Should I stay or should I go? (Should I rest or should I train?)

That is the question.  The answer isn't easy either!  How do you know when you're on the verge of overtraining and a bit of rest would do you good?  Or put another way, how do you know when you're actually being a little lazy and looking for an excuse to skip the exercise?

A lot of it comes down to what's more important.  I have to answer that question this week as I did a race last Saturday and have another one coming up this Saturday.  I have to decide if the race is important enough that I want to rest to ensure I do my best.  And yes, a bit of rest will go a long way towards determining how well you race.  If a race is particularly important to you, say you're going for a PR (Personal Record), then not only do you need an extra day or two of rest, you need to taper leading up to the race.  The length of the race will determine the length of the taper.  Most people have heard about the 3 week taper for a marathon.  To get a PR for a 5K also requires a taper.  It won't be as much as a marathon obviously.  The best rule of thumb is to cut mileage by 50% the week prior to the race, but keep any speed work you would normally do.

Another thing to base it on is simply how your workouts feel.  Even though I raced last weekend (an unusual race called a Trident - 5K run, followed by 500 meter swim, then 1500 meter paddle lying on a surfboard), I really didn't feel like I taxed myself all that much.  So when the next day was Sunday, my normal long bike day, I really didn't want to skip it.  Sunday morning is the only time to ride with a minimum of auto traffic to deal with, and I hate to miss it.  So feeling pretty good, I went ahead with my 30 mile ride as planned.  If I had finished slower than usual, I would have known that more rest would have been smarter.  But my ride was fast and strong, so I knew it was the right decision.  Then I continued with my usual workout pattern, starting with a 6 mile hill run at 5am Monday morning, followed by a weight lifting routine.  That night I got talked into attending a Boot Camp class I been thinking of doing forever.  It was only 45 minutes and challenging but not overly difficult.  By Tuesday it was time to bike again.  This time only 20 miles in the hills, but I soon discovered that my energy was lagging.  I was much slower than usual this time.  I followed this with an evening swim workout that went fairly well, but then swimming is usually the easiest discipline for me.  However, by bedtime I realized I was really tired and a bit sore. 

So I decided that for the next two days I'm cutting way back on mileage and taking Friday completely off.  The race on Saturday is a sprint triathlon, the second in a series, and I'd really like to improve my time from the first one.  Even though I won my age group easily, I'd like a shot of getting Female Masters.  At the first race the woman who beat me did it by 4 minutes, not to mention she was 13 years younger.  But I love a challenge, so I plan to give it my best.  And that will require some rest, which I plan to take!


Pacing Your Race

Do you remember the first time you participated in a race?  Do you remember feeling strong and fast when you first started, maybe for the first mile?  Then do you remember how hard it got towards the end?  And if you checked your stats afterwards, you probably discovered that your last mile was considerably slower than the first!  If you didn't check your stats, you can take my word for it that it was!

One of the hardest things for a beginner to learn is pacing.  Even for experienced racers, it's easy to get carried away and start a race way too fast, paying a steep price at the end.  And believe me, you will pay a price!  It may seem like it all evens out when you do a fast first mile, and a slow last mile, but it doesn't.  The amount you slow down at the end is proportionally much greater than what you gain by being fast in the beginning.

The smart thing to do is to know about what pace you're capable of sustaining for the length of whatever race you're doing, then start out a few seconds SLOWER than that! Of course this is easier said than done!  There are so many factors which encourage us to run (or bike, or swim) faster than we should in the beginning.  The crowds, how good we feel, not knowing what our pace should be, etc.  It takes practice and experience to know how to slow it down to the proper pace.  And as we are constantly either becoming fitter or losing fitness, our ability to hold a certain pace changes from race to race.  Not only that, but the weather has a big influence, as well as how much rest we've had prior to the race.

So what do you do?  Especially in a triathlon?  I'll start with running a pure 5K.  If you've run a race within a few months, take whatever your average pace was and start there.  Try to factor in how much you've rested in the week prior (rest makes you faster as long as you've been working out up till then!) and whether this race is warmer or cooler (cooler weather equals faster times).  If you're wearing a Garmin or other pacing watch, it's best to set it for your average pace instead of current pace.  Your current pace changes too frequently for accuracy in pacing.  The first mile should feel excessively easy, and you should see quite a few jack rabbits pass you.  Try not to worry about them, because you should know by now that they are all going too fast!  Your second mile should be a bit harder, but you should be quite warmed up and in a good groove by now, so you can pick it up just a tad.  By the third mile, you should know if you've succeeded in picking a good pace.  If you're not dying, you should be able to pick up the pace a little bit more.  Once you can see the finish line, then it's time to really push and go for it.  End result?  Barring any unforseen complications, you should have a faster finish than your previous race!

Now what about a triathlon?  Here it gets a lot more complicated!  A lot depends on which leg is your strength.  For myself, I start out with my strongest event (swimming) and work down to my weakest (running).  This makes it very hard to determine how much to hold back in the beginning.  One year during the racing season I decided to hold back a little on the swim and bike to see if my run would improve.  It absolutely did!  But that's not enough.  Did the overall time improve?  Unfortunately, no.  The amount of time I gained on the run did not offset what I lost in the swim and bike.  So for me, I continue to swim and bike as hard as I can, trying to maintain an even pace throughout that leg of the race.  When it comes to the run, I start a bit slow, going for a lot of leg turnover with shorter steps to get me going.  In general, I will pass more people on the run than pass me.  I try and build up to a very fast finish, at least what is fast for me.

Now for someone who is a weak swimmer and a strong runner, I would advise to keep a very steady pace during the swim that won't wear you out, and use your kick mostly to keep you in a horizontal position, without wearing out your legs.  Of course the bike is all legs, so you mostly want to concentrate on a high cadence (90 to 100 rpm).  Any lower than this and you're really taxing your legs to the max, leaving very little left for the run.  As you near transition at the end of the bike, this is even more important to get you ready to run.  Spin your legs even more to loosen up your quads so they don't sieze up when you get off the bike.  Make sure you keep your heels down so your foot can pull up in an even circle, instead of constantly mashing down the pedals.  Of course this requires either cages or clips.

In the end, just remember that you can always speed up if you start too slow, but if you start too fast, it's doubtful that you'll have any left at the end for picking up the pace.


Boston Marathon 2015

In February of 2014, I achieved a "bucket list" goal of finally breaking 4 hours in a marathon.  That was the only goal for that marathon, and I was super focused.  Another posting gives the details.  A secondary benefit of meeting that goal was that I was 11 minutes under my required qualifying time to run the Boston Marathon in 2015.  Although it was really never something I had planned to do, after reading so much about it post the bombings in 2013, I decided it was a race I should run.  I knew I might never qualify again, so 2015 was my chance to run it.

I signed up later that year when they opened registration, getting in easily with my time.  What I neglected to do was make my hotel reservations early, and I ended up on a waiting list.  It was January before I finally got an email saying I had a room.  They weren't cheap, but I was happy to have one.  I was extremely busy for the few months leading up to the race.  Both my mother and mother-in-law were in and out of the hospital, and my life was somewhat turned upside down.  I didn't do my usual job of checking everything out and being super prepared because I was just too busy!  My running was not going great, as I was still dealing with my piriformis issue.  I managed to get in my required long runs though, so I knew I would finish.  I just didn't know how fast or slow I would be!

By pure accident, I talked with someone who told me there was a Jacksonville Track Club bus for getting to the start line race morning.  I was advised I should take it, so I did, at a bargain price of $25.  I soon got an email telling me which hotel to meet at race morning to get the bus.  I had to check to see which hotel I was in, and to my good fortune, they were the same!  It appeared my neglect in getting a room was actually in my favor.  As it turned out, I couldnt' have picked a better location for my hotel!  It was perfect!

I was fortunate that my husband was able to take time off and come with me to Boston.  He's had his own turbulant year, so it was a nice break for both of us.  We flew in two days early so we would have time to relax and do a little sight seeing.  I probably walked a lot more than I should have the day before a marathon, but the weather was sunny and cool, and Boston was fascinating!  So different from Florida!  We had a great time finding local places to eat, and I loved walking around Boston Common.

On race day, the weather took a nose dive!  As luck would have it, it would rain all day and the temps dipped down to the 30's.  I wasn't too worried as I don't mind running in cold weather, but it did take a lot of back and forth deciding what to wear.  I changed my mind multiple times!  I ended up wearing an extra long sleeved tshirt that I hadn't intended to wear.  It was a good decision as even a wet tshirt is warmer than no tshirt.  I kept it on most of the race, taking if off at the end so that my number would show and I'd have photos!

The organization of the Boston Marathon is amazing.  Although there were around 30,000 people participating, it never felt that way.  They obviously have their plan down pat, and there were no hiccups at all!  I greatly admire how well the race was presented!  Even getting to the start line was an amazing feat, and I was so glad to have a warm bus to sit and wait for my start time at 11:15am!  It was definitely good advice I had received to take the Jax Bus!  It was also fun talking to the other participants.  Being in the last wave, I was in the last group to leave, so I had some down time to relax.

I was so glad when I finally got to start.  I was feeling very good and very energetic.  I was extremely careful to eat just enough before the start without over doing it.  I even managed to get in and out of a portapottie right before the start.  The only thing I did wrong was drink too much fluid.  I know that was due to the cold weather.  I'm used to sweating a lot in Florida, and drinking a lot to make up for it.  I had to stop twice during the race to pee, and at that point I just quit drinking.  It was a bit ridiculous!

The hardest part of the race were the hills.  I expected a few, but I didn't expect them the entire way!  Although I tried very hard to slow my pace down in the beginning, everyone around me was going so fast it was almost impossible to keep it down to my planned pace (about 9:30 to 10:00 minute mile).  I started closer to 9:15.  But of course I was in no shape to keep this up, especially on all the hills.  It eventually caught up to me and it became a slug fest to just finish.  I never had any doubt that I would, but I was hoping it wouldn't be too slow!  Towards the end I could see a lot of people in pain around me.  I kind of got my second wind and started passing a few people.  I encouraged one man who I had been close to the entire race to keep up with me.  He tried, but eventually fell back.

Finally the finish line was in sight and I was so happy!  I pulled off my shirt for the last few yards, and the photo above is my crossing at the end.  Once you cross the finish, you have about two blocks to walk to get all the goodies they provide for you.  I had felt fine up to that point, but within seconds after stopping I was very cold.  The blanket they provided was very welcome!  My husband was there waiting at the finish of the long chute, and fortunately for me, my hotel was just steps away!  A perfect finish to a great race!  A warm bath and then dinner out with friends, and I was a happy camper.  I probably won't do it again, but I'm really happy for the opportunity to do it once.  The Boston Marathon was definitely a highlight of my racing career!


2014-15 Update

One thing I've learned about training and racing in general, is that things go in cycles.  Sometimes things go very well and all your training is excellent, which results in great races.  Other times things are just average, and sometimes they get downright bad.  And unless you are one of the few very blessed individuals who never get injured, sometimes you have to deal with an injury.  Some injuries heal quickly, some don't.  Some are self induced, some are accidental, and some are just finding the edge of how much training your body will tolerate.  Last year I learned where my edge was!

I had a fabulous year of training and racing as I made my final attempt to achieve an under 4 hour marathon.  I was running 6 or 7 days a week, for about 40 to 50 miles per week.  I was getting new PR's for most of my longer distances, and came very close to a 5K PR without even trying.  I was on Cloud 9!  But by the time I did the Tallahassee marathon, I was starting to feel a literal "pain in the butt"!  I found it harder and harder to sit for any length of time, and it started to affect my ability to run. I did all the standard therapies and medical treatments, but it just didn't heal quickly.  Of course I began to slow down, and people I had been ahead of at races all year began to pass me.  It was very disappointing.

I learned that the pain I was feeling was located in my piriformis muscle.  I also found that I was not alone.   As I shared my story with others, I met numerous people who had gone through the same thing.  And I learned there is no quick fix.  It took a long time to get better, and I lost a considerable amount of speed in the process.  Although I was greatly disheartened, I continued to train and race, but with reduced mileage and a lot more rest days.

It is now almost a year and a half later.  It has taken almost this entire time to finally feel like my injury is healed for the most part.  I occasionally get a twinge, but that's all.  I'm still doing reduced running mileage, but I've ramped up my biking and swimming.  I've been training a friend, Shelly Allen, and her enthusiasm for Triathlon has infected me.  I'm excited to compete this summer!  I've already completed my first sprint for the season, and had a fantastic race, taking first in my age group.

I still have the desire to "run long" and compete in Ultras.  I've done 5 so far of various distances (all longer than a marathon) and love the slower pace and the long challenge.  But, I'm acting cautiously about the high mileage, because I'm obviously not one of the blessed few who can run with abandon as much as I want!  My last long race was the Boston Marathon, which I will cover in another post.



New Goals

It's always good to have goals in life, and I've always been more motivated to do things when I have an end goal in mind.  From a very young age I've enjoyed writing, and at one point I thought that would be a career direction.  But things often turn out differently than we expect, and my life certainly has had a lot of detours I hadn't planned on.  But the desire to write remains, and I do so occasionally in various forms.  In recent years I've paired the desire to write with my love of exercise and all things fitness related, including triathlon.  So my new goal is to find a job that actually pays me to write about the things I love.  I've already submitted several articles to various publications and all have been rejected.  So after a period of being disappointed, I've decided I need to get better at it.  Like all things that are important, writing requires practice.  So this has become my new forum for writing about fitness.  I've been doing this off and on for a few years, so hopefully I can be more "on" now!


Marathon Goal

Wow - I can't believe it's almost a year since I posted on this blog!  And what a year it has been!  I guess my new moto has been "all run, all the time".  Seriously, it's been a really good year for me!  It seems like I've gotten faster with almost every race I've done.  I've even posted a few PRs! (Personal Records)  I even upped the ante and competed in two ultras, which is something I never thought I'd do.  By the end of the year I was running at least 40 to 50 miles a week, and sometimes a lot more.  I've put my heart and soul into training for the Jacksonville Bank Marathon, which is tomorrow.

Now marathon training is a huge commitment.  It takes time to do all those long runs.  And with this schedule, some of my "short" runs still took some time (mid week runs were between 8 to 10 miles).  I've managed to stay fairly healthy all year, with on a few minor aches and pains (IT band is always very tight and makes my upper thigh/hip area sore a lot).  I only had one cold which was the result of several very hard training days back to back which left my immunity weakened.  But even that didn't last long.

And now on the eve of the marathon on which I have so many hopes, I'm going to lay out my game plan.  According to a variety of calculators using previous races from this year, I should be able to finish well under 4 hours, which is something I've never done.  The closest I've come was at this same marathon a few years ago when I ran a 4:11.  The difference this time is in my training, which has been at a considerably higher level.  Both mileage and intensity.  What hampered me greatly that time was the weather, which was in the low 80's by the end of the race.  Unfortunately it's looking like a repeat tomorrow, with the addition of thunderstorms!  Well - I can't control the weather, but I can control my pace and where my head is.  I'm keeping calm about it, although not particularly happy.  I know the most important thing for me to do is not get ahead of pace.  I've practiced marathon pace runs many times, and learned successfully how to stay right on pace.  I use the average lap pace on my watch, which works like a charm!  I will need to run each mile in 9:09 or less.  I plan to try and run no faster than 9:05 in the beginning, and if I have anything left in the last 4 or 5 miles, pick it up a bit.

The other important thing I'm doing is setting more than one goal.  I know from experience that you can't always make your goals, so it's important to have secondary ones so that you still feel like you accomplished something.  So here they are:

1)  Finish under 4 hours

2)  Get a PR (less than 4:11)

3)  Qualify for the Boston Marathon (under 4:10)

4)  Finish the race strong without any injuries

Hopefully this gives me room to feel good about whatever I do tomorrow.  I have a lot of confidence at the moment!  Will write later about how things went.



Beach Race

Last weekend I participated in the Winter Beaches Run.  My husband Jim did the 5 mile race and I went for the 10 mile.  Since I'm just getting back into racing, this was of course my longest race in quite a while.  Picking a proper pace was not easy, especially considering the conditions.  It was a race on sand (although fairly well packed), a hot day (80 plus degrees), sunny, and windy.  Plus I have only done one 10 mile run in well over a year.  Not to mention this was my third race in less than 3 weeks!  All things considered, I chose a goal of under 90 minutes, which would mean a 9 minute pace.  I told my husband I'd stay with him the first 5 miles, assuming he would do about a 9 minute pace.  That lasted almost the first mile, but he slowed down a bit, and I went ahead.  I knew it should feel easy in the beginning or it would be more difficult towards the end.  It worried me the first few miles that the 9 minute pace wasn't as easy as I thought!  It was a fun course that doubled back twice, allowing you to see everyone else and where they were.  By the time I passed the 5 mile finish, I realized my pace was about 30 seconds off, which meant I would need under a 9 minute mile for the next 5 to make my goal.  At that point I was running into the wind which probably slowed me down, but it sure felt good considering how hot it was!  I picked up the pace just a bit and tried to focus on maintaining.  At the last turn around, I saw two people that are normally behind me in a race, and they were both quite a bit ahead.  I knew I'd never catch the first one, but I determined to try and catch the second.  I had 2.5 miles left to do it.  I picked a fast paced song to play over and over in my head in order to keep my steps fast.  When I got to the 9 mile marker, my pace was 8:33.  I had almost made up my lost time.  I pressed even harder, counting over a dozen people that I passed.  The gentleman I was chasing was still incrediby far ahead though.  I wondered if he too had picked up the pace.  I tried to press even harder, and as we neared the finish, he was still about 200 yards ahead.  I sprinted across the finish line.  I did not catch my friend, but I did make my goal.  Final time: 89:51.  Last mile pace - 8:25.  Sometimes it's the mental games you play during a race which get you to the end!

P.S.  I also won 1st in my Age Group!



Christmas Kayak

I got a new toy for Christmas - it's a Kayak!  Anyone who knows my family knows that we have an overabundance of kayaks around our house.  I may be the runner in the family, but my husband Jim is definitely the paddler!  He does long endurance events (300 miles!) as well as shorter races.  I've raced in the kayak once, and while I held my own against the women, I could never keep up with Jim.  Most of my distances have been fairly short.  A couple of months ago, we spent an afternoon kayaking, going just a little further than normal.  Unfortunately I have arthritis in my wrists which normally doesn't bother me too much.  However after than little afternoon paddle, I came home and had to have help just opening a bottle.  My wrists hurt for days!  A month later we went on a trip where the paddling was extremely easy, and one of the men had a "peddle" kayak. He let me try it and it was love at first stroke!  The end result, my Christmas present, was a Hobie Adventure Island Peddle Kayak!  The best part?  I think I'll now be able to keep up with Jim, so I can go with him on some of his harder paddle trips.  He still doesn't think I'll be that fast, so it remains to be seen.  We're both signing up for a race in February.  Stay tuned to find out the results!


Racing Deja Vu

Lately I've been experiencing Racing deja vu.  I feel like I'm back where I was at the beginning of 2011.  Prior to that, I had been doing a lot of long distance racing (marathons, Iron Man, etc.), and consequently while my endurance was high, my speed was somewhat slow.  I decided to make 2011 the year I went back to shorter races and faster times.  I proceeded to do just that, dropping from a 5K time of 27:24 to a 24:43.  I felt at the time that I could continue to drop my time with consistent training and racing.  Then the unthinkable happened in a triathlon in June of 2011, and I broke my foot running out for the swim.  (Look elsewhere on my blog for more about that.)  Then became the long, arduous task of healing, and then starting to train again.  This was interrupted with a heart procedure to get my heart rhythm corrected (a birth defect that finally caught up with me!), and then finally in January 2012 I was able to start a slow training program again.  My mileage was very low in the beginning, and my foot would hurt if I did too much or went too hard.  Biking wasn't any better, as my toe clips are right below the portion of my foot where it was broken.   But slowly things got better over the year, and mileage increased.  I'm now at the point where I can run about 25 miles a week, and I've finally added speed work again.  I wouldn't say my foot is 100%, because it still lets me know when I do too much.  But I recently participated in a series of races, just like I did in 2011, and I'm watching my times finally come back down.  I recently dropped 40 seconds off my 5K, with a 25:20 at the Vystar Gator Bowl 5K.  I was thrilled to finally start feeling "fast" again! Deja vu!  I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I'm on the path of progress.  Now the key is to stay healthy and not have any injury repeats of 2011!


Caffeine in Racing

I was recently asked whether it was a good idea to use caffeine to try and improve race performance.  While not an expert on this, I have read lots of articles about it and experimented with it myself.  Here's my take on caffeine.

I prefer caffeine in the form of coffee - I really love my cup (or 2 or 3) of joe in the morning.  For those of you who also love coffee, your body is already accustomed to its effects.  You will know this particularly if you normally drink it every day and then skip it sometime.  A headache will be the most likely result.  If you drink coffee before all your races, you most likely feel the same as you always do when drinking coffee.  Simply normal.  However, if you want the caffeine to have an effect, you have to wean yourself off your daily intake at least a week prior to the big event.  Do this slowly, or you will have the aforementioned headache.  Then come race day, when you drink a few cups, you will notice a definite surge in energy.  This will not last forever, so it doesn't work well for longer races unless you want to keep up the caffeine intake (many gels contain caffeine, so this isn't hard to do).  Having tried this, I will say that the boost you get is noticeable, although not dramatic.  If you're not used to drinking caffeine every day, I strongly advise you to try this in training prior to a race.  Otherwise you might end up too jittery.

Another use of caffeine is in recovery.  Many studies have shown it to assist in that area.  Again, caffeine can be utilized in many forms, not just coffee.