Monday, June 25, 2012

The 6 Ps

A friend of mine posted to the local tri club's forum today with a slew of motivational tips and sayings, stressing the importance of setting goals, and training the mind as well as the body for athletic events.

There was some good advice and a lot of truth in what he was saying. You DO need confidence that you can accomplish what you're setting out to do, and in the heat of battle a mantra can help you through the rough spots.

But it brought to mind one of the best sayings I've ever heard about triathlon training (or for just about any other sport, I'd say):

"Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance"

Otherwise known as the Six Ps.

I've had good races in my day, and some pretty bad ones, too. And as much as I'd like to blame the bad ones on factors beyond my control, in almost every case my success, or lack thereof, could be traced back to my preparation.

The important thing to remember is that "preparation" covers a lot of territory. It's not only the long-term buildup to the race, but also the details that need to be covered in the hours immediately before the race. So take a hard look at your performance after your next race. If it wasn't all it could be, it all goes back to your preparation.Work your weaknesses, develop a sound training plan, and make sure things like gear, nutrition and race-day strategy don't throw you off your game.

There's simply no substitute for doing the work that you need to do. Your proper preparation will give you the confidence you need to race to the best of your ability. So remember the 6 Ps next time you're having trouble getting out of bed for that early morning swim/bike/run. When it comes right down to it, the guy/gal who's going to beat you is the one who was better prepared.



Monday, June 18, 2012

Race Report -- Charlottesville Men's 4-Miler

The Charlottesville Men's 4-Miler is growing local tradition. This little brother of the Women's 4-Miler draws a very competitive local field and features a finish line on the 50-yard line of the University of Virginia football stadium. If you remember to look up, you can see yourself on the giant TV screen behind the end zone. It supports prostate cancer research at UVA -- a cause I can get behind, since my father died of prostate cancer at age 59.

I hadn't done a foot race for some time, since I'd missed a couple of my regular spring races because of illness. Combined with the near total lack of any training outside of z1 during the last few months, I was uncertain as to how the race would go. On the plus side, I felt healthy, was coming off an easy week, and had dropped about 5 pounds and one inch off my waist line during the last month -- a combination of better eating choices and lots of endurance work.

One thing for certain -- I knew this was going to hurt. Short races always do. And my strategy was simple -- hold back just a bit on the first mile then pick it up and go home hard.

As the gun went off I struggled to stay with my plan. I hit the first 1/2 mile at 3:10, but throttled down a little bit to hit mile 1 in 6:28. I was working hard, but at lest I wasn't in distress. By this time the field had shaken itself out into the usual arrangement of packs and we jostled around for position. My aerobic conditioning was in evidence -- I fell behind on each hill, as I shortened my stride and concentrated on quick turnover, but I crested stronger than my competitors and made up the gap on the subsequent flat or downhill.

Mile 2 came in at 6:30, as we finished the uphills of the first half of the race. That quick first mile was telling now, and I started trying to to concentrate on a few keys to keep my form together -- "stay smooth," "arms up," "breath into the belly." Fortunately I was keeping pace with my pack, who were starting to look a little ragged themselves.

The strain was telling as mile 3 passed in 6:46. I knew there were some serious downhills coming, so I just had to hang together for another 6 minutes and change. As we looped around the football stadium I took advantage of the downhills and started moving up past the pack. As we entered the depths of the stadium I gave it my final kick down the tunnel and onto the turf. I sneaked a glance  over my shoulder and saw nobody behind me for at least 20 yards. A quick glance up at the jumbotron and a two-arms-in-the-air salute to cap off the effort as I crossed the line.

I knocked the last mile out in 6:36, for a 26:20 -- a PR by nearly 20 seconds. Nice to see all that z1 IM prep paying off in a unexpected way. The only downer of the day was that I didn't place. I snagged 6 of 44 in my AG, beaten by four 50-year olds and a guy who was 51 -- all of whom came in under 26 minutes. Man, am I looking forward to 55-59...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Pool Time, Part 2

A few weeks back I talked about my frequent frustration with swimming.

Even significant increases in yardage didn't seem to be helping me improve my swimming performance, so I decided to schedule a swim session with Val Oswald, former Texas Longhorn swimmer and local coach, to take a look at the technique end of things.

Val's assessment was pretty blunt. "You're not using your core -- at all." In addition, I was raising my head to look down the pool, causing my butt to sink. And I was crossing over with my stroke arms. And I was over-rotating my head when I breathed.



One of the marks of good coaching and teaching is the ability to identify problems and come up with simple solutions. Val's approach was to teach me three relatively simple drills: rotation kick, side kick, and the Tarzan drill. You can check out two of the drills here:

You'll notice that a snorkel is used for the drills (more gear to buy...sigh...). After several near-death experiences in the gym's lap pool I managed to learn how to use the snorkel without inhaling a gallon of water during each breath and applied myself to doing at least 600 yards worth of drills at the beginning of each swim.

Secondly, I started swimming longer, slower intervals, concentrating on descending my times over the course of the workout.

Has it worked? I think I'm on the right track. With summer coming in I've moved to the outdoor 50-meter pool for my recent sessions, and in today's swim I was able to consistently go faster over repeated intervals, including ripping my last 100 meters off in 1:37 (roughly the same as 1:27 100-yard interval). That's faster than I used to go on my first, fastest intervals, so I think I'm on the right track.

The final good piece of news is that I think I'm starting to be able to self-correct and analyze what's going on with my stroke much more effectively than I was able to in the past. Hopefully that'll let me build the muscle memory that will keep my stroke efficient through an entire swim.

Moral of the story? It's still early, but I think I made a smart decision in stepping back to ensure the fundamentals were in order. I'll keep up with the drills and try to move on from here!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Ironman-to-be meets Birdman

It was a beautiful day in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday morning as I finished my workout. Over 4 hours with my bike on Skyline Drive, followed by a 30-minute run on a short segment of the Appalachian Trail.

As I reached the trailhead where my car was parked I said hello to a grizzled looking backpacker sitting on the guard rail. An older guy, probably late 60s, with a long grey beard, a frayed and torn technical T-shirt, beat-up boots and a scuffed and worn backpack.

"How you doing? I said.

"Not too bad, not too bad," he answered with a distinctive southern drawl. "What's the best way to get down to Waynesboro from here? Do you follow that road?" he said, pointing up Skyline Drive.

"No, that goes into the National Park. You want to go down there and follow route 250 down the hill into town. Are you thru-hiking?"

I knew what the answer was. I see hikers coming through Virginia every year during these months, heading up the trail, following their quest to trod the trail from Georgia to Maine.

"Sure am. They call me Birdman. What's your name?"

"I'm Ken. Tell you what -- I'm parked over there, come on over and I'll give you a lift."

"You sure? That'd be awful nice of you."

"No problem."

We walked over to my truck, where he admired my bike, and we talked a little about his trip up the trail. He'd started in early March, so he'd been hiking over three months, averaging around 10 to 13 miles a day. He was from Tennessee, had retired a couple of years ago, and his wife had died five years before. He had all the time he needed for his adventure, and more to follow. He talked about wanting to ride a bike down the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe, when he got done with this trip.

He loved the trail, he told me. It was hard work every day, but he loved being out in the woods, just walking, moving north every day. "There's a lot of them out there that were faster than me, but they just didn't want to keep going when it got tough. It's hard when you get rained on and have bad weather, but you just got to keep on going. I hope to keep going the whole way."

I dropped my new friend off at the Waynesboro post office so he could pick up a mail drop and started my drive home. At his rate, he'd be nearing the end of his journey in September, about the same time that I finish my Ironman journey.

Without knowing it, he'd given me some good advice --  " just have to keep on going." I hope I remember that on those days when I don't want to get up early and get on the bike, go for a run, or head to the pool. Get up. Keep going. The end of the trail will arrive, and more adventures will follow.

Good luck, Birdman -- hope we both have a memorable September!