Friday, April 18, 2014

Why I train like I do...

I'm often asked about why I train the way I do and why I smash my bags when I train. As a young soldier I had this weathered old platoon sergeant that use to scream "the more you bleed in training the less you blows in war". Well, my life the last few years hasn't been that great (host of reasons not worth getting into here) and I see training as a way to suffer more than what life can throw at me. 

Problem is, when you slack off from training the life sucking pile gets too big to overcome. The last couple weeks has had me focusing on the problems and not a solution. So, I decided to throw on a BAA shirt and go out and run hills to inflict some pain on myself. Trust me, it makes total sense in MY head. That 5 plus miles was not fun at all...felt like a had the weight of the world on my shoulders (or around my waist) but it was just the kind of bag smashing, snap-out-of-it I needed. Today...turned out to be a pretty good one. Now to stretch a few of these together and get back on track...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Worcester Celtic 5k...well, at least the first race of the season is done

This local 5k is normally a race I look forward to every year as an early season fitness test and potential PR. The course is a flat to slight downhill out and back (slight uphill to the finish) that takes place on a completely shut down 6 lane road in the heart of Worcester, MA. There's a parade immediately following the 5k too so there's tons of people lining the course cheering and offering words of encouragement. I was actually nervous to run this race. Why? Well, I haven't raced since the Thanksgiving-day-gut-debacle last year, I lost 6 weeks of real training because of the loss of my dad and its aftermath and I've been dealing with my own mental and physical health trying to "get back on track" to training for this year's racing. Not to mention its a 5k road race...there's no way to bounce back from a poor start...its just a grip it and rip it for speed kind of race.

I mean that's kind of a grin...right?
Was there a race plan? Ya...don't embarrass myself. I decided to seed myself in the first third of the runners (bad idea since there were over 3000) in order to force a slow start and give me something to focus on (getting around people instead of my lack of fitness) as the miles unfolded. The gun goes off and I'm quickly surprised by the amount of walkers, people with strollers and/or the middle of the road that I have to get around. Really? Its a 5k folks...either get to the sides or the back...or else you just become speed bumps. I was also kind of surprised how quickly I was moving toward the front of the pack as we hit the first mile.

Now I told myself I wouldn't look at my watch...I'd just see how I did after the race was over...(ya, like that was gonna actually happen). A quick glance down and I see I hit the first mile on a 6:40 pace. Granted I didn't feel like I was running wide open but...ooph! I normally hit the first mile of this race on a 5:35 or 5:45. A minute off pace...a minute! Quick calculation in my head...if I can hold this pace I could maybe salvage a sub-20min race. Nothing to do now but keep pushing.

As we got to the turn I could see I'd made up ground and was nearing the front of the group (the 15min-5k group was long gone) and I thought if I could bear down the second half of the race maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Then came the slight incline...and then the 2 mile marker...a quick glance saw that I was in the high 13's...and it was like I could feel all the energy just bleed out of me. I had that realization that the rest of the race is going to be a "just get through it" kind of thing. That last 1.1 miles was not enjoyable in the least. I mean the end of a race never is but when compounded with the realization of just how badly the race was going, it was sheer agony. A rarity for race, they actually had a 3 mile marker and I was afraid to look down to see my time at this point...and I have to admit that last ".1" miles seemed like forever away.

I crossed the line in 21:37, 67th overall and 10th in my age group. Not a result that I'm happy about but one that given the last few month, I have to be happy with. I crossed the line gasping for air so it wasn't the lack of desire for the race, it was the lack of fitness. Lesson learned. Now to go find another race this weekend...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sometimes you just have to do it...

I recently watched a piece on the news about the best way to get over the "blahs" of this drawn out winter is to go do things even though you DON'T WANT to do them. I find that to be very true living up her in New England. The extreme cold and early darkness just makes you want to curl up under the blankets and read or book...or!.

Well, I did NOT want to go I grabbed my lululemon cold weather run gear, strapped on my new Topo Athletic MT trail shoes (which I was lucky enough to get in the mail from them...I mean what better way to get fired up for a run than a new pair of shoes?!)...and hit the trail. And...the snow had melted away and I could even see the trail for a change. There were still a few ice patches...that my butt seemed to find quite easily though. A 5 mile run certainly helped. Even though it was an 8 min/mile pace (I want to blame that on the rolling hills and poor footing...) it was a clear, 28 degree day and a run in the books. It was a struggle to get through 5 miles but I have to say I felt better for getting it done. Now to keep focusing on getting things done!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why do I do this? No, really...

There are days I doubt myself as a swimmer, triathlete...and athlete in general. This was just such a day. It should come as no surprise that I am struck with these doubts while in the water (yes, it hits me most often in the water...I mean my prior post was all about my having to drag myself to swim since its not something I'm good at...but trust me, that doubt monkey resides on my back during any activity in the day). That moment when I ask myself "what the hell am I doing this for?!"  Rapidly followed by "this is just killing me", "I'm never gonna be a pro" or "it's not like I'm any good at this anyway".
Self discovery can often be found while trying not to drown...
It should also not come as a surprise that I get this feeling during the cold, dark, snowy (more so than normal this year) offseason here in New England. It's just hard to stay motivated to train when it'd be much easier (and a lot more fun) to sit around the house enjoying a big bowl of Doritos or a German Chocolate cake...or two (hmmmm, cake) than drag myself to workout. And yes, I know we all go through the training "blahs" but this year seems worst than most. 

Yes, I work very hard at staying positive and I'm a great "coach" to get other people over the hump when they're having down days or a bad training session...but much like a psychiatrist who needs their own psychiatrist because "treating yourself" with the words you use for others sounds like garbage after a positivity falls on deaf ears when directed to me. And...I'm my own worst critic when it comes to my "athletic" successes (or lack thereof) and failures. I know this is something everyone deals with and contrary to popular belief, I am not immune. I focus on those crusher workouts and drag-my-tongue-across-the-finish-line races because the effort and pain helps to keep the doubt monkey at bay...but sometimes he jumps right on my back and kicks my ass.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What makes you think I love it?!

You know, its funny. I get friends and errant people all the time telling me that running and/or cycling is wearing them out and they can't find a way to recover or they want to find some type of cross training to give their legs a break but balk at the suggestion of swimming and say "I have no time to swim" or "I hate swimming" or my personal favorite..."I'm just no good at swimming". Compound that with follow up statement "I'd really love to do a triathlon...but the swimming..." normally solicits a series of eye rolls from me.

So you don't want to swim because you don't know how to...or you're not good at it? I hope that sounds ridiculous to you too when I say it out loud. I am by NO means a "swimmer". I have always wanted to do an Ironman and knew that I could put together the bike and run but I had to crack the swimming nut. Now I'm a firm believer that people that grow up as swimmers have a HUGE LEG up on the rest of us. Swimming is not "natural" for humans. Once you're taught proper form as a kid...and it sticks (it's really no different than learning a language as a kid) its always there and you can recall it. To learn swimming as an adult (essentially a new language) is terribly difficult.

Moment of truth? The first time I got in a pool to train: I hopped in to share a lane without asking, got my ass chewed out by the swimmer already in the lane, I struggled and muscled my way through the length (yes I said length NOT lap), got right out at other end, went into the locker room and sobbed to myself that I'll never be a triathlete...much less an Ironman. Ya, not a good day at all. But rather then let the water best me, I had to do two things I hate: admit defeat and ask for help. I got a friend who was a collegiate swimmer to teach me how to swim, put my ego in check and listened to the critiquing and worked steadily to better myself. Am I a good swimmer? No. Am I decent and no longer experiencing "controlled drowning" every time I swim? Do my swim times come down at every race (and subsequently put me on a podium now)? Yes. Can I hang with real swimmers? Not a chance...but I do enjoy catching most of them on the bike (its all about the small victories).

Do I look forward to going to the pool now? Um...I try to be positive and focus on the task at hand. But, at no point in the water am I laid back and just "swimming". I always think to myself: head down, strong shallow kick, proper hand entry, rock side to side, strong pull...followed by...oh crap breathe, breathe! the end of the day, I have no intention of letting the water beat me. I will get better every swim session. I will get through that 2.4 mile Ironman swim (with plenty of gas in the tank for that 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run) and I will earn the title "Ironman". Ya, I don't love the swim...but I'm warming up to it with every stroke. I do look forward to the swim at races now because its a chance to bring my swim times down with every race. So....what's your excuse for not at least trying?!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Topo Athletic RX...the gym shoes let me grip it and rip it!

I was lucky enough to get a package in the mail the other day from Topo Athletic. It included their "RX"
training shoe...specifically designed for the challenge of dynamic gym exercises and/or "crossfit like" workouts.

At first glance the shoes are a little crazy looking with the split toe design but after sliding them on (with the provided pair of spilt toe socks made by Injinji), you barely notice it at all. The shoe is wicked light weight and very breathable and really feels almost sock-like instead of a traditional "shoe". The shoes are zero drop with great support but little cushioning, which I thought would translate well to getting traction and power in the gym...and then hit the gym...

I figured it was high time I got back into dynamic lifting in the gym so it was a session of deadlifts, squats, single leg presses, bent over barbell rows, clean and jerks, box jumps, standing military press. I wanted to try all the exercises I'd avoided because I never felt comfortable because I never felt like I had solid "anchor footing" (you know, when you squat or lunge and watch your feet do that wobble in your shoes as they trying to get settled?)...until now...holy sh*t these shoes awesome!!!

For the first time in memory I felt like I had a solid base to grip and rip from through all of these exercises. Thats due in part to the split toe design (I could actually feel my toes "open" to grip the floor), the mid-foot strap for lateral stability and partly from the great arch support with no cushion (which lead me to the sensation of being "connected" right to the ground for stability). That translated to jumping rope and cone agility skills training too. Because of these shoes I'm happily back the three gym/lift sessions a week.

I have to admit I had my reservations about the shoe and its design and whether or not I'd like it. I dont like it...I LOVE IT!!! You got to get a pair for yourself and try them out. Now I gotta go build some go sticks...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Muscle ropes...their jump rope is the new weapon in my training aresenal is easy for us triathletes right? Its all about swim, bike, run. Go longer, go harder, go faster, recover then repeat...right?! Right?! I often chuckle at my single sport friends who complain about trying to find time to "cross train". YOU can't find time? Try being a triathlete!

I admit however that its a constant struggle for me to find time, or the desire, to do some other type of training after a swim, bike or run workout. As most of you know that read this blog or follow me, I'm a total night owl and most gyms are closed when I get the urge to workout. So I'm always looking for things to keep in my home gym, or take while traveling, to help keep me in shape when I get the urge to train (at whatever ungodly hour that is). Well, I recently came across Muscle Ropes because of my association with FitFluential...more specifically their jump rope.

Now, we all know that jumping rope is a great exercise. I mean how can all those boxers and MMA fighter's be wrong?! We've all seen the black and white video of Muhammad Ali looking all graceful while he "floats like a butterfly" jumping rope and doing crisscrosses and such (what? too old of a reference? Well then watch any MMA show)...but its not as easy as it looks...and this ain't your dad's jump rope. This thing is 2" thick and is heavy. Sure there are weighted jump ropes on the market but this thing is diesel...and bombproof!

Now I just thought I would pick this thing up and use it like a regular jump rope. Oh no, this rope takes a little getting accustomed to. First off, its not soft and pliable (although I sure it would get that way over time and with use) like a regular jump rope and secondly your forearms and hands alone get a work out from just holding onto the 2" think ends while the rope spins around you. IF it hits you, you know. That smile in the picture is not because I'm enjoying myself...rather its from the fact that I finally learned to quit smashing myself in the calves with the rope!

So, I rethought my plan and started with sets of 3 sets 10 just to learn how to handle this thing and after just 30 reps I was sweating, my shoulders were burning and I was winded...from jumping rope! Thirty minutes into a workout and my upper body was on fire. My shoulders, chest, arms and forearms were pumped like I'd been lifting in the gym. My quads and calves, from the constant bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet with the added weight of the rope, were killing me. My jump rope workout now is: 20-jumps, 15-figure 8 swings, 20-jumps and 30 pushups (which constitutes one "set"), repeat for 4 - 6 sets or to failure. I can tell you that after the third set my forearms look like Popeye's!!! I would've never thought I could get such a massive workout in such a short amount of time with just a jump rope! You can find out more about Muscle Ropes here but I'll tell you that this is a new staple in my training routine! The upper body muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardio and balance built from using this will pay off in the water, on the bike AND on the run. Its a great cross training tool for any athlete especially triathletes. Go get yourself one and see for yourself!