After my 500 mile adventure last August / September, I really went into a funk. I had spent 18 months training for the challenge of running from San Francisco to Anaheim, and the journey was incredibly special. Friends and family kept motivating me forward as I prepared for covering more than a marathon a day for 18 day – and that encouragement helped me stay focused when I would have normally slacked off. When the journey began on August 18th 2015, I felt ready athletically – but I almost lacked the the mental ability to exit the car and start running from the Walt Disney Family Museum that morning. All of that training…and I almost was unable to get myself out there and begin the actual long distance run. As the days rolled on and we got into a rhythm, getting out there and logging the miles became easier. Then, as the end of event drew closer, excitement built within me – I may actually be able to pull this off. When I finished in the concourse of Disneyland, the first feeling that washed over me was “Wow. It’s over. I made it. I survived”. The Disneyland Half Marathon felt fantastic that year – like a real victory lap shared with friends. What I didn’t realize was just how much that effort took out of me. I found that out in the months that followed.
Normally, as I prepare for one marathon, I make sure to have another one lined up after it in order to maintain my motivation for training. last year was no exception – I was scheduled to run the TCS New York City Marathon on the first Sunday of November. What I didn’t realize was that I was so emotionally drained that I completely overlooked it. I really mailed that race in – it was the first time since I began running the five boroughs in 2005 that I simply longed for it to be over. It is my favorite day of the year within the city, and all I wanted to do was move on. A sorry state of affairs.
In January, I went down to Walt Disney World to run the marathon with a bunch of friends. That was a fun time, but once more my heart wasn’t in to the race itself. The running funk had now lasted four months and I couldn’t shake it. I began looking for answers.
I realized that I pushed myself to another level last year, and I may have burned out a bit on running. So I set a new goal for myself…one that would be challenging and hopefully kick the tires & light the fires: Ironman.
I targeted the Ironman Vineman on July 30th as my entry into the event series, I purchased an on-line training program, and I set off to conquer 140.6 miles. Swim, bike, run became a daily credo. I’d hit the sack by 9:30pm, got up by 4am, and logged my run. Then I’d hit the gym, and swim a while – until it was time to transition to a spin class. I’d finish up the morning routine at 7:15am, rush home and get ready for work. Saturdays were my long run days. Sundays were BRICK days (days where I’d log a long bike ride and then hop off and run a bit). (FYI – some say that BRICK really means Bike Run…ICK!). The routine felt good after a while, and it’s one that I currently maintain to the best of my ability. However, without someone to hold me accountable – a decent triathlon coach – I failed to see strong improvement in my times for any of the three disciplines. July crept closer – and I was not ready. So I backed out of the race…and the tires deflated again. I needed to attack this issue from another angle…and the new assault on improvement had to happen quick, as my fall race schedule was bearing down on me.
I began to analyze my daily routine and then…it just hit me. I need to channel my inner Mad Scientist. I need to treat my training as my ongoing experiment. So the first thing I needed to do was come up with short-term and long term-goals that I wanted to achieve (because you cannot perform experiments without first knowing what you want to create), then analyze my my training schedule to enhance the process in order to get where I want to go.
First – the goals. Well that’s easy: I want to be faster, and I want to be able to run longer without tiring. I also want to drop weight (a dream of mine for YEARS), and get stronger overall. Those are the long-term goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day (I learned that from numerous rides within Spaceship Earth at Epcot). So what about short-term goals? That was pretty easy too: Finish the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon in five hours, then enjoy a gallop through the streets of New York City for 26.2 miles the following Sunday. Two weeks after that, finish / survive the NYC 60k in Central Park, and then continue to train for the Goofy Challenge in January 2017. From there, I’ll develop a race schedule that requires more longer-distance efforts, throwing in my first half marathon with my daughter in April. A tough 2017 race schedule should then prepare me for Ironman Vineman in late July. After Vineman….2018 has something special in store that I’ve dubbed the Florida Running Project (more on that much later).
Once I laid out my short-term and long-term plans, I realized that one thing was missing: specificity. A good scientist needs to have sound attention to detail, as proper measurements are key to improving something. So I needed to attach actual time goals for each race, in order to focus my training effectively. So I created an Excel spreadsheet, and within it I began to lay out my daily training routine. From there, I added one thing: time targets for each run, swim or bike session. There it was in black & white: specificity.
Now that I had the level of detail I believe that I needed, I needed to develop something to ensure that I focused on my targets daily. Why? Because my training begins at 4am and I’m usually a zombie at the beginning. So any time-specific goals could be written off at that hour in lieu of simply “checking the box”. I need to think of each day as an experiment, and the experiment would fail without proper focus. I came up with a two-step process to address this risk: I developed a routine where, right before I go to bed, I write down the following morning’s run goals on an index card. I review it, and then I crash for the night. That way, I wake up with those goals still fresh inside my noggin. Then I take the card with me during my workouts.
Another thing that a mad scientist needs in order to conduct experimentation is data. I decided to centralize all of my data collection from each training session within an on-line application called Training Peaks. I’ll go over the day’s data and try to analyze what was solid and what needs improvement. I think there are several factors that need to be tinkered with in order for the day’s experimentation to be successful:
- Did I stick to my training plan? If yes, awesome. If not, why not? Figure out the cause and fix it. Things I’ll need to consider:
- Did I get enough rest? If not, that can screw up the experiment.
- Did I not hydrate properly during the workout? If not, the experiment could easily fail.
- Any pain? If so, it needs to be addressed ASAP.
- Did I fuel properly? I have a tendency to NOT use gels, bars or any other type of fuel during long workouts (2 hours +). That’s not smart, and part of the experimentation will be the types of fuel I’m using at the crack of dawn.
- Did I stick to my diet plan? If yes, awesome. If not, why not? Address the issue and move on to tomorrow. let’s face it: without proper fuel, training will stink. Throw the wrong fuel in the tank, and training will suffer for it.
- Did I stretch? I hate stretching, but I am now learning that it’s a necessary evil. I cannot stand doing it, but it just needs to get done.
- Was I mentally in the zone? If my head isn’t in the game, the entire day’s experiment will crash. Some days I am fired up, and some days I dread getting up.
In addition to this sort-of high-level analysis, I’ll also evaluate my performance numerically, from heart-rate monitor data to threshold analysis in order to measure improvement. If I plateau at any point, I’ll be able to identify it…and then further experimentation will happen. I feel like Dr. Frankenstein.
Now all I need is one of those cool white lab coats…..