Monday, April 6, 2015

A Bit Of My Story - From Getting Cut...To, Making The Cut

Yeah, I was that kid. The kid who fell in love with sports or, more so, thrill of competition but, wasn't highly gifted. I tried hard but never played a varsity sport in high school. In fact, I got cut from the 8th grade basketball team, had one 8th grade wrestling match and lost 12-0 and scored one point the entire season in 9th grade basketball. It was a beautiful free throw though - should have seen it.

I worked hard at basketball in high school and played two years of JV. In one game as a sophomore, when taking the ball out of bounds to throw it in and start the game back up...instead of throwing the ball in...I took off dribbling in bounds, from out of bounds!! Why? No idea. My brain just snapped. The ref didn't know what to do. He's never seen anything like it. He just blew the whistle and yelled, "Hey, you can't do that!"

As a senior in a small NAIA college in Kentucky, I decided to go out for track having never run competitively in my life. Here's a tip - don't ever do that - don't go out for a sport as a senior that you've never attempted, unless you want to make a fool of yourself. At one large invitational at Eastern KY University, as I ran the two mile, (8 laps) I noticed the leaders getting pretty far ahead of me. Then they were so far ahead of me that they were actually, behind me! Oh no!! Probably in the history of track and field, no one had ever been lapped in an 8 lap race. Well, it happened. Embarrassed I crossed the finish line after everyone and still had a lap to run.

Fast forward 30+ years and I'm running once again. It's a 5K...that followed a swim and bike. There were 300 yards left to the finish. I was three feet behind the #1 ranked triathlete in the nation in my age group. I'd closed down what was about a 500 yard lead he had off the bike. It was the USA Triathlon National Championships in Burlington, VT. Just behind me, chasing me was a five-time National Champion and a silver medalist at Worlds. How did I get in this place? Seriously, I'm 300 yds. from becoming a National Champion in a legit US Championship?

After college I'd continued to run. 10Ks. Half-marathons, marathons and even a few ultramarathons. Then, I watched the Hawaiian Ironman on TV. Then I met a triathlete. Then I became one. I trained and raced for 20 years, swimming, biking, running and racing countless miles. From sprint distance to ironman distance, I loved ever minute and mile. I kept improving and getting faster even though I got older. I was setting PRs in my early 50s. And there I was...slowly but surely passing the #1 ranked triathlete in the nation. Though I was hurting more than ever, I found one more gear, beating him to the finish line becoming the National Champion at the sprint distance. The next year, on Team USA, I raced at the ITU Age Group World Championships in London and out of 95 guys from 50+ nations, I finished 6th, (first of 15 from Team USA.)

Hard work, passion, vision, staying teachable and a bit of natural gifting from God, have allowed me to accomplish more than I could have ever dreamed. If you'd told me after I got lapped in that track meet that someday, I'd be a National Champ and 6th in the World, well, I'd have told you that you were crazy.  

Hey, you...yeah you...what's your dream? Go for it. Give it your all because you just might be amazed at what you can do!!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Keys To Speed - Learning To Embrace Pain

If you're an endurance athlete of any kind I know you've been asked, "Why would you do that?" In many folk's minds there's just no space whatsoever for any kind of activity that would produce the "P" word.  Remember when Clubber Lange, in Rocky III, was asked his prediction for the fight? His answer was one word. He stared into the camera with a look that would put fear in a Navy SEAL and said, "PAIN!!!"  (Just kidding about the Navy SEAL. Nothing scares them!)

People ask why you run, bike, race, do marathons, triathlons, etc. because they can't imagine someone doing anything intentionally that hurts. Why would you do such a thing??? I'm sure you're polite and give them a kind answer, but you're really thinking, "If they have to ask, they'll never understand." True that.

There is a difference between pain from injury...pain telling you to stop because your setting yourself back via injuring yourself, and, the pain from just pushing hard in a workout or race. With the first, stop, rest, recover, get better. Don't further injury yourself just to show you're tough. I've tried to press through an injury as it's occurring only to later wish I hadn't. Sometimes it's best to walk away and live to fight another day.

But, we must learn to embrace the pain of really going for it. In the summer of 2012, as I was preparing for the USAT National Championships, I told myself over and over that come August, I needed to be ready emotionally and mentally, to endure more pain than I ever had in a race if I were going to have a shot at the top 10 or 5 or wow...maybe even getting on the podium! I would have to push deeper into that black hole of pain than I'd ever pushed before. And it was true. I came out of the water in about 15th place and really, really pushed the bike with no thought of pacing myself. I came off the bike in 2nd place! During the last 1.5 miles of the run, as I chased down the #1 ranked triathlete in the nation (in my age group) I knew I had to hurt myself badly. My entire body was screaming at me to stop or at least slow down.

It took every ounce of mental strength I had to keep pushing as I slowly reeled him in. I caught him with about 300 yds. to go to the finish line and at that point I was done. My legs felt like I was going to trip and fall any second and my lungs were absolutely screaming for oxygen. Yet, I needed to go yet one level deeper into the pain cave. And so somehow I found one more gear, slowly passed him and hit the red carpet, not knowing if he'd come back on me or not. He couldn't stay with me and I won.

How? I still don't know. I think I ran in the high 5's for the last mile...maybe 5:50 or so. It was God's grace, strength and purpose I'm sure. But my relationship with God is a partnership. He gives me strength, hope and inspiration, but I'm the one running. If I had not prepared myself for the pain, I wouldn't have won the National Championship. Because I did prepare, I believe I was able to hold an insane pace for me to the finish. Get friendly with pain. Embrace it as a friend. People won't understand, but that's OK. You get it. I get it. That's enough.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Keys To Speed - Intervals

What's an interval and how will it help me get faster? Good questions. Intervals are segments of your workout where you pick up the pace to a certain level, hold it for a given time and then slow down/recover, just to do it again...and again...  Intervals are done in the pool, on the bike and the run as well. They can be set up all kinds of ways with various recovery times between them. The subject is too big for a short post, but the point is, if you're familiar with them, how do they fit into your training plan? Are they in your training plan? They have to be for you to reach your fastest speeds. If you're not familiar, just look/research on line or ask a friend. They are pretty much a staple for experienced athletes.

Intervals are often, "faster than race pace," in the effort you put in to engage quick turnover and those fast twitch muscles of yours. They tax your high-end energy system by pushing it a bit beyond what you'll do race day, which can make race day seem a bit easier.

Intervals can also be done AT race pace and the biggest benefit from this is simply to know and feel what your ideal pace is. Swimming 100s - 500s in the pool can get you familiar with what your next swim leg should feel like pace wise. Same with running either by time (your watch if out on the roads) or at the track. Example - you want to average 8 minute miles for an upcoming 10K. You go to the track and do, say, 800s/half mile repeats hitting 4 min. per 2 laps, recover with a slow/easy half lap and then hit it again and repeat several times. You begin to understand exactly what 8 min. miles feel like. Or, you can do them faster than your race pace for the reason mentioned above. Exact same thing applies on the bike on the roads.

GPS watches/computers make this a lot easier as you can just look down and see your pace when running for example. I'm not a high-tech guy at all, but have been using my GPS watch in my races so that I know exactly what my running pace is. Sometimes I look at it and say, "Man, you're slowing down, come on, pick it up!" Other times it's, "Slow down you running fool! What are doing going this fast?? Pace yourself!" So, be sure you're including intervals, shorter and medium distance/time, to your training to become as fast as possible!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Keys To Speed - Recovery!

Below are portions of a good article by a coach named Steve Fluet that I came across. It fits well into the subject of getting faster. When we train and workout, we're not getting faster or stronger. We're getting weaker and slower. It's only through thorough recovery that we make gains and get stronger and faster.  Enjoy the article.

"For many triathletes 'recovery' is a bad word.  Some think it will cause them to lose fitness, or that they may get fat because of a couple of days off.  If they do take a day and train easy, it many times ends up being a fast training day because it is completed with training partners whom let their testosterone get in the way. 
So when it is time to plan out a taper for a major race? Invariably, the taper always ends up being too short.  Why does this happen? 

First, how many of you feel you may lose fitness during your taper?  For example,  you are doing an ironman race in 4 weeks.  Your taper needs to start 4 weeks out from race day.  But many times you panic and find yourself running very long 2 weeks out.  Well, you just left your race out there by training long 2 weeks before. 
To really understand the process of recovery and regeneration you need to understand some very important functions of the human body.  After you complete a hard or long training session or race, your body needs time to recover and regenerate.  This process involves repairing the damage to your muscles, replenishing glycogen stores, allowing the immune system to strengthen. This happens by actively completing recovery workouts to help the body get rid of the lactic acid that accumulated in your body from the training or the race.
I always tell my athletes- the workouts are important- but it is the recovery that makes you stronger and allows you to improve your fitness.  If you never allow for recovery you always end up breaking yourself down.  The process of regeneration never happens. 

Look at athletes who are into power lifting or body building- their recovery process is so very important.  They work really hard and then allow time to recover so they can get the most in muscular strength development.  Look at so many Ironman triathletes who lose weight all season long- even though their body fat was very low to start with: they are only losing muscle which will result in a loss of power. 

When you plan out your training try to block the quality close together so you have the rest of the week to recover, which will allow you to be ready for some longer weekend training.  The bottom line is training should always be progressive week to week in small amounts, with recovery built in every 3rd to 4th week depending upon the individual. 

Here are some key points to consider when looking at recovery:
1.       Make sure you have set hr training zones that you follow for every workout.
2.       Plan your nutrition for training and follow the plan.  This will allow for better results while training, sets you up for the next training session, and allows you to access fat stores for aerobic training.
3.       Follow workouts with recovery drinks within a 30-minute window after training. (Linc here - I strongly recommend Hammer Nutrition's Recoverite!) Whatever you do- don’t go without consuming something after training.
4.       After 90 minutes follow with some quality protein either as a shake or whole food so you can assist the rebuild process of the muscles. 
5.       Try to eat every couple of hours so your blood sugar levels stay even which can lessen your immune system stress.
6.       Monitor your am resting heart rate before you rise in the morning.  This is done before you lift your head off the pillow.  Do this for 7 – 10 days and then take an average.  If you find the am hr is 3-5 beats above your average you need to schedule a recovery day.
7.       Build in active and passive recovery workout days in your training.  Active recovery workouts would include easy bike rides on flat roads or on a trainer.  Keep it in the small ring with the 2 lowest gears that you have and drink a recovery drink while you are riding.  Also easy swims that include some drills sets or some off stroke also help in recovery.  Avoid running on active recovery days- the impact is too much to allow for recovery.   Passive recovery is no training at all.  Take the day and relax, get some extra sleep, eat well, get a massage or soak in a hot tub with epsom salts.  All these can help to allow your body to recover faster.
8.       Make sure you mix up your long training on the weekends.  Don’t always follow the long ride on Saturday with the long run on Sunday.  Try doing the long on the day before or a moderate ride and run on the same day followed by an aerobic swim the next day for recovery. 
9.       Listen to your body- if you are feeling tired, then take an easy day.  Don’t let your mental thoughts tell you otherwise.  If you really are feeling wiped out take 2-3 days off and then slide back into training after that break.  You will not lose any fitness at all with a few days off.
10.   Consider power naps if you have the flexibility to take them every once and a while. They pay huge dividends to recovery and immune system strengthening.
11.    Try to avoid too much processed food - go with foods that are in their most whole form.  These provide more nutrients for the body.  What you eat has such a huge impact on how you feel on a day to day basis.
12.    Most of all- training needs to be fun and you need to be motivated to train everyday.  If you start to lose that motivation or training loses its appeal, then it is time to take a break.

Bottom line - recovery and regeneration are so very important for training to continue to produce results.  Remember Joanie Benoit at the Olympic trials just coming off of surgery and ended up having a great race.  So many high-end athletes have had great races coming off of a forced rest.  Think about that!"
Steve Fluet