Saturday, January 29, 2011

US Half Marathon National Championships

This weekend was the USATF Half Marathon National Championships in Houston, TX. Let's start by saying that I was stoked and simply honored to even BE at this race, among this field of ladies. I inquired about racing this in mid-December, and much to my surprise (my PR was about 1.5 min under the qualifying time) I was accepted. I really wanted to be smart about my 'off-season break', so I proceeded to take some good down time through early January; doing about one quality run a week, and then upon returning from our 3-week holiday excursion, I gave myself 3 weeks to focus on this event.

I went into it with a BIG goal. I wanted to run a 1:15-something. I felt incredible during the couple of weeks training for it, hit some of the best workouts I ever have, then this past week, my 2 runs felt flat out awful! Heavy legs, high perceived effort. I chalked it up to 'resting' and tried to roll with it; seems it is not uncommon to feel lousy the week of a race, I have learned through the years. As the event drew closer, I began doing what we should never do as athletes; looking at the start list and finding out how fast these chicks were. Almost everyone I searched had a best time of 1:13 or faster. Then I pulled myself away, realizing that my goal pace is 5:43 to 5:48. Period. Just run that, and don't worry about what anyone is doing. I knew that in this race, nobody there knew me nor I them, and this was entirely a race for myself; not for placing, but to aim to fulfill my own personal expectations.

I headed to Houston solo on Friday morning, as I had sent Derick off skiing this weekend. I figured if I shouldn't be skiing right now, he shouldn't be deprived of any fun. The race kicked off right at 8 AM sharp. I settled into a few 5:45 miles, which put me near the back of the women's race. It did not feel hard, but it did not feel easy either. Conditions were a bit muggy, definitely much warmer than it had been in Austin the past few weeks. (But that is the last excuse I can use, seeing that the winner Jen Rhines ran a best time by 45-seconds!) I felt great through 6 miles, coming through just around 5:48 pace. I was slowly taking women off. When I did so, I tried to keep my breathing very relaxed. I think it helps so as to make you realize you are maintaining your pace, not pushing too hard. We hit an interesting stretch from miles 7-10 whereby we went across two separate bridges; just a short out and back, which I found odd; just made for a few extra turns. Something happened in or around mile 9, and it suddenly got much harder. I am not sure if it was the heat or simply the pounding of 9 hard miles of racing, but by mile 10, I already felt like I was hitting survival mode. Not a good place to be with 5K to go. By this point, I had my own space, and I felt like my overall position was at least the top half. I came through the "1/2 mile to go" sign (what a treat!) and saw 1:13.59. I realized ALL I had to do was run an 800 in under 3 minutes. I had done this numerous times the past few weeks. Turns out that was tougher than it sounded, but somehow I managed it, getting passed by two women the last 100 meters (story of my life) but sneaking in with a 1:16.59. (I guess my gun time was 1:17 flat, but my chip time was 1:16.58 or 59 so I'm going to go with a 16 for obvious reasons!)

This put me overall 19th place (unfortunately 3 seconds separated 17/18/19th) which was in the top half of finishers. I was pleased with the end result in terms of placing, however, I will be honest that my goal time was significantly faster. Despite only about 3 weeks of focused training, I really wanted to do a 1:15 in some facet, and I have no doubt that I am capable of this. However, the time was not in the cards today, and I have to be realistic about the little buildup to this race as well as lack of mileage. I realized post race during a short cool down jog with my legs feeling beat to a pulp, that with a 1-2 mile warmup and the race, 15 miles was more almost 1/2 of my weekly volume the past few weeks. Probably not the best set up for a 2 minute PR!

Nonetheless, we have to take each experience in context and in that sense, this was a good day and a race which I think I can take away some good fitness; and, a PR. It was a true honor to get to run among some of the best female distance runners in the US, and given that my focus is triathlon, I put into this all that I could given the time frame I had to prepare. In hindsight, I think that my very low run volume was what did me in, and therefore I will aim to increase things a bit the next few months as I prepare for Ironman Texas. The next few weeks will entail a bit of a cycling focus, recovery for the running legs and slowly bringing the volume up in preparation for more focused Ironman training. I want to give a big thanks to my sponsors for this season: Zoot Sports, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, Recovery Pump, Katalyst Multisport, Road ID, Xcis Software, ISM Saddles, Reynolds Wheels, Jack & Adams, Advanced Rehabilitation, Go with the Flo, Hill Country Running, Oakley and 3 Cosas Massage. Without all of you this journey would not be possible.

One final note I found interesting. I recall in the long stretch from miles 10-13 how much pain I was in, realizing that my pace had slipped, knowing my ideal goal time was now out of reach. Everything hurt and I of course wanted to quit. I then realized "I don't quit" and it brought me to why I love triathlon. In triathlons, especially longer distance, you always have high and low points; one minute you feel stellar, the next minute you feel like crap. Given the nature of the sport and three disciplines (and everyone's different strengths and weaknesses), the minute you think you are finished, you are. I firmly believe 90% of racing is in your head. In running, if your pace slips, you are probably in trouble; it is your only lifeline, so to speak. In triathlon, you may be back in the swim; you cannot give up, it is only 1/3 over. You may be behind coming off the bike; you have to have faith in you run. Even once ON the run, so much can still change (and often does). While a part of me would love to focus purely on running one day, I realize that not only do I love the sport of triathlon, but it makes us so incredibly tough and really instills the 'never give up' attitude. Every race is an opportunity to become stronger, and though it may not always show in our times, I think we gain so much mental strength for future races. After all, no one said it was easy.

Thanks for reading. Train safe out there, and see you on the race course!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Failing vs. Quitting

The past few weeks has been a 'crash training' plan so to speak for a half marathon in Houston on January 29th. Having taken the month of November and December rather laid back and light in training, I came back from our 3-week Christmas excursion ready to get back at it. I have been given about 3 weeks of time to prepare adequately for this race, or at last 'as adequately as you can in 21 days'. The process has involved some very quality, focused and challenging run sessions (about 2 per week plus a long run with some speed). Maybe it was the shift that took place last year in training for much longer events, and needing to dig a bit deeper than I ever had before, but I have found myself thinking up 'mantras' when the going has gotten tough lately. I often start to think of these sayings or words about mid-way through a tough workout, and I try to simply repeat them as needed. Maybe it's a distraction from hurting, but they seem to help significantly.

Yesterday, Derick and I were doing mile intervals on the trail here in Austin. After the third one, I said to Derick, "It's OK to fail on these, right?" To which he responded "Definitely." Meaning, there are some workouts which should be so challenging that you risk failing. I pushed on, and as I started the fifth one with hurting legs, I began to weigh out failing vs. quitting. I've never been one to like to quit. Just the idea of it turns my stomach. The minute I quit, I start to beat myself up for having given up on an opportunity. I would much rather get out and compete, give it what I have, and if I end up last, so be it; at least I know I left it out there. Hearing Derick say that it was OK to fail kind of sounded nice; it meant that putting it all out there and perhaps not being able to finish was still being successful. It almost made me feel good, thinking "quitting is an option, cool." But, I did not want to go there, if at all possible.

So, it became a game of pushing so hard that I may blow up, but also pacing smart enough that the odds were in my favor of finishing, and finishing with a solid workout under my belt. Finishing having achieved the goals of the workout. I wondered what was better, failing or quitting, and I came to the realization that in any situation, no matter the circumstances, I would much much rather fail than quit. Failing means that you gave it all you had and for some reason, you did not quite get there. The definition of 'failure' will certainly be different to everyone, but in some way, you had to settle for less than what you'd of liked. BUT, you can also walk away knowing that you tried, you attempted, and in that, you can hopefully draw some satisfaction and learn from this. Quitting, on the other hand, means you did not give yourself a CHANCE to fail. You dropped out before you risked failing. (Granted there are some situations when quitting IS the smartest thing to do, don't get me wrong. And as endurance athletes, when we push ourselves to extreme limits, there are certain times when quitting is far smarter than pushing on. This is an entirely different situation). When I looked at the two terms like this, I then decided, I would push so hard that I knew I had left it all out there and if in fact my pace fell off drastically, well then, I knew my limits. I may fail, but I'll be damned if I quit.

So think about this the next time you are in a training session, or even in a non-sport situation where you have the two options. The task at hand is large, the ability to achieve it may be in question, and trying to achieve it will require most or all of what you've got in yourself. I challenge you to risk failure. Quitting is easy, but the repercussions of it are often tough; you will probably not feel good having quit. Failing is not a bad thing; it means you took part, you put your heart and soul into the task and for some reason you came up short. Which is good, because you have likely discovered a new limit, found a new boundary and in the process had some self-reflection which will no doubt make you a much stronger person.

So on that note, get out there and risk failing at something! What you won't realize at the time is that no matter the outcome, you'll be better for it in the long run.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Good For You Foods" That Actually Taste Good

(Running December 2010 in Southern Indiana)

HAPPY 2011!
I was going to do a '2010 Year In Review', but that idea got thrown by the wayside when we spent our holidays in 14 states, putting 3830 miles on our car and visiting family over the course of 3 weeks. Don't get me wrong, it was an awesome trip, and since we had our car, I was able to have my bike, trainer, and of course running and swimming gear all on hand. Meaning, I was able to maintain a relatively consistent routine of training, thus preventing me from getting stressed out and grouchy. I don't do well when there is not a pool nearby for more than 2 or 3 days. I fear I may lose my gills.

With regards to our trip, here are a few pictures of us playing in the snow at my parents cabin near Nashville, Indiana. Amico saw snow for the first time and let's just say, I think he prefers this white fuffy stuff over the often oppressively hot Texas weather.

So we are now back to Austin, settled into 'home' and despite it being rather cold here, it is great to be back. Training is going well and I am looking forward to running the Houston Half Marathon in a few weeks; a 'real runners race' I call it, also the USA Half Marathon National Championships, and I'll no doubt get my ass handed to me a bit. But, it is awesome to get the chance to line up alongside some of the best female runners out there. I will try to minimize my losses, make the spread between the winner and myself and small as possible, and ultimately just go for a personal best time.

Back to my blog title, sorry to wander astray.

At this time of year, not only being the start of a new year but also the winter months, it is fun to spend a bit more time indoors, cooking, and also occasionally "looking" at what you are eating. *Disclaimer*: The last thing I am intending to do is preach about nutrition, and I will say that I do not have any nutrition degrees or higher education in nutrition specifically! But Derick and I try stay up to date on foods that are good for us and incorporate 'healthy foods' into our diet on a regular basis. That said, we are the last people you'll see eating bland, disgusting food because it claims to be a wonder food. Case in point: I recently bought Zico Water because everyone was drinking it and I had heard how good coconut water was for you. I even got the Pomegranate kind. The first sip, I thought "Eww, that's nasty." So I let it sit in our fridge. I took a little sip about once a day for the next 3 days, and finally admitted it was awful. We regularly eat dairy, gluten, fruits, veggies, sugar, alcohol, chocolate, ice cream...we leave nothing out of our diet! I recall a few months back seeing something from the New York Times health section titled "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating." Even though I think the title is a bit presumptuous, I like to look for recurring 'themes' from the information that I find. I also subscribe to Real Simple magazine and they recently had an article entitled "Your New Healthy-Eating Plan: The 30 Healthiest Foods." (Yes, I know that Real Simple is not a dieticians research journal, however the panel of experts included a list of 10 various Registered Dieticians). I am going to list the results of the two articles side by side.

New York Times:

Real Simple:

So there you have it. Some of these are things that we very regularly eat ('regularly' being a few times a week) including spinach, cinnamon, blueberries, walnuts, avocados, olive oil, whole wheat pastas, eggs, black beans, and peanut butter. Some items that we try to eat a few times a month include cabbage, prunes, tumeric, broccoli, kale, salmon, chicken and sweet potatoes. If you are looking to slowly, gradually and 'sanely' incorporate some of these foods into your diet, here are a few ideas.

Cinnamon - Can regularly go on cereal, oatmeal, or even into yogurt.
Spinach - Use this for basic salads; I slowly moved away from iceburg and now I use predominantly spinach. Iceburg is nice for the 'crunch' factor, so maybe consider doing half and half if you prefer the 'crunch'.
Blueberries - They are not cheap, but they are packed with antioxidants and tasted good. In my opinion, they are worth the money; throw onto salads, cereal, or just eat a handful here and there.
Walnuts - Add to salads in place of crutons; if you don't like walnuts because as my sister claims they 'taste like trees', try almonds.
Black Beans - Make quesedillas with black beans, bell peppers, avocado, cheese and salsa; these are extremely versatile.
Avocados - Add to sandwiches, salads, any mexican dish, top on to soups.
Olive Oil - Cook with it!
Peanut Butter - If you cannot figure out how to eat this or you just don't like it, then well, I cannot relate to you as I cannot go a single day without it. Enough said.
Cabbage & Kale - We often chop this up, and saute it with olive oil, walnuts, red onion; a dash of cinnamon is good on the cabbage for a bit of sweetness. Also look for 'asian salad/slaw' recipes which are cabbage based, and often very tasty.

So there you have it (for the second time). As stated early on, I am not a nutrition expert, but I do feel that if you are food-allergy-free, it is a good idea to try to stay atop the information that comes out on foods and maintain a balanced diet, yet one that also appeals to you. You like coffee? Enjoy your coffee in the morning. You a wine or a beer drinker? Have one in the evening when making dinner. Go to the local market and try a new beer, or keep a good bottle of wine on hand to enjoy. Is ice cream your vice? Have a little bit after dinner. Enjoy what you think tastes good, life is too short not to! I found this quote, which came from an article on Scottish Brewer BrewDog, about how they had created the worlds strongest beer at 32% alcohol by volume: "Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time to time, have excess." To that point, deprivation is not healthy. Treat your body well; exercise it, rest it, challenge it, and fuel it. But most of all, enjoy it!

Thanks for reading,