Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Importance of Training Camps

This has been a long winter! Athletes that live in places like Boulder, Arizona, and California likely cannot appreciate the challenges that winter can impose on their snow-bound competitors. Amber has worn through a pair of tires while on her trainer staring at a concrete wall in a poorly ventilated closet at the YMCA(or -MCA). Triathlon season comes so early that it's likely that Amber's first time out on her tri bike with be when she races Florida 70.3 in a few months. Tempo runs are nearly an impossibility due to the broken-hip causing black ice lurking around every corner. Open water swims? Not til late June. There are some obvious positive about where we live such as seasons, less skin cancer and the opportunity to race on snowshoes. But all in all New Hampshire is probably not an optimal triathlon training locale during the long winter months.

A way to combat the winter doldrums or to prepare for your A race is to participate in a training camp. Training camps usually range from 4-10 days and are designed to allow athletes to log high-quality training hours designed to optimize peak performance. With the camps usually comes seminars on race performance as well as nutritional consultations but just as important is what it does have: stress. At least not in the form of every day, cortisol-producing negative stress which can sap your energy as well as diminish fitness gains. You go to a fun destination and surround yourself with like-minded athletes and train. Period. When you're done training you recover from training so you can train again the next day. If you're working with a coach, this training camp should correspond with the appropriate part of your mesocycle that will allow for supercompensation. If this is all Greek to you, it may be best to consult a coaching professional. Amber talks about the importance of good coaching here.

In years past, Amber has made her own mini-training camps, staying local and just training on her own. She has always had that capacity to DO WORK.  This year however, she will be participating in two.

The first is June 12-15 in Louisville, KY and will be part of the Maverick Multisport Training Camp where she will be coaching and training with triathletes preparing for a mid-summer triathlon. Judging by the amount of sponsors and health care providers already committed to this camp, it should be amazing. You can register here.
After a quick trip to Mont Tremblant to race the 70.3, Amber will head back up there for a week for another training camp coached by Kurt Perham of PBM coaching. This camp will be part of her ramp up for the end of summer triathlon season especially as she gears up for Ironman distance races.

Now you can do a DIY training camp but here are a few things to keep in mind when setting out:
  • Optimize the time of year. You don't want to have to too close to your A race nor too far away where your fitness peaks too early and you're left either tired or burnt out come race day.
  • Turn off your Blackberry. One of the nice things about training camps are that you are there to train. You don't have work tasks, household chores or anything else that's going to prevent you from training or recovering from training. If you stay at home, try to cut out as many of these distractions as possible to ensure both optimal training and recovery.
  • Have a plan. One of the easiest ways to go astray with a DIY camp is not considering the reason behind the training. The camp is not there to beat you up but rather build you up. It might be worth having a professional build you a plan if you're not already being coached. PBM coaching and Amber both are accepting athletes.
  • Train with friends, not competitors. A nice element of training camps is that you are surrounded by like minded athletes all there to improve their fitness. The support and camaraderie is really important but trying to compete against them(and subsequently pushing yourself beyond your prescribed training parameters) is probably the quickest way to injure yourself.
It will be interesting to see how these camps affect her fitness development, because she's already made such great gains this off-season. Only time will tell. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2014 Winter Wild and New Bedford Half Marathon

This weekend was the first race double in which I've participated in for several years. It used to be normal for me to run 2-3 races in a weekend. In fact, my two best marathons came on the heels of race-day doubles the day before. These last couple years, however, I've really cut back on racing which both my car and my wallet appreciate. Anyway, back to this weekend. It was a race double but one of the races I was directing.
An amazing day to race

Saturday, I co-directed the Winter Wild Championships up at Bretton Woods. We stayed up the night before because we had an early morning in store as we had to mark the course after the groomers had been out. At 2:45am we awoke, donned our running gear, armed with green eco-friendly spray paint and snowshoes, and headed up the mountain. This course involves a fairly steep climb up the center of the mountain which quickly woke us up. By the time we had summited, there was enough light to see it was going to be a gorgeous day as we could see the full Presidential Range. We stopped just long enough to take it in and then headed down to get to registration in time to open up. Working with Bretton Woods was a breeze and they were so accommodating, allowing all racers to ski the rest of the day for only $25 and giving us a overnight stay at the Mount Washington Hotel as a raffle prize. In fact, everything turned out perfectly. We had a record number of participants, a great raffle from our sponsors, and perfect conditions both for the race and everyone who skied afterwards.
Yes. That is a mother towing her child UP the mountain!

 See all Winter Wild photos here.

The only downside of the day was that I had to make my way from Bretton Woods down to New Bedford, MA where I was running for the Gate City Striders the next morning. I made it to Concord somehow before stopping for a quick nap and continuing on. I arrived in time to meet my parents, my dad's cousin and my uncle out for dinner. I'd like to say I was able to rally and hang out for the evening but pretty much right after dinner I called it a night.

I awoke to my alarm 10 hours later feeling I could have slept another ten. I groggily made my way to the hotel lobby where I piled on the eggs and sausage, drowned down with copious amounts of coffee. After discouraging my parents from trying to catch me along the course(partially due to the size of the filed, and partially due to how far back I suspected I'd be in the pack), I said my goodbyes and planned to meet them after the race.

If you've never done New Bedford before, the key is parking and bathrooms. Or the seeming lack of either. It's not that they don't have a lot of both, they just don't seem like they have enough for the amount of participants that they have racing. After about 20 minutes of driving around, I did finally find a spot, in what is best described as a "not so nice" part of town. Suffice it to say, I didn't do the usual leave the key on the tire, instead opting to carry it with me. I also decided to keep my long-sleeve cotton t-shirt and fleece hat on because that wind was brisk. The delay in parking was such that by the time I registered, I didn't have enough time to stand in a 30 man deep line for one stall at the YMCA so headed to the race start hoping for a shorter line at the porta-potty. SIDE BAR: My mom called this. She said something about how I ALWAYS have GI issues in the run and why not eat a smarter breakfast. Unfortunately, eating at 8am seemed like it gave me plenty of time to digest before the 11am start. Hmmm. Maybe she was right. Please don't tell her. Anyway I didn't end up going because the lines near the start weren't any shorter and they were already playing the national anthem.

As you can see, I have sufficiently embedded excuses in the story. Recapping the race to Amber, she also blamed it on my lack of warm up which she vehemently encourages(and which I tell my athletes, but sometimes don't do myself). There is some merit to her argument as studies have shown that there is a period where your body goes from primarily an anaerobic fuel consumption to one that is aerobic in nature and as this shift occurs, there is an oxygen-deficit. This can be combated by adequately warming up, which has the additional benefit of prepping your muscles to fire on all cylinders. So yes, warming up is important. But I did not do so. And those first few miles I paid for it. Mile 1 was spent expending far too much energy trying to get into a group of athletes running my pace(standing in line resulted in me being seeded too far back at the start). Mile 2 was then spent sucking wind. Mile 3 was even worse running a 6:30 for a fairly fast mile. Mile 4 brings you to the only hill in the entire course(not really true but the only one with any substance). I gladly let my time be slow for that one too so I crossed the four mile mark in 25 minutes which was over two minutes slower than I was hoping.

A thing about racing: There is a huge difference between hoping and planning. With a good coach and steady training, you know that you've done the necessary workouts that will produce a relatively expected outcome. Hoping, on the other hand, is something I feel I've been doing more of lately: forgoing long runs for a few fast ones on the treadmill or lifting and playing basketball instead of running at all. One is better for producing good race results than the other. You can decide.

So anyway, mile 5 I FINALLY started feeling better and by 6, I was working up quite a sweat and was lucky enough to spot my parents on the course and I was able to toss my shirt to them.

Right after that I got to talking with another runner who hadn't ever done New Bedford and I warned him about the upcoming wind once we got to the seawall. I encouraged him to join me as I tried to bridge the gap with the next group ahead of us. He didn't join but I did, leapfrogging to this next group. That is certainly one of the benefits of running New Bedford: there are almost(for me at least) plenty of people ahead of you that you can motivate you to move faster. I did a few more leapfrogging and by eight found myself beside Dave Dunham. Now for me to be running beside DD means that either I'm dreaming or he's hurt and sure enough after the race I found out he was battling a stomach bug. I continued trudging along running the race pace that I had hoped I was going to maintain for the entire race.

At mile ten, I had brought my time down to 59:15 which was definitely a negative splint for the second five miles but still meant that I would not be running a PR today. It was around this time that I was privy to witness an interesting phenomena. I had just passed a runner who seemed to be pacing one of his female teammates and just ahead of me was another female tucked snugly behind some male runners. And slightly further up the course from these two groups, was a lonely Somerville Strider struggling heroically on her own.

Another side-bar: I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as a naturally empathetic person, but if I can imagine someone I love in that person's place, I sometimes find myself getting very defensive of that person. Such was the case here. I envisioned Amber in this situation working hard and on her own while other runners were getting assistance.
   A side-bar on the side-bar: I am pretty sure it is not illegal or against the rules to draft in running, so this whole scenario was totally contrived by me. In fact, it is probably the smart way to race, as you can certainly conserve energy. Regardless, I felt that the lone runner wasn't given a fair shot and I got riled up.

Back to the story. So it was with my vivid imagination of contrived wrongs done unto others, that I decided to help the lone runner out. I tucked right in front of her trying my best to block the wind for her as best I could. It was actually a really fun experience, because every time she wanted to go faster, I could see her shadow get closer to me and I'd spend up a little. The way she was running she probably didn't need me but I'm sure that it didn't hurt to have me pacing her. It definitely made things go by quicker for me...
The Lone Runner and Danny

We finished the race in side by side and I congratulated her on her perseverance, speed and podium finish. I didn't catch her name until I looked up the results and discovered that she was the 2011 Mountain Running Series champion. i.e. a stud. It then occurred to me that maybe she was pacing me.

The positive takeaways: It was encouraging to see that I could put together some solid miles in the middle of the course which hopefully indicates I can maintain a good pace at my upcoming marathons.

The negatives: I was really struggling with the minor hills on the course and my first scheduled marathon in two weeks, Knoxville, is supposedly relentless with hills. Nothing terribly long just overall consistently hilly. We will just have to see.

Up Next:
  1. Knoxville Marathon March 30th(Danny),
  2. Raleigh Marathon April 13th(Danny),
  3. Florida 70.3 April 13th(Amber),
  4. Boston Marathon April 21st(Danny),
  5. Pittsburgh Marathon May 4th(Danny).
As you can see it is going to get busy pretty quickly. Hope my legs can hold out. I'd like to think I can plan on it.

Photo credits belong to Gianina Lindsey, Scott Mason and Krissy Kozlosky, respectively. Thanks!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

26 miles of fun!

If you're not running Boston, you may not know this, but this past week was when the Bib numbers and corral/waves were released to all the competitors. For a few days thereafter, there was a deluge of numbers on social media. "I got bib number x and I'm starting in corral x/wave x". It really illustrated how numerically fixated the running community can be. And clearly it's not limited to just race times and finishing places. People were getting excited about bib numbers, which to me is pretty funny. BUT it did get me thinking about numbers, well one number in particular: 26.2.

26.2 miles, for those non-runners out there, has been the distance of the marathon since the 1908 Olympics when it was extended from the previous distance of 40 kilometers, slightly less than 25 miles, per the British royal family's desire to have it end at Windsor castle. The purview of the royals changed what most modern day runners view as the ultimate distance(and qualifying for Boston as the ultimate accomplishment). Not only are there now half marathons(which like the name implies is 13.1 miles), but also ultramarathons(anything longer than the 26.2). Even long-distance triathlons use the 26.2 miles for the Ironman race. 

But 26 is not just the miles you cover when you run a marathon. It is also twice the unlucky number 13. Does that mean it's twice as unlucky? Sometimes running one it feels like it. But there are times that everything goes just right and those extra 13 were what did it. So maybe two wrongs do make a right and the 26 is what we all need. 
Sometimes I feel like this: 

And Sometimes I feel like this:
Thanks Scott Mason for the photo
Also, did it occur to anyone that there are also 26 letters in the alphabet? Boy, there are some marathons that I think psychologically it would be a lot easier to cover mile markers V-Z than 21-26. I know that I would eventually correlate the last few miles negatively with those letters and probably stop using them in sentences. So no victories for me. Couldn't go to the zoo or have pizza anymore. The biggest downside would likely be the Y. Ooops, likeleee. And I would  have to go to the -MCA for a workout. 

And did you know that Amber's favorite place to eat in Florida, Java and Juice, is on the 26th parallel? 

Ever hear of a little man called Teddy Roosevelt? He once said: "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." Oh I digress. He was also the 26th president!

Notice how you get paid every other week? That equates to 26 pay days. The funny thing is saving is kind of like running a marathon. It's easy to save money when it's January and you've made some New Year's resolutions, but it becomes a lot harder once you get closer to Christmas where you're output may be more than your income. But like saving, if you persevere you will reap mighty benefits.

But that kind of diligence takes a strong mind and one that's fully developed. And scientists have found that males brains don't fully develop until around 25 or 26. Coincidence? I don't think so. 

And personally it wasn't until I was 26 years old that I first qualified for Boston. 

Oh and this year's Boston, I will be wearing 1947 which happens to also be the year my late-aunt Laura was born and I will be running for her. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

2014 US Snowshoe Championships(or Snowshoe Couples)

Amber, aka the Chipmunk, aka Lil Chip, and I just arrived home from the US Snowshoe Championships held at Prospect Mountain in Woodford, Vermont. Tim Van Orden put on an amazing race and it was definitely worth the trip to our twin state. Amber should be writing up a blog all about how her race went, and I will try not to spoil it too much here but she did win her second gold!

She raced first and I was lucky to know the course well enough to be able to run around the course a bit and catch some video of her. It was amazing to see how strong she was running out there on the course. I put together the clips together into a little movie which you can watch below:

The men's race was after hers and unlike her race where she led start to finish, I started in the mid-pack. I'd like to blame all the running around I did cheering her on as the reason I didn't perform well but even if I hadn't, I probably would have only moved up a couple places in the standings(i.e. it didn't matter and was worth it to see her throughout the course). I started to think about how well she and I would hold up as a snowshoeing couple compared to some of the other ones out there.

Although Amber obviously held her own from the females side of things, I was definitely holding her back from the men's. That plus the thought of me having to cross reference all the racers ahead of me to see whether they had a significant other also racing was enough impetus to get me moving. These thoughts did get me to run the last few kilometers a bit faster to finish 36th overall but not good enough to be the fastest couple of the weekend. I've compiled a list of the top five fastest couples at Snowshoe Nationals. The Gall Family put the New England running couples to shame beating out the next closest couple by over four minutes. In NE's defense, both Sarah and Scott made the Nationals team so at least we were beat out by solid competition.

        Female Racer                               Male Racer                 Couples Time: 

  1. Sarah Gall:  54:57                        Scott Gall: 42:37                    1:37:34
  2. Ashley Krause: 54:44                   Ross Krause: 47:13                1:41:57 
  3. Amber Ferreira 51:31                   Danny Ferreira: 50:58            1:42:29
  4. Kristina Folcik  53:51                   Ryan Welts: 49:37                 1:43:28
  5. Abbey Wood 55:01                     Sam Wood: 55:16                  1:50:17

Some caveats here: If Brian Rusiecki had raced with his wife Amy, Nate Jenkins with his wife Melissa Donais, or Abbey Mahoney with her husband Tim, I suspect the top five may have looked slightly different. 

Either way, a fun weekend and I am so proud of Amber's race performance. I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of those types of performances this year. 

Up Next:Amber heads to the Great White North to compete in a Winter Triathlon while I am sticking around to race the Granite State Snowshoe Championships. 

And if you haven't done so yet, make sure to follow Amber on Twitter at @ambertri and on Facebook at Amber Ferreira-Pro Triathlete for all the latest on her races as well as discount codes for her sponsors.