Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GOOAAAALLLLLLLs......can make all the difference!

Runners are, generally speaking, a pretty successful group of individuals. Yes, admittedly there may be a slight bias to that statement, but I stand by it. Setting goals is an important part of getting anything done. This applies to most things but i'll try and keep it running related. Goals really help when training for a specific distance or time; without them, our workouts lack structure and focus. Goals provide motivation and direction. They help us get up early and get out the door or to log a run after a long day at work (something I am not motivated to do). Most importantly, setting and working towards goals is fun! Achieving one's goal is also fun but it's the process that matters. It adds another level to your workout instead of just floating, aimlessly, through life and mindlessly logging miles without direction. It seems like a safe assumption that most runners are goal setters in some regard, however, I think many of us could use a little more focus and direction with our goals.

A goal ought to be both specific and measurable; an ambiguous goal will not allow you to plan the specific actions needed to meet the goal. E.g. Bad goal: I want to run faster. Good goal: I want to run a 4:00 marathon!
There is a goal setting sweet spot that runners should consider: Goals ought to be hard enough to attain that they encourage one's top performance but not so hard that they're inconceivable. For me, It would be not be a good goal to want to break 2:00 in the marathon; training, body type, orthopedic threshold, and the time commitment needed, make it an inconceivable goal. Oh, and the fact that it has never been done (yet) is a small limiting factor for this recreational runner!

Once a goal is set, the next step is appropriate implementation intentions, that is, how, exactly, are we going to achieve the goal? This is an important aspect of goal setting theory and separates those who reach their potential from those who do not. E.g. It would be silly of me to make a goal to run a hundred mile race and then only focus on 5Ks leading up to it. It is probable I would not meet my potential in the 100m distance (This is where having a coach can be beneficial!). Make challenging and achievable goals; your performance will improve and you will move towards it. Motivation can be maintained, when your goal is far in the future, by making mini-goals that keep you on the right track. An example could be running a 1:50 half marathon before your primary race where you go for a 4:00 marathon.

The Reality of Goals

We all know how important it is to make good goals and how effective they can be. I always find it funny how, during a tough interval sesh or race, I will catch myself negotiating with my goals. That's why I like to set various goals to account for different race day variables. I use the "A", "B," and "C" goal format where the "A" goal is the primary goal if everything is perfect. My "B" goal is still a good goal and I'd be happy with it but I have fallen back on it because some element was not perfect. The "C" goal is the catch all. A lot of people put "finishing" in this spot but I still prefer, and recommend, having a quantitative goal. "Finishing" allows too much leeway in effort and can lead to slacking off the pace more than you otherwise might if you still have a time you can work towards.

Goals are your friend. They push and motivate you to be your best possible self. With them, you can become the best runner you can be. Without them, you're doomed to run aimlessly without the satisfaction of working for and achieving something. They are not totally rigid; they're flexible and can be reasoned with when absolutely necessary. Try it today! If you haven't set a goal for this summer's race season, do it. You'll be amazed at how your motivation increases and you have purpose and direction in your sport.

What are your goals for your upcoming races? Remember, letting others know your goals holds you accountable to work towards them.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leaving the GPS

There have been several articles in various running publications about runners' reliance on their GPS (Click here for one published by I will usually read them, contemplate them for a very short time, and move on. Why do I move on so quickly? I am one of those data obsessed runners. I can't wait to get back from my run and look at my stats: pace fluctuations, splits, and, when I'm wearing a monitor, my heart rate. It's a huge part of the fun. Furthermore, I get a kick out of seeing where I ran; that little map with the red line showing my course brings a little more brightness to my already amazing day! I'm really showing my simplistic tendencies! The thought of not tracking my run seems like it's wasted. That's horrible to admit and seemingly goes against my statement, in a previous post, that I'm intrinsically motivated to run. However, my Garmin/running relationship is what icing is to cake. Well, that's not entirely true; I prefer icing to cake so, to be truthful, that statement ought to be: my running/Garmin relationship is what icing is to cake; I'll always eat the icing but a little cake can improve it and add to it! Just to drive this analogy into the ground, I will eat icing without cake but I will not eat cake without icing! Done!

Anyway, what was this post supposed to be about? Ahh yes, going without a GPS for a change. Today was that day for me (Gasp). Well, sort of.

I ran a 10k this morning and although I wore my Garmin, I pledged not to look at it throughout the race (I still wanted the stats and the map!). I would not use it to set my pace.

Let me interject a short story: I arrived at the race site at around 6:10 for a planned 7am start. I went for a warm up, did a few strides and got back to the start area around 6:50am. The crowd seemed pretty thin. Where was everyone? I asked another runner and was met with incredulity as he told me the race didn't start until 8am. I was then told that it would be unsafe for runners to run in the dark! I guess I'm just a rookie who (obviously) can't follow directions (race start time) or understand basic safety procedures. I wanted to rattle off the many races I've run that began before sunrise and the plethora of races that last through the night, but I resisted. To fill the extra time, I went for another warm up run. I ended up running 6.29 miles before the race.

Ok, back to not using my Garmin. My plan was to run as hard as I could for the whole distance (I guess that's what racing is all about) without using my watch to keep pace. I had set a goal to go under 40:00 for the 10k which equates to a 6:26 per mile pace. I haven't run a 10k in years and had no idea how I would do. 40:00 seemed like a nice round number. The race started and a few guys took an early lead. After about 1/2 mile I could feel my heart beating and I wondered if I was going too fast. Nah, just hang on! The miles clicked by and I started to feel I was slowing down a lot. I knew I was not maintaining the same pace as in the beginning but I wasn't getting passed so I figured I wasn't completely doomed. The vibrating on my left wrist, a Siren's song begging me to look, came without fail every mile. I didn't submit to it!
As the finish line approached I saw, with amazement, 38 minutes was on the clock. I had run faster than I'd planned because I didn't use my Garmin to set the pace. Would I have been slower had I looked at my watch? We'll never know, but it was surprisingly refreshing, and freeing, not to glance at my wrist every mile (at least).
A bonus is that I was able to look at my data after the race. According to the Garmin, I ran 6.27 miles in 38:34. That's a 5 second PR!

Check out the pace and map. Aren't they fun to look at!

2014 Space Coast Marathon

This photo below was taken the day before the marathon. We had just finished a short "shake out" run and were practicing our pose to cross the finish line.

This race was a big deal in a lot of ways: this was my first marathon after a summer of recovery and healing; I had sustained a stress fracture in my hip at the Boston marathon last April; and, because of the injury, I had spent the summer cross-training (including a lot of boring hours running in the pool). For those who have been through it, you’ll be able to empathize. The healing process is long and frustrating and it is frustrating not being able to do what we love. During my recovery I was often without any pain or discomfort, giving me a false sense of health, which led to running again too soon and then aggravating the original injury. Ugh! I have done this before and it is a vicious circle perpetuated by a mixture of passion for your sport, weakness of the mind, and irrational though processes! The right motivation, however, can work wonders. In August, my wife and my daughter asked me to refrain from running until November. They knew I needed at least eight weeks without any running to heal and have a chance to run my next scheduled marathon: Space Coast. This would be My daughter's first marathon and we were planning on running it together, which is why this race was such a big deal to us! She had diligently followed a training plan and put in all the hours of training. She had followed in the footsteps of her mother (a 3:00 marathoner herself) and me. This race experience potentially had all the elements of a fantastic day and it did not disappoint.

We stayed in a hotel about 8 miles from the start line. We drove our route to the start line the day before and decided where we would park. We are planners! On race morning we got up super early so we could eat, drink our coffee, and get to the start line early enough to mill around with the other runners. There is always a great atmosphere before the start of a race and I was enjoying it immensely. I was watching my daughter and imagining how she was feeling, finally facing the start of her first marathon. My wife was race-walking the half marathon which started 30 minutes before the marathon. My daughter and I were well trained and well tapered, so when the starting gun went off we settled into a pace that felt easy, so I was not worried that we were going too fast. Our initial pace was faster than we had planned, but only by about 10 seconds per mile. After about 8 miles we slowed down to an 8:00 pace. Our ‘A’ goal was a 3:30 finish. Was it an aggressive plan? Yes, but that’s what ‘A’ goals are about! Our ‘B’ goal was a 3:45 finish and, as is appropriate for one’s first marathon, simply making it to the finish line, in whatever time and condition, was the ‘C’ goal.

Things were going well until around 16-17 miles in, when all of a sudden, the race was on (at least the hard part was). The mile markers were a little off from what our Garmins were showing, indicating we would be running a little further than 26.2 miles. This was having a psychological impact as, when running at race pace, the thought of going even one step further than necessary is a daunting prospect. As the cliché goes, the 20 mile mark is the halfway point in the marathon. The final 10K was a slog! We were digging so deep that we could feel the heat from the Earth’s core! About a half mile from the finish line, my Harmony’s screams could be heard. She had race-walked the half marathon, finishing in 2:34:55, and was there to cheer us in. Her encouragement, along with being so close to the finish line, helped us  increase our pace (slightly) and we realized were actually going to do it! Of course, there was never any doubt, but we were excited it was finally happening! The training had paid off! We crossed the finish line in 3:42:03, with our arms held high and holding hands, as all champions do!

This photo was taken shortly before the finish. You can see my right arm, holding M's hand; we were about to raise our arms in victory!

It was a hard race; marathons often are (especially the first one)! I am one proud Dad! Lessons were learned, especially in the areas of nutrition and pacing. There is something to be learned from every race! Races have many variables, some of which can be controlled, but it is far from an experimental design! As runners we ought to train hard, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best!

After the post-race festivities, my wife and daughter went back to our hotel to shower. I celebrated the race by running back to the hotel. I had to give them time to shower, right? Also, because I ran without any pain, I had my eye on a 50 miler. To be honest, I had my eye on the 50 miler before the Space Coast Marathon, but now it was really a possibility.

Many thanks and much love to my two favorite people for giving me the motivation to rest my body to let it heal and for the best race experience ever!

2015 Everglades Ultra: 50 miles

Saturday February 21st. It was 3:30am and the alarm had just gone off. The day before I had gone to bed at 3am after finishing work. Needless to say, I was pretty tired. I had registered for the Everglades Ultra (50m) fairly recently and all the hotels close to the race site were full. I was staying in Naples: 45 minutes away. It was wonderfully cold (46) at the start and that only made my excitement more intense. The heat would not be an issue, at least for a few hours. Milling around the start line I heard a guy talking about how he was going to win and set a new course record. I found that confidence intimidating! I wanted to win and set a new course record! My desire, however, was based on nothing! No experience at the distance, no experience with eating while I ran, no experience with the extreme fatigue that awaited me.

The race started on time. It was dark and this was also my first time running with a headlamp (something I was irrationally exited about)! I took off near the front of the pack. There were a few guys ahead of me and the lead guy was WAY ahead (he finished 1:21:02 in front of me). I ran with one guy for a few miles but I stopped at the first aid station and he continued. Of the 50 miles I covered, I'd say I covered 46 alone.

I was in 7th place for the first half of the race. The terrain was flat and reasonably dry with wood plank bridges crossing the wet spots. There were a lot of Cypress knees (roots that grow up out of the ground). They were a major trip hazard! Another terrain trip hazard was the exposed limestone. The potential to break an ankle or hurt yourself falling seemed pretty high. I went down hard twice in the first half but, amazingly, was fine. Only a few small scrapes!

The aid stations were amazing. I ate a banana and PB & J at most of them and refilled my bottle. Oh yeah, this was also my first race carrying a water bottle! I ate a lot during the race and even started to feel a little full. The good news is that I didn't bonk. I had no energy issues.

Around mile 26 or so I passed another runner and then another one soon after that. That was a confidence booster! At about mile 35 I passed another runner which put me in 4th place. I held 4th place to the finish! By the time I passed those three runners it was getting pretty warm (it was 77 at the finish) and crossing the prairies with no shade was pretty intense. Although the aid stations were pretty close, I found myself running low on water a few times during the hot stretches. Two of the guys I passed were from much colder climates so I'm sure the heat was affecting them a lot. The third guy had run a 110 mile race the weekend before so I really couldn't give myself too much credit for passing him! LOL. Mile 30 is where the race started for me; I started getting tired although, surprisingly, I was happy to "only" have 20 miles to go! How often does one think that?! If the race started at mile 30, mile 40 was the beginning of the end. Wooo, those last 10 miles were the hardest I've ever run. There were a lot of walk breaks! I would tell myself to run until my Garmin gave me my mile split and then I could walk for a minute or two. I fell two more times between miles 40-42. I was having trouble just picking up my feet! The last 8 miles were on a dusty road. I had thoughts of picking up the pace and flying into the finish, passing loads of people as I did. Sadly, and probably expectedly, that did not happen. I continued my slow shuffle towards the finish, trying desperately to maintain a quick turnover. All of a sudden the finish was upon me. there was no sprint over the line. I was cashed! What an experience! Although my quads were screaming and I felt that if I sat down I may never get up again, I was elated!

I didn't feel hungry but I knew I needed to keep eating. Funnily, the more I ate, the hungrier I became! Luckily, the finish line grill was fired up and they had veggie burgers and tons of other runner junk food!

The worst part of the day was getting out of the car after my 3 hour drive home. Not a pretty sight!

The whole race was a great experience. I am one happy plant fed ultra runner!

2015 DWD Green Swamp: 50K

I first have to say that I had a great day and a lot of fun! There were times during the race I wasn't happy, but that can happen in these long races. Now, it's over, I can safely say it was a blast!

A little history: Dances with Dirt holds 6 races, run consecutively, at the Green Swamp each year (50m,50k, marathon, relay, half marathon and 10k). Last year I ran the marathon. I went off course and ended up running 34 miles.

This year I entered the 50K. I had run the Everglades 50 miler two weeks ago so I knew I wasn't running this one hard and was looking forward to a couple hours running in the woods! The 50K is made up of a 6 mile loop, a 20 mile loop, and a 5 mile loop. I started the race way too fast (as usual) because it was cold (54°) and a couple guys flew out front at a fast pace. GI issues about three miles in caused me to take a brief break, but when I started again I began running with Traci Falbo, who holds the 48 hour indoor record (242.093 miles), and some, unknown, guy. Somehow, we took a wrong turn and the 6 mile loop became a 9 mile loop. This was a psychological blow coming so early in the race but it was only 3 extra miles, right! The "unknown guy" ran in another direction; I didn't see him again.

This year in the Green Swamp was much wetter than last year. My feet didn't get wet until I had run 11 miles but they stayed soaked and muddy for the remainder. The trails were flooded in places. Sometimes you could find a way around the deep water but it was always muddy on the sides of the water holes. Other times, the best, and only, strategy was to run right through. I ran with Traci for about 14 miles before she slowly started to pull away. I couldn't hold on to her! After Traci left me in her dust (mud) I ran alone for the next 20 miles. I went through some mental tough times around mile 17, knowing I had only gone half way (I knew if I didn't go off course again I would be running 34 miles!). I saw a lot of people on the course but ran alone. It was a beautiful trail run that wasn't too technical but the water slowed me down! I'm happy I logged another 50K and this race bumped me up to the "silver" level in the Marathon Maniacs! Woohoo! Happiness is in the details! Although I finished 10th male (12th overall) I finished first in my age group which scored me a nice little duffel bag as a prize! Again, it's the little things that make me happy!

Oh, although this plant fed runner didn't (couldn't) indulge in the pizza post race, the PB&J sandwiches at the aid stations really hit the spot! I always bring my own food to races, just in case there isn't enough for me; I feasted in the car on the way home!

Damn! The traffic on the drive home was horrendous! But who wants to hear about that!Type your paragraph here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My motivation

Ahh, motivation, the ultimate (cognitive) performance-enhancing drug! With the right motivation we can, seemingly, achieve anything; without it, we’re toast! Getting out of bed can be a challenge without the motivation to do something: workout, go to work, have coffee, etc. First, what is motivation? Psychology Today describes motivation as the “desire to do things” and calls it the “crucial element in setting and attaining goals.” But there is, obviously, more to it than that. The impetus for this blog post was how I felt upon waking the past two mornings. In a word, blah. My motivation to exercise was pretty low; I woke up with tired legs and was not looking forward to my run like I usually do. Spoiler alert: I still went running!

There are two different types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. We have intrinsic motivation when we want to go running (or do anything) because of how it makes us feel. In other words, we like to run because running is fun. The driving force comes from within. On the flip side, extrinsic motivation is motivation due to an external factor, e.g. losing weight, running faster, getting a medal, etc.

So, what motivates me to run? My motivation is not a static entity. It's a fluid concept that I'm often trying to increase. I count myself one of the lucky people that has an intrinsic motivation to run. If you're like me, and have a lot of non-running friends, you probably hear often that they hate driving however far you ran that day. However, these same people will go out and struggle through a short run in order to lose weight, meet employment fitness requirements, or any other number of extrinsic motivational factors. I'm certainly not saying there is anything wrong with external motivation, it's just being intrinsically motivated will lead to more consistency and a happier experience.

Even when I have low motivation, the motivation to run is primarily intrinsic so it's easier to tap into than if I were motivated by external stimuli alone. Don't get me wrong, I am still extrinsically motivated; I like getting medals and enjoy running races like the Boston marathon that have a certain image and reputation attached to them. However, I would still run if I didn't have these motivators.
An example of an activity I am extrinsic motivated to do is weights/resistance work. I do not enjoy doing it in and of itself, but I am motivated to do it because I know I ought to; it is healthy and, more importantly, makes me a better runner.

You may be asking yourself how you can become motivated to run. First, just start. Trust that your motivation will grow once you take the first step. Never make a decision about your run in the first mile. The good news is that intrinsic motivation can grow over time. You may start out trying to lose weight or just finish a race to cross it off your list, but running does get easier, at least the mental side does! Like any habit, the more you do, the more ingrained it becomes. Be in the moment. Focus on the run itself. Focus on your surroundings, and your movement. Think of how many people wish they could be doing what you are doing! Appreciate the simplicity of the act! If all of that fails, do a "fast forward." That is, think of how you will feel after your run. You would have accomplished something to better yourself. You will be less stressed and able to tackle whatever comes your way!
Motivation can be a fickle friend; it can vary depending on how close I am to a race, training load/weekly mileage, sleep/work schedule, and weather. It's funny that, because I live in Florida, I am spoiled by plenty of sunshine; I find my motivation plummets on a cloudy/rainy day. I know that letting the weather affect one's motivation to run/workout is not really an option for people who live in cloudier areas of the world. I think of them when motivation is lacking for a silly reason, like the weather, and just do it. Both types of motivation are important and are intertwined in many ways but if you had to choose one, wouldn't you choose intrinsic?

Check out for my upcoming races (another way I manufacture motivation!)