Monday, February 28, 2011

Tucson Camp Day 1

In 2006, I was hosting a camp in Palm Springs with a friend of mine. We had a large group and needed some staff so my friend, who was a military guy, brought in some two of his friends, also military guys. One was Scott Jones who is a class act and now lives in Boulder and has gone on to form a great coaching business of his own there. The other guy was Brian Grasky who lived in Tucson. He asked in Palm Springs if I'd consider coming out to Tucson to host a camp with him and I remember me replying "well what does Tucson have to offer?". It was an easy sell and plus I liked Brian. After my first camp there in 2007, I knew I had found my winter training camp local. It's been great to also watch Brian grow his coaching business.

So we are back again, and just like last year, the first day, weather wise, turned out a bit auspicious for Tucson. It was colder (40's) and there was snow in the mountains. But we were still heading over to Sabino Canyon bright and early to run the phoneline trail. This is probably number five on my favorite run routes of all time and i love beginning the camp this way.

There is something about running that i love. I don't quite know what exactly it is - trust me, not all runs feel light and fast and smooth. But I know I don't take any run for granted - I'm always appreciative of just being able to go out and run. To do so in a place like Sabino Canyon, well that's just takes it to another level that's hard to describe. We have a big group this year with 18 campers and it was easily apparent on the phoneline trail that they all shared in my appreciation. The group ranges from 32 yrs of age to 63. We have a mix of beginners to advanced with goals ranging from Olympic distance to Ironman. There were the pre-camp nerves - people nervous about what's in store and if they will be able to keep up, but after putting on more than 30 camps, that's never been an issue. I'm enjoying the diversity and personalities in this group. We once again have a really nice bunch of athletes. It makes it a lot easier to run the camp when there isn't a lot of ego and bs attitude to deal with.

After the run, we had some breakfast, and then met to do some strength training. I brought out my TRX as well as Kevin Crowell, and we rigged them up in the courtyard outside our rooms. For the next hour, with no weights or other equipment, we put them through a functional session addressing a lot of lateral movements.

Next was off to the University of Arizona's pool for a 2 hour swim session. They have a huge plaque on the wall at the pool with all the Olympians that have come through the university - really impressive. We did a lot of drill work and stroke analysis and then did a solid session before calling it a day.

At dinner that night, we gave out some MVP awards to Doug, a 52 year old from Kansas (flat) who had never run trails, Sue from New jersey who just had the right attitude all day, and Molson, who deemed his as the lifetime achievement award.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some things I've learned...

One of the things I've truly enjoyed about triathlon is that, coming from a background and career in exercise physiology, it has provided unlimited margins in regards to experimentation and defining what the "right" plan or approach is. After all, we are all after optimal results - meaning given our genetic makeup and time constraints, we want to see just how fast we can go.

When I first began training myself post college (1991), I applied all the principals I had learned in the classroom and books about endurance training. I combined this with my constant studying of Triathlete magazine, and mainly, what the big four were doing for training. The big four were Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, and Scott Molina. I began to believe that unless I was cranking out 250+ miles per week on the bike and 50+ miles per week on the run, there was no way I was going to succeed. Mind you, during this time period, I was training for sprint and Olympic distance races. Most of the exercise physiology books had yet studied triathletes and therefore most of what I did was self-experimentation. The big four were winning everything so there must be something to the mega mileage they were putting out weekly in training. For these athletes though, training and racing was their lives. I was soon to be engaged and working full time as the director of GE Capital’s Corporate Fitness program which meant I had higher priorities.

In 1996, I qualified for the Hawaii Ironman. This was going to be my first Ironman and I thought I had to up my training even more. I have been blessed with a very strong structural system. I may have the flexibility of a crowbar, but I don't get overuse injuries. My immune system did begin to break down frequently though. I was catching one cold or sinus infection after another. I convinced myself that I needed to get in a specific high volume of training each week to perform well, and thus needed to find other ways to boost my immune system. I made many radical nutrition changes thinking, hoping that this was the root of my immune stability or instability. I took lots of nutritional supplements as well - trying anything that would bolster the immune system - except reducing my training volume (which i thought would make me slower) or get more sleep (which I didn’t have/make time for). Most of my workouts felt sluggish. I was spent before even beginning them. I chalked it up to the fact that I was training for an Ironman; of course I'm going to constantly be tired! I would push through these sessions though, thinking it was making me not only stronger, but tougher.

Ironically, I began my coaching business at this time and was working closely with athletes, monitoring their progress. At the first signs of over-fatigue, I’d back them way off, or even have them take a few days off! I was a total hypocrite.
I continued to study, reading books on exercise physiology and endurance training like "The Lore of Running" by Noakes. And I continued to experiment. It has been a trial and error process and I love it. This field is my art. Working with others, be they athletes, average joes looking for fitness, or ill or broken down people looking to rehabilitate- this is my opportunity to be creative and find out what specifically works for each individual, and what also motivates them and brings out the best in them. Through working with others and through self-experimentation, I have built up quite a knowledge base of training. It also appears that everyone else on the planet is an expert at coaching and training. Tell anyone what you are doing health and training wise and more than likely you will get their opinion, and probably on what you are doing wrong. Triathletes are the worst when it comes to this. Anyone who has spent a cumulative hour reading now has their own degree in coaching and exercise physiology. Tell a triathlete you are running 4 hour per week in training and they will tell you that it's not enough and to harden the fuck up. Tell a triathlete you are doing intervals during the winter months and they will chastise you saying that you are going to peak to early and should be focused on just building a base, yet train with them and watch their ego take over as they run above threshold, yet tell you at the end that they were still aerobic. You'll hear "you are doing too much, too little, too hard, to easy, ..." Many listen to this crap to. Maybe they think that because the person offering advice is fast, they are an expert, which isn’t always the case.

Well, here are a few of my definites:

*The majority of us are not pros, and therefore, have a limited amount of time for training AND recovery. We don't have the 30+ hrs per week to put into long, aerobic base building miles, and therefore, need to make our sessions count.

*Most that have been training for a few seasons have established cumulative base, meaning their cardiovascular system is efficient and comes around quickly. What is a bigger limiter is their muscular endurance system.

*Most make the mistake to go long too soon. Why is it that the best Ironman triathletes today were the best Olympic Distance athletes five years ago?

*If going long in training, dial down the intensity. If going short, make it count. Duration usually doesn’t cripple us. Intensity doesn’t either. It's combining the two that gets us into trouble.

*On your easy days, train alone. This is when a heart rate monitor and power meter is especially useful. These tools set ceilings to assure we keep the effort dialed down, so that we are still building our economy yet we can recover easily so we can go hard on the days we are supposed to go hard.

*Power meters, heart rate monitors, and gps devices are great training and feedback tools, yet learn to "feel" your rhythm. Yes, rhythm is one of the main things that every athlete should continually seek. And when training in beautiful locations, it's far more of an experience to take in the surrounding scenery rather than stare at the numbers on your devices.

*Stay consistent - this is key, however, don’t be afraid to take a day or two off now and again. If your race is built off of one day of training, you are in trouble anyways.

*Throw out your cycling clothes from two seasons ago. Especially if training with others - please, it stinks.

I just returned from Napa which was awesome, although I over-ate and over-drank w/ no regrets, but I’ll pay the price as I head out to Tucson Saturday.



Friday, February 11, 2011

Cleveland Winterfest Camp in the books - take aways...

We have been having quite the winter here in CT. Record snowfall, roofs caving in, ice everywhere, ... February is a time typically when many CT'ers escape the winter and head away on a little vacation. When I think of February vacation, I think of Cleveland. Actually, this may have been the first year of this camp where there was less snow on the ground and the temps were warmer in Cleveland than in CT - And the sun even popped out for part of a day!!

I flew direct out of Hartford on Thursday afternoon with no issues, arriving in Cleveland to be picked up by Scooter. We went straight from the airport to his ART guy who managed to work some nice cracks out of my back, neck and shoulders, even though I had no issues going on - but it always feels good to get realigned. Friday, the camp officially began bright and early east of Cleveland at a cross country ski center. The majority of the 18 campers had never skied before and their slips and falls did not disappoint. CC skiing is great cross training and Ange and I wanted to kick off this camp a bit different. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and how could you not? If you have never tried it, it's peaceful, great activity, and really beautiful in the snowy white woods. From skiing we went straight to the pool and did drill work, instruction, and a workout, then right to a spin session that I taught, then we had a USAT official who was attending the camp discuss the USAT and WTC rules and regulations where we learned about the WTC no nipple rule. So as long as you are wearing tassels, you're legal.

Saturday began with a strength/TRX session, then a swim session, then a track session w/ drill work and heart rate testing, then a bike fit session that took quite awhile since many of their old fits were atrocious, then a bike test on computrainers.

Sunday was a 45 minute trail run in the snow followed by a two hour indoor bike session led by yours truly, followed by another 45 minute run.

So it was a busy weekend activity wise, but here's what I always take away from this camp personally;
**The attendees of this camp are always extremely nice, genuine, good people. In the northeast, we get used to rudeness and a defensive, aggressive way of living that you really don't realize much of until you venture westward. I greatly appreciate their honest friendliness, as I'm sure most CT'ers would, yet for Cleveland, they probably don't realize how refreshing their attitude is until they come to NYC and get a taste of their opposites.
**I may not be great at much but I do believe that I have a natural sense of what people are capable of and what they can handle physically as well as emotionally. Combine this with the fact that I have been training, racing and coaching for a long time now and I've run over thirty tri-camps. This year for some reason, and at least right now anyways, I'm really appreciating the pure and simple things, like an athlete who gets excited about going for a simple run or ride, or one who learns they are capable of quite a bit more than they believed, or one who is not afraid to try a different approach than what they have typically been doing in the past. I feel that lately, many question to much what bike they are riding, what software package they are tracking their info on, should they be wearing supportive shoes or minimal shoes, should they be eating gluten free, carb restricted, ... Which gel works best for them, which power meter should they invest in, ... Listen, I love my gadgets and appreciate all this stuff, but it's all just fun. I've said it before that Nike's brilliant simplistic ad "just do it" is the motto to live by. I used the word restricted and maybe that's what I'm trying to express here? We are becoming too restricted instead of saying "you know what? Fuck it - I'm just going to put aside my inhibitions and overthinkings and walk the walk." Many at this camp were novice triathletes and pretty much everyone at this camp embraced this "just do it" attitude.
**Most of the stuff that we did at this camp, in temperatures in the teens in February, we would have never done on our own. Amazing what happens when you get a like-minded group together with a plan. At the end of the camp, I mentioned to all the campers that I was willing to bet there was no one east of the Mississippi that did what we did over the past three days.

Ange dropped me at the airport Sunday afternoon. I was actually looking forward to just chilling out on the flight and reading and relaxing after a very busy few days. I boarded the plane last (why get on so early and sit more?) to see an eight year old kid sitting in the seat next to me who yells "cool, I was hoping I didn't get stuck next to some old person!" He then proceeds to run his mouth for the next 1 hr and 45 minutes of my flight, talking loud, asking tons of questions, spilling food on me, fighting me for the armrest. Near the end of the flight, he says to me "mister, you may want to move, I think I'm gonna be sick" - as I fished for the barf bag for him, I was looking simultaneously for hidden cameras because this had to be a joke. I made it home though, just in time for kickoff.

This camp was just the motivation I needed to amp up the training a bit and cope with the remaining winter here, and hopefully all the attendees feel the same way. And yes, winter here will end soon.



Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Jan 2011 (Disney, Plunge, ...)

January was an interesting month here in CT, to say the least. I want to record some notes her that I'll do in two installments over the next few days, to remember the kickoff of 2011. Record snow fall has my house looking more like an igloo. it was a busy, fun, fast month - yes, time passes and spring will be here before you know it.

I had three sessions left to go with my Saturday morning swim clinic. The group impressed me; No whining and lots of progress as I threw many drills and instruction at them. The last day, I had them doing a set of 5 X 100's towards the end of the session, and 90% of the field held all of them under 1:30, as opposed to maybe 20% of the field in week one of this clinic! I plan on running this swim clinic again in March and April.

In early January, I headed down to Orlando for the Disney 1/2 and full marathons. I coached a team for the American Liver Foundation that was competing in these events and I went down to support them. I arrived on Friday night late because of a flight delay and went right to Hollywood Studios for a dinner with all the teams representing the ALF. Marla, my connection with the ALF, informed me that they registered me for both races so I could get out on the courses to see my athletes if I wanted to, but registration closed that night at 8pm and it was now 7:30 - and I had to get over to ESPN studios! Thanks to one of my runners husbands who drove me there, and a long sprint through the studios, I made it and was the last person to register. The 1/2 marathon began at 5:30am on Saturday morning. The team was taking the bus over at 3:30am - I told them I was going to jog over to the start from our hotel and that I'd meet them there. I ran an easy two miles in the dark towards the loud, growing noise of the race start to find 28,000 registered runners waiting in their corrals! The race began and I waited at the starting line on the side of the road to meet up with some of my runners, maybe run a couple of miles with them, then cut across the course. As a sea of runners went by, I realized that picking them out in the dark this early on would be challenging, and I was getting cold, so I jumped in and started running. I was locked into 6 min/mile pace and began clawing my through the crowded course, which takes you through Cinderellas castle in the Magic Kingdom which was pretty cool. Near the end of the 1/2, I pulled to the side and cheered on the ALF runners. Many of them were running their first 1/2 marathon. I had one women, who when we began back in September, couldn't run for more than two minutes, and she finished strong. I then jogged the two miles back to my hotel room, running 17 miles that day and the 1/2 which I hadn't planned on doing.

The next day, I met the team at 3:30am to take the shuttle over to the start so that I didn't miss them early on. We hung out in our corral, the very last corral in the very last wave, awaiting the starting gun. Again, many of the ALF team were first time marathoners and you could easily sense their pre-race anxiety. They were discussing their goal times and I spoke up and said that they were all giving themselves too much cushion, that most of them should be in the five to five and a half hour range (they were estimating 6+) and that Alyssa, the youngest runner in the field (not in the ALF field but out of every runner in the marathon) at 18 yrs old should be around four hours. The race began, and I again figured I'd run out to the four mile mark with them, then cut across and catch them around mile 12 and 18. It was so crowded in the back of the race as we weaved our way slowly through the field. We went through the first mile in a blistering 13 minutes, the second in a speedy 12 minutes. At this point I told Alyssa to follow me as we picked up the pace and began ducking and weaving through the thousands of runners. I kept turning to see if Alyssa was still with me, and she was right there. At the four mile mark, she said to me "I was going to run with my mother" and I quickly responded "oh, I'm sorry Alyssa, we could wait up for her", and she came back with "no, I could see that she'll be fine with the group - when you mentioned that I should aim for four hours, that's what I really want to do!" So after a seconds thought, I decided that I was going to pace her through the marathon and kept running with her. She was carrying a camera and I got some shots of her running into and out of the castle, and on some other parts of the course. She was running well, smiling, and taking in the whole experience. I have to say, after training and coaching athletes for twenty years now, longer than Alyssa is old, her attitude and determination impressed the hell out of me - and this would be her first run longer than 18 miles! I was wearing a garmin and had us locked into an 8 to 8:45 pace but didn't tell Alyssa as I didn't want the pace to get in her head - and she was talking quite a bit meaning she was handling the effort just fine. She was anticipating hitting the wall at mile 20 since that's what's supposed to happen in a marathon, right? This is what she had heard and what every runner hears. Yet she ran through mile 20 fine. Around mile 23, the effort started to catch up with her a bit and this is where you truly show your cards. She remained tough and focused - the pace slowed slightly, but she was still running, and smiling for the most part, even though she turned down the chocolate at the chocolate aid station. I have to say, this was one fun marathon to participate in! I like the early start in the dark, the temperature for running was perfect, the race was entertaining and it was cool running through all the parks. Now I'm not a big Disney fan. I've taken my kids there and we had a great time and, well, I feel we did that so no need to go back. We didn't get close to seeing everything you could, but we saw enough. We aren't into huge crowds, waiting in lines, crappy food - regardless of what I've heard, it's hard to get a decent meal in Disney! But it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the parks and realize the spectacle that they are as you run through them. Alyssa and I crossed the finish line in just over four hours and she was beaming - I felt very proud of/for her. We then waited for her mom and the rest of the group to finish up. I was really proud of this whole group. Many back in September seriously doubted that they could run a marathon. A few even signed up for the 1/2 but then switched into the full marathon. All finished. I spoke with Marla maybe a month out from the marathon mentioning that this is a cool project that the ALF is doing but that next time they should use a novice coach since it requires a lot of time, something I am short on considering my current businesses. Coming off this weekend however, I'm glad I was involved this first year. We then waited for the shuttle to take us back to the hotel, however, I got impatient and ran back, registering 29 miles of running for Sunday. Not a bad weekend considering I hadn't planned on running either race.

Alyssa's marathon reminded me of when I did my first Ironman. I had a naive, young attitude and didn't overthink it, and it allowed me to lay down a solid time that would set the tone for many of my up and coming IM's. Us veterans now, we overthink, overemphasize, overtrain, overanalyze, ...

More to come.