Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tracking me on race day...

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Race Week: Twin Cities Marathon

Funny how rearranged my goals have become. For 95% of this training season the goal was to go under 4 hours - something I've never done (4:02:xx in 2008) but have felt capable of. In the last 2 weeks my goal has shifted to 3:50 - and my confidence is sky high, provided I can stay out of anything unexpected for the rest of this week. So, let's get to details, much of it mostly for my benefit (and with the warning that these are a lot of mundane details, but such is race day preparation...):

Starting today (Tuesday) I'll start to tilt my diet for the rest of the week towards slightly more carb intensive. Nothing crazy - not pasta every night, just a bit of an increase.

Friday night will be a large carbohydrate meal - planning pizza, which is a usual pre-race meal. Saturday night - the night before the race - I'll have a sensible pasta dinner at around 5:00pm. At around 7:00 or so I'll snack on a banana, maybe a PB&J. Hydrating well, as usual, throughout the week.

Race day nutrition - about 2 hours before the gun I'll my usual 2 packets of oat meal and a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter with some Gatorade. I'll sip Gatorade the rest of the morning.

Race nutrition - Nothing but water for the first 6 miles or so. At around mile 6 I'll have a gel and some Powerade (the on-course drink). From there out I'll have a Powerade about every 3 miles, and another gel at about every hour. I use the Powerbar gels - the first gel will have no caffeine, the second will be their "1x" amount of caffeine, and from there to the end I'll have "2x" caffeine gels. If all goes as planned, I'll likely take in my last gel at about the 3:20 mark of my race. Water as needed. Plan subject to change like everything else in the course of 26.2 miles.

I learned a long time ago to pretty much prepare for anything come race day, so (here's a helpful tip!) I've been packing my bag bit by bit since Sunday (a week before the race), so that if I think of something ("oh yeah, some thin gloves", for instance) I either go pack it right then when I think of it, or I add it to my to-do list so I make sure not to forget. So, I have contingencies in place for rain or cold, but as of right now the weather forecast looks just about perfect, with sunshine and a high of mid-upper 50's.

The essentials include:

Sugoi Fuel Tri Tank

This is the fancy Brand Champions exclusive kit, which as I really love Sugoi stuff and they happen to give me awesome discounts on stuff in calling me a "brand champion", I'm happy to share the love. This is a version of the same tank I've worn at Ironman Wisconsin 2006 and 2009, so it's tried and true. I like the fit, it's comfortable, provides some compression, and has some small but useful pockets (as opposed to too-big so stuff bounces around) for my gels. An all around awesome piece of kit.

Sugoi Piston 200 short

Two things I've learned about racing kit preferences through all my traithlon-specific gear: I love compression, and I don't care for floppy fabrics. The latter of which makes little sense because I train in the usual running shorts that we all do, but there you go. These shorts offer some compression through the quads and hamstrings, and I've found (mental or no) that for long distances the compression really helps with muscle fatigue. Plus, the more spandex the better, I always say. It's flattering, practical, and attractive on anyone, particularly me.

CEP Compression Calf Sleeves

See above about compression. And spandex.

Nike Elite Running Socks

"Really?" You say, "Are we really now covering which friggin' socks you're going to wear?" Aha, but these are no ordinary socks, for they are magic socks. Actually mine are slightly different than what's pictured, and they're black, but they're awesome. See all those colors and swoops and stuff - they're all different thicknesses of material, or different elasticities, or different sewing angles, or something - but they're thin enough where they don't add bulk under my shoes, and they offer some really nice arch support/compression and blister protection. Which isn't to say I might not get a blister, but I really came to love these socks in training. They're awesome.

Saucony Kinvara racing flats

After experiencing one too many foot issues with my otherwise beloved Newtons, I decided it was time for a new racing flat and spent some time earlier this summer on the hunt. I tried several - and these are my new favorite shoe ever. They're light and responsive, the soles are cushiony without feeling sloggy, and they provide a little bit of spring and feedback. Love 'em. The toebox is just a shade narrow, so I may deal with a pinky toe blister late in the game - hopefully the fancy socks do their part.

Halo Visor

For a long time I wore Headsweats visors, but I guess I sweat a lot when I run and I kept finding myself having to take off my hat to wipe down my forehead. These Halo visors are interesting - they have a groove of neoprene along the headband that channels sweat away from your forehead and off of your temples, which is kind of a weird sensation, but it's easier to wipe down your temples, I guess, than your forehead. It's also made kind of interestingly - the headband part of the hat is really entirely detached from the visor part (kind of hard to describe), so it kind of looks a little odd on the head. Anyway, it's good stuff if you've been finding yourself too sweaty when you run.

One other thing I'll add, because it looks likely:

Sugoi Piston 140 L/S Compression Top

If the temperature looks to be in the lower 50's or slightly cooler for the race, I'll likely wear this under my tri-top. It's another great piece of compression kit, but it's not insulated or anything (don't think Under Armour Cold Weather gear, for instance) - it's really just enough protection to stay comfortable, but not necessarily warm. I wore it for a 10k race last weekend in conditions that look to be almost identical to the race day forecast and it worked great.

So to recap: I'll be the guy in spandex.

Well that was fun, but here's the stuff that really matters.

The Twin Cities marathon route is largely flat, even slightly downhill, except for a couple of hilly bookends. There's a bit of a climb from about mile 2 to 2.5, and a steady, sometimes pain-in-the-ass climb from about mile 21.5 - 23.5. The early climb I'm not worried about and will take care of itself. The later climb will hopefully be something I can strategerize around.

I'm going to line up with the 3:50 pace group, and aim to hold an 8:45/mi average. I'm not going to shackle myself to that group, or even that pace - particularly on descents, while I'm not going to go balls to the walls sprinting down or anything, I do like to just let gravity do the work there. Likewise if I feel like it's most sensible to back off, I'll let that group go. But ideally, somewhere in the later half of the marathon the 3:50 group will be either right with me, or slightly behind me.

I'm breaking the race into sections with its own strategy. The first half I'm not worried about - stay comfortable and easy. In fact, up to mile 15 it's just about settling in and running my race. From miles 15-18 I think I'll have a bit of a headgame - I want to remember this is just an easy 5k. At mile 18, I want three things to happen. First, to have stayed positive and comfortable so that I can think - I have 8 miles to go, that's just an average weekend run, no big deal. Second, to think again that I have a 5k to mile 21, and that's no big deal, and third - to try and push the pace just a bit if I can for that 5k. I'd like to arrive at mile 21, in advance of the last hilly section, with just a bit of cushion, or at least momentum.

The hills through mile 23 will take care of themselves. I'll keep the "crest", at around mile 23.5, as my beacon. Once I reach that, it's all downhill to the finish. Once I reach that crest, it's pedal down to the finish line - whatever I have left. The goal is 3:50. The secondary goal is anything under 4 hours.

So really, the race is broken up into manageable, thoughtful sections - the first 15 are really just comfortable, even considered a warm up. 15-18 are strictly mental - "it's just a 5k". 18-21 is more intentional - pushing the pace a bit for 5k - there is no spoon. 21 - 23.5 are about getting up the hill comfortable and in charge of myself. 23.5 to the finish is whatever I have left.

I think the only way I'd be disappointed with myself or my effort is if I execute poorly. If I blow the things I'm in charge of. The unknowns about going 26.2 - well those will show up, that'll happen, and I'll deal with it. If it means a sacrifice or rearrangement of my goals and priorities while on the fly, that's fine. If everything goes according to plan and I just physically can't hang, or blow up at some point, well that's fine too as long as it's not because of something stupid like missed nutrition or something else in my control - if I go down in flames, it'll be only because I lit the fire. I'm setting an aggressive but realistic goal for myself. If the day proves me wrong - that's racing. But I feel strong. Excited. Ready to roll. Just looking forward to the energy of race day more than anything else, I think. Another opportunity to be out there, to appreciate the fitness just to do this sort of thing, to enjoy a fall day doing something I love. It's not rocket science after all, any of it.

So, that's it. To do my best and choose extraordinary. Updates to come as race day approaches. See you at the gun.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There is (still) no spoon.

Start with this YouTube clip: There is no spoon. (Sadly, embedding isn't available on this clip, so you'll have to just go watch it.)

If you've been here for some time, you'll know that I've referenced this before. A lot. Do a search up there for "There is no spoon" on the blog and you'll get all the entries. It's not a useless exercise - go ahead if you feel like it, I'll wait.

In short the idea is that our notions of ourselves, of our abilities - and not perhaps our actual abilities - are what define what we're capable of. We are - however great or small - what we think we are. Or rather, we will be however great or small we think we'll be. True enough in life, no question, but tangible within the confines of the game, for sure.

Inside Triathlon magazine had a great article in its July/August issue by Matt Fitzgerald called You Are A Quitter that speaks to this. It discusses research and science that reinforces the idea that it's our brains that determine when we've had enough - not our bodies. That when you reach that point in a run or a race when you feel like you absolutely cannot go another step - and so that's when you choose to walk, or your pace falters, or whatever - that's simply our brains determining that the suffering has reached a limit, and so now to stop the suffering, it'll tell the body to stop the activity. But physically, we're just as capable to keep going. This means - no surprise - it's all up top. It's in your head. If we believe we've had enough - then we will fulfill that belief.

Interesting concepts for interesting discussion. My friend Steve discussed this very thing lately at his blog.

Those of you who've been here for awhile also might know of my elusive Chasing Sevens. That is a 5-year-old battle to race a 5k (3.1 miles) with a pace of 7:00/mi or faster. I've done it twice in training - the fastest was in 2008 - but I don't count Personal Records in training, so it's always eluded me in a race. In fact, at one point I had seemed to make it mentally impossible. I knew when I hit about 2.25 miles into it that I'd hit a wall, my effort would collapse, and that would be it. I also knew this was mental, that I was predisposing myself to a predictable outcome - but seemed somehow helpless to do anything about it.

Last weekend I raced a small local 5k race. The route was right in my neighborhood - in fact it literally went right in front of my driveway (which made for convenient spectating from Amy and Dakota!), and was pretty much on all my usual training grounds. Which - that's pretty cool. But the course is really hilly. A few hills that are slow inclines, but one that is just down the street that's where I do my hill work - a serious hill, 6% or 8% grade or something. I wanted to use the race as my last hard speedwork workout before next weekend's marathon, but I didn't assume a PR was in reach simply because of how difficult the course was.

I was wrong. For whatever reason - because I wasn't expecting it, because I wasn't purposely chasing the particular goal, because what comes up must go down and I'm pretty good at descending - I obliterated the elusive 7:00/mi barrier that had plagued me for so long. I finished with a 6:53/mi average, but with consistent, slightly negative splits. The only time I felt my head get into it was with about .25 miles to go, when I turned a corner expecting to see the finish line just ahead but instead it was up one last unwelcome hill. I audibly dropped the f-bomb, then put my head down and pumped my arms and got to the top. Otherwise, I felt great, ran fast, and set a new standard for myself.

That single turn of mental events on a micro scale has quickly influenced a more macro one. I had, to that point, developed a whole list of reasons why my performance at next weekend's marathon wouldn't be terribly remarkable. And some of the reasons seem valid - I only got into serious training at the end of July, giving me about 10 serious weeks of training. I'm about 5 pounds off from honest race weight - so I figured I'm a bit too heavy or my best effort. But there's a flip side to each of those points - having only 10 weeks, my workouts have all been intentional and purposeful. I've not had any junk miles or workouts - and so I've avoided putting on too many miles, which has (knock on wood) kept me healthier than I've been in a long time. I may be 5 pounds from ideal race weight - but I'm about 10 pounds lighter than I was midsummer. If these points are equalizers, then, the x-factor could be the notion with which I began the training with 10 weeks ago: that I would train only for the race to be fun. That I wouldn't expect very much beyond that. That I was seeking only basic fitness to enjoy the race. Nothing wrong with those goals, certainly - and the part about having fun and enjoying the race are absolutely true.

But the numbers - and I'm a numbers guy - say that, objectively, I should expect more of myself. Daniels Running formula and McMillan's Running Calculator both say, even if I'm being conservative, that a sub 4 hour marathon should be within my ability. I don't make race goals or predictions based on emotional wishes - my "goals" at a race are really just expectations based on what I think the training realistically indicates. And I think the training is there, too. I surprised myself at the 5k - but largely because my head wasn't part of my pre-game process. I just wanted to run fast, and in knowing I needed to account for the hilly course, I was sure to start at around a 7:00/mi pace, instead of going faster like I tend to do (and then inevitably fall off in later miles). At times in the 5k I was comfortable at 7:11 or 7:18/mi pace, and I'd give myself just a little push in those times into slight discomfort. But never was I clutching to the pace - it just came, because my training was prepared for it.

So, to the marathon. I've decided I'm lighting it up. And if I go down in flames for it, well that's okay - at least I'll have lit the fire. I'm lining up with the 3:50 pacers. No excuses, no bullshit, no sandbagging, no mindgames. I feel confident that I can do it, I really do - even with the unknowns. Because if it's all mental - well hell, I've certainly had worse haunting my head than putting one foot in front of the other, no? Game on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Training for a marathon is so dramatically different than training for anything Ironman. And I was thinking about this on my long run last week - about why that was; not just physically or physiologically, but strategically, personally, emotionally even. And I was struck by two ideas, both totally obvious but somehow surprising for me to find.

The first came as I considered yet again how and why the wheels fell off for me in the marathon at Ironman last year (2009). When I had, I thought, trained with realistic, predictable metrics for realistic, predictable results. I actually laughed out loud a little at my own thick headedness when I realized the fatal flow in my marathon training logic for Ironman. Of course a stand-alone marathon is a completely different animal than an Ironman marathon. The two have mileage in common, and that's it. What I somehow overlooked, though, was articulating that obvious definition.

In a stand-alone, you race 26.2. In Ironman, you endure it.

And that's the critical difference, which looks so easy to understand, but took me all this time to actually understand and integrate into a useful thought process. Right now, I'm training to race a marathon in less than a month. I don't think it'll be a PR performance out there this time around or anything, but I'm racing it nonetheless. I have a plan right now that involves starting out with a certain pace, and increasing that pace at 4 mile intervals. Last week my 18-mile long run averaged a pace that would see me finish the marathon in around 4:09 (my personal best stand-alone is 4:03:xx). Which is all well and good.

I approached my marathon training in similar fashion for Ironman last year - I started with a really conservative pace, thinking to account for the many hours and miles that had come before the marathon. I had devised nutrition strategies based on the influence of the swim and bike efforts and nutrition. But still, I trained like I was racing the Ironman marathon. That I'd move to a new pace after getting my legs under me.

But there's no way - none - to emulate an Ironman experience in training, so that was all just folly at best, a waste of time at worst. I was thinking last week that what I should've done is gone for a 10 mile run on 3 hours of sleep. Or tried to hit a fast 6 miler immediately after a huge dinner. Or gone for a run with a huge head cold. This is hyperbole, of course, to make the point: I should've trained my body better to perform under duress. To excel, or at least maintain, when uncomfortable. To turn off its usual logic and discover a new one. This is an approach I'll refine better when I do Ironman again - whenever that is, however many years down the road. Coach Rich Strauss of Endurance Nation says Ironman isn't about who goes the fastest, it's about who slows down the least. I'm some 7 years into this game now, a year into still trying to decipher my last Ironman race so I can learn from it, and I'm still trying to understand just what that means - to slow down least.

But, I digress - it's not an Ironman year, so let's get back to this marathon coming up.

I enjoy training to race a marathon. When it can just be about that singular experience, without all the attachments that come with the larger scope of Becoming Ironman. I've enjoyed it especially this year, as I get back into shape just as fall begins, which is totally backwards from my usual M.O. I've enjoyed seeing progress and accomplishment where I didn't expect to. It's too early yet to know what reasonable expectations I might have from this marathon - right now I think a 4:15-4:20 finishing time is realistic, but I'd love to push for a 4:10 if I can. If I can stay healthy and have a solid taper...well, like I said, still too early to say for sure.

I'm really looking forward to race weekend - the energy, the atmosphere. I'm looking forward to the race - the 3rd? 4th? time I've done the Twin Cities marathon, a beautiful course. I have some ideas for racing to take me through at least Thanksgiving, and hopefully this experience leaves me healthy and hungry for the "offseason" as I try and develop a new level of fitness for myself for next summer (at least a 70.3 in the works). All good things.

A few things to look forward to in the blog, I think - a more technical analysis after my next long run, and a few products I've been using that I think would be useful to pass along. Feel free to follow me at www.twitter.com/xt4 if you feel like knowing the daily training regiment and top-of-mind thoughts as they happen.

Finally, it's Ironman week this week here in Madison - which is a week pretty supercharged with excitement and emotion for me and any Ironman endurance athletes - particularly, of course, those racing this week. Sending my best to everybody who'll tread water with the rest of the heroes come Sunday. Get your heads and hearts right. I'll be cheering you on.