Saturday, June 26, 2010

Croixathlon: Volunteer Report

This is a race report lacking pictures and a race report.  You see, today I was a spectator/volunteer at the Croixathlon.  Katie actually did the race, and there's some big news at the end of this post, so keep reading.  This post will mainly be my experience as a volunteer.

Croixathlon took place at a YMCA camp on the St. Croix River in Hudson, WI.  When we got there, we parted ways as Katie went to set up her transition area, and I went to get checked in.  Little did I know that I wouldn't be seeing much of Katie over the next few hours.

They sent me out on parking lot duty first.  I stood at an intersection and told people to keep driving.  Later, they gave me a bright yellow flag.  I worried about some of the people showing up around 7:10am, because transition closed at 7:20am.  Do these people not plan ahead?  The job ended up slowing down, and became rather boring.

I left that job and was put on tunnel duty.  The cyclists had to cross a busy road, but they had a tunnel to go through.  The main part of the job was that when the first cyclists were heading back, I would holler through the tunnel to make sure no one was coming the other way.  The message was relayed along the course much like the Twilight Bark from 101 Dalmatians or "Call the locksmith!" from Robin Hood: Men in Tights.  I did manage to see Katie very briefly as she was heading out, but the tunnel was dark, and I didn't notice her until she was right next to me.  She was looking great!

Once two-way tunnel traffic wasn't a threat anymore, they hurried me over to an intersection on the bike course around mile 13.  I needed to make sure the cyclists turned left.  I probably got a little too into the job, and did some fancy "turn left" moves including some karate kicks.  It's also amazing how much some drivers don't understand "STOP".

They relieved me from that duty at the end, and I got to find Katie back at transition.  She had just finished about 5 or 10 minutes prior, and was chatting with Mike and his wife.  As Katie went to clean up her road rash from 2 weeks ago, I decided to check out the "beach path".  This is a path all the triathletes had to ascend from the beach to T1.  Boy, was it STEEP!  And uneven.  And long.  Probably not so fun after a 600 yard swim.

At the awards ceremony, we had a bit of a surprise.  Katie placed 3rd in her age group!  What a fantastic job she did!  This was only her 2nd outdoor triathlon ever, and she placed.  Mike ended up getting 2nd in his age group, so victories all around!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Last Saturday's Course Preview At Cleary Lake

With the triathlon now just over a month away, it's getting to be that time where things get serious.  Katie and I had planned on going down to the course last Saturday to check out the park and the lake.  Our excursion almost didn't happen because of Katie's bike crash encounter with a 12 foot grizzly bear.  But, by Saturday, she was feeling well enough to get back on the bike, but decided she would avoid the water.  Mike, a friend of Katie's who is also doing the triathlon, and his wife Katie (yes, this will be confusing), also came.

The Course

The bike course started in Cleary Lake Park.  We all saddled up and headed out on the 13.5 mile journey.  This was a pretty easy trek for the other 3, but it was more of a challenge to me because (a) I just don't have the cycling fitness that they do, and (b) I've got a mountain bike whereas they all had nice road bikes.

The course itself traveled through rural farmland, and had some gentle rolling hills to start.  And, by gentle rolling hills, I mean Mount Everest.  Not really, but they seemed that way to pokey old me.  The difficulty I ran into was that I needed to conserve as much momentum as possible (engineers: I know momentum is always conserved—just go with it).  I wanted to keep my speed up on the downhills so I didn't die on the next uphill.  However, the others could take it nice and casual on the downhills.  Therefore, I looked like the jerk who passes people just to get passed a few seconds later.

I didn't die, but there were some treacherous rumble strips to look out for.  They're actually quite jarring on the bike, but I guess I have an advantage with the suspension on my trusty old mountain bike.  Sorry roadies…

We got back, and Katie did pretty well.  Her shoulder was sore, but it's feeling better now.  The three of us that weren't in a bike crash attacked by Sasquatch decided to swim.  Up to this point, my recent open water swimming experience has been limited to Square Lake—a very, very clear and clean lake.  Cleary Lake is not clear at all.  Pretend you're looking through the glass that beer bottle are made of—yeah, the water was like that.  And, even though the lake is small and shallow, the lake was pretty cold.

We were discussing the ethics of ignoring the beach rules

I think Katie's goal in life is to take awkward pictures of me

You can see the blue "beach curtain" in this photo

We ended up doing very little swimming.  The weeds and the beach curtain made it pretty much impossible for us to get beyond the swim area, so we stayed within the small swim area.  They'll be opening the curtain for the triathlon, but it would have been nice to swim out into the lake to work on sighting.  I also realized that I looked kinda dorky wearing my wetsuit in the swim area.  The goal was to go beyond the swim area, but by the time we realized we couldn't, I already had it most of the way on.  So, I looked a little silly, but I was warm and buoyant.  (You don't hear people calling themselves "warm and buoyant" everyday, do you?)

After about 100 meters of swimming, we called it a day.  Katie then got distracted by a puppy.  It was morning, evening, 4 days later… Katie left the puppy alone.  We're hoping to come back and ride the course one more time, and maybe swim again so Katie can get used to the water.  We'll probably need to enter at the boat ramp, though, to avoid the curtain.

Katie is still on the mend, but she's pretty sure she'll be doing the Croixathlon this weekend.  Look for more coverage on that later.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Swimming Progress

I'm not a natural swimmer.  I'm sure you know this.  Watch me in the pool, and the term that comes to mind is "sophisticated drowning".  Nonetheless, I've been working to improve my swimming.  I signed up to take private swimming lessons, and so far have completed 2 of the 3.  My coach, Kalli, is really knowledgeable, and finds ways to help me with my stroke.  She's given me some good drills to use, and I think I've sensed some improvement.

Still, I haven't been able to do much beyond short swims.  When the pool is set up in its 50 meter configuration, I barely make it one length.  I'm typically gasping for breath, and my form has gone to hell after about 30 meters.  Not a good sign if I want to swim ¼ mile in the triathlon.

This week, though, Kalli sent me some workouts for my own use.  There are 3 of them.  1 focuses on endurance, 1 on drills/technique, and 1 on speed.  Today, I picked the endurance one to work on.  Here it is:

  • 200 yards flutter kick with board
  • 200 yards pull with pull bouy
  • 100 yards front crawl- fingertip drag drill
  • 50 yards front crawl- sprint
  • 100 yards front crawl- high elbow drill
  • 300 yards front crawl- moderate pace, breathing every 4/5 strokes (every 2/3 strokes when you become tired)
  • 150 yards front crawl- cool down (slow pace, breathing at your own comfort level)
See bullet point number 6?  Yup, 300 yards continuous.  I was not looking forward to that.  I knew it wasn't possible for me to swim 300 yards.  But, I started the workout.  And made it through the first 5 bullet points.

I started the 300 at an easy pace.  300 yards later, I finished.  I'll repeat:  I swam 300 yards continuously!  Now, it's not that exciting because the pool was in its 25yd setup and I pushed off the wall, but even at the end, I wasn't gasping for breath and felt like I could go on for a while.  In fact, I only rested for about 30 seconds before I tackled the 150 cool down without a problem.

I'm excited that I'm making noticeable progress now.  Unlike running, I really don't have a way to measure progress.  Even if I'm improving, it doesn't feel like it because swimming is just so unnatural.  Thus, being able to go a longer distance gives me some encouragement that I may be doing something right.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


You may have noticed that my blog has a different appearance.  I'm working on updating it using some of the new features in Blogger, so don't be surprised if it changes more.  In particular, I'm trying to figure out how to make it so the majority of the background image isn't off-screen or upload my own image.  Stay tuned.

It's been about 3½ weeks since I officially started marathon training.  I think I've settled into a good training plan, so I'd like to share it with you.  I decided to base it off of Hal Higdon's Advanced 1 plan, with some modifications for triathlon training.  When developing my plan, I kept a few rules in mind.

  1. Running is the priority
  2. Swimming is my weakness
  3. Swim at least 2 times per week
  4. Bike at least 2 times per week
  5. A plan isn't set in stone, so listen to my body
  6. Run a 3:45 marathon
With those in mind, I crafted a schedule as follows.

Mondays: Bike.  In the marathon plan, Mondays are recovery days with runs of 3-5 miles.  So, I'm replacing that run with a bike that will take similar amounts of time.  I'm at 30 minutes of biking now, and will start increasing that once July hits.

Tuesdays: Run sorta-long, and swim.  Following Hal's program, Tuesdays runs increase from 5 miles in week 1 to 10 miles in the longest weeks.  I'll keep it at a moderate pace, with the occasional 3/1 run thrown in for fun.  I also throw in an afternoon swim of about 30 minutes for recovery/swimming improvement.

Wednesdays: Bike, and optional swim.  Same theory as Mondays, although I typically also do a swim on Wednesdays.

Thursdays: Speedwork and swim.  Thursdays are hard days.  Each week, I alternate hill repeats, tempo runs, and intervals.  Hill repeats start with 3 repeats, increasing to 7.  Tempo runs start at 30 minutes, increasing to 45.  Intervals are almost exclusively 800s.  I plan on making a few of these interval workouts Yasso 800s.  I also do another 30 minute swim on Thursdays.

Fridays: Rest.  It's tough, but I make myself take a rest day.

Saturdays: Pace Runs.  Most weeks are pace runs at my target marathon pace (TMP).  These help me internalize my TMP so that it is second nature at the race.  Some weeks, this is just a run (not a pace run).  Distances increase from 5 miles to 10 miles.

Sundays: LSD.  This may be my toughest day, and not because of the distance.  With a TMP of 8'36"/mile, my long runs should be somewhere between 9'20" and 10'10"/mile.  I tend to run these too fast.  My task is to slow these down—and it helps that the Saturday workout is tougher, because that tires the legs a bit and forces me to run slower.  Distances start at 10 miles, and increases to 3 20 mile runs.  Every 3rd week is a stepback week.

That's my plan, and it's working pretty well.  I've already done some modifications, but keep the overall philosophy constant.  For example, this past weekend, we went to Cleary Lake to ride the bike course.  Since it was an hour ride at a tougher pace for me, it tired me out sufficiently for Sunday's LSD.  Then, I converted today's 6 mile sorta-long run into a 6 mile pace run.  So, I'm still getting sufficient training in for the marathon, while building endurance/strength on the swimming and biking.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Thoughts on a Sub-4 Hour Marathon

I've found myself in a bit of a conundrum lately.  Now that I have officially started marathon training, I find it is important to solidify my goal.  My first marathon was great—I enjoyed the experience and I finished.  But, I went out too fast, fell apart in the final miles, and ended up with a time less than ideal.

But I'm ok with that.  That experience has caused me to approach my upcoming marathon not as avoiding the failure of last time, but as pushing myself toward a new and more exciting goal.  I initially set this new goal as "run a marathon in less than 4 hours".  Why 4 hours?  In my mind, 4 hours separates the plodders (a group of which I was proud to belong to) and everyone else (which I hope to become).  My intent is not to demean those who run a 4+ hour marathon, but I think it's important to set goals that push us ahead.  I feel that 4 hours is attainable for me, and that's my goal.  Sure, it involves taking almost 50 minutes off my last marathon time, but if I work hard enough, I can do that.  There lies my conundrum.

I've been training hard.  I've done intervals.  I've done tempo runs.  I've ran so many hills that my vertical distance is probably close to my horizontal distance.  Because of all this, I'm in great shape, and I'm running stronger and faster than I have at any time since high school.

So, what do I make of this?  Well, using fancy gizmos known as running calculators, I decided to see if I could predict my marathon time.  I put my most recent race (22'06" from the Brian Kraft 5k) into these calculators, and this is what I get:

McMillan Running: 3:35 3:31
Runner's World: 3:32

So, all 3 say I should be able to run a marathon in about 3 and a half hours.  Sounds great, right?  Well, a caveat is that it's hard to predict a longer race from a short race like a 5k.  But, even if I add 10 minutes to those predicted times, it's still in the 3:40 − 3:45 range.  In marathoning terms, that's a whole lot faster than 4 hours.

Can I run a marathon in 3:45?  I don't know.  What I do know, however, is that with a goal of 4 hours, my training paces are slower than I think they should be.  To train for a 4 hour marathon, I should do my long runs somewhere between 10 and 11 min/mile, and my marathon "pace runs" at 9:09/mile.  Comparing that with what I'm actually doing, I haven't run slower than 9 min/mile since early April.  Ratcheting myself down to 10 min miles might not even be possible right now.  I do understand the importance of going slow on the long runs, but 9:30/mile is probably as slow as I'd like to go.

What do I do?  I don't know.  I think I'm going to shift my goal to a 3:45 − 3:50 marathon and train based on those paces to start.  I may also enter the Red, White, and Boom! half marathon on July 4.  I've never run a stand-alone half, but I feel like it would be a much better predictor of what I'm capable of than a 5k.  If you've got any suggestions, though, I'd love to hear them.
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