June 23, 2007

Finishing week 2 of the Half Ironman training

This is the second week of the official 13 weeks half Ironman training I started as preparation for my race in September. Last 2 weeks were fairly easy - about 8-10 hours of training and it consisted of three sessions in each sport with Monday as free day.

The runs were extremely easy so I extended them by 15-30 minutes each and also increased the intensity. My swimming is getting much better - I can keep going for an entire hour with very minimal breaks and my breathing is where it should be - three strokes at a time and breathing on alternative sides. I'm really proud of the improvement - I think the tri specific wetsuit is helping a lot. I hope I can use it during the races. I keep doing swim drills with not much focus on speed, just as suggested in most books for beginning triathletes. And bike - yeah bike is getting good as well. I started biking even before my half marathon in April and it really helped me improve my running and my bike specific strength is getting better as well. According to power meter and tracking software I'm improving and I just moved out of the untrained category to cat 5 which is not great, but it is a progress. In the past two weeks I did most workouts on the bike trainer, I guess that near miss with the car scared me enough plus the bike trainer is very convenient I can ride in the evening when everyone is in the bed. Each of my bike sessions was between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. Today I decided to go out and test ride the road around lake Nockamixon where my two races will be held. I got up very early and got to the lake before 7am. It was very beautiful morning and the ride was very enjoyable. I was not sure what to expect as I was unable to get the route elevation profile on-line. I was very pleasantly surprised - the road is very nice with mostly rolling hills and three larger climbs. The enclosed picture shows the elevation profile (note that it shows the route twice I did two laps) and also shows the speed, heart rate, power and other details. Overall I'm very happy with the ride, I can keep going 19 mph on average for both laps which is little faster than what I estimated I could do. Now I need to keep training so I can get the route done three times and see how I feel then.

There was only one issue today and that was the fueling. I had reasonably small breakfast - coffee and some pastry. It was not too light or too heavy, just right for the ride. I took two packs of GU and plenty of water with me. After the first lap I downed the GU and some water. I kept drinking water the whole ride before and after I had the GU. For some reason after the second lap I was feeling very tired and dizzy - similar to my feeling during the half marathon when I did not hydrate enough. Now I'm puzzled if I just got dehydrated or if I also had low sugar in the blood. When I finished the ride I ate three cereal bars and it felt soooooo goooood. I need to keep trying different fueling strategies and read some recommendations. If you have proven fueling strategy for 2-3 hours bike ride after which you will run half marathon let me know. I'm looking for anything that works - I have only 11 weeks to fine tune the refueling.

June 19, 2007

How I got here - 1250+ miles later

OK this may be little ahead of my one year Nike+ anniversary, but I think it is time to share my story with the rest of the world. It may inspire some new runners and show them how far they can get in a year if they stick with the program.

It has been almost one year since I embarked on a new life challenge - I started running. I learned about the Nike+ sensor and Nike+ shoes on Apple website few months before they released the equipment. I debated for a long time if it makes sense to invest money in new iPod (I did not own Nano), new shoes and new sensor. In retrospective it was the best investment of my life. I got my new shiny iPod nano, ordered Nike+ shoes on Nike.com and bought the Nike+ sensor on Apple.com - to spread the cash somewhat evenly between the companies. When I got all the equipment as the geek in me commanded I played with it for a while, loaded my iPod with tunes that I would run to and got ready for my first real road test.

I did my first run (well we could call that a shuffle) on July 25th as I just verified on my Nike+ log and I walked/ran for little over 1.5 mile. I was so out of shape I could only run for few hundred meters and then I had to take waking break. But I stuck with it.

First weeks were hard - I was barely able to walk/run for 2 miles at a time. And I tried to do it 3 times a week. Good thing that helped me to stay with running was that I was feeling great after each run. And what was really helpful was the Nike+ community - I participated in many challenges, met many great people and it all inspired me to stick with the running. Soon I was able to increase my mileage following recommendations from few running books. I slowly brought my it up from 8 miles a week to some 18-20 miles a week. Oh yeah I overdid it in the beginning and came down with some beginner's injuries like sore back, muscle pain from not stretching enough and some other. I also had many flu like weeks that kept me from running, but once I got better I resumed runnig.

In September I was ready to try my first race - the Bethlehem Celtic Classic 5k (the link goes to this year's website in case you wanted to join in. I'll be there). I was very excited and took off little too fast. At mile 2 I was really tired, my iPod would not cooperate so I resorted to walking to recover. After few hundred meters I resumed running and finished the race at 26:32 which was about 3.5 minutes faster than my expected finish time. Great - so this running thing really works. And yeah I was losing some weight as well - that was the primary reason for me running.

That first race really made me push even harder. I knew I can do better next time. I pushed my mileage to 20 and later to 25 miles a week and was getting ready for my second 5k run - Bethlehem Turkey Trot. I was more clever during this run and I saved energy and did not push my engine to red until the last few hundred meters. I kept pretty good pace during the whole run and I did quite well. It was a great run and in November I was proud owner of new PR of 24:55. I knew I'm ready to try longer distances. The Thanksgiving race was the last one of the 2006 season, but I signed up for the 10k run in February 2007.

For my February race I was determined to do at least as well as I did in the 5k runs. So I took very scientific approach to my training. I read every single running books I can lay my hands on and studied training from different authorities. Then I designed initial training plan on Nikerunning.com and religiously followed the plan. I also read more about the body physiology, heart rate zones and heart rate training. In my new plan I was focusing on strict hard/easy days approach and over the time I raised my weekly mileage to 30 miles. I also started to do some speed work to push my speed from the 9-10 minutes/mile pace to something better.

On 4th of February I was ready to race the 10k and I was determined to do well (my stated goal was to finish under 55 minutes, but I secretly hoped for sub-50 minutes run). There was one problem though - that day was very cold and the cold was made even worse by strong wind. The race was moved from trail (that was completely snowed in) to road that had some snow and ice patches. Even under these conditions I ran vary good race - I finished few seconds shy of 50 minutes and accomplished my secret goal. I was really proud - this is still my standing 10k PR - I did not run any other 10k races since. But I plan to return back to this one in February and beat my time.

Next in my running quest was to do a little longer race. I did not want to punish my body with a full marathon, plus I would hardly find enough time to train for full marathon so I signed up for Lehigh Valley Half Marathon at the end of April. This was the big one I wanted to conquer. When I signed up I stated that my expected finish time is 2:15:00 which at the time seemed quite reasonable. Since Nikerunning provided such a great support for me I turned there again and got my training plan that included 6 days of running each week building the mileage from 23 miles up to over 40 miles a week. I travel a lot for my work, but I was able to follow the plan (if I missed a workout it would be maximum of 2-3 workouts in the whole time - yeah I'm quite determined to do good in this). It is funny how priorities change - once I started running seriously I look for opportunities to squeeze run into my schedule - I do not mind waking up at 5 am to get my run completed before I head out to work or if I can not do morning I hop on the treadmill in the evening and run. Even when I travel I select hotels with treadmill or nice runner friendly environment.

In late February I had some IT band issues from too much running on the roads - which have tilt that is not good for the knees. I could not stop training for more than few days and my knees really needed softer surface to run on. I bought a Bodyguard treadmill and did most of my runs on the treadmill in front of the TV (not very exciting I must admit, but I wanted to be ready for the half). It was exciting to see how my body responded to the increased mileage and adjusted. I was very excited to see that I can push beyond 10 miles, 12 miles and then even 15 miles and then still be able to go through the day which sometimes included carrying my son through the mall for few hours or lawn mowing or other mostly household activities. On April 29th I arrived to Allen High School in Allentown ready to run my first half marathon and I wanted to do real well. I aimed to complete the run in under 1:50:00 - you see this is after few weeks of training I pushed my goal finish time by some 25 minutes. I guess that is the result of improved fitness and knowledge that you can do it if you push hard enough. This new goal presented the pace of 8:20 min/mile for 13.1 miles. And so we began - because of my estimated finish time I was assigned to the last corral and started in the very back of the pack. That meant that I had to push quite hard to get ahead and catch up with the 8:20 pace group. As any beginner I made few mistakes in this important race - first two came when I did not stop to get drink at the first and second water station. I was feeling fine and I had to push ahed to catch up with the pace group so I just passed the water stations which was not a good idea. I realized that at about mile 6 when I started to feel little light headed and I knew that the next water station is at least another mile up the road. But by then I had the 8:20 pace group in my sight and I was able to catch up with them and pass them just before the water station. I grabbed two cups of water and drank them, but it was not enough. I had to fight hard to keep the pace till the end of the race which at that point was still about 4 miles ahead. But hey I prevailed and my official finish time is 1:49:30. I'm really proud of that - considering that in July of 2006 I was unable to run the whole mile at a time and few months later I was running half marathon in fairly respectable time for first timer - really proud of myself. After the big run in April I was unable to walk down the stairs for good 4 days and I was only able to resume slow running on day 4 - my legs were so stiff it was impossible to run or even walk very fast.

Earlier this month I was thinking about doing a local 5k run to break the long training streak. I found out that there is one right under my nose and it was the first year the city organized the run so it was very small and I like those local family like events. I did not train much for it, but I thought I could use it to improve my 5k PR. The run was fairly flat with two or three small hills so I pushed prety hard and tried to keep my pace between 7:10 and 7:20 min/mile. I still need to work on pacing as the initial pace was too fast (I think I may have run 6:20 at some point) and later in the race I needed to take a very short walking break. But even with the break I got my new PR of 22:35 which is very nice. Funny story - I also got second best female award (although I'm not female), but I guess my name (Jan) sounds female enough. So I have a nice shiny medal to remind me of this great run.

I think it is in order to rcognize that I would not have been able to accomplish any of this without support of my family and understanding of my wife who is real angel. She, I'm sure, is making sacrifices to let me to go out and run and I try to be a good husband and father in return. So far it seems to work well. I hope we can keep it that way.

My second biggest support group is online - all the wonderful folks on Nike+ site that prepare great challenges and discuss their ups and downs. It is very inspiring to see such a great community. I'm glad that folks at Apple and Nike got together and developed the Nike+ product line. It really changed my life - not even talking about getting in shape (total loss of 45 pounds so far and yeah I'm in the normal BMI again after over 8 years of being either overweight or later in my life obese - yeah the O word).

So what is next you may ask - well I started little cross training few weeks ago and soon I'll be doing my first triathlon. So these days I not only run, but I swim and bike too. This year I'm 35 and I want to finish another half - this time it is half ironman race (1.2mile swim, 56.7 miles bike and 13.1 miles run). Wish me luck. I'll use this site to update you about my progress. My first triathlon is in a few weeks and the half-Iron is in early September. That will leave some time later in the year to work on further improvement of my 5k PR and possibly I can do another 10k race if there is any around here.