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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ironman is not pretty

Ironman is not pretty. Ironman is responsible for building some pretty bodies, for sure, but Ironman itself is not pretty.

The swim is not pretty:
For in-water swim starts, you know that half the people around you aren't quiet because they're focusing on the swim. After a cup or two of coffee, plus a water bottle or two of hydration formula, and those long lines at the porta-potties, and you can understand those looks of relief on those faces beside you.

Take a good open water swim, with a hefty wind and some serious chop in the water, and you can't help but swallow more water than some people drink in a day. Give that a few minutes to churn around in a few hundred stomachs, and something's coming back up.

The changing tent is not pretty:
With a 2.4 mile swim, then a 112 mile bike, and then a marathon, many people like to change into discipline-specific clothes between each segment. I mean a total change. Each gender has its own changing tent, so I can't say what it's like in the women's tent, but in the me, it ain't pretty!

The bike is not pretty:
The people who are fast on the bike don't like to stop. For anything. Not event to unload excess liquid after several water bottles. Instead, they just let it go while they're on the roll. That's not pretty enough, but imagine someone doing that while flying down a hill in front of you at 40 mph. Definitely. Not. Pretty.

The run? You guessed it:
There's really not much new on the run, other than toward the back of the pack, where you see a lot of people after 13, 14, 15, 16 hours, utterly spent and running on nothing but pure determination.

Here are some samples (sorry, no changing tents):

2007, Normann Stadler vomits on the bike

1982, Julie Moss famously crawls to the finish line

Although Ironman is not pretty, it is pretty freakin' awesome.

John Blazeman, Warrior Poet, Ironman

Team Hoyt, might just be the most awesome act of a father's dedication you'll ever see

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Race Report: Ironman Louisville

August 30, 2009. Louisville, Kentucky. Ohio River. Rural Kentucky Counties. University of Louisville. Churchill Downs. Fourth Street Live. 2,352 people with a dream.

Overview, 140.6 miles: 14:58:07
Race day was an unexpected beauty. After two years when Ironman Louisville saw temperatures in the 90's with high humidity, the third running of IML caught a break with highs in the mid-70's, low humidity, light winds and clear skies. All those weeks of waiting until mid-day to head out for long training rides and runs, to catch the hottest part of the day to prepare for the inevitable heat, turned out to be good heat training that was not needed. Big crowds in Louisville and La Grange (which the bike route passed through, twice), and smaller concentrations along the course, were great boosters for everyone who passed through. Volunteers were fantastic all the way, with the occasional exception of some on the marathon route toward the end of the evening. They were understandably weary after a long day, themselves.

Swim, 2.4 miles: 1:49:33
IML has a unique swim. Rather than a mass start, where everyone is either in the water or on the beach, and all start at once, IML uses a time trial format, with athletes jumping off a dock one at a time to enter the backwaters of the Ohio River behind Towhead Island. But back up: to stage the swim start, athletes line up, first-come, first-in, with the line stretching for what must have been a mile along a parking lot and road. Once the cannon fired, the line moved fast, like jogging fast, onto the dock and into the water. After swimming upstream (although there was no discernible current) past Towhead, the course turns out into the main body of the Ohio and then downstream for the main part of the swim.

Although it's a major river, the Ohio does in fact taste better than the Hudson in NYC, even though you can't see your fingers at the start of your swim stroke.

Based on swim splits at Eagleman and Rhode Island 70.3, in June and July, I had expected a swim time of 1:20 to 1:30. So I was disappointed when I glanced at my watch a bit before the half-way point in the swim and saw that I was significantly off my expected pace. But knowing that pushing harder than my aerobic pace in the swim would mean losing time to fatigue later in the day, I stuck with the plan and crawled on.

T1: 0:05:29
I came out of the water for the transition from swim to bike, glad to be out of the water and ready to make up time on the bike. Nancy and Ben were there for encouragement. Ran into transition, a volunteer handed over my bike equipment bag, and I ran into the men's changing tent. Ironman has separate changing tents for good reason - maybe because some folks do a total costume change, maybe because what people look like in the tent is just not pretty.

Pulled on my bike shorts over my tri shorts - I like the extra cushion over 112 miles on the bike. Also socks for comfort, bike shoes, helmet, race belt with bib, sunscreen, sunglasses, and ran out the tent. I had to get my bike from the rack - often volunteers have the bike off the rack and ready, but when a hundred people are emerging each minute, they can't serve everyone. This is why, even in a well-supported event, it always pays to know exactly where your bike is, and to practice getting to it before the race.

Bike, 112 miles: 7:19:12
Oy. I felt fine on the bike, but my time does not show it. Coming out of T1, the bike starts with a few flat miles before leaving the Ohio River bed and into the rolling hills of Kentucky. This is a great opportunity to get settled into the aero bars, start taking on nutrition and hydration, and get ready for a nice, long ride.

The goal on the bike was to stay in my aerobic heart rate zone as much as possible, and to not let my heart rate climb too high going up the hills. The first hill was a good test - steep enough to force the heart rate higher, and long enough to keep it there. The bike course has one long descent into a creek bed in an out-and-back section, which was great for a sustained "yee-haw" 40-plus mph down to the bridge, and then a good climb back out - twice. The downhills gave me a great chance to see the advantage of the aerodynamic wheels and helmet: coasting downhill I was screaming past heavier people (think about the effects of gravity on bodies with more mass), and loving it. That image helped me as I churned along the flats and rollers, realizing that my aero-gear was making me faster than if I had standard wheels and helmet. Even so, the first two hours were frustratingly slow at exactly 15 mph. I got a bit faster after that, but still well below my expected speed of 17 - 18 mph. That's where the training and plan again probably saved me from an even worse finish: had I panicked and pushed harder, beyond my aerobic heart rate zone, I may well have had a melt down during the bike.

Passing through La Grange at mile 31 on the bike, I saw the sign our friend's son had made for me, and was able to pull over for 30 seconds to give Nancy a smooch. Definitely worth it. Wife & son, along with good friends from a former life and their boys, were in La Grange for both bike loops, and it was great to see them there, even though it was just for a few seconds each time.

The last 40 miles on the bike were much faster, capped off by returning to the flat road along the river to start getting ready for the run.

T2: 0:06:29
Although I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, I did a nice rolling dismount from the bike into the transition from bike to run. A volunteer took my bike to replace it on the rack, and I ran to the volunteer who handed over my run bag, and then back into the men's changing tent. In T1, there's a lot of chatter about the water, how people did on the swim, what the bike's going to be like. In T2, not. Bike shorts, helmet, socks off. Compression socks, hat, running shoes on. Gels in tri shorts pockets, race belt rotated so bib is in front. More sunscreen. Ready to roll.

Run, 26.2 miles: 5:37:24
In the most disappointing segment of the race, my run was 30 minutes slower than my Ironman Florida run, even after posting my best half-iron run in July at Rhode Island 70.3. I felt fine coming out of T2, pumped by the adrenaline, the change of movement, and the great crowd. Out of the chute and into the streets of downtown Louisville before turning onto a bridge over the Ohio. The bridge was just a bit of a climb, and the only real rise on the run course. I ran the first three miles in a comfortable pace of 9:43/mile in my aerobic zone, which I felt like I could carry forever. But after mile three I started slowing, despite my push to keep the pace. I ran through mile 14 and the turn around for loop two, just yards from the finish line with a huge crowd. After that, took several walking breaks. Although I felt well fueled and hydrated, my right knee and hip were complaining and I gave in to the urge to give them a rest. Or several rests.

Sundown hit at about mile 21. Take a few hundred tired runners in the last few miles of an Ironman, when there's not much in the way of sustained conversation, and add a bit of darkness, and you find out how to get solitude in the middle of a city. As I was counting down the miles, I knew I had enough time to walk the rest of the marathon and still finish under the 17 hour end at midnight. But I kept running most of the way, with walking breaks as needed, along with just about everyone else still on the course.

At mile 25, I forced myself to put it in gear and keep it there until the end. I could hear the announcer calling each finisher's name as she or he crossed the line, and I could begin to hear the finish line crowd. "Finish strong," is an endurance sport mantra, and it can be a powerful drug after struggling to finish an Ironman.

Turning the last corner, just a few blocks before Fourth Street Live
and the finish line, all the pain left, all the fatigue faded, and all the frustration washed away in the bright lights of the finish chute and line. "Run toward the light!" Cheering crowds, hands outstretched to high-five runners in the last yards of their day, music blasting, and then a lone voice booming through the din: "Kevin Peter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"

Total Time, 140.6 miles: 14:58:07

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside!

So, you're an Ironman, knowing you have an Ironman event in only 33 weeks and a whole lotta base fitness to build before intense training begins the spring. Not to mention a marathon in ten weeks. But it's cold, and icy, and you have a swim, a long run and a long ride scheduled for the weekend. What to do?

Yes, winter swimming is inside, and the pool is heated. But the pool always seems colder when dark comes early that the windows are coated with condensation. Just like at the beginning of a race, I just jump in and go. The water's not going anywhere, and the fitness won't come on its own.

I did my long run yesterday. I was really hoping to run in a nice snowfall, which the forecast had been calling for, for days. I don't mind running in the cold. Just put on enough layers of cold weather running gear, and maybe a rainproof vest, and I'm ready to go. I'd much rather run in really cold weather than in hot, humid weather.

Today's two-hour bike ride was a different matter. Last night's freezing rain made even riding down to the Wissahickon for a trail ride too slippery. So I did the next best thing - grabbed a DVD and headed to the basement to spin on my road bike on the trainer. Riding inside is not as interesting as riding outside, even with a good movie to watch, but sometimes it's the only option.