Friday, May 30, 2014

Anatomy of a Speed Workout

I have a need for speed.

Sounds simple, but to get faster, you need to train faster. This is also the point where I point out, that I am not a coach, and always defer to professionals. I give most of the credit to my current coach, but have picked up tips and tricks along the way with books and articles I've read on how to get faster. I can't argue with my own results. I started very late in life with this running thing, but have now been a "runner" for fifteen years (the second half getting into distance.) Surprisingly, my 5K PR happened a mere two months ago finally breaking twenty minutes and set a half mary PR of 1:29:18 also in the last year. Given all that, something is working.

There are a few things I've learned that I'd like to share and "break down" the speed session I had yesterday as I begin to train for my next half marathon in June.

A Few Things About Speed

1) Don't always run fast. I used to think that if I wanted to run fast, I needed to push every run. I made the mistake of running even my recovery runs too fast. At this point, my formula is to only "push" myself two days a week. Depending on what I'm training for, the rest of the days are either time, miles, or shorter distances at a comfortable pace. In fact, with my new coach, she dialed me down to a nine minute pace on many of those runs. My current "easy" pace is dialed in at 8:40ish.
Drills and strides in the gym before Yassos

2) I like progressives. Many of my speed workouts and even marathon training runs progress in speed throughout. This obviously builds confidence as you try to race consistently or seek that elusive "negative split." More on this below.

3) Slow before and after. All of my speed workouts start with a warm-up (typically two miles,) and a cooldown. I can't explain the science part of it, but I know this works for me; on both ends of the workout.

4) Speed comes in all forms. There are a variety of speed workouts; tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, and Yassos. I posted online that I did a tempo run last week and someone asked me how I define that. A good question. Again, this depends on what you're training for, but I define it in the context of marathon or half-marathon training. Not a slow run, not a (race) goal pace run, but probably closer to a 10K pace. For me, if you're running a 5K pace, that's getting closer to speed work.

Intervals come in many forms, but my coach will often give me mile intervals. These are often near goal pace or slightly faster.

This brings me to my favorite, the Yasso named after the infamous (explained here) Bart Yasso of Runner's World. It's simply repeats of 800 meters (half mile.) As you "ramp" up in miles training for a marathon, I tend to add more up to a total of ten with a recovery interval between each. Bart goes on to say that they are a "predictor" of marathon finish times. If you can run ten three minute Yasso's, you can run a three hour marathon. I haven't had this translate yet, but it's absolutely made me a faster runner.

My Workout Yesterday

With my next half marathon a month away, I am in the middle of my speed twice a week formula. With Boston only a month old, I took a short break off with no running, and slowly got back into my normal training routine. The good news is I obviously didn't lose the base I'd built. With my coach in the process of moving, my formal half marathon plan starts up in June so opted for one of my favorite workouts; fast and faster Yasso's.

While the snow is finally gone, and high schools are letting out this week (freeing up the high school tracks,) I took this one indoors to the treadmill. Don't be a treadmill hater. With complex intervals; especially short fast stuff, I like this option as I can dial in the speed and let 'er rip. I started this one with a two mile warm-up at an 8:41 pace. I set out on the workout in shorts, 2013 Boston Marathon singlet, Adidas Energy Boost shoes, and my "Ty 2013 Run List" on my iPod.

The best songs that fueled my workout? The Clash, "Lost in the Supermarket," and Silversun Pickups "Lazyeye."

My energy was strong in the warm-up which lead to confidence as I went into the tougher part. Before starting the half mile repeats (Yassos,) I did a set of drills; leg kicks, asskickers, and side-to-side strides followed by four speed strides to get my fast-twitch muscles and lungs going.

I fueled my workout with Generation UCAN (worked for Meb, and has been part of my race and tough workout routine for the last year,) and PowerGel Gel Blasts. I typically ingest fluids every mile and a gel every two miles.

Now to the fun part. Based on previous workouts, I planned on six half mile intervals with a two minute recovery between each (rest one minute, one minute jogging.) I used sort of a faster and fast alternating pattern with (min/mile) paces at;

5:52, 6:03, 5:56, 5:49, 5:52, 5:36

Quite honestly, I could have probably run more of these, or even run faster. As all runners know, some days you have insane energy, and others you don't. Apparently, today I had the energy. There was a time when I thought that if I could run a Yasso at a six minute per mile pace that was fast (and it is,) but I never pushed myself beyond that. I've found that by slightly turning the dial up a bit over time, your body adjusts.
Pulled a "double" by adding a 3/4 mile swim that night

I finished with a 1.35 mile cooldown to get a total of seven miles in for the workout. With insanely nice weather in Denver, and the COMSA (Colorado Master's Swimming Association) open water swim open on Wednesday nights, I opted to add a 3/4 mile open water swim later that evening working for my alter ego--the triathlete. I had an equally rewarding swim as I worked on sighting and have become much more comfortable in the open water. Progress on all fronts, but the main priority is a fast half marathon coming up on June 28th. You have to run fast to get faster.

I guess if there's one "takeaway" from this is that regardless of your half mile repeat (Yasso) time, if you want to get faster, your body can typically handle running even three seconds faster per leg for half the invervals. Over time, you can increase the time and number you run faster. The results will show up on race day.

What is your favorite speed workout?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is There Shame in Sixth?

I saw a post over the weekend of a runner who said that he's thrilled to show up in the top 20 in his age group of a 5K race.  Perhaps I've been spoiled, but I was knocked down to earth a bit this last weekend with my latest race. The Pelican Fest Triathlon was my first triathlon of the season and I certainly expected a few kinks, but over the course of my short triathlon career, I've hit the podium in all but one of my races. Make that two.

With this being the only triathlon of the weekend in the area and the fact that they only offered a sprint race vs. sprint and olympic distance, the competition was tough. You can normally gauge that by the average price of the bikes--there were some crazy expensive bikes and riders out there, but to get fast, you have to race with the fastest.

Here's my five things that went right, and five things that went wrong with my sprint triathlon.  I'll get the ugly out of the way first.
Test swim the week of the race

Five things that went wrong

1) The swim "leg" of the race was 800 meters (1/2 mile.)  For a sprint distance, this is on the longer end of the distance I normally race...some as little as 500+ meters.  This would be my fifth (?) open water swim in a race.  I've had less than that in training and it showed.  If I had GPS in the water, it would have been the equivalent of a half-blind three legged other words, not straight.  This "killed me" on the water leg with a embarrassing 19:44 time in the water even though we all thought it looked much longer than 800 meters.  I clearly need to work on this. In the tranquility of a pool, I swam the same distance two days earlier around 14:20.
Fresh new bike decals
2) Getting undressed. There are several aspects to a triathlon, and many of them can kill you in terms of time. My "T1" (transition from swim to bike) was equally embarrassing. I had one open water practice swim prior to the race in my practically new Helix wetsuit (used twice before in a race.) While I know the basics of getting out of my suit, I looked like a drunk three-legged half blind dog getting out of the it.  Perhaps upset with my swim, my mind seemed to have forgot if my suit was zip up or down.  Your mind does "funny things" in the midst of a triathlon vs. a run race--a lot more to think about or that can go wrong. I unzipped myself, but I think the velcro was still attached, so I zipped it back on. My family was nearby watching me struggle. I vow not to let this happen again. As my teenage boys would say, "what a newb."
3) Rest. Out of my control, I had travel the week leading up to my race down to Mexico City for work of all places. I prefer not to travel at all unless it's traveling to the race. I did well as far as getting as much rest as possible, but Petron Silver after ten PM in Mexico City is not a good idea during race week. Once I got home, we went up the night before to stay at a nearby hotel (race was in Windsor, CO,) but there were three of us in the room. One of us snored. Horrible night of sleep the night before, but as I read another race blogger state, this is normally the case (poor sleep the night before,) so it's no excuse for what happens on race day.
4) Run leg. This could probably go in either category. My 5K PR roughly two months ago was sub-twenty minutes. My 5K race leg was 21:29. Second fastest in my age group, but far from my best. I used the Asics DS Racer which has been my "go to" shoe for sprint triathlons. I know I can do better here.
5) Podium streak ends. With run racing and triathlons, I have been "on a roll." Sometimes you need to get knocked down a notch to evaluate what you need to work on. Sixth in my age group. Respectable, but that swim leg killed me.  I'm perhaps too hard on myself, but it was hard not to feel disappointed.

Five things that went right

My son and I post-race celebration; fifth and sixth in our age groups
1) My swim. Confused...wasn't that my epic fail above? Yes it was, but I felt great about two aspects of the swim. This was the first time I didn't experience nausea in the open water. Getting out the week before in an open water practice certainly helped, but relaxing and getting in a good warm-up swim before the race seemed to make the difference. I also felt good about my stroke and conditioning in the water especially considering this was my first race. I'm also loving the BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit.
2) Bike mount. While I didn't practice getting out of the wetsuit, I did practice mounting the bike that morning with my shoes already clipped to my bike (with rubber bands.) It was probably not the most graceful of bike mounts, but successful. Without this, my T1 time would have been more of a disaster.
Previous match-up on Dad vs. Son rivalry
3) Bike leg. My goal for the race was to average 20 mph which I accomplished. With very little bike training and a decent bike (Trek Speed Concept,) I've become quite comfortable with the bike leg of a race.
4) Scouting the course. As I've done in the past, my son and I drove the course the night before. Even though it was largely a rectangle layout, understanding where the hills were and what the turns looked like helped quite a bit. The last half mile had some pretty hairy turns on a bike path leading into transition, and this would have been tough to navigate for the first time in a race.
5) Racing with my son. My son turns sixteen later this year and this was our third race we both competed in. We've had fun joking about how the "old man" is still faster than the teenager, but I know his fastest times are ahead and I'm at the age where in theory mine are behind me. I refuse to cave to conventional wisdom, and refuse to hand over the "fastest" title easily. I know once he passes me, I will always be looking at the back of his jersey. This was not the day it was going to happen as I came in a mere two spots ahead of him, but it's a long summer ahead with time for him to catch the old man.

All this begs the question; if you're used to hitting the podium or expected to in a race, how do you view that race? Experience, disappointment, things to work on, or quit your bitchin' and train harder?

Friday, May 16, 2014

I Was a Google Triathlete

The word "was" seems to indicate this is in the past tense, but that's not entirely accurate. I still AM a Google triathlete. I can no longer use the term "beginner" because if you've done something nine times, you can no longer use the beginner moniker. The fact is, I still am largely "winging it." I have a run coach and that has exponentially stepped up my game in the run department, but everything I know about triathlons I've learned on the internet.

Last summer, I sat down with a triathlete coach, but he could tell...I was still primarily a runner with specific goals on the running front.  For the third season, I will mix things up by doing the "tri" thing post Boston Marathon through the summer. I tripped into the pool due to injury in 2011 and figured, I can run, I am doing a lot of swimming, and anybody can ride a bike, so why not triathlons? I have never had a triathlon coach or even a training plan I stole from the internet.  You might say I'm winging it.  
My first open water swim...horrible.

Whether you've done one before or not, the sport can be a bit intimidating, and it still is to me, but the internet is a vast ocean of information.  Under full disclosure, I did take a couple swim lessons early on, and realized I'm a much better swimmer than I gave myself credit.  Early on, I looked more like my daughter when she was six and her stroke resembled synchronized drowning.  Mine looked like an old three prop boat motor missing the third prop.  Even with swimming, I have studied aspects of the swim leg of a triathlon. Things like proper stroke and rotation of the body in the water. If you have ever golfed before, it's as complicated as a golf swing. There's a lot going on at once.

Probably the most intimidating part of the triathlon is the transition. You don't get to pause your overall time as you move from the pool to the bike (known as T1,) or the bike to the run (T2)--the clock is still running so time lost here costs you.  I won't list them here, but there are some great videos on YouTube on beginner and advanced aspects of the transition.

The first year I raced, I borrowed my brother-in-law's 20 year old iron road bike.  Better than the dusty mountain bike hanging in the garage, but far from the (what can get crazy) expensive tri-bikes on the market. I finally bought a Trek Speed Concept two summers ago, and felt like an absolute moron buying it. I had NO idea what a "big ring" was. Googled it. It is not what I bought my wife, but the larger front gear thingy that the chain connects to. I'm such a newb.

Aside from the internet, you learn a lot from fellow triathletes particularly in the transition areas. Just as important, what NOT to change shirts at any time especially getting out of the water and getting onto the bike.  We all know what it's like to try and take off a wet t-shirt. #noteasy  By the way, I condone learning the sport on the internet, but you're on your own if you google "wet t-shirt."

Cruising into 1st in my AG at the 2012 Denver Triathlon
Mounting and dismounting the bike is probably the trickiest part. Having no ego or shame, I have learned a lot from my son who's also a triathlete and actually does have a professional coach.  My "flying squirrel" mount on the bike mount was all wrong. Whether you're a man or woman, you probably don't want to jump while running and land your giblets on a hard saddle. A slight nuance I learned from my son after learning the move on the internet is to land on the inner thigh, then slide onto the normal ride position.

Two things I tried with little practice at all? My first race was a mountain lake open water swim with a wetsuit required. I "googled" the getting in and out part and again there's a lot of little tricks you pick up--like removing cap and goggles out of the water and as you roll off that arm sleeve of your wetsuit they conveniently stay in the rubber as it turns inside out. The second thing was rubber-banding your bike shoes to the bike. This one is a bit advanced. The guy from the local triathlon shop, Kompetitive Edge, added the tip to grab some green rubber bands from Whole Foods.  The perfect shoe mount rubber band. I tried this a couple days before a race and successfully a couple days later. This is not recommended. For that matter, everything you read in this blog post is not recommended. #iamnotaprofessional

The best part of the triathlon for me is that it ends with a run.  Most triathletes seem to be swimmers or cyclists that hate the run.  I have a few miles under my belt and tend to do okay on the third leg. With all that, I have hit the podium in all but one of my nine triathlons, so I figure I must be on to something. We shall see when I hit the open water in my first race next weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On the Rebound

One could argue I was never down; except for that gray period of abyss right after the Boston Marathon. As I wrote in the Boston Doldrums, I was in depression denial.  My body was beat up, and my mind was worse.  I took the whole first week off after Boston without running with the exception of an attempt at a mile swim. It felt like I'd jumped in the pool with a cotton hoodie and jeans. Can you say cinder block legs?

To compound matters, I had a general plan post-Boston, but I didn't listen to my own advice and have my next race lined up. Deer in the headlights.
My theme was "get back on that horse," but all I could find was a cow after my 5K podium win.

This all changed in the last week. I have officially started my triathlon training using my "I know absolutely nothing about triathlons except what I've learned on the internet" training plan. I have also "scaled back" the notion of 6-7 days a week of training and okay with 5-6 days a week (ironic to see that in words as it really does not look like I've cut back at all.) The biggest difference is I'm not RUNNING seven days a week, and my body seems to be regaining my energy. It could also be the Vitamix we got recently that has been infusing my body with great things like Kale, Chia seed, and the like. This probably warrants its own blog post, but you get the idea.

Perhaps with something to prove, and wanting to "open things up a bit," I went after six progressive Yassos (1/2 mile intervals) last Wednesday on my "speed" workout day. Nothing out of the ordinary other than I alternated fast and faster repeats ending with a 5:30 pace. The best part was that I felt great doing it. I have put 2-3 days a week into my pool work typically doing a pair of 1/2 mile lengths (typically the distance I'll be swimming in my "Sprint" triathlons this summer.) I have also done a good job of alternating some bike into my routine to build up my cycling muscle groups.

To test myself further, I signed up for a local 5k in the park down the hill from where I grew up in Littleton, Colorado. It was good to be out in a race environment again even though it had only been three weeks. The sun was out, kids, some strollers, and clearly a few fast ones including my run friend Luke. I opened up the race fairly fast hanging with the top ten racers, but started to wane just a bit as the 1/2 miles went by. There was a kid on my son's triathlon team that was in the early pack, but I was not about to let some kid beat me. Yes, I beat (up) that kid.  Teenagers are another matter as the young and fast were going to win this one.

It was clear that this was not going to be a PR day or even a sub-twenty day, but not without some level of trying. One thing accomplished was clearly going out too fast and having a perfect slowdown. Part of this was my overall energy post marathon, but with a turnaround configuration, it was clear that there was noone in my age group in front of me or even close to my rear-view mirror which was reflected in my 1/2 mile paces of 6:11, 6:15, 6:40, 6:43, 6:40, 6:47 (slug,) and a burst of 5:46 in the last tenth of a mile. My final timing mat time was 20:12.  Good enough for first in my age group and seventh overall.  Blood pumping through my veins again along with some pancakes in my belly at the post-race celebration.

My eleventh straight podium (non-major.)  The pressure is on for number twelve.

This was all good, but what was even better was another great mile swim the following day and an even better day on Monday with a "recovery run" of 70 minutes.  The reason it was even better was that I felt like I had the best energy I've had in months.  Funny how a training run can be as good as a race.  Perhaps a momentary lapse in focus and energy, but I seem to be a bit rejuvenated entering my triathlon and half marathon season.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Boston Doldrums

"Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
I want to shoot
The whole day down."
(Boomtown Rats)

Politically incorrect lyrics by today's standards, but fitting. I've seen this movie before (or heard this song as it were.)

I am two weeks removed from the Boston Marathon and I'm still suffering from the Boston Blues...those doldrums you encounter often after a marathon. That period usually riddled with a lot of "second-guessing" and pouring over race schedules to see when you can either capitalize on a great race (and conditioning,) or redeem what you thought was a bad performance.

For me, it's more of the later, but it's also case of only 1-2 battery squares. You know, if you were cell phone, how many squares you'd have. I was fatigued going into Boston as witnessed by the two solid nights of sleep the 48 hours prior to the race (never happened before.) Post-Boston, it has not been much better. In the two weeks since, I have swam three times, biked once, and only ran twice. Trust me...that's taking it easy by my obsessed standards, but the first workout, I cut it short as I was completely tapped out.

I know myself well enough to know that I need to have a plan after a major race to deal with my run neurosis. I had a general plan prior to Boston, but I still don't have my first race picked. Perhaps my brain is as tired as my body. I don't want to put myself in the "burn-out" category because that sounds incurable, but I'm on the "hairy edge" of it.

The other thing about me is that if my battery is running low, I'm less equipped to deal with other challenges. I suppose that's common.

Prior to Boston, I received an email from a fitness magazine asking me if I'd like to participate in a race and charity campaign. This was a men's publication and they said I would be included in an issue.  As I left for Boston, the language changed from "like to participate" to "being considered." Post-Boston, I got the "went another direction" email. This was a crazy insane offer I was flattered to be even considered for especially since male bloggers are a bit of a rare breed thus limits your options.

Second-guessing ensued.

Perhaps I should refrain from the occasional "F-bomb" in my posts or did they read, "Fifty Shades of Marathon Grey" and consider me too risque? Not enough airbrush in the department to glossy me up? Regardless, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed.  A kick to the groin.

Last night I also got an email from my running coach telling me that she's moving. This is a personal decision which I won't get into and FULLY support, but my second blow. I'm not sure what I'll do, but she's dedicated and offered to continue coach online.  Happy for her, but this also set me back a bit. #ouch

If I haven't lost you yet (thank you,) you're probably saying, "put your big boy pants on" and quit wallowing in misery. Yes. You are right. Aside from a busy day at work, I set my summer triathlon plans in motion. One of my four goals this year was to improve my triathlon game. My weakest link is the open water swim so I signed up for the U.S. Masters Swim association which is a requirement to swim at the nearby reservoir which opens this Saturday. The game plan is coming together. Perhaps motivated by this, my lunch workout was a mile swim. The irony was I felt great in the water, and even lapped the younger swimmer in the lane next to me...three times. He was younger, and looked like a swimmer. I still look like a runner trying to be a swimmer, and improve my triathlon game.

This Monday just got better. Game on for goal number four and secret new goal number five.

About Me

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine