Friday, April 20, 2012

Rock the Vote

Consider it practice for November...

Jim is one of five finalists, as we know, in the Retail Means Jobs "This is Retail" contest. They are not showing the current percentages of vote-getting, but this is obviously the toughest since it's down to 5. Make sure you vote 10 times every day for JIM!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Back to Zero

All I have to say is, thank FSM that I wasn't running in Boston yesterday...

Indeed, a very warm east coast weekend led to devastating results for some in Beantown, and even in the land of training it yielded some very tired legs and salty skin.  I kicked off the weekend by running a little over an hour with 40 year old Kris on Friday, after which we celebrated with some Chipotle, and then a surprise party for him down in Fed Hill.  Here, Zero and I discussed our plans for the weekend.  It would be the most time I've spent with Mike in many months, and outside of IM training, one of the best we've gotten in.

We rolled out on Saturday morning for our standard Mt. Vista loop, and the conditions were awesome.  We were cruising along, and ended up riding one of the quickest - if not the fastest - I've ever done that ride.  It helped that we had some assistance from the traffic lights.  2 Fast, 2 Furious.  After the ride, headed up to watch the track contingent crush the 1500m at the Hopkins/Loyola Invite, including a big PR for my roommate Ed (3:56.99).  It was pretty warm at this point, and the sun was strong.  I tried to get down to the pool before the night's activity, but my attempt was thwarted when I got there and realized I had forgotten my suit.  

So I skipped it, which was fine, I was dehydrated and would have put myself in a further hole.  I picked up Mike, and we headed the tiny trip up to Homewood for the TERPS vs Hopkins lacrosse game.  A big game for both teams, and an awesome night for doing anything outside.  It was PACKED.  Lots of Terp fans, which was good, because the team was down 6-3 in the 2nd half.  They stormed back, scoring 6 unanswered goals, and winning 9-6.  Awesome.  After the game we headed down to Fells, got some burgers at Kooper's, and headed home for another early morning.

Sunday I pedaled to Mike's, we threw the bikes on his whip, and cruised down to Columbia to watch Dustin and some other friends run the Clyde's 10k.  It was overcast, and humid.  The course is already hard enough, so it looked like a tough race.  We jogged a few easy miles around during the race, and then headed over to Centennial Park, site of Columbia Tri, to ride a few hours with Chicken Tender.  Due to a miscommunication, Andy was riding his new Green Monstah (not sure if he named his wheels yet, but his sweet new TT bike), so already Mike and I were at a slight disadvantage.  The plan was to ride somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 miles out there, and not leaving until 10 meant it was already a little warm.  Sun, again, very strong.  

We departed and opted to not ride the course, instead heading out on an old route I used to ride with Scotty.  It was a fast first hour before we eased up a little, and then when we hit Frederick Rd following Gravitron, Andy was psshhewww gone.  We tried yelling up the road to tell him to turn, but alas, he did not hear.  Nor did he look back, despite not knowing where we were going.  We stopped, and finally he returned.  Silly Andy.  We corrected ourselves and were now onto Triadelphia Rd and the Son of Gravitron.  Once back on the Columbia course, we did 2 times the lollipop, which sucked, and then rode home.  It was just shy of 60 miles but I was done.  Very hot, very dehydrated, very much out of water.  Mike and I hit the RoFo for some drinks, and then he dropped me off.

I still had to swim, so I went down around 4:30, and somehow muddled through an hour of swimming before Alyssa got home from her weekend of running with the Rev3 Run Across America group.

Needless to say, when Monday proved to be even WARMER than the rest of the weekend, I watched the splits of my friends at Boston in agony.  They were really struggling.  A couple of DNFs, a few really slow times, but a few very good races too.  So it wasn't all bad.  I headed up to the radio show (more on that in a minute) and then got back down to Fed Hill for Monday's chill 6 miles.  It was hot, and my legs were heavy.  

In all, a cool weekend to get to kick it with Z, watch some races, get in some training.  #goodtimes

The radio show - The Runaround on ESPN - is a radio show created and produced by my friends at Running Maryland, Greg and Brad.  It's been on the air since mid-January, and is a weekly AM radio show about RUNNING.  I had called in a few times, but recently was asked if I didn't mind coming in to guest host, so I've done it two of the last three weeks.  Not only is it fun for me, but absolutely a great resource for runners.  The guys do a great job with it, and have scored interviews with some world champions, like Chaunte Lowe, Ashton Eaton, and Jenny Simpson.  It gets bigger each week, and it's in large part thanks to the main sponsor, Holabird Sports.  I hope more sponsors start checking it out, because it's a huge audience.  You can listen on Mondays from 5-6pm on ESPN1300 if you're in Maryland, or online at

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quantity and Quality

Inspired by a little friendly Twitter banter last night with my good friend Ben, I got to thinking during this morning's swim about Ironman training, and, more importantly, how one gets started.

It's a very simple answer, when asked where to start: at the beginning.  But sometimes arriving there IS the hardest part.  Ben, an accomplished runner, decided to get into triathlon in 2011.  I remember the initial conversation going something like this:

Ben: "I'm going to do an Ironman."
Ryan: "Cool! You going to do any races prior to that?"
Ben: "I'll probably do an Olympic."

Now of course, there are plenty of people who have "complete an Ironman" on their to-do list, and many who are the triathlon equivalent of the NCAA Champion Kentucky Basketball team - that is, "one and done" - who may literally train for and do just that one triathlon.  Traditionally, you get from it what you put in.  Some of us, who have huge chips on their shoulders, get hosed more than others, but in general, work = success.

And as we know, Ben actually did 2.5 triathlons in 2011 - Columbia (great cherry-popper), Luray, and then tried to do the Poconos HIM but the swim got washed out.  For Ben, a strong cyclist and very good runner, it shorted him the opportunity to work on the one area he needed the most work: OWS.

He comes into 2012 with IM Wisconsin on the horizon, and the prospect of his first half sometime in June.  The reality is Ben will be fine, because he's a competitor, and it's not like he hasn't done long races before (2:32 marathon, crushed JFK 50 Mile).  But it made me think about my own progression in the sport.  For as much shit I take about my race performances, I actually have been extremely patient in my triathlon career.  Ironman was always a goal, but it was never this thing that I had to do to make my life feel complete.  In fact, so far from the forefront of my mind was the distance that it took me 8 years of triathlon to even bother to sign up for one.  However, my preparation for the day started way in advance, in fact, probably as early as 2006, for a day that wouldn't materialize for a few years.

It was the same thing with the marathon.  I really just didn't want to do one until I wanted to do one.  I was running 90 miles a week in college and I know I will never be as fast as I was then.  I knocked out 20 mile long runs like I was King Hippo.  I could wake up at 6am, be out the door at 6:07, and start a 13 mile run at 6:10 pace and finish at 5:20 (#thingsiwillneverdoagain).  Had I run a marathon back then, I bet I would have run pretty well, and perhaps would never have done another one, because I would have had nowhere to go but down (or up, as in increased time).  Years went by and it wasn't until I ran part of Boston in 2007 (the Nor'easter year) with Andy that I said, yeah, maybe I should do one.  And it wasn't until NYC 2008 that I actually ran one.  I was 27. 

So it would come as no surprise then that I waited 8 years, scratch that, 9, to do an Ironman.  I was perfectly fine with competing in Olympics and sprints from 2001 to 2003.  Back then, there were not as many HIMs, and IM was really just for the truly insane.  I had no faith in my ability to make it through the distance, but more importantly, I just didn't want to do it.  Each year I ramped up my volume a little bit, riding longer, riding more, getting my all-important hours per week up.  In college, I included my weight training time in my weekly numbers, but most weeks were 15+, and some were in the 21+ range.  That was for Olympic distance racing.  I'd swim 3-4 times per week, ride 3-4 (130-200 miles), and run 45-55 mpw.  That's actually more than most people spend on IM training.

After severe injury #1 in 2003, I didn't compete in 2004 or 2005, and in 2006 made my triumphant return.  I started slow, and raced what I knew, and what I enjoyed.  By 2007, thanks to riding with OJ, Benda, and the Thurs Night Ride, I knew I had much better riding legs than before, and felt like I could tackle a half.  I signed up for Eagleman 2008, and we know how that went - but it wasn't for a lack of fitness or strength.  Neither was my Providence failure that year.  By late 2008, it was time to sign up for IMAZ, and I believed that I was ready.  I had done a number of 100+ mile rides in 2007 and 2008, and 2009 would bring more of that. 

And that long winded explanation is what brings me to the crux of my position: volume doesn't hurt.  Being prepared doesn't hurt.  I've been marginally successful in triathlon, but one thing I've done well for years now is ride fast.  And for those who have ridden with me, you know there's no secret to what I'm doing.  I ride more.  In the winter, when you have a day that lends itself, you ride 4 or 5 hours.  It may be months before race day, and you might not even be doing a long race, but that kind of strength sticks with you.  In fact, most winters I was able to get away with a couple of long rides to keep my fitness there, and by spring time, I was ready to go. 

How else was I able to go from riding 1:10 every year at Columbia to riding in the 1:04s?  Or averaging nearly 25mph at EM?  It's just riding, man.  Riding.  I can vividly recall all the shitty days of my life.  One was last year, when on a rainy, 38 degree day, Benda/BenW/Pat and myself rode the Lineboro ride from Meadowbrook.  It was the last weekend in March, and it was 97 terrible miles.  Yeah, it tires you out, but then you have a long ride in your legs, and come July, when the workouts mean a lot more, you're not worried about doing your first long ride.

The layout of a year lends itself to a particular buildup.  For me, that means in the winter, I swim and run more, because I can run outside easily enough, day or night, and it's easier to get in the pool than it is to ride.  You build your volume up then, so that when you can start riding again, and your body is going to be tired, you don't have to worry about cramming.  If I took the approach of a slow, steady buildup, I'd be trying to balance building up swimming, riding, and running volume, as well as increasing intensity, and the two are a recipe for disaster. 

Instead, I have gotten my swim to a point where it's relatively automatic.  I can handle 20k weeks pretty easily without sacrificing quality, and can still do the work when my legs are shredded from 300 miles of bike miles in 4 days.  If you want to do well at Ironman, it's what you have to do.  No way around it.  I'm disappointed when I don't race well, but ultimately, I still only have one goal.  Completing an Ironman is not hard.  I've seen the people that come in at midnight.  ANYBODY can do it.  It's racing it that is the challenge. 

For as much as I ride, or run, or swim, most days I'm still hesitant to believe that I've done even enough.  I follow the training of my peers and rivals, and I think man, I should be doing more.  Are my long rides even long enough?   Is 115 miles enough?  Should I do 120, 125, 130?  In my 115 miles, I don't even spend that much of it at race intensity, should I be?  Last year I delicately balanced a pretty high volume.  Remember 2010, when I finally got to do the IM?  I had done a lot of training, and still thought it wasn't enough.  And, ultimately, the amount that I had been able to run post-surgery turned out to be just not enough, and I paid for it on the run.

So I give Ben a hard time, but he is a natural, much moreso than I am.  I'm sure he'll do fine at Wisconsin.  I just know that if it were me, I would do more now so I could tell how much I can handle.  You're supposd to get burned out at some point, it's not easy training.  Race day is a freaking godsend when it comes, because you realize it's actually less tiring than a normal training week.  Sure, you're beat up afterwards, but as a reward for hard work, it's pretty satisfying. 

What I've finally figured out is that I just don't LIKE Ironmans, or marathons, for that matter.  It's not how I want to spend my time.  I'm not particularly good at them, and it's not enjoyable for me.  Oddly enough, I really don't mind the training.  I love going out for long rides, even if I have nothing coming up.  It's just fun.  Take this year - no IM on the calendar yet I'm doing the same workload.  And I know that if I had to tomorrow, I could go out and compete at any distance.  I want to make it through an ambitious race schedule of 5 races in May and June, including 2 HIMs.  That's a lot of racing.  In order for me to make it through that, I need to get the rides in early, because pretty soon I won't have the weekends to do them.  And even though I'll have nothing in the fall, I'll still get my long rides in during the summer, because if I decide to sign up for an IM for 2013, I'll need to keep getting them in.

I guess the point of all this is that you can never go wrong with a 3 or 4 hour ride, but you'll never see the people competing for Kona spots or AG wins doing 1 hour rides.  But you have to build it up early, because otherwise you're caught in June, trying to swim/ride/run more than you ever have before, and when your body shuts down (and it will) you won't have time to recover and build back up before race day.

Monday, April 02, 2012

All Spark

"I just can't do it, Captain. We don't...have...the power."

That's what I've been feeling like for the last couple of months.  I simply do not have the power.  I'm currently running and riding slower than I have in years - including when I came back after a year off due to surgeries.  I don't know what's going on, but it's frustrating.  I haven't had a "good" run since the fall, and while I finally have gotten back on my bike, it's just not going well.  Even swimming seems to have plateaued, I guess expectedly, because at some point you're going to have to assume there will be diminishing returns.  Gone are the 30k weeks without spending much time elsewhere, where every swim was a good one, and here are the swims on tired legs, where my times are not improving, and I feel stagnant.  The only takeaway is that on even my worst, most tired days, I am able to get through the workouts and intervals, which previously I don't think I could have done.

April is here now, but in reality, I have nearly 3 months until the end of the spring season.  3 months isn't much time to GET into shape, but when you carry a base of fitness like most year-rounders should, 3 months is an eternity to sharpen and get race fit.  Even now I still have 5 weeks before the start of tri season, which is a lot of time. 

What I'm more concerned about than just being slow, or not feeling like I have power, is how my body FEELS.  It feels shattered.  I haven't done anything comfortably or without pain in years now, and yes, I realize that's just going to be a part of what happens when you suffer an injury like I have, but it's no easier to deal with.  My left hamstring/piriformis seems to fail on me pretty regularly.  It doesn't bother me much on the bike, but running, it hurts all the time.  It seems to deteriorate as I approach an hour of running, or after 2.5-3 miles of harder running.  Meanwhile, my right hip flexor/groin area is also not functioning properly.  Both of these are combining to impact my ability to drive my legs when I'm running.  The hamstring isn't as much of a problem on the bike, but the hip/groin thing is. 

As I was watching Transformers (Michael Bay version) the other day, I realized what I need:

An All-Spark.

I just need something that will recharge me, zap me back to normal, restore my life energy.  The number of times I've heard, or said, it's because I'm getting older - absolutely false.  At 30 years old, I shouldn't be this run down.  Engine's fine, chassis is a little bit up.  I feel like the Millenium Falcon.  I'm still the same person that ran a beautiful Philly Distance Run last year, so I have to hold onto hope that I can get back to even just where I was a few months ago.

Part of my realization was that my maladies are likely caused by severe muscle imbalances.  Pedaling, running, and swimming make you strong, but don't give you strength.  I've noticed that, particularly in the endurance races, it's often the athletes in their late 30s and even into their 40s now that are making waves.  If you look at their schedules, most have families, time-consuming jobs, that will limit their training.  But they're performing as well, or better, than they were in the past.  Some part of it is that they're more focused, and not overtraining, like they were before, but in talking to some of them, you see that they're strength training.  Through high school and college that was always a part of my routine, and I never felt better.  So I've reinstituted real strength training, and that's leveled me this past week as I adjust to the soreness, particularly in the legs.

I'm counting on leveling out some of the imbalances I have in my legs, which isn't something I can do all the way, on account of my out-of-whack knee, but I have to try. 

In other news, following my great first weekend of March Madness, my bracket was mostly demolished in the Sweet 16.  I shouldn't say demolished, but I dropped quite a bit.  The way does theirs, I cannot win my group now, and I'll have to settle for just another mediocre-ish year.  But in my money pool (CBS Sports) I am in the lead, and the best anyone can do (one guy) is tie me.  If Kansas wins tonight, I win.  If Kentucky wins, we tie, and then it comes down to combined points for the game.  I guessed 148, he guessed 157.  Based on the scores through 5 games, the scores have not been near 80.  So it's going to be close.  I don't honestly believe Kansas is the better team, but it's March!

Anybody that put Kansas in the Championship game was probably doing so on account of name.  They were a #2 seed and I didn't consider them to be in the top 5 teams of the Tournament.  Nevertheless, in this game of points, we have to take some chances, and because they're kind of like Michigan State was in the early 2000s, I never count them out.  When I looked at all the potential matchups, I legitimately believed it would be Kentucky and Kansas.  It looked doubtful throughout the entire Tournament, as each team faltered at some point, but in close games, the better team should always win.  And, both did.  So now here we are, 4 years after Kansas, coached by Bill Self, beat Memphis, coached by now-Kentucky coach John Calipari.  In 2008, it worked out great for me, but in the closest of games.  The last time Kansas played in a Championship game in New Orleans though, it didn't end so good for them, on the great play of a Syracuse one-and-done named Carmelo Anthony.  Kentucky has a great, soon-to-be-one-and-done freshman in Anthony Davis.  "Anthony" isn't the only thing they share, as each player has the capability to lead their team to a great win.

So I don't believe that Kansas is going to win tonight, but the worst I will finish in my pool is 2nd, and I think 1-2 get paid, so I would take it!