Category Archives: running

Alcoholic runners

I’m an alcoholic and drug addict.

I usually don’t tell people I meet because it seems that most people have negative stereotypes of alcoholics. I think that mostly stems from people’s misunderstanding of what alcoholism really is. I have also abused prescription drugs. So I find it highly disturbing that medical doctors prescribe drugs like Percocet and Vicodin without asking any questions of the patient.

Anyway, in the words of Robin Williams (an alcoholic) in the movie Aladdin, “Enough about you, Casanova. Talk about her. She’s smart, fun. The hair, the eyes. Anything. Pick a feature.” She’s punctual.

Why post about substance dependence on a running blog? Because the two are highly related, and I was reminded of that in a recent blog post by Phil Torcivia where he describes other places besides the bar “that (insensible) people suggest as preferable places to meet a mate”. Still not relevant until you read the article and find that one is marathons. Had I known, I would have been getting my groove on during the Tucson Marathon yesterday. At mile 24 I was tempted to stop and break out the iPod (no I don’t actually own one), select some disco, crank up the volume, and start dancing. No. I was delirious, but not not delirious.

Actually, there’s something very primal about running while chasing down a prey. It usually ends with something dead and being eaten though, which is probably why they feed us at the end of marathons. Just think if they had big juicy steaks at the finish instead of nasty PB&J roll-ups, bananas, and bagals. Everyone would be setting PRs every race. Off topic. (Also, I don’t know the last time I ate beef, but it was a long time ago.)

The real similarity between alcoholism and running is that both are highly compulsive. The difference is the end result of the activities: one is seen as negative while the other is seen as positive, or at least non-negative. The English language actually has a word to describe positive compulsiveness: perfectionism. I’ve been told that in grade school I was described by teachers as a perfectionist. I wasn’t even in high school yet and was exhibiting the signs of addiction. Well, later in life I was a perfectionist drinker too. Running generally isn’t seen as a positive influence on society, but neither is it seen as a negative influence. It’s neutral. People think runners are just weird; why else would someone get up at 3AM to run 26.2 miles starting when the temperature is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. But we’re not hurting anyone else, so they ignore us. Other marathoners understand. Just like alcoholics understand one another.

Whatever is causing someone to be compulsive is the same whether they are described as perfectionists, workaholics, or alcoholics. In fact, one of the reasons that I think I’ve stayed sober for so long is that I have simply replaced one compulsion with a different one. Some alcoholics go to meetings; I run. So it was with distress that searching the Internet, I came across this story of an alcoholic who stopped drinking and subsequently ran a sub-3 hour marathon. On his first attempt.

My first marathon was finished in 3:50 after 18 weeks of training. My second marathon was completed in 3:31 after someone 10 weeks ago when a random person in a coffee shop asked if I was running the Tucson Marathon. At the time I was not planning on it and had not been training for about four months. I’m not sure what my third, fourth, fifth, or sixth marathon times will be, but I know that by the end of next year I will have run a marathon in under 3 hours. How do I know that?

I’m an addict.

 

 

 

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Filed under goals, life, marathon, running

Tucson Marathon: Race Review – A Race or “A” Race?

It’s fifteen minutes before the starting gun and I can’t decide if I want to try to break my marathon personal record (PR) or try to shatter it. Now is not the best time to be thinking of such things. How did we get here? Let’s back up a few hours to Friday morning.

It pre-dawn and my training schedule has no running on it. For some silly reason it had me biking for two hours, but I had decided I wasn’t doing that days prior. I had a big race in two days and I needed to be fresh. That’s one of the reasons I was trying to start my car in the sub-freezing weather. The other was I was going to stop after work at the thrift store and see if they had any cheap gloves I could use as throwaways in Sunday’s race. But as Murphy’s Law would have it, whatever could possibly go wrong, did. My battery had died. In my typical c’est la vie fashion, I suited up for a 3.5 mile freezing bike ride into work instead and forgot about the gloves.

Sometime later on Friday, I remembered that I was supposed to have the traditional pre-race pasta dinner with @gazelle74. I “met” her on Twitter and had previously run with her on Mount Lemmon Highway. Being car-less is not usually a big deal for me; I typically drive once or twice a month. I tweet her asking if I could carpool with her to the race expo and start. Because she’s totally awesome, she agreed. Meanwhile, I forgot how I was going to get to dinner.

Allow me to digress and say that race expos are stupid. I go, get a bib and a goodie bag, and then leave. I’m not going to buy anything that they’ve marked up an additional 30% over their regular markup.

But back to dinner, long story short, I didn’t end up going. I was sad. I ended up eating a chicken breast, oatmeal, and a fruit salad. Yea! After dinner, I pretty much went straight to bed. One has to go to bed early the day before a big race, even though you know you won’t be sleeping well.

I woke many times during the night and finally decided to get up at 3:00 (yes, AM). Race start was at 7:30, so I had 4.5 hours to kill… sort of. gazelle74 was picking me up at 4:30 so we could get to the location where we’d get on the bus to shuttle us to the start line by 5:00. The bus ride to Oracle, Arizona was uneventful. I’m pretty sure I nodded off a few times on the ride. I guess I wasn’t that nervous after all.

We reach the start line with over an hour to spare. Much to soon to start any sort of warm up, so I do what everyone else is doing: take a poo. Even after what seemed like days standing in line for a port-a-potty, there was still a lot of time to kill. So I found a nice “tree” with a heavy branch that was about 2 feet off the ground to lay on and listened to some Metallica. 45 minutes pre-race and it was time to start the warmup. I love warming up for an event you plan to take 3.5 hours. It was nice and short, just a couple 100 meter jogs and walk-backs at the start line to get the blood going.

It’s now 7 0’clock and warmups are done. Nothing left to do but wait with the rest of the other 730 runners. It was about this time that I decided to set the pace time on my Garmin GPS watch. My previous PR for the marathon was at my one-and-only previous marathon. I ran a 3:50 at the Whiskey Row Marathon earlier in the year. I had no doubt that I could beat that, but by how much? I had been training using a “race pace” of 8 minute miles which is equivalent to about a 3:30 marathon and a 20 minute improvement on my PR. I decided not to mess with things, and set the watch at a 8 minute mile. This was now officially my “A” race of the year. Time to shatter that PR.

I find @gazelle74 and she’s lined up behind the 3:40 pacer. She had said her goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which for her age group was 3:40 (I think). But she said she was hoping for a 3:30 or better. Because I love the psychological boost you get when passing people, I always start further back in the pack and allow people to pass me at the start, since most people go out way to fast. So I started about 10 rows behind @gazelle74 and if her and my plans both panned out, we should cross the finish at about the same time.

I usually don’t remember a whole lot about what goes on during a race. I have other things on my mind, like: left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, etc. Or mentally doing the math to see if I’m on pace even though my watch does that for me. Or thinking about how this will be the last marathon I ever run. You know, those types of “deep thoughts”. I don’t understand the types of people that have full blown conversations during a race. Don’t you plan on using the energy later? Like the pair of guys that were talking about the movie Forrest Gump on Sunday. We were at about mile 3 and they’d been yacking for the past 20 minutes. Seriously guys, shut up and run.

That isn’t to say I’m a grouch on the course. Every law enforcement officer directing traffic got a smile and a “thank you” no matter how tired I was. The officers during the last mile or two may have missed out on the smile, but not the thank you. I was hurting bad and couldn’t smile and the thank yous probably sounded more like “rouhfb jdf”. The same goes for all the spectators who came out with cowbells. They got a smile and a “needs more cowbell“. Once on Oracle, there was a guy that was drafting/pacing off of me that started saying the same thing every time we passed a cowbell. It was fun because they’re be ringing their cowbell, I’d say more cowbell so they’d ring louder, then the guy behind me would say more cowbell and they’d ring even louder! It was great and a real boost. But if I could give one suggestion, there should be more cowbells in the last mile!

The guy that was drafting off me, probably for a good 5-6 miles, never did pass me so I don’t know what he looks like. Maybe he’ll read this blog and say “hey! that was me!” If so, introduce yourself or you’ll forever be known as “The Drafter”.

The only other individual I remember during the race was “The cougher”. I swear, this guy was coughing the entire time I was within earshot. It was somewhere on Oracle after the out-and-back to the Biosphere when I heard the first cough. I remember thinking “that must suck”. Then another. And another. It continued as I passed him and until the coughs faded away in the distance. If I was continually coughing around mile 15 I think I’d pull out. I don’t know if The Cougher ended up finishing, but if he did, he’s tougher than me.

Then there was “the gazelle”. I only saw her once during the race on the out and back to the Biosphere. At that point she was behind the 3:15 pacer, but ahead of the 3:30 pacer. I was thinking, WTF? I still hadn’t caught the 3:40 pacer even though my watch, and my brain, said I was exactly on pace for a 3:30 finish. Gazelle was on a super fast pace. She ended up finishing in 3:20 and easily qualified for Boston. I never did end up catching her. Gazelles are fast.

My race was looking real good until mile 24 when I hit the proverbial wall. Not head on, but more of a grazing shot. It was getting warm and the course had flattened out and I just couldn’t hold my 8 minute mile pace. I slowed to about a 9:13 pace, while the heart rate continued to climb. It maxed out at mile 25 at 180 beats per minute! I knew I was pushing hard, but I’ve never had that high of a heart rate while running so slow before. Then I did actually hit the wall. Speed plummeted along with heart rate with about 1.25 miles left.

I ended up crossing the line shuffling along at a 13 minute mile pace in a time of 3:31:11. So I didn’t end up making my goal time of 3:30, but I did shatter that PR by almost 20 minutes. The caveats being that this course was downhill and downwind pretty much the entire way and the other one had around 3000 feet of elevation gain (and loss). Plus I was in much better shape for this one.

As I crossed the finish line, volunteers stopped me to give me a finishers medal and take my picture. While I appreciated it, I would have appreciate it more if I didn’t have to stop because I had to use the port-a-potty again and now my velocity was zero. I finally did manage to get moving again and it took me about 10 minutes to walk from the finish line to the port-a-potties, which I’m estimating were about 50 meters away. After successfully voiding myself, it was time to make it to the food tent. But there was the problem that my velocity was again zero! Grrr. 10 more minutes to reach the food tent. Along the way I ate my last ClifBar for the needed calories so I wouldn’t collapse.

Met up with @gazelle74 after stuffing my face and hopped on the bus back to the parking lot where the car was. Along the was there was a set of stairs (down) that some finishers were taking two at time. I was thinking it was going to take me 20 minutes to get down them. Per my SOP, I let gazelle74 go first so I’d have that mental boost as I passed. But just like in the race, she pulled away and was waiting at the finish as I staggered across.

Once on the bus, I sat next to a guy that looked in fairly decent shape. I asked what his time was and if he’d beaten his goal. Turns out he didn’t have a goal time (huh?) and he finished in around 4 hours. I wasn’t really listening, because I’m mean like that. Anyway, while he’s jabbering my brain is calculating the time necessary for a 4+ hour finisher to get to the bus, and I conclude that he must have went straight from the finish line to the bus at a normal walking pace. As we got off the bus, this guy didn’t have the normal post-marathon shuffle and appeared to be fine and dandy. It was at that time that I decided on Rule 1:

If you can walk normally after a race, you didn’t run hard enough.

I don’t care if it takes you 40 minutes to finish a 5k or if you’re an elite ultra-marathoner, you should be hurting after a race, otherwise it’s just a long run.

On the way home, the gazelle tried to convince me to run Mount Lemmon Marathon on April 29. I was still a little delirious and may have agreed to do it. I’m planning on racing a full bike season this year, and this is right near the end of the season. So I’m not sure. I’d love to do it, but I was thinking I’d have until fall to train for it since the first 2 years were run later in the year, right during triathlon season, which may be why they changed the date.

All in all, this was a fun race. I plan to run it next year and set a new PR and hopefully BQ. Actually, I want to run a sub 3 hour marathon here next year. Is that too much? I don’t think so.

I’d love to read others thoughts about this race, so if your wrote a race report and want a link, post in the comments.

 

 

 

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Filed under marathon, personal records, race reports, running, tucson

Breast cancer awareness races

This weekend I ran two races. On Saturday I ran the 2nd Annual Pink Ribbon 7k and on Sunday I ran the Catwalk 10k. Even though I have run for over a year now, and racing for over 6 months, I have done neither a 7 kilometer nor a 10 kilometer race. That means I would have set 2 personal records (PRs) this weekend even if I would have walked the course. My hip having mostly healed, I didn’t walk the courses.

The 2nd Annual Pink Ribbon 7k took place on Saturday 22, 2011 and started on the track at Cienega High School, ran along the road for a little ways, and ended on the track at Empire High School. The tracks were obviously flat, and the road was slightly downhill the entire way. To make things even faster, we had the wind at our back the entire way on the road. In addition to being my first 7k (about 4.3 miles), it was also my first point-to-point race. When I started my morning, I didn’t know that, as I didn’t read the course description well enough. This meant that I got to the race with enough time to warm up, but not enough time to board a bus and then warm up. Luckily for me, the race started a little late, probably because many other people didn’t realize that they’d be shuttled to the start line.

After arriving at the Cienega track, I needed to decide how my hip was doing and what the plan was for the race. After a few 100 yard jogs, I decided that my hip was feeling good and I should try to run this at “race pace”. I set my Garmin for a 7:30 minute mile on the virtual partner option. Then did some 100 yard sprints to get the heart pumping. That’s enough warm-up for a 7k. I started the race about 10 rows deep consistent with my strategy to start slow and then pass people during the race.

This isn’t the best strategy to run the fastest race possible. However, there is a definite psychological boost when you pass another runner and a letdown when you get passed. So I try to keep my passing of others to a maximum and my getting passed to a minimum. Also consistent with usual during races, everyone started way too fast! I started near a 6 minute per mile pace around the track. Whew, by the time I exited the track I was well ahead of my planned time. Nothing exciting happened along the road. I did get passed by a couple of other runners, but I ended up passing more than I got passed. I was saving a little for the last mile when I planned to up the pace to my threshold heart rate. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the length of the race. I thought it was a little over 5 miles, so I was going to push the pace at 4.5 miles.

This gives me an opportunity to complain about races that are advertised in metric units (kilometers) but have signs in imperial units (miles). Argh. Please keep to one unit system please. Also, why a 7 kilometer race? I guess that’s because it was about the distance between the two high schools.

I finished the race in 31:52 at an average pace of 7:19.5 minutes per mile. This was good enough for 19th place overall and 3rd in the 30-34 male age division.

The next morning I had another race, the 10th Annual Catwalk 10k at the University of Arizona. This race was mostly on the university campus on a flat course. It was actually two loops of a 5k course, but was a little short according to my Garmin. As with the previous day, I wasn’t sure how fast I should go. I was feeling pretty good at race time, but the previous night I had a quart of ice cream and pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies for dinner and M&Ms for breakfast. That’s hardly the type of nutrition that will fuel a good race.

Therefore I decided to just run the race by feel. I set my Garmin to heart rate mode instead of virtual partner mode. Like the day before I started a few rows back in the pack. The pace at the start felt fast. Looking at the data from my Garmin, it was slightly slower than the previous day, probably because the course was a little narrower. After things got stringed out, I settled into a pace that kept my heart rate near 170 beats per minute.

During this race, I didn’t get passed once even while passing many people during the race. That psychological boost keep me going strong the entire race. It feels good seeing that next runner up the road and reeling them slowly in and then passing them. I don’t recall anything notable occurring during the race. I thanked all the police officers volunteering that were working traffic control on the course.

I finished in 43:27.6 at an average pace of 7:00.6 minutes per mile. This was quite a bit faster than the race the previous day, which shows that I could have gone harder on Saturday. Actually, after the race on Sunday I felt that I could have gone faster still. Luckily for me, I have another 10k race coming up on Saturday! I’m going to try for a new 10k PR, which shouldn’t be too hard.

My goal for next Saturday is to finish in less than 40 minutes (6:27 min/mi pace).

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Filed under 10k, 7k, personal records, race reports, running, tucson

The Great Pumpkin Race at Buckelew Farms 2011

It’s been four weeks since my injury and three weeks since I’ve posted anything new. In the meantime, I’ve still been training and “racing”. To recap the last month, I was registered for four races:

  • Omaha Half Marathon – September 25, 2011
  • Jim Click’s Run n’ Roll 8k – October 2, 2011
  • TMC Get Moving Tucson Half Marathon – October 9, 2011
  • The Great Pumpkin Race at Buckelew Farms 5k – October 16, 2011

On Saturday September 24 I was supposed to board a flight from Tucson to Omaha for my half marathon. Like usual, I woke up early, around 5 A.M. My flight wasn’t until noon and I was already packed, so I had nothing to do. Being slightly crazy, I decided to do some hill repeats on the bike. I wasn’t too worried about my legs since the Omaha Half was only a “C” race; I was planning on just pacing my sister in her first half. (She finished without me. And she wants to do another one! I’m so proud of her.)

Near me there are only weak hills. There’s one on 1st Ave that will work in a pinch, but I had plenty of time so I decided to head out to the northeast side where there are some decent hills. To get out there I forsake the roads and used the multi-use path (MUP). About 5 miles from home I crashed. The last thing I remember before the crash was reaching down for a water bottle near Brandi Fenton Park and noticing someone behind me. When I awoke in the ambulance, I was told that they found me near Brandi Fenton Park so it made sense. It wasn’t until I looked at my GPS data did I discover that I crashed near George Mehl Park about a mile down the path. So I’m not sure exactly what caused the crash or how my bike ended up making its way back home. I ended up with some road rash and a concussion.

But enough crash talk! Let’s talk racing! How did this affect my running you ask? You didn’t ask? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. While in the hospital, I was under the deluded impression that I would be able to at least fly to Omaha and see my sister and mom while they raced. Uh, no. I was in the Emergency Room until after my flight left, but I was in no shape to fly. So I did not start (DNS) that race.

The first week after the crash I had a hard time walking. I had the Jim Clicks 8k on Sunday; would I be able to participate? On Sunday morning I got up, picked up my packet at the race and lined up at the back of the line. I tried jogging right at the start but was unable to even maintain a 12 min/mi pace. So I walked. And I was getting passed by people walking the 3k fun run that started immediately after the 8k. As it turns out, I finished last. Dead Fucking Last. (DFL) Hopefully that’s the last time that happens.

Two weeks after the crash I was supposed to run a half marathon. I was contemplating trying for a personal record (PR) in this race. I would have been lucky to even finish. A good race day decision on my part saw me change to walking the 5k instead of the half. I didn’t finish last, but close.

That brings us to two days ago, October 16. I had registered for The Great Pumpkin Race at Buckelew Farms. It’s an off-road race through a pumpkin field and corn maze! I got to the race, pinned on my bib, and started a short jog. The pain in my hip was intense and I thought I might just walk the course like the last 2 weeks. As race time approached, I positioned myself near the back of the pack. Then I thought, “what the hell, I’ll go for it”. I snaked my way up to mid-pack before the starting horn went off.

As we started off on the dirt road, the pain in my hip wound was intense and I thought about stopping and walking. But then I remembered Jens Voigt and said “shut up wound“. After about 3 minutes, the pain became bearable and I started running faster; passing people. Then we turned into the rows of the pumpkin field. I’m not sure how many of you have run in a pumpkin field before, but it’s not easy. It’s less easy to pass people. So I ended up slowly picking people off, one by one until we hit the corn maze.

The corn maze part came at the 3 mile mark, and as it turned out we had a half mile to go. Someone messed up the course distance. Anyway, there was no room to pass in the corn field so I bid by time and “drafted” off the runner in front of me while my heart rate came down a bit and I waited for the final sprint to the finish.

As we came out of the corn maze, there were four of us bunched together and we all started to sprint toward the finish about 200 meters away. I came out the winner of the sprint, but finished 66th overall and 7th in my age group at a time of just under 25 minutes. It’s not that impressive of a time, but considering the course, my injury, and the extra distance I think it was pretty good.

The post-race schwag was non-existent. There was some Go Girl Energy Drinks and then the usual bananas and bagels. I guess no one else wanted to drive out to Three Points, Arizona to give away their product. I took advantage of the Go Girl drinks and taste tested each flavor along with plenty of bagels. I can’t say I was impressed with the energy drinks. Just 2 days later and I can’t remember anything about them. They probably were OK, but when I saw the price of them in the store yesterday, I didn’t even think about buying any.

After the race, I came home, changed into my cycling kit and headed off to O2 Modern Fitness for my usual Sunday morning spin class. It was good. 60 minutes of zone 4 intervals keeping the heart rate in zone 2 during recoveries. The day earlier saw me ride the famous Shootout Ride and then a 90 minute yoga session. It was a good weekend. Then on Monday I ran 21 miles. It’s Tuesday now and I’m feeling it. And it feels good. 🙂

Next weekend I have two races scheduled. And I can’t wait! I love race season.

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Filed under 5k, cross country, race reports, running

Dead Fucking Last

gash in left hip

Gash in left hip

Today I “ran” my first race post-crash. It was an 8k (about 5 miles). This past week I’ve tried running a few times. The furthest I could make it was 1 mile. Last night I didn’t make 200 meters. And it all has to do with the gash in my body caused by a doctor’s scalpel. Yes, that hurts.

Anyway, I started near the back of the pack. Was passed by lots of runners, joggers, and walkers doing the 3k fun run. And finished in a time of 1:31:31. To finish 8k. That’s an average pace of 18:20 minutes /mile. At least it was under 20. By the time I finished, they were handing out the cash prizes and all the good food was gone.

I was the last one across the line. Dead Fucking Last. But DFL is better than DNF. Till next time.

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Should I try for a PR at Omaha? Semi-random musings

A few days ago, I was musing about trying to set a new PR at the Omaha Half. Don’t worry; procrastinator that I am, I haven’t made a decision yet. But I’ve been thinking about it. I have two competing thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, the only half marathon I’ve run has been the Lake Havasu Half. I signed up for it on a whim about three weeks prior to the event. At the time I was training for the Whiskey Row Marathon in Prescott. There was no specific training that went into the Havasu Half besides showing up and running. There was no taper period involved since the week preceding the event consisted of a full running schedule. Even so, I was able to mount a very reasonable 1:42:06 for a first half-marathon. Since then, I’ve continued to run and am in much better shape now than I was then. Therefore, all things being equal, I should have no problem breaking my record set at Havasu.

But all things are not equal. The most important difference is that I am not only training for a running event. I am also training for cycling. At the moment I am not swimming because I broke my arm a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a serious break and it was in a location where they can’t cast it, so all I could do was take pain medication. It still hurts once in a while, but I’ve been riding and running for the last two weeks. The broken arm hasn’t slowed down my running that much. It’s the training hours I’m putting in biking that have me worried. I spend about 75% of my training hours on the bike. In terms of distance, it’s a lot more due to the speed differential. But the load on the legs feels about the same for each discipline. So at the moment I’m basically training for a marathon – twice! I’ve also added a weight lifting routine that I didn’t have before.

Last week alone I had 17 hours of training on the bike. That doesn’t include the average 34 minutes daily commuting to and from work. I also had 4.5 hours of training scheduled running. I don’t have easy access to my TrainingPeaks account right now, but I think I was pretty close to hitting all the biking hours and I was right on for the running. So it was a hard week. This week’s load is lighter, but not by much. For instance, I have today completely off besides commuting!

Last night I ran 8 miles in the rain. In 80 minutes. Yes, you read that right: 10 minutes/mile. That was what I put on the training plan, so that’s what I did. But it was slow running because I had lifted immediately prior. And because of my broken arm, I am restricted to leg work in the gym. Actually, both the gym and run yesterday went great and I’m sort of bummed I don’t get to do anything today. Although that’s mostly because I like eating, and when I workout I get to eat a lot.

So I’m not sure what I should do. Any random passersby have comments?

Life on the road continues…

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Thoughts on self-coached endurance athletes

Should I hire a coach or can I do this alone?

There comes a time in every athlete’s training when they think that they might need a coach. For some people, that point comes when they first decide to get into endurance sports. There are many coaches that specialize in taking someone who is not particularly active and putting together a training plan to get them to their goal. Usually that goal is to finish an event of some kind; that could be a 5k, marathon, or Ironman Triathlon. For some people running or walking for 5 kilometers (3 miles) is an enormous feat and they have no idea how they can get from their current level of fitness to a level they had only dreamed of before. It makes sense that if you’re starting a completely new activity that you seek out the guidance of someone who is more experienced that you.

On the other end of the spectrum is the professional endurance athlete. For obvious reasons, someone like Lance Armstrong is going to need a coach. In fact, Lance Armstrong during his prime probably had at a coach, a manager, a sports psychologist, a nutritionist, a doctor, and probably more dedicated to him winning the Tour de France. Unfortunately, you are not Lance Armstrong. That’s why you’re reading this article. But it’s not just top professionals that need coaches. Elite amateurs are likely to need, or at least want, a dedicated coach. In the sport of road cycling, this would consist of those who compete as category 1 and 2 racers. Most elite athletes have accumulated the knowledge to coach themselves, but what they usually lack is the time. Self-coaching takes a lot of an individuals time and someone who trains 40+ hours per week simply doesn’t have it!

This leaves a lot of ground in-between and I don’t want to lump all these people into the same category. But there is a wide spectrum of people who may want a coach, should have a coach, or don’t need a coach and they just don’t know where they stand from high-school to masters athletes. What these athletes have in common is that they are endearingly referred to as age-groupers. This simply means that they are not competing for the overall win in an event, but are competing against other athletes of the same age, gender, or skill. Running and triathlon events will typically split age-groups in age and gender; cycling events are sorted by skill level, with pros racing with the elite riders. Generally there are awards, monetary or not, that are given to age-group winners, so there is competition among them!

Background

Growing up, I was active in sports. Throughout grade and high school I played basketball, baseball, soccer, and golf. Baseball is almost exclusively an anaerobic sport, which means that the body uses energy from a system that provides bursts of up to 2 minutes. Soccer is primarily an aerobic exercise where one needs to run almost continuously for a long period of time, with short bursts of speed every so often. But even a soccer match is only an hour and a half long. Someone new to running, for instance, could take well over four hours to complete a marathon. Then I met my match. During my last year of high school I did not make the soccer team, I barely made the basketball team, and golf doesn’t really count. After one year of baseball, I gave that up. I had spread myself too thin, both in terms of athletics and academically. I was never a great athlete, so during high school I focused most of my time on studying, which contributed to the decline in my athletic abilities. During that year, I got my first taste of coaching: I was asked to coach the 5th and 6th grade soccer team where I went to grade school. It was great fun, and I learned a lot, not only about coaching, but about myself.

As I went to college, my participation is sports dropped to zero… unless you count bowling. And while it’s certainly a sporting competition, there is very little aerobic about it. Then I got accepted to graduate school, where my studies took an even further step forward. The limit of my physical fitness was now walking up three flights of stairs. I ballooned to 220 pounds. I was feeling crappy pretty much every day, and feeling run down most days. Then I decided to change everything: I was going to lose the weight I had gained since high school. I made a goal of finishing a marathon within a year.

That first year was hard. I still remember those first few months. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to run outside, so I took up running on the treadmill. I would put the treadmill on 6 miles per hour and run for 10 minutes. Then 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 30 minutes. That first time I reached 3 miles was the turning point. That’s just shorter a tad than a 5k race. I knew at this point I could make the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. But I knew I needed a plan: I couldn’t just wing it. So I searched the Internet and found Hal Higdon’s novice marathon training plan. It looked good to me, but what did I know? I had never done this before! As it turns out, I would still recommend that plan for a first-time marathoner. What’s more, I learned through those 18 weeks what it meant to be self-coached. And there’s a whole lot more to it than simply following a pre-packaged plan you find on the Internet.

Since that first marathon, I completed several half-marathons, many shorter running races, and a sprint triathlon. And most importantly, I’ve hired two coaches along the way to help me out. One was a coach to help me with the triathlon and the other was a swim specific coach. I signed up for the triathlon 9 weeks before the event and didn’t know how to swim. I’m glad I got both coaches. There are definitely positive and negative aspects of hiring a coach.

At present, I do not have a coach. I am training for the 2011 Tucson Marathon and at the same time training for a full season of cycling during 2012. While I have no delusion of grandeur, I no longer consider myself a newbie endurance athlete. I am entering the world of the self-coached athlete. These are my thoughts, subject to change, about being your own coach.

Your Job as a Coach

The first job of a coach is to sit down with a new athlete and talk about their goals. As a self-coached athlete, this may not require any spoken words, but it is still a very important part of your job as coach. It is important that your create S.M.A.R.T. goals: they need to be (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)ttainable, (R)elevant, and (T)ime-based. As an example, one of my goals is to run the Tucson Marathon on December 11, 2011 in under 3 hours and 40 minutes. The setting of goals is a job of both the athlete and the coach. As a self-coached athlete, you must make certain that your goals are realistic to achieve, yet not so easy as to not provide a challenge.

Once the goal is set, it’s now the coaches job to sit down and make a training plan to accomplish that goal. For my goal, I am using a modified version of one of Hal Higdon’s intermediate marathon plans. But because I’m also training for a full season of bike racing, I need to add that in too, which makes the job harder. A very important thing you need to realize about being your own coach is that it’s not as simple as it sounds. It takes a lot of time to effectively coach yourself. It probably takes a lot of time to coach others too, which is why it costs so much to hire them! So don’t sell yourself short: allocate an hour per day to really looking at the daily, weekly, and monthly schedule and see if it still fits in with your goals.

Setting a truly customized training plan takes a lot of time an effort. There are many books dedicated to the art and science of taking the human body to the edge and achieving peak performance. This article simply cannot distill all that knowledge into a coherent summary. I would suggest looking on the Internet for free training plans for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve or visiting a local library. Joe Friel has training programs for both triathlon and cycling called Training Bibles. They are written for advanced athletes, but are probably useful to all but the most beginning self-coached athletes.

Your Job as an Athlete

The hard part is over, right? Now that the training plan has been made, it’s now your job as an athlete to simply follow the plan. If it was that easy, then there would be one plan available for each sport and there would be no need for coaches at all! The fact is, there is an enormous amount of work you need to do outside of training. There is a need for communication between athlete and coach that as a self-coached athlete is both easier and harder. When you have a coach, it’s easy to become lax and just follow the training plan without knowing what the coach is doing behind the scenes. You just send your daily workout log to the coach, look at the schedule for tomorrow, and complete the job. If you have questions, aren’t feeling well, or whatever, there’s always a chance to call the coach and see what she thinks.

A self-coached athlete still needs to provide feedback to your coach! It’s just in this case, you are the coach. Being your own coach makes you less objective than someone else would be, but it offers the advantage of knowing exactly how you feel. Did you just have a terrible workout in the pool and feel you need to work on your swim stroke more than running or biking? It’s easy for you as an athlete to tell your coach (you) that’s what you want. It’s harder as a coach (you) to make an objective decision based on what you’re feeling.

One of the main jobs as a coach is to push an athlete to their limit but not passed that limit. Overtraining is a condition when the body has endured too much stress without adequate recovery. It is extremely easy for self-coached athletes to overtrain. It is also extremely easy for self-coached athletes to undertrain. As an athlete, you need to provide feedback to yourself so you can make an objective decision about coaching. I would suggest using a program like TrainingPeaks.com. They offer a free place to log workouts, meals, and daily metrics such as body weight. The pay version allows you to pre-plan workouts, meals, and lots of other great things not available in the free version. I forget what exactly you get with the pay version, but it’s well worth the money. I forgot to renew my membership, and was horrified to find that most of the tools I use were no longer available. TrainingPeaks, or similar logging tools, provide a way as an athlete to tell yourself as a coach what exactly you are doing.

TrainingPeaks works best if you have a heart rate enabled GPS device. I use a Garmin Forerunner 405CX. It is very good at what it does, and I highly recommend it, although any GPS would work. For cycling, a power meter would probably be a good product to buy if you have the money. I don’t currently own a power meter, but it’s on the wish list. The GPS, heart rate monitor, and power meter provide quantitative (as opposed to qualitative) metrics on daily workouts. If you don’t have a GPS, heart rate monitor or power meter, it’s important that you log how hard each workout seemed based on a rating of perceived effort. There are several common scales in wide use; I prefer the 1-10 scale. Make sure to log any qualitative comments you may have as well! I’ve left comments like these: “felt slight twinge in left knee” and “very hard workout in pool (8/10), but HR not above 150”. These will allow you to go back, as a coach, and see how you’re progressing and, as an athlete, if you ever need to see when you sustained that injury that keeps recurring.

Concluding Remarks

I certainly cannot tell you whether it is better for you to be a self-coached athlete or not. I’ve only been self-coaching myself for a few months, and I’ve only recently forayed into the arena of endurance sports. However, I can tell you that I am having a great time not only being an athlete, but being a coach as well. They are different sides of the same coin. It is possible to be a great athlete but a horrible coach; it is possible to be a great coach and a horrible athlete. It takes a special blend to be a great athlete and a great coach, and a spectacular blend to be your own great self-coach.

But I do think that in this age, where almost everything can be found for free on the Internet, that self-coaching in the future. Most athletes that are not extreme beginners or extreme professionals will be self-coached. So take the plunge and join the ranks of self-coached athletes. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not a waste of time. It will make you a better athlete to have a coach, even if it’s yourself.

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