Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Looking ahead to 2015

I didn't publish a year-end recap this year (although it's one of the things on my to-do list), but I wanted to put together some aspirations and goals for this year.  I'd like to be able to dust this off at the end of the year, and see how I tracked to my goals.

If there's one thing that endurance sports has taught me it's the life throws you curveballs.  I think that I have done a really good job responding to the ups and downs of life, and keeping my fitness a priority, even when I had to go through long periods of inactivity.  Needless to say, dealing with a health issue as I pushed towards my first 70.3 was tough to deal with - but I made it to race day, and saw the race through to completion.

So, back to this year.  We're rounding the corner on January, and I feel that my base of fitness is really strong (stronger than it has been in previous years).  I have a few races on the calendar just to get me outside during the winter months:  NYRR Manhattan Half (Half Marathon), and NYRR Washington Heights 5k.  The Washington Heights 5k will be a great opportunity to test myself on some killer hills, and give my kids an opportunity to run some kiddie races (which they love to do).  The other challenge on my list is the Empire State Building Run-Up, which I plan to do in full firefighting turnout gear.  I'm wondering how I'll feel about that decision by the time I have climbed all 86 flights of stairs.

Once February draws to a close, I will start my ramp-up to my first triathlon of the season:  Challenge Atlantic City.  This race is a 70.3, and racing that distance so early in the season is new for me.  I'm told that it is a flat, fast course - but despite that, I'm not hanging my expectations on a PR.  I'm going to use it as a test of my base fitness, and an evaluation of my baseline as we move into racing season.

From there, I have about a month to put the finishing touches on my training in preparation for the iconic New York City Triathlon.  With the super-fast swim in the Hudson and my new skills on the bike (and my new bike), I'm hoping for a PR at this race.

Once I clear that race, training moves into high gear for my end-of-season goal race, Challenge Maine.  This is another 70.3, and the place where I first did battle with a race of this distance (read my race recap here - it's a good read).  My conditions the first time were less than ideal (I was dealing with heart issues at the time), and I'm looking forward to a strong showing there (and hopefully another PR at the 70.3 distance).

Before I head to Maine, I have one last stop scheduled: Challenge Pocono.  This is the second year that the race is being held, and I heard great things from everyone that raced it last year.  This is an Olympic Distance race, and I plan to use it as one final tune-up before Maine.

I'm really excited about the season I have planned, and look forward to getting out and training and racing with the many wonderful people I have met on this journey.  Most of all, I am looking forward to getting back under the guidance of Coach Baker, who really helped me unlock my potential next year.

Thanks for reading (for those that made it this far), and I hope that everyone makes the best of what they have for a wonderful year ahead!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Maintaining base during the off-season

Maintaining base during the off-season has been a problem for me in the past.  For some reason, this year I feel like I'm doing really well with it.  I thought I'd share why I believe that to be the case.  Disclaimer:  I am not a coach (or even a particularly accomplished athlete for that matter), but perhaps what I have to say can help you maintain your fitness during the long, cold winter months so that you aren't starting from scratch when the weather gets warmer.

Here are some key success factors that have helped me transition into the off-season:

  1. Don't overdo race season: In years past, I have gone overboard with racing (like the time I ran 3 marathons in 6 weeks).  My mentality at the time is, "I'm already trained, why not run another one?"  The problem with that thinking is that the cumulative effect of all of those races really does a number on your body (and more importantly, your mind).  By the time I am done beating myself up, I don't feel like doing ANYTHING anymore).  This year, I wrote out a schedule, reviewed it with my coach and stuck with it.  I executed my "A" race (Ironman 70.3 Princeton), spent some time in active recovery, and went right into maintenance mode.
  2. Plan smart, and have some early season goals:  This year, I'm planning an early season 70.3 (Challenge Atlantic City).  Having a big race at the beginning of tri season is a strong motivation not to slack off over the winter.
Here's how I'm working out differently, which is keeping me engaged
  1. Shorten the duration of my workouts, but don't lessen the intensity:  For long course racers (marathoners and long course triathletes), there's a heavy emphasis on long, slow runs and rides.  These workouts are critical to building endurance, but I find them to be very fatiguing, both mentally and physically.  To that end, my emphasis has been on shorter workouts (1 hour or less).
  2. Focus on quality:  Since I have cut down the quantity (duration) of my workouts, I can place a greater emphasis on quality.  For swimming, I focus on maintaining proper form, and avoid slacking off as the distances grow longer.  For running, I spend more time at tempo pace (or speedwork) and for the bike, I have spent more time on workouts designed to build power, rather than the endless spin on the trainer.
  3. Invest in equipment to make it interesting:  In my case, trainer rides were never interesting, or particularly helpful.  To change that up, I invested in Trainer Road software.  Pair that with Sufferfest videos, and you wind up with custom tailored workouts, calibrated to your FTP Threshhold, with trackable metrics.  This setup allows me to get better use out of my trainer, keeps it interesting, and lets me track improvement over time.  I'm hoping that I hit the roads this spring in better shape than I have in years past.
  4. Focus on cross-training:  With triathlon, this is easy, since I'm rarely doing the same workouts two days in a row.  For runners, I'd highly recommend time in the pool or time on the bike. This breaks up the mental fatigue (especially if you are doing mostly treadmill workouts). Who knows, you may become a triathlete that way...(that's what happened to me).
Hope these tips have helped - would love to hear what's keeping you going in the cold, dark winters.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Making fitness a priority through changing life circumstances

I was recently asked by my running friend Sharon: "How do I re-make fitness a priority when my priorities are so different now?" I thought this was a great question, worthy of a blog post.

We all experience setbacks, injuries, periods of inactivity - and changing life circumstances. Fitness, training and health goals may take a backseat when other things come to the forefront - like jobs, changing family dynamics and other things. My running journey began in 2007, and life has thrown me a fair share of curveballs - some of the great, others less than great. I have had the experience of returning to training after a hiatus several times, and here are some thoughts about how to make that transition more successful.

Before I get there, though - I'd like to take a moment to think about why returns to fitness can be so hard:
  • Change in bandwidth: When returning to training after a life change, sometimes there just isn't as much time (or money) to devote to training.
  • Change in abilities: Sometimes changes in life circumstances produce a corresponding change in our physical abilities. This could certainly the case for new moms. I experienced this when I had to take a long hiatus from training due to a heart condition. After multiple surgeries, I was able to return to training, but had to respect the limitations that my newly repaired heart placed on me.
  • Change in priorities: Often times, we take a hiatus from training due to a change in life circumstances. When we are ready to return to training, it might not be as important to us as it was in the past. This is OK, and this is normal. The key is to understand where running fits relative to our other obligations in order to prevent a misalignment between what we want to accomplish, and the work we are prepared to put in towards those goals.
Here are some ways that I dealt with each of these issues:
  • Set reasonable goals, tailored to what you can do today: The key to success here is honesty. Take a hard look at your current situation, and come up with realistic goals that are tailored to what you can do today. Resetting expectations, and letting go of old benchmarks can be difficult to do, but comparing your current self to your former accomplishments could lead to frustration so great that it will keep you from getting started. You may return to your former level of athletic abilities, but don't use that as a starting goal when returning to training.
  • Overcome the initial inertia: There are a few things that will make re-starting a training program difficult. For me, it was the frustration of my new fitness baseline. By focusing on what I accomplished (rather than how I fell short of my previous results) I attempted to remain positive and continued to make progress. 
  • Be patient, be persistent and the results will come: I drew a lot of strength from my experiences as a beginning runner. I recalled how quickly I gained fitness, and how quickly I lost weight, and how quickly I progressed as a runner. For me, returning to a level of fitness was always quicker than obtaining that level of fitness in the first place. Use your previous fitness levels as a motivator when exercising, not as a yardstick to measure your current levels.
  • Planning, planning and more planning: It is amazing how easy it is to free up time when you need to. When my family situation changed abruptly, I was amazed how easy it was to assume the additional family responsibilities that were placed upon me. Life is like a rubber band. You might think that you are stretched to capacity - sometimes it just takes a little tug on the rubber band to realize that there's slack there, and room for a little more.
Finally, it is important to carve out the time to do your workouts. There were several techniques that I employed here:
  • Put workouts on your schedule, just like you put other "obligations" 
  • Enlist the help of others (both as accountability partners, and as a "support team" (childcare, supportive spouse, etc) 
  • Treat your training as a LEGITIMATE PHYSICAL NECESSITY rather than a "want" or "luxury". Often times we de-prioritize training because we minimize the extent to which it is truly necessary. The health rewards of an active lifestyle are great, and worth prioritizing in life. 
The rewards are there for the taking - all it takes is the desire to earn them, and the ability to put one foot in front of the other - day in and day out.  Best of luck with your training in 2015!