Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Me. And My Fitness: A Look at the Bigger Picture

I received my next 6 weeks or so training schedule from Coach Doug the other day. Now that tri season has come to a close for me I have been looking forward to being a single-sport athlete focusing on the discipline I love so much: running. I would be lying if I said this cycle did not come without any apprehension, but I as I have been getting fairly consistent miles in week in, week out-my expectations, goals, and purpose keep floating around in the vast space that is my cranium.

While I won't bore you with specifics of what's included in this part of the training plan, the email that came with the attached spreadsheet read "it's going to get difficult quick, so pay attention to how you're feeling". After another wave of initial apprehension, the apprehension turned into something more like confidence. The biggest difference in this cycle is that it is realistic for where I am at. While the distances for long runs will definitely stretch me, especially at first; the paces for tempo and interval days are set appropriately for the here and now of my( current) fitness level. Imagine that?!

 A year ago I would have probably asked for faster paces or more miles sooner; feeling that those are not challenging enough or nowhere near I'm capable of doing. If I was at the helm again designing the plan I likely would have rushed to return to my elusive top form. I would have felt sorry for myself for not running faster or being given a faster schedule. One thing that I have made a point or working on this year is to look at training as a process. Fast times and top fitness demand consistency, doing the right amount of things at the right time, and probably the most difficult of all: patience. As Chris Lear writes in his book "Sub-4:00" on Alan Webb and his first year at Michigan, "fitness takes patience".

So what does this have to do with the 'Me' in as the title indicates? For so many years, my fitness level and race times were part of my identity. I got more of my self-worth than I would like to admit with how fast I covered a distance, how many miles I ran in a given week-plus what my average pace was on each run made it easier to be at ease with who I was at the time. Well guess what? It is a very frustrating and often empty pursuit chasing the almighty clock and everything that goes with it. One of the biggest changes in my approach is that I am pensively* learning to look beyond the clock , the endless comparisons, and how my day goes being based on my run or if I am healthy or not. How fit and fast I am can increase my overall confidence level, but drive it? Sounds like risky business.

Was the schedule "beneath" my potential? Of course-but that's the point. I know what I am capable of, but in order to experience that potential-I have to work this step first to get to the next one with what I've got right now. Looking beyond my own little orb of self-influence, I have a lot to be grateful and to work with. What it takes is patience. Of course I want my 50-mile weeks and low-6 tempo runs now, but I don't need them in order to enjoy the sport and feel like an athlete. As much as running enhances my life-my fitness level does not need to determine what I think of Me.

And as a much wiser sport psychologist once wrote "you can have anything you want as long as you don't need it". A realistic, yet still  fairly progressive training and racing plan is a step. I'm here, I'm in, I'm committed. May I remember those three phrases on those days I do get frustrated and struggle. Progress is never a straight line. Realistic goals make that crazy curvilinear line a little straighter.

A quick closing note:

I hope anyone who reads this takes what they want and leaves what they don't. The purpose of this post is to help keep me accountable as I enter a physically and mentally challenging phase and hopefully provide a different perspective on what running and racing can bring to us. In no way is what I think or believe better than any one else's philosophy, we all have different reasons for our training. This doesn't mean that I won't be my competitive, driven self; just a slightly smarter, more patient version of it! Hopefully my best running experiences are ahead of me.

Stay the course.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cypress Triathlon 2014

Now that I've had a nap and a Skinny Mocha from Starbuck's (two of my favorite Sunday items in case you care), I thought it would be as good a time as any to write up some thoughts and high points from today's Cypress Triathlon (for Houston locals-formerly Bridgeland Tri). Today I was to close out my short summer tri season and put another somewhat frustrating running summer behind me. I wanted to do well today, and feel I did just that. And lucky for the reader: this may be my last "long" race report!!

Pre-race was pretty uneventful and unusually calm for me. I went with what works for dinner, penne pasta with spinach and salmon for dinner, oatmeal with peanut butter and sports drink for breakfast, and a Stinger Gel before the swim. I felt like I hydrated and rested well this week to prepare as a new snap suddenly appeared in my legs for the days leading up to the race, something I didn't have pre Texas Star. We also were blessed with a cool front making conditions bearable for SE Texas in August.

My process goal for this race was to simply focus on myself, what I could control and what I could do over the course. When I wanted to look at the start list, I didn't, when I wanted to look around and size up others, I managed to refrain. I just may be growing up:)

Swim-550 meters Open-Water: 

This was a big race with well over 1000 participants, I believe. There were 14 or 15 waves and my AG was #13. While this was good for time management and not feeling rushed, everyone seemed out on the course by the time we waded in, treaded water and went off. After losing a little warmup effect, it took me about 100 meters to get comfortable and in rhythm, but when I did, it was surprisingly comfortable. I just focused on long strokes and saving energy. It occurred to me near the one turn that I was having a pretty good race. My friend Richard actually was a pleasant surprise at the shore and he pulled me out onto the beach, and I went into T1, which wasn't fast but wasn't slow either. I swam pretty good for a non-fish, in 10:39. Oh, and the water was grayish brown-but I chose not to acknowledge it and fortunately, I don't think I got much in my mouth!

Bike-13 miles

I am a decent cyclist, but with travel over the past couple weeks and a slow increase in running mileage the bike took the back burner a bit in training. It actually took me until half way through the course to get comfortable and in a groove. Jockeying with two other women in my AG made it challenging, then I remembered my race plan "focus on YOU". Ok self, point taken...

The last few miles I rode under the red line, but solid enough to keep me in contention. And I started feeling energized again-I put another gel in my water bottle with a spoonful of beta alanine with a salt tab. It looked weird having brown liquid in there (it was a basic Honey Stinger) but worked like magic-I never wanted hydration on the run, which is weird for being such a heavy sweater. T2 I feel I did a better job of getting my stuff together. I came in at 37ish and was a little over 20 mph.

Run 3.1 :

I took off from the grassy transition area onto the residential run course-most of it on sidewalk (eeek!). After having some trouble focusing on the run in spots last race I actually wore a Garmin on this part. My shoe choice was the Saucony Virrata-light and responsive. The first half mile I thought I was running respectively, but upon looking down saw 6:03 for the pace. Um, need to dial back a bit-at least at this stage! Although the first part of the run felt the easiest it has in a long time, I slowed quite a bit to stay around current LT and was glad I did as the last mile got a tad tedious. I kept telling myself how I'm getting my toughness back, and that I'm having a great race and going to do so much better than my last race. In the last quarter, I found the energy to surge past a few more athletes and put in a 1:13-good enough for the podium in a big race. Even though the Virratas are now banned for how tired and sore they made my "project foot", I felt great afterward and accomplished for the season. Avg pace was 6:56, an improvement from last race and a sign things are trending positively and was fastest in my AG. Telling myself "you're having a great race" was much better than "you're out of shape" or you have work to do".

At the time of the awards ceremony, I was listed 1st AG 30-34, with the fastest run, 4th fastest bike and 11th fastest swim. I'm sure my transitions were pretty slow, but whatev. Total time was 1:13 and I'll gladly take it. I think post awards another girl in my AG was ahead of me (whoops!). The medals were really sweet and awards were actually useful-engraved medal hangers!
While I don't race for swag, I have been wanting a medal hanger!
I'll note some things I did for recovery-first, after having a disturbing blood sugar drop after last race, I knew I needed more sugar just after. So I had my first Coke in about 2 years. And it was everything I wanted it to be. When I got home, in addition to foam rolling, I took an epsom salt bath-especially with still-repairing foot muscles, it was very helpful. You should try one sometime.....but hydrate while you're in there.

My takeaways for this event are that I run/race better relaxed. Comparing myself with other athletes is exactly what I read and convey to others: useless, and I am starting to find my mental toughness again. As I shift back to run focus, training my mind will be just as important as my runs and recovery practices. Today's run I am happy with and can't wait to see what Coach Doug has in store in the next cycle. Til then, I get a recovery week-and I will gladly take it to 'hit reset' and move on.

Thanks goes out to Doug Storey for keeping me corralled for my run training as I build, and of course my sweet sponsors Oiselle and Honey Stinger.

Race. Recover. Repeat. Get stronger!

Stay the course.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Texas Star Sprint Triathlon: Taking on the Hills, Sun, and Grass!

Triathlon # 1 of 2 this summer complete. All things considered, this was a fairly successful outing. I knew going in that I had some significant advantages and some relative disadvantages, but this race may be one of the best I've executed strategy-wise in a long time. The RD and crew at the Texas Star Tri up the road in Montgomery, TX did a good job and were very enthusiastic in their efforts at the race this morning. It was great to hear a genuine "you look amazing" from the volunteers when trucking up a nice little incline out of T2!

I wore my Timex watch and did my best to keep each split, however, after the bike I got a little caught up and later got a little mentally "fuzzy" in the later stages;  so the split times (currently unpublished) I don't have. Yes, I am writing a race report without exact numbers... and it will remain as is. Those who know me best know that I really don't want to focus much on numbers anyhow, especially on the blog/internet anyhow. It's what happens in between the starting gun and the finish line that really matters and I think is the most interesting anyhow.

For those who care, I came in at about :59 and change, achieving my goal of going underneath an hour-which was both challenging and realistic given I only had about 5-6 weeks of 20 or even less miles per week running after letting my foot heal. I even registered in May thinking this event may just be a discharge of my competitive juices via swim and bike that have been built up over the past few months. My expectations for the run were barely existent.

Flash forward to this morning. After doing only run races in the winter/spring, I am out of practice for prepping the gear for a triathlon. As the pic below indicates, I had a bag 'o clothes, two pairs of running shoes, helmet, pump, swim gear, and so on-taking a couple trips to the car to pack it all. Gear-wise, I had my Honey Stinger kit (thanks, guys!), obnoxious aero helmet, and Saucony Virratas  New Balance 1400s, and trainers to cool down in. I had this compulsion to change shoe choices from the Virratas for the NB's for drainage purposes and a little more heel lift for getting off the bike. Oatmeal and coffee now consumed with LOTS of electrolytes, I was off to Montgomery.

Swim (300 in pool):

My strategy was simple and I stayed disciplined in it: Start strong for the first length and then just focus on elongating my stroke and conserving my energy. I caught myself spinning my arms out momentarily and smoothed out nicely. Besides some very minor traffic and getting a little confused at a lane rope, I actually ended up with a race-day PR (chip mat included) of 5:10. Like some of the unfortunate swimmers I have worked with in the past, I seem to go faster in practice. Nutrition-wise, I did take a Honey Stinger Gel right before, which will prove to sustain me quite a while. Swim assessment: Nothing really to brag about, but not terrible either. And I still had plenty in the tank because I knew what lies ahead...

Bike (10 miles);

The bike course for TX Star is not brutal, but it's no picnic either-that and there is little to no shade. Every mile or so there was a fair hill with a descend. My training partner and I had rode this area several times and it paid off. I kept telling myself "patience and strength" and I started picking people off. At this time two women were ahead of me and I rode just below the red line throughout. Not having full run fitness yet, I knew the bike was where I would be competitive and was able to overtake the first and second females. Another emphasis of this race was to really focus on hydration. I am a crazy-heavy sweater and this was my chance to get fluids in. I was able to almost finish my bottle of sports drink with a little beta-alanine by the time I hit T2.

No faster than I heard "first woman" did the second gal BLOW PAST me in transition. I couldn't be too rattled about this, because I rarely practice these things (since I'm just really a runner who owns a bike and knows how to swim ;)).... ok, I did lose my cool for a few seconds as I watched her take out of transition before I could take my helmet off! OMG! I had never seen anything like that before-unless I'm watching the ITU on Universal Sports. Props to you, girl!! I proceeded to drop my helmet, catch it, get my race number and flats on and run within myself on a slight uphill onto the run course.

Run (3 miles):

This wasn't great, but it wasn't total crap either. I gave it what I had and didn't have unrealistic expectations; my process goals were to stay positive and stay just under blowing up.  I think I ran as well as I could after biking hard and currently being about 70% fitness-wise. I could see 1F, and she remained in my sight for give or take the rest of the 3 mile loop. This course was interesting: it ran around a football stadium, and then circled around some trails with grass and dirt. I could feel my ankles shift around some and somehow I cut my left toe (probably from the rough interior of the 1400s) but overall maintained my running form and kept my stride fairly short. I will say the course is not necessarily fast. I plan on running an open cross-country race in late Aug-so I guess it is good practice!

I ran through the first mile in maybe 6:40ish after trying to deliberately start conservative. I'll take that. I have no idea what my other splits were because I had to focus on maintaining pace and talking myself through the building fatigue after the second mile. I could still see the first woman (I think I made some time on her, actually)  and kept thinking "well, maybe?.." and made my way out of the woods and back to campus. In all honesty I was pretty spent in the last mile and had to brush some gremlins off with telling myself "You are just going to get better and stay in the race." That was enough to get to the finish that was on the High School track. I kicked it in as much as I could and finished-hands on knees but satisfied-in sub one-hour. My legs, feet, and everything else felt intact, but more importantly, my formerly fragile ego was intact. I had gone in, done my best, and still did fairly well even though the run prep (my usual strength) was abbreviated.

My overall placement of all 170 or so participants was 5th, and I was 2nd Female by just 18 seconds. Likely in the swim and definitely lost time in T2-oh, well! I was 1st in the 30-34 AG. Some good takeaways was being able to capitalize on what I could. I felt like I belonged out there on the bike-feeling powerful throughout-and I was finally able to catch a glimpse of the competitor inside me-judging by how many times the winner looked back I think I gave her a fair challenge (she was really experienced and cool, btw!!) and I don't recall any juncture where I started beating myself up for being "weak, slow, or mediocre"-another big step. I committed before I got in the water to stay in the moment and I plan on using this strategy in future races.

So there you have it: a race more about effort and toughness vs. time. I think I kinda like racing this way! Time to take a day off, fully recover, and then grab the next rung of the ladder.

Special thanks goes out to Honey Stinger for providing the fuel and kit for the race.

Stay the course.