Sunday, March 29, 2015

Race Report: Yuengling Marathon 2015

I did my first marathon! It hurt. It was much harder than I expected, much more painful than a half distance triathlon or anything else I've tried. But I also recovered much faster than I expected, based on the duration of the event.

My roommate and I headed to Virginia Beach at around noon on Saturday. Between bad traffic and stops for peeing and snacks, the 3 hour drive took us almost 6 hours. And then when we got to Virginia Beach, we had mapped the wrong convention center location (the convention and tourism office instead of the actual convention center). By this point, I only had 45 minutes left to pick up my racing packet, so I was super stressed. After that, we had to drive up and down the main drag in Virginia Beach looking for my hotel. I couldn't find my confirmation e-mail for my hotel, but I had in my mind it was a Days Inn that I was staying at. I was wrong. We went to both Days Inn locations on the beach, and I wasn't booked at either one. I finally found my confirmation email, and realized that I was actually booked at a Best Western. So then, of course, we went to the wrong Best Western. We finally got to our hotel--and keep in mind that we've driven up and down Atlantic Avenue 3 times at this point, and each 1-mile trip was taking 10-15 minutes, so we'd been fighting through the ridiculousness for an hour--and we were greeted by this view:

Not too bad!

I needed a nap and a butt-load of water at that point, though.

My parents arrived shortly after we did, and we settled into our room. Once we figured out the sleeping arrangements, we headed to a popular Italian spot for dinner.

I woke up at 5:30 (3 hours before race start) to try and get my breakfast in. I brought a huge bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with protein powder, coconut oil, and raspberry jam. I ate most of the oatmeal, but 2 cups of steel-cut oats is a lot. I figure I ended up with about 500 calories for breakfast.
After breakfast, I tried to go back to sleep, but I was too excited. I ended up staying up and watching the weather channel. My dad got up and around sometime after 7 to keep me company, and we took off for the the start line (a little over a mile away) around 7:45.
It was chilly before the race, but I was kitted up in sweat pants and a jacket. I chose to wear my favorite running shorts with a short-sleeve shirt, arm warmers, gloves, and a thermal cap. The only thing I didn't keep for the whole race was the gloves, because there was a cool breeze, and I kept having to put my arm warmers and cap back on.
The course was great. Flat as a pancake, with some really interesting sights. We got to run through Camp Pendleton, and a great group of soldiers were cheering us on as we ran through. There was a long, boring stretch from mile 13 to mile 19, where we got onto Fort Story, but it was still very pretty. And Fort Story was kind of a drag; the roads were bad, and the only spectators to speak of were armed guards. Still, much better than running on McConnell Airforce Base in my first half marathon!
I felt good through the halfway point. My sartorius often bothers me on really long runs; I get a sharp muscle pain at the tendon, right up at the attachment near my hip. It feels like the tendon is trying to pull away from the bone every time I lift my leg. It started bothering me around mile 14, worked itself out after a few miles, but came back in the last 10k.

At halfway, I tried to pick up the pace a little bit, which I think was a mistake. I should have stayed steady until the last 3-4 miles. I had a very rough time from around mile 17 to . . . until the end of the race, actually. Maybe if I'd kept it slow at mile 14, I would have felt stronger throughout the second half.
I did well with my nutrition plan. I took a gel or chews every 30 minutes, drank Gatorade and water at every water stop, and drank from the water bottle I was carrying every 5 minutes. I never got stomach upset, although I did have a little bit of cramping in the second half; it went away when I had Gatorade. I think in the future, I will carry Nuun instead of water, and only drink electrolytes. I've been doing some reading on isotonic fluid replacement, so I may see if I can get more scientific with that. I've also never done a sweat test (where you weigh yourself before and after a hard workout to see how much sweat you lost), and that might be helpful before my next big race. Taken as a whole, though, I was very happy with how my nutrition plan worked for me. I'm glad I practiced it in my training.

I'm not very happy with my pacing. I was able to restrain myself early in the race, but my plan to pick up my pace in the second half was not wise. Now that I've done a marathon, I think I'll be able to develop a better race plan and pace more consistently. I was counting on a negative split, but a better strategy would have been to keep things easy until the last 10k, or even later.

I experienced virtually no chafing, though I did stop at about the 17 mile point to put some lube on my little toes. But I had no blisters on my feet at the end of the race, no raw spots that surprised me during my first post-race shower. Normally I get chafing under my arms and in my . . . personal area. Aquafor and chamois cream, and lots of practice on where and how much to apply, served me well.
The most surprising thing to me was how much muscular pain I experienced. My back and legs seized up so much by the end that I could barely hobble across the finish line; I literally could not lift my feet more than a few inches off the ground. I'm not sure why that happened, but I assume it was a lack of overall strength. I know it's a little crazy at the paces that I run, but I think I would feel much more confident with a few 26-mile or longer training runs leading up to a marathon. Around 16-18 miles is where the wheels started coming off for me, and I did a lot of runs at those distances. My theory is that I built up a resistance to that point in training, and if I want to feel good throughout the race I'll need to do some 26-milers.

I'm also surprised by how quickly I recovered. I had a hard time with stairs on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday I felt like I'd just come off a week of recovery: snappy legs, no muscle soreness, I was rocking my commute! And I didn't get the horrible stomach upset that I often feel at the end of triathlons. So marathons are much worse during, but much better after.

I can't decide whether I'll do more marathons . . . For sure I won't do one again until after my Ironman in September, but I'm not sure if I ever want to do that again. I said the same thing after my first triathlon, though; I imagine that the challenge of figuring out the training and racing puzzle will draw me back eventually.

Final: 5:10:39 (11:51/mile)
F25-29: 121/153
Women: 707/946
Overall: 1763/2185

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pre-Race Nerves

Tomorrow I run my first marathon in Virginia Beach.

I've been slightly nervous all week. I haven't felt this nervous before an event in years. It's nice; feels like a challenge again! I go into it thinking, What if I can't do this? I don't really believe that I'll try and fail; I recognize that I'm pushing the limits of what I've done before, and it's possible that I might not be able to do it. Can I run 26.2 miles? I don't know! I've prepared well, but there's still a thrilling niggle of doubt.

So cheers to chasing the unknown! I'm off to Virginia Beach to pick up my race packet!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ooh, Shiny!

Look what I got!

Technically, this is a reward for finishing my marathon, which I haven't finished yet.

So hopefully I don't totally poop out on Sunday, because I'm pretty sure that Tri360 won't take it back!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ironman Mallorca

It's official! I am going to Mallorca for the 2nd iteration of the Thomas Cook Ironman!

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Ironman Barcelona sold out.

I already had plane tickets, but hadn't registered yet.

Sad face.

Fortunately, There are plenty of races still open. In fact, IM Mallorca is still open, and it's only a week before. It's still in the same part of the world, I can change my plane tickets for less than 100 USD, and I can still see everything I wanted to see in Spain and the surrounding area. Flights to the mainland from Mallorca are less than 50 Euros, one-way.

I was never going to Barcelona for Barcelona; I arrived at that race primarily by a process of elimination. My roommate wanted to go to Western Europe, and Spain was going to be a lot less expensive than Zurich. The time of year is perfect. It's a beautiful part of the world, a part of the world I've never seen, and I can easily see Spain, southern France, Portugal, and maybe even Italy!

The one big change between IM Barcelona and IM Mallorca is the course. Barcelona's bike course is pancake-flat, but Mallorca has a pretty significant climb. From what I can see on the course map, there's a 15 km climb that peaks at 600 m. The descent is technical, too. I'm a little concerned about my ability to make the bike cut-off with that big climb in the mix.

On the other hand, I finally live in an area with some hills, so I can train properly for a hilly course. I was thinking of signing up for Challenge Poconos for a warm-up race, and the course will help prepare me for Mallorca better than for Barcelona. I'm planning to buy an aero road bike, which will be better suited to a climbing course than to a flat course like Barcelona. And I'm excited to have a more challenging course for my first Ironman (because my first Ironman isn't challenge enough in my brain, apparently).

So I was bummed for a couple of hours last night, but now I'm excited to switch to Mallorca. It'll work out, either way.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


That alphabet-soup title translates to Lactate Threshold Heart Rate Time Trial, for those in the know. Here's a 60-minute workout that will help you approximate your LTHR for the bike (keep in mind it will be different on the run, and LTHR isn't an accurate measure to use in the pool). You can also use this workout to estimate your functional threshold power (FTP), if you have access to a power meter. There's a 20-minute warm-up to get you ready for the time trial, and the time trial is 30 minutes long. You should go as hard as you can for those 30 minutes. If you're testing heart rate, hit the lap button 10 minutes into the time trial; your LTHR will be the average heart rate you sustain for the last 20 minutes of the time trial. If you're testing FTP, take the average for the whole 30 minutes (so you'll hit your lap button at the beginning of the time trial).

Click the link below to download the workout:


Spin & smile!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Training with Heart Rate

Since the beginning of 2015, I've been teaching my cycling classes some of the ins and outs of training with heart rate and power. Heart rate training isn't as cutting-edge as it was at the turn of the millennium, when Polar was all the rage and heart rate monitoring was considered the truly scientific way to train. NBC specifically mentioned Mark Allen's relatively innovative chest strap in its broadcast of the 1990 Ironman. In the years since, we've learned that heart rate doesn't provide as absolute a measure of intensity as was originally believed (or promoted by companies like Polar). In short, monitoring heart rate doesn't necessarily lead to "scientific" training; it just provides additional data to the overall picture.

Still, heart rate training remains a valid training tool, in spite of any drawbacks associated with its use. It may not be the best tool; you shouldn't use it for every application; it might not be appropriate for all athletes; but it is still a tool in the athlete's box of tricks. I think it's worth examining the pros and cons of training with (or without) heart rate.

Body Awareness
Heart rate monitoring allows you to tune out. This can be a positive or a negative, much like running with music. On the one hand, heart rate monitoring may encourage you to pay attention to a somewhat arbitrary number rather than listening to your body. Especially because heart rate can fluctuate so much based on external factors (heat, overtraining, lack of sleep, dehydration), you may end up working lighter than you could or harder than you should based on the number flashing on your wrist.

Even with a heart rate monitor, you should learn to pay attention to your body. Your heart responds differently when you're overtrained, hot, or dehydrated. There will be days when your heart rate tells you you're not working hard enough, but you really need to back off. Or maybe your fitness will improve (i.e. your numbers will change) before your next fitness test, and your body will tell you that you can work harder, even though the numbers tell you to slow down. Like with all data (yes, power junkies, ALL data), heart rate monitoring has its limits, and it can't replace mindfulness and awareness of what's happening in your body.

Delayed Response
Heart rate doesn't immediately change when you change intensity; it lags by anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. That means that on short, high-intensity intervals, heart rate tells you nothing until after the interval's over. Even worse, on longer intervals, you may be tempted to work harder than you should for the first 30-90 seconds, waiting for your heart rate monitor to show the change in effort. You end up performing the first 2 minutes of a 4-minute interval too hard, the last 2 minutes too easy, and you totally defeat the point of doing a 4-minute interval.

The best (but harder) solution is to learn to pay attention to your body and its signals. The easy (but more limited) solution is to train with a power meter, which I'll discuss next week (because training power has its own advantages and disadvantages).

Worthless in the Water
Heart rate training basically doesn't work in the water. Your vascular pressure is so different in the water that pulse doesn't accurately reflect your work rate. To determine intensity in the water, you have to go by pace and rating of perceived exertion. This link will help you set training zones based on pace. If you're water jogging or doing water aerobics, you're better off with perceived exertion.

Preventing Overtraining
One of my favorite uses of heart rate monitoring doesn't even require the fancy equipment. Just take your pulse every morning. Elevated resting heart rate is an early indicator of overtraining; it usually shows up before other symptoms, like crankiness and weakened immunity. If you keep track of your average resting heart rate, and back off on days when it's elevated, you're more likely to avoid the nastier aspects of training too hard.

For example, I take my heart rate every morning using an iPhone app. I get up, go pee (for some reason my heart rate's higher before peeing), lay back down, and take my heart rate. My fully-recovered heart rate is around 52; my normal in-training heart rate is around 56; if my first-thing-in-the-morning heart rate gets above 61, I take it easy for a day or two. Just make sure that you take your resting heart rate at the same time and in the same circumstances every day. First thing in the morning (right after peeing) is best, to make it as repeatable as possible. Even if you take it after breakfast, the results might be affected by variations in what you ate or drank.

Getting Out of a Rut
Probably the greatest benefit of training with heart rate zones, having that number handy may help knock you out of a steady-state aerobic rut--it may help you to vary your training intensity. Many (most?) cyclists, runners, and triathletes fall prey to the cardinal sin of endurance training: going too hard on the easy days and too easy on the hard days. Improvement stagnates with that training method, and using a heart rate monitor to set and train within zones helps you avoid that pitfall.

I use lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) to set my training zones. To find your approximate LTHR, you can perform a 30-minute time trial on the bike or run. Warm up thoroughly (I recommend 15-20 minutes of warming up, with some light accelerations towards the end), then start riding/running at race intensity. After 10 minutes, hit the lap button on your heart rate monitor (if you have a lower-end heart rate monitor, it probably doesn't have a lap button, in which case you can stop and then re-start it with a new workout). The average heart rate for those last 20 minutes of the time trial is your approximate LTHR. Keep in mind, though, that just because your first 10 minutes don't count in the average doesn't mean that you should ride them at a lower intensity.

Once you have your LTHR, you can set your training zones at this link (zones based on a bike TT), or you can do it the old-fashioned way:

Zone 1 (recovery): <85% LTHR
Zone 2 (sub-aerobic): 85-89% LTHR
Zone 3 (steady-state aerobic): 90-94% LTHR
Zone 4 (aerobic threshold): 95-99% LTHR
Zone 5a (lactate threshold): 100-102% LTHR
Zone 5b (aerobic capacity/VO2 max): 102-106% LTHR
Zone 5c (anaerobic capacity): >106% LTHR

Keep in mind that your training zones will be different for the bike and the run; your running zones will be higher because of body position and the increased effort of supporting and moving your body weight.

That's all that I have to say about heart rate, for now. I am working on a free cycling workout to help you do a 30-minute time trial indoors on a trainer or stationary bike. Look out for that next week, as well as an article on the basics of training with power.

By the way, this is the heart rate monitor that I use.