Step Up and Tri – March 2012

Welcome to March’s Blog!
Many of you are gearing up for early season races and I wanted to address an issue that comes up all the time: pace versus effort as a way to monitor workouts and races. For a lot of novices, actual pace (mins per mile or miles per hour) is the defining feature of their workouts. While that might be valid for swimming (in a pool) and running (when it is cool and flat), it is not a useful metric for cycling intensity as speed is so affected by winds (a huge issue here in S. Florida) and terrain (more of an issue for those of you who actually have some hills).  This last week, there have been silly amounts of windy in S. Florida, so much so that on my 115 mile ride last Saturday, I went north at between 22-25mph and came home (into the headwind) at a humbling 14 to 17mph- all with the same power and HR, but a higher RPE (rating of perceived exertion- a totally subjective measure).

When cycling, the key metrics to pay attention to are heart rate and cadence and RPE– just turn off the mph when heading into a wind as it will make you want to work harder than you should. And on race day that can have disastrous effects- more so the longer the race. Ideally we would all have power meters on our bikes – as this effectively removes wind from the equation- your watts are absolute, versus the relative status of speed. Since I got my power meter I no longer fight the wind, as I simply focus on the target watts I need to produce.  Remember, on race day we are all dealing with the same weather, so don’t stress out that the wind is slowing you down- it is slowing us all down. But those of us who manage our energy output sensibly and according to a well thought out plan will be the ones who can run strong at the end of the race, versus those who blasted away into the wind or up the long hills and have nothing left to give for the run.

When running, pace can also be misleading on the hills or in the heat. If we did our time trials in cool weather or on flat terrain, we will be sorely challenged to hold those same paces in the hills or when the temps rise above the ideal running temps of 43-48 degrees farhenheit and 40-50% humidity. So, again, the focus should be more on HR and RPE than on actual pace. Of course, by race day, we should know how we perform in the heat and hills as we will have done specific training to mimic race conditions, so we can take an educated guess at our running paces.

Speed and pace are seductive and misleading channel markers, so pay attention to power, HR, RPE, and Cadence (to save the fast twitch muscle fibers and utilize the slow twitch fibers that take a long time to fatigue, recover quickly and are oxidative so they can  use less of our finite glycogen – carbohydrate- stores and more of the fat energy stores.)

Train smart, race hard, stay happy!

Mental Skills Training:
Part five of the series in six techniques for better mental power –This month we’re going to focus on the element of mental skills training that the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) has found to be important for consistent, optimal performance: intensity regulation.

Intensity/arousal Regulation

Gaining control over the level of intensity is one of the most important things that athletes can do to improve their competition and race preparation. Levels of intensity/arousal are very specific to each athlete. Some athletes perform better when they have low levels of intensity (very relaxed), while others need a moderate level (a composed intensity), and still others need a high level of intensity (wired, pumped up). For consistent performance, it is important for athletes to have a keen awareness of their preferred level of intensity, because being at the wrong level will cause less than optimal performance (from being too casual to being too revved up). Once in a state of optimal arousal, athletes feel motivated, confident, focused, and ready. It is part of a coach’s responsibility to help an athlete identify and reach their ideal arousal level. Sometimes this will include “pep” talks and motivating feedback, but for some athletes this might add to anxiety levels. So it is up to both athlete and coach to help identify what the optimal state is and how to achieve it pre-competition.

Being in the wrong state of intensity will cause motivational, confidence, concentration, and physiological problems. The key for athletes is to determine what works best for them. Coaches can give valuable assistance to athletes by asking them the right questions. Begin by having them ask themselves the following questions:

* How do you usually feel before your best races? Your worst races? Are your muscles tense? Rapid breathing? Rapid heart rate? What did you do before those games to arrive at those states?
* What are your behaviors before your best races and worst races? Do you prefer to sit by yourself and listen to tunes? Do you prefer to be among the throng in the transition area or early in the corrals talking and laughing? Do you prefer to buzz around (pacing)?
* What do you think about before playing? Are you worried about how you will play? What do you do to calm your nerves?

It is also up to the coach to teach the athletes relaxation methods to help deal with pre-competition anxiety (deep breathing, mantra meditation, positive self talk and managing the internal dialogue).

Once athletes know what their ideal intensity level is and what it feels like, they can ensure that they are in their “zone” by applying specific techniques designed to achieve that goal. For those athletes who find themselves consistently too intense, begin by having them ask themselves how these feelings of overintensity affect them the most? Some athletes tend to get “too much into their heads” (mental) by getting  negative about the race, themselves, and/or the  conditions, while others tend to get overly “tight and tense” (physical tension) in places that can adversely affect performance (tight shoulders or low back, for instance, which will negatively affect form) . Still others experience a combination of these. To maximize effectiveness at lowering intensity to optimal levels, those who are “too much into their heads” (psychological barriers) are in need of mental strategies like positive self talk and managing the internal dialogue. Those who are too “tight and tense” (physical barrier) should practice physical relaxation strategies like deep breathing. And everyone can benefit from a little mantra meditation as it will have both positive psychological and physiological effects, as well as positively affect emotions. Those who experience a combination of the two need to practice mental and physical strategies, but truly everyone can benefit from a combination of the two.

Of course, these mental skills must be practiced on a regular basis so that they are actually effective on race day. Remember, we do nothing new on race day. These mental skills will positively affect all your training and racing, and once developed can improve concentration, focus, relaxation, anxiety levels, confidence, and overall well-being. Just a few minutes a day can save many more minutes on race day as you will be able to reach optimal arousal levels pre-competition that will allow you to perform at your best during the race.

Barefoot or shod?
Whether it be your Vibram 5 fingers, your Innovate, or the truly brave and actually barefoot runner, there is a constant hum at the moment about low profile running (with less of a drop from heel to forefoot).

Running barefoot does not give a metabolic advantage

This goes against the bare foot running fad. Orthotics can be your friend.

The Footstrike Debate

My take
I think barefoot running is an excellent tool when used correctly. A runner new to barefoot running should introduce that style of running very conservatively with short bouts done at a very comfy pace. This will allow the ligaments, tendons, and musculature to adapt to the new stresses without risking injury. Barefoot running will reduce vertical oscillation, which in turn reduces the stresses encountered by all the joints from the metatarsals (in the feet) on up to the sacroilliac joint (low back), and beyond. Think about it: you run much more carefully and without an excessive heel strike when you run without shoes on.

For me the problems arise when newbie barefoot runners start running in that state for all their runs: long, short, fast and slow, and right from the get go, with no adaptation process. I think this will almost always lead to an injury of one sort or another, and is especially risky for athletes with less than perfect biomechanics (over pronators or people with flat feet, for example).

So, please do try out the new barefoot craze, but do so carefully. And do NOT do it if you are only a month away from your A race. We will save experimentation for another base phase when we are focusing more on form.

Athlete Race Update:
New Orleans Marathon: Bonnie & Franny both qualified for Boston!! Wowee! I am so proud of them both!!

Let me say how totally impressed I am with how hard they both worked, and all this coming rather quickly off their first Ironman last November, which they both did INCREDIBLY well at.

I thought I would write up a little synopsis of how they did it (the key training factors) and what their experience was of this whole process.

After racing an Ironman, the human body is really not in any kind of shape to start training for a Boston-qualifying marathon attempt and I was concerned about Bonnie getting right back into hard training again. However, after a short 3 weeks off, she was raring to go and my task was to keep her healthy, be super conservative in the training, and be sure to stave off over-training (from starting too soon) and injury. We wanted to chose an early season marathon, so that Bonnie could train AND race when the weather was cool, and of course we wanted a flat course. That narrowed it down to Nola, a Wrightsville, North Carolina race, and the Shamrock marathon and we went with Nola as there were not the turns or the risk of winds we had heard about for the other races (and I think Bonnie just wanted to get it over with). I might have preferred a later race, but we figured if she did not qualify at Nola we could attempt a later marathon and that would take some mental pressure off the race for her.

Everyone recovers at different rates, and I think Bonnie was a little surprised that she did not feel more zippy early on in the training. Perhaps she forgot that she travelled 140.6 miles all under her own steam only one month before …. She honored me by trusting the process I had designed and attacking her greatest weakness- her mental training. This allowed us not to focus on the fact that her paces were a little off, and instead really build her mental strength. I asked Bonnie if I could write about her mental training and how this has really been her only stumbling block since we started working together. She agreed.

Despite having a truly stellar year last year, where she PR’d, podiumed and qualified for the Multi-race Championship Triathlon AND finished her first Ironman, Bonnie consistently beat her self up and was dissapointed in her performance. Early in the year, Bonnie was not consistent enough in her training to see significant improvements, but once she applied herself she improved vastly in all 3 disciplines and each race was better than the last, as was each Time Trial we did. Yet still, she would mentally beat herself up, and every day was filled with rather brutal negative self talk and a lack of confidence.

Last year we had done some work on her mental skills training, but I don’t think I gave it enough attention so when we began marathon training I asked her if she was ready to dedicate herself to this process. Mental training is difficult and takes some courage actually, but Bonnie said she was willing and so the process began. Bonnie was tasked with working on: her internal dialogue, staying focused on the process and the task at hand (not the outcome), anxiety reduction with deep breathing, and to come up with some mantras to help her during tough parts of racing and training and to continue to use some of the visualization skills we had developed last year.

For the internal dialogue management skills, Bonnie had to recognize when she was talking negatively to herself and then assess whether it needed addressing (I suggest she test it by asking if her best friend would talk to her that way). Then come up with a replacement sentence- short, believable and something she won’t argue with- she will simply replace the negative self talk. And of course the last step is to habituate this process.

I also sent Bonnie some articles on how important the mental aspects are of training and she diligently read them all and took them to heart.

On the physical training front, training for a BQ marathon is very different than training simply to finish the race; we have to work on tempo, threshold, and of course actual marathon pace runs. Initially Bonnie was not hitting the paces I knew she could if she was fresh (and not recovering from an IM), but she hung in there as I promised it would come around. And around it did come. I had used Dr. Jack Daniels’ prediction tables to estimate her marathon paces and knew she was capable of an 8:25 to 8:34 pace for the marathon (she needed 8:34’s to qualify), and on race day, Bonnie consistently ran 8:25’s. FanTASTIC.

Below are Bonnie’s own words about what she felt were the most important aspects of training (slightly edited in case there are minors reading this…..)

DW: What do you think was the most important part of your training for this race?
BB:  H
mmm, it was all important! For me the biggest was speed work and the long runs at race pace that really helped and most of all was the positive mental training you drilled into my head. I still went down that dark road but didn’t stay there!

DW: What was the biggest key to being able to push it when you were hurting at the end?
BB: I went back to those articles u sent me about how we really never tap into our reserve. (See the articles below.) I also thought about Chrissie Wellington, Lance Armstrong and how much pain they have endured and it has never stopped them, nor killed them. I told myself that “I’m gonna hurt whether I run fast or slow so I’m gonna run fast.” “The faster u run the faster u get done.” Lastly I told myself that I did not come here to wuss out, so take the pain and it will be worth it in the end!! Nevertheless,  I threw in the towel at mile 22-23 because I temporarily allowed the pain to take over [Bonnie had a piriformis issue that caused her to have to stop and stretch a lot at this point] but I didn’t want to surrender to it!! I had worked too hard for too long and wanted this really badly and no way was I going home to tell my kids I didn’t make it because of butt pain…they wouldn’t understand and I’d regret it. What an amazing range of emotions u go thru in a marathon…1 mile u feel like a rockstar and the next mile u wanna lay down and cry. In the end it comes down to which person in ur head is gonna win the battle: the negative one or the positive one. This can be a monumental battle when your body is shot… There’s not much physical left so it’s that mental drive u have to tap into to get u home. I owe all that to the mental training we did, because if we had not done that work I would have still been walking back from mile 23. U can share anything – even the fact that I peed about 6 times in my shorts as I wasn’t about to stop!

Thank you, Bonnster!

Franny had done Ironman Florida also, but we were training her for Boston, which gave us longer to build up the mileage and gave her more time to recover from that amazing accomplishment in November of last year. Franny is always pretty upbeat and positive, but was feeling a little funky that her running was not where she wanted it, so we were working on keeping her expectations realistic. We all recover at different rates. Of course, Bonnie and Franny are best friends and Frann wanted to qualify for Boston again next year so she could do it with Bonnie. I had to keep talking her out of the tree so she would not race Nola with Bonnie and we would focus on Boston, where I thought she would actually be capable of qualifying for Boston AT Boston.

Franny, however, had other ideas. Despite the fact that we had not done enough long training runs to do her best marathon, she was not tapered, and had explicit instructions to race the half in Nola, she decided she was going to race it anyway. All the time worrying about how mad I was going to be. 🙂 WEll, she qualified again, and I am mad (because of the injury risk of running 32% longer than her most recent long run on a history of niggling injuries from last year that we staved off…), but how can I not be astonishingly proud and happy for her? Imagine what Franny and Bonnie could do totally healthy (Bonnie) AND tapered and thoroughly trained (Franny)?

With Franny, I had been focusing on getting the distance back up, as well as the threshold and pace intervals that Bonnie had been doing. Franny had had some trouble hitting those paces, yet on race day she pulled it out! AMAZING!

Here is Franny’s take on the training and racing.

DW: What do you think was the most important part of your training for this race?
FN: “Definitely my longest run (18m), and also the time you had me push my pace on the last 3 miles of a long run meant I KNEW I could do it on race day, and also knew that I would regret not trying. My left ankle and quad were shot at the end, not to mention I had a horrible burn from my sports bra and also my ankle brace.”
DW: What was the biggest key to being able to push it when you were hurting at the end
FN: “In the last couple minutes, I knew I was gonna barely make it. I was mad at myself for taking about 4 (10) second walk breaks, especially if it meant that was gonna blow it for me. I was TOO close not to give it everything I had left.. I pictured my mom yelling for me at the finish line that she knew I could do it.. That image got me to push it to my limit at the end to make it in time. Also want to say that the #1 reason I was there was to support Bonnie in her endeavor to qualify. I knew she was going to do it- had no doubt! But you put in my plan for the race “help keep Bonnie on pace.” [and the plan also said “for the first 13.1 miles….”] so from the start that was my goal. As far as my own race, I didn’t even know until right up to the point where I chose to go left at the fork in the road (that was the separation point for the full and the 1/2), what I was gonna do that day. Qualifying was nice, but being with Bonnie when she achieved that goal was awesome 🙂 Note to self: no more of Bonnies glycerin suppositories!!!!”

I had to add this, as Franny had, as she put, explosive poop issues. See? you can qualify for Boston even with a 4 minute porta potty stop.

Thank you, Ladies. I am immensely proud of you. And as always thanks for putting your trust in me and working so damn hard all the time.

Upcoming Races:
Nothing in March, but plenty coming up in April! See next month’s blog (out in two weeks).

Sweet Talk Your Governor!
Even if you have to tell yourself little white lies, keep sweet talking yourself through the pain. You probably have more left in you than you realize!
Two fascinating, related studies:

Featured Athlete:  Sue Caplan
Past history of sports participation: Basketball and track in high school, recreational running and yoga
What was your first tri & what made you do it: FAU Wellness Triathlon – My brother dared me to do it!!!
What do you love about training and racing? I love the connection of the mind and body in training. It forces you to lose yourself and live in the moment! I also love the experience of getting stronger while prepping for a race. Racing is like an amusement park after the grind of training! It is fun and painful and brings a HUGE sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish.
Favorite training or racing experiences: A calm day at the beach for an open water swim is always a favorite training day. Racing with friends are the best experiences.
Races/events completed last season: Texas 70.3, Tradewinds Park Sprints, PAL Half Marathon, JCC Turkey Trot, Las Vegas Rock n Roll Half Marathon, Spanish River 5K, Miami Half and A1A Half
Favorite race/s (all-time): New York City Triathlon
Athletic achievement/s you are most proud of: 3rd Place at Miami Man
Goals for the 2012 season: Return to racing triathlons, complete a hilly triathlon and run a marathon
Favorite running trail and/or bike route: Running: 13.1 Panera through South County Park Loop, Catawba Falls hilly run in North Carolina Biking: A1A for the bike in Florida, Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Favorite racing and/or training tip (what would you tell a newbie, and not necessarily something Dara told you!): Dive under the waves, don’t try to go over them!
A favorite “Dara-ism”: You have to train in the rain and inclement weather because they aren’t going to cancel the race if it’s raining!

Marathons Pose Little Risk to Heart

My take:
These incidence rates are lower than the general population, so don’t worry about doing your next race. However, we all need to get a yearly medical check up and monitor our health and response to training. Exercising sensibly is not risky, but inadequate training and then racing hard (or long) can be risky, especially in an individual with pre-existing risk factors.

Monthly Recipe:
Blue Cheese and Butternut Squash Polenta Lasagna
1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan and whisk in 1 ¼ cups coarse ground polenta, 2 tbsp olive oil, ¼ tsp salt, 2 minced cloves of garlic, and ½ tsp of grated lemon zest (optional). Stir for 5 minutes over medium-low heat before pouring onto a 9 by 18 inch baking sheet brushed with olive oil. Cool for an hour in the fridge.
2. Bake 2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.
3. Grease a nine-inch-square baking dish with olive oil. Transfer half of the polenta into the dish and brush with olive oil. Evenly spread squash, ½ cup blue cheese, one diced tomato, and 4 ounces shredded mozzarella over the polenta. Cover with remaining polenta and brush with olive oil. Add 4 more ounces of shredded mozzarella on top.
4. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Finish by removing foil and baking until top is golden brown (10 to 15 minutes).
Garnish with chopped walnuts and a drizzling of olive oil.

Always time for a quick laugh:



About TriCoachDara

I have been a multi-sport coach since 2001 and during that time I have trained hundreds of athletes for whom triathlon, running, biking, fitness and health must fit into very busy lives. My clientele includes lawyers, doctors, full time mothers, office workers, school teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs – and every one of them has a jam packed schedule. My goal is to help each athlete strike a balance between training to their maximum potential and balancing the various other aspects of their lives, as well as to provide all the information they need to perform at their best and stay healthy and injury free.
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