Monday, April 15, 2013

 (The flags flying half staff at Georgia Gwinnett College.) 

On Monday, I spent more time following the Boston Marathon than I ever had.  I watched the entire men's and women's races online, both of which were very exciting (for totally different reasons).  I also tracked five friends, including two athletes that I coach.  I had a ball.  Alas, my enjoyment turned to horror--just as everyone's did--at the 4:09 mark of the race.

The attack upset me for a lot of reasons.  My wife Kacie wrote a great blog entry about why it was particularly painful for endurance athletes.  I have read it several times since Monday afternoon.       

While I was watching the race, I wrote a blog entry, and it seems wrong not to publish it--as if, to use an incredibly over-used phrase, I'm letting the terrorists win.  At the same time, I think it would callous to publish a blog--especially a blog by an endurance athlete entitled "A Great Weekend!"--without first acknowledging the tragedy that befell Boston and the worldwide running community.   What I wrote follows.  

A Great Weekend!

Team Darden had a great weekend!  Kacie did the Tony Serrano Century on Saturday, then was the second female finisher in the mountainous, 108-mile Tour of Georgia Gran Fondo on Sunday.  I'm sure that she'll be writing about that stuff in her blog, so you should check it out.

Speaking of checking out other blogs, if you're not already following Power, Pedals, and Ponytails, you should be!  I wrote a race report for the Heart of the South 500 that Dani and Kacie won last weekend.  Read it, and be amazed at what the two of them accomplished!  They are starting to get a lot more attention, which they certainly deserve.  While you're reading, check out this article on Women Who Cycle, and this article announcing their sponsorship by Moxie jerseys.   

My good weekend started with a really good swim on Saturday.  Several months ago, I wrote that I was endeavoring to become "George the Swimmer."  (I've even used that hashtag on Twitter several times whenever I have had 140 characters to share about my progress.)  A few weeks ago, I wrote about how things were going at the Dynamo masters swim class that I've been taking since January.  Most folks who know that I've been focusing on my swimming have been asking me, "Do you think you've improved?"  My answer was always, "I don't know," because I felt like I never had an apples-to-apples comparison.  Certainly, I felt like I was better, but I wouldn't really know until I either raced or, more accurately, got in the pool at the LA Fitness where I've done so many swims and just put in a lot of laps.

Well, since I had a race on Sunday but I really didn't want to take Saturday completely off, I decided that it was the perfect chance for a swim at the LA Fitness.  I didn't aim to swim hard or fast, but just normal.  I wanted to see how my time for a regular 2000y swim would compare to what I would normally do for a regular 2000y swim before I started going to masters.  The result?  Four minutes.  Four minutes.  That is how much time has fallen off my 2000y swim time in only three months.  That's a minute per 500, or more than 12 seconds per 100.  That analogous to taking a minute off your 10K pace.  I could hardly believe my watch.  It was way beyond my expectations, and needless to say, it will serve to keep me going to masters for the next couple of months!

One interesting side note on my swim.  I wear a Swimsense watch which tells me my distance per stroke and my stroke rate.  Despite speeding up significantly, my distance per stroke and my stroke rate were the same that they always have been.  This suggests to me that the gain in speed is due entirely to improved body position and hydrodynamics.  Am I right about that, fishy friends?

On to the big show . . .

PT Solutions Cartersville Duathlon Race Report!
Sunday was my first multisport race in an Atlanta Tri Club kit.  I was excited, but also a bit nervous.  The race was a 5K run, a roughly 17-mile bike, and another 5K run.  A triathlon without swimming?  It sounds like my kind of event!!  Needless to say, I felt that I could do very well.  At the same time, I was unsure of my fitness.  I've certainly done some fast running in the past few months, but I haven't done much long cycling.  Like I wrote before, I've been experimenting with a lot of short and fast workouts, and due to scheduling conflicts and such, I haven't done anything long on my bike in a month.  On Wednesday night, I did an LT/FTP test, and I scored about 15-20 watts lower than I would have liked.  That was another blow to my confidence.  Combine my high expectations with my lack of certainty about my preparation, and that means I wasn't sleeping much on Saturday night. 

I made it to the race in plenty of time and got all checked in.  I had a nice warmup in Dellinger Park at sunrise, amongst the rabbits and deer.  And then I headed to the starting line.  My friend (and fellow RAAM crew member) Beau was there, and he got this picture at the start:

My goal was to run a relaxed 17:15 to 17:30 for the first 5K, then keep my wattage around 260 on the bike (which I figured would give me about 43:00), then another 17:15 to 17:30 for the second 5K.  I was heading into unknown territory, though.  I'm still less than two years out from doing my first ever triathlon, and I've only done one other duathlon ever.

Even though my goal meant the first mile should have been about 5:40, a group of four of us went through the first mile at about 5:25.  I was running relaxed and felt fine, so I just went with it.  I feel like I have pretty good running "instincts."  By that, I mean that I can run according to perceived effort for various distances really well.  It's a skill I've built up over many, many years!  Thus, when my effort feels right, even if my times are off, I tend to trust my instinct.  In fact, I felt good enough to take the lead just after the mile mark, and my second mile was about the same.  One of the other three guys dropped off the pace.  In the third mile, I backed off just a bit in the last half mile to save some for the bike, but the mile split was nonetheless still the same.  I came into T1 in 16:45, a few steps in front of the two other runners.  I was pretty charged by this first run.  The effort felt perfect, and yet it was a good thirty seconds faster than I expected.                
I then gave back too many of those seconds in T1.  I need to work on my transitions.  I was a little bit shaky as I tried to change my shoes, but more importantly, I don't yet know how to do a "flying mount" on my bike.  Both of the two guys I led into transition changed faster than me and got out of T1 faster.  It took me 48 seconds to change my shoes, put on my helmet, and run my bike out of transition, but then I spent another ten seconds or so stopping, throwing my leg over my bike, and starting pedaling.  By that time, both of the other guys were down the road.  I had no trouble catching the first one, but the second would prove a bit more difficult.   
There were several speed bumps on the way out of the parking lot.  I hit the first one, and nearly lost my bottle.  I fixed it, hit the second one, and nearly lost my bottle again.  I fixed it, hit the third one, and DID lose my bottle.  It didn't matter all that much--I didn't really need the nutrition--but I would have liked to have had a bit of liquid!  Anyway, I caught one of the two cyclists in front of me in the first half-mile, and I knew that I wouldn't see him again.  The fella that got out of T1 first, though, was out like a shot.  I could see him way in front of me on some long straightaways, but for the whole of the bike ride, I was solo.  That's a unique experience for me since I'm used to getting out of the water in the middle of the pack and passing a lot of people on the bike.  It was what I was expecting in this race, though, so I wasn't thrown off.  Anyway, the bike course was actually harder than I thought it would be.  There were some pretty big hills in the first half, and there was a bit of wind.  Happily, though, most of that was in the first half of the course.  In addition, I actually rode with more power than I thought I would.  By the time I came into T2, I couldn't see the leader in front of me, but there was no one in sight behind me.  In the end, my bike split was the second-fastest bike split in the race, but it was almost three minutes behind the guy in the lead.  My split (43:31--23.4 mph) was slower than I would have liked, but I'm chalking that up to the wind and hills.  My average power (280w) was higher than I had expected.  T2, with its simple change of shoes, was much better.  It only took 30 seconds. 

As I was leaving transition, the race director yelled at me that the leader had three minutes on me.  I knew that I needed to run well and I needed the leader to blow up.  Three minutes--I couldn't even see him.  It was possible if he ran 20:00 and I ran 17:00, but I figured it was a long shot.  Unlike the first 5K where I had people to run with the entire time, the second 5K was an entirely solo affair.  It went well, though.   
From having done a lot of triathlons and bricks, I know that I always "feel slow" when I start running off the bike.  This was no exception.  My legs kinda felt terrible, too, but I could tell I was moving okay, and the rest of me felt good.  By the first mile or so, I found my running legs.  My first mile was a little bit slower than my first mile in Run #1 (5:25 vs. 5:35), but it was still in the ballpark of what I wanted to do.  The second mile was comparable to what I did in Run #1 (both about 5:25), so at that point, I knew that I would have a good second run.  I also saw the leader during an out-and-back portion in the second mile, and I knew he was too far in front of me to catch.  I was okay with it, though, because I felt like I was having a good race.  I ran my third mile faster than I had run my third mile in Run #1 (5:30 vs. 5:15) since I didn't need to hold anything back for the bike.  I ended up running my second 5K with exactly the same average pace as the first--5:24 pace.  The second one was just a touch longer than 5K, though, so the splits don't quite match (16:45 vs. 16:54).  My friend (and also fellow RAAM crew member) Keith was also there, and he took this picture of me coming in on the second run:
 (I think that all of the swimming has been worth it just for the way my arms look in these pictures.) 

My final race time was 1:18:28--comfortably under my "reach" goal of 1:20:00.  I was very happy about that.  On my way back to my car, I talked to the winner, Bert Harrison, a bit.  He lives in Boone, North Carolina--pretty much the best cycling grounds in the southeastern U.S.  (No wonder he smoked me on the bike!)  He also finished in the top ten at Age Group Duathlon Nationals last year, so he's clearly no slouch.  I finished just under 3:00 behind him, and in fact, I did roughly the same time that he did last year before he went on to finish in the top ten at Nationals two weeks later.  Needless to say, that has me rethinking what I might want to do with my time after IM Wisconsin.  There's this race in Tuscon, Arizona, on October 26, where I might do well if I ride my bike a bit more, do some more speedwork on the run, and hone my transition skills.  Hmm . . .  

Here I am on the podium, thanks again to Keith: 

Overall, I would say that this is a very good start to the multisport season!  After riding the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo next weekend--where I'll try to ride well, but I'm not aiming to defend my title after not riding many miles so far in 2013--I'll hit the water at the John Tanner Sprint Triathlon on April 27.  On to the next one!  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Recently, Steve Magness, the cross-country coach at the University of Houston, wrote a very interesting blog entry.  In short, he argued two things.  First, he said that there are numerous ways to accomplish a desired training end, be it increased strength, endurance, VO2, speed, or whatever else.  When it comes to workouts, one size does not fit all.  Second, and more interestingly in my opinion, he said that seasoned athletes need to employ new means of accomplishing the same ol' physical goals (faster, higher, stronger, and all that) given that their bodies over time become adjusted to the workload.  For example, if your go-to lactate threshold workout for the last few years has been to do a forty-minute tempo run, you might get a better training response from doing a different LT workout (like, say, cruise intervals).  This has a particular relevance for adult athletes, such as myself and the folks I coach.  If we're looking for a performance breakthrough after years and years of training, we can potentially attain one by doing new things.

Of course, "changing it up" is not a novel concept.  It's the basis of a lot of well-known programs.  P90X, for one, expressly attempts to "confuse your muscles," the basic idea being that your body--which masterfully and quickly adjusts to any abnormal stimulus in order to maintain its current state--cannot successfully adjust to an ever-changing workout routine.  Therefore, P90X keeps your body constantly on edge by giving it ever-different challenges, never allowing it to settle into a homeostatic state and thus prompting continual fat loss and muscle growth.  The science on which this is based, however, is not rock-solid, and a lot of folks vehemently argue that regularly switching up your routine has a sort of "jack of all trades, master of none" effect on your fitness.

Unlike those who buy P90X in an attempt to build muscle, lose fat, and simply "get healthy," Magness has a specific goal in mind: to make faster runners.  As such, it would be a mistake to think that you'll find Magness's runners doing Kenpo.  He still believes that runners need certain basic elements to run fast--a high max VO2, a high lactate threshold, etc.  It's just that there are numerous ways to develop each of the particular elements an endurance athlete needs.  That being said, the underlying presumption is the same: ultimately, if an athlete does the same thing, workout after workout, year after year, he'll reach a plateau.  It will be impossible to go on to the next level unless you change things up.  It may not take only two or three weeks like the folks at P90X say, but it will ultimately happen.

In that spirit, I've been experimenting a great deal lately.  As I've already written, I started going to a master's swimming class in January, and I'm planning to continue attending it three times a week between now and June.  In class, I use equipment and do drills, none of which I had ever done before.  It is my hope that the buoys, fins, paddles, and kickboards, along with the head-taps, underwater recoveries, straight arm catch-up strokes, and chicken strokes will make me stronger and faster in the water.  We'll see when I do my first triathlon of the year, the John Tanner Sprint on 4/27.  More importantly, we'll see what happens when I line up for my first big target of the year, the Mountain Madness half-ironman on 5/5.   

And as I've already written, I've been running some shorter road races over the last few months.  Since that post, I've run two additional 5Ks, the Marietta Mentor 5K and the Janeen's Run 5K.  Here's a photo taken by Don McClellan at the Mentor 5K that is so blurry as to almost be artistic:             


It's not the photographer's fault: the weather was pretty terrible.  That was a tragedy, because it kept a lot of people from showing up for what was a great event. 

Besides the weather--which for Janeen's Run was gorgeous--the two races were very similar for me.  I showed up to run them mostly because I wanted to support the causes they were raising money for.  In each of them, I ran to the front in the first 200 yards or so, and I won by over 2:00.  In each, I ran about 16:30, which feels much easier now than it did in January.  I believe that that was the whole point of doing all of the short races.  Like I said about the swimming, though, we'll have to see whether it makes any difference in how well I run off the bike.  My first chance to try that will be next weekend at the PT Solutions Cartersville Duathlon.    

I have also changed up my run training a bit.  I've spent a lot of my life running in circles, be it around a track or around the dirt path in the park across the street from our house.  6x1600 w/ 400 rest.  10x400 w/ 100 rest.  4x1200 w/ 300 rest.  I've done each of these workouts countless times.  That's not to say that they weren't valuable; they were!  It's only to say that I have a certain modus operandi, and it's likely that my body has become accustomed to it.  This winter and spring, I've been doing more repeats on the road (like 10x1:00 w/ 1:00 rest on a hilly course) and on the treadmill (like 4 miles at 6:00 pace with gradually increasing inclines).  In addition, I'm going to experiment with adding tempo miles at the end of my long runs.  I think that I can run faster than I have been; we'll see if these things help.

Bike training?  That's different, too.  Right now, I'm riding four times a week, which is about the most that I can ride in a triathlon schedule.  Three of those rides, though, are only an hour long, and they're on the trainer.  Each of them features some amount of intensity, even though the overall rides are short.  Once a week, I'm getting a longer ride of three to five hours.  I'll bump up my overall volume when I start training for Ironman Wisconsin after RAAM, but for now, I'm going shorter and harder, much like what Chris Carmichael suggests in The Time Crunched Cyclist.  Of all of the training changes I'm making, this one makes me most nervous.  I worry that I'm not getting enough volume to be able to do well on the 56-mile hilly bike course at Mountain Madness.  We'll see.        

Also in the name of approaching old things in a new way, I decided to join the Atlanta Triathlon Club, as you can see from my shirt in all of the pictures of me running recently.  The ATC has a wide range of athletes, and they provide a lot of group training opportunities.  Last year, I trained for Ironman Coeur d'Alene and the Ironman World Championships almost entirely solo, save for a few group rides and some time I spent with my wife.  I've resolved not to do that this year.  Tonight, I'm heading to a group run staged by ATC.  Tomorrow, I'll be doing a trainer class that they offer at Energy Lab.  So far, I'm very impressed with the community.  

And, finally, I've been experimenting with new footwear.  In December, my parents purchased for me a pair of Newton running shoes.  Newtons are all the rage in the triathlon community, but since I come from a running background, I have been loathe to jump on the bandwagon.  I spent a long time talking to the Newton rep at an event for Power, Pedals, and Ponytails, and then I spent an even longer amount of time talking to my knowledgeable friends at West Stride.  When my parents offered to give me a pair of Newton Gravitys for Christmas--thereby relieving me of the guilt associated with gambling a lot of money on a pair of shoes that I may actually dislike--I decided to give them a try.  They came in bright red:
Newtons are not minimalist shoes," the rep told me with the full knowledge that I was a long-time runner who was skeptical of the barefoot running movement.  (Yes, I believe that human beings were "born to run."  No, I don't believe that we were born to run on concrete or that all running injuries emerge from improperly sloping shoes.)  He was mostly right.  While they are lighter and lower profile than many trainers, they still have a decent amount of cushioning.  They have a feel analogous to an old-school well-cushioned racing shoe such as the Nike Dualists that I used to wear back in the day.  The lugs on the front took a few steps to get accustomed to, but they really didn't bother me.

So, am I a hardcore convert to Newtons as so many people seem to be?  No.  Have I benefited from running in them, though?  Yes, I believe I have.  I don't think that Newtons are the best thing since sliced bread, even though I did like them enough to buy a second pair--the slightly lighter but equally loud-colored Distance model, which I have used in races:

Why buy a second pair?  I have come to believe that heel drop matters.  In the same way that a high heel will cause you to stick your butt out, lower heels will cause your hips to tuck under you.  Since I have struggled in my career with running injuries related to my hips, a shoe that stabilizes my stride by putting my hips more squarely under me is a good thing.  My next pair of shoes, whatever they are, will have a heel drop of five millimeters or less.  

I'm due for a new pair of shoes in the next few weeks, and I've spent plenty of time scouring the internet in search of a pair of shoes with a low heel drop that aren't also feather-light.  They are hard to find.  Virtually every shoe that has a heel drop of five millimeters or less also weighs eight ounces or less.  Under eight ounces has always been racing-flat territory; my beefier training shoes were normally upwards of twelve ounces.  I liked it this way for a variety of reasons, including the fact that donning racing flats made me feel springy and fast and put me in the right frame of mind to race.  It appears that the time may have come for me to give up my "heavy trainer but light racer" mentality in favor of a "light shoes all the time" mentality.  After all, as this outstanding article from Running Times points out, shoes in general are getting progressively lighter thanks to the influence of the minimalist shoe movement.  Even the clunky old Air Pegasus has slimmed down to ten ounces this year.     

Of course, only time tells whether experiments pay off.  If I am truly committed to experimenting with various things, I should only judge their effectiveness in the long term.  Check back with me this time next year.