Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been running without using my watch for close to a month now.  The lack of analyzing every run, every mile split and fixating on pace vs. effort has been just what I needed to get back to basics and recharge the batteries with a very challenging Austin Marathon training Cycle ready to kick-off in 33 days.  (But whose counting).

This morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m. local time in Toronto, Ontario.  A city that I am slowly becoming more familiar with as I will be traveling here for work quite a bit over the next 11-12 months.  I had 8 miles on the schedule and wanted to keep it as uncomplicated as possible.

I decided to run 4 miles uphill on Yonge Street at a moderate pace, then turn around and run downhill back to my hotel on lower Yonge.  I strapped on my Garmin for the first time in quite awhile, started the clock and then switched the mode to Time of Day.  I would not see my pace as I ran, but each mile would beep gently to let me know that after 4 beeps it would be time to turn around and head back to the hotel.

The first 4 miles were relatively uneventful.  I was hoping for cool temperatures, but alas, it was another #shirtless run in 70 degree heat with 80% humidity after last night’s rain.  I climbed up Yonge for what seemed to be about 300-400 feet of climbing before the turnaround and fell into a comfortable pace.

As I heard the fourth beep, I crossed the street to face oncoming traffic as usual as a safety measure and headed back toward the Marriott.  It was 5:20 a.m. or so at this point and I started to see quite a few runners up and down Yonge Street, so it seemed like I picked a popular route.

As I made my way back toward the hotel with about 3 miles to go I pulled alongside a younger runner and gave him a nod as I went past.  I could sense that he was not thrilled with an old-guy like me sliding past him in the morning and he fell in off of my shoulder running about :15 seconds per mile faster than he had been going.

Normally I do my own thing out on the trail and do not get caught up with anyone else is doing during training runs.  What is an easy day for me might be an interval day for someone else.  Or vice-versa.  I may be on mile 5 or 6, while they are running a cool-down after a workout, or perhaps they are now starting a tempo run.  You just never know.

The other reason I do not get caught up normally with such things is I train in order to race.  I do not “race” my training plan.  The next time I am concerned with how fast I’m running will be on Thanksgiving morning at the Turkey Trot or in January at the 3M half-marathon tuning up for the Austin Marathon on Feb. 15th.

But as I heard the footsteps quicken beside me, I decided to have a little fun to see how long this young man wanted to hang with me and how much he was willing to hurt to do so.

With a rest day on deck tomorrow, I decided to gradually wind the watch to see how our return to strictly running after Ironman Texas was paying off.

I reached down and switched the watch from time of day over to satellite tracking. We were moving along at 7:20/mi pace.

I very gently lowered my hips a bit and increased my stride.  The watch began to fall:

7:10, 7:05, 6:55, 6:45 and finally when the final mile to the hotel beeped I was down at 6:37 pace and the footsteps behind me had gone quiet.

As I cooled down before walking back into the hotel lobby to get on with my day I have to admit I was a little embarrassed that I let that competitive side of me, normally reserved for race day to bubble up to the service.  I should have been smarter and more mature than to get caught up in such things during my pre-training phase.

That said, it felt a helluva lot better than had I not been able to drop him.  The legs are returning.  When the cool fall temperatures arrive in Austin, we’re going to be ready.

A few of my athlete friends told me in the weeks leading up to Ironman Texas that after that race, you would never be the same again.

That after Ironman, I was going to feel different, look at challenges differently, have a shift in focus, refined clarity.

After 2 months of enjoying some downtime in June and July, running when I felt like it, riding the bike a bit, a couple of easy swims I have reached that point.

What I have realized is that at the end of the day, I’m a marathoner.

I might not necessarily be a great one.  And in fact, there is strong evidence that I am a much better middle distance runner (10K, 10M, half-marathon), but at the end of the day, that is who I am.

With the four-year anniversary of us losing Dom staring me in the face – (8/15/10 – RIP) – I decided that I wanted to get back to basics, set aside the distractions of being a part-time triathlete/Ironman and get ready to train in a serious way for this year’s hometown Austin Marathon.austin-marathon-600x399

Specificity and consistency are the two things that build a strong runner in my view.  It has always been that way for me.  When I have been able to stay injury free and stick to my schedule of Monday off, Tuesday Easy, Wednesday Hard, Thursday Easy, Friday off, Saturday Quality, Sunday Long I have been a very dangerous runner on race day.

So we’re going to go back into the shop for the rest of August and September.  Get back to our 5 run day, 2 off day schedule and build our base back to the point where we are bullet-proof heading into the 18 week training cycle for Austin.

I haven’t worn my watch all week on my runs and I am not going to put it on until after Labor Day.  I’m running entirely by feel, covering my known routes where I do not need to track each individual mile.  I’ve worn ruts in the streets and trails around our home in Austin.  I know exactly which routes are 5 miles, 6.2 miles, 8.3 miles, 10, 12 and 16.  The combination of those routes provides me with every single distance necessary to complete marathon training from 10 kilometer threshold runs, 8 mile easy days, mid-week medium-long runs and Sunday long days all the way up to 22 miles.

I spent the last few days putting together my training plan and have the 90 workouts aligned in our calendar that will take us from October 14th up to race day on the 15th of February.  There are some rather big days sprinkled throughout that cycle and realizing that we are now in our 47th year on the planet, recovery and rest is going to be more critical than ever to staying healthy and toeing the line at the Freescale Marathon 100% ready to rumble.  It is going to require the occasional vacation day from work to recover after a hard mid-week threshold workout of 12-14 miles at 6:39 pace, but that is just fine.  We’ll make the time.

The question looming out there is can we throw down a best-ever marathon time 8 1/2 years after our first one?  It will be 4 years since we ran Austin back in 2011 and a little more than 3 years since we ran our current PR in NYC.

The answer as of today is, I’m not really sure.  In the coming months that picture is going to come into focus.  I do know this, if we are able to put together a solid cycle, stay healthy and remain determined to put ourselves in the best possible position on race day – the results will be there.

If we get a nice cool morning and no wind, maybe even that elusive sub 3 hour marathon is out there in front of us.  If not, can we PR?  I’d be pretty darn happy with that.  An Austin Marathon course PR which would require a 3:15 flat?  That would be fine.  A Boston time of sub 3:25:00?  Barring a disastrous race, we should be able to throw that down fairly comfortably .

But that’s the thing about going for it in the marathon vs. other race distances.  A small miscalculation in a 10K may cost you :30 seconds.  In a half-marathon, you may fade late and lose a minute to a minute and a half.  The difference between running to your potential in the marathon and finishing :20 minutes behind your goal time is actually razor-thin.  Those last 10 kilometers after mile 20 is when the marathon actually begins.

How you get to mile 20 will define your race more than every other variable.

Fitness, health, nutrition, hydration, your mental toughness, course conditions, the weather – it all comes together in a perfect storm on marathon day.

That’s what makes it such a remarkable event.  That’s what makes it worth going back to.

That’s what makes me a marathoner.

I know that we have one more great race in us.  Time to prove it.


Happy New Year everyone!

Over the past several years I have posted on New Year’s morning or thereabouts, sharing my goals for the upcoming year.  They started out pretty vague back in 2009 and 2010, then became very specific in 2011 and 2012.  Entering 2013 I thought that I had a pretty firm grasp on what I wanted to accomplish.  Specific races, distances and my assault on PR’s.

Above all else, I wanted to finally take that 800 lb. monkey off of my back and run that 2:59:00 marathon.  But a funny thing happened to me along the way.  As I recovered from injury at the start of the year I climbed back on the horse and circled a Fall Marathon for my sub 3:00 hour effort only to re-aggravate those pesky strained ligaments in my left ankle and I was once again on the shelf, facing more than 6 weeks away from running and training.

I was able to piece together a solid two months of training and ran a strong 5-mile PR in Cedar Park at the start of November, salvaging what had been a very frustrating year.  I spent the last month of the year thinking long and hard about what I want to accomplish from here on out as a 46 year-old dad, husband and part-time endurance athlete.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is really only one more medal that I want to earn and that is at Ironman Texas.  At that point we will have run more than 10 marathons, competed in more than 100 run-only events, hung more than a dozen half-marathon medals on our rack and filled a couple of shelves with age group awards while compiling a pretty impressive running resume of Personal Records and best ever times.

Sub 3 hour marathon?  Who really gives a sh#%?  Not my wife, not my daughter, certainly Dom would care less about something like that as he certainly had a handle on what was truly important when he said goodbye to all of us.

So in 2014 I’m going to keep it really simple.

  1. Train smart, stay healthy.  It all starts here.
  2. Pace my friend Bob at the Austin Half-Marathon to a 1:28:59 and his guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon 2014.
  3. Ironman 70.3 New Orleans in April.  Dress Rehearsal for IM Texas.  Dial everything in.
  4. Ironman Texas.  Never give up.  Never quit.  Always try.  Get that finisher’s medal.
  5. Spend the rest of 2014 running when I want, swimming when I can, biking when it’s fun.
  6. Spend time with my family, raise my daughter and collect smiles.
  7. Hop in a race from time to time when it feels right and I miss it.
  8. Run in the rain because I want to, not because I have to.

I started the new year with an “easy 10” – wrapping things up in a little under 1 hr. 14 minutes (7:24 pace).  From here to Ironman there will be very few if any rest days or complete days off.  That’s fine, one more push and we’ll have crossed off one heck of a list since we started all this running for Dom back in 2009.

Make no mistake, don’t think I’m about to lay down out there.  If you are hoping to beat me on race day, you better bring it – because I’m certainly going to.  I just don’t know any other way to do it.

Happy New Year everyone!


Plugging back in …

Posted: November 25, 2013 in Training
Tags: ,

Ever since we started training to “Run for Dom” in the winter of 2009 we have been training, posting and chronicling all of the highs, lows, struggles and victories along the way.

Back then I was concerned with how in the world I was going to be able to run two marathons just 13 days apart.  I trained hard, tried to take care of myself the best that I could and strapped myself in for at the time was the most difficult race of my life.  Pittsburgh in May 2010 was a long day at the office for sure, but in the end it was still over with in less than 3 hours and 45 minutes.

I wondered at the time what was going to be the next adventure, never really thinking we were going to top that effort.  One of the by products of training to run those races for Dom was cross training on the bike. I planned on some day trying a triathlon. Just for fun of course.  But never anything crazy.  Certainly not an Ironman.

Maybe I’m one of the few people who honestly believed that, but I honestly didn’t think we would ever “go there”.  I have told numerous runners that unless you feel like you “need” to run a marathon, you shouldn’t do it.

Wanting to just isn’t enough, to do it in a serious way, you have to need it. The requirements are just too stringent for us amateur athletes. The penalties too severe if you are undertrained or injured.

For Ironman, the same disclaimer applies.

2.4 mile swim.  112-mile bike.  Marathon.

Not something to enter into lightly.  That said, here we are as in just 23 weeks we will slide off the dock into the water with 2,700 other athletes for the most grueling, challenging endurance athletic event in the world.

Dom would have loved this.

So where have I been the last few weeks?

I took a break quite honestly.

I knew what these 6 months were going to be like.  Swims, rides, runs, weights, nutrition, posting workouts.  Many professional athletes do exactly what I did, which is take it easy, let all the bumps and bruises heal and then attack their training with renewed vigor.

Let me tell you something, it works.

I ran ran a bit, biked a bit, swam a bit.

I refined my swim form.  I dialed in my new bike set-up. I trained for and absolutely crushed the 5-mile in 30:25.

I also hit the reset button mentally and I am completely stoked for this training cycle.  Much like Run for Dom, I really don’t know how this is going to all work out.  So much can go wrong in an Ironman, there are too many variables to count.

But there is one variable that I have no concern over whatsoever and that is being prepared for race day. I am attacking this event emotionally detached and very businesslike. The emotions of it all are going to be suppressed until the cannon fires on May 18.  Then it will be time to let it all hang out.

140.6 miles in what I hope will be somewhere around 11 hours.

There is a little more than 7 billion people on the planet right now with approximately 500,000 ironman finishers walking among us. Pretty elite company.  I have no illusions of sneaking onto the podium at Ironman Texas or of securing a qualifying spot for Kona and the Ironman World Championship.

What I do plan on doing however is honoring a close friend who was taken from us far, far too early.   With his name on my flats and my daughter’s on my race kit I am going to race and finish every damn one of those 140.6 miles.

A long time ago I promised Dom that no matter how hairy things got out there I would always try.  Never quit, never give up no matter what.  Seemed like the least I could do.  So after taking a little mental health break here we are once again making the same promise.

Dom, this one is for both of us. As little guys who were told all our lives we were too small, not big enough, not strong enough … I say now to those people they underestimated one thing about us egregiously.

The size of our heart.

Climbing the mountain

Posted: October 8, 2013 in Training

A thought occurred to me on Monday as I was ticking off 10 miles at 7:15 +/- pace a day after the IBM Uptown Classic.

Would I ever get all the way back to where I was last December.

Usually negative thoughts get quickly squashed when I am out running on the trail.  If I start to feel myself go down that path I quickly replace those thoughts with something positive from my past.  A time when I was coming back from an injury and instead of struggling to get back to where I was, I focus on the fact that I actually got faster.  Or a time when during a training cycle I expected a flat race performance, but actually surprised myself and ran a new PR.

But this time it was different, I was simply being analytical and realistic.  I am a year older now a 46-year-old athlete and this train is not going to keep going faster forever.  I have had a very inconsistent year in 2013, lots of fits and starts.  A few weeks or a month of great work then interrupted by an injury or forced time off.  I would then build back as I did over the summer, then have another forced break.  That is not the way to continue improvement.  Consistency rules the day.

So I have decided to shift expectations just a little bit and focus on 8 week periods.  No downtime, no skipped workouts unless I am ill.   Avoid injuries at all costs, just solid, consistent effort and mileage across the run, bike and swim.  If we can close out the rest of 2013 without missing any more time we can flip the calendar into 2014 with some strong momentum.

Ironman training is coming at perhaps the best time possible.  Lots of longer workouts, lots of endurance work, lots of volume.  Not a lot of short, burst, speedwork type workouts that can lead to overtraining and injury.  I’m going to stretch more, be sure to get my strength training in at the Y on my swim days and try to focus on small incremental steps forward.

I knew there was going to come a time when setting new PR’s became unrealistic and instead I needed to focus on competing in my age group or setting new 5-year interval PR’s.  Fastest time after 45 or 50 years old, that kind of thing.  It happens to all of us.

But if for one magic moment on a race day I happen to show up to the starting line 100% fit and 100% healthy – then perhaps we’ll go for it.  18:02, 30:50, 37:30, 1:03:55, 1:23:31, 3:08:09.

Those might be the 5K, 5-Mile, 10K, 10-Mile, Half-Marathon and Marathon times we have to live with forever.

I’m by no means giving up hope or throwing in the towel at this point.  But if that is indeed the case, I think I can live with those numbers.  Pretty respectable for a 40 lb. overweight 38 year old guy who decided to start jogging at lunch one day with no plans to even jump in a local 5K.  We’ve been to Boston a couple of times, New York City, raced in TX, NY, PA, VA, CO, SC and MA.

The fun part about this sport and triathlons is that there is always another challenge around the corner.  You just have to keep moving forward and not let any setbacks get you down or especially keep you down.  So here’s to wrapping up 2013 with a couple solid months of training and see if we can make a little noise down at Ironman TX.

It’s going to be fun trying to climb that mountain one more time.


Ironman Swim

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Training

With the exception of the professionals and some top age groupers, just about every triathlete has a discipline that scares them a little bit come race day.  It is the rare athlete who can swim, bike and run fearlessly.  Where in each of the three events that make up the triathlon, they feel like everything is a strength.  All they have to do is hammer away.

Some of us are lucky if we feel that way about 2 of the 3 disciplines.

Most have really one area where they “know” they are a top performer, or are just about bumping up against their potential.

I jokingly borrow a line from a friend when people ask me if I am a Triathlete – I usually respond, “No, I’m a runner who does triathlons”.  But after coming dangerously close to breaking 5 hours in the Half-Ironman down in Kerrville a year ago, I really need to redefine myself just a bit.

My bike has come a long way and right now it is honestly the case that I am a good to strong cyclist, a strong runner and as swimmer that needs a lot of work.  With a long stretch of training leading up to Ironman Texas the swim is the one area where I feel like I can make the most progress.  Part of that of course is I have a long way to travel from “lousy” to “average”.

On the bike it is a matter of simply refining my form, working hard to stay aero is much as possible for the 112 mile ride and dial in my nutrition.

For the run, it is as simple as getting ready to run another marathon.  Something we know quite a lot about.

But the swim is really a different animal.  It is much more technical than either the bike or run.  Yes there are mechanics to refine in the saddle or on the road – but in the water, it really is all about technique.

The other piece when it comes to the swim cannot be overstated.  I have to slay some inner demons.

When I get ready to get in the water for a triathlon open water swim – I’m afraid.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it and call it “anxiety” or “being uncomfortable”.  It’s fear.  Plain and simple.Ironman Texas Swim - Staging

In the back of my mind I can see the worst case scenario.  I get kicked in the head, elbowed in the face, swam on top of, pushed under – I start to panic and can’t get my breathing back under control.  I have to ask for help.  My race is over.

On the bike I worry about things like getting a flat tire.  Might cost me 5 minutes.

On the run I worry about blisters or overheating – but never do I think about not being able to finish the run.

But the swim carries with it some real worries and the only thing I can do is try to become as strong a swimmer as I can.  The best swimmer I can be and try to get to the point where I can swim quickly enough to stay on the feet and draft off of a slightly better swimmer to help pull me along on race day.

But after doing swim workouts over and over and not seeing any significant improvements, my confidence level in being able to get my 100 yard time at/under 2:00 min/100 for 2.4 miles or 4,200 yards, was really waning.

Then rather unexpectedly I received a gift from a friend of mine.  Two small tips or tweaks that may have unlocked something for me that 2 years of swimming had not been able to do.

I was walking across S. 1st Street on Sunday afternoon heading to my car after the race downtown and saw my friend and Ironman Triathlete Gary Metcalf who owns a local timing company talking to a couple of police officers who were handling course control.  We chatted for a few minutes and he asked what race I had circled on the calendar.  For the first time I said out loud – well, my “A” race for 2014 is Ironman Texas.

A smile crept across Gary’s face and he simply said.  “Awesome.”

The conversation quickly turned to training and I mentioned that if I could just get my swim in order before Race Day I’d be feeling pretty good about my chances at Ironman, but I had a long way to go.

Gary then shared two tips with me, he said, “You know Joe, most runners who struggle with their swim don’t kick correctly.  They don’t kick from their hip and engage their larger muscle groups.  They just kind of flip their feet with their calf muscles.”

That is exactly what I do.

He added, “The other mistake most new swimmers make is that they rush their turnover in the water.  They don’t pause between strokes as they are in their glide for just a brief moment to get full extension and rotation.  You should focus on making 13 or 14 strokes per length of the pool.”

That describes me again.

So I took those two tips to the pool on Tuesday and Wednesday and swam a workout that I have been doing for quite some time.

5 X 100

1000 Free

5 X 50

It is a 1,750 yard workout that doubles as my “easy” swim day.  Just enough time in the water to go hard a bit and work on form and fitness setting the stage for longer swim workouts later in the training cycle.

In this workout previously I would typically swim the 100’s between 1:55 and 2:02.  The 1,000 in 22:00 and my 50’s around :54.

On Tuesday my times were:

1:44-1:46 per 100

19:36 for the 1000

:44-:47 per 50

After two years of slugging it out in the water – making two small adjustments to my form I dropped 2 minutes and 24 seconds per 1000.  Which is an improvement of approximately 10 minutes over the course of the Ironman Swim.

The amazing thing is that I was working no harder than I was previously, and in fact to some degree I was working easier.  On a length where I really held form perfectly with no hiccups I was hitting 13 strokes, 13.5 strokes per length easily.  On my fast 50’s I was down in the 12.5 range.  Amazing.

When I was tiring at the end of the 1000 I was right at 14 to 14.5 strokes per length when I would perhaps cut something short or not pull perfectly.

For the first time, maybe ever, I’m excited about what the swim may hold for us on race day.  There is a very famous saying in triathlon that “You can’t win the race in the water, but you can lose it.”

We’re not going for the podium or a Kona slot down in the Woodlands in May – so winning and losing really isn’t an issue.  But if we are able to get out of the water in 80 minutes instead of the 90 that we were expecting – perhaps even faster if we can make some further improvements, we set ourselves up for a great day with a strong bike and solid ironman marathon.

Sometimes you have to think there are powerful forces out there giving us help and guidance when we need it the most.

Dom, thanks for putting Gary on that street corner for me on Sunday.  This is shaping up to be quite a journey.

Thinking vs. Knowing

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Training

My Dad used to tell me that one of the greatest moments of triumph for an athlete is when they stop thinking that they can achieve something and start knowing it.

It is that way when you cross your first marathon finish line or come out of the water after your first open water swim in the triathlon. You start that morning thinking and hoping that you can do something, but until you reach that line on the street or pull yourself back vertical coming out of the water – everything else is just prelude.

But once you “know” it – you become much more dangerous. You can run and race with much greater abandon. Until that point you automatically approach things with great reserve. You hold back ever so slightly just to “make sure” you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew.

Unsure of how hard things are really going to get. Not quite certain if you have what it takes to make it.

I’m going to have three such moments on May 17th at Ironman Texas wondering if I can indeed swim 2.4 miles in open water combat with 2,500 other athletes. Whether I can manage my pace and nutrition to complete a 112-mile bike leg. Then finally of course, can I run a marathon after that 7 hour warm-up?

I’m sure my nerves are going to be working overtime on race day, especially treading water waiting for the Cannon to fire – but for now, I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to put in the work, swim my workouts, ride my rides and execute my runs to put myself in position to race my first Ironman. Yes finishing will be the only real goal on May 17th – but I do want to “race” the distance to the best of my talents, fitness and abilities – whatever they are on race day coming out of our training cycle.

This morning however I had the breakthrough run that I have been hoping to have for the past few weeks as I returned to running from our ankle/Achilles injury training for the Big Cottonwood Marathon (run this past Saturday ironically).

I had been gradually ramping up my mileage, firmly in the don’t do anything stupid phase of recovery. I had been careful not to run on back to back days. Not increasing any run more than 1 mile longer than the previous one – and running nothing faster than 6:45 pace.

Taking all of those precautions is the only way I know how to return to running safely from injury without risking a set-back and more time on the shelf.

The only downside to that approach is that it keeps that small doubt in the back of your mind day after day after day wondering if you are “really” better. Am I over the injury? Can you run hard without restriction or repercussion?

This period of time lasts days, weeks and sometimes even a month or more when finally it will happen. I will lace up and go for a run and when I finish I will think to myself that I did not think about my injury one time during the workout.

Not a single twinge, negative thought or step where I analyzed my footstrike to determine if things were normal. I just run free and easy and at the end of the trail or road as I glide to a stop it happens. I “know” that I’m whole again.

Today was thankfully that day.

I stretched my workout out to 8 miles with the goal of gradually increasing my effort each mile to finish under 1 hour. If I can knock out an 8-mile run in summer temperatures at 7:30 pace (60 minutes) – I know that I am relatively fit. I might not be ready to eat lightning and crap thunder. But I am back to a decent baseline where I can build from there.

Today’s run started innocently enough with a warm-up mile at 7:41. I saw my friend Ed on his way to work who gave me a quick honk of his horn and then I started to gradually ramp things up.

7:27, 7:26, 7:21, 7:11, 7:16, 6:53.

I was working a little bit over the last mile after grinding out an uphill 7:16 during mile 7. The equivalent of 7:00 min./mile effort up the 3/4 mile long climb.

I saw my pace hovering right at Marathon Goal Pace as I closed out the run, hit my watch and finished in 58:42.

Then as I cooled down I thought for the first time that I did not have even a hint of soreness or restriction on my left side. In fact, with sweat pouring off of me on the 78 degree morning, I felt pretty darn good.

In a word I felt “normal”. The first time I could say that since July 24th when I stepped off of the track during my workout almost 2 months ago. And normal at this point is pretty darn exciting. 8 months from now we can worry about being in the best shape of our life for Iron Man Texas. But right now I’ll take it.

It’s nice to know that we’re back.

Run on people.