Some Thoughts On Running With A Dog

The idea of running with my dog is very appealing to me. I have had dogs in the past, but never really succeeded in getting them interested or fit enough to run alongside me. One would get about halfway around the block before he would put on the brakes and demand to be carried back. Another was a zigzagger and eventually lost interest in even starting the run. Always fun. So what am I noticing with the Cocker Spaniel after getting some actual runs in?

First, and this is no surprise, the dog will drop deuce on the run. My last athletic dog would need to stop so often I would just give up and make it a walk. A friend of mine thinks picking up dog crap is hilarious. That if aliens are watching us, this simple behavior makes us look ripe for conquering. I don’t disagree. It sucks. So here are my rules for cleaning up after the dog.

  1. If we are in the WOODS or on a wooded trail, I am just moving it off the trail.
  2. If it is not easily picked up, it is staying put. Maybe pour some water on it or put a leaf over it?
  3. If there is a long way to run, and I am doubling back, I will leave the bag for the return trip.
  4. If there is a garbage can along the way it is jettisoned at first chance.

Let’s face it, running with a pile of swinging poop is the worst. So I will do whatever I can to not. Preferably he goes before the run, just like me, but ‘it’ happens I guess.

Next up are leashes. I use a running leash that I have mentioned before and it is great. Handsfree movement, all the good stuff. It seems however, I am sometimes the only one using a leash. In fact on just my last two runs I have come across other dogs off-leash. This is not a good look for dogs or their owners and here is why. If my dog is on a leash, and your dog is not, I can not keep them apart. This upsets my dog which in turn upsets me. I can promise nothing will happen to my dog, so if a problem occurs, that only leaves the other party and that isn’t fair. I follow the rules and if they say dogs must be on a leash, they must be on a leash. Even if you think you are alone. Just be safe and respectful.

Recovery seems to be an often overlooked topic for running with dogs too. These tough little mutts will go and go, so they need us to tell them to stop. Just as important though is to give them rest days just like you would yourself. They can’t tell you when they are hurt or sore, so play it safe, and really pay attention to their gate or actions before and after a run. If you are tired, they probably are too. So help them cool down, give them good food, and plenty of water. Don’t ramp up from 0 to 5+ miles a day or just like a person, you risk injury.

It is tough work to keep them clean and insect free. My Cocker has ears that act like tick elevators. I have pulled so many ticks off of him in such a short period that it is a mandatory check after each hike and run. Sure the medicines kill them off, but I prefer not to bring them in the house. As for the car, I usually bring several towels along and have a dog carrier that goes over the seat to keep it clean. I don’t try to get the little guy spotless until we are home and get a bath. Depending on the ground we covered and how messy it is, I won’t do a bath every time, but there are days when the mud is unavoidable and it has to be done.

There you have it. Just a few observations and things we are seeing so far. Probably nothing responsible and experienced dog owners don’t already know, but worth repeating for the newbs like myself.

Judgement Time

There is nothing worse than setting the bar too high. Unrealistic expectations deliver defeat. All too often people are not honest with themselves. They think that because they are good at something they are good at everything. It is pretty common actually, especially with competitive athletes. I have seen people who have done a single marathon jump right to Boston qualification as their goal. Or even people who have not raced a single triathlon go straight to an Ironman. We need to be honest with not only our abilities but our grind. The bigger the goal the harder we have to work. More work equals more time, something not everybody has.

I listen to a lot of motivational speakers and people who have succeeded in achieving their goals. I personally discovered how effective manifestation is almost 10 years ago, and have been very lucky in conquering anything I have set my mind to since. But I am also realistic both with what I aim for, and how hard I worked for it. Setting an impossible goal is not the problem, it is the work that goes into it that is. You can’t say “I am out of shape but tomorrow I will win a 5k”. Well someone probably can, but for most people you need to do the work. You want that 5k, good, now what are you going to give to get it? You are going to have to sweat, bleed, cry. You are going to have to miss dinners and wake up early. No pizza or wine on Friday. WHAT EVER IT TAKES. That’s how you get where you want to be. No free lunches.

But way too often people set the goal, and fold up like a card table at the first bump in the road. Doesn’t work that way. When I see a bump I go through it. Bump is gone. There are no bumps when you set your mind to doing something and are committed. Either you commit or you didn’t really want it to begin with. The middle of the road is paved with lofty goals that looked good but cost too much. Not too much money, but too much spirit. Too much time and sacrifice.

The irony in this is that people set challenging goals and then lie to themselves. In an effort to be happy we setup disappointment. We all do it from time to time. We tell ourselves we worked hard, we didn’t cheat, we got it done. Maybe we did, but nobody else can judge that except you. When I skip workouts, or bail because I just don’t want to push, I can’t stand short of my goal and be disappointed. I know why. You want it, you have to earn it.

The good news with this slice of humble pie is there is little more rewarding than when you push and obtain what you set out to accomplish. Someone tells you that you can’t do it? That is icing on the cake. Watch me go.

Setting goals and getting there is like climbing a ladder. You can’t skip too many rungs at a time or you will just fall back down. When I set out my goals for the year, I try to envision if they are truly doable. Next I sit with my family and make sure they are onboard. Having a big goal is great, but if the family is not supportive of the sacrifices they may need to make, you are being selfish. Lastly, I talk to my coach. Having someone that can slowly get you to where you want to be is very helpful. I see it so often, especially around this time of year where people get amped up. I’ll see them in a few weeks and hear “I have been to the gym every day this month.” or “I have run an hour every day.” Those are great to hear if they hold up. But going from 0-60 burns a lot of gas, and is very hard to keep up. The best approach is to ease into it, setup a series of mini goals, and do the work incrementally. Doing workouts that are challenging but not overwhelming keeps you going longer, and builds you far faster.

Whether or not we get to where we want isn’t always the most important thing. Being truthful about what we did, and how much we put in is. There will always be times when the work was done but the result doesn’t go our way. That’s life. When that happens you can hold your head high and say I gave it my best. When you don’t give it your all though, when you put the work off until tomorrow, that get out of jail card is gone. You have to own the defeat. You don’t have to like it, but you have to own it. Times like that can be very defining in their own right. They can give you the push you need to get there next time. The extra fuel that was missing.

In the end setting goals is how we set things in motion. Putting in down on paper, focusing on it, spreading out the work, and being honest with ourselves is how we accomplish them. You are your best and worst critic, use that to your advantage.

Build Your House With Bricks

Forget the saying “The hay is in the barn”. Around here we deal in bricks. Hard, heavy, and strong bricks. For those not initiated into triathlon yet, a brick is what we call a bike / run workout. It is meant to simulate the last two legs of the race, and is very effective. It is aptly named a ‘brick’ because your legs feel heavy like there are bricks tied to them when you start the run.

As fun as it sounds to run with bricks tied to your feet, this workout is a cornerstone in any triathlon program. Or I should say that it is in any successful program? The fact is that not everyone does bricks regularly. This is very shocking to me, and it can only be because they don’t understand just how important, but moreso how effective a training tool they are.

Admittedly I have been sans bricks for the past few months. In my defense though it has been what would normally be the off season and I turned over to a run focus based on trying to get faster. However, my coach has been peppering them back in, smaller for now, but starting to lay the foundation for the months to come.

My workout last night consisted of a challenging 60 minute bike followed by an easier 120-130 bpm heartrate run. The idea wasn’t too kill it the whole time but more to wake to legs up to the shift of usage that comes in T2. The bike was tough, and I think I rated it a 7 on my Traininpeaks report, but the run felt pretty relaxed which it was supposed to be. Since it was one of my first bricks of the new season, keeping the transition light is better to play it safe and stay injury free.

During the season as training ramps up so do the bricks, and towards the final builds of an Ironman training block one can expect to do 4-5+ hour rides with another 1-1.5 hour runs immediately after. Followed by a long run of 2+ hours the following day. But getting there takes time, energy, and patience. Competing in Ironman races definitely comes with some bragging rights among your sedentary friends, but there is a lot of work that goes into it.

There are some shortcuts though, and while they don’t replace time put in, they can simulate a physical reaction that takes alot of time to get to. One tactic my coach uses is multiple bricks in the same session. For example combining 3 x (40 minute cycle 20 minute run) for 3 hours in total. It speeds up the timing because you are able to push a little harder each time, making the last set feel like you have been riding for the 5 hours and are at the end of the long run. You deplete the energy quicker, still have good volume, and can simulate the experience without having to put in all the time. For those with a treadmill this type of combo is perfect over the Winter. It breaks up the monotony of stationary exercise into bite sized chunks, and you come out of your caves in the Spring ready to push even harder.

Something I always wondered was how quickly athletes need to go from a bike to a run in order to reap the benefits of this type of training. If you have to change or secure your bike before you can run it will take time, does that diminish the results of the workout? In my experience it does not. If you are able to plan ahead properly, and establish what you will do before hand it doesn’t typically take more than 10-15 minutes at max do do a transition at home or in a parking lot. But this is another opportunity to practice part of the race that doesn’t get a lot of attention which is transition. If you are home and can setup a race simulation of T2, go for it. If not, practice putting your shoes on quickly especially when tired and sweaty. Lay out some nutrition, and eat it on the go. It is the little things like this that can wind up making a big difference during a race.

Triathlon boils down to strength and endurance. The more you have of both the more successful you will be, but like anything else you need to hone your skills specific to your sport. The closer you can mimic the swim, bike, and run aspects that you encounter on race day, the better the results. So stop breaking up the bikes and runs and make sure you do at LEAST 2 bricks a week. Build that strong foundation on bricks now, and it will be there for you all season.

New Year New You

Who doesn’t love New Years? It is the ultimate reset button and boy do we need a reset this year. Personally, my approach to resets is slightly different, and I don’t wait for a magical day, I start now. In fact with so few parties and social gatherings, this may be the easiest time to start right now. But let’s assume you just want to wait, no problem.

Let’s talk about January 1st onward. What will your year look like and how will you get there? The only way to accomplish anything substantive for yourself is to be intentional. I talk to so few people who know what that actually means or how effective it is. There are many resources that go deep into this idea, but I’ve always liked the phrase “Whatever the mind can conceive it can achieve.” This means that what you visualize can and will materialize. Weight loss, yes. Financial gains, yes. Accomplishing a major athletic milestone, yes. But you have to be deliberate in what you are after and you have to focus on it with a white hot intensity. The more significant the intention, the more you have to focus your energy until you are fully engaged, consumed even, by getting to the goal. For those looking to get started a few ideas are to write down your goals, share them, and revisit them daily. Keep them front of mind, and be honest about what you will do in order to accomplish them. Just wanting something doesn’t make it happen, but wanting it and putting in actions to get there does.

With the ability to accomplish anything out of the way, you’ll need to set some goals. I have several that are still on the plate and some new ones. First up, I need to crack 5:00 in the mile. That has not gone away, and with the calf feeling better, it is time to get back over to the track. In fact, I run an annual mile time trial each year and have done it on New Year’s Day in the past. Seems like as good a time as any to see where I stand after a month of recovery. Pullups (20 in a set) and bike (FTP + 20% for 10 minutes) are also still on the to do list, but these feel like fun trinkets vs. the mile. In fact I am pretty sure I can do both of them today if I try.

Next goal, something my coach put out is to run everyday in January. Seems simple and easy enough, but it really isn’t. You need to focus on setting aside the time to get it done. Even for me, I work out 5-6 days a week on average, so finding that one more day will be a good challenge. But it points me in the right direction for a great run base, builds some good habits, and makes me better each day. So I am in.

Last one is a sub 10 performance at Ironman Lake Placid this Summer. This is a big stretch for me, but I think it is something I can do. In fact I know I can do it, the only thing standing in the way is me. The path to getting under 10 hours requires alot of time and energy. Sacrifices and pain. That white hot intensity, yeah, I need it for the next 7 months. The key here will be my bike and run combo. All of the work I do now is setting me up for success with that portion of the race. Strength training, lots of time in the saddle, and building the FTP up. This was supposed to be a 2020 goal and I still want it so it stays on the list. I want that podium spot the next morning with my family watching.

Some of the more common things like weight loss and my annual holidays detox are not going on the goals list but they will happen as a part of the other intentions. Weight is hard to keep when you ramp up training to 14 hours a week. Fueling poorly is also very hard when you are asking your body to perform at a high level. So for now, as I lay out the paths to success, those are supporting players not the stars.

There you have it, my goals for the year so far. Run more and faster. Train like a maniac and crack 10 in the Ironman. Focus on the good things, enjoy the road ahead, and get passed the 2020 dumpster fire.

Let It Snow

I hate running in the rain. I especially hate running in cold rain. In an odd twist though, I love running in the snow. In fact snow is my preferred running surface believe it or not. It always seems so much calmer and more private when you are the only one out there. Less cars are driving, the snow deadens a lot of typical background noise, and less people are out. And when it is snowing hard, let’s face it, it is also badass to come back from a run looking like a real life snowman.

In order to run in these conditions you need to be prepared. I see alot of people head out and struggle, and basically sell themselves short for most of Winter. If you are in a colder area, don’t back down, lean into it.

For starters, you need to be careful and use your brain when you head out the door. I DO NOT recommend running when the plows are still running or people are fooling around. I can recall an evening when I headed out for a local loop and kids were out doing donuts and drifts on a looping road I was on. It hadn’t been plowed yet, and they didn’t see me. Suffice to say they were not able to stop and I had to quickly get out of the way or risk being mushed. (Spoiler alert: I made it). I also remember another time when the plow truck used me as target practice and had no qualms with burying me where I stood. Keep these things in mind for not only when you run, but where you run. I still prefer parks or wooded trails to the roads when possible. Ideally, you hit these after the dog walkers, snowshoers, and X-Country skiers have been through. Running on packed snow is way easier than breaking trail yourself. It also keeps you warmer and dryer for longer.

When running in the snow, for anything more than a coating I put on Yaktrax. For those not familiar with Yaktrax, they are a rubber / elastic tread that you slip on over your shoe for better traction. I am very particular about my Yaktrax these days, and believe it or not, I do not like the “Run” model. This version has a microspike in the front with a coil along the back of the foot. I think the spike is meant to be less intrusive on the gait, and the front velcro is very secure to avoid slippage. But in my experience once on they don’t move, and the microspike just doesn’t cut it for anything but the thinnest snow cover. Because you push off the front of your foot, you really need good grip there. I have also managed to bend and rip out the spikes in a single run when I encountered clear pavement. You can never be sure the full conditions, so running on dry surfaces shouldn’t damage them. Instead of the “Run” I much prefer the “Pro” model. These are made with a series of criss-crossing coils, and have NEVER let me down. Full on storms, ice, pavement, wooded trails you name it, perfect. I also have run with them on dry roads and really don’t notice them at all. They allow me to go full tilt with no noticeable difference. This is huge. (YakTrax)

Now when you do head out for that supercool run, keep a few things in mind. It is generally easier to run in tire tracks. These are packed down a bit and give you the best grip. The downside is that the track is there because that is where cars drive. Cars + Snow – Stopping = Bad. This is when you absolutely need to follow the term “defensive running”. Don’t assume the drivers can see you, especially if it is snowing out. You have to run against traffic to keep an eye on them, and you should where a vest or contrasting colors depending on the conditions. Assuming you are on the road when a car does come, and move to the side, do not keep running if the snow is deep. Just like with leaves you can’t see what is under the snow. It is very easy to twist an ankle on a hidden obstacle resulting in yet another walk of shame. (Only 1 this year for me.) One other piece of advice is to take the turns with caution. You might feel bulletproof with your Yaktrax on, but I have seen a wipe out or two in my day with an over aggressive right. Just relax, nobody is watching anyway.

Try as we may to run, sometimes the snow is just too deep. What then? Well I recently found snowshoes to be a great way to keep moving and go places I couldn’t normally go. You may be surprised to know that you can run fairly naturally in snowshoes. Don’t expect to break any mile records, but within a few minutes running across deep powder is easy. Depending on where you live, there are even snowshoe races. Although I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I recommend Atlas snowshoes. There are less expensive options out there, but splurge, you deserve it. I don’t wear any special footwear or gaiters when I run in them, just my normal running pants and Asics sneakers. Depending on the snow type I might double up with some thicker wool socks. For example if it was lighter powder where I would be sinking in more. I also leave the poles at home, but that is me.

So there you have it, two ways to conquer the snowiest conditions and keep the run streaks alive. I know I keep yanking the excuses away, but trust me, I won’t do a writeup for running in the rain. On those days you have my explicit permission to hit the indoor bike instead.

The Running Mutt

We crossed an exciting milestone this weekend. It was the first real run with the pupster! This may be no big deal to countless other dog owners, but for me, it opens up a bunch of new run options. Having a companion, even a furry one makes some of the isolated runs in the woods more enjoyable. And besides who does not like running with their dog?

So what did we do and how did it go? Unfortunately I didn’t have my Garmin with me so I don’t have specifics for pace or distance, but I can ballpark that we did around 3 miles at around 8 minute pace. This is by no means flying, but I wanted to let the little guy lead and see what he could do out front. He was so impressive given the conditions and the fact that he had no idea how far we were going for. Haha, imagine going as hard as you can but not knowing when it will end? Luckily I was going slower than he wanted to and held him back some. Another area that he impressed me in was the conditions. It was snowing out and there was about an inch on the roads. The pooch of course choose to run mostly in the deeper stuff on the sides, always looking for the perfect tree to write his name on.

As fun as the run was I did realize that there are a few things I need to work on with him. For starters we almost ended up in a tangled heap a few times. When his nose caught something there were a few abrupt stops. Add in snow; slippery conditions, and a modest pace and there is a recipe for disaster. Luckily the dogs owner possesses the reflexes of a cat so accidents were averted. Another thing we need to work on is left and right. With people on the sidewalk, cars, other dogs, you need to steer your pup. I believe dog sledders have basic commands to let the dog know which way to run. This will be very important for times when he may be drifting into harms way. In my head pulling the leash in the direction and saying the command seems to be easy enough it will just take repetition. The same is true for speeding up and slowing down. Because the dog does not know how far you are going, you need to set the pace. There is nothing worse than running with a dog choking himself out by trying to pull you along at double the speed. In fact I came to a complete halt a few times just to reset the pace and his focus. I am sure there will be many many more learnings in this area as time goes on.

Regarding gear, there are too many options available. Harnesses, collars, boots and more. You can outfit your dog for just about anything these days. For our first run, I kept it pretty simple. Standard dog collar with a Ruffwear bungee leash. (Running Leash) I have to say that having run with my previous dogs, or at least tried to, this was a game changer. The give and stretch from the bungee was the key difference. And although I held the leash for most of the run in the busier areas, being able to go hands free with the waist clip is tremendous. It cannot be stressed enough that a running leash is a great choice. As for the collar vs. a harness? This was a quick trial to see how he did. He is still young at seven months, and I didn’t want to over do it. I wanted it to be a lot of fun so he wants to do it more. Because I was still holding the leash up most of the time getting tanlged in his legs wasn’t really a problem. For the running we will do later on I will use one of his harnesses but we just aren’t there yet. It wouldn’t hurt to use now, but it is one more thing to put on.

Overall it was alot of fun. There is something amusing with seeing a Cocker Spaniel trotting down the road, ears flopping, nose twitching like we are hot on the scent of something. For a medium sized dog he did great on a variety of conditions, and coming down some of the bigger snowy hills, I am pretty sure I was having a hard time keeping up.

Recovery for him was pretty simple. Cool down by laying in snow in the yard, followed by a bowl of Acana dog food with some pumpkin mixed in. The rest of the afternoon was focused mainly on finding cozy spots to curl up in a dog ball. As it should be, he earned it after all.

The Kid Is Back

After another setback on the calf strain, today I was finally able to run an hour without pain for the first time since Thanksgiving. The delays have been tough since I was very close to go time on the sub-5 effort, but them’s the breaks. Honestly, it was a good break, and after the run today, I am reinvigorated to work hard.

With the holidays upon us, snow and cold weather here, and a ton of EOY deadlines, the rest of the year will be a challenge. My focus will be on execution and staying consistent. Historically, this is always a shaky patch for me. Social events on top of everything else add another layer of competition for time, and training just falls off the table. Luckily, because of Covid, there are no social gatherings. Good, more time to train and less weight to gain.

To stay motivated and keep the training stores topped off, my plan is for perfect execution. Good rest with clean eating, putting in the time, and no more injuries! What does that mean in reality?

First it means stepping back from the quick food like pizza, and focusing on nutrient rich whole foods. Lot’s of vegetables and fruit. Whole grains and some lean meats. Nothing too dramatic here. We know when something is good for us and when something is bad. It just so happens I need to make more of the food these days because the cafe at work has remained closed since this whole pandemic kicked off. On the bright side though Whole Foods delivers in two hours to the house, so it isn’t too much effort to get something wholesome in the belly. Maybe the trickier obstacle to tackle are the bourbon sippers at night. With not much in the way of external entertainment these days, I think everyone has been drinking a bit more. This has a ripple effect though. For starters is lowers the effectiveness of your rest. That means although you may be sleeping the same amount, it is not actually as beneficial. I have said it before, but good and adequate rest is the key to training hard and staying healthy. Alcohol also packs a lot of calories and tends to demotivate people. So reducing or eliminating happy hour actually goes a long way towards other goals.

Second, I have to be really strict and carve out time for training. Has to happen. Training for me has two benefits. It drains my bad energy and recharges the good. Sadly, the wife tells me I am similar to a dog and have to exercise. When I am getting short and the temper is starting to flare up, she will tell me to go run. (It is either that or I am hangry and need a sandwich). I will leave pissed off, but come back ready to tell anyone that will listen about the killer last mile I did, or where my heart rate was. (Nobody cares, but they listen to be nice) It is like a magic trick. So beyond just the physical benefits, I am also building mental benefits that are so important these days. It is too easy to fall into a slump because the year didn’t go the way we wanted. When those feelings start to pop up, I just drain the system with killer workouts. But consistent training is also the best road to success. Each workout builds on the previous one. In this case 1+1=3. It is really interesting how the cumulative effect is so much greater than the sum of the individual workouts. Also by committing to the workouts I build habits which are more likely to succeed long term.

Lastly, I need to keep ahead of injury. Lot’s of stretching, massages, and compression. Take rest days seriously and recover before getting after it again. Every day doesn’t need to be a PR. The easy days need to be easy so the hard days can be hard. The notion of active recovery is so important to me these days. Staying active, moving every day, but not hammering the same parts day in and out. Waking up and doing a morning yoga routine at sunrise followed up with some trouble spot focus has been a very inviting way to start the day. The oddest part to all of this is that even though as I write these things down, and more so when I actually do them, they are very enjoyable. In reality however, it seems to take real discipline on my part to execute. There in lies the challenge and the need for focus. Keeping these things front of mind, and working on them deliberately are keys to success. The gains are on a multitude of layers, and you absolutely come out better than you went in when you put in the time. Inevitably though we just break down sometimes. No matter how much we take care of ourselves, there will be bumps. Listen to your body. You know you the best, but don’t let it become an excuse. You need a rest day that is fine, but do it tomorrow. Don’t start letting excuses or exceptions creep into your day. Recognize the differences between a looming injury and missing motivation. Find the motivation. Fight through the voice in your head telling you it is ok to stay on the couch because you are tired. Separate the times when the chance of injury is real. Don’t push if it will set you back more than you will gain, but most of all be honest with yourself when you make that decision.

Body Maintenance

Getting older isn’t my favorite thing. I don’t notice it when I am in the moment, but when I sit back and think about it, the body seems to respond a little bit slower each year. Personally, just getting up after sitting for too long hurts sometimes. Yes, I grunt openly when I stand up in the office. Although my recovery time is still pretty good, the bounce back from injury is growing a bit more each time.

Things like this are to be expected, but we can slow the effects of some of these impairments, limit the occurrence, AND improve our performance with a few simple steps. These really do go hand in hand because unless we are doing the work in all areas training will suffer, and then too will fitness.

The areas I typically focus on are very basic. Warmup. Cooldown. Stretch. Strength. Rest.

Sounds simple, but I am guilty as the next person of neglecting the maintenance portions of my fitness routine. I rarely warmup outside of races, and cool downs, if they are not baked into the workout don’t happen much either. I stretch when need be, which doesn’t seem to be very often. Now, in my defense strength is covered, so maybe that is what saves me from serious injury. I also take care to stretch for really big efforts like a race or track workout. The point is I need to do better, especially as I age and continue to ask much from my body. If we neglect to care for something eventually it fails to work. Our bodies are no exception.

What does a warm up look like for me? During a recent track session, I did a VERY easy 10-12 minute mile. Just enough to move the legs and not much more. After that I hit the big muscles that tighten up on me during a hard effort: calves, quads, hamstrings. A few easy stretches to improve the muscle mobility. After that I move into the dynamic stretches. Primarily leg swings and lunges. It has always surprised me the difference between static and dynamic flexibility. Having done martial arts in the past, flicking a kick over my head is still possible, but touching my toes and holding it is very difficult. Another interesting detail of dynamic stretches is that from start to finish, it is very apparent that a wider range of motion is being gained. The difference between the first and 10th leg swing is dramatic, and one reason I stress people do even a few before the try to run fast. If there is a single thing to do before a race, this is it.

Cooldowns are equally as important. You want your body to slowly relax and not lock up muscles that were heavily taxed. Have you heard the phrase ‘rode hard and put away wet’? Yeah, if I don’t spend 5-10 minutes winding it down, the next day is one of those grunters in the office days. I typically do another 5-10 super easy minutes of jogging or spinning, and sometimes walking before I fully shut it down. Get the heart rate to a place where it actually belongs, and slowly ease back the throttle until you feel at rest.

Ah stretching. Let’s be honest, nobody like to stretch and most people don’t do it. Stretching is like flossing. Now, I have never been asked to join Cirque du Soleil, and for good reasons. In fact, I feel like most runners are notoriously tight. Seeing that I started down this path decades ago as a runner, it really isn’t any surprise that today I am not very flexible. I credit 10 years of martial arts in the gains I have made, but even that isn’t spectacular. The fact that most of us are so rigid means stretching is something we should all focus on. Full body static and dynamic work best for me, but some of my friends are firm believers in Yoga. Either way, whatever your choice, be sure to work in areas and movements that are lateral as well as linear. Forward and sideways legs swings, bringing the knee up and out, pulling the toes to the butt, angling the toes against a wall, these are the starting point you should do before each effort. Working in the back, shoulders, neck are also important when you are in the TT position or going to be swimming. Side lunges and some quick fiber movements like bounding or skipping also limber me up and help when there are big efforts coming. And yes, even for a marathon or slow effort you should stretch.

Strength is a funny topic among triathletes and most endurance sports in general. I often see the argument made that if you have an hour to strength train, you could better use that hour running, swimming, or biking. It is hard to argue that the more you perform a discipline the better the results will be. But as the title of this post says, you have to do the maintenance. If you don’t take care of yourself now, you will eventually no longer be able to do the things you can now. Strength training is very unique in this regard in that it not only prevents future injury and will keep you healthy longer, but it also has direct performance benefits. This isn’t to say that we need to go out and focus on bodybuilding expecting that other things won’t suffer. There has to be a balance. We need to focus on the core and the muscle groups that are prone to overuse and injury. Lot’s of body weight exercises. Pull ups, push ups, planks, walking lunges, side lunges. Use Bosu balls to enhance the stabilizer muscles. Ask yourselves this, what am I weak at? Pushups? Do those. Pull ups? You got it. After you build those up to a good level, move to the next weakness and keep growing.

Last up but maybe the most important is rest. Without rest we fall apart. Sometimes quickly, sometimes over a longer period, but it always comes. The more the training ramps up, the harder we push the more important the rest is. I try to sleep 6-7 hours a night. For me, the closer to 6 I get the worse off my training is. At 7 hours I am normally fully recharged and ready to hit the day hard. But even at 7 hours, when other factors such as stress being to kick in, maybe from kids or work, I may need to go longer and shoot for 8 hours. The key here is to listen to your body, and not be too specific with a number. Even if you feel good with one amount of sleep, don’t expect that won’t ever change. Adaptability will go a long way here. Rest DAYS are also key. You can’t push too hard every day. You can only go to the well so many times before it runs dry. Most weeks I do workout 6-7 days, but the workouts vary, and some are really just active recovery. An easy hour jog doesn’t always have to be a taxing workout. Just enjoy the time away, the reflection opportunity, and the fact that you can run an hour for fun. Keeping it easy on the easy days is very important. It is good to know you can go harder, but enjoy feeling lazy every now and then too.

Sometimes you eat the bear…

..and sometimes the bear eats you. As they say, it can’t always go your way and the last week has been a bit slow on the workout front. It started on Thanksgiving morning with the annual 5k Turkey Trot. Well, I ran the course. Alone. In the rain. I was determined though to use some of my new speed and set a solo record and keep tradition alive. It started off well enough, clocking my fastest opening mile on the course, and trying to settle in to a good rhythm. This was good news, and it gave me hope that the mile training was actually going to be good for something besides well, a mile time trial.

On the local course, mile 1 is the gift, and miles 2 and 3 are the payment. At about 1.5 you begin to ascend and are pretty steadily climbing until the last few hundred meters. In fact the last climb is up a road aptly named ‘Gallows Hill’. I have since renamed this Nemesis, but more on that later.

Knowing full well what was in store, I focused on staying relaxed and keeping my tangents as clean as possible. For those who are not familiar, I wrote an earlier post on running the tangents which essentially means to keep to the shortest points of a turn. Otherwise you run further than you need to, and on a windy and hilly course like this, every step counts.

As I turned on to the final climb, I was starting to pay the price for my opening mile. I have not been running too many hills lately, and that was also starting to show. Fast and flat is not always good for slow and uphill. The pain wasn’t unexpected though as this seems to be every 5k ever, so you slog on. Which I did, but with the apex of the hill in sight, my calf decided I was an idiot. Who does this? Alone, in the cold rain, on Thanksgiving? So it quit. It wasn’t so much a dull pain, but more of an immediate sharp knot. Obviously with the end so close I wasn’t going to stop, although I almost walked (almost). Instead, I limped through it and finished with my second fastest time on the course, and fastest in 3 years.

The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent cooking and laying down in the Normatec boots for recovery. I also wore compression socks for the day and used the roller on my leg. The damage was already done, but I think this helped the recovery a lot. With that said though, I elected to take Friday and Saturday off from intensity. Instead we went on a family hike and I did some lingering yardwork.

Sunday was another track workout and the leg felt to be at 90% so I dug in. After a number of intervals based on time and feel, I had a 5 minute tempo to finish things off. This was going pretty well, and I was comfortably running about 5:40 pace when all of a sudden the calf quit again. WTF. This was a quick return and I shut it down immediately. It was definitely disappointing, but I still managed all but 3 minutes of the workout, so the quality was there.

Since then I have spent the last 5 days skipping the runs and bikes and focusing on the recovery like rolling, Normatecs, and stretching. I did do some strength work making sure to avoid aggravating the calf during that. Things are almost back to normal, and I am going to test the waters today with an easier run with the dog. If that goes well, we will see what the weekend brings.

In an attempt to determine what caused the initial strain, I think it is from two things. First of course, the hilly course by default puts a lot of strain on the calves. When you are running up a hill aggressively, you are often on your toes. On your toes and short steps. This strains the calf. The other contributing factor I believe to be the Nike Vaporfly shoes. These have a very springy forefoot and I think tend to work the stabilizers and calf muscles a bit more than other shoes do. There is more movement from impact to push-off it seems. So between those two things and the idea that I was pushing hard, things broke down.

Is there any way to prevent it going forward? Yes, more road work. Soon I will be back to a normal Ironman schedule, and that will mean lots of long loops in the woods and on the road. Less high impact speed work, and a lower chance of injury from that. This has set me back a week, but sometimes the break and the rest is good, even if we don’t think we need it. First it rebuilds the desire to train hard. We always want what we can’t have. Second it let’s the body heal from being pushed to its limits. This sounds funny since it is born of injury, but in my experience, one injury means another is just around the corner. So taking care of yourself before complete breakdown occurs is important.

So that’s it. Hopefully everything is back operational for this weekend, and the sub 5 project can continue. If it takes longer so be it. Good. More time to work on stretching and strength, and be even more ready for the next round!

Make the Time

There are alot if people who will tell you they don’t have the time to workout. They are too busy to invest in themselves or their own happiness. These are the same people who will sit down in front of the TV for hours at a time day after day, idle and zoned out. The same people who bury their faces in the phone absorbed in a virtual life.

Don’t get me wrong, I spend most of the day online, and a Netflix binge is as good for me as the next fella, but I have no illusions that there is not enough time for me to train. The reality is that training is hard, or at least people think it is hard, and watching TV is easy. The reward for doing nothing is now. The reward for working out is later.

I won’t try to be the motivational speaker here. I have spent far too long attempting to convince my friends to go for a ride or run with me. That is why I have two groups of friends, the fit group and the work-a-holic group. My suspicion is that this is pretty normal, and most people can relate to this. I personally fall somewhere in between both groups. Enough that each one is impressed with my results in the other. Such as my worker friends are amazed I am still out there doing Ironman races, while my triathlon friends don’t know how I find the time with kids and running a business. Which brings me to my point, you find the time by making it a priority to find the time.

Recently I have started an experiment for myself. Nothing cutting edge or revolutionary, but I decided to write down and structure out my day. Here is a taste of what it looks like:

  • 5:30 Wake up
  • 6:00 Stretching, rollers, light weight body exercise, meditation
  • 6:15 Read or write something useful
  • 6:30 Shower
  • 7:00 Check email and breakfast
  • 7:45 Watch the news
  • 8:15 Start working
  • 5:00 Stop working
  • 6:00 Dinner and family time
  • 7:30 Workout
  • 9:00 Have some tea
  • 9:45 Read
  • 10:30 Lights out

This is not perfect, and I will of course make exceptions and allowances along the way. However, it gives me a chance to see that there is time to fit in everything that is important to me. Learning, spending time with my family, training, and running a good business. It does not leave alot of idle time in there to veg out, and that is on purpose. Fitting in 2-3 hours of bumping around the channels will cost me somewhere else. Maybe it is sleep, maybe it is a work deadline, but if this is a full day for me, something has to be traded. If we are honest and ask ourselves which is more important, watching a show we are not even paying attention to, snooping on social media, or getting in a killer brick session, the answer tells us all we need to know.

So there you have it. There is time to train. There is time to work. There is time to spend with your family. We just have to pay attention to our day, focus on the important things, and really give each one our mind share while we can. When that happens there are few things we can’t accomplish despite a busy and often stressful schedule. Remember, training and racing is a reward and blessing. Think of it as the dessert of the day. Something to look forward to, and a time when you really get to focus on you. Don’t neglect the other parts of your day though, and attack them with the same determination you have with a session.

Be the best version of yourself on all levels, and really work on ending each day better than when you started it.