Thursday, June 23, 2016

Perspiration, Inspiration, and Focus

While having my weekly call with Coach Lucho this week, I commented on looking forward to having something new to focus on.  Lucho saw what I didn't, that my 20 mile weekend runs had become routine and were no longer something I even concerned myself with!  With Ironman Boulder approaching in less than 7 weeks, I asked what I could focus on to improve my cycling in this period of time.  That's how I got my marching orders for the next 4 weeks.

Lucho shared a workout that he learned from Dave Scott, not bad company, which is to do 20 minute intervals broken up as 7 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 3 minutes in Zone 4, then repeat.  These are tough, as I've already discovered by doing one of them just two days after my last long run.  However, I'm already looking forward to doing a few of these during my long bike this Saturday. In fact, this is what I'm thinking about rather than my 20 mile run.

It's interesting how our goals can evolve and change, as just 17 weeks ago, the idea of running 20 miles every weekend for 20 weeks was somewhat daunting.  While I never doubted that I could do it, there were certainly many things that could go wrong and derail this goal.  Now, as I near the completion of this task, it has already been supplanted by another goal.  That is life, and that is certainly my life.  I always tell people that I always set a bar that I can't reach, because if I happen to reach the bar, I'll automatically set a higher one.  Once again, ironman training imitates life.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Breakthrough

I’m now 16 weeks into my mission of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks.  Coach Lucho tells me that last weekend I had a “breakthrough.”  The crazy thing is that, in the week following a solid week of training that culminated in a very hard trail half marathon in the midst of my weekly 20 mile run, I “doubled down” with my biggest week of training in quite a while.  I ultimately put in 18 hours of training, all of it very specific, in fact, 17 hours of training were done in just 5 days.  In the four days preceding my long run, I did hard bike intervals, hard run hill intervals and two solid long bike days on my indoor trainer.  Not the run up that I would expect to what turned out to be my best 20 mile run since I began this journey.  And….I didn’t even run 20 miles!  But, I digress.  My run started innocently, my legs felt tired, but at least they only had minimal soreness from the preceding week.  My first mile did give me a positive indication of what was to come.  I ran the first mile in about 8:50, which was faster than most of my first miles, especially when I really try to keep it mellow and comfortable.  Around mile 4 my left quad was a little sore and I was wondering what the day would be like, but the soreness didn’t last more than a mile or so and I kept clicking off 8:40’ish miles.  Hmmmm, this was interesting.  I try to break my progression effort into thirds.  The first seven miles were done very comfortably, and the for the next seven I picked up the effort a notch to a moderately comfortable effort, all the while noticing that my paces were still solidly in the 8:35 range.  By the time I got to mile 14 and started picking up my effort another notch, I was starting to think about how far I’d run.  Coach Lucho had given me permission to run longer than 20 miles ‘if I felt like it.’  So, I began thinking, perhaps I’ll just run easy and comfortably and get an extra mile in….but I kept running hard, and my paces were now closer to 8:20….hmmmm, this is very interesting.  By the time I got to running Mile 20, I just went as hard as I could, with no ideas as to how fast I was going.  Mentally, I was prepared to slow down and even stop if I started to slow appreciably.  When I hit Mile 20 and saw my time of 8:07, the adrenaline certainly kicked in to not only encourage me to run another mile, but to give it everything I had.  The final mile, Mile 21, was also done in 8:07.  I probably had more miles in my legs, but I have no reason to be greedy, so I finished and began my recovery routine, which ultimately includes easy spinning on the bike, easy swimming and about an hour with my NormaTec machine.  Over the past 16 weeks, my best pace for 20 miles has been 8:42, and I tend to average right around 8:50 when there aren’t extenuating circumstances.  My pace on this day….8:31.  WTF!  And, it wasn’t even for 20 miles, it was for 21 miles.  And, I wasn’t sore that day, and really wasn’t sore (at least not to speak of) the next couple of days.  How and why did I have this breakthrough?  Coach Lucho says it's for a few reasons, the simplest of which may be that I have steadfastly learned to listen to my body and not do anything stupid.  I have built into this gradually, paid very close attention to my recovery, and known when to take it easy.  Most of my weeks during this journey have had me training between 10 and 14 hours a week, with a high degree of specificity.  I rarely run more than 3 total days out of the week, and many weeks have only run one other day than my long run.  Of course, when I’m not running I'm biking.  Of note, I only swim about an hour a week, although I'm ramping that up a bit as I close in on Ironman Boulder.  I have been trying to swim 10-15 minutes a day, in order to maintain the “feel" of the water.  So, back to my “breakthrough."  Mentally, 20 miles no longer feels long.  In fact, my “long runs” feel oddly short, as if I’ve traveled through some type of wormhole.  The proof, of course, will occur in eight weeks, when I step off my bike at Ironman Boulder and embark on another “routine” 20 plus mile run.  Over the last 16 weeks I’ve run on tired legs, sore legs, in oppressive heat and humidity, literally with just about every circumstance I might encounter on the day of an ironman.  A few years ago, I put the number “8:47” on my bathroom wall.  Until recently, it was a lofty (and unrealistic) goal for an ironman run pace.  This week, it suddenly became a real number, if not in Boulder (and it’s accompanying altitude), then in Chattanooga seven weeks later.  Either way, no matter what happens, the journey continues to inspire me and makes me rather bear these workouts than fly to those that I know not of (my apologies to William Shakespeare).

Thursday, June 9, 2016

It's the little things that matter

I just went out this past weekend to complete my 15th straight 20 mile weekend run.  Nothing more, nothing less.  In fact, on Thursday night I had run 12 miles, including a set of 7 hard quarter mile efforts that left my legs feeling sore the next day.  At least when I woke up my legs weren’t sore, although they were certainly carrying some fatigue.  That’s the idea, however, to find different ways to simulate how my legs and body will feel when I get off the bike at my next Ironman.  Over the past fifteen weeks, this has included a multitude of approaches, including doing a hard 100 mile bike the day before my run, or running in the oppressive heat and humidity of Florida after a few fifteen hour work days.  This run already had it’s stress component, but I had added another.  After warming up with a fairly typical 5 mile effort, I jumped into a half marathon.  I was just planning to use it for the water stops and just enjoy the day, but there’s always something about a race that gets into ones head.  I knew the course included some dirt trails, but what I didn’t know was that most of those trails were fairly technical single track that required both close attention and care in order to avoid falling (one of my favorite habits historically).  I also didn’t quite appreciate the fact that there would be over 1500 feet of climbing on the course, packed into the middle 7-8 trail miles.  Furthermore, the many of the technical downhill sections would not allow me to gain back time or speed, but would slow me down.  Not that knowing this would have mattered.  After 15 weeks of 20 mile runs every weekend, I don’t really think about obstacles any more, I just go out and run.  That was the point of this endeavor in the first place!  And, so, the “race” began.  I actually started a little faster than I should have, running into someone I knew from a previous race (or, rather, they knew me).  When I realized that I was running too fast, I let them go ahead (they would finish in 14th place, 20 minutes ahead of me), and got into my rhythm on the first four miles of roads.  A number of people passed me during these miles, and then we hit the trails and, immediately, the hills.  What I didn’t think about, but recognize now, was that I almost immediately started attacking the climbs.  Not too hard, but hard enough.  A few people still managed to pass me, but I stayed in a comfortable rhythm and effort.  I only tripped twice, both times catching myself from an injurious fall.  I concentrated intently on my footing.  It was on the way to the turnaround point of the course, mile 8 of the race, mile 13 of my day, that I saw some of the people who had passed me earlier, that I would ultimately catch on my way to the finish.  Fortunately, the technical trails were almost over by around mile 8-9 of the race.  I had been passed repeatedly by this one guy on every downhill, which he would just “bomb,” but I would pass him back on the uphill portions.  I put a lot of space between me and him on the last long uphill, and even warded him off on the fire road on the way back down, passing others while feeling very comfortable running downhill, again, at about 15 miles into my day, which was encouraging.  There was one last very technical downhill section where I had to slow down and the downhill guy caught me just before we hit the roads for the last 2 1/2 miles.  We decided to run together, but he couldn't hang with me as I think I laid down a 7:30 mile.  My brain was in race mode as I could see a couple of guys who had passed me much earlier in the race.  I kept gaining on them as we reached the last half mile.  With a little more than a quarter mile to go, I made the pass.  Male's being who we are, they picked it up and passed me back.  I knew that the finish included a sharp right turn and an a 150 yard ramp uphill.  The moment we made the turn, I hit the afterburners.  They both tried to stay with me, but it wasn’t even close.  By the time I hit the finish line, I was a good 10-20 yards ahead of them.  I finished strong 18 miles into my long run.  I ended the day jogging the 2 miles back to my car and getting an Aroha drink at my kid’s restaurant!  I had only subsisted on water for my entire 20 mile run, which is something else I've been working on.  It's hard to believe that I only have five more weeks of 20 mile runs to go to reach my 20 miles for 20 weeks goal.  What's remarkable to me is how my brain no longer even notices that I'm doing a 20 mile run.  I don't notice the hills, and I don't notice any obstacles.  I just go out and get it done.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Being Passionate and Humble


My good friend Rudy loves to tell the story of how we first met.  I was looking at the results of a sprint triathlon that we had just finished and I introduced myself as the guy who beat him!  This was vintage Mike Wasserman.  I was quite excited about my efforts that day and enthusiastically wanted to share my excitement.  The results were actually secondary.  A few years later, I was just as excited when Rudy passed me during the run of another sprint triathlon.  What has always mattered to me when I race triathlons is giving it my best effort.  Of this I am quite passionate.  

There are many people in the field of geriatrics who have known me for many years.  I have worn my passion on my sleeve in a similar fashion.  Having been blessed to have had success in a number of endeavors in my chosen profession, I am often excited to share my knowledge with others.  I recognize that at times this can turn people off as my passion can be overwhelming and come across as if I have too big of an ego.  This is actually something that I am working on.  It can be difficult, however, when my gut tells me that I have some answers as to the best way to care for frail older adults.  In both clinical situations and in business, I have always trusted my gut, and it has often served me well.  Figuring out how to effectively channel those instincts has become my holy grail.

Today was week 13 in my mission to complete a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks.  It was easily my most difficult run and it was truly humbling.  The fact that I essentially completed 85% of an ironman over a weekend just two weeks ago, and did a solid 20 mile run in Central Park last weekend, culminating with a 10K, put me in a position today where my legs were tired and were pretty sore just 10 miles into my run.  However, there was no way I wasn’t completing my run today.  In my usual enthusiastic and optimistic approach, I actually went out a little faster than usual today for the first eight miles, which in retrospect may have been a bit ambitious.  Again, that’s me, and as I started slowing down, I had to remodulate my plans and adjust my effort.  I made one last attempt to pick up my effort with four miles to go, but my right calf started to spasm, and I realized that today was just about completing the twenty miles.  Still, running 20 miles at nearly 57 years of age under such circumstances at about a 9 minute per mile pace is something I am quite proud of.

I always say that Ironman often imitates life and today was no exception.  There have been many times in my career that my enthusiasm to share my thoughts and ideas about the most effective way to deliver care to older adults is too strong.  In these circumstances, as of late, I have been learning to slow down, just as I did today when I got ahead of myself during my 20 mile run.  There is a definite balance between allowing ones passion to show through and maintaining a level of humbleness that assures that we can get to the finish line.  The challenge, on the other hand, if figuring out when it’s time to push forward and when it’s time to back off.  While I am proud of the fact that I am nearly 2/3 of the way to my goal, I was quite humbled by my experience today.  

This week was the Annual Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society.  As is my annual experience, each day lasted about 15 hours.  I saw many old friends, heard lots of great talks and learned a lot about the state of geriatrics in today’s world.  There was a lot of angst over the upcoming new government rules for physicians.  My experience from the business side of healthcare over the last three decades is setting off lots of bells and whistles in my head and heart.  I kept my thoughts and opinions mostly to myself this past week, a departure from my usual passionate desire to tell everyone what I think.  Over the coming weeks, I think that I’ll formulate my thoughts in a constructive fashion so that anyone who is interested might have the opportunity to consider my suggestions.   




Saturday, May 21, 2016

Commitment

On my way to completing a weekly 20 mile run over 20 consecutive weeks, I keep gaining new experiences.  Each of these are filed away in my brain to be used when I need them the most, during an ironman.  My most recent occurred during my 20 mile run in Central Park, NYC.  I had timed this run to coincide with my 34th wedding anniversary trip to NYC with my wife.  It came just 6 days after my last twenty miler, which was run just a day after a very solid 100 mile bike ride.  When I headed out to Central Park, I thought I felt good.  However, by the time I was coming around to finish the first loop in the Park (about 6 miles), I noticed that my quads were feeling sore.  This is highly unusual, and may have been due to a couple of factors.  First, I had literally done nearly 85% of an Ironman the weekend before.  Second, I had walked a ton the day before, which was highly unusual for me and puts an unnatural strain on my leg muscles.  Nevertheless, this was what it was.  I put the pain out of my head and just kept running.  I followed my usual protocol of starting with an easy effort and letting the effort get gradually harder.  This meant that my pace at the beginning was around 9 minutes per mile, and this pace did slow a little during miles six through twelve, when my left knee started getting a little sore.  I’m not used to the unrelenting ups and downs that Central Park surprisingly has.  I did stop once to stretch, which actually helped my quads and my knee.  My last loop was timed to coincide with a 10K being run in Central Park that day.  There were a lot of people running and I was in a pack of people the entire time.  I did have about 5-10 minutes in between my 12th mile and the 10K so I stretched some more and hoped that I wouldn’t tighten up from stopping.  As soon as I got rolling (took about a quarter of a mile due to the number of people), I just ran hard, and actually managed to maintain an 8:30 pace most of the way.  As usual, I just let the difficulty come to me, which it did, as did the quad and knee soreness that returned to my legs a few miles into the final 10K.  But the thought of completing my 20 mile run never entered my mind.  It just so happened that today’s run would be associated with quad and knee pain.  This fact wouldn’t even have a huge impact on the pace I was running at.  This has been the most mind blowing part of my weekly 20 milers.  My commitment to doing this has trumped any self doubt or questions about my ability to not only run twenty miles, but to run it at somewhere in the vicinity of a 9 minute per mile pace, every time I go out!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Perseverance

11 weeks ago I begin my journey to do a 20 mile run weekly for 20 weeks. Today I completed number 11. What made today's run remarkable was that yesterday I did a 100 mile bike ride with about 6000 feet of climbing and I did it with an effort that was arguably as hard as any Ironman bike ride I've ever done. That set me up today for a 20 mile run on tired legs. Moreover, my bike fit is probably slightly off and I have been having some trouble with left knee pain when doing long rides on my triathlon bike. Fortunately, the left knee pain is superficial and I doubt that there's any structural problems with my knee. That said, I started today's run definitely tired with minimal soreness except for my left knee as well as a tight left hamstring. I decided not to look at my pace the entire run and to just run based on feel. I ran the first 6 miles at a very easy effort in relationship to my breathing (breathing every sixth step). The next 6 miles was done breathing comfortably (every fifth step). The next six miles were done at my MAF breathing (every fourth step).  I saved the last two miles for going as hard as I could, breathing every 3rd step.  My legs held up fine, although there was some burning in them the last few miles ("shut up legs" was definitely in order during these last four miles).  My pace the first 12 miles was 9:36, and the last 8 miles was 9:12, for an overall average pace of 9:26.  My last mile was my fastest, 8:59!

The best part of todays run was my mental state and attitude.  Despite the circumstances going into the run today, I knew I would do well.  It almost never crossed my mind that I wouldn't complete this workout.  In fact, during the three hours and nine minutes of my run, negative thoughts entered my consciousness for less than a total of one minute!  I knew that I could do this run.  This is a great place to be with 13 weeks to go before Ironman.  It's also a place I've never been before.  The idea of doing the twenty 20 mile runs has always been about reaching this point.  I thank Coach Lucho for the concept and for supporting me as I've gotten here.  What is somewhat "surprising" to me is that I've reached this mental state with plenty of time to spare. Perseverance has definitely paid off!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Commitment

About six weeks ago, my coach put an idea into my head.  One of my great challenges since I  began ironman racing has been my run.  Not that my ironman runs have not been adequate.  I’ve been pretty consistent in doing the marathons in under 5 hours, but the fastest I’ve been able to go is right around 4 1/2 hours.  I know that I’m still probably capable of running an open marathon in almost an hour faster than that, so I’ve had in my mind the idea that I would love to run an ironman marathon in under 4 hours.  Like anything in life, if you want something, you have to put in the necessary work to achieve your goal.  So, the idea that my coach put into my head was that of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks.  The moment he said it, I knew that was what I had to do.  It’s remarkable how sometimes you just know something to be true when you hear it, and this was one of those things.

For a little background, I had taken off September and October completely from all exercise in order to recover from some pretty ingrained adrenal fatigue.  By the end of December, I had increased my long run to about 11-12 miles, but somehow managed to “tweak” my ankle using an elliptical machine at a hotel fitness center, so I actually ran very little during January, but built up my bike riding pretty solidly.  With my coaches idea in my head, I went out five weeks ago and ran 16 miles comfortably, stopping immediately when I felt my IT bands tighten up.  The next weekend, I did 17 miles, again stopping when I felt good.  I also began to develop a recovery process, that I think has been very helpful.  As soon as I finish these runs, I get on the bike for 20-30 minutes, then soak my legs in a cold pool, then I compress my legs using my NormaTec machine for an hour and finally, if I’m able, I take a nap.  

What’s remarkable is the progression that I’ve made in the last three weeks, having now completed my first three twenty mile runs in three weeks.  I’ve only got 17 more to go!  What’s amazing is how my body and my mind have come together to make this happen.  Somehow, the fact that I’ve made the commitment to doing this is not only pushing me to do it, but to do it right.  I’ve made these first three 20 milers into progression runs, where the first 7 miles are done very comfortably, the next 7 miles are done with greater effort, but manageable, and then I go as hard as I can until I can’t, and back off as needed in order to get my 20 miles in.  The first two 20 milers had me backing off pretty quickly during the last phase, in order to complete my run.  Today, however, was another story.  

On thursday, I actually managed to ride my bike over 3 hours, with a solid last hour of intervals thrown in to work my legs.  I then did a short run afterwards, so I definitely built up some fatigue from the days work.  Yesterday, I just did an easy bike ride to keep the blood flowing.  When I woke up this morning, I was a little tired, but my mind was set.  I was going to run 20 miles!  The first 7 miles went by reasonably well, my mind wandering to a variety of thoughts, including calculating the fact that I may be able to just get my next 17 twenty milers in before my taper for Ironman Boulder.  With that said, my mind wasn’t focused.  My legs felt ok, although they were a little tired.  My breathing was easy, which corresponds to a breath every 5 steps, and my pace was just under 9 minute/mile pace.  The next seven miles was when the fun started.  I immediately upped my effort, breathing every fourth step, and my pace dropped to about 8:35/mile.  This effort corresponds to a high Zone 2 effort, and my legs were still fine, not surprisingly, my cadence increased from about 165 to 170 foot strikes/minute.

Something else happened during the second seven miles, my mind began to focus.  It became all about the run.  Nothing else could find itself into my brain, and time stopped in a way.  My legs were fine, they still felt a little tired, but they didn’t hurt.  As I neared the end of the 14th mile, I began planning for what was to happen next.  By this point in time, I already knew that I could easily relax and slow down a bit, take the pressure off, and get my 20 miles in without any concerns.  I also knew that I wanted to see what my body could do today.  Originally, I contemplated taking a mile easy in order to prepare for going harder, but I quickly overruled that thought and decided to “go for it!”  As soon as I finished the 14th mile, I picked up my effort yet again, increasing my breathing to every 3rd step.  This was my “tempo” effort.  It’s a hard effort, but not overly so, at least until it would just get harder.  My pace increased a little to about 8:33/mile, which showed that I had reached a point where in order to maintain my pace, my effort needed to increase.  My focus was like a laser, as the only thing that mattered was my form and my running.  As the completion of each mile approached, I would look at my watch, somewhat surprised to find my pace holding.  My breathing frequency was the same, but it was getting harder, and I even began to grunt, which has been my trademark approach to maintaining focus.  I kept contemplating the idea of slowing down and just getting the miles in, but as I neared the end of the 18th mile, I realized that I was just two miles from completing an almost perfect progression run.  That was enough incentive.

The last two miles were a bit of a daze, holding close to 8:30 pace, while my breathing alternated between every third step and every second step, which is closer to my 5K effort, but not quite there.  My legs still felt ok, and in fact, there was very little soreness.  There were times that I actually felt like my form was as solid as it has been in some time, and that was encouraging.  There were no intruding thoughts, no negativity.  I knew that I was going to complete one of my best runs ever today.  That thought certainly helped me through the last mile.  I got home with an average pace for the entire run of 8:42/mile.  I realized that the last six miles could easily be akin to the last six miles of a marathon, and was happy to know that I didn’t slow down and didn’t waver in my commitment.  

The idea behind the twenty miles for twenty weeks is that marathons are 26 miles long, regardless of time or place.  Getting my regular training runs to 20 miles with consistency brings me right up to the edge of where I need to be to feel both strong and confident for those last 6 miles.  The progression runs also create both a mindset and a legset, if you will, that prepares me for those last six miles, when I have invariably slowed down considerably.  

I will not be a slave to this concept, insofar as I will end one of these runs if I don’t feel well, or my legs rebel.  But, somehow I don’t think that will happen.  Part of the reason is that every week becomes a balance in my other training to enable me to effectively get in my twenty mile run.  It’s not like I’m taking it easy all week.  I’ve been getting in some speed work with my run, and some definite power intervals on the bike.  At some point, I’ll have to increase my bike volume, although a 3 hour bike ride on my trainer just two days before today’s run certainly isn’t too shabby.  I don’t have a set training program any more, as I just chat with my coach once a week to make sure that I’m on the right track.  My training is all about listening to my body, and not pushing too hard.  At the same time, it’s recognizing how hard I can push at times.  It’s been pretty cool, reaching this stage of training development.  

In the end, I really feel that the commitment is what is now driving me.  I think about this run during the week, and am preparing for it almost every day.  That means eating properly, getting enough sleep, and trying to manage my stress level.  All of those factors go into my ultimate ability to successfully achieve my twenty miles for twenty weeks goal.  It’s amazing what commitment will do!