Learning to Love Running

It’s time I do something about this thing where I hate running, so I’ve decided to train for the Hartford marathon in October.  Well actually, I started training for it a while back, and in response to my rather painful experience and poor running form at the Providence 1/2 ironman, I’ve decided to take it on full-time rather than continuing to compete at the 1/2 ironman distance in so-so form for lack of running prowress.  This is also giving me a mental break as I prepare to move out of Guatemala and back to the US – something that’s proving to be a bit more of a headache than I imagined, since my lease is up 7 days after I get back!

My logic behind this marathon exclusivity – beyond the mental break – is based on four major goals that I think are very realistic:

(1) learn to enjoy running
(2) learn to pace effectively over long distances
(3) prepare my body for next season’s full ironman training, especially my lower legs
(4) learn to run efficiently while tired

So far, I’ve really enjoyed the marathon training, and my pacing is becoming natural.  I’m working on running efficiently while I’m tired, but my biggest challenge has been over-training and its impact on my lower legs – especially on my right achilles.  Just recently I missed 4 straight days because I didn’t stop at the first twinge of pain – or the second, third, or fourth either.  So I’m reading up and trying to get smarter about my training.

I’ve altogether ditched the Garmin – focusing on heart rate and constantly checking pace really throws me off.  I have found that training with that type of stuff is kind of like upgrading the size of your apartment – you never knew you needed the space until you had it.  I don’t want to become a spoiled athlete that needs his tools, so I’m ditching it for the much more developed biological indicators.

My biggest focus in all of this is #1 – learning to really enjoy being on the roads and trails.  I’m letting myself pretty much train wherever I want right now, and whenever the timing feels right – in this way, I’m avoiding repetition burnout running in the same places all the time to get hills or temperature training in.  I figure it’s a long time training – if I lose 15-20 minutes on my marathon time for not training hills, I’m really ok with that…much better than losing my interest in the sport as a whole and never running another one!


2 races down, 1 big question

My stated goal on this blog is to become a “semi-decent” triathlete.  Well, 2 1/2 IM’s down, and I’ve earned one of the three words.  “Semi-decent” still seems a ways away, though.  I think my swim is relatively respectable right now – last race I placed in the top 30% of my age group here, which is a far cry from my dismal performance on the bike and run portions.  There I placed towards the top of the bottom 30% in each race, which is not cool.

So why is it that I’m not doing so hot?  Here are my thoughts:

1. My training time did not adequately represent the needs of each event.

The amount of time I spent swimming almost equalled the amount of time I spent running.  This means that I’m pretty much just slacking on the run.  To become a more competitive triathlete, I need to make the simple commitment to run more.  The same is somewhat true for the bike, but that I think was more from lack of access than anything.  When I move back to NY and away from dangerous and smog-filled streets, I’ll be able to get out and hit the road instead of training purely on a rather shaky and questionable trainer.

2. I did not train enough on tired legs.

To run a 13.1 mile segment after already racing for several hours, it only makes sense to train to do so in a way that will reflect the rigors of competition.  In reviewing my training, I realized that I spent most of my time running when my legs were relatively fresh – almost the exact opposite of what I probably should have been doing.  Yes, I worked in BRIC workouts, but they were pretty strategically placed in my weekly schedule after relatively low-volume and/or low-intensity days.

3. I didn’t take the time to learn to bike properly.

I’ve got the whole pedaling thing down, but I’ve found myself pretty much riding on the old saying “it’s just like riding a bike”, counting on the fact that from childhood, I’ve naturally mastered the sport.  After a rather hilly IM 70.3 in Providence, I am seeing that “this ain’t your daddys biking”.  I’ll be turning to my buddy Zack on this one to learn the art and science behind the basic mechanics.

4. Informal training.

Time to get smart and serious about training.  I’ve let myself just coast along, biking and running when it felt right, and only holding my swimming times as sacred.  So I’m going to have to push myself to formalize my schedule and push myself further beyond my limits.  In addition, I’ll just have to become a smarter triathlete, structuring intervals and miles into a strategic approach to improvement.  The present “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks” got me to race completion, but nowhere near the competition.

So back to the drawing board.  This is what I find pretty fun about triathlon, though – there’s always something new to try, always more you can do to get better, and always cool training systems to plan and play with.

Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island

Swim: 38:14 (32/112 AG)
Bike: 3:26:29 (80/112 AG)
Run: 2:27:27 (77/112 AG)
Total:   6:40:46 (75/112 AG) (837/1400 Overall)

So my prep for this race was less than ideal, but far from poor.  After a 7-day recovery from Florida, I counted 41 days until the next race and planned my training more meticulously than ever to get my toe to the line.  I was improvement-focused this time, realizing that I’d be facing hills on the bike and run, and waves and salt water on the swim – both new to me, as Florida was a lake swim and, well, the entire state has about 100 feet in elevation change.

When work hit a heavy period, though, I ended up paring back my training a bit.  I did, however, manage to focus pretty well on the swim, which shined through on race day.


The day before the race, I decided to take a quick warm-up swim after racking my bike.  So I slipped on the wetsuit, and took off with a sprint through the surf.  About 10 meters, in, though, I realized my mistake and collapsed in pain.  The shallow water was littered with 1-2 foot wide stones sticking out of the sand, and I had come down so hard on one that I was pretty certain to have broken something rather important.  I then remembered the warning from a random guy walking by as I was putting my wetsuit on: “watch for the stones about 25 meters out, they hurt!”  Well dammit, these were only 10 meters out!  Stupid me.

Race day came, and my foot hurt like hell.  I just taped it up and figured I’d just deal with it.  Walking was painful, but I just forced the negative thoughts out of my head.   Compared with Florida,  the swim was CRAZY.  I felt a bit less comfortable, this being my first race in both a wetsuit and in 3-4 foot swells.  Siting was hard – it would take 2-3 strokes just to SEE the buoys at some points, as I had to time my looking with being on top of a swell to get a view.  I learned to place myself correctly (i.e. further back) at the start of the race, so not many people ended up passing me from my age group.  I also tried to grab some feet, but in the end I got frustrated with inconsistency and just took off on my own after about 10 minutes.

Though I felt MUCH slower, I came out of the water in about 38 minutes – about a 17% improvement on my time in Florida and a testament to both wetsuits and better swim training.

I hopped on the bike, and felt great through the first section of flats while my mph soared (for me, this means averaging 20) and I didn’t feel like I was expending that much energy.  Hitting the hills, though, I realized I had not trained much on hills, and this was going to hurt.  I started tentatively, but watched my pace drop so much that I just decided to hit it hard and deal with fatigue on the run when I got to the run – figuring it was either that or have a 4.5 hour bike time.  So that strategy worked ok, and I found a bit of a rhythm on the hills.

There’s always a guy or two, I find, that I end up pacing with on the bike (no, not drafting – just going back and forth with).  This time it was a guy named Sullivan, and when I met up for drinks with a buddy of mine a few days after the race, he said one of his friends thought he was racing right next to me on the bike – craziness!  The only guy other than me in the field of 1,400 was a good friend of the only guy I’d talked to about the race after finishing – a small world it is.  I lost Sullivan about mile 45, and it turns out that he got a flat, rushed and popped his only tube, and had to wait 30 minutes for the sag wagon – rough.

At mile 45, the volunteers all were screaming as we were climbing the biggest hill out there, “it’s the last hill!! Keep going!!  It’s all downhill from the top!!”  LIARS!!  There were like 7 more hills!  Oh well, maybe the momentary glimmer of hope was enough to get up that hill.  I finished the bike, but the last 5 miles were killing my left foot, so I figured the run would be tough.  I strapped on the laces after taking a hard shot to the right hip from my handlebars coming over a curb into transition, and was off in less-than-good shape.

Well the pain in my foot went away, but about 1 mile in I realized I was in trouble – my legs were dead, and I couldn’t get my normal nutrition down.  I realized that my major mistake may have been not training with Ironman Perform leading up to the race, and using it as a straight-up replacement for Gatorade.  I was super dehydrated – a stupid mistake – and had locked up my GI track more than normal.  This made the run hell, and it took everything in me to not just pull up on the curb and fall asleep.  There were a few “big” hills on the run (to me they were big!), which added insult  to injury.  Add to that a deathly BORING route, and I was quickly going downhill.  I managed to cram some water down, and added to it some flat soda and a much-needed gel (that took me about 15 minutes to down completely) to build electrolytes back up.  I was in a bad spot, though, and there was really no getting out of it.

The foot pain had all but gone away, and simple exhaustion took over.  I sincerely think I was better trained for this event than my time indicates, but I think I really just screwed up my hydration and nutrition.  This I will have to work on going forward.

I finally crossed the finish line, and couldn’t stop coughing so I went to the medical tent for some cough drops.  They looked me up and down, and forced me into the back for a double IV.  This hurt more than the race, though, as they poked me no less than 6 times trying to find a vein – yeah, bone dry would be generous.

So although I was slower than in Florida, this was my first race on hills and my nutrition/hydration broke down.  All in all, I am happy with my improved swim time, and happy that my time didn’t slip too much from Florida.  I will be looking to speed up both the bike and the run in a big way for next year, though.

This is the one bit of race wisdom I can now offer: RECOVER WITH AN IV!!  I felt like a champ in about 90 minutes, and had a perfect evening after that, hanging with friends, watching reruns of Alf, and curling up with a giant plate of chicken parm, pasta and a beer.

IM 70.3 Florida – THE RACE

Swim: 46:02
Bike: 3:08:57
Run:  2:26:07
Total: 6:33:44, 93/133 Division, 1258/2500 Overall

I’ll be relatively brief (since until now I haven’t), but if you’ve never done one of these things, do it!!  Wow, what a cool race experience.  The nerves were building quickly as my wave came up – wave 13 came up, and I had 3 minutes before the gun.  I waded in the water, my heart pounding, and came back to the shore to line up to start.  The last buoys looked SO far away – I was calculating in my head how this was possibly just 80 lengths in the pool.  Finally the gun went off, I waded in, and took my position around the middle of the pack.  A few passed me, I passed a few, and I found some space towards the outside.  My sighting was awful, and I think I swam about 7 Z-patterns before passing the first row of buoys.  Knowing nothing of drafting, I just swam – and smiled the whole time.  THIS was cool – long swim with tons of people, and if need be, full contact was not out of the question.  I got squeezed coming around the 2nd corner buoy, and instead of just waiting for the two people squeezing me at the corner to pass, I just went full speed ahead and the two popped up like bowling pins.  I realized that while sportsmanship is the name of the game, just going around everyone wasn’t always going to work.  FUN!

I got out of the water, calculating quickly in my head that I had come in somewhere around 46 minutes for the 1.2 miles.  Actually not bad given my training times.  I then spent 6:44 in transition, got myself into the mindset of a great 70.3 pacing article I had been reading during training, and started the bike at a moderate pace (for me, this meant 16 mph).  I got passed – a LOT – but that was cool because I was in my own world.  I was playing through my nutrition strategy in my head – gels every 45, maltodextrin mix every 20 with water, gatorade periodically – and didn’t get caught up in catching another wheel or competing against anyone else.  This whole race was just a battle within myself to finish, so that’s how I treated it – and it was surprisingly fun!  I smiled pretty much the whole way to the finish.

Mile 25-35 SUCKED – I found it pretty painful, and my gel wasn’t going down.  So I pretty much just put my head down and kept pedaling.  Despite feeling like hell at this point, my pace rose steadily throughout the bike, and I finished off averaging 17.8 mph.  This was decent for me, so I was pleased.

T2 was 5:57 for me, which felt really long, but again I took my time to stretch and refresh.  I started the run with a vengeance, running my first mile in 8:30.  And wow, did I ever drop off hard.  If it tells you anything, my average mile for the 13.1 mile run was 11:10 – that is NOT good for me.  Looking back, though, I just didn’t train the run as much as I should have, and was definitely not systematic about it.  I ended up walking every aid station, and in the last 3 miles, I walked about 15 total minutes.  I was pretty dehydrated and pouring ice down my jersey while temperatures held close to 90 with not even a spot of shade for most of the course, and it didn’t help to see several athletes falling over right around me.  I found another guy in my age group struggling as much as I was at the end, so we continually pushed each other to run, which was a life-saver.

When I finally crossed the finish line, my dad, who was so cool to show up for the race, asked me if I’d do it again.  My response was pretty definite, “not right at this moment, but toss me a beer, let me sleep a bit and then hell ya!”

The week after the race, I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Providence!

Preparing for Ironman 70.3 Florida

Prepping for Florida was quite the challenge.  Living outside of Guatemala City gyms and pools were at a premium, and biking or running the roads would mean the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes for each 15 minutes of exercise.  The smog was absolutely unbearable – the worst was when the old yellow school busses brought down from the US would spew the blackest smoke I’ve ever seen in giant clouds right onto the shoulder where I was running.  Man, did I gain a greater respect for the restaurant anti-smoking laws in the US!

So I spent about 80% of my training on the bike trainer instead of braving the smog, which at least let me get my time in.  I think my trainer was a bit slack, though, since resistance didn’t seem to build as much as it should’ve when I got to higher speeds.  The best and worst part about the trainer was the ability to watch movies while riding.  I sweat far too much to read (it was like swimming in a pool the one time I tried it), so movies were the next best option.  The only problem with this fantastic diversion was that I got addicted to it.  If I was watching a comedy, going beyond 1:30 on the trainer was torture – I got about 2:15 out of really interesting dramas, and if the movie had no intrigue, I would seriously have rather pulled my own teeth out one by one for an hour than stay in the saddle.  Eventually, though, I got a buddy to start sending me movies from the States, and I had just enough to get me through to Florida.

For running, I would run on rural roads as much as I could to get away from the smog, but since I was in the mountains of Guatemala while training for a race on the flats of Florida, I supplemented painful hilly runs with treadmill runs at a gym 45 minutes away that I eventually broke down and joined.

I trained the swim in a 25 meter pool that was at my gym, and did several longer swims in open water when I was able to get to the coast – very helpful, I might add.

I should add that my goal in training was to FINISH – I wasn’t shooting for a time since (1) I hadn’t done this distance and (2) because I’d only ever completed 2 sprint multi-sport events!  So my goal was to cross the finish line and not have a heart-attack either during or after, which turned my training into just volume-building.  In my heaviest weeks, I was training about 6 hrs on the bike, 2 on the run, and 3 in the pool – which got me to the finish line, but if I want to really improve (which I do!), I’ll really have to up my game and increase these numbers.

I hate running.  No, seriously, I really HATE running.  So training for the running segment was my biggest challenge.  I’ve spent my life running for sports, but it’s so hard to convince myself that an out-and-back without a ball is somehow supposed to be fun.  So I ended up slacking on the run, which was VERY evident in my final race time (about a 2.5 hour half marathon).  I also hated most of that run on the day of the race because my lack of training in the event left me pretty unprepared.

Not having done this whole 1/2 ironman thing, and only barely having dipped my toes into multi-sport, I pretty much made up my training “program”.  I tried a program on beginnertriathlete.com, a great website for tracking training, but it just became too much to track it all, and I resigned myself to a make-it-up-as-I-go strategy.  This worked fine to finish, but in the future if I want to improve, I am sure this will have to change significantly.

One of the more difficult challenges of my race prep came when I had an unfortunate run-in with a drunk driver (see photo below – I’m NOT the semi).  Some drunk guy at 2 p.m. on a Monday afternoon (I know!) decided to do a full-speed u-turn right into my lane on a non-divided 2-lane rural highway.  Without any anticipation, I plowed into the guy at 55 mph, and momentum took over and carried the car to a nice, soft landing right in the grill of a parked semi-truck on the side of the road.

So after all was said and done, I ended up with a bunch of cuts and scrapes, a sore chest, and a partially torn right bicep.  My legs were pretty sore for a while, but not so bad as my buddy Adam Hill who managed to stop himself from going through the windshield despite the fact that his seatbelt was broken and unwearable, and he didn’t have an airbag.  His knees took the brunt of the damage, and unfortunately he hasn’t raced this year because of some ongoing issues.  What sucks is that Adam was only in for a weekend visit – welcome to Guatemala, buddy!

So other than being a certified bad host for almost killing my friend, I ended up with a 3.5 week training gap as my body slowly recovered.  I started running and biking first, but with the bicep the swim was just not in the cards.

Eventually, however, things came together and I went to Florida with just 3 weeks of training in the last 6.5 weeks leading up to the race.  I had been wearing compression braces on both quads, however, as I over-trained big time to try and make up for lost time in the last few weeks.  My biggest fear was that I wasn’t prepared with enough miles under my legs to finish the race because of the hiatus in training.  I considered myself day-to-day going into the race, partly attracted  to the cop-out, but then realized I was being a huge wuss, manned up, and put my toe on the starting line.  I’m just glad I realized I was being a wuss before race day!

In the beginning…

In 2002 I was finishing up high school and decided that it would be cool to get into multisport.  I was a decent soccer player and a wrestler, having dabbled a bit in crew and basketball, and figured that enough of an athletic background would make my first venture into the sport a piece of cake.  After all, I was running all the time for other sports, which should make the run easy.  I was a casual biker and could go 20 miles with no problem, making the sprint distance easy, right?  Right??

Well, I was wrong.  One Cesar’s Creek sprint duathlon later (I decided that swimming wasn’t really my thing), and the world of multisport had humbled me for the first time – a feeling that now seems to be on repeat.  After that first race and more than a few glances at the sport’s pinnacle distance on ESPN2, I went to college with dreams of the Ironman and no plan towards or thoughts about actually training for it.  After college, work and travel took over, and I let it slip a bit further back.  I should say that it wasn’t just the Ironman that had me enthralled – it was the sport and challenge of triathlon as a whole – but to me the Ironman seemed like the ultimate challenge, so that’s the race that really captured my imagination.

Then came last year, mid-summer 2009 the itch came back and it was time to move.  I set my sights on the Ironman, and kicked it off with my second sprint event – seven years after my first – and this time actually trained for the swim.  I didn’t die in the water (much to my surprise!) and so I started to plan.  The 2009 season was pretty much over and I had no idea where to go from there (just start running??), so I started reading and chatting up a few people with a similar itch, and made the decision to dive in head-long.

That’s where I’ll begin this blog – trying to figure out what the heck to do with a combination of next-to-no experience, a new-found ability to not drown, an aging and only semi-used road bike, a rather strong passion against  the sport of running, and an even stronger passion to try something that was going to kick my ass.

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