Category Archives: running

What gives?

I feel like I have been punched in the face.

I’m not saying that because my face hurts. No, it’s just a metaphor. I didn’t actually get decked, at least as far as I am aware.

The fist came from the photographer friend of mine that was at Kansas 70.3, which I raced stealth-style a few weeks ago. I’m not going to share the photos out of embarrassment because my ego won’t let me show you. I didn’t tell you I was doing Kansas, you see, because I wasn’t sure I was going to be doing it. I signed up before Wildflower in hopes of garnering the Double Whammy- an ITU long course championship slot (WF), and a LasVegas World Champs slot (KS). Obviously, I didn’t get either of these. And thus, you see, I sort of, kind of, well… quit triathlon this year, in a weird roundabout way. After Wildflower, with my piss-poor performance and my frumpy figure transformation from a winter of haphazard training, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. Do I want to dedicate enough time to be good at this again, or do I want to just be complacent for the time being? Can I convince myself to give up at work for the day and go train, or will I perpetually leave work to go home and eat peanut butter from the jar?

It wasn’t a question of whether or not I could dedicate time to train. It was a matter of whether or not I would. See, there’s a big difference. And the peanut butter was quite delicious.

There comes a time, though, when you gotta ask yourself “What gives?”

How did I get to this point? How did I not notice that I had the same behavioral patterns as this guy:

Ok, maybe I wasn’t that extreme. 

But I did have a few scares, after adopting a new friend,

…that I might turn into this lady:

Oofta.

Now I am asking myself: What gives?

In an effort to get back down to “Normal Megan Fitness” level, I’ve made a few changes. This isn’t just weight-related, it’s mental-health related too. And it should be noted that although I did get in some really excellent training over the last six months (thanks to killer training plans from John Hirsch), it’s incredibly hard to realize the level of fitness I may have gained when I’m carrying around an extra 5-10lbs. And, to be completely fair, I am a terrible listener and I didn’t do everything John advised me to do in my build up to Wildflower. Anyway, my body literally changed in what seemed like overnight (although I know it was really more like four months’ worth of peanut-butter-for-dinner). And although I have been very hesitant to count calories and obsess about my weight (this is the first time I’ve kept track of calories since I was 20), I’m happy to say that I feel good about the changes I am implementing. I’m doing this the healthy way, and I am being flexible with the margin.

The changes include:

  • Counting calories using MyFitnessPal: With MFP, I can establish my own calorie limits, and it incorporates exercise as calorie “credits” to make sure I don’t under-eat. Since I don’t have a scale in my house, I am using measurements of my waist and thigh to track my progress. And, since I am having a hard time fitting into my jeans, that will be a good metric as well.
  • Drinking more water: I started making it a goal to drink at least two bottles of water (with Nuun) at work each day, and the new Nuun flavors really help make that happen. I consumed half a tube of Fruit punch in one day…

  • Embrace my new training friends: One thing I get mopey about is not having my Team Mega Tough gal, Margot, to train with on a regular basis. We’d always head out on the weekends for long runs, meet up on Wednesdays after work to run from the gym, and roll out on our road bikes (or trainers) for a few hours in the evenings. She was always Miss Reliable, and I would never say “no” to her, even if I was really looking forward to sleeping in past 7am on a Sunday. Perhaps partially to do with this, I haven’t taken full advantage of is the plethora of people here that I can train with. I think part of it is that I know I won’t be able to find a suitable substitute for her, which is not really the point. I don’t need to replace her, I just need to keep doin’ what I was doin’. So, for the last month or so, I have been trying to make more of an effort to get to the group events, including TrailNet rides (of which I am now a member) and some special St Louis Tri Club events. It was partly because of the St Louis Tri Club that I raced KS 70.3 knowing full well that I wasn’t going to come close to having the race I wanted to have, because they are an encouraging lot. The group literally had over 2 dozen members in Kansas cheering and racing and sherpa’ing, and it was an amazing experience that I’m so glad I didn’t miss. Within this group, I’ve met some people that can really push me to get better and faster, but more importantly, to have fun!

  • Running more: One thing that has drastically changed in my training this year compared to previous years is that I have been running much, much less. I was swimming more yards than I was running. It was weird, but it kind of makes sense for triathlon: since running is my strength, and I needed to work more on my weaknesses like swimming and biking. But, truth be told, running keeps me sane in a way that biking and swimming don’t. Running also makes me strong. Yesterday, I tried doing plank exercises and noticed that my core is a lot weaker than I’ve ever remembered. This may be because I don’t make time to weight train or do any core strengthening sessions, which was something I didn’t really need when I was running more (running just naturally does that for me). But truth be told, I simply missed running. So I am making it a goal to run more.
  • Getting back to the grid: I miss putting pieces the puzzle together, so I have spent the last month or so diving into a pile of endurance training books, in part thanks to discussions I had with Sonja at Wildflower. I got my exercise physio book back from up north, and I dug out my go-to references: Advanced Marathoning (Pfitzinger) and Jack Daniels (the coach, not the booze). As my training compiles over the next few months, I’ll reference back to my handy Excel spreadsheet that lays it all out. And I’m even printing it out now and posting copies of it at my desk and on my white board. Sorry greenies, the trees are goin’ down.
  • Doing what I know: Running is what I know, so naturally, not running made me feel lost and confused. Does that mean that I really quit triathlon? Hell no! I frickin’ love triathlon. It’s so fun, so versatile, and I really think I can be quite good at it if I focus and dedicate enough time. And even though I’ve only been doing triathlons for about 2 years, it’s definitely something I know, and something I can see myself learning even more about in the coming years.
  • Giving a little: I love my job. I think I come home every day and literally say “I frickin LOVE my job.” Granted, I say this to my cats, who don’t give two shits about whether or not I like my job or anything else for that matter. But there really is nothing better than feeling like you are carving out a niche- little by little- while expanding your intellect and absorbing information like a sponge and sharing that information with others. I feel like I am working on stuff that will really make an impact and it’s so rewarding to see how these things can translate into the clinic. Over the last six months, my job has been the major, #1, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho focus of my drive, my energy, my everything. I think that I really needed to do that, to get to the point where I feel comfortable with my projects, where I can now contribute and to connect. Now that I’m into the groove and I am more confident in what I am doing in the lab, I think I can give a little back to myself in the form of time. I can, and I will, make time to train now where I didn’t feel like I could before (even though I really did have the time, I just didn’t go out and embrace it; I would have rather watch movies on Netflix and relax than go for a run at 7pm). And it’s easier to eat right and train when there’s a 5pm-out-the-door policy or an early alarm clock going off. I now reward myself for training with Netflix instead of deciding between the two, and if I get my long run done in the morning, like I did today, I can watch 2 episodes of Glee. It just feels right, finally. It didn’t feel right before.

So where does this leave me? I am crossing my fingers that this isn’t just a wave of motivation that has come and will soon pass. I really want to get better, to be healthier, to be leaner and be faster. I want to focus on the fun, but also look toward the future and build my efforts toward my next race, and my next season. Who knows what races I’ll do in what’s left of 2011; the beautiful thing is that I don’t really have to decide. For now, I can just train and have fun for now, while getting strong and healthy, and will still see the light ahead of me that’s shining brighter every day.

Advertisements

It's race season!

This weekend, I enjoyed one of my favorite things: racing. I soaked it up in nearly all its forms. I raced, I spectated, I sherpa’d. I had a few firsts, too- my first ever road bike race (well, two, actually…) and a first place finish.

Saturday was a perfect day, both weather-wise and prep-wise. I could not stop reminding myself how much of a good idea it was to do the time trial and the crit at the Tour of Hermann. My friend, Annie, and I showed up about an hour before the TT was to begin, and as I pulled out my race wheels, I realized that I hadn’t swapped cassettes. So, I either had to go race-wheel-less or find someone with a chain whip. Luckily, I was able to get the bike assembled, race wheels and all, with the help of Annie and a nearby racer who had a bunch of tools. As I arrived at the start corral, I realized that my rear tire was a little low. A man in a leopard-print robe and oxford shoes recognized that I was clueless, probably because of the look of panic on my face and the fact that my race number was upside down. He offered to fix my number, and asked if I needed anything else- realizing that the first group of TT starters would be delayed, I asked him if he knew if there was a bike pump around. He scurried off, and came back shortly with a pump from the guys from Mesa Bikes. He pumped up my tire, and soon thereafter it was time to line up. I thanked him, and felt relaxed- calm- and was excited to get going.

I was nervous to do the clipped-in start. I thought for sure I could handle it, but I chickened out in the end. I started, clipped in, and hurried off to chase down the others in front of me.

Only I had a hard time catching those in front of me. Turns out, in road racing, time trialists that are spread out by 30sec are hard to catch. And, top that with the fact that there were quite a bit of Cat1-2-3 racers in the time trial at the Tour of Hermann, and I soon realized that I was not really the one to be chasing. I was passed within the first few miles by a few speedy guys, but I just kept my head down and my feet pedaling fast. I tried to climb the hills with a lot of power, telling myself that I didn’t really have to do the crit if my legs felt too tired afterward…

I hammered away, and rocketed down the hills. Finally, I saw a girl who had started 1min in front of me. Interestingly enough, on the uphills, I’d gain ground on her, but in the downhills she’d lengthen our gap. But, she was on a road bike, and I had my Plasma. The laws of physics were against me. My bike was heavier, more aero, and had bigger gears. Whatever.

The TT was 14mi, and I was glad when I was nearing the finish. My legs were burning, but it felt good, and I felt good. I felt strong. I felt redlined. I had no idea where I finished after I crossed the line- Annie and I disassembled our bikes and headed onward to the Crit.

Crits are insane. This crit was especially insane. The course was 1.2mi, and finished in a very steep uphill. It was not what I expected, but I didn’t really know what to expect. The Women’s Cat 3-4 were the first group to go, and we were in for 7laps. There weren’t many of us, but we were all tough.

After a few laps, the groups spread out. I did a bit of riding on my own. I tried to work with other women. I would yell “Let’s go get ’em” or “Come on, stay on my wheel!” as I’d go by. I was absolutely digging the opportunities to pass and get passed. I would pull up to a girl and try to get her to go with me. Because the field was so small, I think there was little room for attacking. The one large pack (of only 4-5 women) that pulled away at the beginning fell apart by lap 5. I started to gain on the women one by one. Every time I’d finish a lap, the announcer would say my name and tell everyone that I was his darkhorse and that this weekend’s races were my first road races ever. He then announced, to everyone, that I had won the time trial. The announcer, turns out, was the leopard-printed dude that helped me before the TT. In the end, I came across the line in 4th, having pulled away from the pack but not quite catching the third place woman. But, for my first crit against some really tough women, I was stoked.

And I had to make sure the announcer was right.

Had I really won the TT?

Heck yeah! For women’s Cat 3-4, I was 1st. And, my time was the 3rd fastest on the day for women across categories, only parts of a second out of 2nd. That was cool.

Road racing is hard. There’s strategy, and there’s grit. All in all, I think I am hooked. The crit was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be, but it was a lot more tough. Oofta!

After the race, Annie and I had a german-fare lunch and tasted some wine at the Stone Hill Winery (which is where the crit took place). We watched some of the mens races and part of the Women1-2-3 crit, and then took off for home. My friend Kenny G was to be coming to town to race the Go! St Louis half marathon the next day. I met up with him and his friends at the WashU track meet, and we then had a delicious pre-race dinner of spaghetti at my apartment.

The next day, I dropped Kenny G off at the race and then grabbed a cup of coffee to prep myself as the world’s best spectator. It was hot, and I felt bad for the racers. I also felt relieved to not be racing that day.

After Kenny finished (he was 44th overall!), we sat on a bench under a tree for a bit while we waited for his friends to finish the full marathon. The day got more miserable, as temps rose and the breeze never really picked up. Apparently, marathoners were asked to turn around at the half marathon turnaround if they weren’t there by a certain time, and quite a few runners went to the med tent.

I’m super-stoked that Kenny and his friends could come down to race. It was great to be a spectator, and I am really excited about living in a bigger city where races are more frequent and I have more opportunity to watch and cheer and volunteer. Spectating is tiring, though- I had to take a nap after standing around all day!

The Endurance Meg Holiday Wish-List

The holidays are coming! Eek! My list hasn’t even been tackled yet. Double eek!

If you are like me, you already know what to get your significant other who 1) likes to ride his bike, 2) is in grad school and 3) lives in a snowy, cold place. Ok, so I have this one a little easy. But other than buying him a case or two of Pamela’s lemon shortbread cookies and a 5lb bag of Snowshoe Brew, I might be at a little bit of a loss. Endurance athletes aren’t really all that hard to shop for, if you have a billion dollars to spend on them. I thought I’d make it a little easy for those quirky endurance athletes on Santa’s list this year, no matter what your budget.

$5-35

  • Energy-o-rama: A nice variety of energy treats will bring a smile to their face. It will also give them an opportunity to restock their supply for the upcoming season or give them something new to try. I bought Baberaham a grab-bag of energy foods a few years back that had all sorts of awesome stuff, and it gave him an opportunity to try new things that he otherwise may never have tried before. My pics: Kona Kola Nuun, a flask of First Endurance Liquid Shot, a Larabar or two (coconut cream pie and pb&j, perhaps?), and some Honey Stinger chews.

  • Gift cards! Good places include:
    • All3Sports so they can put it towards some new tri gear
    • iTunes so they can jazz up their music collection
    • or Road Runner Sports so they can get a fresh pair of kicks or a new outfit.

Now if only Active.com had gift cards, too…

  • Chamois cream – whether they use it already and have a favorite, or they haven’t yet dabbled in the down-under cream, a new tube or tub might get them rolling. If you don’t know where to start, check out my chamois cream review from a few months ago to narrow down some options. Want to give them comfort without getting too personal with their privates? You could get them a can of TriSlide or a few bottles of the TriSwim shampoo and body wash.
  • Snapfish their season! My mom makes me really awesome collages every year. This year, after Rev3 Cedar Point, she made me the collest race recap ever. It had photos from their day as spectators, the course, and me on the run and at the finish.  You can make all sorts of cool things with Snapfish, like calendars and stationary. Think about a two-in-one type of present: make them a calendar that they can use to log their training!

$35-50

  • New headphones– If they are like me, they go through headphones faster than they go through swim suits. OK, maybe that is because I don’t swim as much as I should… but I digress. H2O Audio has a pair of waterproof headphones for $45, and there’s these new tri-geek-gadget headphone covers called Yurbuds that lots of people talk about. The warranty of the Yurbuds is 90days which is longer than some headphones last…
  • Underwear– No, not underwear like your mom gets you at Christmas. How about: a new sports bra? or windproof briefs? or a pair of compression shorts? Seriously, serious underwear. And if you think its weird to give your Secret Santa who also does marathons a pair of windproof briefs, then you obviously don’t know him that well… unless you live in Florida.
  • Cross training gear– Get a medicine ball, Bosu ball, or a yoga mat. I’ve always wanted one of those at-home pull-up bars because I never can predict when the mood will strike and I’ll want to do Feats of Strength. It could be in the middle of eating pasta (but it’s usually NEVER in the middle of eating ice cream).
  • A nice bottle of whiskey– I know I’m not the only endurance athlete that likes whiskey. Right? Right?!? Phew, at least I know Maggs does. My recommendation? Well, I have a lot of recommendations in this price range. But, particularly, I *love* Eagle Rare for a bourbon, Macallan 10yr Fine Oak if you like single-malt, and I’d personally love to try Hirsch 10yr in honor of my new coach, even though he’s not from Canada.

$50-100

  • New bike shorts– Who doesn’t need new bike shorts, anyway? Or tri shorts? or running shorts? Heck, it’s cold now; get ’em a pair of tights, like these ones from Louis Garneau.
  • Miscellaneous gear– Do they have a nice bike pump? How about an at-home fix-it kit? Baberaham helped me put one together before I moved since we’d no longer be sharing gear. It included: a multitool, several new tubes, Bontrager tire levers, CO2 containers, a 3-4-5mm Y-type allen wrench, and all sorts of other useful stuff. Trigger Point is a sure-win for endurance athletes, since they are tools to aid recovery. Go to their Individual TP Products tab on the left to see the Quadballer (if you are gonna get one thing from Trigger Point, it should probably be this). If they are more run focused, get them gear to keep them running safe after dark, like a nice headlamp, a decent runnable reflective vest, and a hat/gloves designed for running.
  • Sweet clothes– Whether its running clothes or every-day normal clothes, which for some reason endurance athletes don’t usually have a lot of, it’s safe to say that most everyone will appreciate the finer stuff. Take merino wool, for example. It’s warm, but very fashionable. Check out Icebreaker for some extraordinary active wear (that will seriously keep you warm with less layers and weight than polyester) and also for some stylish stuff, too.
  • A few good cookbooks and some cooking tools– Get them started off on the right foot for 2011 with a few healthy-eating cookbooks and some new utensils they probably don’t have. There’s plenty of cookbooks to choose from, but make sure your choice is personal. If they are new to following a gluten free diet, get them something like Gluten Free Gourmet Cooks … series by Bette Hagman might be nice. I personally love the Comfort Foods book, but Baberaham isn’t such a soulful food person. And, if they don’t already have one, get them something nice for their kitchen to cook food in. I love my new Calphalon stainless steel multi-purpose saute pan. It has a lid, which is one giant step up from what my last saute pan had. Also check out their knife collection; everyone should hvae three good knives in their kitchen: a santoku or chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife.

  • A different bottle of whiskey? This is probably the best bourbon I’ve ever had:

$100 or more

  • While this is more the special person(s) [eg significant other, son/daughter, or kiss up to your boss because you majorly screwed off this year] gift, it’s still one that is difficult to tackle for most people. In fact, I can think of a million things to get my running buddies, but we can’t spend this much moolah on each other (if we spend anything at all, because- alas – we are either all or recently recoverying grad students). So, if your special person(s)’s an endurance junkie like me, here’s a few gifts they might just eek about in glee.
  • New kicks ($100-150)- This is something that I know I can always get great use and appreciation out of. If you go this route, get ’em a new pair of their ol’ standbys. Don’t change it up, and if they aren’t happy with their current shoe, don’t make the decision for them. Instead, offer to take them to their favorite running shop and buy their new pair of shoes after trying them on.
  • A new bike trainer ($150-1200)– Even for people who can train outside year-round, having a bike trainer gives an athlete the freedom to train when they want to, whether its 5 in the morning or 9 at night. I have become very fond of using the trainer, because I don’t have to worry about bundling up, being seen by cars, or even wearing a shirt (yes, I wear a sports bra… sheeeesh). CycleOps is *the* name when it comes to quality bike trainers, and they make such a wide range that it can fit almost any budget. Now if only I could get my hands on a Powerbeam Pro…

  • GPS watch ($150-300)- If they don’t already have one (which I’m 99.8% certain most dedicated endurance athletes do at this point), upgrade their Ironman Timex watch to a shiny new Garmin 305.
  • TYR Torque swimskin ($250)- For those tri-geeks out there- Got a significant other that aspires to qualify for Kona, or is doing any southern, warm season triathlons in 2011? This swimskin is WTC and USAT legal, and it has a wee-bit of compression to help keep things tucked in and streamlined. I had a few close-calls in triathlon over the last two seasons, where I wasn’t sure if the water would be cool enough for my wetsuit. It wouldn’t otherwise be a big deal, but my two-piece tri kit can act like a chute in the water. Plus, I hope to do some warmer-weather races in 2011, and having a swimskin would help me in my weakest of the three sports.
  • Cover (some or all of) a race entry fee ($80-600)- Nothing says “I love you” than encouragement, and what better way to encourage your special person than by being an enabler?! I love enablers. They make me happy because they are just listening to the person they care about and helping them get to where they need to go a little easier.
    • Want something a little better than just covering their race entry fee? Register for two people; make it a special day! Of course, that other person is you. Not only will you be showing your support of your favorite endurance athlete, but you’ll also be saying “I’m with you on this one!” And, if you reallllly care about that person… make it a Rev3 race. 😉

Of course, there’s lots of things you can get for an endurance geek. I’d like to think we’re the easiest people to shop for. But if you’re stuck, hopefully this list of ideas will help. You could also try to win a box of LARABARS for whoever is on your list, and I won’t tell… Hurry tho, the contest ends on Monday.

Running away from my problems

I headed out yesterday for a wee little jog through Forest Park to scope out what everyone has been talking about. And, of course, to clear my head.

Dang, did I pick a good place to live. I am practically right across the street from the park, and although its a long-walkable-way from work, I’m really geeked to head through the park once I get a commuter bike.

Here are some (overexposed) shots during my run:

There were a lot of cool things I didn’t know were there, like a horse stable, a huge pond with lots of fountains by the art museum, and hills. Yes, hills. None of those Agate Street or Lahti Road hills, mind you, but the rolling terrain made me smile. I was supposed to keep my heart rate down, of course, so I think the smiling helped in that general area.

And the run was just what I needed. I have been on serious anxiety mode with the move and the new job, not because I am nervous or anxious, but because I am broke. Seriously, utterly, incredibly broke. The move cost a lot more than I expected, and with Missouri having nearly 10% sales tax, stocking up on things like garbage cans, brooms, and toilet paper really added up fast. Not to mention I had to fill my cupboards or risk starving to death, which I really probably could have lasted a week with all the post-season face-stuffing I’ve been doing, but let’s be honest, a girl’s gotta eat.

Luckily, I sold my mountain bike. Granted, I thought it was seriously unlucky at the time, and oooh how I did not want to part with that bike. I loved that bike. Steel, hardtail, race geometry. It was excellent in every measurable way. But I sold it and I am glad, because that money paid for the UHaul and gas. The sacrifices we make, yeah?

So anyway, back to the run; yesterday was a beautiful day- great temperatures, and instead of staying inside and moping about being broke and scrounging for money and throwing a pity party- I went for a run. Luckily, running is (for the purposes of this blog post) free. I don’t have to pay for a bus fare or drive my car anywhere- I can just put on my shoes and go. Plus, running is a great stress reliever, and by the time I got to an hour, my mind was more clear and I could prioritize my spending so I could use my money wisely.

I know the saying: It’s only money. But it’s only money when you have enough money to get you by. I was really, really worried that I wouldn’t have enough money to pay rent or to make a car payment. I’ve never really worried about these things before, mostly because I’ve lived in relatively cheap (ok, dirt cheap) places with incredibly low cost-of-living expenses. I mean, Montana didn’t even have sales tax!

I guess this is some more of that “growing up” stuff? I’m just glad that I get am starting to train more regularly this week.

To be or not to be (coached): Is that the question?

I’ve been chatting with some friends recently, on twitter and in person, about the pros and cons of hiring a coach. For years I’ve been on my own, and I’ve been really psyched about it. I have a fairly solid background in developing and executing the right kind of training, or so at least I think. I also have a graduate degree in exercise science, and my education in physiology (and general interest in the matter) seems to help. Plus, my background in collegiate running has given me an exceptional gift: I was part of the building and assembly of training plans, I learned how to properly prepare for peaks, how to taper right, and how to execute a focused season (or not). And I did this twice a year, for four years in a row. It was like a religion. This, and my history of training marathons over the last few years, has really helped me to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what is just a waste of time. Even still, the question continues to linger about whether or not a coach would help make life a little easier (and me a little faster).

Here’s where I’m coming from:

Collegiate running: I was on a team that was coached by two different coaches (not at the same time, of course) who had completely different theories about running. My first collegiate coach, who I had during my freshman and sophomore seasons, was a Yooper with a strategy to get his athletes fast. Trouble was, sometimes his strategy backfired, resulting in burnouts and out-of-phase peaks. I remember the day I peaked during my sophomore cross-country season. It’s like it was yesterday… out there on Lahti Road doing 800m hill repeats. I was the fastest on the day, and I even grabbed the Lahti Road record! But it was training, and the rest of my season was shit. And we were still two weeks out from the conference meet. Needless to say, I learned that peaking during a late season training session, not at an “A” race, is not that awesome.

My second coach, who came along after our first coach resigned, was more educated in endurance physiology, and he was a fan of Jack Daniels (the PhD, not the whiskey). His training philosophy brought me to a 5K PR, made me a stronger and more efficient runner, and taught me the benefits of going long even if the race was relatively short. He encouraged his athletes to read, to educate themselves on the running and training philosophies, so we could better understand where his 2-a-days and 3.5hr runs were coming from. Terms like “LT” and “VO2Max” made sense long after I took classes on the subject, because who really pays attention in exercise physiology at an engineering school anyway?

Anyway, once I graduated and moved on, I wanted to continue racing (after a brief break sabbatical, that is). From what I had learned from my former (2nd) coach’s training strategies, I developed my own training plans. Each week looked something like this:

  • One long day (Sunday)
  • One threshold day (usually Thursday)
  • 2-3 recovery days (Wed/Fri)
  • a race, max-effort, or general intensity day (Tues or Saturday)

I also used two-a-days, both to get me in shape fast and to boost my aerobic fitness (LT), and before I knew it I was deep into training for my first marathon. I trained through the winter in Montana, but I did it all indoors. I’d hit the treadmill 6 days a week, somedays twice, running anywhere between 30minutes easy to 22miles while watching America’s Next Top Model. Sundays were my long runs, Mondays were almost always full recovery (off), Tuesdays and Thursdays would be a nice hour run in the morning with harder stuff in the afternoon. Wednesday and Fridays were recovery days, and Saturdays were either easy or longer intervals. That was my week, every week, from December to March, treadmill mashing and iPod tuning. Until, of course, I ran 26.2 miles for the first time outside in Napa Valley, California. And I was very satisfied with my finish of 3:22.

From there, it was all in some direction over a hill towards who knows what. I move back to Michigan and got back to training with some of my former teammates. I trained mostly outdoors from then on, but I kept my training schedule roughly the same. I squeezed in a few more marathons while working my butt off at school, and eventually got into a good rhythm. And with that rhythm came more challenges, including my introduction to triathlon. Instead of running every day, I swapped out biking and swimming. The key run workouts (the long run, the track intervals) would stay, but biking would take the place of the recovery and easy days. Swimming- well, that was something I forced myself to do once or twice a week instead of a recovery run or bike. And it rarely was fun (ok, endless relays were pretty fun).

With the planning of my first Ironman distance triathlon, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing key running workouts, so my first training plan as a triathlete actually used a marathon-specific run plan. I based my training on a book by Pete Pfitzinger, which may not have helped my Ironman run but actually helped my post-IM marathon five weeks later (where I ran a marathon PR of 3:19). Anyway, I was a little more knowledgeable after season #1 of triathlon, thanks to trial-and-error, not to mention just having experience under my belt, and my second season in triathlon was more successful. I was more diligent about my training plan; I kept an electronic spreadsheet so I could update it and kept track of weekly training hours. I watched my season progress, and the ups and downs of my weekly hours fluctuate somewhat sinusoidally (thanks to my planned training cycles).

This season, though, I had more doubts about my training than ever. I was racing better, but I was also having a more difficult time planning my training. I know how to handle one sport, but how could I deal with three and still try to do well? I had a hard time answering questions like: When should I do my long runs and rides? When am I supposed to do my hard swim workouts? Do I swim hard on the same day as a hard track workout? Or do I swim hard on my run/bike off day? Or do I bike hard on my run recovery day? These were questions that I couldn’t answer yes or no to unless I just did it, but I was afraid and hesitant that I would make the wrong decision and make my season go south real fast. I also had problems with accountability. One poor decision that I made on my own was my post-A-race recovery; or lack thereof. I basically didn’t do anything for two weeks after Rev3 Full, and the three weeks leading up to my fall marathon were full of sitting around eating candy, drinking bourbon, processing words, and being stressed out. In hindsight, active recovery may have been more beneficial than the “recovery” I was doing- which was more or less just being sedentary.

I don’t even have enough fingers to count the number of times I questioned getting a coach. I asked friends who had coaches, and we talked about their relationships. I talked to friends that didn’t have coaches, and we discussed the pros and cons of hiring someone to tell me what I thought I already knew. I talked to friends that were coaches, and got some great, rewarding feedback there, too.  I feel like I am in a tricky situation, because I know enough about training to know what might be a good idea or a bad idea, and this makes it really difficult to wrap my head around the possibility of having a coach who could have different views and opinions about things than me.

There’s also something so rewarding in designing your own plan, laying down the tracks that can bring you to having a great performance. Knowing that I was able to race fast this season, on my own, by doing the work that I put in- the work that I developed- well, anyway, this idea tends to linger in my mind. Over the past several months, whenever I would consider getting a coach, I’d ask myself: Would a coach help, or would a coach tell me something I didn’t want to hear? And not to mention, can I even afford it?

Now, I understand that not everyone can design their own training plan, let alone stick to it. I definitely didn’t stick to mine like I probably should have. There are weeks in my training plan that are sparsely sprinkled with completed workouts. This season, the only accountability I had was myself, and that was better sometimes than others. But regardless, having a coach is not essential to the triathlete. There, I said it. Now all my friends who are coaches are going to stop talking to me.

But they shouldn’t, because there really does come a point when having a coach is beneficial. For example, beginners rarely know where to even begin, let alone figure out how they are going to fit in training in their already-busy schedule known as The Real World. Because, let’s be honest, who can hire a coach if you don’t have a job?

And even for the “experienced” athlete- there comes a point when someone who thinks they know everything (points at myself) might need some insight. There comes a point when ya gotta say: “OK, do I want to get faster with the help of someone else, or am I OK with rolling the dice?” I sat down and thought about it, I thought really hard. And seriously. I considered all aspects. How much will a coach cost, and how much can I afford? What will they offer me that I don’t already have at my fingertips, including a boyfriend that bikes, a kickass group of cycling buddies, and a running partner that runs the shit out of everything (ok, maybe that’s not what I meant)?

Most importantly, though, and this is the real deal: If I hire a coach, am I confident that I can put aside what I know think I know and trust what this other person tells me as true? Can I say: “Oh, I feel like I should be running for 5 hours if I want to do well in a HIM” and they tell me- “No, you’re flippin’ cheesefried nuts.” That’s the biggest step: getting over what you think you know. Of course, if we look hard enough, we can usually find what we’re looking for. It’s like those people that go to the doctor to get the diagnosis that they want to hear. Sure, some would call them hypochondriacs, but if the fifteenth doctor they see tells them they have a rare disease that no one else has ever heard of and will get them special attention, than its the fifteenth doctor they are going to trust.

Ok, maybe finding the right coach is not really that extreme. But hopefully, you get my point. It’s not just “hearing what you want to hear”, though. It’s also hearing what is right to you. Finding the right coach is finding the right pairing of personalities; it’s finding the person that you can relate with, and the person that is willing to work with you. And when you know, chances are you will really know. And hopefully for your wallet’s sake, that person isn’t Dave Scott at $600/month. Of course, I say that, because I am a measly grad student making $20K a year. I am sure there are triathletes out there that eat $600 for breakfast.

Recap: 2010 "Sophomore" Season

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my 2010 season is wrapped up.  I’ve even had two weeks of my post-season do-whatever-I-want awesomeness, [which really hasn’t been that awesome].

Racing this year has been a blast! In my second season as a triathlete, I raced more and improved from last year. And, I felt strong in the run of practically every race, which made me happy. I set some lofty goals at the beginning of the season, and although I didn’t make them all, I’m happy with the level I’ve risen.

Anyway, it’s time to reflect on what racing in 2010 brought me:

  • Two more marathons are checked off my 50×50 list (Utah and Michigan)- I BQ’d in both of these, too. Although I didn’t reach one of my goals (another marathon PR), I am still incredibly satisfied with where my run has made it. In fact, although I didn’t PR in the open marathon, I broke my marathon PR in the 140.6 distance by over 30 minutes. And, I also shaved off a minute from my previous best time in the 10-mile.
  • I ran the farthest I’ve ever run before, in a training run no-less. Although I was registered for my first ultra, I bailed because of sub-optimal health/stress levels. The ultra world is still there, and I’m striving to make it a to-do for 2011.
  • I broke 11hrs in the long course tri at Rev3 Cedar Point! This was one of my more major, loftier goals, one I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to accomplish. But, dare I say? I crushed it! I even got lost on the bike, which added a good 2 miles to my bike leg, and still cruised to a sub 3:40 marathon. And had fun!
  • I raced more in 2010 than I did in ’09, and I traveled a lot more for races, too. I even flew to a triathlon, which was something I had never done before. Special thanks to The Bike Shop and Bicycle Works for helping me out at Quassy!
  • I directed a half-iron distance triathlon, the Kuparisaari Tri, and got to meet some incredible people along the way. It was a lot of work (that’s an understatement), and the race could not have happened without the help of the KCRA, Bear Belly Bar and Grill (and the Lac La Belle Lodge), the volunteers, and the LLB community! I hope the race will continue, especially so that some day, I can race it!

So, what does that mean for 2011?

There are lots of things I want to do. There are lots of things that I don’t know if I can do. But I won’t know unless I push the boundaries of what I am capable of doing.

For me, 2011 is going to include more focused sessions, aiming to improve my swim, bike, and run. My specific goals are:

  • Faster swim!    I’d like to hit 32-34min in the 1.2mi distance, and 1:10 in the 2.4mi distance… or faster!
  • Stronger bike! In 2011, I want to get on the bike and enjoy the ride the whole time. I know that’s impractical, because some days just suck. But, this season, I struggled a little in races and training. I just didn’t have the fun that I thought I should be having. I did, however, get a little out of my comfort zone in the second half of the season, and hope to bring that back in 2011. One thing I plan to do in 2011 is use benchmarks to track my cycling progress.
  • Blazin’ run! I am a runner. I have it in me. And I love it, all the time. So I am going to work on my running strengths in 2011 to get me there. I think that the longer runs in the early season really boosted my endurance for the rest of the year, so I plan to build a solid base of long runs. And, I want to race a half marathon! I’ve never finished an open road half marathon!
  • Keep peeling off time and running down places in the HIM distance races. It was blatently obvious to me this year that you really can’t compare race to race. To put it in writing that I want to go 4:45 at Quassy is insane. Plus, courses can change year to year and its hard to have  standard. So, I’d like to just keep pushing to get better in this length, because its so fun!
  • Race a (legit) Oly. Last year, I did my one and only Olympic race at Rev3 Knoxville. This race was seriously legit; the only problem was, I wasn’t. And I didn’t race another Oly all season. I’d like to race at least two this year, and race them to the best of my ability. I’m really interested in what I will be able to do in this distance, especially when my run will be faster than that it is in the HIM.

Although I haven’t completely figured out my 2011 schedule, I am planning on doing the following races:

  • Ragnar Relay Florida Keys – all-women ultra team (Jan)
  • Rev3 Knoxville Olympic – May
  • Rev3 Quassy Half – June

Greater than 14,000 meters

I love the track. I love the controlled environment, the splits, the mindless repetition. I love the feel of smooth surface beneath my feet, the quickness of my cadence, the level ground. I love the bold white finish line and counting down the turns. I am in my element out there.

But for some reason, this season, I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve gone out there a few times, like when 5×600 repeats were on my schedule, but when it came to doing anything longer, I resorted to the trails. Maybe it was because my standby training partner is in her element on the trails. I’m easily convinced to change, especially if it means I have someone to chase after. And its not like change is a bad thing. Running on trails is lower impact and more neurologically challenging than running in circles over and over.

But this week, I knew I needed to find my interval nirvana. And I had a craving for something big, something that would take a lot of determination to get through. I modified my training plan from 5x600s to 10km worth of repeats. Add in the rest intervals, and my total distance racked up to over 14,000meters. 14,300 to be exact. While not the most epic or difficult set of repeats known to (wo)man, it was the biggest set I’ve done all season. And I was reveling in it.

I invited a few friends, and we met at a newly redesigned high school track. Up here, where the tracks get plowed by snow removal trucks starting in March, there is no such thing as a rubberized track. Just a smooth, crackless, even asphalt oval. And I think its absolutely beautiful.

We settled into our 10K paces for the first part of the main set, 5x800s. I was a little fast on the first two, but pulled back on the reins to avoid disaster later. We caught up with each other on the rest interval between (easy jog 400) before taking off as soon as we crossed the start line again. The 800s flew by. I almost wished I had made the workout 10x everything… maybe next time.

The 400s made my mind focus, but I couldn’t keep track of how many we’d done. Run a 400, jog a 200, run a 400, jog a 200, and it took me a while to grasp that odds were on the start line, evens were starting at the 200m mark. But I was focusing in my form, how my feet felt when they hit the ground. Where my knees were, where my hands were. I was focusing on my breathing, and I was focusing on holding back. Don’t chase the boys, I thought, just run your paces.

Louisa spectating after her long run

Regrouping was the best part. The guys would walk until I caught up, and we’d jog until the start line, and then we’d funnel into a line as we took off. It didn’t need guiding, everyone knew what we needed to be doing.

I’d finish the same distance behind the boys each time, comfortable with my pace and trying hard not to kick it in on the windless home stretch. The back stretch was windy, though, and I started sticking with Jesse on the first turn to be protected from the wind.

The 200s breezed by. Run a 200, jog a 100. Less rest, and unintentionally faster paced. I upped the anty, worrying less about my 10K time and focusing more on my ability to stay in control of my form, fast on my feet, and light. My legs wanted to burn it up, but I held back until the last five.

Two and a half hrs and two bottles of Kola/BananaNuun, and I was headed home. That was faster than I thought it would be. I was expecting 3 hours, pain, crying, maybe puking, definitely whining. I heard none of that. I didn’t dole out any of it. It was a piece of cake (ok, maybe not exactly), and my legs weren’t even trashed afterward. I was actually itching for more.

I didn’t do more, of course. I simply went home and made a protein shake. Seven more days of quality. Intensity. Recovery.  Then it’s time to taper for Rev3 Cedar Point.

A Day in Da Harbor

This weekend is special. Not just because it’s Memorial Day weekend, but also because:

  1. a friend is in town
  2. it’s one-week-until Rev3 Quassy
  3. the weather is amazing

Baberaham has been geeked all week about our friend that is now in town, because for him, that means sharing funny stories, endless hours of mountain biking, and barbecue. Yesterday, we made breakfast the best way we know how- with local groceries (including nitrite free bacon and farm fresh eggs) and a boatload of coffee. We then threw the bikes in the back of the pickup (me with my roadie and B & friend with their mountain bikes) and made the trek to Copper Harbor for some glorious outdoor fun.

With just a week before my early season A race, I wanted to get some juice flowin’ and test my legs on some hills. What better way than to venture up Brockway Mountain?

Overlooking Eagle Harbor

Brockway has some of the best views in the whole Keweenaw of Lake Superior and the surrounding landscape. The roads aren’t in fabulous condition, but that’s part of the allure. And it’s definitely argued which side is more difficult to go up.

I rolled along M26 to the south entrance of Brockway, along the shoreline that provided a cool breeze. The Lake was calm and glassy, and the occasional car that passed me was driving slow and cautiously – another reason why I love riding in the UP. I rode up the south side, because I wanted a good warmup and wanted to transition into my mile repeats (running) quickly. I was shooting to get a few climbs in, but my legs were still feeling gassed and I decided to hold back a little.

On the up, I did a lot of standing, which is an amazing feeling. I feel fast and in control, and my road bike (Jamis Xenith Race) is easy to maneuver, light, twitchy, and aggressive. I had my gearing dialed in well, and I hit it perfectly when to up shift, down shift, stand up, sit down. My front wheel didn’t leave the ground once (which for me means I wasn’t pulling on my handlebars too hard). It was a perfect climb.

The disheartening part of Brockway, especially coming from the south side, is that the climb never seems to end. Turn a bend, still going. Turn another, keeps climbing. But I was ready, mentally, to handle that and I almost felt disappointed when I got to the top. Almost. My legs were not disappointed, and my quads and hips burned.

Once I got to the top, I lollygagged for a few minutes. My legs felt alright, and I debated doing another. I was thirsty and the temperature was higher on top of the hill than at the shoreline. It was time for the descent.

Copper Harbor

Copper Harbor was fairly quiet, considering it is a holiday weekend… but I am guessing it’s much busier today with the Bike the Keweenaw festivities taking place up there. It definitely wasn’t busy enough to scare this girl-

After my mile repeats, I basked (baked?) in the sun for a bit while waiting for the boys to get back to the truck. At that point, their legs were tiring but they wanted to keep riding, so I shuttled them up to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge where many of the IMBA Epic mountain bike trails start. Gravity was a friend yesterday.

Rock Your Socks 10K

I’ve been trying to find a local 10K to race, but my luck just plain ran out. The weekend’s races are either too far away (3+ hours), or not 10Ks. No matter how hard I think about it, I just can’t convince myself to travel over 100 miles for a race that short.

Fortunately, I have a couple key 10K routes and a GPS watch to guide me, so this morning my roommate and I set out to run a 10K time trial. Racing with Babes definitely helped remind me that Yes, I need to do a 10K this weekend and Yes, I can do one without an official finish line and chip timing.

I was hoping I’d have a big crowd to run with and gun after, but I couldn’t convince any of my training buddies to tag along. They were either out of town, out of motivation, or out too late last night. So, off I went, with a last minute addition of my roommie, who has never ran a 10K before.

We headed to McLain State Park, because I wanted to run a bit on the Canal Run course. The Canal Run is such a sweet and fast 10 mile race, yet every year I seem to get slower and slower (by adding about 30 seconds to my time every year…). Although it’s not a goal race of mine for 2010, it is a week before my first ultra (Voyageur Marathon- 50mile), and I would like to use it as a tune-up and get some speed from my legs- and to see where I am at in mid-July. So, off we went.

We did a short warmup (~12minutes) and I wasn’t sure that was enough. My legs felt a little tight and depleted. Even though it seemed chilly when we got out of the car, after the warmup I was stripped down to shorts and a tee.

3-2-1-, off we go.  My roommate hung back from the start, and I was running alone the entire way. I worked on keeping my knees up, ankles relaxed, arms pumping, shoulders relaxed. I started to feel the heavy, humid air around mile 2. At the turnaround, I couldn’t see my running partner, and I started to wonder where he went. No- focus. My breathing is heavy, but I don’t feel like the air is going all the way into my lungs. My eyes get tired, my shoulders start to get higher. I check my form, then get distracted again. I should have passed him by now. 2 miles left, and up the Lily Pond hill, with still no sign of Sam. Where is he? Did he turn early? Must have. Stop thinking about that, Megan. Just focus. I see him ahead with 1.2 miles to go. Pick it up, you’re slowing. Focus on your form. Get moving.

I turn the corner into the park and dig deep, but not deep enough. My watch stops at 42:44 at 6.2miles, and I admit that I’m not satisfied. That was slow, and I know it. But I haven’t been doing intervals for weeks. And I’ve been sick. And I bonked hardcore in two sessions already this week… I try to make excuses but I can’t accept them. No, just deal with it. That’s the time, the watch doesn’t lie. You gotta get faster. So for the first 10K of the season, I’ll take it. That’s a decent benchmark to knock down next time, and hopefully I crush it and boost my confidence.

First mile:      6:42
Second mile: 6:47
Third mile:    6:49
Fourth mile:  6:52
Fifth mile:      7:05
Sixth mile:     7:00
Last 0.2 mi:   1:26
Finish:          42:44

Route:

Elevation:

A change of pace

In high school, I was a runner, and I was seriously committed to becoming a better athlete with each day of training. I ran what my coach told me to run, I rarely complained, I dug deep and breathed heavy and pushed myself as hard as I could, taking comfort in knowing that my efforts would pay off. My ultimate goal was to break the 800m record (again; I broke it my freshman year, but it was snatched up pretty quickly by my French friend, Vanessa). My dad never missed a race, and I would hear the trademark whistle of my coach when I was gaining on my competitors, which translated into “Go- go- go!”  Although I never grabbed the 800m record again, I did compete at the state level practically every season (sans the Frenchie-exchange season, of which I was injured. I watched her crush my record at the state meet, and it was absolutely amazing).

Then I went off to college. I chose Michigan Tech, aside from the location and program of study, because I could continue to run competitively. I joined the cross-country team and life continued as normal. Well, maybe not normal, but the transition wasn’t too abrupt. I still had a team, albeit new (and majorly fast) girls. I still had practice. I still had a routine. I still got nervous before races, listened to certain songs before putting my spikes on, and sat with my parents, who would travel great lengths to watch me race. Although the practices were much different in college, I got to experience a new aspect of training that made me faster with every year. I had hills to run up, snow to run through, and trails to get lost on. I hammered down my personal best in the 5K and then I’d peak for the season on Lahti repeats. I could hear my old coach’s whistle in my ears. In college, I met some amazingly strong and incredibly smart women, women that wouldn’t just settle for mediocrity. The carrot would dangle and they’d chase after it. We’d all chase after it. The finish line could keep taking less and less time to get to, but our race for being our best would never end.

And then I went to New Zealand for study abroad. And I got tendonitis from hiking in the South Island and then I drank a lot of beer. When it was time to get back to the U.S. and train for my last season, I was out of shape and ten pounds heavier than when I left. I worked my butt off and ran the longest run of my life at the time (18 miles) and I was convinced by our team captain to join the Nordic team. I continued to race through the winter, and I got faster and stronger every day. I admit that I cried a lot.  I cried going up the Balsam hill on skate skis. I cried going down Cemetary on skate skis. I even cried while riding in the van with five half-naked freshman boys (but that was from laughing so hard). My last track season seemed to come and go like the spring in the UP (which is really fast, by the way), and then I was done. It was quite anticlimatic.

Then I was in Montana. I signed up for some local 10Ks but nothing serious. I felt burnt out, and I even stopped running for about 9 months. I just didn’t feel like going. I started lifting weights, thinking that I’d find some enjoyment out of pushing myself harder in my brute physical strength, but I got bored. And eventually, I found my way back to running. I signed up for the Bridger Ridge Run and tried to prepare as best I could. I raced for nearly four of the five hours with a heart rate about 170, and I puked. After that, I signed up for my first marathon and trained my butt off. Discipline drove me to run on the treadmill every day, sometimes twice, during that harsh, frigid Montana winter. I’d run tempos and hills with my iPod shuffle in hand and America’s Next Top Model on the TV. I’d watch the weight lifters doing what I admittedly didn’t want to do. And I ran once for three hours, just plugging away with the belt moving beneath my feet.

Then I was in California. I was toeing the line for my first ever marathon, surrounded by half naked, anxious and excited runners (that oddly resembled in figure that of the freshman boys). The sun was rising and I was off. I listened to my body and I felt my lungs breathe in the most fresh and clean air I could imagine. I ran with two women for a few miles who were shooting for a 3:35. I left them. I ran for a guy using the marathon as a “training” run (something I thought of as absolutely absurd at the time… go figure). After six miles or so, I left him. I ran past vineyard after vineyard, aid station after aid station, and cheering crowd after cheering crowd. I ran by myself for the last 10K. I dug deep and felt my feet hit their rhythm on the pavement. I wove through the subdivision and felt my legs burn. Felt my arms burn. Felt everything just burn. And then I saw the spectators, the finish line, the clock, and I heard my coach’s whistle in my head. I felt everything disappear.

Then I was back in Michigan’s UP, running and training and racing, and I’ve not stopped since. It’s been just over 3 years since I ran my first marathon, and two weeks ago I finished my sixth. Racing marathons has exposed me to a whole new world of athleticism- and it helps nip my travel bug as well. Triathlon is not much different. There’s so much dedication and passion involved in endurance sports, and so much potential that I keep striving to reach. The further I push myself, the deep I reach into the giant vat of opportunities in sports like these. I see this pursuit for personal bests every day in my training partners and teammates. We don’t just settle, we keep advancing. We keep training. We keep racing.

Then I was in Madison, Wisconsin… racing my first Ironman. Then I was in Ohio, beating my personal best in the marathon 5wks later. It will go on and on.

Next weekend, I’m tapping into my retired fast-twitch muscles for my first Olympic distance triathlon. This will be the first triathlon of the season, and the first I’ve ever done shorter than than the half-iron distance. I’m nervous and excited. I’ve got my iPod charged and ready to rock with some of the classic pre-race pump me up songs. I’ll have my dad cheering from the crowds, and I’ll have my teammates beside me. I’m ready to go.