Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finding motivation in the off-season

As mentioned before, I decided this year I wanted my November and December to be unstructured, to call my own shots for a bit. After five full years of racing and training, other than injury time-outs, I was ready to re-charge and Coach Jim was in full support. And from a coach's perspective, it seems silly to write workouts for someone who really shouldn't be and certainly doesn't need to be "working out" with any focus. I'm still logging what I'm doing, we communicate often, and we've begun planning for 2015. The real work will start in early January.

Left to my own devices, I didn't do a whole lot in November - I biked around 180 miles, ran 45, hit the gym a few times, and swam just 5700 yds. I felt a bit lost and absent was the satisfaction that comes from training. I started to look for some ways to motivate without the burden of a structured plan.

Along came the Runabout Sports December 100 Mile Challenge. I knew this was just the ticket and it lit an instant fire under me and lots of friends too! It has the perfect elements of community, flexibility, accountability, and fun. That very afternoon I hit treadmill for my own little speed workout, and I've been having a blast since finding different ways and places to get out and run!

Ironically, my two highest run mileage weeks of the entire year have been the past two!! This could be good base mileage to carry into January. (And now you know my little secret...I'm a low volume runner.)

I'm currently at 34 miles for the month.

The other place I needed a kick in the pants was the pool. I solved that with a new holiday swimsuit. In order to lower my cost-per-wearing of the Santa and Reindeer suit (which was more than the $30 I typically spend on a suit)...well, I pretty much have to go to the pool. It's not exactly something you can wear anywhere else!

It also helps to have friends at the pool :-) Good accountability!!!

Just a few small changes on the motivation front initiated a great ripple effect for me. 

If your fitness motivating is waning this time of year, find some new ways to get excited about it. Consider making a pact with friends, or try a different group fitness class, or get a new pair of running shoes. A change-up can have a big impact.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Florida A1A Half Marathon

I'm in Florida for 48 hours for the very happy wedding occasion of my company's Chief Connector!   This morning I headed out on the scenic A1A for a run, knowing I'd do 8, or maybe 10 miles toward the Runabout Sports 100 mile December Challenge. Impulsively I thought wouldn't it be FUN to do my own half marathon? (Well, to quote something I read somewhere, it was fun...until it wasn't.)

(Umm...Garmin...you might want to recalculate that supposed1630 foot elevation gain.)

Now that I'm done, of course in hindsight I will say it was fun. I saw at least 100 cyclists out in small groups, a lot of walkers, and a few runners.  I waved or said good morning to everyone I could.

I saw a lot of mansions, yachts, and expensive sports cars and thought about how no mansion, yacht, or expensive sports car could ever satisfy me more than a good swim, bike, or run!

At the half way point I stopped to take a selfie on this bridge and met Thor, a triathlete who lives in NJ and has a marketing firm in NYC. We had a nice race chat about races, warm temps, and work, then parted to finish our respective runs.

The drawbridge was up over the intercoastal waterway, and frankly I was glad for the excuse to take a little break! The bridge itself is a metal mesh and as I ran over it I imagined what if one of the little grates was loose and I feel through into the water?! The things I think of when I run....crazy.

To the nice man who told me I looked "energetic" at mile 10. THANK YOU. I needed that because I was feeling anything but.

At 13.1 miles, like a pot of gold at the end of my run rainbow, I found myself at a tiny hole-in-the-wall market where I stocked up on snacks and drinks at reasonable non-hotel prices. SCORE!

I hope your day is bringing adventure and proverbial pots of gold too!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Mark Allen's 'The Art of Competition'

I've added a new and unique book to my triathlon library - The Art of Competition by Mark Allen with photography by Nick Borelli. (Website: art-of-competition.com). Pardon the post-its in the photo above, they are marking some of my current favorite pages.

First, a little background --

Mark Allen is a 6-time Kona Ironman World Champion (1989-1993 and 1995). He went on to be named the World's Fittest Man by Outside Magazine and voted the Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time by ESPN. He's in both the ITU and USAT Hall of Fame, and works now as a coach, author, and speaker.

What that list of accomplishments does not tell, is that his 6 wins were preceded by 6 losses, a streak that would cause most of us to give up on ever getting the win. A new perspective built with shaman Brant Secunda allowed Mark to stem the tide of losses, and find the peace, mental strength, and belief necessary to become World Champion - 6 times over!


Mark Allen knows a thing or two about hard work and the physical and mental sides of training and racing. The Art of Competition is a product of 25 years of reflection on what it took to change his mindset to that of a winner.

Triathletes are drawn to books with plans, numbers, and science that can tell us how to swim, bike, and run faster, in the least amount of time, while staying healthy, and attaining an ideal body composition. We look for the details that might give us an edge - a lighter more aero piece of equipment, some new training fuel, a quicker way to recover, a new coach, a sport-specific strength training routine, or a speed workout that is sure to lead to gains.

We spend time and money looking outward for the answers, but I'd argue few of us look inward. We don't know how. The Art of Competition gently opens the door to that process.

It's scary to think about our own insecurities, fears, jealousy, uncertainty, and doubts. Yet those are are the very demons we face on the race course, when we are truly alone with our thoughts. The relatively comfortable lives many of us lead do not offer many opportunities to build courage, invite uncertainty, or experience the discomfort of significant change. We tend toward the status quo.

Triathlon and other sports give us the chance to build our inner character. Mark Allen crafts the words that explain what we often feel in that process but cannot describe. 

The Art of Competition is over 200 beautiful pages with 90 quotes paired with stunning two-page landscape images. You might think you can "read" the whole thing in one sitting, but the fact is you won't. Each quote will leave you quietly thinking about your own experiences and character and perhaps ways to better develop the inner self. Many of his quotes have served as conversation starters with my children leading to far more interesting discussions than "how was school today!"

This is the go-to book when you seek inspiration and something bigger to chew on than endless thoughts about watts or pace or heart rate. These are the mantras that will help you to get more out of yourself, to find the courage, and the belief!

The book transcends triathlon and it's easy to see application of these mini-lessons in work/business, relationships, life challenges, and parenting.

The Art of Competition is a great gift idea for the triathlete in your life. Here are some samples from the book pulled from The Art of Competition Facebook page:

 "Excellence is not a part-time job."

"The final step is possible only because of the thousands taken before it."

"The greatest victories can't be seen" 

"Inner peace, then outer results. Not the other way around."

The Art of Competition was named the winner in the Sports category of the 11th annual USA Best Book Awards as well as a finalist for Best Cover Design: Non-Fiction. Pretty cool. They need a blog category ;-)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The WIN of Not Racing a Race

On Thanksgiving morning, Grant and I did the Drumstick Dash 5K in Roanoke, VA. It was our first year at home in Virginia for the holiday, so this was a new race for us. I was surprised when my 12-year-old Grant (yes, I am aware he is tall) agreed to go with me and I was further surprised that it was no problem to wake him up at 7 am on a non-school day!

This event drew 13,000 participants and raised money for the Roanoke Rescue Mission. It amazes me that this race in our small neighboring city is bigger than the Pittsburgh Turkey Trot that I've raced the last few years. Incidentally, in 2013, 870,000 people joined in Thanksgiving Day races, running 3.4 million miles (source: Turkey Trots by the Numbers, Competitor Running)!

Grant and I contributed 6.2 miles to the 2014 tally.

Grant was looking a little less enthusiastic at the race start.

I got a little choked up at the start of the race as I thought about sharing this beautiful morning with my son, thinking about the 300+ families that spent the night at the Rescue Mission, and feeling thankful for so much.

We lined up in the middle of the crowded pack. Grant was ready to sprint with his soccer goalie fast reflexes, then at the sound of the starter's pistol we took off at a...walk! He said "well that was rather anticlimactic!"

The pack thinned a bit and we could finally run, and as we did we fell into conversation about race strategy, the buildings around us, and life. We were not racing. I let him set the pace. We ran some, walked some, and stopped for photo ops like the giant inflatable turkey:

While I would love for this to be a seed that grows into a future love of running for him, there were no expectations, just the moment we were in.

Confession time. I had to work to control my hard-wired competitive and need-for-speed tendencies.
  • We got passed. I do not enjoy being passed at any speed. (My mind would be yelling, "Just so you know, I am NOT racing you!")
  • It is hard to resist pouring it all out and sprinting through the finish. But resist, I did, and we finished side-by-side.

My self restraint paid off. After the race, Grant said, "I'm not ruling out doing another one."


With plenty of energy remaining, I went home and ran another 7.5 miles around town in my turkey suit.

I got a lot of thumbs-up from motorists, I passed some guy on the sidewalk who laughed his head off, and the customers in Waffle House waved. I had a good time!

I made USAT's Thanksgiving photo this year. That's me in the bottom left in my Solar Connexion kit!

And in other off-season training news:

I continue to enjoy unstructured training. With several trips on the calendar for November/December, some extra family things going on, weather uncertainties, and the holidays, it's been really nice to have flexibility there.

I took most of November off of swimming but got back on the Vasa Swim Ergometer. I'm back at the gym, and doing essentially one training-type thing per day with one day off per week. Nothing too notable aside from a random 15-mile run I did yesterday, just to know I could do it.

That's all from here!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gear up for Winter Cycling

We've had a major cold snap here in Virginia, but I have come to realize how important it is for my sanity and well-being to get outside on a regular basis no matter what. Tuesday morning was absolutely beautiful - clear and sunny. My bike beckoned me. But it was also cold and windy. I was just not at all excited about the prospect of the bike trainer.

I've cycled in temps in the 20's before with no problem so figured with the right gear I'd be OK outside.

And I was!

I got in a nice 20-miler and was quite comfortable, aside from my finger tips getting a little cold when I rode into the headwind. This is what I wore: beanie under helmet, neck gaiter (KEY piece), tank top, arm sleeves, long sleeve shirt, wind-resistant insulated cycling jersey, cycling tights, socks, neoprene shoe covers, and two pairs of gloves. The reason for the arm sleeves is I was already dressed and decided I needed a little more on my arms.

In addition to dressing appropriately, stick to sunny routes and flatter, more rolling courses that avoid the extremes of sweating up a hill and freezing down!

Don't let the cold temps keep you locked inside! Get the right gear and get outside!