Sunday, October 26, 2014

Benchmarks


Life has been ticking along here now for a little over 8 weeks.

Mackenzie is smiling, giggling and cooing.  She loves to cuddle and enjoys time on those mats with all of the bright, colorful dangly things that you think are a gimmick until you put your baby on it and realize they think it’s party.  She makes eyes with the zebra, swats at the giraffe, kicks her legs and laughs until she passes out into a nap.

It’s hard work being a baby.

Myself, I have been doing my own version of baby exercise mat as I stack on week after week of consistent “fitness building” activity.  Training to train.  For the first 6 to 7 weeks it was slow going.  Rather, I was slow going.  Like I tell my athletes, a little patience here goes a long way.  But it’s hard to trust and accept that when you’re shuffling along at a very slow pace.

And that’s just for running!

In the pool, I’ve gotten back into some challenging swims.  The swimming comes back quickly.  My top end is missing so I’ve included some all out 25's and lots of fly.  Anyone who says they can’t get their heart rate up during swimming needs to do more fly! I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chase Amanda a few times in the pool with the swim workouts I write for her.  When I gave her 60 x 50, she said she would only do it if I did the swim with her.  Deal.  When we got 50 into it, she did some quick math and said hey, this adds up to 70.  It was no surprise but for the first time I got a taste of my own bad math.  As I told her, it could have been worse – could have been an extra 10 x 100!

Last weekend, I made myself do a bike test.  I’ve been riding mostly easy with some short (as in 30 seconds) bursts of intensity.  As soon as I got really uncomfortable, the interval would be over.  But if you’re going to make progress you have to do the thing you don’t want to do and get really uncomfortable.  For me that was a bike test.  To improve you must be willing to look at yourself in the mirror (or look straight into the power meter/Garmin), accept what you see and then put forth the effort to work on it.  I know I’m not fast or strong right now but I felt it was important to quantify how much so I could measure (and be motivated by) progress.

Before the test, I did my best magic trick yet: I got both children to nap simultaneously for 3 hours.  I deserve a wooden bowl for that.  I was so excited to test – so much so that my HR was running hot even before I got onto the bike.  A little anxiety!  It had been over 18 months since my last test!  And about 5 minutes into the test, I realized that those damn things never get any easier.  EVER.  They hurt for every single pedal stroke.  10 minutes.  15 minutes.  HURT.  At that point I told myself it was only 5 x 1 minute as hard as I could go.  In the end I finished just a few watts lower than I thought I would be.  I have a starting point but also a refresher in how to do the bike test.  Part of doing a test to your ability is mastering how to execute the test.  It takes some practice to learn how to pace and when to dig!   

Next up, a 5K the following weekend.  Running is always the slowest to come back.  I ran until the end of pregnancy but I use the term running lightly.  Until about week 36, I was able to run nonstop for 30+ minutes.  Then, it became a “wait and see” variation of run some, walk some.  Sometimes run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds.  Sometimes run 30 seconds, walk 5 minutes!  My pace had slowed down to over 4 minutes per mile slower than my usual easy run pace.  It was more like fast walking.  

In the past 8 weeks I’ve been (IM)patiently building run fitness.  I did what I knew would drive myself crazy: set a HR cap.  But it was a very important restraint.  Right now what feels biomechanically good is much faster than my fitness can support.  So I’ve run s-l-o-w-l-y.  At first, it took at pace SLOWER than my pregnancy pace to keep my HR down.  How can you lose 20+ lbs and be slower?  ‘Tis the mystery of post-partum fitness.  But each run I’ve gotten a little bit faster.  All by running “easy."

Perfect time, then, to sign up for a local 5K on the path.  I had no expectations other than “hoping” I would break a 7:00 mile.  (FYI: hoping is a VERY effective race strategy)  I ate a sensible pre-race dinner at our neighborhood block party: a bratwurst (for the first time in my life, hey try at least ONE new thing before every race, right?), two soft pretzels (I NEEDED THE CARBS), 3 cupcakes that I only licked the frosting off of and just to be safe – a giant plate of salad.  Fiber loading.  Frosting loading.  Something like that.

The morning of the race, I woke up at 3:38 am.  Something wasn’t right.  Mackenzie and I fell asleep at 8:30 pm.  It was now 3:38 am.  OH MY GOD WE BOTH SLEPT 7 HOURS.  STRAIGHT!  It’s been MONTHS since I’ve done that.  AMAZING!  But – was she still breathing?  A quick check of the monitor and I see her roll her head.  Breathing, check.  And so, the day began.  So did my pre-race ritual which included oatmeal, pumping (I pumped 4 ounces of milk and when trying to run fast- EVERY OUNCE COUNTS) and 12 ounces of fully leaded coffee.  Between that and 7 hours of sleep I felt like I would crack a 6:00 mile!

(wishful thinking, also a highly effective race strategy)

I warmed up, lined up near the front and got ready for something I knew would be very painful.  And then waited.  For the gun.  It had been a long time since I heard the sound of a starting gun and you know what – I was excited.  Every time I go away from racing and then come back I realize how much fun racing is.  To spend the morning doing something you love, surrounded by people with similar interests, outside with the backdrop of the beautiful autumn, I remind myself that no matter how much this hurts to always connect to the fun of it.  

And before I knew it I WAS RACING! 

The gun went off.  The course started off with 800 meters around a grass horse track.  The footing was sketchy – slippery from morning frost, uneven from horse hooves and thick.  I held back to avoid overworking this section until we turned on to the path.  But then I said to myself Liz, are you running or racing?  It’s an honest question you need to ask yourself if you’re going to give it your best.  Running is comfortable.  Running is backing off when you it starts to hurt badly.  Racing is uncomfortable.  Racing is taking risks.  It’s ignoring data and instead answering only to yourself – are you really redlining it?  Is that all you have?  Can you give it a little more?  No Garmin can tell you that!  

I decide to start racing.  I started to reel in some of the women that bolted too fast before we entered the forested area.  I know this path well – I’ve done the majority of my runs here over the past 15 years!  I’ve seen this path in all 4 seasons, in fitness, in pregnancy, in lack of fitness, for easy runs, for mile repeats.  I tell myself to use what I know to my advantage.  We head towards a long downhill where I make a move past the 3rd place woman.  But in the next short hill she surges past me.  We turnaround and then climb the big hill we descended.  I get to the top, catch my breath and see 3rd place still dangling in front of me.  

And just like that --- I settled.  I was running.  Not racing.  Honestly.  I know I could have done better but I didn’t.  I didn’t want it bad enough.  And this is why I race.  To face myself.  To see what I’m made of.  To put myself on the edge and ask now what?  Today I was chasing but I didn’t give it 100 percent.  I didn’t take a risk when it was necessary.  Was it fitness?  Was it fear?  Call it rusty.  Out of practice.  Perhaps weakness.  “An area of opportunity.”  If I want to get better, I must work on it.

We descend the last hill before a short climb towards the grass track again.  I’m gaining on her but lacked the push or kick, either mentally or physically, to bridge the distance.  I cross the finish line 4th overall and 1st in age group.  When I tell Chris that I was beat by a 12 year old and two 24 year olds, he tells me I could have mothered all of them.

(doing the math and realizing this is true) And I feel pretty good about that.  

Now, I have a benchmark: physically and mentally.  Physically, I went faster than I thought I could right now.  Mentally, I held back.  Real racing has to be more gritty, more aggressive, more animal.  I was nowhere close to winning but 3rd place?  A little over 10 seconds ahead of me.  That wasn’t fitness.  That was just me not wanting it badly.  

Over the years, I’ve learned tons of lessons like this.  It’s why I go back to racing.  There’s always something new to learn about yourself.  And when you finally master the lesson, you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Until you find the new lesson.  It’s why I love sports – you’re always learning.  

You know what I else I love about sports and racing?  POST RACE FOOD TABLE.  Brownies and hot chocolate.  Yes to both, thank you.  Cool down run while holding a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup in hand.  Got home and ate a piece of bacon.  I’ll try Whole 30 again tomorrow.  But for today, nothing spells recovery like chocolate and bacon. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Working On It



Off season, preseason, end of season break – call it what you want but for many of you it’s the time of the year to rest, recover and recharge for your 2015 season!

It’s also the perfect time to insert a swim, bike or run focus.  Some athletes will even choose to work on body composition or overall strength.  This is an ideal time of the year to focus on one thing as you are no longer constrained by the volume or specificity of preparation that needs to take place going into your key races.  Right now, it’s ok to back off on the other two sports or make some other sacrifices without a significant cost to your overall performance or health.

How to determine which area you need to focus on?  Take an honest look at what held you back in your 2014 season.  Was it fitness?  Strength?  Time?  Is there one sport where you lag far behind in your AG or overall placement?  Or, do you walk away from every race saying if only I could ____ faster.  Did you lose the podium spot in the transition?  With a little bit of work you can turn any weakness into more of a strength. 

Here are some ideas on how to assemble a focus to improve in different areas: 

Swim Focus 

*Schedule a session with a reputable swim coach to assess form, revisit every 4 weeks

*Choose 1 to 3 form challenges, choose only 1 to focus on during each session

*Gradually increase your swim frequency (ideally, getting to 5 sessions a week – or more during a focus)

*Join a quality masters team for 1 to 2 swims a week or step up to a new lane with your current masters team

*Once you’ve hit 5 sessions a week, consider adding in a double swim day once a week for 4 weeks

*Remember: there is value in even 20 to 30 minute sessions

*Aim for 1-2 form sessions, 1 strength session (core, paddles, vertical kicking), 1 threshold/speed session, 1 endurance session

*Include a weekly longer swim (3000-5000+ yards)

*Do repetitive pace sets (ie., 30 x 100 on a descending interval every 10, change the interval as you gain fitness)

*Swim steady; yes, 30-60 minutes nonstop to build mental & physical endurance that you need in a race (which is nonstop!), see if you can rack up more & more yards

*Include a day where you just swim with toys – buy some new toys to keep swimming fun/fresh (snorkel, band, different paddles)

*If it’s not possible to get to the pool more often, insert a few 20 minute stretch cord session (half pull, full pull, tricep kickbacks)

*Learn something new: flip turns, stroke, improve your kick, sign up for a swim meet, do the January 1 hour postal challenge

*When all else fails: JFS (just fucking swim – it need not be complicated & you can improve through frequency/yards along if you swim enough) 

Bike Focus 

*Buy a power meter (there are many affordable options; used or new, start looking!)

*Increase ride frequency to 5x a week

*Consider bike commuting (with low effort/high cadence)

*Include 1-2 shorter threshold sessions per week to raise your FTP

*Improve your ability to generate power at all cadences by working at all cadences on varied terrain

*Get outside with a mountain bike or cross bike; focus on skills, handling & cadence

*Work on power output at different cadences (40 rpms, 60 rpms, 100 rpms)

*Strength work: on/off the bike (big gears, hills, wind, lunges, squats)

*Schedule strength work (big gear/low stress on HR) the day before an interval workout

*Work up to a double bike day (strength work in the morning, TT/threshold effort in the evening)

*Mix in some indoor time trials as check in points

*Plan in a 3-7 day bike heavy training camp/vacation in late winter to early spring

*Use Computrainer classes in a sensible, progressive manner (as long as they are taught by someone knowledgeable who tests you properly, often and plans out a sensible progression)

*Connect with a bike fit specialist to get an optimal fit and equipment to maximize “free” speed 

Run Focus 

*Frequency tends to go further for progress than focusing on duration or intensity

*Follow this rule: run as often as possible at an intensity that allows you to repeat the run the next day

*Build up to doing a double run day (2 x shorter runs with one of them including some turnover work)

*Run on varied terrain or trails to improve stability and reduce contact time on the ground

*Use the treadmill for short + fast sets to improve turnover/leg speed

*Improve durability by spending more time on your feet (long hikes on varied terrain/trails)

*Learn to dial in your feel (run without a watch/Garmin or cover up Garmin & check in with pace/HR vs feel after the run)

*Progress through the Jay Johnson series to improve mobility and function (view them here)

*After 6-8 weeks & if you don’t have a history of injury, consider carefully introduced plyometrics (focus on quality vs quantity w/jumps)

*Include some road races (10K or shorter) 

Strength Focus 

*Hire a movement/performance specialist with an understanding of the needs of triathlon, your AG, your gender

*Include 1-3 strength sessions a week (1 w/trainer, 1 solo, 1 core/no equipment focused)

*Don’t be afraid to lift weights – but do so carefully, with purpose and with a logical progression

*Use strength classes with caution as they can be too aggressive, too un-individualized & too risky  

*Make your progress measurable (record reps, weights, time spent doing moves – if you improve, it’s working) 

Body Composition Focus 

*Take an honest look at your limiting factors (lifestyle, bad habits, timing, serving sizes, weekends, alcohol, sugar, etc)

*Attempt to change one limiting factor at a time

*Address any deficiencies (macronutrients, minerals, vitamins, hydration)

*Hire a dietician with a background in sports nutrition or an understanding of the needs of your sport, AG and gender

*Aim to find a way of eating that is sustainable for the entire year – juice cleanses, omitting food groups – not sustainable

*Fasted workouts can work – under guidance and before certain durations/intensities of workouts

*Measure your progress once a week (looking at more than just weight – try body fat, waist, lean muscle mass)

*When all else fails, follow the one thing we know works: move more, eat less (hint: move more outside of training) 

Transition Focus 

*Pick one month where you time yourself “in transition” for your brick workouts

*Take an honest look at what really slows you down (too much gear, getting caught up in wetsuit)

*Watch some videos on You Tube of the pros transitioning – see what you can minimize & how to improve your slow areas

*Set up a mini transition area in your basement or driveway; practice 3x a week (schedule like any other workout)

*Include a short (5-10 minute) run after every swim or before you get on to your bike

 Mental Focus 

*Honestly ask yourself, a close friend/family member, your coach, etc what holds you back the most in this area

*Consider a few sessions with a sports psychologist

*Pick up a mental fitness/skills book and work through it (On Top Of Your Game, The Pursuit of Excellence, Magical Running)

*Spend once a week per sport disconnecting from data/technology & learn to improve your feel/intuition in sport

*Eliminate the use of music during workouts to improve mental toughness & focus

*Include a few solo sessions each week to get used to and work through your own mental chatter/thoughts

*Do something that scares you (a monster swim, a trail run race, a surprise workout that coach or friend writes for you) 

Athlete Focus 

*Do an honest year end review of yourself as an athlete – what do you do well, what can you improve?

*List 3 things you did well, 3 things you did not do well, 3 things you need to change to take it to the next level or reach your goals

*Select one thing you can change every day that will improve yourself as an athlete (fuel, hydration, sleep, recovery) & then implement it on a weekly basis (ie., one week of consistently getting in recovery drink or spending 10 minutes a night on self-massage)

*Talk to other athletes you admire amd ask them how they do it – get some ideas

*Look ahead to where you want to be by the end of 2015 and then set out what it will take to get there (ie., 3 watts/kg by March)

Equipment Focus 

*Now is the time to search year-end deals for equipment upgrades

*Ask a knowledgeable friend or coach to review what you have and upgrades to consider from cheapest to most expensive

Which one will you work on for next season?  Don’t just make this another blog that tells you a list of things you need to improve.  Instead, choose one and make this the season you actually do it.  Take action.  Put forth effort.  Make the commitment and then – follow through.

Simple, yes.  But never easy.

(The secret here?  Winners do what isn’t easy.  How bad do you what to win, for whatever winning means to you?)