Just Keep Swimming

November 29, 2011

I want to tell you about my first open water experience. I was training for my first triathlon which was going to be an Olympic distance race. I had been swimming since I was young although I was never on a swim team. I wouldn’t say that I was a great swimmer but I was definitely proficient in the water and very comfortable in my abilities. When the temperature finally got warm enough to hit the near by lake, the wife and I transitioned our swim training to the open water. We found a very safe place that was a no boat area with a buoy line that was approximately a 1/4 mile for each lap. My wife dove in first swimming as well as I’d always seen her, she swam in high school after all. I hesitated a bit but followed closely behind. I was immediately shocked by the fact that I couldn’t see anything, Texas lakes aren’t really known for their clarity, and I’ll admit I had a few moments of panic. I take this experience very seriously now as I train some experienced and some not so experienced athletes. If I, a very able swimmer can find myself in a state of shock and panic upon my first trip into the unknown realm of open water swimming, how do my inexperienced athletes feel?

Recently there was an article published in The Washington Post in regards the number of deaths during this year’s summer racing season. The total comes to 9 athletes out of more than 243,000. In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t sound like much but even one death is too many for a sport that is growing rapidly.

Fingers have been pointed in many different directions over the last few years to try and establish why it is that deaths occur during the swim. Official causes of death are limited to drowning with minor heart abnormalities being identified if about half of the victims while a heart attack has never been the identified cause of death. Unfortunately there’s no way to identify a panic attack postmortem.

The author’s hypothesis is that this has everything to do with athletes, experienced and inexperienced, panicking due to various reasons including the excitement of the moment, the chaos of swimming into and over other people, chest constriction of the wet suit, the darkness and coldness of the water, competitiveness and the desire not to quit when friends and family are watching. So what is it that an athlete can do to get more comfortable in an open water setting?

  1. Purchase a wet suit well in advance of race day. Most of the time getting a wet suit may require an online purchase based on body measurements provided by the manufacturer. Of course this is not a guarantee that the wet suit shipped to you will fit right. If it doesn’t fit then return it. Most of the time manufacturers are quite accommodating with returns but be sure to read their return policy before you make a purchase as some of them might not want their suits being used in a pool. If you’re only a week out from your A race with a brand new wet suit in tow, that could spell disaster when you find out that the chest or shoulders are too tight. Which bring us to…
  2. Take your wet suit on multiple test swims. If it’s still too cold to get in the open water than take it to your gym’s pool for a few laps. More than likely the indoor pool will be a bit too warm to spend much time in it but it’s a great opportunity to try it out under controlled surroundings. But be sure to rinse the wet suit thoroughly afterward to get all the chlorine out. Really you should rinse your wet suit after every use anyway.
  3. Enlist your friends. Grab a group of friends and head to the pool. Stuff 5 or 6 of them into one lane and start doing laps. In an enclosed lane there’s no where to go but forward and no escaping body contact. Remember that more than likely your friends will beat you around far worse than anyone will on race day.
  4. Close your eyes. There’s no black line come race day so get use to being able to see nothing. Open your eyes every 5-6 strokes just to make sure that you don’t run into a lane divider or wall though. This can also be a good tell to see if you have a balance issue in your stroke as you’ll tend to pull to one side.
  5. Sighting. Figure out your sighting technique now. Ask your coach for their advice on the best way to sight and try it in the pool. The one flaw with practicing to sight in the pool is that you can’t look very far off in the distance which you’ll have to do on race day.
  6. Open water practice. I hear far too many people in  transition on race day saying that they’re nervous because this will be their first open water swim. They should be nervous, they’re about to jump into something where they have no idea what to expect or how to react when something happens that they’ve never experienced before because they’ve sought solace in the safety of a pool for all their training. Try and get into the open water as often as possible leading up to your race. This will take away from pool training time where you can work on drills but the mental gains you make doing this will pay dividends on race day.
Open water swimming doesn’t have to be a scary experience if you’ve prepared both mentally and physically for everything that can happen. Enlist the help of your coach, experienced triathlon friends, and the internet to get you to a comfortable place where you stop treating the swim as “just a way to get to the bike” and more like another leg of the race that you get to rock.

Or you can always try this.


Coach Patrick


Ironman France 2011

July 20, 2011

Bon jour and Ciao!

It’s been two weeks filled will crepes, gelato, baguettes and croissants. Europe was wonderful. The highlights: Michelangelo’s David, the picturesque villages of Cinque Terre, the canals of Venice and, of course, Ironman in Nice with my family.

So let’s get down to business. Ironman France was tough. It was my fourth Ironman and the hardest race I have ever done. It was different than any North American race — very organized, very professional, and very hilly. My Garmin recorded 8,309 feet over 108 miles on the bike. Sheesh!

Here’s my take on things…

Registration: The Europeans have it down. Everything was smoothly run and efficiently. Most of the instructions were printed in an athlete guide, which eliminated the need to explain things to individual athletes and bottleneck the ques. This is probably due to the various languages of all the international athletes. There was no weigh in. Also, the swim caps were already in the athlete bags with the numbers written on them. Like I said, streamlined.

At the bike drop off, officials took a quick computer photo of you and your bike, which they then pulled up when you picked up your bike at the end of the race as a security measure. It was awesome.

Bike and run bags were placed on hanging racks near the transition area the day before the race. When you ran up to T1 and T2, you just reached for you bag and switched shoes in the open lane. Changing tents were only used by athletes who were completely disrobing.

Swim: There’s just no getting around that mash up swim. Ugh. It seemed extra crowded and clustered. I got punched in the stomach, the eye, the head. The two loop course didn’t help. It was treacherous the entire race. The water was warm and clear and calm lapping up onto the rocky beaches. I finished 5th place in my age group on the swim, but never seemed to get my groove on.

Bike: In this race, with the monstrous French Alps climbs, I was passed by probably 2,000 cyclists. However, when you get passed by people named Pierre, Konstantine, Thierry and Marcel it’s almost amusing. I LOVED reading the names of the athletes from around the world. “Way to go, Lohreee!” they would say to me as they passed by.

The course was very Tour de France-esque. Between long climbs next to campgrounds and circled round abouts, there would be charming towns and single-lane streets lined with locals cheering and encouraging the racers. “Allez! Allez!” the villagers would shout, while waving their arms overhead to music streaming from the open shuttered windows. There was even a mountaintop fire station with firemen who turned their hose on for cyclists who needed a cool down.

While the ascents were challenging, the descents were equally difficult. The course was filled with hairpin turns with signs “Very Dangeroux!!” I passed several wrecks, and heard one directly behind me when a rider didn’t slow down enough to make a tight turn. And that weird European siren sound still haunts me.

Mile 15 had a 10 percent climb where many of the riders were zig zagging the street to make it up the hill. The road was one-lane and crowded, but the climb was short – 500 meters. Miles 35-75 were agonizingly uphill and seemed never ending. The climbing ended at mile 75, and then I was white knuckling those curvy downhill mountain roads until about mile 100. (I kept my Garmin on miles instead of kilometers so I could mentally keep track of where I was.)

**An aside, while there were aid stations every 20 kilometers, there was not ONE Porta Potty for the entire 140K bike! I just don’t get it.

Run: Coming into T2, I was beat. The weather was hot and I was worried about how I would battle my core temperature. I avoid running and training in the afternoon heat. Nice was prepared, however. Every 1.7 kilometers on the beachfront avenue, an overhead shower was set up with 4 shower heads streaming cold water onto the racers. The coolness of the water gave me a jolt of energy as if someone unexpectedly threw ice water on my face. It literally took my breath away, and helped keep me moving. Those showers saved me.

The run was a four loop affair. After each six-kilometer loop, volunteers placed a scrunchee on your arm. The first one was white, then lap two was black, then blue for the third lap. The pros: I was motivated to get those dang bands and I could visually see who was ahead and behind me by looking at their wrists. The cons: You had to keep heading back to the finish line over and over and over again – only to turn around!!! Finishers were being announced and congratulated every time I made that 180 degree turn back out for another loop. “Supear, Jacque! You ah an Ironmen!” they would be annoucing. So aggravating when you still had loops to do!

Again, I only saw ONE Porta Potty on the run course. Really? Europeans must do things differently. But I passed more runners than passed me during this stretch, so I considered the run a success.

Finish Line: The Europeans still allow athletes to bring their families across the finish line with them. This is totally fun and make your family feel part of your day.

Precautions: If you are an athlete who has a strict race diet and routine (like most of us do), be prepared for change. I packed light and could not find a bottle of Ensure at any grocery store. Peanut butter is scarce. And bread comes mostly in baguette style loaves. There is plenty of carbo loading spaghetti and margherita pizzas in Nice, but yogurt and power gels and even milk tastes different. I saw an assortment of energy gels discarded on the road which were packaged in mini tubes, similar to the tubes of Neosporin. Hmm? Come prepared with your own energy bars if you are not ready to try something new on race day. Also Coke is served at each aid station, which I found surprisingly delicious.

There were only 187 women athletes out of 2,600 racers in Nice. If you are a woman who is not a strong cyclist, your morale may be tested here. Be prepared to be passed by strong male climbers. On a positive note, the late sunsets in Nice give you plenty of time to finish in daylight, rather than darkness. My time of 13:45 (13th in my AG) at 7:30pm was not even close to 9:30pm nightfall.

Post Race: I give two thumbs up to the race organizers, once again, who staffed over 30 massage therapists at the finish line. They also had warm pasta, chicken soup, fruit and drinks at the athlete village. It was fast, easy and uncrowded … that could also be because of my late finish. The medals were substantial, and the finisher shirts were tech fabric and collared. The backpacks are high quality and something I will keep and use. Nice touch, IMFR.

Overall, the adventure in France was great. Give it a shot if you’re considering it. Use Tri Sport Express to ship your bike and try a home exchange or home rental to keep things convenient and comfortable for your stay. And if you’re going to the beach, no need to pack a bikini top. 😉

And don’t forget, when you’re done with the race, reward yourself with a warm Nutella crepe.

It doesn’t get any better than that!

Coach L

Making Friends With Hills

May 10, 2011

There are a number of aspects of training that get dropped by the wayside for any number of reasons. Either there aren’t enough hours in the day, we just don’t want to do it or we don’t understand why it’s so important. Hill intervals are one of those things. The reason why you’re not doing them however is for you to decide, but let me tell you that you should be hitting the hills each week.
Before you go and find the steepest and longest hill in town let me throw out a word of warning: hill intervals should not be attempted by those who are still building their running base. The more intense the workout, the more risk you are of walking away with an injury that will put you on the side lines for weeks if not months. With that said, this doesn’t mean that hill work can’t benefit you as well. More on that below.

Warm Up

Hill intervals should always be preceded by a quality warm up. Get your heart rate up by running a few miles at an easy conversational pace on relatively flat terrain. During the last half mile include some short 30 sec. strides to open up your stride length. Keep in mind that the warm up is not your workout. With everyone pressed for time it’s tempting to “warm up” as fast as you can so that you can get the hill repeats in, get home, shower and get to work. Don’t rush the warm up!

Which Hill Is The Right Hill?

This partially has to do with your fitness level and what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with the workout. Looking for power? Then choose a hill that is short but has some good steepness to it. Wanting stamina? Then find a moderate grade hill that has some length.

I’m racing a flat course, why should I do hill intervals?

Hill training does far more than just mentally and physically prepare you for a hilly race. By doing hill intervals you’re basically doing resistance weight training but without going to the gym. The muscles in your hips, upper leg and knees are forced to work together to fight against gravity and make a neuromuscular connection between those muscles. The muscles groups that you use for sprinting are basically the same groups that you’ll use on hills which will make you faster on that flat course race. Also, while hill intervals can cause injury if they’re performed incorrectly, e.g. to early for a beginner, or at too high an intensity, running hills can also be solution to not getting injured. By running hills you’re strengthening muscles around joints that are imperative to your everyday running. By building these specific muscles you’re giving support to tendons and ligaments in those joints that are often prone to injury.


There are many different ways to go about hill workouts depending on what your goal is. Here are just a few.

  • Bounds – Bounding up a hill is really the opposite of what you want to do on race day but during training it can be a great way to build power in your glutes and quads by taking long powerful strides for 50 to 75 meters. Recovery should be a slow walk back down to your original starting point. 4-8 of these once a week should be plenty
  • Strides – As mentioned above, the last thing that you want to during a race is take long strides up a steep hill. You’ll burn your legs out and hobble for the next few miles until you recover from that effort. The number of steps that you should be taking up a hill has a lot to do with your leg length and your height. Find a cadence that feels right to you and your body make up. Just know that each step should be short, fast and efficient.
  • Fartleks – This is one of my favorite workouts because I enjoy intensity workouts and what’s more intense than hill fartleks? These work the same as fartleks on flat ground. While maintaining good hill running form (short steps, slight forward lean and pumping arms), push hard up the hill. For the recovery you can either jog at an easy pace back down or even walk. These are hard efforts so they should only be done once a week.
  • Walking – Yes, walking. Still building your running base is not reason to avoid hills. Walking up an incline can still give you that satisfying burn in your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles and raise your heart rate all while avoiding the pounding and muscle stress that your body will take during running hill workouts.

There’s no reason to be afraid of hills on race day. If you’ve been doing hill workouts then you can approach with confidence what most racers are dreading. Remember that just like riding a bike, your run stride and cadence have different gears that you should utilize. If you’re climbing a steep hill on your bike you shift into “granny gear” and up your cadence. Your run stride has that same gear so use it while tackling your next hill.


March 28, 2011

Last week Coach David gave us some great tips on race day mental preparation. This week I’d like to continue along that same line of thinking and talk about that ever so important question that we all must face eventually.

If you’re new to racing you might not have experienced this all that often yet. But if you’re a seasoned veteran to the triathlon scene I’m sure that you’ve been asked a million times over – Why? Why do you get up at the butt crack of dawn just to get into a cold pool for an hour long swim? Why give up your weekends for a 7 hour bike ride on Saturday and a 20 mile run on Sunday? Why do you do this to yourself? How is that fun?

Off the top of our heads, when we’re asked by friends, family and coworkers we can all answer these questions pretty nonchalantly and spout off the typical answers that we hear all the time, “I want to lose some weight”, “It’s fun for me” or “I want the tattoo”. But when you’re 85 miles into a 110 mile ride, there’s a stiff head wind and it’s 35º outside, that is the only time when you will have to stop and take pause to think about the true answer to this question, maybe for the first time. More than likely the answers that you’ve been giving your friends, family and coworkers are not the truthful ones after all. Suddenly your previous responses are no longer enough to get you through the last two hours of your ride. This is when you’ll pull off to the side of the road, do some major soul searching and maybe even shed a few right there.

Why am I doing this?

Luckily, this is one of the few times in life when there truthfully is no wrong answer. Really, I promise. There might not be a wrong answer but there are definitely answers that are not right for you. The answers that you’ve been giving up to this point are probably not the right ones for you. In the end are you really going to put yourself through all this just to lose some weight or for some skin art? Maybe, maybe not. That’s for you to decide. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the conclusion you come to is so personal that it’s something that you won’t ever share with anyone.

When it comes to race day it’s almost a certainty that the doom and gloom will pay you a rather nasty visit. Your mind can be a very powerful ally or your worst enemy, it all depends on what you’ve trained it to be and if you can convince it to think otherwise when it screams “Stop!”. If you don’t have the above question answered correctly then your mind will know it and continue to pester you and reek havoc on your day. But, if you have been honest with yourself you can turn this demon into your greatest strength that will take you over the finish line victoriously.

When you answer this question at that lowest of points you will never be the same triathlete again.

Mental Race Preparation

March 21, 2011

Some racers start trying to mentally prepare for a big race the night before by “psyching” themselves up with some motivational music or other last minute efforts.   While this approach is not necessarily bad, it does not serve to fully prepare athletes for the true mental demands of a challenging race.  This post will discuss a more in-depth mental preparation in 2 main areas: positive self-talk and focus.  It also provides guidance on how to incorporate these two areas into your written mental race plan.  You are going to write a mental race plan, right?

Positive Self Talk

For most long course triathlons, it is unrealistic to think you’re not going to have any negative thoughts or emotions during the race.   Some of these negative thoughts can be quite powerful and debilitating toward the end of the race, especially if you haven’t developed a sound mental plan to deal with them.    How are you going to deal with that late race, serious fatigue that makes you ask “Why am I putting myself through this again?!”  How are you mentally going to handle the frustration from continuously strong winds or being passed frequently?  The answer:  Learn to first identify situations and causes of common negative thoughts and harmful internal self talk, and then replace them with positive, but realistic self talk.  It must be realistic or you won’t believe it.  If it’s gusting 25 mph, and you try to tell yourself that you LOVE the wind and “this is a piece of cake”,  you’re not going to believe it and you’ll probably end up make yourself more frustrated.

Written Mental Race Plan: Spend some good time and try to identity 3 “hot-button” situations you’ve encountered over the last couple of months that caused you to have negative self-talk.  Write down a short description of the situation along with the underlying cause (frustration, fatigue, boredom, pain, despair, etc).  Also include the negative self talk and think hard about some realistic, positive replacements.

Example 1: A strong wind really slows me down on the bike

  • Underlying Cause: Frustration that I’m not able to maintain desired speed or that I have to work so hard to maintain it
  • Negative Self Talk: “This just sucks”.  “I hate the wind.”  “I cannot maintain a good effort against it”.  “I’m just beat mentally against it”
  • Positive, Realistic Replacement: “The wind is strong, but it will make me stronger in the long run”.  “This is an opportunity to test my mental toughness”.  “I’m doing a good job of staying aero”.

Example 2: I start to get quite fatigued at the end of a long session

  • Underlying Cause: Fatigue from having to stay focused for so long.
  • Negative Self Talk: “This is no longer fun”  “Why am I out here?”  “I can’t go on”.  “What’s the point of doing this if I hate it?”
  • Positive, Realistic Replacement: “I put myself in this position of purpose: this is the meat of session”.  “This is where I’m getting the most benefit.  Right here. Right now”.  “It’s always easy the first hour.  It’s this last hour where I’m really building my fitness”. “This is money in the bank for race day.”

Mental Focus

Often times when I find my focus waning, I’ll try hard to think about what I should be doing instead of letting my mind wander around in “distraction land”.  I start to get a little upset and critical about my lack of concentration.  However, this line of thinking is judgmental and counter-productive.  Thinking interferes with prime focus because it often conjures negative emotions which can actually lead to reduced performance.  Focusing, on the other hand, is objective and detached from judgment or evaluation.  If you make a mental mistake, just accept and acknowledge it and move on.  Don’t dwell on it, but instead start focusing on positive things that can be used help improve your performance, such as proper nutrition and pacing.

A key way to direct your focus in an appropriate way is to remember four P’s:

  1. Positive: This is quite obvious, but you want your focus to have a decidedly positive twist even if you’re trying to correct a form flaw.  For example, if your cadence on the run tends to slow down as you fatigue, focus on maintaining “quick, happy feet” instead of “not plodding along”.  See the positive twist.
  2. Process: This one is huge because it requires shift in the way many people focus.  Instead of focusing on the outcome of the race (i.e, actual completion, finishing time, ranking, etc), focus on the process of getting to the outcome.  When you focus is on the outcome, your performance will often decline because you’re no longer focusing on the things that will help you execute well such as pacing and nutrition.  Furthermore, you’ll often drift away from optimal intensity because you’ll get nervous or worried about reaching your optimal finish time.  To focus on the process, ask yourself the question: “What do I need to be doing right now?”  This leads nicely into our next P…
  3. Present: Don’t focus on the future or upcoming portions of the race.  A long course tri is too much for your brain to comprehend all at once.  Eat it one bite at a time.  When you’re late in the bike and you’re starting to get a bit fatigued, don’t let yourself think about the looming long run ahead.  Instead, stay in the present and just focus on what you should be doing at this very moment.   Is my pace appropriate?  Am I eating and drinking according to plan?  Do the conditions demand any changes to the plan?  Likewise, don’t dwell on the past.  If you had a bad swim or T1, don’t dwell on it.  Accept it and move on!
  4. Progress: This last P basically means that you should focus on your own progress and not that of others.  While it’s OK to occasionally use “a rabbit” to give you a short boost, you should in general strive to maintain your own pacing plan while monitoring your personal progress while not comparing yourself to other racers.

Written Mental Race Plan: Come up with 2-3 personal keywords or phrases for each of the Four P’s above.  These keywords are brief, descriptive reminders of what you need to focus on to preform well.  They can be physical (e.g., easy breathing or long stride), technical (e.g, high elbow for swimming or head up for running), tactical (e.g, patience or finish strong), or mental (e.g, positive or attack).

Gorilla Dave’s Oly Race Recap

March 13, 2011

New Gorilla athlete Dave Hansen just finished his first olympic triathlon near Palm Springs, California.  Here’s his hilarious take on the day.  Looking forward to many more races and recaps in the future, Dave!

The Desert International… When I first saw the name, I knew I had to be there.  Desserts from all over the world coming together for a huge feast sounded too good to be true.  When I arrived I knew I made a huge mistake.  There was nothing but wetsuits, bikes, and skinny people.  The closest thing to a dessert was a Cliff Bar with a Gu packet squeezed on top.  I have since invested in a dictionary!

But since I was there, I thought I might as well make the most of it. The Desert International Triathlon is held at Lake Cahuilla in La Quinta, California.  It was a perfect day, no wind and a forecasted high of 78.  We ditched the kids so my wife Nancy and my Mom and Dad just enjoyed the scenery…me looking dead sexy in a wetsuit and the guy wearing an extra-small Speedo that didn’t quite cover the goods? (I think Nancy secretly liked the Speedo guy).

Though I have done a sprint tri prior to this race, the Desert International provided many firsts for me; my first “Olympic” distance race, first open water swim, and first time in a wetsuit.  Quite an experience getting into that thing! Can you say, “suck it in!”

As the gun went off a surge of dread and excitement hit me…or maybe it was the shock of the 65 degree water that I confused for excitement…either way, after about 300 yards of hard swimming, getting kicked, and bouncing off people the excitement was long gone but the dread remained.  Holy crap, it was way harder than I thought it would be!

As the herd thinned out the swimming did get easier, and I managed to avoid the harpoons being thrown my way (so glad Greenpeace made it to the race!)  I eventually fell into a decent groove (a.k.a. controlled hyperventilating and pseudo grace under pressure) and  was grateful not to be the last person out of the water….I’m pretty sure I beat the lady with one leg …but the guy with one arm  was a fast little dude!  All joking aside, it was TRULY  inspiring and motivating to see the athletes with disabilities more than holding their own and overcoming the odds.

The bike is my favorite discipline, so I was eager to hit the road.  Living in Utah proves difficult for much bike training this time of year, so I was grateful for the flat, fast course.  Unfortunately my seat shifted somehow, so even though I was more “saddle-sore” than usual, I enjoyed a great ride and actually managed to pass a few bikers…all of whom probably caught up to me during the run portion of the race, but still it was an adrenaline rush at the time.

A comedian once referred to his strategy for running as, “Start slow and taper off.”  That quote makes me laugh mostly because I can totally relate!  I didn’t realize until the bike ride (since my extremities were still thawing)  that I cut my feet on debris in the water.  I had to stop mid-run to fish out some rocks and debris from my feet and shoes, and tried to ignore the carnage. So needless to say, that made for a less than enjoyable 10K.  Bear in mind however, that I use the term “enjoyable” very loosely since this is running I’m talking about after all!   So with very tired legs and cut up feet I finished to a roaring crowd of about four people (three of which were family), as the entire world had already finished, received their awards, showered, had lunch and were now napping back at their hotels.  Kidding, there were  6 people still there.

Nevertheless, I consider my first Olympic tri a successful one,  and look forward to many more races.  Maybe I’m masochistic and enjoy pain, maybe I secretly enjoy wearing a skin-tight wetsuit, or maybe, just maybe, I’ve found a sport that challenges me to rise above my comfort level and completely satisfies my inner-ADD.




Race Report by Coach Lorie

June 14, 2010

Ooh.  Ooh.  Ooh.  Ooh.

That’s the sound I make as I grasp the bannister and try and maneuver my way down the stairs from my bedroom to the living room.  I am walking gingerly, big curbs are a problem, and when I tried to nap yesterday, I kept waking because my joints would ache and my muscles would spasm in pain.

The price you pay for a downhill marathon?  I guess. Was it worth it?  Yes.  And the biggie.  Did I qualify for Boston?

Provo Canyon was the backdrop for this year’s Utah Valley Marathon.  Though the course begins in Wallsburg, six miles to the East of the main canyon, most of those first miles were run in the dark amidst dreamy bucolic farmlands.  Horses seemed to call for our attention as they playfully kicked up their heels and craned their necks for a better view.  Cows mooed in the pastures like spectators cheering us on.  Could the animals feel our excitement?  Did they know what we were getting ourselves into?

When we turned the tight corner at Deer Creek reservoir and runners began to fill the expanse of the canyon road, the darkness faded from black to heavenly blue.  The morning sun was still behind the clouds, but the muted sky seemed to electrify the green canyon walls of Aspens, fir trees and scrub oak.  We got a little rain during the first half of the run but we were feeling great and the slope of the highway seemed to pull us toward the finish line.

And the beat played on.

For me, the first 20 miles the marathon were a success.  My pace was good and I had even banked some time toward my BQ.  The ultimate test was the last 10k when I turned my body toward University Avenue and I looked toward the dead straight blacktop ahead of me.  Ten K.  Doable.  Now it counts. But at this point my pace began to drop and in the back of my mind I questioned the “feel” of my speed.  Would it get me there?

Amy, my running partner and pacer, now began to push me.  She would run a few steps in front of me and wave her arm back to lasso me in.  “Come On.  Let’s go!” Automatically she would hand me water or rip the tops off the Hammer Gels.  An angel.  I tried to match her stride for stride, but her foot strike seemed weightless and her body language was light and flighty.  I was anything but that as I ticked off the last five miles.

I’ve heard it before and now I resoundingly can agree, that last “point two” is what gets ya.  We turned into the Provo Mall parking lot and like out of a special effects camera the trail to the finish line suddenly stretched like a rubber band into oblivion.  I had picked up my stride, put my mind into a sprinting mode and tried to push my engine into it’s next gear.  But I rounded the corner and saw the digital clock glaring one minute past my goal time.

I crossed the line a little like Bambi on his new legs and grabbed the arms of my friends who helped me to the medical cots for a quick stretch and a rubdown.  No, this is not my first rodeo, those medical tents are the best thing going after an endurance event.  As I lay down and looked up into the faces of my smiling friends and family, I realized they were genuinely happy for me.  Boston, off by one minute.  But in the big picture,  I had smashed my previous marathon by 17 minutes.  A victory however bittersweet.

Two days later I question how I could’ve found that sixty seconds.  Change my training plan?  Walk the aid stations to utilize different muscles?  Held back more at at the start?  Heck, I don’t know.  Today I am happy for my race results and thankful for a body that will allow me to run a marathon and participate in an Ironman.  I appreciate my friends, my husband, my kids and my family.  I cherish the memories of finish lines with fellow racers and athletes and their own personal victories.

And I resolve, more than ever, to run Boston in 2011.

The Chicken Or The Egg

February 15, 2010

The Situation: M has a frayed tendon after running in the St. George Marathon last October.  She was in a walking cast for 12 weeks.  She can feel the twinge of the injury still, but can run pain free for three miles now.  Her ultimate goal is to qualify for Boston at the next St. George Marathon.  Her short term goal is 13.1 miles in April at an 8:30 pace.  Her current pace is 9:20.  Can she get there?  And if so, which comes first mileage or speed?

Opinion from a Podiatrist:  Chris Funk, DPM, Tucson, AZ

The whole issue is whether the damaged tendon is able to withstand the stresses of running again.  Pain free running does not mean freedom from stresses on the frayed tendon.  Having said that, I know how “devoted” runners can be when it comes to putting the miles in.  As long as patients understand there is a risk of re-injury from something not quite healed, I usually recommend increasing distance rather than increasing intensity.  Increasing intensity uses more energy in a shorter period of time, and that really pushes the tissue to the limits.  Try to get up to the distance desired, and don’t even think about the pace until everything is stable.

Opinion from Coach DeeAnn:

I agree volume before intensity (and I think her PT would also, a good question for her to ask her PT).  You must progress slowly and stick to the 10% per week rule like glue.  Be sure she is giving you comments on each workout regarding pain from injury so you can adjust or delete workouts accordingly.

Coach Gail’s Opinion:

I agree with the volume before intensity for sure. Especially if it is an Achilles issue. Intensity is just asking for trouble.  I may be wrong in assuming that it was her Achilles, but if it was, coming back too soon or too hard could leave her with a chronic issue that will cause her a lot more trouble. Is she willing to try water running? That is a great way to keep working the run with no impact and will really give you an idea of how serious she is about taking care of her injury.

And from Runner’s World March 2010:

You used to run 30 miles a week, you got injured, now you want to get back to your old routine as quickly as possible.  Don’t.  Take your time.  The same applies to that upcoming race – if you missed some training time, don’t accelerate the pace and distance of your remaining workouts in an effort to “catch up.”  Instead, adjust your goals as needed.  Try balance training, shortening your stride, RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and stretching the back of your legs with dynamic (not static) stretching.

– Coach L

Chi and Pose and Barefoot……Oh, my!

January 18, 2010

We humans have a real knack for taking something relatively, ok, extremely, simple and, through over-analysis and our desire to find an easier way, turning it into a complicated process. Running is no exception.

In our efforts to become runners, we buy books that tell us the “proper” way to run, gear that forces our form to change and programs that promise we will run faster and injury-free.

Yea, right.

As we attempt to take our predominantly sedentary bodies (despite training twelve to fifteen hours a week or more, most of us spend the bulk of our time sitting at desks or behind the wheel or even on the couch) and transform them into reasonable facsimiles of the lean, mean running machines we see in Runner’s World or at the front of the pack at the local 5K, we encounter a few things that give us pause……discomfort, pain, injury and a woefully unsatisfactory pace. We want to avoid these, so we run (pun intended) to the shoe store, the bookstore……any store that offers the hope of pain-free training and faster times. Unfortunately, we may find at least temporary satisfaction with the method-of-the-week which allows us to skip what I consider to be a crucial phase in our development as athletes.

Adult-onset (or born-again) athletes are typically eager and filled with enthusiasm. Our Type A personalities demand that we get out there and git ‘r dun. Sooner is almost always better. After all, our friends are doing a (fill in the blank) and we want to do it, too. Unfortunately, once in the throes of such race fever, few people are willing to honestly assess their condition and accept that it may take longer than a 6- or 12- or even 20-week training program for their bodies to adapt successfully and safely to its’ newly imposed demands.

It doesn’t help that lot of beginner-friendly groups and programs are so busy conveying the message that “you can do it” that they often forget to tell you that “it isn’t always easy and it might hurt a bit”.

So, in the beginning, we do a little too much, a little too hard and a little too soon. The result is that we get sore and tired and, eventually, injured. And then, rather than back off and take a more moderate approach, we look for a reason, a cause and a cure.

Which brings us to Chi and Pose and Barefoot and whatever the next latest greatest thing will be…….anything that can make it not about that we tried to cram a lifetime of fitness into a 6 month period. Something that will transform us into graceful, speedy and pain-free runners, preferably before our next “A” race.

Now all of the methods mentioned have some positive elements. None are all good or all bad. And almost everyone can benefit from improving their run form……cadence, forward lean, arm swing…..all of these warrant attention. With time and focus we can make small changes that yield positive results.

Unfortunately, time and focus are nowhere near as glamorous as adopting the newest running fad. Buying the latest shoe (or no shoe at all) or following a program detailed in the most recent book cannot make up for month after month of consistent running done at a reasonable pace and progression. Getting started is uncomfortable…….every time. Most people become better runners simply by running. Running early and running often.

Barefoot running natives have been running barefoot all their lives. They didn’t just ditch their shoes because they read a book that told them to. They are evolutionarily prepared to run without shoes. Most of the “fast” runners we dream of catching have been running for years and their form has adapted over time to be the most efficient for them.

There is no magic bullet. There are those who will take advantage of our eagerness and impatience by selling theories and devices promising to give quick results, but the reality is that most runners looking to get faster will improve just by running. Not running races, or with a group that is just a little too fast, but by getting out and running enough that your body adapts and you progress past the beginner aches and pains and learn how you run. How your body runs. Only then can you really begin to make progress towards becoming the runner you want to be.

– Coach Gail

Stupid roller tricks….

December 31, 2009


I have never been a power cyclist and learned pretty quickly that “finesse” was to be my biggest ally. In other words, I need to ensure that every bit of my limited strength goes towards actually moving me, and my bike, down the road.  To this end, years ago I enlisted the services of Phoenix bike guru, Jeff Lockwood. Jeff is quite famous in certain circles for his inability to understand or accept that triathletes, especially of the female variety, can’t ride rollers. With an inordinate amount of patience and absolute faith in his instructional skills, Jeff has gotten many tentative women cyclists up and rolling with confidence……myself included.  My technique, handling skills and overall efficiency have improved drastically as a result.

Every winter I dust off my trusty Minoura’s and reacquaint myself with the piece of equipment that puts fear into not only my heart, but the hearts of more accomplished cyclists everywhere. It may be the off-season, but it’s roller time!

Riding rollers involves an extremely steep, but generally short, learning curve.  Each year  I am forced to go through a thankfully abbreviated revisitation of that curve. FYI, while double checking that revisitation was actually a word, I learned that one definition is: an affliction or punishment, as from God. I find this particularly appropriate.

Anyway, my first couple of roller sessions each year are never pretty and frequently near death-defying. Fortunately, the body seems to remember what the mind forgets and I always find myself pretty comfortable within a week. This brings me to the real purpose of my roller antics…….forcing myself to stay uncomfortable. As Mr. Lockwood explained, skill development is a process of exploration, failure and adaptation. In other words, keep pushing the envelope until you suffer a negative consequence and then figure out what the heck you need to do differently to avoid that consequence in the future.

While this seems reasonable in theory, it can be challenging to execute.  Intentionally putting yourself into a situation where the chance of failure is high and the possiblity of looking really stupid even higher can be difficult at best. But, my desire to ride faster is greater than my fear, so I approach each roller workout knowing that I will be scared a good portion of the time.

This December has been no different than the previous 6. The first of the month I approach the rollers with a level of trepidation that borders on terror, but as the days pass I quickly regain the confidence and skill that seemed to be lost. I learn that the more I relax, the better things go. And that I can do most things if I just stop telling myself that I’m scared or I can’t. I realize that I am better off if I stop thinking and just do. The ability to push myself to scary places reemerges once again and with it I am able to do more than the December before.

I have to admit that teaching my husband to ride the rollers also helped push me to the edge each session. Just knowing that he was riding out of the saddle made me even more determined to do it myself. It became a bit of a game of one-upsmanship of sorts. Anything you can do, and so on. But the result was that both of us made greater progress than we might have alone. Whatever works!

My progression went like this:

  • Riding and not falling off the rollers
  • Riding with one hand
  • One-legged drills
  • Riding out of saddle
  • Riding while moving in/out of drops
  • Riding while taking a water bottle in/out of cage

I am very pleased with my progress over the past month and I am quite willing to admit it. The list of accomplished skills is the longest of any December so far and I know my efforts will have a positive impact on my cycling come next season. Despite many frightening moments and a couple of near-disasters, I have survived the roller session of ’09 unscathed……thank you, Jeff (and Kevin).

Anyone with basic cycling skills can benefit from getting on the rollers. I encourage my athletes to give them a try but admit it tends to be a tough sell. Even explaining how entertaining it can be for the entire family doesn’t seem to help. But, those that are willing to take the plunge (ok, maybe that isn’t the best choice of words) are doing something that will definitely have a positive impact on their bike split with no real increase in physical effort. To me, it’s very much worth every nervous moment.

– Coach G