Friday, July 27, 2012

A Few Things I’ve Learned Along the Way:

It all started sometime in 2005-2006 with a 9 mile run, in an old pair of New Balance, wearing an old college sweatshirt and carrying a yellow Sony Walkman.  My first real, outdoor run.  Up until then I had been running on the treadmill, working my way up from 5 minutes of running to well over an hour.  I don’t remember much about that first run, other than it was the most fun I’d had in a long time, and I couldn’t wait for more.  Many marathons and triathlons later, its 2012 and aside from proper shoes, gear, and form technique, there are few things I’ve learned along the way.

1)      Pay attention to imbalances.  Yes, there will be days when you are sore, or tired.  But if something is really nagging at you, continually over time, seek advice.  Its possible to train for months or even years with little nagging sore spots.  However, the likelihood that catching up to you someday is very real.  Notice your tendencies.  Do you get tight calves or a tight Achilles after speedwork, long runs, or races?  Ice, stretch, foam roll and strengthen now, consistently, to avoid it turning into something bigger, like plantar fasciitis.  Some knee pain here and there?  Roll you IT band and strengthen your quads now to avoid possible problems (such as torn meniscus or Runner’s Knee) later on.  Log everything.  Be diligent about proper form.  Work with your closely with your coach, who can assign specific stretching and strengthening exercises to get over any little aches and pains now and you will avoid heartache later on. 

2)       Training is not the time to “diet.”  Food is fuel, and proper nutrition is key to success.  If weight loss is a goal, talk to your coach, log your food intake and all your workouts.  As a result of training, you will likely gain muscle and lose fat…you are exercising and getting stronger every day.  Your body will become lean and strong as a result of proper training and nutrition.  Skipping meals, cutting back severely on calories, or relying on caffeine and/or quick sugar as an energy source is detrimental to your goals.  Your body is a fantastic machine.  Treat it with respect, fuel it properly, and you will see amazing results in both body and mind.

3)      You will gain muscle.  Healthy, strong bodies are a result of excellent nutrition and training.  Your body works hard to give you what you ask.  Enjoy the benefits and ignore the fads.  So what if your calves or quads don’t fit into skinny jeans?  Strong is beautiful.

4)      Strength train.  It doesn’t have to be every day, and it doesn’t have to be for hours on end.  Save the long endurance for biking, swimming, and running.  Your coach will assign appropriate exercises, and most sessions last under 60 minutes.  Strong muscles pay dividends on race day! 

5)      To women athletes:   5 minutes of proper Kegels daily.  Do it now, before its too late.  Muscles lost elasticity and strength if not used.   Your core routine should also focus on all the muscles of the abdominal region.  The Transversus  Abdominis (TA)  is often overlooked and can weaken with pregnancy.  Be sure to add TA exercises to your core routine.

6)      Log your workouts.  Your coach needs to know not just the numbers, but also how you are feeling on each particular day.  Add life events, etc.  Looking back on old logs can reveal patterns, which are both useful to you as an athlete and invaluable to your coach.

Be certain of yourself.   Share your passion of the sport with others.  Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Surviving the taper

Tapering is a necessary element of racing.  To get ready for a race you must base build for endurance, strength train, and speed train.  You must run, swim and bike various distances at varying heart rate efforts for specific  amounts of time.  What you also must do…taper.  The length of the taper, as well as the length of the recovery depends on the length of the race.  Let’s use the marathon as an example.  A typical marathon taper is 2 weeks out from race day.  All the training has been done.  During the taper, it is time to scale back, rest up/store energy, and mentally prepare for the race.  There will still be intensity, but the duration of your workouts will decrease.  The week before the race you might do a 3 mile run, with speed  intervals of only 90 seconds (whereas during peak training you were doing repeats as long as a mile, long negative split runs or runs holding faster than goal pace).  After weeks and months of building speed, strength and endurance you become accustomed to long workouts.  You see progress, you’re having fun.  Your confidence is building.  You are feeling strong and ready to meet your goal. As race day approaches, you go over your race plan with your coach, begin mental preparations and prepare your gear.

After all the hard training, it can be hard to scale back.  Mentally and physically.  Physically it is common to feel a little tired, sluggish, and hungry.  Little aches and pain crop up here and there.   Mentally it is time to be patient.  The race is close, but not that close.  You may start to wonder if you trained hard enough.  You may doubt if you are ready. You may start to feel antsy or impatient.  Resist the urge to add in extra workouts. The taper can be one of the hardest times for an athlete.  You have extra time, but what to do with that time?  Expending extra energy, especially in the few days leading up the race, isn’t generally a good idea.  That leaves a lot of time to think.  Now is not the time to let negative thoughts creep in.  You did the work and it is time to trust in your training, trust in the process. 

After 11 marathons, I’ve learned a thing or two about handling the taper.  I can feel very anxious, and the need to fight the negative thoughts is great.   I tend to feel  sluggish and tired during the taper.  Having gone through it many times, I have learned that this is normal for me and not to worry.  Some ideas on how to get through the taper:

1)      Go through your logs.  Look at all the work you have done!  Look at mileage, look at intensity.  Read the logs and not just the ones where you felt really great.  Challenging workouts are just as meaningful.  Whether it was a long run, interval run, or a long trainer bike ride, these workouts  made you stronger mentally and physically.

2)      Watch inspirational movies.  There are lots of great sports movies.  Some of my favorites include “Prefontaine,” “Spirit of the Marathon,” “Vision Quest” and “Rocky.”  Also look on YouTube for Ironman montages and finish line videos.  There are great YouTube montages of sports movie scenes set to music, as well as quotes and inspirational moments.

3)      Fine tune your nutrition and hydration.  Make a plan for recovery.  Recovery is a great time to make dietary changes.  Research dairy-free or gluten-free recipes. 

4)      Think about your next goal.  This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but kick around some ideas.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.  Some people like to have races set up, or ideas for next season.  Goals can include setting a new PR, making dietary changes, weight loss, strength gains, or trying a new sport (triathlon for runners) or distance (go longer or shorter next time). 

5)      Visualize you race.  Visualize yourself performing your best, feeling strong  and having fun.   Racing is always a powerful experience in which we learn and grow as athletes.  Write down your thoughts in a race report so you have it to look back on for motivation, achievement and as a learning tool. 

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The importance of paying attention.

Injury is very hard on athletes.  Before I started running, my response to an injured runner would have been something like, “I’m sorry to hear that.  Enjoy the time off while you get better.”  Now that I am a runner and triathlete my response would be something like “I am so sorry.  Injury is the worst!  I hope you can cross-train and maintain your fitness while you are healing.”  My response to injury was different early in my running career than it is now.  I used to completely lose my mind, fearing that I would never run again.  Now I know the elements of proper recovery – rest, ice, compression, elevation, ibuprofen, stretching/foam rolling, proper nutrition, physical therapy exercises, returning to activity at the proper time.  Done correctly, you can minimize recovery time.  If allowed, cross-train to maintain cardiovascular fitness and sanity levels.   Listen to your body and your coach.   

Injuries are tricky little suckers.  You can be doing everything right on paper….proper form, following your training plan, enough sleep, good nutrition.  I was doing a great job at all this, or so I thought, when I came down with what I refer to as a snakebite on my heel.  It’s likely a combination of the onset of plantar fasciitis, some bruising (I whacked it pretty hard on a big rock one day swimming in the lake…my first thought was oh, no, this is not good), and subconsciously guarding my knee which had been  (but  currently is not) bothering me.   The thing that bothers me most is the possibility of plantar fasciitis.  I work hard to maintain really good form, and right now I’m putting in less running mileage than usual.  During marathon training, my mileage is much higher.   I transitioned from spring marathon to summer triathlon focus, and my running has never been better.  What on earth could have caused this? 

The more I thought about it, the answer was pretty clear.  This is hard to admit.  I wasn’t paying attention.  Life had become unbalanced.  Like most athletes, I put family first, then training.   I pride myself on balancing the two.  How could I have let the scales tip?  It wasn’t any one event, but rather a combination of little things.  At the end of the school year, I was volunteering a lot, spending a lot of time on my feet.  Any runner can tell you that a sure way to foot fatigue is standing around for hours with little movement.   What I did wrong: a long bike ride, followed by a quick shower, coffee, and off to help some family move.  What I should have done:  ice bath after the ride, proper nutrition and hydration, shower, foam rolling, then go help.  What I did wrong:  long tempo run, shower, coffee, pick up kids, off to not one but two consecutive end-of-school-year parties, where I was standing a lot.  What I should have done:  long tempo run, ice bath, nutrition and hydration, shower, foam roll, then party time, but sit down when I had the chance.  What I did wrong:  blowing off my PT exercises, telling myself “I’ll get to it later today.”  What I should have done:  Set aside time every morning for PT, no excuses.  I stopped paying attention to the details and a little of the magic was lost. 

I’m not blaming a busy life for injury.  Rather, losing focus can lead to poor training decisions.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  Running is full of lessons.  In the past, I sometimes wouldn’t listen.  I know better now.  I will be at the starting line healthy.  I refuse to make the same mistakes.  It will mean saying “no” to late nights during the taper, scheduling recovery time (ice bath, foam rolling) into the training day, and focusing on proper nutrition instead of relying on caffeine and energy bars.  Making and posting  a list of priorities has helped turn things around.  We all slip a little here and there.  The important thing is to pay attention and make changes when necessary.  The scales will stay balanced!

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.