If you're like most athletes, you finished your last race a month or two ago and you're working on the butt-groove on your couch or adding a spare tire to your waistline. Pretty soon, however, you'll start getting that itch. You search the web, looking for a 10k run an open water swim or ANYTHING to scratch that racing itch. I've heard this time of the year called "the Dreamin' Season" because you're dreaming about next year and how great it could be. Here are a few things I've learned over the years that can help you turn that dream into a reality. Single sport athletes: do not despair for all of what follows apply you too.
1) What's the plan, Stan?
Before you suit up and head out the door for your first workout of the season, you need to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. Every workout needs an articulable purpose and should move you toward peak fitness on race day. The key to being in your best shape when you need it is to have a plan.
Consider starting your season planning by identifying races where you want to perform your best at. My best advice here is choose races that excite you and even make you a little nervous. The more excited about I race I am, the harder I tend to train and race for it.
Once you identify your race priorities, you should identify and write down a few performance goals you need to hit in training in order to perform at your best in races. Some examples are specific power goals on the bike, and specific paces during a swim or run test set. Make sure these have a measurable quantity and a date assigned to them so you stick to them. Example: aerobic 20k run in 90 mins by 12th week of training. Also, make sure you include Short -Term Objectives that help you work towards your larger goals. Smaller objectives like: stretch every day, go to yoga 2x per week, do strength training 2x per week, and complete 90% of workouts can keep you on track when you begin losing focus.
Some final tips on planning: write down not only what you plan on doing, but what you've completed. Reviewing your log/journal at regular intervals provides a sense of accomplishment and helps with motivation. Writing your training down also provides you with a blueprint for success for future seasons, if things go well or can show you what not to do if things didn't go as planned.
2) Get your swoll on
From a purely empirical perspective, strength training helps with my athletic performance. Off-season is the time to address any weaknesses that held you back last season. If you lack things like speed on the flats on the bike leg, power in the water, or hill climbing on the run, adding strength training can help address those issues.If hitting the gym isn't for you, there are plenty of alternative strength routines that can help improve performance. Personally, I prefer a suspension trainer to the gym for its affordability, ease of use and effectiveness in a short workout. Others have seen results with plyometrics, pilates, yoga, etc. Experiment and see which works best for you.
3) You are what you eat
Off-season coincides with big eating holidays in the northern hemisphere. One of the biggest mistakes I see is athletes who stop training altogether in September, gain a lot of weight over the holidays and then start training after January 1st. You've lost too much fitness over the off-season, gained too much weight and your performance is the same year after year. Take a break, yes, but maintain some level of fitness and a healthy weight so you're not starting over every year. Definitely indulge a little in the all the goodness that the holidays have to offer, but have in your head that moderation is the key to a better season next year.
4) Slow is PRO
One of the things elite athletes do better than "the rest of us" is they go slow when it's time to go slow. You've just emerged from your winter hibernation and your'e fired up to start training. So you log a bunch of hours, you're smoking your buddies in group rides by February, your early season data looks good and you're deliriously happy. Then you start losing interest, you skip workouts and by May or June you've all but quit. What happened? The next year you start your training even earlier only this time you get to April and you're burned out. This is a nasty cycle that I've been guilty of getting caught up in too. Pump the brakes, remember that it's VERY early right now. Remind yourself that you want to be fast at your next goal race and not killing it in February. I believe there is a finite amount of training and racing "energy" every athlete possess during a training year and you want to burn it slowly so there is enough to get you through the whole season. A mid-season break helps replenish this energy, but burn it all in the winter/early spring and you're on track for burn out. Take it easy early on. Save that energy for late in the season when your competition is burned out and take it to 'em.
6) If it fits, it ships
Off-Season is the time to address equipment issues.If you've never had a professional bike fit, it might be time to get one. Bike fit becomes more critical the more time you spend in the saddle for your race and for time trialing. For triathlon, the goal is maximizing power output and aerodynamics simultaneously without leaving you too trashed to run. Getting a proper fit now allows your body time to get used to the position well before race day; ignoring a poor-fit can cause lead to a DNF. Don't let this happen to you.
It's also time to correct any technique flaws in your swimming stroke or run mechanics. I thought my run mechanics were pretty solid, but had them looked at after I sought treatment for a cuboid sprain. My physical therapist watched me run, confirmed that my mechanics were solid, but suggested a few tweaks that dropped time off my mile splits without adding effort. Free speed!
Bottom line, get your bike fit to you, have your run and swim mechanics looked at. Find a pro coach that has video so you can see the before and after because what it feels like you're doing and what you're actually doing may be vastly different.
7) BELIEVE IT
Despite all your physical training and preparation, something on race day won't come out as planned and how you deal with that adversity dramatically affects your race. Fortunately, there are things you can do prior to race day to help you when things go sideways. During intervals, visualize yourself in the middle of a race, see yourself performing well or maybe chasing down your fiercest rival. Greek philosopher, Aristotle (?) said that to truly know something, you must believe it to be true. I feel the same way with fitness, in order to truly reach your potential you must BELIEVE that you have the capacity to perform at that level. Whatever goals you choose this season, you have to truly believe that you are capable of achieving them. I love analogies, and my favorite is this: "going for it" in a race is akin to throwing yourself off a cliff and hoping the mattress (your fitness) at the bottom is in the right spot and soft enough to catch you. You really have to trust your fitness to race at a high level and any self-doubt can hold you back from racing at your physical capabilities. You have to TRUST yourself and your fitness.
I hope some of the tips above will help you in the coming season. I'm always happy to help out.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Apologies for not posting as much as I used to. Between work, a wedding, training and more, I have very little time for much else.
Oh yeah; I got married!
Holly and I tied the knot in June at Crystal Cove. Perfect weather, all our friends, delicious food and plenty of libations. Stoked to be married to such a wonderful woman.
Money's always tight for us. I'm new at work, student loans are kicking my butt and there isn't any extra money for racing right now. I posted Friday on FB that I wasn't racing Snow Valley. I went to my brother-in-law's rehearsal dinner (another wedding!) and started in on a Chili Verde plate and a Kona Fire Rock. I ordered a second beer and got a call from a number I didn't recognize. It was Gary, the R.D. for snow Valley. He saw my FB post, took pity on me and offered to comp my race entry. His generosity completely humbled me and I struggled for words. I went back top the table, told Holly what had happened and she didn't hesitate: "You need to do it."
Less-than stellar race prep given I hadn't cleaned the bike in too long and the huge meal I'd just finished. Whatever; roll with it.
I got up Saturday morning feeling like warmed-over death and headed straight for the coffee. Yeah EARLY. At least there's plenty of coffee in the world.
I hit the road for the two-hour trek to Running Springs and rolled in around 6:30. I checked in and made back to my car just in time to see Trevor's truck roll into the parking lot.
Always stoked to see race friends at events; races are so much more fun when people you like show up.
Even though I work at the beach, I feel more "at home" in the mountains. Days like Saturday sure help.
I warmed up, chatted with Trevor a bit, set up T2 and headed up the mountain to the lake. It was getting warm fast and I broke a bit of a sweat, even riding easy. I had plenty of time so never had to rush. A big change from the days when I was 15 minutes late to everything.
Wetsuit on, I swam around a bit and then waited for the start. Standing in the water, I felt a slight "tap, tap" on my right foot. Fish nibbling on my feet! Such a creepy feeling, but kind of neat that life is surviving in such a small lake.
They announced the start was not far off, so I swam into the lake a bit (deep water start) and got a decent position; 3...2...1...GO!!
Pretty mellow for a tri swim; only got smacked or half-drowned 4 or five times. I was really feeling the altitude and wound up backstroking twice to catch my breath. Couldn't get on feet for the life of me and zig-zagged like crazy. Not racing much has left my open-water skills severely lacking. I looked back at one point and didn't see too many people behind me. Crap. I managed the best I could but lost a lot of time. Good news is there's lots of room or improvement.
I hit T1, jumped on the bike and started moving pretty well. I just focused on picking a smooth line, managing my effort at altitude and having FUN. I figured the longer course this year would eat people up later in the race and I was right. Second lap and guys are slowing down big time. I felt good, so I picked it up a bit. I made a pass coming over a small rise and hit a loose, downhill section off-line. The front tire washed out and I hit the ground. The rider next to me ran over a couple fingers before I yanked my hand back. Back on the bike in a flash, and passing more people.
Pretty weak dirt rash...and now all of you know where my tattoo is.
Off the bike, on to the run and still feeling pretty solid. Still passing lots of people, but no idea what place I was in because the points tri, sport tri and duathlon were all mixed together. Same strategy as the bike: head down, racing and having FUN. Tough Mudder left hay on some of the hills, which made things slick even when dry. Interesting.
I kept waiting for the fatigue and it never came. Sure I was feeling it, but I didn't slow down nearly as much as other racers were. The base fitness is there just not the top-end speed. Yet.
I finished up and saw my time was 2:31. No big deal! I came into the race with no expectations and just had a good time. Mission accomplished. I cleaned up, packed up and went to check results and eat my free burger. I figured I'd be mid-pack somewhere. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the results...
My first win! I had hopes of maybe 5th in my age group, but a win never even crossed my mind! Blown away.
I waited around for awards; no way would I miss stepping onto the top of the podium for my first time. Gary handed me my award: "On your ass and in first!"
Winning doesn't suck! I was way off the overall (15 mins), but the points for the win added to the points I have from earlier in the season should mean a nationals invitation. WOW! I haven't qualified since 2008 and an invite would be huge after 3 seasons of injuries, poverty and the new job.
Still seems surreal. Wow. Just wow.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Lots went on this past month. There's enough stuff for me to have posted every week, but I never seem to take the time to sit down and put it all down. Such is life.
It's late Spring moving on into Summer, which means the ocean is starting to warm up a bit. Warmer water means ocean swimming season is right around the corner. This past week, we put a buoy up in front of Lifeguard Headquarters.
If you race triathlon, you SHOULD be doing open water workouts when building up to a race. I realize not everyone has "warm" ocean temps like we do in So Cal, but you should take advantage if you do. Almost time for me to start doing some ocean stuff, the buoy looks tiny, but it's only 250 yards out; give or take.
In other news, my best friend whom I've known since I was 11 took a job in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina flying helicopters for the Summer. Flying has always been his dream, but it's tough to say goodbye, even if just for a few months.
Friend and client Scott Holland stopped by my place for a quick ride while on his way to Santa Ynez for a race. He had some tire issues and I couldn't resist taking a photo.
At least he's smiling about it!
Speaking of racing, I toed the line at my second race of the season the Idyllwild Spring Challenge. I love this course and the vibe is always super chill, but I didn't feel up for it the morning of the race. I slept like crap and my training through April was total shizzle thanks to me logging a bunch of OT trying to pay for our wedding. In the end I went because: the course was awesome, the vibe is amazing and I really needed to reconnect with all my crazy racer friends I haven't seen in a long time thanks to work.
No huge race report here. I showed up with barely enough time to check in, kit up, mix bottles and make it to the start line. I was still filling bottles with 2 mins to start.
Southridge climb. Sweating buckets. I look "soft" and it's clear I need to get lean and mean. No time like the present.
Friend and client Ed Price raced open category and beat me by a few minutes. Stoked to see him come by me. Strong work, man.
Fast forward to this past weekend where Holly went for her first 50-Mile Ultra Marathon. We bailed out of home Friday afternoon and drove down to the race start for the PCT 50. I got hooked on this route when I read Chuckie V's through-hiking 'blog from a couple years back. Seeing the trail markers gets me going for sure.
We chatted with the other racers at the start and headed up to the Laguna Lodge. Deluxe accommodations, it ain't. "Rustic" is a good description. The decor is hideous and the TV is tiny, but you pay for the "ambiance" of staying in a mountain retreat.
Wood paneling and cheesy paintings of bears and deer screwed directly to the wall. Note the wall heater. Classy.
I'm a small guy and I make the TV look small. At least we wouldn't be spending too much time in the room. It had the basics and that was good enough for us.
I hit "relax mode" by Pinot Glass #3. Ha! I tried and failed at lighting a fire because I bought hard wood instead of pine. Rookie move.
Race morning came WAY too early. The "official" start is at 6, but they offer a 5 AM option for people who might struggle to make the cut-off times. Holly would start at 5.
Lots of activity at the start.
Early morning in the mountains means COLD. The car said 37 degrees; note the rosy cheeks.It was cold.
All smiles! I gave Holly some last-minute advice and watched the line of headlamps bounce away into the darkness. I knew she'd be OK through the 1/2 way mark at Penny Pines and I wanted to be mostly conscious for the drive home. I headed back to the hotel and went back to sleep. I got back up at 8:30, ate breakfast, showered, locked the keys in the car (yeah, I did), waited for the local Fire Dept to unlock it and made it to the Penny Pines aid station with plenty of time for Holly to come in.
She wasn't doing so great and said she wanted to be done already. I took her pack off and she sat down in the dirt and promptly started crying. She finally collected herself, I got her pack re-filled, she munched a few things from the aid station table and headed back out. The next 4.4 miles were out and back to the same aid station, so I went with her to make sure she was at least, physically, still OK.
This course is so beautiful! The dirty secret is that Ultra Running involves a lot more walking than you'd think.
Amazing views! I paced Holly back to Penny Pines and my mental math said she'd be close to the cut-off at mile 32.5. I wanted to stay with her, but wasn't sure I'd be able to find a ride back to our car if I did. Crews weren't allowed at the next aid station, but Holly was in a bad way and I wanted to make sure she'd be OK. I drove to the next aid station, parked the car on the highway and jogged in to the aid station.
The cut-off was at 2:30. At 2:20 I headed up the course to look for her. About 2 miles in, I ran into her. She knew she wouldn't make the time cut-off at that point and I could see it in her face. I hugged her, she said "I'm sorry" and broke down crying in my arms. I couldn't help tearing up; seeing her so disappointed tore me up. We composed ourselves, I took her pack and we walked the 2-ish miles back to the aid station. She missed the time check by 30 minutes, BUT would have made the Noble Canyon 50k time cut-off with 30 minutes to spare. Harsh.
Ultra Marathon = Epic blisters.
We packed up, got our stuff Holly dropped off at the first aid station and hit the road. I was worked from chasing her around at altitude in the heat (mid 80's!) and was glad for the extra sleep that morning. We spent the rest of the day feeding our collective "hunger monsters" and then plopped Holly into an ice bath.
SLUMMING. I wanted beer, but didn't want to get hammered like I do when drinking the "good stuff".
A busy weekend, a busy month and June looks even worse with our wedding coming up. The good news is that I'm off probation on Sunday, which comes with a nice raise. Good stuff on the horizon and I'm excited for the next evolution. Cheers.
Monday, April 23, 2012
If you follow me on social media, you know I got the triathlon season started at Xterra Renegade in San Dimas back at the end of March. There's not much to tell about it: I went hard, but didn't have the right fitness to post the results I wanted. I scored points for the series and blew the cobwebs off the race skills, but I came up way short compared to the guys out front. Huge chunks of time to make up and it's a bit daunting. Results here.
For those of you who enjoy the outdoors, like I do here's a reminder to watch where you're stepping...
Good looking Pacific Rattlesnake. The weather is warming up and they're out looking for tasty squirrels to munch on. Leave 'em alone and they'll slither away. This one high-tailed it shortly after this photo.
On to current events! This past weekend, Holly and I headed out to Vegas for the Challenge Cup Relay (Baker to Vegas as it is more commonly known). It's a running relay that covers 120 miles. Nearly 300 20-person teams vie for bragging rights that last until next year's race. I found out about it roughly 11 years ago, but didn't have a chance to race it until this year. When I heard State Parks wanted to field a team, I jumped at the chance and threw my hat in the ring. This was in the works for roughly a year and I was excited to be on a team. FINALLY.
Holly and I woke up fairly early Saturday morning, finished packing her roller skate (Matrix) and hit the road. The drive out to Vegas is rarely any fun. There's always traffic and this weekend arrived with record temps. The car thermometer showed 91-105 degrees throughout the drive. Great...
For all my drum corps friends...
More desert. Woo...
We rolled in around 3. Traffic in Vegas ALWAYS sucks. Ick.
Bathing Beauty. Hopefully, I won't get in too much trouble for posting the swim suit picture. Tough luck, guys; she's all mine.
Sexy and I know it (sorry, had to).
I failed at the nap part and slept for all of 20 minutes. Staying in the A/C was definitely the right move, though.
We ordered dinner from some Italian take-out place. I ordered the Calzone and it showed up in a pizza box, it was so huge.
Unfortunately, the food was terrible and we both barely ate. Usually I go to a restaurant chain I trust or get a room with a kitchenette and pack my own food. I paid for not following my own rules with a dicey stomach for the next 12 hours or so.
We eventually met up with the other guys in my "crew" and headed out to the course. Our team started at 5PM and we were broken up into 4 groups to make logistics a bit smoother. Fact is, getting 20 guys to their stages over a 13-24 hour race is a huge undertaking and takes a lot of communication. Add spotty cell reception to that (it IS the desert, afterall) and you can imagine how much planning this thing takes.
We dropped Brian off for his leg and drove over to stage me for leg 13. It doesn't look that bad on paper; 7 miles and a net 300' gain. I warmed up, but kept it short because it was still 75 degrees. After a lot of waiting, they called that our team was a mile out. Butterflies...HR jacked... LED vest on...then our team number over the megaphone (TWO SIXTY EIGHT!!!). Brian bursts into the harsh circle of light at the check station. He waves the baton over the timing mat and I hear the "beep". Brian thrusts the baton at me, I grab it and sprint into the darkness (7 miles, man. Settle down).
Warm, dry headwind in my face and I start to get cotton mouth from the dry air and the adrenaline. I'm working hard climbing the hill into the wind, but I can feel I'm not going too fast. Occasional glances at my GPS watch tell me the what I already know: heart rate is sky-high and my pace isn't so stellar (cadence, firm core, RELAX!). The support vehicle pulls next to me:
"want your splits?"
Nah, I got it (pointing to my watch), thanks.
They offer me water a few times. I shrug it off at first, but eventually sip a little just to wet my mouth. A little past the half-way point, I hear Co-Captain Darby's disembodied voice from inside the van:
"You're doing great, man. You look solid."
"We're in second right now" (mind reeling: wha..?!)
"That guy in front of is in first"
Gimme two to go...
The adrenaline surges again and I feel the road flatten out a bit. My pace quickens and I can see I'm gaining on the lead. I'm trying hard to reign in my enthusiasm to save some energy. Soon after, I hear a voice from the van:
"Two to go, Eric."
I ride the adrenaline surge and let the legs go like they want. I steal glances at my GPS watch and see my pace dropping rapidly. I'm taking huge time out of the lead. I can see the small light at the one mile radio check and the larger one at the check point. (go, man. GO)
Last mile. It burns. My legs are getting tired, but I'm almost to the exchange and almost to the leader. Last 200 yards....back into the searing light of the exchange. I pass the baton over the timing mat *BEEP*, thrust the baton at James and it's over as fast as it began.
Unintelligible cheers from the van as it drives past to follow James. Holly tells me I was about 60 secs from catching the leader. So close.
We hopscotch to the end of stage 15 and meet the stages 16-20 crew. Daniel hands off to Jack and we head back into town. Back to the hotel by 5:30, all of 2 hours of sleep and then off to meet the team for a quick group photo.
...and then a 6-hour drive home in Sunday traffic. Balls.
Turns out we wound up second in our category and 13th overall. Not bad for a 4-year hiatus and 14 race rookies! The internet noise is that quite a few of the guys are fired up for next year. Bring it.
Monday, February 27, 2012
I'm a triathlete. As a "jack of all trades, master of none" it suits me right down to the bone. I might not be a super-stud at any one genre, but being mediocre at three sports works out well for me. For whatever reason, I'm the most "mediocre" at swimming. I think the fact that swimming is SO technique-dependent makes the progress frustratingly slow and lots of very hard work only produces minimal time gains in a race. For me, anyway...
I LOVE riding my mountain bike. I'm getting pretty darn good at running and I actually like doing it where I once dreaded it. I'm not fond of swimming. Maybe that's not entirely correct. I'm good in open water, better than most with my lifeguarding and surf experience. I'm always playing catch up coming out of the water and it's a LOT frustrating.
You've heard me piss and moan about my city pool (small, crowded, odd hours). When we moved in back in June, I was excited to hear the city was opening a brand new, Olympic-sized pool. I waited for 6 months only to have the opening delayed a month so the water slide could be installed. Killing me...
It's FINALLY HERE.
Look! It's a REAL POOL!!!!!
If you're looking at the wet deck and thinking "who swims in the rain?" you're totally blowing it. Rain swims are the BEST.
More good news: long course (meters) on Tues and Thursday mornings. YES!!!
The bad part? No suit dryers. LAME, but I'll get over it.
More good stuff. The pool is part of a huge sports park. Included with the park is a 1-mile running track that snakes its way through and around the pool and fields. A PERFECT spot to run hard. I get bored running around a 400 meter track lap after lap and this feels like a great alternative. I tested it out Sunday and dug it big time. Lots of dogs and rug rats on the trails. It's funny how people miss or ignore the big ass sign at the front that says "No Dogs Allowed in This Park".
There's the pre-requisite ball-sports fields (Soccer, Football, Baseball). I was stoked to see the High School Lacrosse team suiting up for practice. Take a closer look; that's TURF people. Can you say barefoot strides? Yes, please!
I'm thrilled to have this open a mere 5 minutes from my house and parking is even free. Add in that the pool now has lap swim all day and I couldn't be happier...except for the suit dryer thing.
First Xterra race the last weekend in March. Lots of "wet time" needed between now and then. Glub, glub.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Despite all the tips and tricks I've learned during my years as an athlete, student, coach etc. the one thing I cannot answer for my athletes is "why?". Why do you do it? What gets you out the door for a workout when it's:
or when you're tired and just can't imagine doing anything more than plopping down on the couch.
I might seem odd, but workouts are mentally refreshing for me. For a couple hours every day (longer on big rides like I did today) I relax my mind and let it wander to wherever it wants. I come up with some strange ideas, let me tell you. Today I wondered what it would take to race Xterra on a single speed. Random, I know.
My work schedule is decidedly non-traditional and I wind up doing my longest rides in the middle of the week. Thankfully, Orange County abuts the Santa Ana Mountains; a perfect spot to get away for a few hours. I started at Trabuco Creek Road and headed through O'Neil Regional Park to Harding Truck Trail. As much as this climb is probably "good for me" it's 9 miles of hurt.
I'm always happy to see the gate that marks the top. It's always a little bitter-sweet 'cause there's still a good chunk to go until the real top, Santiago Peak.
Thar she blows! Of the two times I've ridden The Vision Quest, this view always makes me want to cry a little. Seeing the climb to the peak laid out before you like this is pretty disheartening given that your'e 30-something miles into a 56 mile race. Ouch.
Despite the warm temps at the start, it was cool enough that I pulled on my arm warmers. I was glad to have them.
Joplin Trail Drop-In. I think I rode this trail twice. It's just super-steep and techy. Maybe it's been worked on and it's better, but I don't have fond memories from riding it. Moving on. Nothing to see here.
I got a little "bonky" on the way up to the peak, but managed to push through. Once on the shady side of the peak, I was treated to a rare sight in So Cal, SNOW! Ok, it was mostly ice, but it's still a bit of a treat to have snow up there.
Clear enough to get some nice views of the Inland Empire.
Did I mention the ice part? It got a little dicey in spots. I stayed upright, though. I'm like a Cheetah, baby.
Perfect day! I got a late start (am I EVER on time?) and the length of my shadow told me it was time to press on.
Right this way...
I liked it better when the cairn was smaller.
Rockin' the Rodder kit. Represent, fool.
It's easy to forget I live so close to such an amazing wilderness area like this. If your'e skeptical about that wild part, I talked to a Forest Ranger volunteer a week or so ago who told me the MTN Lion experts estimate there are 30-40 cats living in the Santa Ana Mountains at any given time. RAD! Glad to hear they're still making it.
Post ride refuel! That's how I roll, people.
Don't blame me if you go out and get one. I won't judge you, either.