Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goals for the new year

My first run of the year ended up being in Singapore. The tropical heat, combined with jet lag and a lingering respiratory infection, really kicked my butt, and I called it quits after about 25 minutes. But it's a start. Next time I really should go out before the sun is up!

It's a new year so it's a good time to think about setting goals. Here are my current thoughts:


I am signed up for a half-marathon at the end of April. I'm not sure I want to go for a marathon this year, so that might be the longest distance I will go. But I think I'd like to set a total distance goal for the year, and 1000km seems like a nice, round number, just high enough to make it challenging while being within reach.


My speed goal is to reach half the world-record speed. This means:

25:14 for a 5K (current PR is 27:57, and that's during a triathlon)
52:34 for a 10K (current PR is 59:34)
1:56:46 for a half-marathon

All I need to do is make sure I start putting in the miles. I'm already 7km behind my overall distance goal!

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I have been neglecting both this blog and my whole exercise program. I think I was satisfied with my level of fitness and decided not to make exercise as high a priority in my life, but as a result I have done nearly no exercise in the last couple of months. I think other than a quick run with the dogs, I haven't done anything since the Allerton trail run. I even bought a whole set of cold-weather running gear and new running shoes a few weeks ago, but they have been languishing in my closet. Also, disappointingly, I am going to break my streak of running a race every calendar month, since I don't think I can fit in any races in November, seeing as they tend to occur on weekends. Anyway, it's time to re-prioritize and start exercising again.

TL;DR: I've been lazy and it's time to shape back up.

Lenore and I are splitting today, with me watching the kids before nap and her afterwards. I decided to use my free time to go to the pool. Other than my swim classes, I haven't been in the pool in, like, forever and it shows. I swam 4x25m to warm up (the pool was c-c-c-old!), and then did a staircase of intervals: 100, 200, 300, 400, 300, 200, 100. Even the first 100 left me out of breath, and by the time I finished the 200 I felt ready to quit. Somewhere around the middle of the  400, though, I finally found a good rhythm. My arms still felt really tired from disuse, but I was no longer feeling out of breath, and my form was a trifle better.

The good news is that I'm swimming faster: I timed the last 100m and it was 2:24, which is still pretty slow, but faster than what I was doing in the summer. If I can get my fitness back up, I might even be able to swim 100m in 2:00 by the time of my next triathlon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

two runs two weeks ago

[This post was started a week and a bit ago but but never finished...]

Once again my exercise routine has been suffering. The main problem is that I keep failing to get up early enough to work out. I did get up at 5:30 for a few days after getting back from Germany, but that lasted less than a week. But I finally decided not to let that stop me from running.

Sunday [10/7] was my long(est) run (ever!). I wanted to go out for 11 miles, but I figured I'd need at least a water and bathroom stop in the middle. I thought about making a stop at home and just doing two loops, but I was worried that once I got inside, I wouldn't have the motivation to start running again. Instead, I made my stop at a coffee shop, from which I'd have to run at least a couple miles to get home.

The run to the shop was about 7 miles, and it was 7 glorious miles! I think I felt happier during the run than I had in weeks! Just enjoying the cool yet sunny weather, the rhythm and flow of the run, and my music. I recently read a debate in Runner's World about whether running with music is a good idea or not. The pro person cited a few research studies that showed that music is in fact helpful to running; the con person kept talking about how if you don't focus on your breathing and footfalls, you're not really running. You can probably guess which side of the debate I favor.

The only argument against music that does make sense is safety. The article makes a comparison with driving or biking, but it turns out that cyclists (and presumably runners) with headphones hear more ambient noise than car drivers. Of course, cyclists and runners are also much more vulnerable, and it's certainly true that you'd be more aware of the surroundings without music. But it's a judgment call that I feel can be reasonably made either way. My runs are mostly on flat and straight country roads where I can see oncoming cars way before I can hear them, so I keep the music on.

I was hungry and thirsty by the time I got to the coffee shop, so I enjoyed a parfait and a latte. The run home was not quite as pleasant; it's always hard to get started again after you take a break, as the tiredness comes out. To make things worse, my iPhone turned itself off during mile 7. I estimate that I slowed down to about 11:30 min/mile, which I figure is still within a fine range for a long run. Especially my first double-digit run! (I was debating about whether it still counts as a single run despite the stop, but I figured that even with the stop, my average pace was faster than walking speed.)

I wanted to get another run Wednesday morning [10/10], and my plan, as always, was to wake up early and do the run before the kids woke up, but once again I had trouble getting myself out of bed in time. But since my morning was clear of meetings, I decided to just stay later and go for a run after Lenore and the kids went off to school. I wanted to do a 5-mile "race pace" run, with the "race" being a half-marathon. Based on my last 5K (at the triathlon), I calculated that to be a bit under 10 min/mile. It was chilly out so I decided to do about a mile at a slower pace to warm up.

The bulk of the run was a square around country roads, a mile to a side. The first mile at race pace felt tough because I was running into a cold headwind. It was nice not to have a problem with overheating, but the wind was chilling and it took a fair amount of effort to keep my pace. As soon as I turned the corner, my heart rate instantly dropped about 5 bpm, I started feeling much warmer, and running got a lot easier. Pleasant, even—the pace was not exactly easy, but quite comfortable.

All that changed again once I started heading north and into the wind again (which must have been out of the NW). It's funny how a little difference can change your outlook from "this is nice" to "how much longer do I have to run?" Fortunately, in this case, the answer was "not much." My last little bit of the run in the subdivision didn't have much wind, but by that time my legs were starting to feel tired, so my heart rate for that last segment was the highest of the day.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tri the Illini

This weekend I learned whether running a sprint triathlon after three weeks of minimal training and directly following a 21-hour trip home from Europe a good idea. Turns out no...

... it's a great idea! When I got home Saturday night, I was seriously considering not showing up for Tri the Illini the next morning and just eat the loss of the registration fee. I felt exhausted and I could barely stand. I decided to set my alarm clock and see how I was feeling in the morning, and by the time 5:30 rolled around, things were looking much better.

Having done no set up the night before, I had to pack my transition bag, locating all the necessities, pump up my bike tires and install the bike rack on the car. Also shower, have coffee, and eat breakfast. I managed to finish all of this around 6:45 and made the short drive over to the triathlon. It's so nice not having to travel for a race!

The place was abuzz, with triathletes streaming in to register and set up transition. I picked up my bib (#480—a 5-smooth number, must be lucky!) and chip and headed back to transition. One thing I noticed is that there was a greater variety of bikes present. At the Chicago triathlon, it seemed like 90% of all bikes were tri bikes, and almost all of them were at least road bikes. Here, I saw quite a number of hybrids and mountain bikes.

On the way to transition I ran into a student from my class, who was surprised to see me in the race. Turns out this was only his second triathlon, but he had biked 1500 miles over the summer, so he was likely in pretty good shape. He asked me if swimming was my forte, so I had to explain to him that I suck in all three of the sports, but running is where I suck the least.

The Swim

The swim was in the same outdoor pool where I had done all my laps over the summer, so I figured I'd have a home field advantage. The trouble, however, was that the temperature was in the low 40's, so as we all piled out onto the deck in our swimsuits for the pre-race briefing, everyone was freezing. Thankfully, they kept things brief and then they had people come out in groups of 50 while everyone else could wait inside. People were sorted by number, so I had quite a wait to start and made periodic use of the nearby sauna to keep warm.

The course was a 300m snake swim through the pool. They had a time-trial start, with people jumping in every 5 seconds or so, but this obviously didn't do all that much to alleviate traffic. Most of the people were faster swimmers than I, but there was enough people moving slowly that I had to somehow dodge around everyone to make progress. I also started out going too fast and got tired out, so with all of this, I was nowhere near maintaining good form, but I trudged along and made it out of the pool.

Final time: 8:35, or 2:52/100m, though this time includes the run up from the pool to transition area.

T1 was uneventful at 3:26. I'm sure with practice I can shave at least a minute off this time.

The Bike

After the first mile on the bike, I glanced down at my phone and saw that my average speed was over 20mph! Of course, this was due to the course starting on a slight downhill slope and I quickly saw that number drop, but I was still pleased with how fast I was going. I was also passing a number of people! In Chicago, I would pass maybe one person for every 20 who passed me, but here things were looking much better.

One thing that was amazing about this race was the volunteers. Apparently they had a record number of people show up, and they were doing a great job giving directions at every intersection, but also enthusiastically cheering everyone on. It was great to get that energy boost on the bike course, where there are normally few spectators.

The course ended with a short climb up Yankee Ridge, followed by a quick descent to the turnaround point. Of course, this is Illinois, so the steepest it got was around a 3% grade. I had averaged 17.5mph on the out portion, which was great, but I was pretty sure that couldn't last. I was also confused that the out distance was over 7 miles; turns out the bike course was 14.5 miles, rather than the standard 12.5.

The return trip was significantly slower, which I can only attribute to my feeling more tired, since the elevation profile wasn't significantly worse and there didn't seem to be much wind, either. I just kept on trying to pass the occasional person while making sure that I didn't push my legs too much. The final person in my sights was hardest to catch and I was only able to pass her right before the dismount line. Probably pointless from the point of view of race strategy, but it made me feel better.

Final time: 54:28.2, or 15.9mph. I was really hoping to break 16mph on the bike but it was not in the cards.

T2 was slower than it should have been, at 1:14, since I was already wearing my running shoes, so all I had to do was drop off my bike and go. Well, turns out that I needed to drop off my bike and helmet, and I forgot about that last part, nearly starting the run with my helmet on.

The Run

I was hoping to run at least a 10-minute mile, but 9:30 was much better. I was happy to see numbers between 9 and 9:30 on my iPhone. My legs felt a little tired, but not too bad. The worst problem was some side splits that weren't going away. I tried to regulate my breathing, then slowed to a walk for the first aid station, but no luck. Oh well, it was only painful enough to be annoying.

About one mile in, I realized with surprise that I was feeling great other than the splits. I couldn't remember feeling this good during a race! I mean, yes, I had to push myself to maintain a steady effort, but it didn't feel painful and I had plenty of motivation to keep going. I was having a great time, smiling, thanking all the volunteers, and cheering on the people I was passing. I'm always a little unsure about whether doing this is a good idea; part of me worries that if someone's struggling, having someone cheerful pass you might make you feel even worse. But the people who passed me did cheer me on, so I figured it couldn't be that taboo.

I did walk through each aid station, even though I probably could have easily covered the whole distance without stopping at all, but the breaks made me feel refreshed and I kept hoping they would calm my side splits. After the last station, I started gradually picking up the pace, gradually speeding up to about an 8-minute mile, and then kicking it in at the end. I saw Lenore with the twins and my mother at the finish, waved to them, then ran through the timing mats.

I was pretty excited to see my average speed listed at 9:12 on my phone. But turns out it once again underestimated my speed and I actually finished the 3.1 mile run in 27:57, which is a 9-minute mile and a 5K PR!


We hung around for a little bit. Unlike past races, I didn't feel the need to lie down and actually held the twins for a while before having to put them down. We shared a little bit of post-race food, though I couldn't find very much to drink. Eventually we decided to go out for brunch, but encountered a super-long wait at Le Peep and decided to bail for home.

I keep wondering why this race felt so much better. I'm starting to think it must be the cool weather: I know for sure that I massively overheated in the Lytle Park Triathlon, and in Chicago it was still fairly warm, despite the rain. But here the weather was perfect; I've also noticed in my runs done since the race that I can generally run faster and feel better than in the summer. Maybe I should concentrate more of my racing in these cooler months and sit them out in the summer...

Anyway, I'm very happy with the race and the result. I didn't have any real goals, so while the bike was disappointing, it wasn't terrible, and the run more than made up for it.

As far as how to improve... well, the biggest payoff would probably come from getting a better bike. My heavy upright hybrid is just not meant for racing and I think I could easily shave off at least five minutes with a better one. I could probably pick up a one or two "free" minutes in transition with better practice. I am taking swim lessons again, but really, on a course such as this there's not much time to gain or lose in the swim component.

I'm pretty sure I could have pushed a little harder on the run; based on past experience, I probably had at least 5bpm of untapped heart rate reserve. I know I could have pushed harder on the bike, but I don't know how much I would have had to pay for it on the run. I guess I'll have to just try another race some time to find out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I haven't gotten very many workouts in since I finished the triathlon; between recovering, feeling sick, and travel, it's been hard to get back on track.

This week I'm in Germany for a seminar at Dagstuhl. We're pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which makes it hard to get here (I ended up renting a car from Frankfurt and got lost several times on the way), but the remoteness also has its benefits. The geeky folks running the place marked up a 5K running trail and called it n2, so that's where I started.

The trail starts out with a big uphill climb, which puts you nearly 100m higher than the starting point, but offers a very nice view of the countryside. After that, a quick descent followed by another, much shorter ascent. The rest of the time you are running on a ridge before coming back down to the road.

I had to slow way down on the uphills, but managed to make it through without stopping to walk, and with my heart rate just barely cresting above 170 bpm. Strava dutifully informed me that I actually got second place on that climb... out of two! My legs felt pretty tired for the next mile or so, but then I recovered well enough to add short extra out-and-back to my run, where I got to see... German cows! Total distance was 4.2 miles with an average pace of 11:45/minute, which is not bad for that much elevation change.

I got back just in time for daily cake hour and treated myself to two pieces. I'm enjoying being off diet this week but I'm not looking forward to seeing the scale when I get home!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chicago Life Time Tri results

2645/2943 overall
1912/2071 gender
36/38 division (male clydesdale, 0-39, 200-224lbs)

Swim: 45:49 (rank: 2603)
T1: 6:52
Bike: 1:36:52 (15.7mph, rank: 2662)
T2: 5:18
Run: 1:12:03 (11:37/mi, rank: 2438)

Had a great time; more details soon.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I've gotten way behind on my triathlon training. I've been meaning to do a brick workout for some time, but finally made it out Sunday. I decided I should do a 25 mile ride followed by a 10K run, just like in the race. This is probably too long given that I'm supposed to have started tapering, but I haven't been biking a lot so I thought this distance would give me more confidence for the race.

I started out a little slowly and my muscles started complaining. I started getting worried that doing so little biking over the past month has caused me to lose a lot of bike-fitness. After a few miles, I tried pushing the pace a bit and then got into a good rhythm. I think it's partially a case of getting the muscles firing in the right sequence to optimize effort (and partially just warming up).

I kept it at a hard effort until I passed CR 100E, because that was when my Strava segment ended. Turns out I managed to have my second-best time on that ride, so not too bad. I took it a bit easier for the rest of the ride, but still working. At the turn-around, I started feeling much better about the bike portion of the tri. A few miles from home, though, I noticed my energy starting to wane and had to push myself to keep going. Average speed was 15.4mph; once again, not too bad.

I dumped the bike off in the garage and tried to have a speedy "transition," but I think I might have taken as long as 10 minutes. The last few miles I started feeling really hungry, so I decided to go off-diet and wolf down a piece of toast with butter. That hit the spot! I also used the toilet, applied BodyGlide (hate it when I forget this!) and filled up a hand bottle with water. And I was out the door.

The start of the run reminded me of the Lyttle Park Triathlon: it felt like my legs were moving slowly, but I was actually making a decent pace. Bouncing along was doing a little number on my stomach and I was worried I might regret that piece of toast, but after a few minutes things actually settled down. I ran the first mile in about 10m and then stopped to walk for a few steps to simulate walking through water stops. My second mile felt pretty good and I was actually feeling relaxed, but then I looked down on my phone and noticed that my pace was slipping. I tried to push the pace a bit on the third mile, but felt a definite lack of energy reserves and I was feeling like the next walking break couldn't come soon enough. The next mile was harder still, in part because I was getting too warm. It's not that the weather was all that hot, but the sun had come out and I was starting to feel it.

I knew that doing the rest of the run would be a world of pain. I debated with myself about whether to continue to try to make the 10K distance, or stop to avoid pushing myself too hard with only a week before the race. Finally decided to take the easy option and walked home. 10:27 pace for 4.1 miles.

I was pretty disappointed in how the run went; I was hoping I'd be able to maintain at least 10m/mi. Granted, I think I could have pushed myself to go a little faster, but then again, I might have burned out even sooner in that case. I was mostly happy with the bike part, and I think I could have gone even faster... but this was starting fresh, and not after swimming for the better part of an hour.

In the end, I'm hoping that carbs will be my ace in the hold. I've been training (and racing) mostly without any carb intake, and while that has worked mostly fine, I decided that for this race I'd try carb-loading. (Runner's World even had an article recommending this exact strategy.) Hopefully that, plus getting some carbs along the course, will give me that extra energy boost.

Anyway, I'm glad I did this workout. It definitely made me feel better about biking and even transitioning, and, I guess, let me know to expect pain on the run. Also, I think I need to get different tri shorts; I have the Pearl Izumi Select ones, which have this "leg gripper" band at the bottom that is pretty tight. It didn't appear to be a problem last time I wore them, but this time my quads felt sore right at the spot where the band was (maybe my quads have gotten bigger?). Maybe it's time to upgrade to Elite, which don't have this feature.

6 days left!