Sunday, February 26, 2012

Phoenix (Half) Marathon -- T Minus Six Days

Oh, my friends, you are in for a treat!  Yesterday, the committee member of the Phoenix Marathon gathered together to preview and run the half marathon course in preparation for next week's Big Day.  We gathered in the early morning hours to caravan up to the start line at Usery Mountain Park Shooting Range.  Then exactly at 7a.m., the horn blasted and off we went.

There is something spectacular about the desert as the morning sun casts it's first light over the Saguaros and creosote.  The air is crisp and clean, it's quiet, and the fresh light brings everything into such perfect focus you can pinpoint the tip of each tree branch and cactus needle.  Make sure you look up and check out the scenery while you are running those first two miles down Usery.  You might catch a glimpse of a small pack of coyotes or a family of quail.  Mile one and two are the spirit and the highlight of the race.

Down, did you catch that in the last paragraph?  The course is fast and mostly downhill.  You will feel the most extreme descents at miles 1-3 and then again on Thomas Road at mile 11-12.  Enjoy these stretches and take advantage of gravity as, in life, good things don't last forever.  I recall three distinct uphills: mile 4 at the Brown Road/202 overpass, mile 5ish at Falcon Hill Park, and mile 12 as Thomas Road passes over the 202.  There is an ever-so-slight uphill on Power Road as it shoots toward McKellips and McDowell.  And save your energy for the last point one mile as the final turn onto Longbow greets you with an uphill finish.

This course is a PR-friendly one.  It's smooth, pretty, and enjoyable.  The long stretches are not too long and the curves and turns make it interesting.  The only negative I have is that from McDowell to McLellan on mile 2-3, there is still road construction and parts of the road are not yet sealed.  Stay to the left of the barriers when you see them on Usery.  If you happen to get caught on the wrong side of the flashing barricades, you'll be running in sandy dirt instead of asphalt.

The medals, the swag bags, and the finish-line party are all completely amazing.  I got my medal yesterday as I crossed the imaginary finish line.  It's a nice chunky piece of hardware and one of my favorite medals I have ever earned. I also ran wearing a special surprise that comes in every swag bag.  They were perfect for this race, and I'll leave it at that.

So, look for me Friday afternoon at the Registration Tables.  Come say hello!  Introduce yourself.  I can't wait to hear YOUR story of the inaugural Phoenix Half Marathon.  A run in the desert and a family finish.  What a great way to spend a Saturday morning!

Friday, February 24, 2012


Phoenix Marathon race day is one week from tomorrow.  Do you have a race plan?  Have you tested your nutrition?  Here's some great advice from Triathlete Magazine's Krista Austin, Ph. D. on how to prepare nutritionally for the big day, March 3!  I've thrown in my two cents, as well.

NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE  Early evening, eat a low-fiber dinner: white spaghetti with a low-fat meat marinara sauce, white bread rolls.  Or, rice and lean meat with low-fat sauce.  Drink electrolyte beverages.  My take:  Keep things bland and not too spicy and stay away from the green salad.  Don't eat anything you don't normally eat.

RACE DAY  Eat a light breakfast around 5a.m. with a plain bagel/creamy peanut butter.  She also suggests coffee. "Foods rich in carbs, such as a bagel will help restore liver glycogen that was depleted overnight."   My take:  I always start the day with a 4a.m. Ensure meal replacement drink, then I try and go back to bed for awhile.  When I wake up, I like Dr. Austin's bagel suggestion along with a banana.

JUST BEFORE THE RACE  sip a sports drink to supply carbohydrates in the hour prior to competition.  I take a GU with water just before the start of the triathlon swim. 

POST RACE Recover with a protein recovery drink, water, PB&J sandwich, yogurt and cereal or cheese and crackers.  "Carb consumption immediately after competition helps facilitate recovery by restoring muscle glycogen and minimizing inflammation'" says Austin.  "Protein assists with the body's ability to take in carbohydrates and restores broken-down muscle."  Me:  I like cold things, like Jamba Juice and fruit like bananas and oranges.

TWO HOURS AFTER THE RACE "Eat a recovery snake comprising 50-55 percent carbohydrates with the rest being lean proteins and healthy fats.  Try a banana with nut butter, Greek yogurt, fruit and granola or eggs and whole wheat toast. 

LUNCH:  Austin suggests chili with a baked potato and fruit.  "Chili contains meat and beans with appropriate amounts of protein and fiber to help lower the meal's glycemic response, along with the fiber found in salad and fruit.  Me:  I'm partial to a delicious burger. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Consistency versus Rigidity

Loved these words from Runner's World.

Ask elite runners for the number one "secret" of their success and the most common response is one word: consistency.  "Consistent training promotes the physiological changes which are necessary for better performance, while inconsistent training stresses the body and can lead to injury," says Robert Martin, a San Diego running coach and personal trainer.

This explains why former marathon runners who have accomplished great things in the past cannot keep pace with their old times without a consistent plan and schedule.
Even Barbie keeps to a schedule
So how do you not confuse consistency with rigidity?  "It's okay to skip a run for a legit reason: it's not okay to repeatedly skip them if your reasons are as thin as an Ethopian runner."  Sometimes it's just making the choice to putting two feet on the floor instead of crawling back under the covers.

My tips:  train with a friend, set both short term and long term goals, and sign up for a race.  Training without a plan is a recipe for failure.   Like Chris McCormack always says, "A dream is a goal with a plan!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Open Water -- Do I Dare?

Saguaro Lake, Arizona on 2/17/2012, temp 46 degrees
I've got to admit, when I sent out the client email advertising an open water swim in the frigid water of Saguaro Lake in mid-February, I was sure I'd have no takers.  I just wanted to put it out there ... maybe pretend like I was willing to jump into the lake.  But hoping everyone would pass.

I was wrong.  Ant wanted to swim and was not about to say no, even when I passed along the info I had received about the lake's temperature: 46 degrees. 

So off we went -- me: hoping I could borrow some friend's canoe and SUV to "supervise" the swim from the safety and warmth of a dry situation.  Ant: eager and ready to try out his virgin 2XU wetsuit and newly acquired swimming skills.

Not gonna lie, that initial take-your-breath-away shock when the water creeps up over your neck hole and down your back for the first time is not fun.  But I soon realized if I could tread water and get used to the cold before I dunked my head, it was going to be okay. 

Ant and I swam the buoy line around Keyhole Marina, a fine place to get in some open water practice.  We had protected water, site-able buoys, and a landscape of lookyloo spectators with whom we provided some great entertainment, I'm sure.  I watched as one couple followed us around the lake with their binoculars, discussing and questioning what/why/how we were in the lake this time of year.  But the pros outweighed the cons this day for the following reasons:

-- Wetsuit Compatibility.  Ant's wetsuit was new, he'd never swam in it and it's a different sensation to swim in something that is constricting around the body.  If there are issues with asthma or having something tight around the chest, it's good to get it and practice and use the wetsuit on a regular basis.

-- Waves.  A pool doesn't have waves, or pitch-black water. And there are definitely no lines along the bottom of a lake.  It's a completely different situation to swim without walls to push off or lane lines to follow.  The more comfortable you are in the lake, the better you will perform in a race.

-- Temps.  Most pools heaters are set on about 82 degrees, give or take.  A dip in an ocean or lake, while shocking, gives you a more realistic perspective on what you'll be swimming in come race day.  I've yet to swim in a balmy lake or ocean, besides IM Florida's Gulf swim, that is warm and comfy from the get-go.  Get used to diving into headachy cold water and you'll be one step ahead of your competitors when the cannon goes off.

Experience counts in triathlon.  And the comfort that comes from knowing your wetsuit works and you can handle the colder temps of a lake or ocean are all confidence builders for triathletes.  Make it a point to go jump in the lake on a regular basis.  You'll be glad you did. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Saluting The Fine Sport of Skiing

Swim, bike, run, repeat.  For most of us triathletes, that is our week.

But every once in awhile, it's nice to take advantage of the fun that Mother Nature bestows on us this time of year.  A great friend of mine runs Powder Mountain Ski Resort in Eden, Utah.  The resort is on a  beautiful mountain and has some pristene ski runs and amazing powder.  His latest ad campaign is genius.  Here's a few of his billboards posted around town...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rim To Rim Revisited

Elevation tracking from my Garmin 310x GPS

I thought I'd share this profile of our South Rim to North Rim Grand Canyon hike this fall.  Our posse was fairly ambitious in running down the south side of the canyon, where we had a short respite at Phantom Ranch and then continuing uphill at a nice clip until we reached this:

I would recommend first-timers do the north to south hike.   We were rarely passed by hikers traveling south to north since most were traveling from the North.  However, we did pass a couple of crazies who were doing the R2R2R in one day.  Unbelievable. 

Anyway, I liked the graph my Garmin recorded and thought, if you were thinking of going, you'd like it too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Are You Training For A Marathon And Still Gaining Weight?

One of the most powerful pieces of knowledge for any endurance athlete is knowing what heart rate zones will burn fat versus burn carbohydrates, allowing one to improve performance with an adjustment in training.  I highly endorse Jeff Kitchen at Endurance Rehab if you are interested in getting a Heart Rate test.   He can explain for days how to train and eat to become the the jet-pack athlete you are deep down inside.  
Below is his very concise explanation of Heart Rate Zones 1-5.  

Zone 1: Very low intensity.  This zone should be used on days following a hard effort if you have a solid endurance base built.  If not, you will be better off taking the day off completely until your aerobic base is improved.  The benefit from working at this intensity is to increase blood flow to areas that have been stressed out within the previous 24-48 hours.  No breakdown in muscle tissue will occur at this intensity.

Zone 2:  Aerobic Endurance.  This is the intensity where the majority of the endurance training should be done, upwards of 75% of the time, over the course of a year.  The intensity is easy and comfortable, one where you are able to carry on a conversation if exercising with company.  Cellular adaptations are also the greatest at this intensity, making the body more capable of utilizing the oxygen it inspires and also more efficient at burning fat as fuel.  This is of great benefit as our bodies have a virtually unlimited store of fat to use as energy as opposed to carbohydrate, which is limited and largely depends on our current dietary status.

Zone 3:  Intensive Aerobic Endurance.  This intensity should only be used sparingly, during base periods for endurance athletes.  It is a bit more stressful on the body, but provides virtually no added benefit to that of Zone 2.  It will take a bit longer to recover from workouts at this intensity. Zone 3 aids the body in getting prepared for the higher intensities of Zone 4 and 5, as more fast-twitch muscle fibers are recruited in Zone 3.  Carbs are needed to fuel exercise at this intensity, but physiological adaptation is minimal.

Zone 4: Threshold.  This zone is of great importance to the endurance athlete, but only after a solid base of Zone 2 training has been accumulated.  By doing work in this zone, the anaerobic threshold can be increased, which in turn would allow one to exercise at a greater intensity/pace for a longer period of time without experiencing the dreaded "bonk".  Zone 4 intensity will further enhance the oxygen handling capacity of slow-twitch muscle figures, and allows the body to become more efficient in metabolizing cellular waste products like lactic acid so its accumulation is reduced.

Zone 5a: Lactate Tolerance/Anaerobic Endurance.  This zone is used to further develop a tolerance to lactic acid production, and increase the body's ability to operate under anaerobic conditions.  Work done at this intensity is oftentimes followed by a day of recovery work done in Zone 1.  Shorter races, (5k, 10k, sprint triathlons) will typically be done with extended times in this zone, and are good alternatives to interval training to develop an individual's anaerobic endurance.

Zone 5b:  Power/VO2 Development.  This last zone is used to develop power and increase an individual's VO2 Max, provided their physiological and genetic VO2 ceiling is not already achieved.  Heart rate is not the best indicator of intensity at this zone, as these work sessions are short and very powerful.  Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is often a better indicator of intensity for this zone, and would correspond with a 9+ or 10 out of 10 on the RPE scale.

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Que lindo es sonar despierto.
How lovely it is to dream while you are awake.

Dreams That Have Come True