Archive for June, 2012

As the calendar continues to roll forward into summer our race season is starting to heat up as well.  In the past I have participated in a weekly Wednesday night 5K series called the Sunstroke Summer Stampede.  The races served as our summer speed work, and has helped our 5K times improve considerably since we started racing somewhat seriously in 2009.

This year however, with our focus on a full triathlon season, I really cannot afford to make Wednesday a single workout day with only 5 miles in the middle of the week, (a two-mile warm-up and 5K race).  Instead we are increasing our swim and bike distances as well as continuing with our 5X per week run workouts.  To race on Wednesday nights would require that I lose my one complete rest day per week, which is not a sound strategy for a soon to be 45-year old endurance athlete. 

Those scheduled rest days are as important, if not more so than any workout that I have on my training calendar.  So instead I am sacrificing some speed work for more endurance sessions such as my 40-mile bike ride on Friday after a swim in the morning.  Normally, Friday would serve as a rest day for me.  So the volume this summer is much higher than the last two years, but the quick-twitch speed workouts will be less frequent.

The hope is that I am doing enough speed work to keep my short-distance run times right where they are while building more strength and endurance for Iron Man 70.3 in October followed by the Houston Marathon in January.  It is a tough balance to strike, but we should get our first look at where we are from a speed perspective on Saturday morning in Holland, TX.

The third Saturday in June means the Holland Cornfest and 5K, a race we have run every year since 2009.  We have been fortunate enough to win our Age Group each year that we have run the race – but more importantly, we have improved our race time each year.

19:50, 19:31, 18:53 are our race times at paces of 6:20, 6:13 and 6:02 min./mile.

Last 3 Holland Cornfest 5K Races

We will be going for our first ever four-pete in an event this Saturday, but more importantly, I would like to run the race in under 19:00 minutes for the second year in a row.  The Holland race is not a “PR” type of course.  It is a country road 5k that features a long gradual hill section over the middle section of the course as well as a cone turnaround at the half-way point that requires the runners to come to a virtual stop – losing valuable momentum – before turning back to finish the second half of the race.

The race will start at 8:00 a.m. sharp and should be run in temperatures between 80 and 84 degrees.  Depending on the sun and wind the course could be a bit slower than last year where we had a calm, overcast morning on race day.  But the hope is that our workouts this week will allow us to peak for the race on Saturday morning.  We will then have less than 24 hours to reload for the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.

A big weekend of racing is ahead of us – so we will be managing our workouts this week carefully, with very little “hard” efforts after Tuesday afternoon and a complete rest day on Friday to get a little spring back into our legs.

Monday:  8 mile One Off, One On Workout.

Tuesday:  2,250 Meter Swim, 30 Mile Bike

Wednesday:  10 Mile Run (Easy)

Thursday:  2,250 Meter Swim, 25 Mile Bike

Friday:  Rest Day

Saturday:  Holland, 5K (2-mile warm-up, 3.1 Mile Race)

Sunday:  Lake Pflugerville Tri (500 M Swim, 14 Mile Bike, 3.1 Mile Run)

An 83-mile week lies ahead before celebrating Father’s Day with Dawn and Landry after the TRI on Sunday.

Physically I am feeling very solid with some quality workouts last week.  Now it will be about getting ready mentally to lay it all on the line on back t0 back days.  Something we have never had to do before.  The approach I am going to take is to not think ahead.  Run both races, and all of the individual components of the Triathlon the same way I tackle a marathon.

Only run the mile you are on.  Do not think about the last one or the next one to come.  Stay in the moment and do the best you can on that particular mile.  At the end of the day, that’s all we can really do.  Just face the challenge that is at hand and do your best.  Let the rest take care of itself.


Next weekend we are going to be racing on back to back days, something that with all of the running and racing craziness that we have done over the last 5 years or so we have never attempted.

A lot of endurance athletes compete in more than one event a weekend at times. Doing so in and of itself is not necessarily a big deal. But for me it is a significant departure from my approach to racing which is to compete every single time I pin on a bib number and lay it all out there.

I don’t run races for T-shirts, finisher’s medals or just for the heck of it.

I “race” races to test myself. To see if I am able to lay down something special. Be the best that I have ever been at that distance or at that particular event. Doing so on back to back days does not lend itself to top performance. I am not going to be able to really “peak” for either of the two events next weekend as I know that I am going to have to save a little something at the Holland 5K on Saturday to be able to compete relatively well at the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.

Despite my best attempt at managing my energies on Saturday, I know that once the gun fires and the race starts, my body is going to take over for my mind and we are going to drop that first 1/2 mile in 2:55. It is just about a certainty. How that manifests itself over the rest of the race, and particularly on the run portion of the triathlon on Sunday will remain to be seen – but as my friend Steve Spiers said to me down in Florida last January at the Ragnar Ultra Marathon. “We go as hard as we can as long as we can, that’s just what we do.”

As I was thinking about next weekend on my mid-week 10-miler on Wednesday morning my mind wandered back to my discussion about “Breakthrough Moments” for runners on my flight to Dallas a couple of weeks ago with my new friend and three time Olympic Qualifier in the Marathon.

We spoke about races where an athlete prepares diligently for an event and is in peak condition. The weather cooperates allowing for a fast time and the course sets up well for that runner’s particular strengths. The runner is healthy, focused, well rested and on that one magical day it all comes together for them. They run a race that not only meets their expectations, but truly surprises even them.

They breakthrough to another level.

After that day, that race, the athlete is never the same again. The confidence gained and the feeling of that race stays with them. It fuels them to continue to train hard, look for ways to improve and raise the bar even higher. That “breakthrough” performance creates a new level of expectations. A new “normal” if you will.

The athlete then tries their hardest to search for the next breakthrough performance. The next time they can capture that feeling once again and continue to move forward. For some, they never achieve it again. For others, it is a constant ladder that they climb to heights that at one time not only seemed scary, they felt absurd.

An 18:12 5K?

A 10K PR of 37:30?

A 1:23:46 half-marathon?

Those are times that if you wrote them on a napkin and slid them in front of me back in 2008 I would have thought you were talking about someone else. Another person altogether who is a far, far superior runner than I.

Today, those are my current PR’s. All set at the age of 44. None of which given the right set of circumstances are out of reach. In fact, they are my new “normal”.

So how does it happen exactly? What changes for the athlete? After I came through the chute at the IBM Uptown Classic in 37:30 this past October, was I more “fit” than I was standing at the starting line moments before? Certainly not.

What changes is confidence. The feeling that if a pace feels right during a race of any distance, on that day, for that moment IT IS RIGHT.

You have to realize that the numbers on your wrist are simply that. Just numbers. They measure the speed by which your body is covering that particular mile at that particular time.

The numbers themselves do not control you.

You control them.

Running 6.2 miles at 6:01 pace is a notion that standing at the starting line of the IBM Uptown I did not even entertain. It was not my “goal” or my “pace” that I was shooting for. What I wanted to do was to go out and run the first mile at a “comfortably hard pace” and from there I would lock in and stay right there as long as I could. When I reached the 5 mile mark, with 1.2 miles to go, I would continue to pour on the energy so that when I found myself 2/10 of a mile from the finish I was essentially out of gas. Nothing left.

At that moment I would dig down even deeper and find the reserves. The absolute limits of strength and power that was left in my legs and sprint to the finish. At the tape we were done.

It is the recipe for Personal Bests as I know it. I don’t know how to race any other way.

Those breakthrough moments and races are out there for everyone. You just have to let go of your preconceived notions of what your training level is or what your potential is and pour everything you have into that race on that day.

You show the clock just how good you are.

Don’t let it be the other way around.

Shamrock Half Marathon – New PR March 2012

Today was a great opportunity to run one of my favorite workouts to get some quality speed work in on a hot, humid Austin morning.  72 degrees at 5:00 a.m. with humidity at 86%. 

In just under two weeks we have back to back races on Saturday and Sunday – The Holland, TX Corn Festival 5K on Saturday – followed by the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.  Two events where speed will be at a premium over strength and endurance – although those two factors are also going to play a role on race day performance.  Especially late in the Triathlon racing on Sunday.

This week represents the last chance to really push it hard before we dial things back a bit and peak for next weekend.

One of the topics that was discussed on the flight to Dallas two weeks ago with my new runner friend was the notion of “favorite” workouts.  Not necessarily workouts that we know are good for us, or help us improve as runners and athletes, but the notion of a workout that while beneficial it also has an element of “fun” to it.  One that can push us to new levels, but also reward us mentally and remind us what it is we like about running.

A workout that I know is good for me and is perhaps the most responsible for my improvement in race day performance has been my Hill Repeat regimen.  It is a “hard day”, usually on Thursdays, as my third straight run day before my Friday rest day.

I leave the house for a 3-mile warm-up.  jog to the bottom of the 3/10 of a mile long hill in the adjacent neighborhood, turn at the bottom and sprint to the top of the hill at 5K effort.  I reach the top, recovery jog to the bottom and repeat.  10 times when I am at my peak for that workout.  I then recover quickly after the final repeat (2/10 of a mile) and then run at 6:50-7:00 min./mile pace back to the house for a final mile to wrap things up.

It is a great workout.  I also dread it.

There is very little to like about it truth be told.  During the easy warm-up, all that is on your mind is the many, many painful repeats that are waiting for you in a few miles.  Each repeat takes more and more out of you as you try to hang on.  Instead of counting them off in my head I simply run them in sets of three.  First, middle, last.  First, middle last.  First, middle last.  Last.

This mental game allows me to focus on one repeat at a time and not worry about the fact that after just 4 repeats my breathing is off the charts, my legs are burning and I am drenched in sweat.  6 repeats are left.  I am not even halfway done yet.  Why do I continue to do it?  Two reasons really:

1.  These hill repeats are like a multi-vitamin.  One workout, but it basically enhances every aspect of my running.  It helps build endurance, stamina and raw speed.  It improves my form, makes me stronger on hills and lengthens my stride.  It builds confidence when it comes to racing hills and breaks down my body allowing it to rebuild itself stronger with a rest day to follow on Friday.

2.  Very few of the competitors I will face during a local race do this workout.  One of my favorite sayings is that “somewhere out there a runner is training while you are not.  When you race him, he will beat you”.  I think of that passage during every hill repeat session and say to myself, today you are that runner.  You are going to be very tough to beat the next time you race.

That said, would I consider Hill Repeats a favorite workout of mine?  No.  Not a bit.

Today however, it was time for a favorite workout of mine, the One Off – One On Tempo Workout.

With temperatures in the mid 70’s – it is very difficult to go out this time of year and run a medium to long tempo run.  Which for my ability level means a 6-8 mile run with splits in the 6:30-6:35 range or even a bit faster on a cool day.

The workout can be run, but the recovery from it that is necessary to stay healthy and keep pushing other aspects of training is very long.  Perhaps as many as two easy days and an off day before it would be time to push hard again.  With bike rides, hill work and long runs needed to stay on course this summer, that is not very realistic.  If I try to cut corners and not recover properly, then injury is not an abstract entity to fear – it is a likelihood.

Instead, the One Off, One On workout is a great compromise – allowing you to push hard in a controlled workout, giving you one recovery mile for every “hard mile” you run.

The Workout:

1.  Off Mile 1:  Warm-up with a mile at recovery pace.  (For me 8:20-8:30)

2.  On Mile 1:  At the end of mile one (or the sound of your watch marking mile 1), increase pace gradually building to tempo pace (For me 6:30-6:35).  Because you are just getting the juices flowing, this should be your slowest “ON” Mile.  You are not “at pace” until the final 1/2 mile.

3.  Off Mile 2:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

4:  On Mile 2:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer and fall back into tempo pace.  You should arrive at this pace quicker than your first “ON” mile, perhaps within 1/10 to 2/10 of a mile.  This should be your second slowest “ON” mile.

5.  Off Mile 3:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

6:  On Mile 3:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer again and fall back into tempo pace.  You should arrive at this pace even quicker than your first “ON” mile, within 1/10 of a mile.  This should be your third slowest “ON” mile.

7.  Off Mile 4:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

8:  On Mile 4:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer a final time and fall back into tempo pace.  You should hit this pace almost immediately, within just a handful of strides.  This should be your fastest “ON” mile.

9.  Slow back to your recovery pace and run your cooldown back home 1/2 mile is a good distance to recover.

Total workout 8.5 miles.  4.5 miles at an easy, recovery pace.  4 miles at or below tempo pace.

Tuesday’s Workout:

It had been awhile since I had run this workout back in April just prior to the Boston Marathon.  The conditions were perfect for it, so I decided to run over the hill route to keep things a bit interesting.  The workout can be done at a track – which many would refer to as mile repeats – but since I do not race on a track and need to condition my body to asphalt surfaces and undulating terrain, I prefer to run this workout on a rolling hill street course.

After an easy, uphill warm-up mile I heard the sound of the watch beep marking my first mile and increased my leg turnover to approach tempo pace.  The first 1/4 mile felt a bit clunky at 5:15 a.m. as I was searching for my rhythm, but as I reached the 1/2 mile point I was running smooth and tall.

I hit the second mile, dropped back into my recovery pace and was solidly in the workout.

Each “On” mile came and went as planned, gradually tightening my pace to tempo effort and as I reached the final “On” mile, I immediately stepped on the gas and pushed hard from start to finish.

My splits this morning:

Off Miles:  8:24, 8:15, 8:20, 8:20

On Miles:  6:52, 6:39, 6:30, 6:13

Cool down 1/2 mile – 7:54 pace.

The entire workout came in at 1:03:56 for 8.5 miles or 7:31 pace.

Pace for our “Off/On” Workout

Overall pace right at our “medium” effort – but the true story of the workout is that we were able to run a progressive 4-miler finishing at just over 10K race pace in 70+ degree temperatures and high humidity.  Quality workout all the way around – and truly a favorite of mine.

The workout goes much “faster” than a traditional 8.5 miler as you are able to “stay in the mile” for each segment.  You are able to concentrate during the “ON” miles without too much difficulty as you get a physical and mental “break” after every mile, lasting a solid 8-8 1/2 minutes.

Lastly, it is speed work – which is always “fun”.  It is just a matter of doing it in a controlled, smart environment so that you are able to minimize any injury risks and get back to training hard again after one easy or rest day.

After a relaxed 10 miler tomorrow we will find ourselves a the bottom of our hill again Thursday morning for another set of hill repeats.

I can’t say I’m necessarily looking forward to that workout – but I do know we’ll be ready for it.

Run on people.