Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Bet: Episode 3

It's all Over

The Philadelphia Marathon was this past Sunday and while I didn't go as well as planned and I lost the bet, you will never hear the word "failed" uttered from my lips.

A month Ago

It's been a while since my last update on my marathon training and for that I apologize. Everything was going well. A month before the race I was building up the distance and bringing down my average mile times. I was feeling very comfortable at a 7 minute pace and knew with another month I could bring that down a little more.

I headed out one day for my longest run before the race... 20 miles. Everything went fine but a week later my knee was nagging me a bit. I pushed on through because I'm tough (that means stupid, by the way) and 2 runs later I was officially sidelined. With three weeks to go I couldn't walk 1 mile without my knee hurting.

I started doing some researched, as well as talking to the other coaches and realized that my cycling had given me some rather unbalanced legs muscularly speaking. My adductor muscles are not nearly as trained as my abductor. Too, with my high arches my feet were not supported enough so with every step I was stressing the insides of my legs.

When you're injured, or at least when I'm injured I get cranky. I don't want to talk to people about my training or the marathon and I certainly didn't want to post anything on the blog about how everything was falling apart. I never had any doubt I could finish the distance but now there was a very good possibility that 3 miles in I would be done. Not only was it a possibility, it was a certainty based on my last 3 weeks of training.

Add that to family pressures. My birthday was the day before, we had just bought our dream home and we invited my whole family, 3 brothers, girlfriends and the folks out to spend the weekend together. We hadn't all been together for 2 years and no one had seen the house yet so I had this great idea to invite everyone out to take part in the festivities. Everyone ran one of the events, either the 8k, half or full. Everything was set and if I made it 3 miles I would have a hard time mentally getting over that hump for the rest of their visit. It felt like a lot riding on this race.

See, we're all in the same boat. We all have anxiety, we all fear failure and we all get injured. It happens. But what you do with that energy is what makes you who you are. Yeah, I stopped bragging I was training for a marathon; I started setting myself up for excuses in case of failure but I didn't give up in my heart. I started doing some exercises to correct my imbalance, I rode my bike more to keep my aerobic conditioning and I molded some Sidas custom insoles to give me better support in my shoes. And in the end it worked.

The Race

The weekend of the race was cold. In fact, the weather guy the night before said it felt more like January, then paused and said, no even this would be cold for January. My family and I spent most of Saturday night discussing layering, who was wearing what, and on what layer do I pin my number? i.e how many layers do we think we will be stripping over 3.5 hours. (The answer, for me at least, if you ever find yourself racing in cold conditions is a short sleeve and long sleeve shirt with a vest over everything. Tights, shorts, gloves and a hat. I ditched the vest, and gloves at the half way point)

I struggled back and forth with my goal time. On the one hand I really wanted to push myself but on the other I wanted to finish. I finally made the decision the morning of the race that I would stay with my brother, Aaron, the whole race. If one of us had to stop that was one thing but other than that we would finish together. We started out great, keeping the 3:30 pacer in sight the whole time which was my brother's goal time (or maybe it was MY goal time for him. He really didn't have a say in it.) I kept thinking about all the advise I was given, don't start out to fast, to panic if your first mile is slow, etc. and sure enough our first mile was slow but we made it back up my mile 3 and I felt like I would have started out faster, had I not heeded the good advice. At mile 10 we hit a downhill and found ourselves leaving the pace runner. We felt good so we increased our pace to 7:45 for 4 miles in a row. We made it through the halfway point and took on bananas and Hammer drink for the second half. We felt strong and only had 8 miles to go.

Our pace started to slow a little, hovering again at 8 minutes. We were a minute up on goal pace though so we knew we had some cushion and we made it into Manayunk still feeling pretty good. The cheers from everyone outside Cadence kept me going to the end of Main St and back again but once we hit the deadly silence of Kelly Drive again we realized we were slowly crashing. We took as much in as our stomachs could handle (next time I'll plan for more solid foods) and kept moving forward. The legs filled up and it was all I had to keep putting on step in front of the other. The 3:30 pacer caught and passed us but we had nothing to give. We finished 5 minutes later with a 3:35 and given my injury I was excited, though you wouldn't have known looking at me. We entered the shoot and all I wanted was solid food. We were herded through some gates and runners were being handed something wrapped in plastic. "Food!" I thought. Let me tell you, I bet there is no one who has ever been so disappointed to receive a finishers medals.

We got food not too soon afterward and greeted our family. We had a half marathon finisher and some 8k runners. Everyone was tired and happy to be done. So was I.

We walked home and because we wouldn't be together for Thanksgiving we made a turkey dinner and ate until we were sufficiently stuffed. Because that's why we do all of this, right? So we don't feel so bad when we overeat around the holidays.

The Bet

So I didn't win the bet, but I haven't heard an "I told you so" or a mocking laugh from anyone yet. Given the circumstances I am proud of what I accomplished even it what I gained was different than what I set out at the beginning 3 months ago. And it just goes to show how important patience is when training. I had 2 great months of running before I hurt my knee. I steadily increased my long runs and got in my 20 miler. When I had to stop running with three weeks to go I didn't panic. I knew I had put in the work and all that was left was resting my knee until it healed. It is possible I could have done better had I tried to push through the pain in those three weeks but it is more probable that I would have done much worse. Brian said it best, when it comes to the taper, less is definitely more.

I won't stop running now, I really enjoy it and it has kept me fit through the fall where I typically become somewhat of a couch potato. Who knows, maybe I'll start swimming and have an Olympic Triathlon in my near future.

Anyone wanna bet I can't do it?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Biking the New York City Marathon
Bicycle Escort for Wheelchair Athletes at the New York City Marathon
By Ann Marie Miller

I am very pleased to share with you a very “different” Race Report – a report of my experience as a Bicycle Escort for Wheel chair/Handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon.

Several weeks ago, Richard Rosenthal invited me to serve as a volunteer “Bicycle Escort” for the wheelchair/handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon because of my experience in bike racing and as a coach and group ride leader. The “bicycle escorts” assist the wheelchair/handcycle racers by serving as “rolling marshals” on the course, giving the spectators notice of the athletes approaching and watching for any hazards on the course. I embraced the opportunity to "give back" to the local cycling community, network with other cyclists and see the 5 boroughs from a different perspective.

I had no idea the bike escort group would include such a diverse group of cycling enthusiasts! Besides networking with many of the local racers I expected to see there, I was impressed with the diversity of the other bikers. I was honored to be included in a group ranging from an Emmy-award winning actor, to leaders in the civic and business community to concert musicians - a real reflection of the palette of New York culture and business!

We met the other riders at 6:15am at 59th & 5th Ave. to ride together to the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows bridge, were we organized, received our final assignments, and waited for the wheelchairs and handcycles to arrive after their start at 8:30am, well ahead of the actual marathon start. Cyclists were paired with one on each side of the road to lead the athletes, and blow a whistle to warn pedestrians and spectators that the wheelchair athletes were approaching. I think I was more nervous about escorting the handcyclist than I would be about doing a criterium in New York City! The handcyclists can hit speeds of 22-24 miles per hour on the flats, and since the event is "draft-legal", there can be "packs" of handcyclists, making it tricky to negotiate the bike escorts and groups of athletes!

Although there was a strong headwind from the north blasting us in the face as we rode up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, the ride went very smoothly. It was great seeing the crowds gathering in advance of the runners, and hearing some of the bands along the course. My partner & I were assigned to the first female hand cyclist, who stayed together with another male handcylist for most of the race.

The bike escorts were diverted from the course at the exit from Central Park Drive to 59thSt. (Central Park South) so we did not pass through the finish area with our athletes. “Riding” the New York City Marathon course with the wheelchair athletes was a great experience, and I’m sure all of us bike escorts were as impressed with the grit and determination of these athletes as we’d have been with any world class athletes.

Richard Rosenthal does a great job coordinating the bike escorts, and the entire marathon support team is amazing. I was very proud to volunteer and help with this epic New York City event as an ambassador for Cadence Cycling and Multisport. I'm looking forward to helping with this event next year, and if you are interested in serving as a bike escort, please let me know.

I have attached a photo of the Bicycle Escort team (I’m over on the right side, 2nd row, crouching halfway down, partially hidden in the shadows.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kicking the Water

Freestyle Swimming Kick Training
Holden Comeau

If you’ve been struggling all season with the swim portion of your triathlon training, there’s a good chance that your freestyle kick is underdeveloped. Right now in the off season is a great time to get your legs going in the water. It’s going to take a little extra leg power, and this is the best time to spare it! Below is a reprint of an article I wrote a few months ago for Triathlete Magazine. Check it out and get to the pool! And if you’re having some problems, send me an email and I’ll do what I can to help you out.

"A big misconception that unfortunately persists among the triathlon community is that swim training for the sport requires little attention to the freestyle kick. This is hugely problematic, especially for triathletes who are relatively new swimmers, or for those who experience what feels like an unwarranted amount of effort in the pool. For both of these individuals, gaining control of the kick is the first place to start when attempting to improve their swim.

It is important to understand is that kicking for a triathlete is not intended to directly increase thrust (which the kick certainly could, albeit with a substantial effort). Instead, the freestyle kick should be used as a means of controlling the swimmer’s body rotation and position in the water. For many swimmers, this task is often put upon the pull, creating more effort for the arms than is needed.

With proper training – which involves patient concentration on both the dynamics of the kicking movement and also some pure muscular conditioning – a swimmer can gain enough control over the kick so that it can become both light and also relentless. Once this is in place, body rotation and then the arm stroke cycle can be successfully coordinated to the rhythm of the kick (on this point, there is substantial debate as to which ‘rhythm’ is most effective; 2 beat, 2 beat cross-over, 4 beat, 6 beat, even 8 beat kicking per stroke cycle, are all variations of the kick/arm-cycle coordination. In my opinion, it would be best to experiment with as many different kicking speeds as possible, and work to perfect the rhythm that feels most comfortable and natural. Most importantly, swim with the kick speed that feels most rhythmic).

A great way to get your legs going is to train with some swim fins. These are full-sized rubber training fins – not shorty zoomers. Full size fins encourage correct kicking mechanics (move from the hip and core, not the knee), and also illuminate for the swimmer how best to effectively apply power to water. The fins will ‘grab’ the water more dominantly in one direction, which, for freestyle kicking is downward to the bottom of the pool. Standard interval training with the fins and a kick board works well at intervals ranging from 100-300 meters, and intensity should remain fairly low for all but a few of these laps.

Full stroke swimming with the fins can also be helpful. The exaggerated resistance against the fins will encourage a swimmer to pay more attention to their kick while they swim. Also, the added body stability that is created by this ‘really strong kick’ can, in turn, allow the arms a better foundation against which the swimmer can leverage pulling power. Realization of this relationship – a better kick creates a better pull – will also mean a realization of increased speed!"