Ultra running is defined as anything longer than 26.2 miles, or the marathon distance.  I recently joined the ranks of ultra running by participating in 4 different events over the months of February and March.  The distances covered were 50k (31.1 miles), 50 Miles and 100 Miles.  In the past these distances would have been daunting.  As a matter of fact the 100 mile distance is still daunting and will probably always give me pause before hitting the register button.  The 100 mile race has the opportunity to present so many obstacles, especially on the trails and in the middle of the night, that it is the race that I think I will always question my preparedness just before the start of it. The question of ultra running being 'good' for you physically came up earlier today when Regina posted a video and tagged Jeff and I in it.  I watched the video and found myself shaking my head at every comment the athlete made.  All of it made so much sense to me except for one comment:  "I have a lot of fun doing this but I don't think it is necessarily good for you."  It was this comment that started a conversation amongst us, including Kevin.

The consensus seemed to be that running this distance, in the video the athlete is running 135 miles, is not good for you physically.  At first I agreed but then I started thinking a bit more about it.  At what point is there diminishing returns on a race of this distance?  Athletes are not necessarily going into Zone 3 and Zone 4 in their heart rate, so what is the taxing portion?  Is the question more about being sleep deprived?  What about those in the armed forces that are up for longer periods of time? More questions than this popped up but the reality, for me, is that this is not a scenario in which you are looking to improve fitness.  Your fitness is achieved in the weeks and months leading up to the event.  Your body is then restored during the recovery phase, which for me is currently at the end of Week 2 from Lake Martin 100.  Did I gain any fitness over the course of 28 hours?  I highly doubt it but I did gain something much more valuable at this point and for the future. What I gained from ultra running was a mental advantage and that is priceless and will pay dividends going forward.  When I first took on this challenge I looked at the miles that I would be running on a daily and weekly basis during the training.  Weeks that included 85 miles and 90 miles.  Back to back days of 31 miles and 20 miles were staring me in the face.  They seemed so daunting but as the training continued these became commonplace and while not 'easy' they were no longer frightening.  My mental ability to comprehend the distance, break it down into manageable parts and then achieve the goals improved from Day 1 through the start of the race.  During the race I was able to rely on the fact that I had put in 18 weeks of training that involved 1,000 miles of running and I was prepared, both physically and mentally. Today I am looking at a race schedule for the start of 2015 that includes a 100k, 100 miler and 50 miler all in the course of a month.  3 months ago I would have laughed to keep from crying.  Today I smile and say:  Yes, I can do this.  Today I think to myself about how awesome it is going to be to go through the training and accomplishing the daily goals and race goals.  This mental edge will allow me to perform day in and day out and to achieve even better physical fitness.   This to me is far more of a benefit than any detriment that may or may not come from running 100 miles in a given day. A year ago there was an article on TriathleteMagazine.com regarding what happens to the human body during an Ironman.  This was an interesting look into the physiological process that takes place.  An Ironman is hard, but running a 100 miler is harder so this take can be changed in terms of the physical tolls.  All that being said the following line from the article is what makes me think that the mental gains far outweigh the physical toll that takes place during these endurance events, including ultra running: Fortunately, though, those years are restored to you within a few weeks. Then it’s time to start thinking about tickling the reaper again. I would sacrifice a few weeks of non-activity to recover in order to reap the benefits that the sense of accomplishment brings.

Do You Think Ultra Running, Or Endurance Events, Are Good For You?

  For reference here is an article from The New York Time that is also interesting reading. New York Times Blog: What Ultra Marathons Do To Our Body.

Published in Train
[caption id="attachment_8907" align="alignright" width="300"]tri club - ironman - triathlon Source: Ironman[/caption] Tri clubs seems to be sprouting up all over the place and that is to be somewhat expected.  The popularity of the sport of triathlon continues to grow.  In the past couple of weeks the following has taken place:
  • World Triathlon Corporation announces Ironman Chattanooga as next race and it sells out in 3 minutes.
  • Challenge Family has announced that they will be hosting a race in the mid-atlantic region in 2014.
With the popularity of triathlon at an all time high the questions about joining a tri club are being asked.  I am a member of the FW Tri Club and have been a 'member' of the Friday Swim Club for the past couple of years.  I became involved with both of these clubs for various reasons.  Last year as I was training for Ironman Arizona I wanted to get more open water swim training in I discovered that Michele was swimming with a group of friends every Friday morning at the lake.  I decided to join them and sure enough those swims led to bike rides and runs and about a year later I have competed in IMAZ with Michele as well as IMTX with two other guys from the group.  This year another member of the loosely formed Friday Swim Club is racing IMAZ himself.  Having this connection has been great because we can post to the Facebook page and link up with each other for swims, bike and runs.  There is always somebody available for whatever workout you are doing. Joining the FW Tri Club was more formal.  I paid my club dues and started reading the Facebook page and attended the member meeting.  I thought about what has been done for me since I entered the sport and had the sense that it was time to give back.  I wanted to share my experiences with those that are either just getting into the sport, doing their first Ironman, or doing IMAZ or IMTX for the first time and lend them my experiences.  The club is far more formal with about 15x the member that the loose group of friends on Friday is.  The similarity, though, is striking.  There are posts on the Facebook page for group workouts as well as individuals looking to get a workout in and post Friday afternoon about a late Friday evening run.  As usual there is always somebody who is ready to do the same thing. The sport of triathlon can be lonely at times.  With runs at 4:30-5:00am when the sun is still hitting the snooze bar to long rides that are going to be done by yourself because you need to find that mental space for race day.  Swimming, while you can go out with a group, is an individual sport because you are not conversing while actually swimming and so you spend that time in your own head.  Despite all the time that you can spend on your own, this is a sport with teammates as well.  As a member of a tri club you have immediate teammates but even if you are not you will have those that know what you are going through and can shed some light on your experience thanks to social media. Whenever I speak with Jeff or Kevin they will bring up their local tri club in conversation and how they trained with a group of people for this race or that race.  There is a camaraderie that is developed amongst the athletes because we are all going through the same things.  How we deal with those things are going to be driven by personalities but that doesn't mean that we cannot learn from our teammates.  There is no substitute for experience and when you surround yourself with tri club teammates, whether they be 10 or 150, you will find somebody that has or is going through what you are currently experiencing. Also, if you tri club is big enough there is the added benefit of discounts from companies.  The sport of triathlon is very expensive and having access to discounts can ultimately help pay off your membership fee because of the savings.  I caution you though to not just join a tri club for the discounts.  Get involved and find out how great the sport can be when experiences are shared with friends.

Are You A Member Of A Tri Club? What Has Been Your Experience?

News from Ironman.com about the Tri Club Program: Ironman Tri Club Program Championships Decided At Last Moment
Published in Train

Embrace The Suck.

Embrace The Suck

Embrace The Suck

If you repeat the phrase Embrace The Suck enough it soon begins to get easier.  What am I talking about?  I could be talking about life, but I am referring to riding the trainer.  Putting your bike on the trainer for 1 or even 2 hours is not a big deal, but once you go past that point you have to begin to embrace the suck.  The trainer, like the treadmill, is all mental.  You know it is not going to be fun but you also know the benefits of riding the trainer. I bring this up because this weekend the weather was going to be brutally cold, and not just for Texas.  The temperature at 8am on Saturday was going to be 32* with a feels like temp of 29*.  For me if it is below 45* at the start of the ride I am contemplating riding the trainer because my hands and feet get so cold that there is no benefit to me being outside since I will not be focused on the ride but instead I will be focused on warming up.  Knowing that I was getting on the trainer I asked Maria to set me up with a trainer ride that will make the time go by.  4 hours is not a big deal to me as I have done 6 hours on the trainer before but if I have the opportunity to shake up the work out I will. The program that Maria sent off included easy sets, progressive sets and a Sufferfest video.  There was a rhythm to the workout but there were times where I muttered embrace the suck and by doing that the time flew by and I was ready to start running before I knew it.  As a person, similar to Emily and the treadmill, who enjoys the trainer there are still times I wonder what the benefits are.

Embrace The Suck Benefits:

  • No Stopping or Coasting.  As any cyclist knows there are times where you will coast or have to stop for traffic or stop lights.  On the trainer there is neither and thus you are working from the first pedal stroke until the last.
  • Workouts Done To Perfection. Since there is no stopping if your workout calls for 20 minutes at Ironman pace you know that you will get that in without being interrupted.  You can also include interval sets that will be completed without hesitation.
  • It Takes Less Time. Maria cut 30 minutes off of my overall time for the ride because of the trainer.  Theory holds that the trainer can be 20% less than the road because it is non-stop so if you ride the trainer you are going to spend 'less' time riding.
  • Weather Is Not An Issue. Neither Is Daylight. Just like the benefit of less time, there is the added benefit of doing it whenever you want.  Setup your trainer in front of the TV or the laptop and start.  No need to worry for sun rise or if the weather will hold up.
Riding the trainer is not all unicorns and rainbows though as there are a few drawbacks as well.

Embrace The Suck Disadvantages:

  • No Hills. There are no hills when it comes to riding on the trainer so if you are looking for a 'hilly' ride this is not going to benefit you.
  • Bike Handling. Bike handling is important, especially if you are racing a criterium.  Being able to handle the bike in any situation will give you confidence when riding and there is no bike handling during a trainer ride.
  • Boredom. It is easy to get board and then have your mind sway and lose focus on the sets that you have laid out for yourself.  When you are not focused your cadence can drop and the workout can suffer.
Is riding the trainer a substitute for riding outdoors?  No, but it should be included in your routine.  Why?  Besides the benefits listed above remember that change is the key to consistency and muscle adaptation.  During the week my bike can be found on the trainer as I crank away 1-2 hour sessions with 5-6 layers of clothes on working up a tremendous sweat so that I can mimic the weather that I will face in San Juan at IMTX. [caption id="attachment_7366" align="aligncenter" width="300"]embrace the suck - bike trainer - triathlon - ironman Embrace The Suck But Make It As Enjoyable As Possible.[/caption]

How Do You Embrace The Suck?

Published in Train
Monday, 17 October 2011 11:44

Club CTER?

It has been brought to my attention recently that a Tri Club team in the Dallas area is not doing well and is possibly going to fold or close its doors.  This saddens me because I believe that triathlon is the best sport in the world and that we need to get more people involved in the sport and clubs will help do that. I have investigated why the club is failing and losing its participants and I have found out that it boils down to it being more of a social club and not necessarily a triathlon club.  In other words it was more about hanging out and less about teaching and learning about the sport.  Of course, having organized training would be right up there. I have my thoughts on how a club should work but I'm not dumb enough to think I have all the answers so I'm coming to you my readers for some advice.  If a new club started in your area what would you want?  Here are a list of questions and it would be greatly appreciated if you could answer in the comments section. If you are in a club: 1) What do you like?  What don't you like? 2) Why did you join? 3) What did you expect?   If you are not in a club: 1) What would you want from a club?  Coached?  Not Coached? 2) Training Plans to follow so that if you can't make it to the group setting you know what you have to do? 3) Organized by race distance? 4) What would you expect for a free club?  What would you expect for a paid club? 5) How much would you pay to join a club?  For that amount what would be your expectations?  Training Plan?  Race Kit? T-Shirt? Water Bottle? Hat? 6) What would make you not join the club? 7) Added benefits above and beyond? 8) Organized outing to a race together? 9) Club dinners and social outings? I am very interested in taking over this club as it had been popular in the past and a little work can help resurrect the program.  It has a great location and has the ability to access great roads for riding as well as a lake for open water swimming. The Dallas area is filled with triathletes and being able to bring them together would be a lot of fun and great for training. Thank you for all your help. Jason  
Published in Uncategorized
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 17:04

Yoga And Triathlon A Great Friendship

Back in October I posted about yoga's 5 principles and its benefits to triathletes.  Lately I have been feeling some fatigue in my left hamstring, glute, and pirformis.  It has been aching and I finally decided to go back to my roots of yoga to see if that would help, and it has done wonders for me.  That sore/ache feeling has subsided and the last two days I have been able to turn in very good runs off the bike. I typically do my yoga stretching after my strength and during my core workout.  The strength sessions tend to tighten up my muscles and so by doing yoga stretches I am lengthening those muscles and engaging my core to stabilize my body.  I think that yoga has done wonders for me and I believe it is one of the reasons that I have not suffered any injuries in over one year of intense training. Here is my post from October: ====================== Can Yoga Make You A Better Triathlete? I have recently come across quite a few discussions, both online and in person, regarding yoga and the benefits. This led me to think about the benefits of yoga and my passion of triathlon. I had previously practiced yoga and knew how it made me feel in terms of lengthening my body and silencing the mind. During my triathlon training the strength work that I have been doing has lengthened my body as well. In addition to the benefit to the body, my mind has had to be trained as well. Trained to be able to go farther and faster then ever before as well as knowing my body and when I am not properly hydrated or nourished. It would seem that yoga and triathlon go hand in hand, similar to massage which I previously wrote about. There are five principles of yoga and each one can and does have an impact on a triathlete. The principles are proper relaxation, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet and lastly positive thinking and meditation. I will show each principle separately and why it goes hand in hand with triathlon. PROPER RELAXATION We all know the benefits of relaxing in this hectic world we live in. News cycles are 24/7, the internet is always on, the tv is in the background and so learning to relax properly is important. Relaxation is not just a way to get away from it all, but it also aids in recovery and rejuvenation of the athlete. As a triathlete or endurance athlete knows there is a time prior to race that you go through tapering. Tapering is the process of working less so that the body is rested and ready to explode on race day. Being able to relax during that tapering period is important because you need your muscles to get rest and that rest will lead to a rejuvenated body come race day. If an athlete doesn’t go through that tapering period they run the risk of tight muscles and burnout of pushing and pushing the body to its limits.
As any triathlete knows the beginning of a race and going through the white wash of the swim can be very taxing on the body and mind. You are fighting to get position and all at the same time are hitting and being hit by other swimmers. Everybody is battling and knowing how to relax at this point during a race is important. Getting your heart rate elevated during this point can ruin the day for a triathlete. The adage that you can’t win the race in the water, but can lose it is very true. Being able to relax the mind and body will allow you to get through what is almost always an anxiety riddled beginning to a race. Having a rough start can do harm to the mind and body during the rest of the race. PROPER EXERCISE A triathlete spends hours and hours exercising. There is bike riding, running and swimming. Don’t forget to include strength training as well and with all of this yoga should be included as well. Yoga will stretch and tone muscles and ligaments, it will enhance the flexibility of the spine and other joints and will also improve blood circulation. Yoga will also teach you to breathe properly while doing the poses and thus allowing for proper flow from one pose to another. Proper exercise in yoga is also known as posture. Posture is not only important to the yogi to help stave off injury, but to the triathlete as well. In the water the body must be in proper form in order to go fast because there is no way to muscle through the water if technique is not perfected. The same can be said while on the bike and during the run. While on the bike the body has to be positioned properly in order to limit the amount of drag from the wind while in aero. Having the bike fitted to your height and leg length is a great way to start to get you in the proper posture to have a successful ride. During the run the proper foot strike and making sure that you are not landing awkwardly on your feet is important. Getting the proper shoe is another way to ensure that you have proper posture and help avoid injury.
While doing yoga you are going to build muscle tone and strength which will also help to avoid injury. Certain poses will help to strengthen the shoulder and back muscles that are used during the swim. Other poses will help develop flexibility in the legs which will translate to leg turnover and higher cadence on the bike and run.
In addition to the benefits of strengthening muscles and blood circulation what may be the most important is the flexibility of the spine. The three sports that make up triathlon are all linear movements and thus training causes the body to become stiff and thus more effort is needed to perform them. By doing yoga the spine becomes flexible and allows for a greater range of motion in each sport. Using swimming as the example when one is gliding through the water it is important to be able to be able to get your arms in and out of the water through the mid-line of the body. If the athlete is not flexible then the hand will enter the water not in proper position and could eventually lead to injury of the shoulder because proper alignment is not being practiced.
PROPER BREATHING Yoga will teach you to use all parts of your lungs. By being able to utilize all parts of your lungs you are more capable of increasing your oxygen intake. By increasing your oxygen intake you are capable of recharging your body and control your mental state.
During yoga the lessons on breathing learned will include the ability to have steady slower breathes. With the proper breathing techniques a triathlete will learn to become more efficient because you will learn to breathe out. The thought process can be that I need to breathe faster and harder to get oxygen in, but if you take a longer deeper breathe you will not only get more oxygen into your lungs you will get old oxygen out and replace it with new fresh oxygen. Add in the fact that by taking a longer and deeper breathe you will also relax your mind and body which pointed out earlier is one of the principles of yoga.
Each principle works together to lead to a much more efficient athlete. For example, when we are stressed (ie the swim start) breathing tends to become shorter which results in improper breathing, and poor posture. This can lead to an injury of not just the physical state, but of the mental state and endurance events, especially triathlon, are battles of the mind as well as physical. PROPER DIET As I have pointed out getting the proper nutrition is imperative to a triathlete. Filling your body with poor nutrition will lead to less energy and not the proper fuel while out training. Making sure that you are eating whole foods with lots of color will provide the athlete as well as the yogi the proper amount micronutrients which are important in having the ability to go longer and faster. The way that yoga is involved in the proper diet, is that if you are not eating healthy and nutritious meals will result in a mental inefficiency. Not being mentally prepared to tackle the extremes of a triathlon will possibly lead to injury and a mind set of giving up. The beauty of yoga and triathlon both is that it is a way to exercise not just the body but the mind, and being properly fueled is important.
Proper fueling during training is important but it is also important during the race. While it is impossible to fuel during the swim, getting the proper amount of calories on the bike and run can be done. A triathlete can zip-tie gels to their bike frame as well as have a hydration system where it is as simple as bending over to get a drink. During the run there are aid stations where water and an electrolyte drink are provided which will help in getting calories and micro-nutrients into the system. Being properly hydrated and fueled will make the time while in the saddle and on the run of a half-Ironman and Ironman race easier to handle. POSITIVE THINKING / MEDITATION In triathlon or any endurance sport for that matter the mental portion is needed to not only compete in a race but to also endure the hours on end of training. When training in a pool and seeing that black line repeatedly for an hour one needs to have the mental fortitude to get through it. Going out for a 6 hour bike ride or a 20 mile run is not just physical, but being able to know mentally that you can do it is just as important. While during this training how does an athlete generate positive thoughts? How do you teach yourself to enjoy the life around you with family and friends? Dealing with all of this is not easy but being positive and keeping your mind fresh is the key. We, the triathlete, seem to deal with the same mundane items with what are seemingly countless hours of training. The days seem to blend together and usually incorporate the following, wake, eat, train, work/school, eat, train, eat, train and sleep then do it again. In there the mind needs to be able to stay sharp and fresh so that those days are enjoyable and keep us coming back for more. Incorporating yoga into our training will teach us to be mentally sharper and focused so that our training remains enjoyable. Keeping training as a positive aspect of our lives will allow us to continually keep pushing ourselves to go farther and faster. By combining the principals of yoga into the training regimen will allow the triathlete to become one with their body. Knowing what to eat and how that impacts your body, plus staying relaxed and breathing properly during the race will lead to improved results. Staying positive regardless of outcome will also lead to improved results. Didn’t get your PR? Not a problem, how did you do in each of the three events? Was your swim better then you would have thought? Break down the race so that you know what to work on and take the positive out of the results. Yoga is a great compliment to the biking, swimming and running of a triathlete.

What are your thoughts on incorporating yoga into your training?

Published in Train