112 mile course, you're gonna find it. It can be incredibly frustrating cranking along into a good headwind, but what can you do? Keep on cranking, stay in your zone, and remember that every headwind can also become a tailwind at some point.

On the run. Whether you're running a stand-alone marathon or tacking it on at the end of Ironman, it's still 26.2 miles. It's no farther after going 112 on the bike than when you run a marathon by itself. One foot in front of the other. One mile at a time.

What to worry about

Equipment. Check and double check and triple check every piece of equipment in the weeks and days and hours before the race. Make sure all your clothing fits perfectly, is adjusted right, and works like you need it to when you're actually using it. Don't just pull on your wetsuit in the bedroom - take it to your pool or open water swim area and make sure you can get it on & off, the zipper works, no tears, etc. Take your ride to your local bike shop for a good look-over at a minimum. As Chris McCormmack can attest (2008), the worst kind of DNF comes when you're having a great day, everything's gelling, and then a derailleur cable snaps and your day is over.

On the other hand, remember Chrissie Wellington's flat in Kona, in 2008? She kept her head, stayed calm, got back on the bike, and won!

Nutrition/Hydration. Practiced, and hopefully perfected during training, sticking with your nutrition plan can be the make-it or break-it element over which you have the most control. Knowing what you learned about your needs during long rides and runs, take in exactly what you know you need. Take in less, and you may end up slowing down from lack of fuel rather than mere fatigue, or in the med tent. Take in more, and you risk bloating and a really uncomfortable rest of the day.

Attitude. Even if everything goes perfectly on race day, there really is only one thing that will get you to the end: your unwavering commitment that you will keep going until you cross the finish line. If you give in to the voice that keeps whispering, "I can't do this," you're going to fight it all the way, and it just might win. You'll probably hear that voice plenty through the day, and every time you'll remind it about all your training, all your planning, how much you want this, and that you are NOT going to stop until you hear Mike Reilly's booming voice, proclaiming to the world, "You Are An Ironman!"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Your first Ironman? Here's what you'll do wrong.

Your first Ironman. Congratulations! All your training, all the miles, all the hours, all the sunburns and flat tires and aches and pains and early mornings and early nights and bricks and lap after lap after lap after lap following the mind-numbing black line and the chlorine...they're all about to pay off at the big show: Ironman.

You may not think it now, and you will probably be near panic-mode when you see the water, race morning, but once you get into your rhythm on the swim, you'll get to a point where you know you'll be fine on the swim. You'll move through T1, ready to continue that friendship with your bike that you've forged over many miles and many hours in the saddle. You'll settle into the bike, and by the end (or maybe well before then) you'll be so ready to get off the bike... T2 you may be a little less chatty than T1, but you'll be ready for the run, and you'll pump out of T2 onto the run with the energy of the crowd. You'll take the run as it comes, sometimes feeling like you're in stride and on pace, and sometimes just hoping you make it to the end. But you'll make it. And sometime before midnight, you will hear Mike Reilly shout to the world, "You Are An Ironman!"

That's all true, and you WILL be an Ironman. But here are the mistakes you'll make during the day. Believe me, because many of us have made the same mistakes. Some of us, more than once.

1. You'll do too much when you arrive at the race city/venue. When you get on site, you'll see people riding in full kit, running all over the place, and swimming like there's no tomorrow. You'll think you need to do that, too. Don't be fooled. Some of them live there and are riding, running, and swimming because they know they'll LOOK like they're here for the race. They don't have to go 140.6 on Sunday! You go like them Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and you'll be able to go as far as them, Sunday = not 140.6! Take a couple of short rides to make sure your bike is dialed in. Do a short run or two to keep the capillaries open, but if you do the underwear run, don't think you have to win it.

1.1 You'll do too little when you arrive at the race city/venue. Sure, you've done all the training, you tapered perfectly, and nothing you do in the last few days will make you faster or fitter. But doing too little can dull your edge. You need to keep the capillaries in place, and you need to burn off some of that nervous energy.

1.2 Swim: You won't do any of the training swims on the race course because you're still intimidated by the swim. If you're still feeling intimidated, the best thing you can do is take a couple of short swims on the course. (This is also a great place to run into some Pro's when they're more relaxed and just checking out things like the rest of us.)

2. You'll go to bed too early the night before the race. Yes, you need a good night's sleep before the race. But let's get real. You don't go to bed at 8:00, ever, so don't go to bed at 8:00 the night before Ironman! You won't be able to go to sleep, and you'll just stress yourself out. "I must to go sleep!" "I can't go to sleep!" "I MUST go to sleep!" Instead of trying to force yourself to go to sleep un-naturally early, plan to have a relaxing evening. Eat supper/dinner early. Watch a movie. Relax while chatting with your friend/partner/spouse/family. If making whoopie helps you sleep, just DO it! If a glass of wine helps you relax, drink it. (NOT the whole bottle!) Get a good night's sleep each night of the week before race day, and take some naps the days before, and you'll be OK after not sleeping as much the night before the race.

3. Race morning: you'll wake up many times during the night. Do NOT get out of bed before your planned wake-up time. Even if you're awake at 1:30, 2:17, and 4:03 a.m., stay in bed until your pre-determined "wake-up" time. If you're awake, OK, you're awake. Just relax and enjoy this quiet time before your big day.

4. Your bike: you'll load way too much on your bike, and you'll carry way too much weight on your bike.

4.1 Gels: you can load five-six-seven hours of gels on your bike, with electrical tape on your top tube, or in your Bento box, or in your shorts. If you need your special gel mix to survive, then by all means do it. But if you can do just as well with PowerBar gels (or whatever the race is using this time around), then you'll get one every ten miles, and you won't have to carry ANY with you. Maybe one extra on hand just in case.

4.2 Hydration: considering that a full 20 oz. water bottle weighs roughly 1.6 pounds, how much weight do you really want to haul around? Aid stations come along every 10 miles. That means cold water and a fresh load of PowerBar Perform (at least until WTC inks a deal with some other hydration company) every ten miles. If you really need your special drink mix, then use what you need. But if you can handle whatever they're serving, you really don't need more than two or three (really, two) bottles.

4.3 Food: you could feed a lot of people with all the PBJs and bananas that get dumped along the bike route. If you really need solid food on the bike, take it. It seems like a lot of people at every race never tested the theory during training, and end up wasting energy carrying around food they end up tossing on the road.

5. Run: the noise of the crowd and your adrenaline might have you rocketing out of T2. Just don't let it last too long before finding your pace and settling in for the marathon.

5.1 Hydration: don't drink a full cup of hydro at every aid station! Do you drink that much every mile in training? You want to stay hydrated, but your gut's only going to absorb so much liquid each mile: the extra liquid sloshing around isn't going to feel good.

6. Finish: there are no mistakes at the finish line. You Are An Ironman!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2011: taking care of unfinished business

For 2011, I'm going after some of those unanswered questions from the big disappointments of 2009. Ironman Louisville 2009 was a surprising disappointment: training was good, prep races were good, but race day didn't live up to my abilities. Swim time was off by 20 minutes, bike never found my normal speed, and I faded on the run to the point of walking perhaps 30 minutes overall (maybe more). I developed an overuse injury in my right shoulder during the build for Louisville which took almost until Ironman Lake Placid in 2010 to feel swimable, and it's still not 100%. Later in the season, during the Philly Marathon, I strained a hamstring and waived goodbye to my Boston qualifying time of 3:30, even though I had been right on goal pace at 13.1 miles. That hammy took until early summer 2010 before I felt confident I could run a marathon again. So now that Lake Placid is behind me (which, although it was my slowest Ironman performance, it is the one I am most happy with), I am thinking seriously about the 2011 season.

The big goals...

1. Go sub-12 hours at Ironman Louisville. I have not finished an Ironman under 12 hours, yet. I could-a should-a would-a at Louisville in 2009 but it wasn't happening that day. My bike speed is better now, and my running is way better. Just need to get back to work on my swim to bring that time down a bit. Carving time off the shortest part of the day (swim) is not going to make huge gains in the overall time, but 20 minutes here and there add up over 140.6 miles.

2. Qualify for the Boston Marathon with a 3:30 marathon finish elsewhere. My training times and half-marathon time at the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2009 had me on track for a BQ, until the injury at mile 15-ish. I have the , I can get back to the speed. I'll plan up to three regional marathons in 2011 to give me several chances.

The smaller goals...

1. Go sub-6 hours in a half-Ironman. I came close at Eagleman (6:17) and Providence (6:08 - my best 70.3 result so far). As with Ironman, shaving a few minutes off the swim will help, but the big answer is shaving bike time and run time. I know I can.

2. Go sub-21 minutes in a 5K. My best 5K time is 21:22, for a pace of 6:54/mile. I need to shave eight seconds per mile to hit 20:59. I've come close to placing in my age group in a couple of 5Ks (in 2009, not 2010!), and I think breaking the 21 minute barrier just might do the trick in the right race.

And the crazy goal...

Go off-road. I have a friend who does really crazy mountain bike races, like 24-hour races and five-day stage races in the Rockies. He's inspired me to spend more time on the knobby tires, and I'm finally getting a little better, a little less fearful of the rocky downhills, a little better at making it up a climb in the pedals rather than on foot. So I'm going to pick up a 29er (probably a Niner) and plan to do some one-day, off-road races in 2011. (Maybe a stage race or two in 2012?)

So here's the schedule and goals as they stand now:

March 27: Brandywine Valley Duathlon (just fun & training)

April 17: Hibernia MTB Duathlon (don't crash on the bike)

May 2: Broad Street Run (finish under 1:19:36 for a PR)

May 15: Philadelphia Bar Foundation 5K (finish under 21 minutes for a PR and possibly place in age group)

June 12: Eagleman 70.3 (sub-six hours and PR)

June 26: Philadelphia Triathlon (finish under 2:43:05 for an Olympic-distance PR)

July 10: Amica Ironman 70.3 Providence (sub-six hours)

August 28: Ironman Louisville (sub-12 hours and a PR)

September: Philadelphia Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon or Whatever They Call It Next Year (1:40 for a PR and BQ goal time at 13.1)

November 20: Philadelphia Marathon (sub 3:30 for a PR and BQ)

I need to consult my MTB crazed friend for off road races to fit into the schedule. The goal of any off-roading will simply be to finish without any broken bones (broken bike is negotiable). Looking to 2012, potentially, for some more serious MTB action. I also need to look into other regional marathons that are good for PRs (yes, I know about Lehigh Valley).

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Unspoken thoughts: 24 hours inside the mind of Ironman

12:00 a.m. – Must get back to sleep. Can’t get back to sleep. Did I set the alarm right? Must get back to sleep.

1:00 a.m. – Must get back to sleep. How much lost sleep can adrenaline cover? Must get back to sleep.

2:00 a.m. – Must get back to sleep. Did I set my goggles out with my wetsuit? Must get back to sleep.

3:00 a.m. – Must get back to sleep. Will my tires hold pressure over night? Must get back to sleep.

4:00 a.m. – (wake-up time) Ugh. Is it really 4:00 already? How many minutes did I sleep?

5:00 a.m. – Liquid breakfast. Get dressed. Is this enough carbs and calories? What am I forgetting?

6:00 a.m. – Bike and run gear and special needs bags ready to go. Bike is good to go. Relax & get heart rate down below 100. Get to the swim start and relax. Hard to relax with a few thousand spectators packed around swim start. Did the Mayor really say “no peeing in Mirror Lake?”

7:00 a.m. – Go! I hope these goggles work today. I didn’t swim enough in training. Can I still swim 2.4 miles? Is my calf cramping? Is that guy so slow he’s drafting on me? Find a rhythm. Focus.

8:00 a.m. – Will this swim ever end? I didn’t swim enough in training. Is it raining? Is Swim Out getting farther away? Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Can too!

9:00 a.m. – I can’t believe my first hour on the bike broke 20 mph with those hills. Nutrition. Drink. Gel. She’s fast. And she’s got a great, um, bike.

10:00 a.m. – Oh, so this is why they call ‘em the Adirondack MOUNTAINS. Climbing feels good, but I’m pushing too hard. Must back off or the second loop is not going to be fun.

11:00 a.m. – There’s that 72 year-old I met at Ironman Louisville last year. Dang, he beat me out of the water by a lot. And he’s 73 this year. Papa Bear climb is like a TdF climb with this crowd and noise. Bring on the adrenaline!

12:00 p.m. – First half of bike wasn’t bad, but the second loop is gonna be tough. I pushed too hard on these hills. Nutrition. Can too! Relax and stay settled in the aero bars.

1:00 p.m. – This is definitely my new favorite downhill in the world. Glad I don’t have my GPS or I’d probably be afraid of my speed here. I am Spartacus!

2:00 p.m. – What’s my bottle count? Am I drinking enough? Nutrition. Got to keep nutrition going. Is that guy gonna pass me again? I’ll catch him on the next flat stretch.

3:00 p.m. – These hills are definitely harder this loop. What’s my average speed? Doesn’t matter, can’t go faster than I can. I’ll get there when I get there. Still have a marathon to run. A hilly marathon. Wish I had that guy’s arms. Didn’t do enough strength training.

4:00 p.m. – Must run now. Leg turnover. Cadence. Find your pace. Feeling good. Just keep it going! Didn’t run enough in training. Can! Will! Gonna!

5:00 p.m. – Walk the aid stations, but run everything else. It’s all about attrition now. Who’s gonna give in and who’s gonna keep pushing? Me, I’m pushing!

6:00 p.m. – OK, walk the toughest of the hills, too, but run everything else. Attrition. Attrition. How does she still look so comfortable? She’s got some nice, um, compression socks.

7:00 p.m. – Feet aren’t hurting? How can that be? Knees ache but not enough to stop. Attrition. Attrition. Oh, and nutrition. Keep fluids coming. Keep the calories coming in. Where’s that chicken broth for some warm sodium?

8:00 p.m. – Sun’s behind the mountains, now it’s gonna get chilly. Need long sleeve shirt out of special needs bag. Pain is temporary: quitting is forever. I’m doing OK but I have to keep pushing. Clock is ticking.

9:00 p.m. – Only two hours to make it. Must push. Don’t give up. Too close for comfort. Don’t DNF.

10:00 p.m. – Push. Push. Push. Clock is ticking. Don’t DNF. Focus. Don’t DNF. Leg turnover. Don’t DNF!

10:46:56 p.m. – Made it! Too close for comfort. What? It’s only 10:46? I thought it was an hour later! I had a whole hour and change left – glad I didn’t know.

11:00 p.m. – Food station is out of pizza? Ten minutes, yeah I can wait that long. Core temperature dropping. Serious shivering. Hypothermia. Can’t stick around for pizza. Get to morning clothes bag, get warm clothes, get moving to avert hypothermia. Can’t stick around ‘til midnight in this wet race kit. Too chilly. Too chilled.

12:00 a.m. – Solid food good. Clean teeth good. Ice bath? Core temperature to low. How about a nice warm shower instead? To sleep, perchance to dream.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Long Run

You can go the distance
We'll find out in the long run

The long run: a staple of marathon training. You can't go 26.2 on marathon day if you haven't gone long before marathon day. It's just that simple. You have to build the aerobic endurance, the muscular endurance, and the mental endurance to cover the distance. You have to build bone density. You have to strengthen the soft tissues - cartiledge and tendons. You have to know how your shoes, socks, shorts and everything else are going to feel after 12, 18, 20 miles. If you want to run a marathon, you have to do your long runs.

When it all comes down
We will
still come through in the long run

Going long means building miles for progressively longer runs, generally by adding a mile or two to your longer run each week. And that's the tricky part. Add too much mileage, too quickly, and you risk injury, like stress fractures in the feet and legs, or tendonitis. Most people max out at a 20-mile training run. But the longer you stay long - the more long runs you do beyond your normal distances, the more you risk injury. With that in mind, most normal people don't go much beyond 20 miles before marathon day.

Who is gonna make it?
We'll find out in the long run

The long run is as much about mental endurance as physical. Just about everything that's going to happen in the marathon, happens on the long runs. Tired feet, hip pain, knee pain, ankle pain, lower ab pain, lower back pain. Rocks in your shoe. Cold, rainy days. Scorching hot days. Dehydration. Fuel that doesn't. Do your long runs, and you're going to deal with plenty of pain, inconvenience, lousy conditions. And you learn how to deal with them, how to survive and keep going. You learn what it takes to push yourself to go farther than you have in a while, or maybe ever.

Kinda bent, but we ain't breakin'
in the long run

The long run prepares you to manage the marathon miles. Even though most people max at 20, once you make it to that point in a marathon, you're counting down a mere 10k. And a 10k is such an easy distance. You know you can cover that. Ten-k is so short compared to your long runs. Of course, it's 10k longer than your longest run. And you're tired, sore, and probably hurting. But it's only 10k.

Ooh, I want to tell you, it's a long run

(Long Run lyrics by the Eagles)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The hardest part of Ironman

People often ask:

What's the hardest part of an Ironman?
A. The swim?
B. The bike?
C. The run? (Must be the run. How can anyone run a marathon after going 112 miles on the bike?)

The truth is:
D. None of the above.

An Ironman race, or any other triathlon, is hard. You're either pushing yourself to go really fast, or really far, and sometimes both. And you are totally at the mercy of the weather and terrain, which can make it even harder. But pushing yourself in the race is not the hardest part.

Covering the swim distance, whether 500 yards or 2.4 miles, is just swimming. As long as you've put in the training. Covering the bike distance, whether 15 miles or 112, is about pacing yourself and sticking to the hydration and nutrition plan. And the run, well, the run gets tough, especially after 56 or 112 miles on a bike. And running a marathon after 112 miles on the bike, that's just really tough. But it's not the hardest part.

Toeing the line at the swim start can be tough. Knowing you're about to go into the water with as many as 2,000 other people, all following the same line, all making the same turns, all at the same time. Knowing some of them are faster than you, and some are going to swim right over the top of you. Literally. Knowing there are sharks and jellyfish in some of the courses. In others, there are things you can't see because the water is so murky you can't see your fingers at the end of your stroke. Not seeing some of those things is good. But still... Knowing that if this were a public swimming beach, the lifeguards wouldn't let you in past your knees because the waves are too high. That can get tough. But it's not the hardest part.

The hardest part of Ironman isn't in the race at all. It's the time, effort, logistics, trade-offs, dark morning runs, rainy afternoon bike rides, swims in the dead of winter (even when the pool's heated, it still seems cold), indoor bike workouts in the basement, paying attention to nutrition so you don't gain too much weight in the winter. It's 100-mile rides in the heat of July and August. It's the 20-mile runs when there's no breeze to cut the 99% humidity. It's the first three minutes of an ice bath after a long run. Deep tissue massages that loosen muscles and tendons and help prevent injury but hurt so bad. Waking up at 5:00 a.m. to meet friends to run up a hill, again and again. Going to bed at 9:00 to get enough sleep to wake up at 5:00. Figuring out how to balance Ironman, family, work, and community in a schedule that already seemed full before the Ironman virus came along.

The hardest part of Ironman is sticking with the commitment, day after day, week after week, month after month, to do the workouts and keep the goal in sight. It's knowing that no single workout is going to make a difference in your ability to finish, or in your finish time, but also knowing that every workout gets you ready for the next. It's mediating the frequent internal argument: am I tired because I'm too tired to get out of bed for this workout and should skip it to avoid injury...or am I tired because it's still dark outside, and raining, and 42 degrees?

The hardest part of Ironman is consistently honoring the commitment you made to become an Ironman. It's being true to the reason you accepted the Ironman challenge. When everything else stacks up against training - work, family, chores, weather, loss of motivation, injury, illness - and sometimes they all stack up at the same time - that's when the hardest part of Ironman comes a'knocking. And when it does, and you answer by shoving a blackened toenail from last week's long tempo run in it's face, the hardest part of Ironman acquiesces: "Right, you are an Ironman."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Race Report: Philadelphia Distance Run

Philadelphia Distance Run
Half-marathon: 13.1 miles
September 20, 2009

Chip time: 1:43:46.
Pace: 7:55/mile
Placed: 2,204 out of 12,447

I've always wanted to run this popular local race, but it never fit into my schedule. PDR was exactly three weeks after Ironman Louisville, so how I would do in the event was up in the air. Would I be ready to push hard and actually race? Or would I still need to watch my recovery from Ironman and treat it like a low-intensity long run for marathon training?

Recovery was going well, so I did a couple of short runs with marathon-pace intervals earlier in the week. Everything seemed fine. I had no problem hitting the goal pace, holding it for a mile, and had no problems afterwards. So I decided to race it.

Goal pace was eight minutes per mile, for a total time of 1:44:52. That's the pace I'll have to hold at the Philadelphia Marathon, November 22, to qualify in my age group for the Boston Marathon. This has been my big goal all season: to get withing striking distance of qualifying for Boston. I hit the mark in the 10-mile Broad Street Run in May, but that was the only stand-alone road (running) race of any distance I did this season. So PDR was a good test, especially after a season of triathlon and the big build for Ironman.

Race morning was perfect: temps in the upper 50's at the start, sunny, light breeze. I'm really a cold-weather wimp so I had a long sleeve under armor, but decided to toss it before the start and go with shorts & singlet only. Good choice. Sleeves would have been to warm.

I started at just below 8:00/mile from the start. Down the Ben Franklin Parkway, around City Hall and down Market Street, past Independence Mall, and then up Walnut. I held my pace, although I had to pay attention to my GPS to make sure I was staying between 7:45/ and 8:00/mile. Heart rate was up in the lactate threshold zone, so well above aerobic, but based on my half-marathon at Rhode Island 70.3 in July, I knew I could sustain that level of effort.

After passing back through Eakins Oval the course headed out on MLK Drive, the site of several 5Ks earlier in the season, and a nice open view of the Schuylkill River. At mile 6, nature came a-calling, and I dodged into a porta-potty for about a minute. Back to business, I picked up the pace a bit and still managed eight minutes for that mile. Across the Falls Bridge and the work got a little harder. Had to push a bit more to keep the pace.

Mile 9 was the toughest, as it was too far to be a cake walk back to the finish, and long enough into the race to start feeling it. Pushed through mile 9 and came to the 10-mile marker, showing only a 5K left to go. That made the countdown easy. Coming up to Boat House Row, I picked up the pace to give myself a bit of a cushion - I knew I had my goal time in hand, but I also had some room to dig for more speed, so did. I pushed mile 13 the hardest, and then got into a sprint after the final turn with about 100 yards to go before the finish. I lost that sprint but it was a great burst at the end to cap off a great run.

Nailing my goal pace and finish time, I am now even more convinced that my disappointing result at Ironman Louisville was due to an off day. I felt fine but just didn't hit any of my paces or goal times for the splits. After results in Eagleman and Rhode Island 70.3s earlier in the season, and again at PDR, I know my times and what I can do. Louisville just wasn't in the cards, and that's OK.

Now, on to the final push for the Philadelphia Marathon. Long runs, Yasso 800's, hill repeats. Stay tuned.

Watch a cool PDR video here.