BAMF MAF

The MAF test.

Named for its founder, Phil Maffetone, this “test” allows you to measure your aerobic development over time.  The idea is to run the same course throughout your training to measure how your speed is progressing at the same heart aerobic heart rate (180-your age in bpm).

During the first week of my 8 week strict aerobic base I decided to use the track for my MAF test.  Basically, each week I ran for an hour on the track while trying to keep my heart rate at 144bpm (180-my age).  Here are the results for my 8 week base period.

maf-data

Paces still way off what I would have called my “easy” pace prior to starting this low heart rate training, but moving in the right direction. For keeping my heart rate low, I am pleased with this progress.  I basically gained a mile over the same time.  This is also without speed work, without physical stress and without injury.  It’s only the base of my training.  So, I’m feeling good and ready for the next stage of training.

This week started a 2 week intensity/race training block.  The hub of that is tomorrows Seneca Creek Trail 50k.  I’m basically using this as a catered training run for some longer races I have coming down the road.  It does, however, carry some meaning.  The only other 50k I’ve done I went off course, got lost and DQed.

Tune in tomorrow.  Will  our heroine successfully finish her 1st 50K even though she’s woefully under-trained?  Will she get lost in the woods and be found curled up under a tree in the fetal position?  Will she decide to spend the morning at a bar instead of going to the race and just show up at home later in the afternoon telling Ryan how tired I am from running all day?  Tune in to find out!

 

 

Going Slow: Initial thoughts

 

It’s been a few weeks since my last post announcing that I was offering myself as a human experiment for a strict low heart rate base.  I got a lot of feedback afterward and they followed the same three main categories.

The first was from people who said that following the guidelines of low heart rate training is how they trained for their first event.  Essentially, low heart rate training was their entry way into running.  These people, without exception, loved it.  It provided an easy, comfortable way to get their body used to the demands of running.

The second group that reached out to me were experienced athletes, people who’d been running for a while, who followed the requirements of a low heart rate training.  They, resoundingly, reported that they never saw any improvement or that they enjoyed it, but that I needed to be prepared to lower my race performance goals.  Neither of these sounds like success to me.

The largest group, though, are those athletes who said, “oh, yeah, I put in a few of those low heart rate workouts every week.”  That’s great, but that is different from what I’m trying to do.  This is 8-12 weeks of strict low heart rate work.  Low heart rate, as a rule of thumb, being defined as 180-your age.  So, in my case, 144bpm.  All the time.  No exceptions.

I will say, I am not encouraged by the anecdotal evidence I’ve collected on this method, but, I am committed.  Part of even writing this blog is to reinforce my commitment.

So, January is done.  I covered 119 miles and got beeped at by my watch for going over my heart rate threshold about 1 million times.  If you are running next to me, you might think I am carrying a bomb ready to go off by all the beeping.  It is *tough* to stay in that heart rate zone for me.  My heart rate is extremely high.  As an example, this is just a normal threshold pace track workout from August 2016.hr-for-threshold-track-workout

Heart rate max nearing 190.  The average, including warm up, cool down and rest intervals, nearing 160.  So, to keep my heart rate at 144 is, well, frustrating.  I end up doing, what I refer to, as expletive intervals.  Basically slogging along at a ridiculously slow pace, still having my HR beep go off and then unleashing a few expletives and walking until it lowers.

My first run of the year, on January 1, I had to average 11:42 pace for an average heart rate of 141.  That involved a lot of walking….and swearing.

The whole process has been pretty isolating, to be honest.  I can’t run with anyone.  It’s impossible to find people who want to run slow enough for me or, even if they are willing to, I let my heart rate drift higher than it should just because I feel bad.

It also sucks, and I do mean sucks, to get passed on the trail by people who appear to be just starting out in running.  It sounds obnoxious, I’m aware, but as they pass me I want to give them my race resume.  Then they can be, like, “cool story, bro!”

It’s not been all negative, though.  It’s absolutely amazing that at this level of effort, I really feel like I can run forever.  And when I get back from runs, I am still totally fresh and fine, like I haven’t workout out.  Which, is really quite convenient when your family still needs you to be more productive than just collapsing on the couch.  I’ve been able to ramp up my mileage significantly after over 2 months of zero running with no aches, pains or fatigue.

The greatest benefit, though, is that I’ve started to establish a love of running.  This is going to sound so terrible, but I’m not sure I’ve liked running for a really long time.  I’ve fallen in love with how running fast makes me feel.  I like the competitive nature of running, but love the actual act of it?  No.  It’s been a long time, if ever, that I’ve felt that.  I’ve never been one of those “runners high” people.  But, I’ve had so many true moments of joy when out running this month.  Being on the trails and going slowly enough to observe the rise of the sun or to listen to the calls of different birds, as one of my running buddies was pointing them out, has been truly beautiful.  I love meeting my friends for 5:45 a.m. track and watching the moon set or how the morning shadows make things appear a little differently with every lap.  I’ve been on that track a lot in the last several years.  I can’t tell you I’ve ever noticed the moon set before.

I’ve been present for my runs, not focused on hitting a certain pace, but truly present.  The walk breaks that caused me to curse earlier in the month have become moments of peace as my mindset has slowly changed over these 4.5 weeks.  There was a moment two weeks ago when i was in the woods, running 13:xx pace and I just had this moment of deep, profound happiness.  I was so thrilled for the opportunity to be where I was, doing what I was in that very moment. Right now, my running isn’t about the result.  It’s about just enjoying the process.  Which, is different from what I’ve felt in past training seasons.

I am unsure if the season’s race results will support the hope that time based results can still be achieved by slowing way down for this long.  I am hopeful, but unsure.  In the meantime, however, so far, I can tell you that mentally, it’s been such a nice departure from the norm.

Coming up later in the week, I’ll get into the data.  We’ll start to take a look at week over week pace changes……………

How Slow Can you Go?

2016 was not a great year emotionally for me in the sport of triathlon.  Physically, I felt totally fine.  I stayed injury free all year and was running and cycling at paces just as strong as I’ve ever been.  My mind, though, was over it.

I was in my first full year of being a busy stay at home mom to three young kids, dragging myself, exhausted onto the trainer or treadmill to sneak in intense workouts.  Difficult when all I wanted to do was sit…for a moment.  Be still.  I grew to resent my workouts.  I felt chronically emotionally and physically run down.

During the same time, I happened upon an article that a teammate posted after a former professional triathlete who collapsed and died during a normal swim workout.  Another teammate responded that a cardiologist she works with routinely warns her against the excesses of chronic, intense cardio.  I dug into it further and found many new articles and research coming out in support of this.

Research was telling me that my chronic endurance training and intervals were actually harming my physical body and, at the time, I also was feeling like my emotional self was struggling as a result of it as well.  I can tell you, this led to some soul searching.

A friend introduced me to the book, Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson.  In it, he outlines the dangers of chronic cardio.  Which, he defines as too many moderate to difficult intensity workouts.  Consequences of which being, among other things, burn out, reduced performance and inflammation and hardening of the arteries.

My mind and my body were telling me I needed to find another way.  Research and this book were confirming it and giving me even more information to consider.

Sisson promotes countering this culture of chronic cardio with refocusing your efforts and building an efficient aerobic machine.  What that mainly consists of is starting your season with a long base season of strictly aerobic work.  The main focus is to take a relaxed approach to training, throw away your fixed workout schedule, letting your body that day be your guide for what your workout is and, most importantly,  not allowing your heart rate to rise above 180 minus your age in beats per minute (bpm).  This base season is to last a minimum of 8 weeks, but really should last as long as necessary to start seeing aerobic improvement in your performance.  So, the goal is to see running paces, for example, become faster at the same (low) aerobic heart rate as the weeks go by.  Then, and only then, is your body ready to add speed work.

So, it’s with this new knowledge and focus that my goals for 2017 started to emerge.  It’s time for me to try something new.  Anyone who knows me will appreciate how difficult it is for me to slow down and stick to a low heart rate regiment during this base period.  It is counter to everything in my being.  However, I am committed to making myself a guinea pig for this new athletic endeavor.

On January 1 I ended a 2 month rest hiatus and began my 8 weeks of strict cardio, or 180-my age bpm.  I’ve fielded a lot of questions since then from teammates and friends who’ve seen me out “running” ridiculously slow miles or who’ve asked me what my 2017 race calendar is.  I want to use this blog as a way to track my progress with this new slow adventure.  I am offering myself to you as a human experiment.  Slowing down for this length of time seems so counter-intuitive to the way most of us have trained.  I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t doubt it.  The way I see it, though, is that I have nothing to lose.  If my results are poor, what have I lost?  Really, nothing.  One season.  But, if I am successful, I have gained a huge amount.  A healthier cardiovascular system and a more balanced approach to training.

I want to be clear.  I am not a doctor.  I am not a nutrition expert.  Hell, I haven’t even finished the book.  The point is that I want to take you on my journey so you can use my experience to make informed decisions for yourself.  I will post here with regular updates on how training is progressing as well as the real scoop on how performance is impacted.

I am going to start tracking progress on Instagram and twitter at ThislifeIrun.  You can also find me on strava if you’d like to see my daily data.

I encourage questions!  You can either post them as comments on this blog or message me on facebook.  I am a complete open book on this.  I will give you the good, the bad and the ugly.

If you are looking for more information I would encourage you to check out the following resources:

 

Happy Training!

Alignment

It was just another Monday.  Three hours to get 5 people out the door.  Three hours of snapping at Koa for being a kid and taking her time to do kid things.  Three hours of not getting to spend any quality time with my babies.  Three hours of, at times, literally, running around the house from one task to the next….of babies crying…of the dog whining…of telling Koa, “No, I don’t have time to read that book to you now.  We’re late, hurry up and get dressed.”  Three hours of not talking to my husband beyond barking instructions to him.

Three hours of running, intense effort and frustration and we were still driving to work and school late.

The evening is the same, only in reverse.  Three hours from the time I race to school to pick up the kids to get them home, dinner made, rushed to bath, quick kiss, goodnight.  After fighting the bedtime battle, Ryan and I have just enough time to race downstairs, clean up the mess that results from feeding three kids under three their dinner and crash into bed.

Just another day.

There was nothing particularly bad about this day.  It is just our life.

Except on this particular Monday, about a month ago, Ryan and I dropped the kids off at school and got back in the car.  I was already disgruntled, drained and annoyed with the day and I just blurted out, “what if I just stayed at home with the kids?”  Ryan’s response indicated that he’d been pondering the same thing.

What followed was a downpour of emotions, brainstorming, envisioning and scenario-running that made us realize that we were not living our ideal lives.  I was not being the Mom I wanted to be or the wife I wanted to be or the person I wanted to be.  My actions were not in alignment with my values.

In the space of just a few hours, Ryan and I decided that it would be the best thing for me to stay home with the kids for a few years.

“I could never be a stay at home mom.”  I swear I have said that 100 times in the last few years.  I, mostly subconsciously, associated that with somehow compromising my own worth.  The most interesting thing happened, though, after deciding to make this huge transition.  I have felt more empowered than I have felt in these last several months of trying to make everything work.  I feel stronger than I have felt in a while.  I believe it’s because this decision makes me authentic to who I want to be.  True, I want to have a successful career.  That used to be all that I wanted.  But,that’s not the case anymore.  For me, for now, all I want to do is be a stay at home mom to these three babies.  I want to have more time to spend with Ryan aside from just being teammates focused on simply surviving the day.  I want to live a more present, less reactive, more purposeful life.

I am so grateful that I have fostered and grown our business for the last 13 years and allowed me to make this decision.  I recognize that I am fortunate to have this opportunity.  I can still see a small handful of clients throughout the year, keep my licenses active and my mind sharp.  I can still have a voice in the strategic vision and development of our company, but in a more consultative way.  I can take these next few years and still be present in the direction of our company, but not be a part of day to day operations.  We have a great team in place and I am supremely confident with their ability to run a first class financial services practice.  I am so happy that I stuck it out in the early, difficult stages of building this business to allow me this flexibility.

So, this week is my last week in the office.  It’s the kids last week of daycare.  It’s the beginning of my next big exciting journey.  I know it will be exhausting and trying and that there will be a transition period, but I’m so relieved.

I’ve tried to start explaining the process to Koa in the last few weeks.  This morning as we were doing our normal Monday rush around she asked me, “Mommy, are we going to go on adventures?”

Yes, we are, my love.  Yes we are.

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Retraining the brain

Since getting into triathlon, I’ve been an all or nothing person.  I either do a workout ferociously and fully or I don’t do it at all.  That works out when you have time to devote to it.  It’s not so good when you’re so tired your bones hurt and you have three little ones constantly needing something.  Prior to kids I fell on the “all” swing of the pendulum.  Post twins, I find myself hitting the “none” more often than not.  If I didn’t have time for my entire scheduled 90 minute ride, I’d opt for moping at home, lamenting how I couldn’t get my shit together enough to get in a workout.

Each freshly missed workout was a new stick to beat myself with.

After a mediocre race in May, I decided to take a different tactic.

For June I made a few changes.

I created monthly goals instead of getting wrapped around the day to day.

50 miles Running and 100 miles riding.  That was my goal.  However it got done was fine by me.  With a day to day training plan, each new day dawns as it’s own triumph or victory.  If I hit a workout, I’d feel great.  If I bailed because I was too tired or just too pressed for time, I’d mentally whip myself.  Instead of building me up, I found I was using it as a tool to tear myself down.  With a monthly goal I was able to give myself the grace to have a bad day without feeling like I was failing.    If I was feeling good, I’d run a bit longer.  If I had been up 8 times through the night with the babies, I’d skip the day and not feel bad about it.  There was no failure.

I scaled back my effort

Instead of chasing goal paces that were probably ahead of my current level of fitness, I forgot about pace and just ran for the love of it. I ran slow.  I stopped to check out an interesting flower I’d never seen before.  I ran through the woods and enjoyed the sound of my footfall on the loose gravel (is there a better sound?).  I forgot my Garmin at home.  I got back to why I started running in the first place.  I renewed my love with the zen physicality of being active.

I embraced how fitness now fits into my crazy, never stopping, baby-filled life

Gone, or, at least, more rare, are the days where I have time to head out for a designated workout.  Instead, my month’s workouts include a tempo ride on my mountain bike while pulling Koa in the trailer, a sprint with the babies in the double jogger to get them to school in time for breakfast, a ride to the car shop to pick up the Jeep, a ride to and from the pool to meet Ryan and the kiddos, a 20 minute run because it’s just all I had time for before dinner.  It’s amazing the miles you can rack up just living your life.

129 biking miles and 58 running miles later, June is over.  I’m happy to have reached the June goal.  I feel better than I’ve felt in a while.  I’m learning that thing I’ve had to train the most, is my mind.

Coming up next:

  • August 16th: IronGirl Columbia sprint triathlon.
  • …and hopefully a full nights sleep (unlikely)

bike mileage run mileageIMG_20150610_184635

Vision turned nightmare: the prologue of the world’s most epic race report

Way before I became a mom. Heck, way before I was even pregnant, I had this vision. In it, I imagined myself victoriously crossing the finish line at Eagleman. Ryan and our little girl would be there waiting for me. I further imagined standing on the podium on a brilliantly sunny and hot Cambridge day and accepting my Kona spot.

Fast forward to reality, training had gone no where near as well as I had planned. I probably hit less than 50% of my scheduled workouts. It’s been extremely tough trying to find the balance of training, still nursing Koa, spending time with my family and work. Still, I had no real regrets. If I had to to it all over again, I’d have done it the same way. The time I’ve spent with Koa and Ryan in these first months of her life have been the happiest of my life.

I knew it would take a monumental effort to put up a Kona qualifying time at Eagleman and I knew I just wasn’t interested or prepared to do that this year. The goal became Vegas. I wanted to head to the September Vegas 70.3 championships. Further, I wanted to be there with Dina, a good friend who had a qualifying race the week before Eagleman. It’s something we’ve talked about repeatedly through the last months of training.

I saw even that dream start to crumble in the weeks leading up to my race. Between travel and work, my training become even more sporadic. I was feeling woefully unprepared for Eagleman. This is a completely unknown feeling to me. I pride myself on my preparation, both in training and in developing my race plan.

Then, the week before Eagleman, while participating in the Reston Sprint Triathlon my calf completely seized up. Honestly, I thought I had torn it. In an instant I went from running at a strong pace to hobbling to the finish. I knew it was pretty bad. I was pretty sure I wasn’t even going to be able to start at Eagleman in a week. I talked to Ryan about cancelling our plans to make the trip.

I stayed off it until Thursday when I rode. Even riding, it was hurting me. I still couldn’t walk without a limp. I was worried. Still, there was enough daily improvement that I thought I could try to start.

At the same time, the next round of Daycare Baby Plague started to take victims in our house. Koa had a mild fever on Thursday and I was hoping I would be spared, but I could feel the internal war in process. Things weren’t looking good.

We left for Cambridge on Friday. It took us 5 hours to make a 3 hour trip. It poured. Traffic was stopped. Koa screamed.

I was sore. I was hobbling. I was feeling sick. I was tired. I was defeated. I arrived in Cambridge feeling completely hopeless.

Then, an Angel was delivered to me. Through the strangest of circumstances, Sister Madonna Buder was staying in the garage apartment of the house that Team FeXY had rented. She is a legend in the sport. At 83 years old she is still competing in long distance triathlons. She was here at Eagleman to punch her ticket to Kona.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon I headed out to do the short bike and run that I usually do the day before the race. The ride felt okay, but I stopped 1.5 minutes into the 10 minute run. The calf was terrible. It was the first time I had run on it since feeling it shut down the weekend prior. I couldn’t even run the length of the block. I stopped and turned around for the short walk back to the house. The rain matched my mood. There was no way I was going to be able to keep it together for a half marathon in less than 24 hours. No way. I knew a DNF was in my future.

Dejected, I went back into the house, changed into my bathing suit and headed out by myself to the hot tub. When I got there, Sister Madonna was also there. We talked about the challenges of both of our seasons. We shared stories about not being able to hit our training goals….and then, we talked about how the greatest part of the sport wasn’t succeeding on your good days. It is perservering on your bad ones that counts. I knew then, that if I had to walk to the whole half marathon, I would.

My tests would keep coming, though. I laid down with Koa to take a nap later in the day. When I woke up I felt like my body had thrown in the towel against the Daycare Plague. I had felt okay when I went to sleep, but when I opened my eyes, I suddenly felt feverish. Seriously? This just wasn’t meant to be. I cannot deal with all of this, I thought. I can not deal. Maybe I could have dealt with the calf. Maybe I could have dealt with an illness but, I cannot deal with both. I just give up.

I completely shut down. I told Ryan I wanted to pack up the car and head home. I officially give up. This was just not meant to be. I sat and stared at my transition bag willing myself to pack it but, my brain just wouldn’t work. I couldn’t think straight. I was in the darkest place I have ever been in triathlon.

Ryan stepped in as I sat there staring blankly at my mess of triathlon gear. He packed my bag. He filled my bottles with race day nutrition.

I threw in the towel and went to bed. I laid in bed with the chills and was confident that I was not starting the race the next day. Most alarmingly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about triathlon or this race or my goals. I just didn’t care. I was sick of fighting and I was ready to go home.

That night, Koa barely slept. She had been sleeping through the night pretty consistently for weeks. This night, though, she was up at 10:30pm and again at 12:30am. Finally, I brought her into bed with me. When we both woke up again at 2:30am, we were covered in sweat and laying in a puddle. It appeared my fever had broken.

The alarm went off at 4:30am. I was feeling okay, but I was covered in sweat, exhausted from not sleeping, confident my calf was going to buckle the second I started to run and in no mood to race.

I have never gone into a race so dejected. This is not at all how the vision had gone. This was not, at all, how this day was supposed to look.

Working on Happy

Over a year ago, I bought this e-book called Better Each Day by Jessica Cassity. It’s a compilation of 365 best practices for living a happy life. I had completely forgotten about it until a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out my e-library. I decided then that my impending birthday would be a great day to start reading it. That day dawned today. I made a mental note to crack it open tonight.

In the meantime, though, I had a great, great day. I didn’t do anything flashy or extravagant. I just spent time with my family. Every year I love going to Barrel Oak winery on my birthday. I love it because they are dog friendly, so I can truly spend my special day with my whole family. Ryan had packed a picnic. Roo made friends with the house Labrador. Koa sat staring at the puppies and playing with her toys and Ryan and I sipped wine, all while overlooking the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains. As I sat there, looking at my family and the rest of my surroundings I just felt overwhelmed by how fortunate I felt.

At times like this I frequently wonder, am i grateful because of the life i lead or does my life just feel blessed because I find reasons to be grateful? Which is the cause and which is the effect?

Fast forward to this evening, I remembered that I wanted to start reading Better Each Day. I read the first lesson and it, eerily, addressed the very same issue I had been pondering all day.

How do you become the master of your own happiness? What would make you happy? Have you ever said, I would be happy if only ________? Have you just waited for that thing, that silver bullet, to come along to magically make you content with your life? I know there have been periods of time when I have hoped and wished for that silver bullet to solve my discontent. It never came.

Cassity’s book goes on to reference another book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky. It describes a situation in which only 10% of a persons happiness can be attributed to their circumstances in life, 50% is caused by their genetic proclivity and 40% is impacted by their individual actions and responsiveness to their surroundings.

Forty percent is a lot. So, to answer my musings from earlier, it is likely that I feel happy because I honed an individual ability to look for things to be grateful for. I’ll share with you, this hasn’t always been the case. For many years I struggled with an underlying feeling of depression. For a few years I actually took medication for it. I thought, at the time, that it would be something I would always need medication for. I was wrong. It’s been several years since I have taken pills to help my mood. So, I am left to ponder, what has changed?

Cassity suggests that you make a list of activities that give you energy and make you feel positive and turn to them when you are feeling down. I would take that suggestion a step further. Each activity that you partake in impacts your mood, either positive or negative. Look for patterns. Some things make us feel really good. Maybe for you it’s volunteerism, running or spending time decluttering your home.
On the other side of the coin, some things make us feel drained and regretful. Maybe it’s spending too much time attached to your technology or dealing with particular group that is no longer fulfilling. People are the same way. Some energize you. Some are energy suckers.

Make a list of these people and activities. One column should read, “I feel energized and good about myself when I………..”. Just write. See what comes out of you. You might be surprised. Then, do the opposite. “I feel bad about myself when I……”. From there it’s simple. Do more of the former and less of the latter.

What is simple, though, it not necessarily what is easy. This will take some time. It might take some heartache and pain to start eliminating your energy suckers. It might take some deep soul-searching. I know it has for me. It is an ongoing process. I will never be done.

I write this all as a reminder to myself to do this same thing. I have thought of these energy suckers and givers before, but I have never made a formal list. Never was there a better time for us to start. Together.

So, as I sit here thinking about this I am questioning, what has changed? Why did I once think I was destined to be tied to antidepressants, but now I have no problem weathering the ups and downs and feeling gratitude. For me, I think the correlation is triathlon. Triathlon has given me a way to channel my energy into something positive. It truly has changed the way I think of myself and my world. I am fortunate to have found it.

Your energy giver might not be triathlon, but whatever it is, spend time and energy finding it. Make your lists. Do more of the stuff that makes you feel truly good about yourself and less of the bad. Surround yourself with people who enable you to be happy.

Let go of your energy suckers. This doesn’t make you a quitter. It just means that you are well on your way to being a healthier, happier, more genuine you.