Category Archives: Fitness

Possibly more than you wanted to know about exercise, fitness, and so on.

Training Tuesday: back to powerlifting

Hi. I’m Paul, and I haven’t lifted any heavy weights since February.

I had a pretty decent garage gym set up, with an ancient Lamar power rack and a few hundred pounds of plates that I scavenged from a bankrupt gym. It took up about a third of my garage, what with the bench, plate tree, rack, and so on. This was good.

Then I sold the rack and moved into a house with a smaller garage, only half of which I could use. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll join the local gym.” This was actually really nice; on one hand, I had to drive to and from the gym, but on the other I had way better equipment, and more of it, plus it was cheaper than my previous gym membership.

Then COVID. Uh uh, buddy, you’re not getting me in a gym, no matter how many precautions they say they’re taking. I’ve been to lots of gyms and seen my fellow gym-dwellers and… just, no.

So for the rest of the spring, I focused on running and cycling. I occasionally did strength work with my adjustable dumbbells but wasn’t enjoying it so I didn’t consistently do it. There was too much hassle around moving stuff, trying to improvise exercises at a reasonable weight, and so on. I let Matt take the dumbbells back to college when he went back in August, since his gym was closed too.

Now, of course, at any time I could’ve bought a new weight rack, but I wanted to be able to park in the garage, too. Basically I was making excuses.

As winter started to loom larger on the calendar, I finally decided it was time. Erica and I deep-cleaned the garage to make more room on the sides, and I started shopping for a folding weight rack. I ended up buying a Rogue RML-3W. There are other brands, but after surfing around and reading reviews (including this magisterial work) I ordered the RML-3W with the wall stringers. Rogue quoted me 14-30 day shipping, but I had it in 9 days… or most of it, as the kit shipped in 8 boxes. I stacked it all up and waited for a free weekend, which happened to be this past weekend.

The basic installation procedure is straightforward: mount the two horizontal stringers to wall studs, then add the horizontal beams, then add the vertical beams. A few tips I learned along the way:

  • The Rogue instructions look like engineering drawings. If you don’t know how to read dimensions on diagrams, you’d better learn.
  • Having a chalk line and a 4′ bubble level will make the process much easier.
  • my garage has a 4″ concrete footer that sticks out about 1″ past the base of the wall. The dimensions sheet says the bottom stringer is supposed to be mounted 1 5/8″ above the floor, but it turns out that it’s OK to mount it higher if you need to– as long as it’s no more than 18″ above floor level.
  • If you mount the bottom stringer higher than the recommended 1 5/8″, don’t raise the top stringer to compensate.

I started by marking the 4 wall studs required for the stringer. You can mount the rack directly to the studs with no stringers, but the stringers make the installation much easier. They are well worth the extra $50.

Next, I laid the bottom stringer in place flush with the top edge of the concrete footer, leveled it, and drilled pilot holes in opposing corners for the lag bolts. Once it was in place, I drilled the remaining pilot holes and put the lag bolts in using a 9/16″ socket. (I couldn’t use my impact wrench because I didn’t have the right adapter.)

The bottom rack stringer in place
the bottom stringer mid-installation.

I then measured the recommended height from the floor for the centerline of the top stringer, marked it, and used my level to mark a vertical index line. If I’d had my chalk line this would have been even easier. I then held the stringer in place and drilled one pilot hole for the upper right corner, just to hold it on the wall. About this time, Tom showed up with a 9/16″ impact socket and the real fun started– about 7 minutes later we had both stringers firmly mounted to the wall.

The next step is to add the horizontal supports. This is easier with two people, but feasible with one as long as you don’t drop them. Having a 25-pound piece of 11-gauge steel hit you on the head would ruin your whole day. The supports attach with a big ol’ bolt, but they swing freely until you put the safety pins in. There are holes set to allow you to pin the supports parallel to or perpendicular to the rack, so whether folded or extended, stuff stays where you put it.

The vertical supports were the last step. I was glad to have Tom’s help because these are unwieldy– they’re narrow, tall, and heavy. Rogue ships plastic plugs that go into the bottom of each support to protect the floor. These are slightly oversized and so it will take a good bit of hammering to force them into position– expect to see a few pieces of plastic shrapnel shaved off the outside of the plug when you force it into position.

The last step is the included pull-up bar. This acts as a crossbrace, and is required when using the rack, but it’s also handy if you want to knock out a few pullups, as one does.

In the photo, you can see several things of interest (besides my stupid shoes): the orange pins are the horizontal rack safety pins, the red ones on either side of the pull-up bar are for retaining that bar, and the ends of the vertical columns are resting flat on the floor. The two J-cups are installed on the vertical supports; since the rack is only 21″ deep when unfolded, you can’t really do any exercises inside the rack. They make a version with longer horizontal supports, but it wouldn’t fit in the space I have.

The rack feels very solid but there is some lateral wiggle. This is to be expected given the design. Overall, though, the design works very well. It was easy to install, it’s solid, and, as promised, it folds to a minimal depth so I can still park my car when I’m not working out.

The only drawback I can see is that there’s no way to attach safety bars or straps unless you buy a set of spotter arms. Rogue’s site makes it sound like their strap kit will work, but of course it won’t because there’s only one place to attach the straps, and you need two. I’m shopping for a set of spotter arms and will eventually post an update once I find some that I like.

The only remaining task is to move the bars and weights from their current home in the mini-storage back here and then boom, it’s game on!

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2019 year in review: fitness

This year was a pretty mixed bag.

First off, let’s start with the bad news: I didn’t do any triathlons. In fact, I didn’t get in the pool to exercise at all in 2019. Not even once. It just sort of worked out that way. I missed the registration deadline for the Chattanooga 70.3, volunteered as a bike sentry at Rocketman, and just generally avoided that part of the multisport world. But I’m repenting, and I’ve already signed up for Chatty 70.3 in 2020.

On the plus side, I had a pretty good year running. I finished the year with just under 1000 miles; I didn’t set a mileage goal but am pleased with the amount of time I got in. Along the way I set several PRs, including a 1:53 half marathon, a 24:30 5K, and a 53:12 10K.

Another negative: I broke my stupid toe in early October. I was getting out of a chair like a cowboy, swung my leg over, and whacked the end of my second right toe on the wooden chair frame. It hurt, but I ran on it for a few days anyway before it became clear what a bad idea that was. I missed the Army Ten Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon 50K because I couldn’t run or train, and then I dropped down from the marathon to half-marathon distance for Rocket City. However, at Rocket City I put up a 1:57, which I was really happy with given how much my run volume dropped off since October.

Digression about the toe: this was what is called an intra-articular fracture. My podiatrist, the excellent David Kyle at TOC, cheerfully told me “oh, that’s a real turd of an injury” and that I could run as much as I wanted without worsening the fracture– “it’s just going to hurt,” he said. It did, but it could have been much worse. Injuries suck, especially when they’re the result of my own clumsiness.

Now, on to powerlifting: I had one meet this year, in the spring. I didn’t focus as much on lifting towards the end of the year. I’d told my coach in mid-year that my 2019 goals were “deadlift 500lb” and “finish a 50K race”, and I figured I’d have time to focus on the deadlift after the Marine Corps 50K. I ended up with a few gains from last year; my squat 1RM is now at 380lb and my deadlift 1RM at 430lb. Sadly, I still have poverty bench– no gain in my 1RM there, I’m afraid. I am hoping to squeeze in one more max-test workout before the end of the year so these numbers may go up a bit, which would be nice.

Cycling… well, let’s just say I didn’t do much of it this year. I had some time on the trainer indoors, but only did one metric century. It’s become clear that riding my Cervelo P2 aggravates my right knee’s IT band somehow; despite being fitted and refitted, and changing shoes, it just ain’t right. I think I’m going to have to sell the P2 and get another bike, because I’ve consistently had this problem since I started riding it and never had the problem, even with much higher riding mileage, when I was still riding my Defy 1. I’m not nearly as powerful on the bike as I should be given a) my run fitness and b) my leg strength. This remains something to work on in the new year, just like it was in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

To end on a high note: I did PR both of the cyclorun events I did, Heel & Crank and Racin’ the Station.

Actually, a high-er note: I was fortunate to get to race and train in some amazing places this year. Besides training runs in London, Bratislava, Zilina, Las Vegas, Zurich, Palma de Mallorca, and Key West, I raced in New York City, Seattle, Stockholm, Quantico, Cape Coral, and Lynchburg, Tennessee.

More importantly, I got to race and train with my friends– thanks to Scott, Tom, Matt, Rese, Ashley, Darralyn, Brian, the Panera Pounders, and, most of all, Erica for all the miles, sweat, and encouragement. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year brings!

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Running in Bratislava

One of the joys I find in travel is running or cycling in new places. Since starting my current job, I’ve been able to run or cycle in the UK, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, the Balearics, Switzerland, and France, mostly along routes that were either intrinsically scenic or interesting because of their novelty. I was recently in Slovakia for meetings and was able to knock out a couple of runs in Zilina, but I also had the opportunity to run in Bratislava. 

Let me start with a few simple facts:

  1. One does not simply fly into Žilina. There are basically two ways to get there: fly into Vienna and drive, or fly into Krakow and drive. Both routes have their charms, but the Vienna route is a little shorter and much flatter, meaning it’s better when there is ice, snow, or rain. You wouldn’t think that’s a concern in May, but it snowed the day I arrived in country; I just routinely go through Vienna. The drive takes about 3 hours.
  2. Bratislava is only about 30mi from Vienna, and you drive right through it on the way to Žilina. 
  3. If you’re going back to the US from Vienna, all the flights leave in the early morning.

That means that I will normally have a full day of meetings, drive back to Vienna in the evening, stay at the airport, and then fly home the next morning. On this particular trip, I’d planned to get my last day’s workout in by running around the Žilina dam, but then it occurred to me that I could run in Vienna instead, as even with the drive I’d still arrive well before daylight. Then it hit me: I could run in Bratislava instead. 

A little research led me to this route, the “Bratislava Promenádna”. This is a simple loop that starts on the north bank of the Danube and runs to the west, then crosses the Lafranconi bridge to the west, which takes you to the south bank. You then run to the Apollo Bridge and cross back to the north bank. This looked like a good route to try, so I threw on my running clothes, jumped in my rental car, and drove to Bratislava with a vague idea of where I needed to go— none of the running route maps I had said anything about where to park or exactly where the route started.

A bit of driving around led me to a big shopping complex called the Eurovea that has ample parking, restrooms, and beer (more on that later). I parked there, then walked around the outside a bit until I found the river and the path adjoining it. I started running east, towards the Apollo, where I found this handy sign showing the actual route. Turns out I was running the “wrong” way, so I turned around and headed west again.

Promenádna sign

I only wanted to run about 5 miles, so I decided not to go all the way to the Lafranconi bridge. Instead, I ran to the bridge with the Bratislava UFO:

IMG 1057

Crossing that bridge put me out right near the Sad Janka park; the whole south bank is wooded and features some very pleasant and green trails. I could have detoured through the park, but I like running alongside the water whenever possible, so that’s what I did instead. (In retrospect I wish I’d gone through the park; it’s actually the oldest public park in central Europe!) There are lots of river barges moored along both banks; some are fancy cruise ship or dinner boats, while others aren’t. 

IMG 1054

As I approached the Apollo bridge, I very quickly figured out that I was going to be way short of 5 miles. Luckily there’s a cycling trail that continues further to the east, although it diverges from the river. Slovakia is plentifully supplied with all sorts of riding paths; this one was nicely paved and quite busy with runners, cyclists, and even a few rollerbladers. The area at the foot of the bridge is 1.3Km from the starting point of the loop, so with a little mental math I was able to figure out how long I needed to stay on the cycle path. Along the route I saw this cool painting on a bridge abutment.

IMG 1059

Coming back westbound, I climbed the footpath onto the Apollo Bridge, which is the newest and fanciest (and busiest!) of the four Bratislava bridges. 

IMG 1060

I had a fantastic view of the setting sun off to the west as I ran across, and I stopped to get a closeup of the Bratislava plaque on the bridge arch. I’m not sure if it’s officially a landmark or not, but it should be.

IMG 1062

From the north end of the bridge, it was an easy path back to the Eurovea, where I had a delicious dinner at the Kolkovna. This is a Czech chain of restaurants serving traditional central European food; I had a delicious goulash and a bowl of “bean soup” that was indistinguishable in ingredients from what Cajuns would call “red beans and rice” (except for not having any rice in it). Although there were many excellent beers on tap, I didn’t have any, as Slovakia has a very strict 0.0% blood-alcohol limit for driving. (Sorry if you read this far hoping to find out what delicious beer I sampled!) 

I thoroughly enjoyed the route; next time I’ll try to arrange things so I can run the full loop and maybe detour through the park. I’d also love to explore the bike paths around Bratislava more, although that will require an actual, y’know, bike,

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Training Tuesday: Magic City Showdown powerlifting meet

(For basics on how meets work, see my two previous meet reports here and here.)

The last time I was on the platform at a meet was in June 2016. Since then, I’ve run a few marathons, done various other athletic stuff, and generally spent very little time lifting weights… and I missed it. So earlier this year, I told my coach that I wanted to do a meet in April or May, before triathlon season really kicked in. Coincidentally, there was a USPA meet scheduled for 20 April in Birmingham, so as soon as registration opened up, I signed up. What I didn’t tell my coach: I really wanted to nail my 1000lb (454kg) total for all 3 lifts, a total I narrowly missed in my 2016 competition.

Training and meet prep

Prep couldn’t have been simpler: I just did what my coach told me. I was lifting 3 days a week: one day of chest and shoulders (mostly bench, with some accessory work of shoulder presses, some tricep work, etc), one leg day (squats and deadlifts), and one full body day (squats and deadlifts plus some upper-body accessory work). This is in addition to running 30-40 miles a week. During the training phase, I improved my 13.1 PR time by more than 5 minutes and my 10K PR time by just under 3 minutes, so the lifting certainly didn’t hurt my running, but I wasn’t entirely sure the reverse was true until the first time I pulled a 405lb deadlift in my garage, a few weeks before the meet. There were a few changes from my prior powerlifting training regimen for this time. At the start of this training block, I was doing all double-overhand grip for deadlifts, but I just don’t have the grip strength to make that work for heavier weights, so over about 300lb I switched back to mixed grip. I also found that I started having problems benching after I got a Texas Power Bar.  I’m still not sure why, but my wrists developed a worrisome tendency to roll when lifting above about 80% of my one-rep maximum (1RM). This culminated in me dropping a 205lb barbell on my chest a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully it didn’t do any major damage; the safety rails on the rack caught most of the impact, but I’ve had a painfully sore spot on my intercostal muscle ever since (which my chiropractor suggested treating with swimming, as if. Has he even met me before?)

Another change to this training block: I’ve been traveling a ton. I’ve squeezed lifting workouts in at ratty hotel gyms in London, skipped them altogether in Seattle and Spain, and used really fancy facilities in Zürich. That’s a polite way of saying my training consistency has been worse than usual.

The final change was that, because of my travel and general laziness, I decided I wasn’t going to try to cut weight to make the 90kg (198lb) weight class this time. I did that successfully with my last meet, but I would’ve needed to start a week in advance, whilst traveling, and that just didn’t seem like a great idea.

The meet

As is typical, the meet director (Charlie Lyons, who exemplifies exactly what’s good about competitive strength sports) had planned two weigh-ins, both on the day before the meet. At the weigh-in, you record your official weight, pick your opening attempts, and have your gear checked. Unfortunately this required me to drive down to Birmingham in the pouring rain, then drive home again Friday night, then drive down again for the meet. Oh well. I got to bed at a reasonable time, woke up at 515a, pounded down some coffee, and headed back to Birmingham, easily making the lifter meeting. Here’s Charlie going over the meet rules with an attentive crowd.

One very interesting thing about this meet: out of the 60 lifters, maybe 20 were women. This is an unusually high number and percentage. In part that’s because there’s a great team of female lifters here in Huntsville at Core Strength and Performance, and in part because Charlie recruited pretty heavily to get women on the platform. Many of the women lifting at this meet set state records, and there were a couple of national records too– and the crowd ate it up. But I digress. Anyway: the room pictured above is the lifting part of the Diamond K facility, which is where the lifters could hang out and warm up; the meet itself was on the other side, where CrossFit classes are normally held.  Charlie gave demos of the commands that the judges would give and explained the criteria for a lift to be judged as successful. I appreciate that he started the lifter meeting on time, finished it on time, and started the meet on time: just like the dentist’s office, a little delay early in the day can build into a long delay as the day goes on.

The meet was organized into 4 flights with a single platform. I was midway through the B flight for all lifts.

The squat

I’d been feeling OK with my squats lately, so I decided to open at 145kg, which I got easily. My second attempt at 157.5kg was just as easy, so I reached a little and attempted 170kg for my third attempt– and got it. That left me with a solid 25lb PR on the first left, which felt great. Later in flight D, “The Tank” squatted 385kg, or 849lbs, which sort of put my lift into perspective. (However, I would bet money that The Tank couldn’t run a marathon, so I have that going for me, which is nice.) 3/3 with a 25lb PR was a great way to start though, so I rewarded myself with a diet Coke and some snacks.

The bench

This is where I expected a little trouble. In my last meet, I went 100kg, 105kg, and 110kg for my attempts, failing the third one. This time I wanted to start a little easier, so I opened with 95kg… and blew it by putting the bar back into the rack maybe 0.2sec before the judge gave the “rack” command. On one hand, this was a stupid mistake. On the other hand, it wasn’t a technique or strength problem, so I shrugged it off and gave the expediter 100kg as my second attempt… then nailed it. This led me to get a little cocky, just like I did in 2016. I attempted 110kg and couldn’t push it to full lockout. I was philosophical about it; the total of my two lifts so far was 275kg, and I needed 454kg to hit my goal, so I figured I could make that up on the deadlift.

The deadlift

With the squat and the bench, each time a new lifter takes the platform, the spotters have to adjust the height of the equipment and load the correct amount of weight. In the deadlift, they only have to load the weight, so it moves faster than the other events. Because I was in the B flight for bench, I had plenty of time to chit chat with other lifters and take my time warming up. The only other lifter in my age/weight class was Jeff Ray, whose openers were all higher than my final lifts– really nice guy who also happens to be strong as hell. Since we’re of a similar age, we warmed up at the same time, then before I knew it, I was on deck to lift.

First attempt was at 170kg, or 385lb. This is close to the normal top end of my training lifts but I was confident I could get it, and I did. Here’s where the math got tough. I needed 179kg on the deadlift to hit my 1000lb-goal. I picked 180kg for my second. Why so conservative? I wanted to make absolutely sure that I’d have another shot at the weight if for some reason I screwed up the lift. It turns out that my caution was unnecessary, as I blasted 180kg off the floor and locked it out with a quickness. Three white lights and bang! I’d hit my goal.

For my finishing attempt, with my goal in the bag, I selected 192.5kg, or 424lb. This was a roughly 19lb PR over my previous best garage lift. It was a little tougher than 180kg, but it came off the floor nicely. I maybe could’ve put another 5kg or so on there without a problem, but I remembered what happened when I got greedy on the bench.

The summary

At this point, I confess: I was d-o-n-e and ready to go home. At my other meets, I’ve stuck around to watch the big guys lift; it can be very competitive and the crowd gets loud when people are starting to pull 700lb or more off the ground. I figured that, on balance, I’d rather just head home given that I didn’t know any of the lifters well and didn’t have any friends or family with me. So I did, stopping en route for a well-earned Chick-Fil-A key lime shake and some fries. I was pretty wiped out when I got home, so I took a brief recliner catnap and enjoyed a quiet evening of reading.

 

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Training Tuesday: NYC United Half Marathon + MCM 17.75K race reports

IMG 0821What an adventure!

Over the past 10 days I had the opportunity to run two signature races: the New York City United Airlines Half Marathon, and the Marine Corps Marathon 17.75K. Herewith my race report.

NYC 13.1

I registered for this lottery not realizing exactly when it was; as it turns out, it was the same day my youngest son’s high-school choir was performing at Carnegie Hall and it fell on St. Patrick’s Day. The annual Microsoft MVP Summit started the next day in Seattle, so the logistics were a bit challenging— normally I would’ve flown myself but that wouldn’t work since I had to go straight to Seattle the morning after the race.

Minimal tourism note: New York City is amazing, the Dream Hotel Midtown makes a great base of operations for exploring Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I super loved running Central Park. Everything I ate was superb. The choir concert was a once-in-a-lifetime memory, and a huge highlight was getting to see my cousin Jeff, whom I hadn’t seen in 13 years, not once but twice. Sometime when I have more time I’ll write up all the fun touristy stuff, but for now, let’s talk about the race.

The course begins in Prospect Park, which is in Brooklyn (which of course I didn’t know), then snakes through Brooklyn, over the Manhattan Bridge, then up FDR Drive, which is closed for the race. Runners turn left near the UN, run through Times Square, and finish in Central Park right near the famous Tavern on the Green. There was a lot of online discussion in the NYC 13.1 Facebook group about how hilly the course was— most of the elevation looked like it would be in the first 4-5 miles. With that in mind, and knowing how crowded the race would be, I didn’t plan this to be a PR race. I figured I would give myself permission to enjoy the day and take plenty of pictures, especially since two weeks beforehand I had PR’d the Carnival Frolic 13.1 in Decatur. I planned to plug in 305W into the Stryd PowerRace app and just run to that power target instead of worrying about my pace or HR; that’s what I’d done at Carnival and it seemed like it would work well again. First there were two problems to deal with…

Problem #1: how the hell was I going to get to Prospect Park? This was neatly solved by Cesar Trelles, lead instigator of the FB group, who organized four buses that picked up on Madison Avenue and went to the race start. Once corral assignments were handed out, he staged the bus passengers by their corral, which was assigned on the basis of predicted finish time. All I had to do was show up about 0515 and get on the bus, which delivered me right to the correct side of the park. I had elected not to check a race bag, so after a brisk half-mile walk I was able to get in line for the porta-potties and then make my way to the corral. Breakfast was a protein bar and a packet of BeetElite juice, which is pretty close to my normal pre-13.1 feeding.

Problem #2: the weather. Race day was predicted to be cold and windy, and it was— 34° at the start with a steady 6-10mph wind. I decided to run with a beanie and gloves, shorts over tights, and a long-sleeve tech shirt. This was not nearly enough to keep me comfortable pre-race, but oh well. Thankfully the original forecast, which called for rain, was wrong, because running when it’s cold and wet is not even a little bit fun.

Problem-wise, that was it. The race organizers did a great job with the pre-race logistics and it was easy for me to get through the area and into my corral. I decided to tag along with the 1:55 pacers and see how long I could hang with them, so I met them (though I can’t remember their names, boooo) and waited for my corral start. At about 0755 it was our turn, and I crossed the line at 0759.

The first three miles flew by as we went through Prospect Park. It was cold, but the sun was coming up and I was too busy dodging other runners to worry about how I felt. I held a nice steady rhythm and felt like I was keeping up with the pacers just fine— with my first 3 mile splits at 9:00, 8:38, and 8:11, I was good to go.

Mile 4 was mostly downhill, heading towards the water. My watch says I ran it in 7:41, which is smoking fast for me. I’ll take it.

The real surprises came at miles 5-6. That’s the segment that includes the Manhattan Bridge. I’d heard a lot of pregame anxiety about the climb but it didn’t look that bad, and it didn’t feel that bad either. The run up to, over, and down the bridge went by at 8:44 and 8:26, better than my previous PR 13.1 average pace. This segment had a terrific view of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge. The pacers kept telling us to save our energy because “the race begins in Manhattan”… and they were right.

IMG 0795

Mile 7: I don’t know, man. 7:56 on the flat terrain of the FDR Drive. I had been yo-yoing the pacers a bit from mile 5 onwards, but I was also taking time to hit each Gatorade stop to ensure that I didn’t get dehydrated— that tends to happen to me when it’s cold outside because I don’t realize how much I’m sweating. Mile 8 was a 9:18 special, since i stopped for a pee break— which proved that I was getting enough water in, yay.

All the while, I felt great. Plenty of energy from the crowd; my legs felt strong; I was in a delightful flow balanced between working hard and feeling like I was just trucking along steadily. So I can’t explain what happened for the rest of the race: 8:01, 7:54, 7:44, 6:44, and 8:29. That’s right. I ran 5 miles all under my previous best PR pace, with one of them the fastest mile I’ve ever run in my life… and it was not all downhill, as you can see from the Strava data.

I crossed the finish line somewhat disbelieving my watch time, but the official result time confirmed it: 1:53:09, or about a 2min30sec improvement over my two-week-old PR, which itself was about a 2min30sec PR. I guess I was in a New York state of mind, or something.

Summary: great race, one which I will forever remember. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The next morning, I woke up at 4ish, took an Uber to JFK, and spent Monday-Wednesday deeply immersed in the highly technical (and completely-covered-by-non-disclosure-agreement) MVP Summit. I had a short shakeout run Monday but nothing for the rest of the week; I didn’t have time for my scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday workouts, then Thursday I flew to DC for the MCM 17.75K.

The MCM 17.75K

This race is special for two reasons. One is that it gets its name from the year of the USMC’s founding, 1775. The other is that finishers get an automatic entry to the Marine Corps Marathon. I registered for the 17.75 last year but couldn’t run it because of a family funeral. My original plan was to run it so I’d have an MCM entry, but then I unexpectedly was able to register for the MCM 50K (about which, more in another post), but I figured I might as well run it anyway because I didn’t have any other weekend plans. So off to DC I went, where I found a cheap Airbnb right near the Nationals’ ballpark. My plan was to work Friday, then drive down to the Quantico area for packet pickup and the Marriott room I’d reserved using points, so that’s what I did. Meanwhile, I had an amazing lunch of bison huevos rancheros at the Silver Diner, and they were thoroughly amazing; I also found the local Goodwill and bought some clothes to wear at the start line, then donate.

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Dinner was the “carbo motivation dinner” offered by the MCM Organization— it was at the Marine Corps Base Quantico officers’ club and featured the Quantico band and a speech by the base CO. For $20, I figured it might be fun, and it was; I was at a table with 7 other runners and supporters (all but 1 older than me, go figure) from various parts of the country. The band was fun and the food was decent.IMG 0824

My Stryd pod had died midweek sometime, and I didn’t have the charger, so my original plan to run with power went out the window. I decided just to run based on feel, since I wasn’t trying for a PR or anything. Breakfast was a MetRx protein bar and a pre-race Gu with 35mg caffeine, plus most of a 20oz diet coke. Weather at the start was chilly as hell, with a knifing wind. At Goodwill I’d picked up a big fleece (when I say “big” I think it was 3XL—it went down damn near to my knees) and had that on over my MCM mock and a short-sleeve tech shirt, shorts over tights, and a beanie with gloves. The start/finish area is at a medium-sized church, which you access via either walking or a shuttle bus from several nearby parking areas. I headed into the (nice, warm) church and met some new Facebook friends from the MCM running group (hi, Monique, Joe, and Susan!) We stayed toasty inside until it was time to head to the start line— a bit of a tactical mistake, to be honest.

The starting gun fired and I was off. The first 4-5 miles of the course are mostly on packed gravel trails through the forest. It had rained a bunch the week before but for the most part the trails were fine; there were a few muddy patches but not too bad. The big problem for the first 2 miles was just the volume of runners—3300 people, not sorted into corrals or waves, all hammering up and down the little rollers. I was weaving a good bit but managed to get into a more open space around mile 3ish. Until mile 4 I picked up some free downhill speed, then the real fun started about 4.3 with a pretty steady climb until about mile 7.5. Thankfully the race organizers had added some motivational signs to power us up and down the hills.

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Normally this is where I would have run a steady power but since I couldn’t do that I tried to hold a steady RPE and my pace reflected that nicely.

More free speed on mile 8, and then just before mile 9 I took a badly needed portapotty break—I couldn’t get into one before the race and figured I’d just hold out, but my colon had a different opinion. You can see that at one point my pace shows as 44:04/mile, which is pretty funny since a normal walking pace for me is about 15:30/mile.

Miles 9+ were back on the trail but much less crowded, as the field had thinned out. Steady run to the finish, got my medal, and boom: bison huevos rancheros for lunch, a quick dip in the hotel hot tub, and then home. I arrived just in time to join friends for dinner and show off my new bling collection.

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Overall the whole trip was superb. While extended road trips like this are often a pain in the butt, and there were definitely times when I would rather have been chilling with Pancake at home, the opportunity to run two iconic races in two completely different places— with the MVP Summit sandwiched in the middle— was a marvel. This is just one of the many ways in which running has changed my life for the better.

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Race report: 2018 Rocket City Marathon (December 8, 2018)

Normally I’d write a long race report here, with lots of pictures. This time, I decided to write the race report at Reddit, then just post the pictures here– RCM isn’t a very scenic course so I don’t have a lot of pictures from the course: just the obligatory rocket selfie.

 

 

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Race report: 2018 Marine Corps Marathon

I had an idea earlier this year: “I should think about trying to run the Marine Corps Marathon.”

Like many of the ideas I have, this one was of questionable value, but it happened this past weekend so I thought I’d write about how it came to fruition.

In truth, I’d always thought that, in the unlikely event I ever ran a marathon, I’d like it to be the MCM. The “unlikely event” part went away back in 2016 when I ran Rocket City, but I didn’t have any burning ambition to do another one. Then I saw that the Marine Corps had added a new race: the Marine Corps 17.75K (1775 was the Corps’ founding year). Finishing it granted automatic entry to MCM. I entered the lottery for the 17.75K and, to my surprise, got in… but the race itself fell on the same day as the funeral of my beloved Aunt Norma, so I didn’t get to run it. I begrudgingly entered the lottery for MCM, not expecting to get in… and then I did.

Training

I strained a hamstring 2 weeks before the Chattanooga 70.3— so since late April, I have been intermittently unable to run more than a couple of miles. My coach has kept me on the bike to continue to keep my cardio base, along with some weight work, and the hammy seemed to be getting steadily better. Two weeks before MCM, I’d planned to run the London Royal Parks 13.1, which went swimmingly. I was encouraged that my hamstring didn’t hurt, and that I felt good during and after that race… to a point.

(skip the below if you’re not a runner or don’t care about running shoes)

See, last year I had a persistent, nagging problem with my right knee’s IT band. Skipping the boring details, let’s just say I eventually figured out that it was caused by my shoes, so I switched shoes but then started having a different problem with my calves. Welcome to distance running! I finally found a pair of Nike Structure 21s that seemed to work really well for me… until I started doing runs of longer than about 8 miles. Then I started having soreness in the outside of my left foot… so back to the shoe store I went, returning this time with a pair of On Cloudflow shoes. They seemed to work really well, except that after the London race I felt the calf pain returning. I waffled for a solid week before my coach finally suggested I run the marathon in them anyway, since they worked fine during the race. This seemed reasonable… after all, who cares if they’re sore after the race? That’s what I planned to do.

(ok, it’s safe to start reading again)

Coach Jon didn’t follow the usual gospel of having increasingly long runs as marathon prep— my longest scheduled run was 15mi, the week after London. I made it through 10 before my hamstring was bothering me too much to continue. For the 4 or 5 weeks preceding the race, I kept seeing people in the MCM group on Facebook talk about their 18, 20, 22, etc. mile runs and so I was a little nervous about being undertrained. However, I knew that, barring a serious injury, I’d be able to complete the race and cross the finish line, even if it wasn’t in the time that I had wanted, so I wasn’t unduly nervous (or so I thought at the time!)

Travel and arrival

My friend Ashley had deferred her MCM entry last year and decided that this would be her year to run it as well. Our mutual friend Erica came along as cheerleader and sherpa, so we loaded up the airplane on a cloudy Friday morning and set out from Decatur. 

 

In the plane

taken while the weather was still nice

We flew into Potomac Friendly (so named because it’s in Friendly, MD). I’ll do a separate Flying Friday post on the flight itself, which was the most difficult flight I’ve ever flown. The weather was, shall we say, not awesome, but I got plenty of solid time in IMC, all hand-flown because our autopilot is down for maintenance. I picked Potomac because it’s one of the so-called “MD3” airports that are closest in to downtown DC (the others being Hyde Field and College Park). Potomac is a small airport with a short runway, but it has inexpensive fuel and is a short drive from downtown (by DC standards). We parked the plane and then Ashley’s BFF Candice picked us up and drove us to the runners’ expo at the Gaylord convention center. 

The expo was fun. Packet pickup was quick and efficient. Each runner got a clear plastic bag (to be used later for gear drop-off) with a mock turtleneck race shirt, a race patch, and a very nice printed race guide. All the major vendors and sponsors were at the expo, including Brooks (the main running-gear sponsor), Carb Boom (the nutrition sponsor), USAA, and so on. I managed to limit my expo spending to one T-shirt, one Christmas tree ornament, and one coffee mug, mostly because I’d already bought a race jacket directly from Brooks. There was a lot of other stuff I could happily have bought, though!

at the logo wall

proud to say I had the only Waffle House shirt in the place— thanks, Anna

Candice suggested Succotash for dinner, and it was superb. The chicken and waffles were the best I’ve ever had. Portions were generous, which is good because it was fairly expensive. (Drink prices are ridiculous, a trend I noted throughout DC, but what are you gonna do.) 

On the advice of my friend Ingrid, I’d booked a room at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, because it’s easy walking distance to the start line. Thankfully I had stashed away enough Marriott points to get it for free. My expectations of the “Ritz-Carlton” brand name were sky high, so I was a little disappointed that the hotel is basically a nicer-than-usual Marriott property, not the oasis of luxury I’d pictured. The staff were extremely friendly and pleasant, and it was marvelous being right next to the Fashion City mall, which has both a DC Metro stop and a Starbucks. 

The day before

There’s a tremendously active (and welcoming!) Facebook group for MCM participants, and they’d scheduled a shakeout run on Saturday morning. I took a Lyft over (funny story for another time about when Lyft thinks you’ve been in an accident in one of their vehicles) and met the group near the Smithsonian metro station. The weather was windy, rainy, and cool— low 50s— but it was a fun run anyway. I hadn’t brought any rain gear, so I was pretty drenched by the time we got done, but in a good way.

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After another Lyft ride back to the hotel and a quick cleanup (and a giant coffee), we met up for a little sightseeing. First (because hello, have you met me?) we went to Port City Brewing to give them a try; after all, their motto is “We put the ‘ale’ in ‘Alexandria.’” Good beer and a nice atmosphere, but they didn’t have any food, which was a bit of a problem. Then it was off to Georgetown for lunch. Candice had suggested an Italian restaurant called Filomena. Let me just be clear and say that this was, unequivocally, the best-decorated restaurant I’ve ever been to and had the best Italian food I’ve ever had.

When you walk in the door, the first thing you see is the room where the pasta is made. In our case, that included an Italian grandma giving us malocchio

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Don’t mess with grandma

Besides the food, Filomena is famous for their elaborate holiday decorations. There’s a discreet little sign at the entrance cautioning parents that they may want to consider their kids’ maturity levels before entering the restaurant proper. Here’s a small sample…

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at this point I was so hungry that no amount of demon decoration would spoil my appetite

The food! I ate a large plate of cannelloni with Italian sausage, plus what seemed like a loaf and a half of table bread, then the remaining half of Candice’s lasagna. I only stopped because I was in literal fear of bursting. This wasn’t just ordinary gluttony, of course; I’d had a very light breakfast and a late lunch, with the intention of having a big lunch and a very light dinner, all with a goal of not having to rush to the porta-potties on race morning. (Look up “ileal brake” if you want to know why this strategy works.)

Neither Ashley nor I wanted to do a lot of walking pre-race, so we drove over to the Navy Yard and explored a bit, then I made an early night of it— I watched maybe the first 15 minutes of the Saints game and then was out like a light, but not before doing one last gear layout to make sure Flat Paul was good to go:

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Race day

Normally I don’t have race nerves. This time, I did, but not for any good reason; I woke up about 4a and tossed and turned for a bit, mostly just because I was excited. Then it was time to get up and get my race prep on. I’d already mixed up 4 bottles of Gatorade Endurance and stashed them in the room fridge, and I’d loaded up my belt with 7 Gu packets. I didn’t do a good job of prepping for breakfast though; I ended up eating a Payday bar, a protein bar, some applesauce from the runners’ expo, and a Gu. The DC Metro opened at 6, so promptly at 6 I was lined up for the turnstile and then took the train to the Pentagon station.

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the first of many lines for the morning

The layout of the race is such that the start is on highway 110 between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. When I got off the train, I followed the giant herd of runners to the runners’ village, where I checked in the provided clear plastic bag of post-race gear. One neat thing about this process is that each race bib has a UPS sticker on the back with a truck number (mine was 19). To check your gear, you take your bag to the matching truck, then the trucks move to the finish area. Simple and quick. I had plenty of time to mill around the runners’ village, which was pointless since there was nothing there— so instead, I headed out to the start line area, another 10min walk away. It was a scenic walk, though.

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For the first time this year, MCM was using a corral start, but they only had 3 corrals. I wanted to try to grab on to the 4:30 pace group and see how long I could hang on, but they were in the next corral up. Even though I got to the front of my corral, the polite yet firm young second lieutenants stationed there weren’t letting anyone move up a corral. (Somehow Ashley managed to sneak through though.)

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my people at the head of the green corral

This positioning turned out to be pretty much perfect— to my left was a small tower. The event announcer kept up a continual patter leading up to the 745a start for the wheelchair and handcart division, which was immediately preceded by an MV-22 flyover. After their start, we had a few more minutes before the 755a main start, which was filled by another MV-22 flyover and two parachute jumps: one mass jump and one pair carrying a large American flag. Both were aiming for a blue smoke grenade, which was at the small tower near my position, so I had a great view.

Promptly at 755a, the starter fired the howitzer and it was race time.

The race

Some race reports tediously go over every single mile. I won’t do that here (but you can see all the race data, my mile splits, and so on here if you’re interested.) Instead, I want to capture some impressions.

First, the crowd. As in London, I was running with and near people at all times, and it was amazingly energizing. The spectators were a spectacle in themselves. The variety and quality of supportive race signs, and the volume of cheering, far exceeded my expectations. Any time the course ran through a city area, the sidewalks were packed— the only time we didn’t have large crowds were when we were on the open road or a bridge. Take a look at the picture below, taken on Rock Creek Parkway, and you’ll see what I mean.

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Second, the course itself. What a gorgeous tour of our nation’s capital.

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Third, the wear blue Mile. Words can’t capture the emotions of running this part of the course. I took my headphones off and silently read the name of each fallen American to myself as I ran by, not in any particular hurry. It was a tremendously moving part of the course and I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it as I type this.

Overall, I felt really good for the first 14 or so, then started to flag a little coming out of Hains Point. My average pace got a bit slower, and in Crystal City (starting about mile 23) I took a couple of walk and stretch breaks.

And, of course, because this is the Marine Corps Marathon, it ends on a hill. Seriously.

A note on race gear and strategy

I have been really frustrated lately by my Stryd pod. When I use it with my Garmin Fenix3 HR, I get power dropouts just like I did with my Stages power meter on the bike. When I use the Stryd app on my Apple Watch, the pod often disconnects, and when it’s disconnected the app thinks you’re not running— so in London, the app recorded my run as 10ish miles. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I ran with both the Garmin and the Apple Watch. (And my phone, although that was for music and cheers.) This turned out to be a good strategy, because the Stryd app on the Apple Watch just flat-out stopped recording my run when I rebooted my phone, which I didn’t think it was supposed to do.

My original plan was to try and hold a steady power with the PowerRace app on the Garmin. This was torpedoed when I discovered the dropout issue. My backup plan was to set the Garmin to give me an alert if my heart rate went over 150 and then run based on that. I’d also set a 5:00 run/1:00 walk interval timer, just in case I needed it late in the race… but I didn’t, so that was awesome.

My original goal was ‘beat my previous marathon PR.’ My A goal was to go 4:30 or better. I didn’t quite accomplish that, mostly because I ran an extra mile. That’s right. I managed to turn a 26.2 mile race into a 27.2 mile race. At my average pace of 10:49/mile, that cost me just under 11 minutes. However, I also took lots of pictures on the course, stopped for a few stretches, and even drank some whisky, so I am not at all dissatisfied with how things turned out.

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The finish line experience

After running up the aforementioned hill and through the finishers’ corral, each finisher is presented the coveted race medal by a Marine. I got a fresh-cheeked second lieutenant newly sprung from Quantico; he hung the medal around my neck, shook my hand, and called me “sir.” The corral dumps runners out at the base of the Iwo Jima monument, a perfect photo spot.

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Ashley had finished the race before me (of course), but she found me for some photo opportunities.

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Post-race

Surprisingly, I had very few mobility or soreness problems immediately post-race. None of us wanted to walk around a whole lot, so after a badly needed hot shower and some coffee, we met fellow complete human Zach at Farmers Fishers Bakers, another excellent Candice selection, for a celebratory dinner. Once again, I was in bed by 8 and asleep shortly thereafter.

In the following days, I’m delighted to say that I’ve had zero hamstring pain, zero side-foot pain (except some mechanical wear on my toes—no lost toenails etc), and felt great in my recovery work this week.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I am eager to run this race again next year.

Oh, right— I didn’t mention my finish time yet. 4:55:20, so a solid 14 minute PR. If I’d cut a few more tangents and taken a few less pictures, I could easily have gone sub-4:45, and with a bit more training 4:30 is within striking distance. That’s my goal for the Rocket City Marathon in December. See you there!

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Training Tuesday: Royal Parks Half Marathon race report

I very much enjoy running in new places, and I love destination races. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that I was excited to find out that there’s a giant half-marathon in London, the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. It’s a fundraiser for the foundation that maintains London’s 8 Royal Parks (including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and so on); in the 10 years of its existence, it raised more than £36 million for the upkeep of the parks and for other charities. Because the race is run by a nonprofit, seemingly every charity in the UK (and many global ones as well) have fundraising efforts and charity teams for the race. The race course cuts through four of the eight parks, and is almost completely flat. Runners start in Hyde Park, run east through St James’s Park (and past Buckingham Palace!), up the Strand and then back again, with detours through Trafalgar Square and down to Downing Street, then through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The photos on the race web site show an abundance of fall colors and sunshine… which is not exactly what happened.

I’d registered for the race lottery and didn’t get in, so the Royal Parks folks kept my entry fee and sent me a nice hoodie to cushion my disappointment. It didn’t, given that the hoodie arrived in July, which is not usually hoodie weather in Alabama. Quadrotech decided to sponsor a corporate team, so I got in through that route. I later learned that most runners get into the race through charity registrations, and in future my plan is to raise funds for London’s Air Ambulance (which is a charity!) so I can get one of these exceptionally cool running shirts:

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I got to London Thursday morning before the race and worked in our London office Thursday and Friday, running 5 miles Thursday. Both days were cool and gloomy, and there was lots of discussion about Sunday’s forecast of temperatures in the low 50s and rain. Saturday turned out glorious— I ran 8 miles along the Regents’ Canal in lovely sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s. The scenery was pretty grand…

The Regents Canal

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After my run, I went out for pizza and watched First Man (pretty good; maybe wait for Netflix though.) A good night’s sleep and I awoke to… exactly the promised weather. Lot 50s, steady wind, and rain. I donned the rain gear I’d brought and headed out to the Moorgate Tube station. Once I hit Piccadilly, the Tube was completely jammed with runners and spectators making their way to Hyde Park. That’s one thing I hadn’t considered: even in a city the size of London, a race with 16,000 runners means that there are a ton of people packed into a relatively small area.

Now, a brief sidebar on race organization. The race organizers will mail race packets ahead of time, for free, if you ask them to, which I did; however, because we’d re-registered me as a team member, my packet went to our office instead, so when I got to the race site, I had to meet my teammates to get my bib so I would know what corral I was in, then drop off my post-race clothes at the baggage drop, then make my traditional pre-race pilgrimage to the portapotties, then go to the start.

f you’ve never run a large race, you may not realize this, but most large endurance races group runners by pace and then send them into corrals so runners of similar speed start together. This race had… 3 corrals total. That’s not a lot for 16,000 runners. There were long lines at baggage drop and for the toilets, and I got increasingly nervous as we got closer and closer to the 9am race start time. I needn’t have worried though— it turns out that even with those two long waits, I got into the line for my corral at 915am and actually crossed the start line at 927am. This was fine because the race is chip timed, so the time doesn’t start until you actually cross the timing mat. Here’s what the corral looked like before I started:

The corral

Once I crossed the start line, I was in a crowd until I finished. That’s a major difference from the races I normally run, especially triathlons— since you’re running after swimming and biking, differences in individual speed means people tend to be pretty spread out on the race course. Here’s an example from the leg through Hyde Park late in the race:

IMG 0167One of the best things about the race was the spectator presence. There were people pretty much lining the course whenever it was along a road, and for maybe 80% of the course length through parks. Lots of signs, and at least three or four bands (three drum corps I can recall). Several of the corporate and charity sponsors had big cheering stations set up, which was fun. Overall the race had a remarkable energy to it, the more so considering that the weather wasn’t great.

And then there was the race course scenery…

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Did not see any members of the Royal Family

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This cracked me up. I’m quite surprised it was deemed necessary

A word about race gear: I ran in a pair of On Cloudflows that I bought a week or so before the race, a pair of generic shorts, and my Rocket City Marathon race shirt. I started the race with a light rain jacket and a hat, but shed both of those mid-race— but I was glad to have them when it started raining just after I crossed the finish. The Cloudflows really felt good during the race, but I have since discovered that as I build volume, they aren’t cushioned enough so they’ve gone back to the store. I also bought a pair of Trekz Titanium bone-conduction earphones using some accumulated Amazon gift cards, figuring they might be worth a try. They sound good but feel a bit odd, and I’m not convinced that they’re better than the Plantronics BackBeat Fits I had been using. The Trekz would be great for cycling though, so I may keep them just for that.

I also ran with my Apple Watch paired to my Stryd footpod. This has been my normal daily running setup since April or so, and it’s worked very well, but for some reason on this race, the pod kept disconnecting— my final run showed up as only 10.2 miles. Best guess is that the pod doesn’t gracefully handle the case where my phone and watch are both connected to it. I only take my phone running when I want to take pictures… and I’ll absolutely want to take pictures at the Marine Corps Marathon. In many ways, this race was a dry run for MCM: I tried to use the same gear, nutrition, etc that I plan to use there, thus the test of the new shoes. This particular race prides itself on sustainability, so the race medals are made of reclaimed wood; the shirts are ring-spun bamboo; and so on. there’s nothing available on the course except water (no bananas, gels, sports drink, etc). I ran with a Fitletic bottle belt with 2 extra bottles; the one problem with this belt is that with all 4 bottles on it, the weight of the bottles stretches the belt enough for it to gradually work its way down towards my knees. The solution is to drink from the back bottles first (or just fill them halfway); I’ve already got the length adjusted to its shortest extent. That’s really good to know, since I don’t want to spend 26.2 miles in DC hitching my belt back up where it belongs.

I haven’t said anything really about the run itself so far. It was great. I held a much faster pace than I expected to be able to and ran my second-fastest half marathon time ever: 2:03:14. I took time to take pictures on the course, so that might have shaved another 2 min off my time, but I wasn’t running this for a PR, and I wasn’t wrecked after the race. In fact, I had a great run the next morning before leaving to go to the airport.

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See, I even look happy here despite standing in the rain for an inordinate amount of time.

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The Quadrofam!

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My reward for a good run: a Sunday roast (not shown: the incredible dessert brownie they brought after I cleaned my plate)

Overall, it was a fantastic experience— I loved the crowd energy and can’t wait to carry forward what I learned to the Marine Corps Marathon! I will absolutely be entering the lottery for the 2019 Royal Parks event, too.

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Training Tuesday: riding the Cote d’Azur

Recently I had the opportunity to do something remarkable: go for a bike ride in Provence! I had to be in the UK for business one week and in Nice the following week, so I was debating what I should do with a free weekend in Europe. Once I learned that there were bike-tour operators near Nice, I quickly decided to find one that could get me out on the road for some portion of the weekend.

Thanks to a recommendation from my local triathlete friend Kate, I found Azur Cycle Tours,  whose guided-rides option sounded perfect. There are a fair number of other tour operators that do longer multi-day tours, too, but Azur was the first I found that could set me up for a one-day ride, including use of a rental bike. I made all the arrangements via email with Justin, the owner, who was prompt and communicative in our exchanges.

I planned to arrive at the Nice airport Friday evening, spend Saturday poking around the area, and then ride on Sunday. Justin agreed to supply a road bike, and I planned to bring my PowerTap pedal power meter, a bike computer, and clothes and shoes. I booked a room at the Azur Cycle Tours apartment for two nights, packed my bags, and arrived there shortly after midnight– a good four hours later than originally planned. Justin was kind enough not to snap at me and gave me a quick tour of the apartment, which was exactly as promised on the web site: modern, comfortable, and well situated near shopping, restaurants, the beach, and the Beaulieu-sur-mer train station.

The next morning I woke up to this glorious view…

Balcony view from the apartment

Justin, as promised, had prepared a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, fresh berries, and bread from the boulangerie up the road. We had a pleasant chat about the local area, then he left to go lead rides and I donned a 10kg weight vest and went for a walk around town. I strolled down along the beach (named “La Petite Afrique” for some reason) and then walked along the Basse Corniche up over a hill for a ways. This treated me to some splendid views of the water and the dozens of large seagoing yachts anchored at various spots.

After I walked back to the apartment and dropped off my weight vest, I decided to walk into Beaulieu and find lunch. As I passed the train station, I had a better idea: why not go have lunch in Monaco? I bought a train ticket and headed off, and in 20 minutes or so I was disembarking at the Monaco station. It became clear pretty quickly where I was when I saw this:

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I walked down to the Casino, where I was surprised and delighted to find a classic-car rally in progress. For a “modest” donation to the Prince’s favorite charity (something to do with heart disease, as I recall), you could rent any of a number of privately owned classic cars and drive them around. Here are a few of the stunners on display.

My favorite was the Aventador, though; without a doubt it is the most beautiful manufactured object I’ve ever seen in person. Sadly this photo doesn’t do it justice.

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The casino itself isn’t too shabby either.

I walked around the casino area for a while, taking pictures as the mood struck me. It’s a delightful area for people-watching, of course, and there was plenty of that on offer. I saw and heard tourists from all over the place. Then I took the train back to Beaulieu, where Justin suggested to me that I try dinner at Les Vents des Anges in town. The highlight was this salad, consisting of warmed rounds of goat cheese on toasted local bread with fresh greens and peppers. It was, hands down, the best salad I’ve ever eaten, and the wine and entree (saltimbocca, in this case) were equally good. A short walk back home, and then it was bedtime.

The next morning dawned sunny and clear. Justin and I had planned to meet for breakfast at 730 then roll out shortly thereafter. It took 20 min or so to mount my pedals, bike computer, and camera on the bike, get it adjusted, and so on, then we rolled out. Check out this route….

Relive ‘Do Epic Shit: Beaulieu to Tourrette and back’

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We were able to leave Beaulieu and head west into Nice, starting with a short climb into Villefranche and then riding along Nice’s excellent cycle path that parallels the famous Promenade des Anglais. Then the ride started in earnest. Our first stop was in La Colle-sur-Loup for a snack, which in this case was a marvelous berry tart and a cup of poisonously strong coffee. The whole town square, and most of the surrounding streets, were filled with… a PTA fundraiser for the village school. Yep. You read that right. Change the language on the signs, bring in some box-mix cupcakes, and turn all the volunteering moms into non-smokers and the whole event could have been plucked right from suburban America.

Best. dessert. ever,

Then back on the road! The toughest part of the ride was just ahead: the long climb into Tourrette-sur-Loup, which interestingly enough is part of the Ironman Nice course. This offered remarkable scenery in all directions, including up and down.

We stopped in Tourrette-sur-Loup for a splendid lunch: another great salad and a marvelous lasagna. (Italian food is pretty common in this part of France, perhaps unsurprising given how close Italy is). We also filled our bike bottles at the municipal fountain. Nearly every village has one, and the water at each of the ones we sampled was clear, cold, and delightfully fresh.

After lunch, we rolled back into Nice along a slightly different route– no steep descents, but a very pleasant series of switchbacks and hairpins. It took me nearly this long to understand why the bike Justin rented me seemed so smooth and quiet compared to my Cervelo P2: I have race wheels with a racheting freehub, so when I coast, they make that super-cool clicking noise. This bike didn’t have that, plus the drivetrain was adjusted to approximately the precision level of the Space Shuttle, so it was a delightfully smooth and quiet ride.

Along the way, I was able to pause to take a couple of photos of scenic spots. Also along the way, we made one final stop for ice cream, which I sadly forgot to take a picture of.

A note about the roads: even in this rural area, the roads we rode on were marvelously smooth and well-maintained, with good markings and signage. About 99% of the drivers we encountered gave us a wide passing margin, and I never felt unsafe or threatened. We saw a few dozen other cyclists along the route and everyone was friendly.

Back at the apartment post-ride, I used the provided laundry machines to wash my kit while I drank a beer and looked out at the water, then, reluctantly, I packed my stuff and departed for my next leg of the trip.

Overall, I could not be more pleased with the Azur Cycle Tours experience. Justin was an excellent host, with encyclopedic knowledge of the local area and route. He kept up an informative and interesting commentary about what we were seeing as we rode; he chose a route that was appropriate for my skill level but still challenging, and he made me feel like a welcome guest instead of the tour du jour. I am looking forward to returning and riding a more challenging route in the future!

[ed. note: I wrote this using a Windows machine and I refuse to deal with its stupidity when it comes to entering accented characters– please be reassured that my French spelling is better than shown here.] 

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Training Tuesday: riding bike courses with Rouvy

I got a smart trainer (a Wahoo KICKR SNAP) last November but didn’t really start trying to use it until a couple of months ago. Since then, I’ve had a few different experiences getting it to work with various accessories and features. I now have it working reliably with three different programming sources:

  • I can manually control the trainer using the Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer. This lets me set the trainer to hold a particular effort level so I can just steadily pedal, or to load interval workouts that I’ve created or been assigned in TrainingPeaks.
  • I can drive the trainer using the Zwift app. This allows me to ride through a video-game-looking world with other virtual riders; there are courses that cover London and Richmond, along with a mythical island kingdom known as Watopia.
  • I can ride Sufferfest videos, which I love doing, and the app can control the resistance of the trainer according to whatever workout I’m supposed to be doing.

However, there’s one programming source I hadn’t tried yet– I wanted to experiment with riding a real-world route. Specifically, I wanted to ride the IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga bike course on the trainer, so that I could see the course and get used to the hills, but the weather was bad on the course-preview-ride day and the logistics didn’t work out for me to get there another time. I figured I’d try doing it in software.

First I downloaded Bkool, because a friend of mine had recommended it. After signing up for the free trial, I found that the app would crash immediately after sign-in 100% of the time on my iPad. Thank goodness for free trials.

Then I went to poke around the DC Rainmaker site and found this typically thorough guide to trainer apps. After reading it, I downloaded 2 more apps: FulGaz and Rouvy. Like Bkool, they both have free trials.

I tried FulGaz first and was really impressed with how pretty it was– but it didn’t have the Chattanooga course, so that was that.

Next I tried Rouvy. Signup went flawlessly and I found the Chattanooga course, loaded it, and started riding.

What I didn’t notice is that it was the Chattanooga 70.3 World Championship course. I couldn’t figure out why it was so damn hilly and tough. Eventually I did figure it out. But that’s another story.

Below are a few screen shots from a ride I did the other day along the route for stage 1 of the 2017 Tour de France. Rouvy shows three or four views, depending on how the course is set up. The first view is the default, showing you a Google Maps-based view of the area, with a data pane on the left showing pace, power, etc. You can see that I’m at the very beginning of the stage, which started in Dusseldorf. You’ll see this view any time there’s no video associated with the course.

The course view shows you what you’d see if you were actually riding on the course. You can see power, pace, and so on in the left pane, and there’s a helpful horizontal scale that shows you the current incline (0.7% in this case) along with the upcoming incline. The video is synchronized to your pace, so the faster you pedal, the faster you appear to be riding. Different routes have different video quality, depending on what kind of camera the rider used, whether it was stabilized, and so on.

Rolling through Dusseldorf

The next view is all data. I don’t really want to look at this view when riding, but it’s there if you like it.



The fourth view, shown above, shows you a real-time strip-chart-style view of your 3 key metrics: heart rate, pedal cadence, and power output. You also get the profile view along the bottom to show you the terrain you’re riding over.

Everything I did with Rouvy worked flawlessly: when I finished my rides, they were automatically uploaded to Strava and TrainingPeaks, the auto-pause and auto-resume features worked well mid-ride, and I didn’t have any problems with video dropouts or freezes, application crashes, or other ill behavior.

I need a few more rides with it to make sure, but I love the idea of being able to ride a real course, with video when I want to see it. Typically if I’m doing an interval workout I’ll use a Sufferfest video and stream it to the projector; if I’m doing an endurance ride I’ll put on Zwift (so I get some variety in the route and terrain) and leave it on the iPad while I watch Netflix or something on the projector. The ability to ride a real route, with high quality video on the projector, might be enough to get me to change that habit.

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Training Tuesday: Reykjavik Midnight Sun 10K race report

I just came back from presenting at Office 365 Engage, where I had a terrific time. More on the conference in another post. As a new conference, the organizers’ budget was somewhat limited, so they gave me a 1500 EUR limit on airfare, which meant I could only afford a convoluted itinerary on JetBlue and Icelandair. However, Icelandair offers free stopovers, so I decided to take a couple of days after my trip to sightsee.

As is my habit, I spent some time looking for interesting places to run before my trip. The folks in /r/visitingIceland were very helpful, and I found https://runninginiceland.com, which led me to the Suzuki Midnight Sun run: 5K, 10K, and half-marathon distances, all starting at or just after 9pm. I immediately signed up online for the half.

Logistics

The race website was clear and easy to follow, and I got multiple mails in the days leading up to the race recapping the race routes, where to park, and so on. The race organizers sell race medals and shirts separately, so you don’t have to pay for them if you don’t want them. Packet pickup was on race day only, from 4p-845p, at the Laugardalshöll sports hall; it was well organized and smooth. I got in, grabbed my race number, bought a race shirt, and was out again all within 10 minutes. I made a game-day decision to move down from the half distance to the 10K because of a lingering hamstring problem, aggravated by the 9.5 miles I had already walked while sightseeing Friday; the race staff easily handled the changeover. In addition to the booth selling race shirts, the expo had a small table selling various Adidas goodies. One thing I particularly appreciated is that Laugardalshöll has plenty of bathrooms.

Men’s room? Right this way

The Airbnb I stayed in also hosted two Americans who were running the race, although I didn’t meet them until maybe 2 hours before the race start. We drove over 45min or so before start time, easily found a place to park, and joined the large crowd avoiding the wind inside the hall.

The hall before the race

 

Weather

Friday’s weather was pretty good for running: it was about 10ºC and mostly overcast, but a bit windy: a steady 30km/h wind from the north, with occasional higher gusts. I was sightseeing all day and got rained on and fairly wind-blasted during the day, but the rain had thankfully stopped by 9pm. I wore shorts, a long-sleeve tech shirt, and a light rain shell, which I took off about halfway through the race.

Race start

The RD started with a brief announcement that there were nearly 3000 registered runners, 1200 from outside Iceland, from a total of 52 countries, making this by far the most international event I’ve run in. The half marathon and 10K groups started together. As you can see from the race maps, the two courses follow a common path for the first few km, then the longer distance runners split off. The corral had pace signs and runners were encouraged to group according to their projected pace but there were no pacers.

The race start. Big crowd!

The course

Scenic, mostly on paved paths and some on residential streets. The course runs through a pretty valley and along a stream with a couple of waterfalls, like this one.

Oh, just an Icelandic waterfall

I saw two mother geese with goslings and a few rabbits along the stream, which was cool.

Not shown: large quantities of goose poop on trail

The first 3km has a few small rollers, with a larger and longer climb (maybe 30m elevation change?) from 4km-6km. There was one water stop, which had water, Powerade (a race sponsor), and 2 portajohns. The course was well-marked, with each km indicated and plenty of volunteers to keep runners from going off course. I didn’t see any split timers on the course and there were no on-course timing mats.

My performance

Because my hamstring had been hurting, and my right IT band had joined the party after my warmup run in Haarlem, I planned to take it easy and treat this like a training run. My 10K PR is 54:37 and I didn’t have any ambition of setting a new one on this run. The first 5km or so were fine; the hamstring was quiet and I held a good pace (modulo the time I spent in the portapotty at the rest stop– that cost me 2min or so). About 7km in, my left calf started to tighten, and this progressed into a numbness in my left forefoot. This has happened occasionally around the same distance in both my right and left feet since I switched to my current Brooks Adrenalines, which means pretty clearly I need different shoes. Anyway, it’s damn hard to maintain a good pace when you can’t feel one of your feet, so I slowed down and even walked a few stretches. About 9km it had loosened a bit and I was able to run more normally.

I ended up running a 1:02, well off my PR for the 10K distance. Strava data.

The finish

The finish line featured a traditional chute, right after which volunteers handed out race medals for those who’d bought them in advance. The recovery area had free water, Powerade, and half-bananas. There were a couple of booths set up where you could buy (delicious) Icelandic hotdogs and other snacks. The race also includes admission to the pool complex nearby at Laugardalslaug, so we headed over there. The logistics of using Icelandic public pools are worth a separate post. Suffice to say that you must be fully comfortable with locker-room nudity, large crowds, and crowding in the hot tub… but it was lovely to be able to have a good thermal soak after a long run.

Wrapup

My race experience was a 9/10: a high-energy fun crowd, beautiful course, and the unique aspect of running a race at a time when it would normally be pitch dark all combined to make a great memory. I’d love to go back and run the half, or (better yet), the Reykjavik marathon. Highly recommended.

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Training Tuesday: time to work on my bike repair skills

Warning: this post contains disturbing images of graphic violence that may not be suitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

This weekend, Dana and I had planned to go for a bike ride on the Arsenal, so I loaded up my bike. First, though, we’d planned to go see Wonder Woman (which I highly recommend– great flick). Because I didn’t want to have my bike stolen by some miscreant, I secured it to the rack with a cable lock.

After we left the theater, I heard a thump and looked out my rear view mirror just in time to see my poor bike departing its slot in the rack, where it was dragged along for 50yds or so by the cable lock until I could safely pull over.

Dana is not amused.

The first thing I noticed was that I’m going to need new handlebars (and bar tape, which I wanted to replace anyway).

Ever wonder what carbon fiber looks like on the inside? Now you know.

The front tire sidewall was abraded enough to ruin the tire, and the corner of the saddle got chewed up pretty badly too. I think I can duct tape this as a temporary fix.

Sad saddle

The retaining strap that I used to secure the wheel to the rack slot was missing. My best guess? Someone wanted to steal the bike, lifted the top clamp, and then gave up when they found the cable lock in place. I didn’t check the rack so I didn’t notice until it was too late. Thankfully the frame and the carbon wheel fairings seem undamaged, although the rear freehub is making a new noise I don’t like. Bar tape is en route from Amazon and mi amigo Lance is giving me a spare set of bars, so hopefully this weekend I can watch enough YouTube videos to learn how to disassemble my brake hoods and shifters, port them to the new bars, and wrap everything.

Meanwhile, I still don’t have a saddle for my tri bike, so I either better get to Bicycle Cove and spend some money or swap out running for riding for the next week or two…

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Powerlifting meet report: Empire of Renegades, 3 June 2017, Huntsville

I just competed in my third powerlifting meet, Empire of Renegades. It was a blast!

Originally I had planned to lift at Europa Orlando two weeks ago, and had trained for that, but the airplane nose landing gear broke and Matt and I got temporarily stuck in Adel, Georgia. Luckily while I was sulking in my hotel room, I found this meet, which was only about 10min from my house, so I signed up and got ready to kick it. I have long had the goal of getting to 1000# total and I thought that maaaaybe this might be the day, if everything broke perfectly well for me.

Training and meet prep

Most athletes who are preparing for a meet will follow elaborate training programs with a goal of peaking their strength right at meet time. Because I’m coached by the team at Complete Human Performance, I just do what my coach (a pro triathlete) tells me to do. Typically I lift 3x/week (upper one day, squats/deads one day, one day of combo), usually with a LISS run or bike afterwards. The other days are higher intensity cardio. This is liberating since I don’t have to worry about my programming, but undoubtedly means I’m leaving pounds on the rack since I am not trying to optimize my lifts. I lift in my garage, with no spotter or live coaching. My technique probably has lots of room for improvement. So I didn’t do anything super special for the meet other than tell Jon, my coach, three months ago that I had a meet planned.

All powerlifting federations separate lifters into different weight classes. In general, you want to be as heavy as possible within your weight class, but as light as possible overall (because your overall score is computed using your total bodyweight). Like wrestlers and UFC fighters, then, powerlifters have a whole science around trying to drop weight without losing muscle. I usually walk around about 205 lbs, and that would put me in the 220lb weight class against much stronger lifters. I decided to try to get down to 198 or below using a water cut. The idea behind these cuts is simple: by manipulating your fluid and salt intake, you trick your body into dehydrating itself. A typical plan might look like this for a Friday morning weigh-in:

  • Monday: drink a gallon of water, cut down dietary salt, lower the amount of carbs you eat
  • Tuesday: drink 2 gallons of water, with minimal salt and low carbs
  • Wednesday: drink a gallon of water and don’t eat anything
  • Thursday: drink half a gallon of water, no carbs, and nothing after 5:30pm. Spend a little time in the sauna in the afternoon
  • Friday: wake up, go get weighed in, and then start dehydrating and refeeding

I roughly followed this plan, but I didn’t start until Tuesday (Monday I had the Cotton Row 10K race in hot, humid conditions so I ate and drank like a pig until I got up Tuesday morning). That worked fine; I weighed in at 88.1kg. after having 2 gallons of liquid Tuesday with a mostly normal diet, nothing except eggs, cheese, and hot sauce (and a handful of peanuts, I’m weak) with 1 gallon Wednesday, 1/2 gallon and protein only Thursday, then weigh-in Friday morning.

Mid-week I stumbled across Bigger, Smaller, Bigger and will probably use it next time. It makes for a fun read even if you aren’t a powerlifter.

The meet

Crossfit Xiphos hosted the meet; we had 45 lifters arranged into 3 flights. I want to start off by saying that the meet was very well organized and run. Everything was smooth despite the fact that more than half of the lifters were doing their first meet!

A digression about how meets are organized. Each lifter gets 3 attempts for each event. In a full power meet (meaning the lifters will squat, bench press, and deadlift), you thus have 9 tries to lift. Saying that you went “9 for 9” or “2 for 9” thus indicates how successful you were overall. You tell the meet officials what your opening attempt weights will be for each of the 3 lifts, then, if you lift that weight, you can go up (by as much or as little as you want) for each subsequent attempt. There is a lot of strategy behind choosing weights; more on that later.

Once everyone’s checked in, the officials break all the lifters into groups called flights, based on their body weight and the amount of weight they said they’d lift in their opening attempt. The lightest lifter is the first lifter in the A flight, and (in general) the person lifting the most weight will be the last lifter in the last flight. For each lift, the first lifter in the A flight does her thing, then the second person in A flight, and so on. After the last A lifter has lifted, the first A lifter takes a second attempt, and so on. This is harder to explain than it is to do.

I was either #1 or #2 in the B flight for each of the 3 lifts. Based on my lifts, the only reason I wasn’t in A is because more than half of A were novice female lifters (several of whom set Alabama state records, which was extremely cool to see!)

During each lift, there are 3 judges watching you: the head judge is in the center, with one judge on either side. They each have a little switch that illuminates either a red or white light. You need 2 or 3 white lights for a lift to count– get 2 or 3 reds and your attempt is considered a “no lift” and doesn’t count. The head judge gives the lifter commands. You have to wait for these commands before you do anything. For example, in the squat, here’s what happens:

  1. The head judge says “The platform is ready” and you get on the platform and address the bar.
  2. At your own pace, you unrack the bar and walk it out to your preferred position.
  3. The judge says “SQUAT” and you can start the squat, at your own pace. You come up at your own pace.
  4. When you’ve stood all the way up, and have the weight under control and not moving, the judge will say “RACK” and you put it back into the rack.

There are different commands for the other lifts, of course. These commands are what burned me at my last meet– I missed my first squat attempt and was thereafter so frazzled that I blew a couple of attempts just by missing commands. It’s easy to get so focused on your body that you lose awareness of what the judge is telling you to do.

Squat

I warmed up light: 10 reps bar only, then worked up to 125kg x1. I’d planned for an opener at 140kg, with my other attempts bracketed per David Dellanave’s excellent advice about attempt selection. Summary: pick an opener that’s   “a weight you can lift 10 times out of 10 with a cold and a headache,” then decide ahead of time what your second and third attempts will be based on how easy or hard the opener is… and then stick to the plan.

My opener was a headache-and-cold winner: 140kg, 3 whites. Sadly I had a camera problem, so no video of that.

Second attempt I chose 150kg, at the top end of my bracket. Three more whites.

Third attempt I had 155kg at the top of my bracket. I took 157.5kg instead, smoked it, and ended up with a new 12lb PR… sadly, I was too conservative here and could probably have gone 162.5kg. That choice turned out to be important later.

(Side note: we had two dudes go over 700#. One attempted 777# and damn near got it. This was super motivating to watch.)

Bench

I have poverty bench. At 6’3″ with giant albatross arms, my leverage sucks, and my form is, shall we say, unique. I opened at 100kg, well within my cold-and-a-headache range, and got it.

For round two, I had bracketed 105 at my top end and got it, but it was a bit of a fight– probably RPE 7.

Discarding good judgement, and David’s advice, I went for 110kg on attempt #3 and couldn’t lock it out. That was the only lift I missed but I was bummed. Learning for the future: don’t get greedy.

Deadlift

I love the deadlift. I especially love it at meets, when the crowd gets more and more excited as people work up to their third attempts and we see some crazy numbers on the bar. My opener was 165kg, which flew up. However, I got one red light because I lowered the weight before the command– too much excitement, I guess.

I had bracketed 172.5 through 177.5 for my second attempt but had forgotten to look at my bracket before I went on the platform. Sadly I told the scorer that I wanted 172.5 for my second attempt– that proved to be too light, as it flew up. You can see the bar flex as I lift the weight. It’s not that I was lifting a lot (although 380lb is respectable), but that a deadlift barbell has more “whip” in it than a bar that you’d use for squats or bench press. The whip makes a big difference. On my shopping list for my home gym: a deadlift bar. Maybe someday…

For attempt 3 I decided to try for a PR at 182.5. I smoked it too. David talks about the importance of choosing a big third deadlift attempt when you’re competing against other people and trying to win, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t get as aggressive as I could have here.

The aftermath

Only after I sat down did I realize that I totaled at 445kg, just 10kg short of my goal. This goes back to a key point David makes in his attempt selection guide. In retrospect, I could have made up that 10kg by not missing my 3rd bench (putting another 2.5kg on the total) and then getting a measly 7.5kg total across squat and deadlift– both of which I could’ve done.

Despite that I was well satisfied. With two PRs on the day, and 8/9 total, it was a day well spent. My neighbors Ashley, Erica, and Michael came by at various times to watch; Dana was there cheering me on and making sure I had food, and it was a great positive and fun atmosphere. I feel like my hard work in the gym paid off and I look forward to what’s next!

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Training Tuesday: 2017 35.1 Challenge

The second weekend in April here in Huntsville features two marquee races: the Heel & Crank duathlon (run by Team Rocket, our local triathlon club) and the Bridge Street Half Marathon, sponsored by our local Fleet Feet. Two years ago, the sponsors joined forces to offer a “35.1 challenge”– do both races back-to-back and you get some kind of swag, plus bragging rights.

In 2015, I completed the challenge,  barely: the duathlon was fine but the 13.1 was a bit of a grind, and I was super sore for the following week. Last year, I signed up for the duathlon and the challenge, but stupidly forgot to register for Bridge Street. One thing you should know: Suzanne Taylor, the RD for Bridge Street, absolutely does not allow transfers, deferrals, or late registrations. Period, full stop. So I didn’t complete the challenge.

This year I made sure to register for all 3 events. Dana had planned to return to the 13.1 world after a long layoff by running with our friend Teri… who managed to catch a stress fracture to her femur (how do you even do that?) just in time to be sidelined for the race. I told Dana I’d run with her instead, at whatever pace she wanted– like a really slow and not especially scenic date. Therefore, my plan ended up being to treat Heel & Crank as a legitimate race, then run the 13.1 more like an LSR. I ran that plan past my coach, who gave me a big thumbs up, so I was all set.

I also planned to volunteer for both races– for Heel & Crank, it was race-morning packet pickup, and for Bridge Street it was day-before packet pickup.

Prerace

Duathlons are easy to prepare for– it’s basically a bike ride (so you need bike gear) plus running shoes, with none of that pesky swimming stuff. I packed everything up Friday afternoon, made sure the ELEMNT was charged, and so on. I didn’t eat anything special for dinner; in the morning, I had a protein shake and a poptart, plus a dose of BeetElite, and headed out to the race. This was the first year for a new RD, and he did such a good job lining up volunteers that they didn’t need me; that gave me a chance to enjoy visiting with friends instead of working. I got transition set up, walked around chatting with people, and waited for the race to start– it was really nice to have plenty of extra chill time, instead of my usual MO of screeching into the parking lot at the last minute and then being harried. My friend Coop was kind enough to buy me a hot chocolate at JaVa.Mooresville, a really good coffee shop that coincidentally happens to be the only one anywhere nearby. It was about 55 degrees and clear just before race start.

Run 1

The run course at Heel & Crank starts on a paved street, which after 0.3mi or so turns into a hard-packed dirt trail. It’s an out-and-back; some of the trail is shaded, some isn’t. It’s almost completely flat. As you can see from the map below, a good portion of the course runs alongside farm fields, which add a lovely pastoral feel– you can literally see the grass (or whatever) waving in the breeze, when there is one, which there was. I settled in early on and tried to hold a steady pace, finishing with an 8:41/mi average in 24:37.

Heel and Crank run course

T1
Transition was completely unexceptional– I dropped my headphones, swapped my hat for a helmet, changed shoes, powered up the bike computer, and choked down a pack of Gu chews. Out the gate in under 2min, which for me is lightning-quick.
The bike
The course overlaps some of the familiar Jetplex course, so my plan was to ride it at a steady pace, in aero as much as possible. This doesn’t sound like a terribly complex plan, but I am still getting used to my tri bike, so I figured anything more complex would be pointless. I made a weighted average of 177W, certainly nothing to write home about, but overall good enough for a 6-minute CR and a PR on one Strava segment.
T2
T2 was even faster– helmet-to-hat, headphones in, shoes on, and out the gate.
Run 2
I was really leery of blowing up by going out too hard on the first half of the run, so I tried to keep my HR caged around 150. I actually ended up averaging 151 for the run; I possibly could have pushed a little harder on the outbound leg, but I was feeling good on the return and was able to hold right around 7:05/mi for the last half mile or so. For reference, my mile PR time is 7:11, so I was well pleased with this. Run 2 was done in 27:26.

Wraup and post-race
Overall, my times were good enough for a 1:52 finish, a 15-minute PR for this race. To say I was pleased would have been a massive understatement. I celebrated with a big plate of the post-race pancakes for which this race is famous, plus a glass of Rocket Republic Scotch Rocket served by my fellow cubano Warren. It was a pretty successful day for the Cubans, in fact: the relay team of Tony, Craig, and Warren placed second, and Lance won the Clydesdale division. I’m sure if Julio had been there he would have won something too. Hats off to first-time race director Paul Erickson and his staff of volunteers for putting on a fun, safe race with excellent post-race food and drink.

I headed home, showered, and went over to Dana’s. Dinner was a giant bowl of Nothing but Noodles‘ finest mac-and-cheese, always a solid pre-race choice.

Race day
We woke up about 530a, with a goal of getting to the race site about 630a. This turned out to be easy. One of the nice things about Bridge Street is that it’s held at an outdoor mall. There is plenty of parking and tons of porta-potties, as well as some nice indoor bathrooms. We wandered around to chat with people for a while, then queued up near the 2:30 pace group for the gun start.

Pre-race

After a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the cannon went off and so did we.

I wish I had kept better notes on the race itself. The Bridge Street course winds through Research Park, which is pretty flat and not all that scenic for the most part. The course starts in front of Barnes and Noble, runs west for a bit along Old Madison Pike, runs north on Jan Davis and then on Explorer, loops around West Park, and then turns south again. Perhaps the most interesting part is the Double Helix path near HudsonAlpha, which is marked with educational signs about the human genome. It’s also interesting to note the incredible funk we smelled while running past one of Adtran’s buildings; it smelled like someone had bred a skunk the size of a VW Beetle, wrapped it in shrink wrap, and then boiled it in 10W40 motor oil. Truly a scent I will remember for a long time.

The Bridge Street course

It was cool at the start, and we made good time through the course. Dana had planned to do 4/1 run/walk intervals, running for 4 minutes and then walking for 1, but she pretty much ignored these intervals and ran most of it, holding right around a 10:44 pace. I just stuck with her (well, except for once when I let her go ahead while I hit the porta-potty, but let’s not get into that). We crossed the finish line in 2:23:50, quite a respectable performance for Dana’s return to the 13.1 world. We collected our medals and breakfast coupons, then found our friends to hang out and visit a bit.

race posse unite!

The race organizers had thoughtfully arranged for a free breakfast sandwich (which was about the size of a Clementine) at Bar Louie, which we supplemented with a genuine brunch (and, in my case, a couple of ice cream sandwiches). I also grabbed my 35.1 award, which now occupies a prize position on my dining room table until I can figure out what wall to hang it on. Kudos to Suzanne Taylor, the folks at Fleet Feet Huntsville, and the zillions of volunteers who chipped in to put on the race– Bridge Street is one of my favorite races because it’s so well organized, supplied, and staffed.

swag life

All in all, it was a weekend well spent, and I felt fine the next day, at least until I started doing squats… but that’s a story for another time.

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Setting up run intervals on Garmin watches

(Disclaimer: I am not a coach or even especially knowledgeable; in fact everything I say in this post could be completely wrong. Don’t blame me if you create an interval that causes you to inadvertently run an ultramarathon.)

If you want to be a faster runner, you have to run faster. Unlike many other areas of endeavor, though, the best way to get faster is to train in intervals. Instead of going out every day and knocking out the same distance on the road, almost every runner can benefit from mixing those steady-state runs in with shorter-distance, higher-intensity work. For example, my coach might give me this: “2 mi WU, 6 x (2:00 @ 10K, 2:00 slow), 1mi CD.” Translated, that means “2 mile warmup at an easy pace, 6 intervals where each interval starts with 2 minutes at your 10K pace and then a 2 minute slow run, followed by a 1 mile cooldown.”  Tracking intervals is a pain in the butt, though, which is why many runners use a track– then they know to run 440, or 880, or whatever. Distance-based intervals are OK but I find track running to be even more boring than treadmill runs; I’d much rather do my intervals outside. Luckily, Garmin has my back: you can build a structured workout, then send it to your watch. When you’re running, the watch will tell you what to do. It’s magic! Because I am a nerd, I was excited when I found this feature a couple of years ago, but I find that lots of my running friends don’t know that it exists.

Garmin lets you build structured bike, run, or swim workouts that include an optional warmup, zero or more individual steps, zero or more repeats (which is the actual interval– you do X, then you do Y, repeated Z times), and an optional cooldown. Once you create the workout, you can send it to your device and it will guide you through the workout. Note that there are a lot of differences between run, bike, and swim intervals and how they are presented on various devices; for now I want to focus on the simplest case, setting up a simple run interval.

Let’s say that you want to do a simple interval workout: a 10-minute warmup, then 6 intervals at 5K race pace, then a 10-minute cooldown. I’ll pretend that you want 2 minutes at race pace and a 2 minute cooldown in each interval. Here’s how you’d set that up.

Start by logging into the Garmin Connect website. Once you’re there, click on the hamburger menu (3 parallel lines in the upper left corner), then and scroll down until you see “Workouts,” then click it. That will bring up the workouts page.

the workouts list in Garmin Connect

Click the “Select a workout type…” menu and choose “Run,” then click “Create a Workout.” You’ll see the workout creation page. Garmin helpfully assumes that you’ll have a warmup, a single run step, and a cooldown. Each of these items is color-coded.

A new blank workout for you to customize

Delete the single run step by clicking the “X” at its right edge, then edit the warmup and cooldown to include the times you want. You can also specify distance– wherever you see “select a duration”, you can choose to base the length of that item on distance, time, speed, pace, or just pressing the lap button. Use the pull-down menus in each section to fill out the workout you want.

Start with the warmup and cooldown

Now for the magic: click the “Add a Repeat” button and a new section will appear.

Oh noes, this is all jacked up

There are several things wrong with this, though: the repeat is in the wrong place, it’s for the wrong number of reps, and the intervals we want aren’t there. Luckily, this is easy to fix:

  1. Use the + and – icons at the top of the repeat block to set the correct number of reps.
  2. Use the “Select a duration…” pulldowns in the “run” and “recover” sections to set the right durations.
  3. Use “Add More…” in the “run” section to add the correct pace:
    1. Click “Add More…”
    2. The “Select an intensity target” pulldown will appear.
    3. Click it and select “Pace”, then fill in the target pace range you want. (Note that you can also set intervals based on heart rate zone and a bunch of other metrics).
  4. Repeat step 3, but this time for the “recover” section.
  5. Click and drag the little grabby thing (next to where you see “Repeat N Times” in the repeat block) to drag it into the correct position.

When you’re finished, here’s what your workout will look like:

All done! (Bonus points if you notice the one other change I made)

Now you can save the workout.. but before you do, use the pencil icon next to the “Run Workout” title to change the name of the workout so you’ll be able to identify it. Once that’s done, click “Save Workout.” At this point, absolutely nothing useful will happen when you look at your watch, because there’s another required step: you have to transfer the workout to the watch. The easiest way to do this is with the Garmin Connect mobile app, although you can plug your watch in with a cable if you prefer. As I write this, you can’t create interval workouts in the app, which is too bad. Here’s how to perform the sync: (These instructions are for the app on iOS; I don’t have an Android device so I have no idea if the UI is the same or not.)

Start the app, then click on the “More” icon (the three little dots) in the bottom navigation bar and tap “Workouts”. You should see the new workout you just created in the list:

The new workout is available to sync

Tap the new workout, and you should see the workout itself. In the upper-right corner of the screen, there’s a little icon showing an arrow pointing into a phone. That means “sync,” although why it shows a phone and not a watch is a mystery. Click it, then you’ll see a page showing all the devices your app knows about.

Here’s your workout, nearly ready to go

Select the device you want and tap “Send”.

Select the target device

Wait a minute, then check to see if the workout’s on your watch. On the Fenix3 HR, you do this from Training > My Workouts > Running. Scroll through the list until you see your workout, then hit the “start” button and you’re all set.. happy running!

Ta da

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