Archive for September, 2012

In the world of marathoning this week was a pretty big week.  Boston Marathon Registration began on Monday.

The increase in runners seeking one of the most competitive and dare I say, prestigious race bibs in road racing caused the Boston Athletic Association to make changes to not only the qualifying requirements to gain entry to the race – but also to the way that the registration process itself takes place.

Back in 2009 when I came through the chute of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 2nd with a time of 3:17:43 – I KNEW – that I was on my way to the starting line of the 2010 Boston Marathon.  All I had to do was wait for registration to open, log on to the website, fill out my information, submit my qualifying time and boom.  I was in.  After a few weeks a confirmation message was sent to me from the B.A.A. that my time was verified and I was in.

When registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened two years ago all hell broke loose.  People logged on at a furious rate when registration began, computers crashed, the site went down for a time, there were locusts, floods …. o.k., maybe not locusts and floods, but it was close.

Many runners who had worked so hard to run a “Boston Time” ended up being shut out during the registration process.  It had taken over a week to fill the 2010 field back in the fall of 2009.  The next year it took less than 1 day and all of the bibs were accounted for.  With the exception of the charity runners – which is an entirely different topic for an entirely different post.

The B.A.A. responded to the debacle by tightening up the qualifying standards by 5:00 minutes meaning a 40-44 year old Male Marathoner would now have to run a 3 hour and 15 minute marathon or better to qualify instead of the 3:20:00 that was required just one year before.

The other change was that the fastest runners would be allowed to log on first.  If you ran a time 15 minutes or faster than your qualifying standard you could register the first week, 10 minutes or better the second week, 5 minutes or better the next week, and then if there were still openings in the field, everyone else could register.

These changes made the process run much smoother and allowed the fastest qualifiers to make their way to Hopkinton, MA for the race last year, while those runners who ran a “BQ” or Boston Qualifying time – but only narrowly – were left on the outside looking in.  The cut off was approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds.  If you made your time by more than that amount you were good to go.  If you only beat your qualifying time by 90 seconds, you were shut out.  I expect it to be even more difficult this year with some of the runners who deferred to run last year due to the high temperatures being “grandfathered” into this year’s field, and the ever-increasing attempt by runners to improve and run faster qualifying times.

There was a time when Boston was one of the biggest goals out there for me.  I thought about it on my training runs, I trained harder for that race than any other and really wanted to turn Boston into my statement race as a marathoner.  Last year’s 87 degree race day removed a lot of the mystique about the race for me – proving that really, it is your performance and preparation that makes a race special …. not so much only the course on which it is run and the history of the event.

Having run Boston twice now, perhaps that is easier for me to say than someone who has never made their way to the starting line in Hopkinton or across the finish line on Boylston Street.  That’s fair I suppose.  But in truth, I’ve moved on past Boston and have other goals in sight.

Proof is in the pudding they say, and as registration opened on Monday for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon next April I was sitting on a qualifying time 17 minutes under my requirement.  I was golden.  A few clicks of the mouse, a credit card number and we were in.

Pass.

Boston is going to be great once again this spring.  It’s a tremendous event, a huge stage for the best marathoners in the world to compete on.  It is also an amazing event for the amateurs to literally run in their footsteps for 26.2 miles.  The same race won by legends like Alberto Salazar and Bill Rogers.  But that Monday I’ve decided I’m going to take the day off of work, let Landry play hooky from school and we’re going to go on a picnic to the park or the pool if it is warm enough here in Austin.

I’m going to think about running of course that morning.  Might even go out and post a few miles on a usual off-day for me, but we are not going to be part of the race this year in Boston, we’ll let somebody else toe the line in our place.  Hopefully a first-timer who worked as hard as we did to earn our spot.

Instead when I think of the word “Marathon” the first thing that comes to mind is Houston.

Houston this year on 1/13/13 IS my Boston Marathon.  It is my “A” race for the year that I am going to train for harder and smarter than any race that has come before it.

There most likely will  not be an Air Force flyover at the start, ESPN Cameras shooting me cross the starting line, screaming coeds lining the course at mile 16 and no famous turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston and perhaps the loudest, most intense 1/4 mile in road racing carrying me to the finish line.  Houston won’t have any of that.

But what it will have hopefully is the sight of a 45-year old amateur marathoner thundering down the course and into the final mile.

The clock will still be ticking under 2:52:00 at that point and hopefully with a glance to my wrist I will know exactly the amount of time I have remaining to cover the final 1 mile, 385 yards.

Legs pumping, soreness creeping in from all sorts of places, feet trying to defy gravity for just a few more minutes – hang on just a little bit longer to reach that finish line with a time of 2:59:XX.

At the end of the day if the race goes the way I am preparing for it to go, it won’t make a bit of difference if it happens in Houston, TX, Boston, MA or anywhere in between.

We will be a “Sub-3 hour guy” at that point, and nobody will ever be able to say anything different.

On Monday at lunchtime I wriggled into my wetsuit, slid into Deep Eddy Pool and swam 100 lengths of the 33.3 yard pool (3,045 meters) in one hour and 38 seconds.

It was our best swim to date, and if that pace were to hold to form over our 1,923 meter swim at Kerrville – we would be getting out of the water in under 40 minutes with good sighting.

It was a busy day at the pool where I had to share a lane with another swimmer. This required me to swim in just the “left-half” of the lane, be very conscious of my form and line and make sure that I didn’t drift either into the lane divider or the other swimmer. It gave me the opportunity to practice swimming alongside another athlete as I was a bit faster than my lane partner. That served as a great opportunity to deal with some turbulent water and splashing going on that would attempt to disrupt my breathing and rhythm. Very similar to points during an open water triathlon swim. I would have preferred to have the lane to myself of course, but all things considered – it was actually a much better workout for me as it was.

The swim was my only workout of the day – just an easy recovery day to help work out the kinks from our 20-mile long run on Sunday capping off a 180 mile training week. The rejuvenation was very welcomed and we hit the ground literally running on Tuesday with an 11-mile run, fitting on the 11th anniversary of 9-11, and a 35 mile bike ride in the afternoon. For the 6th consecutive week we will swim, bike and run further than we have the week before, further than we ever have in any seven day period and then on Sunday we will finally reach the end of the line. We will have made it through week 21 of our half-ironman training plan.

All that will remain will be our two-week taper period. A time to reduce mileage and intensity that will allow our body to manifest all of the gains made over the last 20+ weeks into a finely tuned, well-prepared athlete who is peaking at just the right time for race day. 191.53 miles on deck this week – 5.33 in the water, 126.00 in the saddle and 60.20 on the running trail. Big mileage, tough workouts, but I find myself attacking each one of them with a great deal of zest and determination.

A runner friend of mine paid me a great compliment on Monday, he said,

“Good progress on the swimming Joe, just as methodical and ruthless as you are about your running”.

Coming from one of the most dedicated, methodical, disciplined marathoners I know – the kind words really hit home. The one word that really struck a chord with me however was “ruthless”.

It brought me back to my ride on Saturday morning, where with a cold-front arriving to Austin in the morning I rode directly into a 20 mph headwind all the way from my front door to Andice, TX. Exactly 26.2 miles ironically.

To describe the ride is something that I don’t really think will do it justice. Instead I will share only my ride time:

1 hour 36 minutes and 23 seconds.

After reaching the General Store in Andice and eating one of my vanilla Stinger Waffles I pointed my Cervelo P1 back towards home and covered the identical stretch of road and hills. My return ride time:

1 hour 7 minutes and 11 seconds.

After being beaten up for more than an hour and a half on the bike, pedaling away furiously into the headwind, I then got to enjoy a strong tailwind pushing me back home. Instead of taking it easy however and just cruising on the return trip, I punished my worn legs and covered the miles at race intensity. Mile after mile, several of which I averaged more than 30 mph I made my way home as fast as my legs would carry me.

My 56-mile ride was actually :30 faster than the identical route one week earlier in ideal riding conditions.

“Ruthless.”

Perhaps that is the best way to describe the past 21 weeks training through another hot Texas summer. No injuries, no unplanned days off, just workout after workout – hoping that all of the hardwork is going to pay off on September 30th and we are going to get a chance to race to the best of our ability in Kerrville.

A half-ironman is definitely not an easy race. Aside from ultra-marathons and other 12-hour, 100-mile type run only events, the only bigger “mainstream” challenge out there would be a full Ironman Triathlon. Something that quite frankly is not interesting to us at this stage in our life as a husband/Dad/amateur endurance athlete. The 70.3 mile test in Kerrville however is one that we are more than ready to take head-on.

There are going to be some dark moments. There are going to be some low-points. There is going to be fatigue. There is going to be pain. All this I am quite certain of and I am actually quite comfortable with.

I also know that there is really only one way that I know to go about competing in a race like that.

Be Ruthless.

Hey Dom, make sure you are paying attention on September 30th. You aren’t going to want to miss this one.

As I was on the TRI bike on Saturday I had a song “on a loop” going through my head rolling up and down the long hills along Parmer lane here in Austin for a 56-mile bike ride.

The Monkees first released single back in 1966 – Last Train to Clarksville – with it’s Beatle-esque “jangly” guitar, chord structure and vocal harmonies powered me through seemingly endless miles of road stretching ahead of me.  Only instead of Last Train to Clarksville, in my mind the song kept saying Kerrville.  Only 3 weeks remain until Half-Ironman.  Race day is no longer some abstract “concept” for me right now, which is the way I prefer to keep “A” races as I am training as long as possible.

It is much easier for me to just focus on the workout that I have on the schedule that morning or that afternoon than to take a peak forward and see a spreadsheet with literally dozens of difficult training sessions ahead of me before we reach the end of the cycle and the reward of race day.  But once I get just a handful of weeks out, even I start to look ahead and think about how much further we have to travel to the starting line.  As of today we are down to:

8 Bike Rides totaling 251 miles.

12 Runs covering 122.5 miles.

8 more swims, 2 in our wetsuit totaling 10.4 miles.

That is all that remains.  Just 383.9 miles spread over 28 workouts until we climb into our race kit, wriggle into our wetsuit, pull our cap down tight over our goggles and take the first stroke towards becoming a half-ironman triathlete.

That may seem like a lot of heavy lifting, but the reality is that when this training cycle began two weeks after the Boston Marathon we had 102 runs, 67 rides and 57 swims ahead of us that would cover 80 miles of swimming, 1,755 miles of cycling and an even 1,000 miles running.  When you are staring 2,835 training miles between April 23rd and September 30th in the face, it is smart not to get too far ahead of yourself.

But with less than 400 miles to go, I like where we are.

This week is our final week of heavy lifting.  187.5 total miles on deck, our most ever in a single week.  But once we wrap up our Sunday long run and head off to breakfast with Dawn and Landry to celebrate, we will start our taper and begin to reduce total mileage and a bit of intensity – although that cut back, where we go “easy” on our workouts won’t really come until race week.

The formula for the taper that has worked best for me is a two-week period where at first I simply cut back mileage by 25-30%, but still go “hard” on my “hard” days.  Followed by a 50% reduction in mileage and I back off the intensity all but completely.  No up-tempo running, no hill repeats, no race pace cycling or swimming.  Just stay functional, focus on our form and let our body repair itself and get ready for one, huge, intense day.

So here we are, the last train to Kerrville.  Not a bad moniker for this stage of training.  It could have been far worse as on Thursday’s hill repeat session the song that I could not get out of my head was the classic from the Detroit Spinners – Rubberband Man.  Now that would have made for a long, long 56 miles on the bike ….

Traditions.  Ever since I was a kid and I joined my first T-Ball team, the Pirates – I’ve had them.

I’ve always put on my left sock and then my right sock.  NEVER the other way around as it would be bad luck.

I’ve always wore my stirrups up high to my knees – after putting on my baseball pants inside out and rolling the bottoms of the pant legs into my socks, then pulling the pants right-side out.  This kept the knees up high and in place when you slid.

I always broke in a new glove with Neat’s Foot oil over the winter and used my back-up glove until spring.

Wore number 11 whenever possible.

In Basketball season I always dribbled four times, took a deep breath, then dribbled one more time before attempting a free-throw.

I never left the court at practice before I made my last shot.

At running races I never warm-up in my race shoes.  After my warm-up I change into my flats and know that it is “go-time.” – I stop joking and talking with other runners and get ready to get in my zone.

I always crouch down below the other runners for a moment before the gun and think about Dom.  I run my fingers over the initials on my shoes and say to myself quietly, “no matter what happens today.  Don’t give up.”

Consistency breeds comfort.  It calms me when everything going on around me is trying to stress me out.  I like having that comfort, knowing that I just need to stick to my plan and let the chips fall where they may.

But this past weekend I got to share a tradition with Landry for our next marathon down in Houston this January.  The traditional “making of the gravy”.

Some refer to this as “Sauce” – but pasta sauce that is made with flavoring from “meat” is Gravy where I come from.  Pasta sauce without meat is “Sauce” or “Marinara”.

Making homemade Gravy is an all-day event.  There is the making of the meat balls from Ground beef, ground pork and ground veal, bread, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic and a bit of egg to hold it all together.  There is sausage to season and brown, same for bone in Beef Shin, Bone in Pork and braciole.

Then there is the 2-3 hours of cooking down the tomato puree before adding the meat, two browned whole onions, celery, parsley, basil, whole garlic, salt, pepper and sugar to cut some of the acidity.

Once all the ingredients are added, another 2-3 hours over a slow, rolling boil to thicken the gravy and give it it’s taste.

Before every marathon training cycle I go through this ritual and make an extra-large “batch” that I can freeze into dinner-sized portions that Dawn, Landry and I can eat on Saturday evenings prior to my Sunday long runs.

This way I only have to make gravy one time and we are good to go for the entire training cycle when spending 4 hours or more on my feet in the kitchen is not the best thing for me as the mileage mounts.

This past weekend I got to go through the process with Landry and we even went the further step to make the pasta itself from scratch.  One egg, one cup of flour per person with some salt added.

Knead the dough into a large ball and cover it for 45 minutes – then flatten and put through the hand-cranked pasta machine to form the pasta or the “hair” as Landry was referring to it.

It was a lot of fun having Landry at the kitchen island throughout the process, she even got a chance to turn the crank and make her own noodles.

Landry making pasta with Dad

 

So with 4 ½ months to go to the starting line in Houston we still have quite a bit of work to do to prepare for our run at a sub-3 hour marathon – but at least we don’t have to worry about the cooking.

Thanks for all the help this past weekend Landry.  Best pasta I’ve ever had.

I have been training for races since the summer of 2006.  Some months and years have been more prolific than others depending on the races I have been focusing on.  2009 and 2010 were years where building my base and running long, hard miles were the main focus.  As 2011 started speed became a priority of mine with intervals and hill work taking the place of some of my standard workouts.  It paid off in the form of back to back PR’s in the marathon on hilly courses at Austin and New York.  It also allowed for break-through performances in the 10K (37:30) and half-marathon (1:23:46).

After coming through the chute in Boston this April my focus shifted back “to the long stuff” and the journey to the starting line of our first half-ironman.  Kerrville 70.3 – September 30, 2012.

I knew that I needed to run longer, swim further and cycle both longer and harder to prepare for the rigors of that event.  More than 5 hours of racing.  A pain cave we have never entered to this point.

May, June and July were base building months that deposited us ready to rock the month of August.  August would be our toughest month of training in 6 years, one that would hopefully take us to a new level of fitness that would not only put us in a great position for Kerrville, but also allow us to hit the ground running in our preparation for the Houston Marathon in January and our attempt at breaking that 3 hour barrier in the marathon.

So with a 10-mile run on Wednesday, August 1st – the day after my 45th birthday we started things off.

Last Friday, August 31 – Dawn’s birthday – we ran 12 miles in the morning, followed by a 30 mile bike ride in the afternoon.

Totals for the month:

666.10 Miles.

238.10 Miles of Running.

407 Miles of Cycling.

21 Miles of Swimming.

64 hours and 20 minutes of training.

August Training Calendar

We didn’t do any racing in August, passing on a couple of fun events that we would have liked to have participated in, but honestly we could not afford to take time away from our training.  It’s all about Kerrville right now, and after a couple of wetsuit swims to acclimate to our suit prior to race day, I am starting to feel my confidence building from a fitness and preparation standpoint.  I know as the taper begins in two weeks however, that confident feeling is going to start to wane a bit and be replaced by nervousness and those feelings of wonderment.

Could I have done more?

Should I have done more?

But as I look back through the appropriate lens – now slightly less than 4 weeks from the event, I think we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

We kicked off September with a 2 mile swim and 56 mile bike ride on Saturday morning followed by an 18-mile long run on Sunday that we closed out with a final mile in 6:58.

Two more heavy duty weeks and we’ll start to cut things back a bit for a 2-week taper prior to race day.  In some ways September 30th will be a day like no other.  Distances we have never raced, tests we have never faced.  But at the end of the day I know that those 64 hours and 20 minutes of training in August were well worth it.  There may be faster, stronger, younger and more talented triathletes standing next to us in the water on race day – but I don’t think there will be too many who are more prepared.

Bring it on I say.

578th.

Out of the 5,877 male triathletes in the United States between the ages of 45 and 49 who are ranked by USA Triathlon, we sit in 578th place. Just inside the top 10%.

When you think about it like that, after only 13 months of “triathloning” – I’m not sure that I could expect to be doing much better.

Except that I do. And I am.

That is the strange dichotomy about competing in races. There is a large part of me, let’s call it as much as 80% that knows that the only person that I am ever really “competing with” out there is me. I’m not a professional athlete, never will be.

I learned a long time ago that you can put a cat in the oven, doesn’t make it a biscuit.

All I can do is continue to work hard, train smart, make adjustments in my workouts and approach, concentrate on refining my swim, improve my bike and run and on race day let it all hang out. Leave it up to organizations like USA Triathlon to determine how they define excellent, good, average and poor. We’re just trying to get the most out of the gifts that God gave us.

But then there is another part of me …. that nagging 20% that wants to compare myself to other athletes. Not individual athletes mind you. Just an overall sense of how we compare to people like us. Which is what makes the rankings from USA Triathlon all the more interesting to that 20% of me.

USA Triathlon Rankings out of 5,877

I don’t know Jay Reale, William Rogers, Neal O’Connor or Richard Spenser. It would appear that they are from Florida, California, Denver and Virginia. I’ve never met these men, probably never will. But I want to beat them. And the five names above theirs and the ten names above theirs.

It is good to have goals in life, even if they are abstract goals, otherwise why are we keeping score at all? No scoring system is ever going to be perfect, especially when you are trying to compare athletes from around the US competing on different days in different events – but the USA Triathlon rankings do their best.

The ranking system uses pace setters to determine a par time for each race. Every race has a unique par time, depending on who has competed. Because each race is unique, an athlete may receive a higher score in one race, even if they consider their finish time in another race better. The score is determined by a par time, which is based on the calculated times of what USA Triathlon calls its’ pace setters.

A pace setter is any athlete who received an overall ranking in the previous year. A calculated time is determined for each pace setter. This is calculated by taking their overall score from the previous year and dividing it by 100, and then multiplying that number by their finish time for the current race, which is converted to minutes.

This means that if John is a pace setter and he finished a race this year in 1:30:00, USA Triathlon can find his calculated time. If his score from last year was 95.234, we would divide it by 100 to get .95234. Then, they multiply that by his finish time, which would be 90 minutes. 90 x .95234 = 85.7106

Some races may have five pace setters, others could have 50 or more.

Everyone’s score for their race is determined by the par time, which is the average calculated time of the pace setters.

Par time is calculated by dropping the top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent of all the pace setters – only the middle 60 percent is averaged together. If there are 100 pace setters in a race, the top 20 and bottom 20 pace setters are not included, and the remaining 60 pace setters’ calculated times are averaged together to equal the par time.

After the par time is calculated, the time of every participant in the race is compared against the par time. If the par time of John’s race is 80 minutes, and he finished in 90 minutes, his score would be 88.888 (80 / 90 = .88888 * 100 = 88.888)

USA Triathlon uses the top three scores for each athlete averaged together to create your final ranking. So in our case, if we score better than 75.6818 at the Kerrville Half Ironman, we will drop our Lake Pflugerville Triathlon performance from our average score and replace it with our score from Kerrville.

Looking at some of the 70.3 times and their related scores of the competitors around us on the list, we should be able to make up some ground if we come through the chute in the 5:20 to 5:30 range which we are hoping for. A lot of things can happen on race day, most of them bad when it comes to the triathlon. But we are doing all we can to eliminate the variables down to illness, injury and mechanical failure. If one of those three things happen to us on September 30th, there really is not a whole heckuva lot we can do.

But we can work hard, train smart, perfect our nutrition plan, practice our transitions and make sure that we are as ready as we possibly can be to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 and run 13.1. At the end of the day I know that I’ll be happy to have made it through to the finish line, collect my finisher’s medal and my hugs from Dawn and Landry no matter what the clock says.

But there is that 20% of me. O.K., maybe 25% that wants to kick some ass out there.

All right, 30. 30% but not any more than 30 ….

I don’t know, it could be as high as 35%, but seriously, it’s not more than 40.

40 tops.