Thursday, April 21, 2016

Motivation and goal setting

My Hapalua Half Marathon started off well enough but did not end well. By the time I got to the hill at mile nine my right calf was cramping. I hoped that it would recover if I walked up the hill, but no such luck. The last four miles were mostly walking. I did run, as much as I could, but the most I could do was a hundred yards at a time.

The realization that I was not going to make my plan, much less set a new PR, was not much of a disappointment. Why? Because this was only a "B" race for me. My "A" race this spring is Honu, the Ironman Hawaii 70.3 triathlon in June.

To prepare for the Hapalua I blended a "stock" base plan with a half marathon run plan. By race day I knew I had done plenty of long run miles, but not enough at the pace I wanted to try. By mile two I knew I did not have the speed to set a PR, but I did not care. I was running well, just not fast. I felt rested and strong. Making my plan was a no-brainer. Until the wheels came off. When that happened I knew my fuel and hydration plan were fine -- I still felt reasonably good and wanted to run -- and that I had the core endurance, built up by all those long, slow runs. It was just too early in my half Ironman plan to be doing the kind of tempo runs necessary to run at a half marathon pace. My calf muscles lacked the endurance.

Just the other day I noticed myself using my goal of doing Honu for motivation. For everything from getting up in the morning to getting to swim practice, from riding up Tantalus to finishing a hard strength training set. "If you expect to finish Honu you have to get through this."

Having a really big goal race is definitely motivating, but thinking of it this way can transform it into a monster. You know what I am talking about. The closer the event comes the greater the cold, sweaty fear that grips your innards whenever you think about it. You ask yourself, "What was I thinking?" Triathlon magnifies the effect because we start with the swim. Few things are more likely to trigger a genuine sense of panic than to feel unprepared while waiting to swim in the open ocean.

My Hapalua did not create that kind of pressure because it really did not matter to me.  I know it did to plenty of other people. Those were the ones who dreaded walking to the start line, waiting for the gun to off, and worried sick that their wheels might fall off the way mine did.

A proven method to counter such performance anxiety is to stay focused on the present, on what is really happening right now and not what might happen next month, next week, or even a few minutes from now. "Be here now." I never read Ram Dass but I did pick up that phrase somewhere.

Another thought I find useful, which I learned from Coach Celeste St. Pierre, is "No time traveling." We all allow ourselves to drift into a fantasy land in which we imagine ourselves doing whatever it is we are interested in doing. This is fine if, say, you are hungry and imagine yourself eating a delicious meal. Not so great if you have invited friends over for dinner and keep imagining yourself burning dinner. The rule, seems to me, for most athletes is that we imagine a good outcome when the race is way off in the future, but the closer it gets, the more we imagine ourselves burning the pot roast.

It is here I have a quandary. Reminding myself that I am doing whatever unpleasant thing I happen to be suffering through because I am doing Honu seems like a wonderful motivator, yet to place so much importance on that one event is likely to produce a frightening monster.

Here is my proposed solution. In the spirit of staying in the present, how about setting smaller, short-range goals? Make each goal desirable, but not so significant that failure to achieve it will leave me feeling like a total failure. I already have goals for every workout, so how about goals for each week? Too frequent? Each month, then.

TrainingPeaks used to have this feature, but when they overhauled the user interface, weekly goals was one feature not carried over. The good news is that this feature is back, and even better than before. Any day can have goals attached to it, just like workouts, metrics, and events. The way I see it, each entry represents a deadline. If my goal is to increase my FTP, I create a goal for that on the day I want to achieve it by. Each goal has a checkbox you can check when you reach it. Too soon to say what happens to checked goals; perhaps they collect in a "completed goals" list somewhere.

I think decoupling goals from events is a good thing. Sure, I ought to have goals for a race. It is a normal part of any race plan. But leaning on the one "A" race every time I need a little motivation could backfire. Better to remind myself that the reason I am swimming in the rain is to achieve my goal of getting my pace down to 2:10/100 yards by May 15th.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Race Report: Hapalua Half Marathon

Sunday was the first time Pattie and I ran a race together. The logistics were trickier than when one of us does Sherpa duty but it was fun, even if "suffering together" sounds like a recipe for disaster.

When I started doing triathlon, and especially when I committed to doing Honu, I began reading up on the mental side of endurance sports. What is generally referred to as mental toughness. So far it seems that the advice I have gotten is directed at two themes, staying focused on the present, and being willing to suffer. Coach  Celeste St. Pierre was good at reminding me not to "time travel" before and during a swim. Thoughtful planning is a good thing. Worrying about how things will turn out is not, especially when we imagine a poor outcome. Recently I have been reading Matt Fitzgerald's "How Bad Do You Want It?" which is more about suffering. I confess I have not finished it, and I mean to. Maybe he will shed more light on my race experience.

For months now my run training has focused on long and slow. This goes back to my marathon prep, then the twelve week (Jan 4 - Mar 20) base period preceding the twelve week build to Honu. I scheduled the Great Aloha Run as a "C" race and the Hapalua Half Marathon as a "B" race. I knew that the Hapalua came a bit early to to be of much use for Honu but it would give me a chance to try test my race plans and to spend a long time out on the road in race conditions. Much different than a solo run even for a longer distance.

As the Hapalua approached I went on Training Peaks and looked at my past performances to get a reasonable estimate of what to expect. I turned up two distinctly different answers. Based on recent runs a reasonable expectation was an average pace of 16:00 min/mi for a time of 3:30. But the last time I ran the Hapalua, in 2014, I did it in 3:05:56 for an average pace of 14:07. That is a huge difference! Back in February I ran the GAR at an average pace of 14:30, but it is only nine miles and without the challenge of running up Monsarrat and around Diamond Head at the end.

What I decided to do was this. Start easy, to let the metabolism warm up nicely without jumping too deep into carbohydrate burning mode. Then settle into a sustainable but hard pace up at the top of HR zone 3. My lactate threshold is low zone 4, and I know I cannot sustain that for much more than hour, so to hold a good pace and not slow down before Monsarrat, and to be strong enough to run most of Diamond Head I would have to hold myself just below LTHR. Good old zone 3.

What I discovered was that I could hold 3.9Z for quite some time, but eventually my legs would start to burn and I would automatically drop down to 3.3Z. (The burn is not from lactic acid, as many believe. It is from free hydrogen leaking out of the muscles, a by-product of fuel burning, and normally carried away through respiration.) What seemed to work then was to back off a bit, recover, then take it up to 3.9 again. It during one of those recover bits that I was passed by a group that included Sonya Weiser Souza and I was pleasantly surprised to see them dangling just beyond my reach all the way back to Waikiki.

What I find interesting is that when I was running in the high 3's I got myself into a really nice, smooth, flowing kind of feeling. I really felt great. What bothered me was even then my pace was somewhere around 15:00, and to beat my PR I had to average 13:45 up until Monsarrat. So, way back on Kapiolani I knew I had no chance to better my 2014 time, but I was confident I would finish well under 3:30.

Everything was going great until I turned onto Kalakaua. First my heart rate zone dropped to one point something, which usually means my wet shirt is interfering with the signal pickup pads. I fiddled with it as much as possible without stopping but could not get it back. Eventually it went to zero and never returned. (On the way home I restarted my Garmin and it was fine. This is a common problem with Garmin HRM straps.) But I still had pace data and that was all I really needed.Then, almost as in reaction, I felt my right calf twitch, the unmistakable precursor of a full on cramp. I kept going, but it kept twitching, eventually so hard that I almost fell down. That was somewhere around the Moana Hotal. I thought there would be an aide station around there so I had emptied my water flask, but as it turned out the next one was after the Kapiolani Park parking lot. I had been taking Hammer Endurolyes at around one every thirty minutes, so low salt was not the problem, and I was not dehydrated, but just to be sure I took on extra water at the aide station and walked a bit more to let it take affect. Even then I could only run for about a minute before the cramps returned. At first I waited for the twinge, but after a few of those I decided it was better to stop running before the twinge. Anything to prevent a wholesale lockup, as that can really mess up your day.

As I passed KCC my average pace was 15:30 so I still had hopes of recovering enough to come in under 16:00. My calf would not cooperate. I ran as much as I could, but had to walk more than run around Diamond Head and slowly watched that 15:30 creep up to 16:13, for a finish time of 3:37.

My goal was to run hard, to push against my suffering threshold. After I finished I was dead dog tired, and I take that as a sign that I had accomplished my goal. What got in the way of a better result was a lack of physical endurance combined with a pace plan that was a bit too aggressive. After sitting a spell and downing a banana, a malasada, and a couple gallons of water I set off to meet up with Pattie in the finishing chute. As I walked slowly along Kalakaua I felt really, really tired, even a bit light headed and dizzy. I was not even sure I could make it back to Diamond Head, but I did. Another short sitting spell and there she was, in worse shape than me but still going strong. Again, I'll take the extreme fatigue that I felt as proof to myself that I really did run hard and left it all out on the course, even as slow as I was.

I still need to finish reading Fitzgerald, but I get the feeling that I am not limited by holding back nearly as much as I imagined. Neither is Pattie. She was struggling with cramps and dehydration enough to visit the medial tent by KCC. Even so she finished. It was not an arms in the air, smiles and high fives kind of finish, but she kept going. I think we are a lot alike in that regard. Once we get going we give it our all, no matter what happens. That evening we were watching Paris-Roubaix, albeit in a semiconscious state, and were reminded that even the pros can see their best plans go to pieces.

One thing I am going to change going forward is to replace most if not all of my strides workouts with tempo runs. I need the race pace endurance a lot more than I need fast feet.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Celebrate the little things

In a few days I will be running the Hapalua Half Marathon. Which means I have been spending some time thinking about what will happen. What to wear. What time to leave the house. My fuel and hydration strategy. My race plan -- the big challenge of this race is the climb up Monsarrat near the end. This year's Hapalua is special in that it will be the first time Pattie and I are running in the same event. Neither of us has any illusions about finishing anywhere but near the back of the pack.

To reach the point where one can do something as physically challenging as running a half marathon requires a significant investment in training time. Even for slow runners like me. In fact, it takes more endurance to run slow. A good runner will finish in considerably less than two hours, a short enough time that fuel and hydration are not a big deal. For those of us out on the road for three hours or more, a bad fuel plan can ruin the day. Staying strong during the run up Monsarrat after two hours of hard running is a real test of endurance.

The only way to gain endurance is to endure. If all I did was run thirty minutes a day I would be cooked by the time I got back to Waikiki, and the run up Monsarrat would be out of the question.

Which brings me to a question. Given that I will not finish anywhere near the leaders, what motivates me to show up and run hard on race day? For that matter, what keeps me going day-by-day? The answer is to be found in small successes that turn up along the way.

This week I had a perfect example of just such a win. About a year ago my trainer Dorian Cuccia had me down on the floor on my back doing bridges. Anybody can do a bridge, right? Just lift your hips up as high as they will go, feet and shoulders on the floor. Hopefully your thighs and back will make at least a straight line. Maybe a bit of a curve, like on old Chinese bridge. Dorian adds a bit more challenge. Lift your spine off the floor one vertebra at a time, starting with your tail bone. Conversely, on the way down, make your spine flex so that it reaches the floor slowly, bit by bit, bone by bone, shoulders to tail bone.

A year ago I could not do this. The lift was so-so. On the way down, everything below my scapula hit the floor at the same time. Yesterday, I could do it. My spine actually rolled down onto the floor like a snake slithering down from a tree. High fives all around.

Maybe I will have a great race on Sunday. Maybe I'll blow up. I cannot know that now, and in the end it does not matter. What I can do is remind myself that a year of hard work has given me a much greater range of motion in my lower spine and strengthened my abs to where I can control the tilt of my pelvis while my legs lower me down. That is a huge win for me.