Monday, June 25, 2012

It's a Human Thing: We Run Hot

In the weeks leading up to the New York marathon the Times usually runs a long-form story on the sport of distance running.  You might think that those pieces are meant for the tens of thousands of runners who descend on "the city" that week.  But the articles are too disdainful and ignorant to appeal to actual runners.  My theory is that the articles are actually meant for millions of New Yorkers who are pissed off that their city is taken over for a few days by the marathon.  It's their chance to chuckle at the schmucks who are crazy enough to do one of these things.

Aware of this propensity to cast endurance athletes as crazy, I read most of the first paragraph of a NYT article on the life and death of Micah True with the pointer over the close button, anticipating that the author might take his death as a lesson that distance running was dangerous or some other garbage.  For those of you who don't know - Micah True was the central character in the book "Born to Run" - probably the most popular book on running ever.  Actually I liked the book a lot - it's a good read for runners and probably even non-runners too. 

The NYT article on True was actually fair and pretty good overall.  It centered on the attempted rescue of True in the Gila wilderness of New Mexico in March and is interspersed with the story of his life - there were both stories included the book as well as how his life changed as a result of the book.  True was a bit of a recluse and oddball, but you get the feeling that running saved him in many ways.  Running gave him meaning, fame, a little money, and even a girlfriend.

The idea which is highlighted by the title "Born to Run" is that the anatomical structure of humans cannot be explained except that long-distance running must have been greatly important to the survival of our ancestors.  We couldn't beat a gazelle in a sprint - but we could track the animal for 5-6 hours until our prey literally fell at our feet in exhaustion. 

Humans have been anatomically consistent for about 200,000 years.  It took 190,000 years of being distinctly human and surviving as hunter gatherers before the advent of agriculture.  Another way of looking at it is that for 95% of the history of humans on earth there were no couch potatoes.  As Thomas Hobbes said, life was "nasty, brutish, and short."  It may not have been pleasant, but the cruelty of nature had left us with bodies that could do astounding things.  Insanely amazing actions were necessary to survive, reproduce, and protect offspring - so, only the humans with bodies capable of performing those insanely amazing things had offspring who survived.

I'll never be one to say negative things about the comforts of modern life.  I love that I'm typing this in an air-conditioned house and that once I click publish somebody from the other side of the planet could potentially read it.  I love that I could be anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours or that I could have access to almost any piece of music that's been recorded or any movie that's ever been filmed in a couple minutes.  The flip side is of course that modern life has allowed us to be very, very lazy with no real immediate consequences. 

To take a metaphor - they say that the easiest way to ruin a high-performance race car is to only use it to go get groceries or commuting.  The car is designed to go fast for long periods of time - and it can actually damage the engine if it doesn't do what it was designed for.  The same is true of our bodies.  The challenges of the natural world gave us our bodies.  In order to keep our bodies running well we have to recreate the types of challenges that our bodies would have experienced 50,000 years ago.

I feel lucky.  I knew how natural and important running was to my body way before I ever read a word of "Born to Run."  I've probably told this story before, but when I was 6 or 7 years old I was one of those kids who had more energy than I knew what to do with. My mom - in part to make sure I'd go to sleep at a reasonable hour - would suggest "why don't you run around the outside of the house for awhile?"  So that's exactly what I would do.  I would go dashing around the house feeling the wind through my hair, taking the corners tight and hard, and getting a little runners high before finally collapsing.

One time we were on vacation visiting some family friends.  I hadn't had one of my house runs in awhile - so I asked my mother if I could run around their house.  Even though the other family looked askew at my bizarre request I was given permission.  Unfortunately I went full bore into my first lap - without checking the course for obstructions - I think I just assumed the layout would be similar to my house.  I didn't see the dog house coming around the corner until it was too late.  I ended up with some butterfly stitches on my cheek and an important lesson - always do a course preview before any race.

In that spirit - I was in Madison this weekend for the Wisconsin Brick Adventure.  WIBA, as they call it, is put on by the Evotri team - with a couple of local sponsors.  They charged $0 (shh - don't tell them how much money they could have made!).  About 120 people showed up.  On Friday there was a dinner and course talk.  On Saturday morning there was a swim - it wasn't on the actual course - but it was in the same lake very close to the actual start. 

We then went out to the near town of Verona which is where the bike loop starts.  The Wisconsin bike course heads out to Verona from Madison and then there are two loops of a 40mi course out in the Wisconsin farm country.  The loop is rolling - with at least 3 decent hills.  The main reason that I was out there was to see the bike course.  Everyone I had talked to said that riding the bike leg intelligently is the key to having a good day.  For Wisconsin this means anticipating hills and turns so that you can be in the right gear.  It also means knowing which sections you want to coast through and which sections you might want to push it a little bit.  Finally - it means understanding that a couple of the hills are so long that you need to just get into a small gear, sit down, and spin your way up as efficiently as possible.

I ended up with a little over 100 miles on the day.  I did the loop twice and then 10 miles out and back on the "stick" part of the course.  During the first loop I ended up going back and forth with a friendly guy from Chicago - so, we ended up riding the rest of the way together as well as running 30 minutes after the bike.

On Sunday we ran one loop of the run course.  Except for one gentle rise (it might seem worse on race day) the run course is pretty flat.  There are a lot of turns and changing of surfaces - but I don't see why I couldn't run a fast time if I paced the bike properly and kept on top of my nutrition.  The other key to the run course is that there is a lot of cheering support - I don't care who you are - it helps.

I feel really good about my chances of a successful race in September at this point.  I wasn't sure how my body would react to 20 hour weeks, but I feel great.  99.9% of people think even the training for the Ironman is harmful to your body, but I've never felt or looked (so my wife tells me) better.  Maybe our bodies were made for this level of activity - maybe we were made to run hot.

Week after Kansas 70.3
Monday: 1 hour swim
Tuesday: 1 hour bike
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 3 hour bike 45 min  run
Thursday: 1 hour run
Friday: 1 hour swim 2 hour bike 45 min run
Saturday: 4 hour bike 30 min run
Sunday: 2 hour run 1 hour 20 min swim
Total: 19 hours - 10 hours bike 4 hours swim 5 hours run

Monday: 1 hour swim 3.5 hour bike 30 min run
Tuesday: 1 hour run (4X1200 4:02 3:58 3:36 3:47) 90 degrees/windy
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 30 min run
Thursday: 3 hour bike 1 hour run
Friday: 1 hour swim (2X500 yards both in 7:18) 30 min run
Saturday: 1 hour swim 5.5 hour bike 30 min run
Sunday: 1.5 hour run
Total: 21.5 hours - 12 hours bike 4 hours swim 5.5 hours run

Monday: 1 hour swim 30 min run
Tuesday: 1 hour run (mile repeats)
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 2 hour bike 30 min run
Thursday: 1 hour 40 min swim
Friday: 1 hour swim 30 min run
Saturday: 30 min swim (OWS) 2 hour bike hour run (probable brick workout)
Sunday: 1 hour 50 min swim
Total: 14.5 hours - 4 hours bike 7 hours swim 3.5 hours run

Monday, June 18, 2012

Unadulterated Excellence

It might seem odd to have "unadulterated" in the title of a post that shows a mile race that took place three years before a test for EPO existed.  A race where no one has run faster than the top two runners since and that was 13 years ago next month.  A race where 16 men ran under 3:56.
First of all - I was there.  Don't believe me?  Here is a link to an interview with Kevin Sullivan from where he gave an account of the race.  "As the officials walked us from the call room onto the track at the 200m mark, and down the backstretch, I saw a familiar face. My teammate from Michigan Don McLaughlin, his girlfriend and Michigan runner Michelle Slater, and former Pioneer standout and current Loyola athlete Ben Ingrham."
Ok - they spelled my name wrong - but it's exciting anytime that a man who was once 5th in the Olympics and Canadian record holder (3:50.26) calls you a "former standout" - especially when Don and Michelle were much more impressive runners than me.  Don was on at least two Penn Relays DMR championship teams with Kevin - as well as being Big Ten indoor mile champ.  His then girlfriend - now wife - Michelle was an All-American at Michigan. 
Don and I were teammates in high school.  He is a year older than me - his senior year we won the cross country title for the state of Michigan and were ranked 3rd in the country ahead of the famous team from York, IL.  We also were on a state champion 4X800 (7:48) team that also had the 3rd best time in the country that year. 
Don, Michelle and I were on a seven week eurorail trip.  We traveled to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Cologne, Interlaken, Rome, Barcelona, Pamplona, London - and probably a few more that I'm forgetting.  I'm not sure which one of us suffered most from our obviously bad idea of traveling for seven weeks as a couple and a single dude (who could be a little bit of a smart ass at the age of 22) but we have somehow remained friends.  I'm looking forward to running with Don next month at the Great Lakes Relay in Michigan. 
The first time I saw Kevin run was probably my junior year of high school.  It was an early year indoor invitational.  I can't remember if it was a DMR or a mile - but I do remember that it was the first time I saw someone run sub-4:00 up close.  He ran ~3:57.  What struck me as a high school athlete was how relaxed he was.  I remember the first time he came around - I thought there was something wrong with his jaw.  He almost looked like he had been given a muscle relaxer in his cheeks.  They shook with each step.  It was the first time I realized that you cannot run fast without running relaxed. 
I did get invited to walk-on to the Michigan team.  I even had a meeting with Ron Warhurst who brought in myself and my high school teammate and multiple-time state champion Todd Snyder.  Ron had probably heard that Todd and I were good friends because he mentioned that we could room together.  What Ron probably didn't know at the time was that Todd had been dating my sister for the last nine months - and the thought of waking up with the two of them on the bottom bunk wasn't exactly a draw.
In the end I decided to go to Loyola Chicago. 1) I loved Chicago - still do. 2) I got a little money which made the private school cost the same as in-state tuition for UM.  3) I knew that I wouldn't get any attention from the coaches at Michigan.  They had an insane amount of talent already - and Todd wasn't even the top recruit in his class - his roommate ended up being John Mortimer who was second at the 1994 Footlocker National Championship.
Even though I left Ann Arbor for college I was back most breaks and ran and hung out with my friends from high school - which meant I ran and hung out with the Michigan team.  I don't say this to name drop - but merely to say that I had as close of a view into a team as someone can have without being on the team.  My friend Don trained with Kevin 300+ days a year for at least four years.  If Kevin had been into enhancing his performance through illegal drugs - I would know.
Kevin is a freak of nature.  He still has world age-group record for 800m for 14 year olds - 1:53.03.  He also happens to be incredibly nice and giving person.  In my mind Kevin was and is what I true champion should be.  Given the time period he competed it's hard not to think about how he was most likely cheated out of a couple of Olympic & world championship medals. 
I haven't talked to Kevin directly about how he feels - but my sense talking to his teammates is that he tried to not let it bother him.  That rather than let it consume him he just did his thing and hoped that the dopers got caught.  That's why I cannot forgive or condone doping in any sport.  The people who get robbed are people like Kevin - and that really pisses me off.
I'm a believer that the only way to change the culture of doping is shaming people.  Maybe that seems somewhat unforgiving or cruel - but I think the current situation is cruel - that our most talented athletes have to either give in to cheating and taking unnecessary health risks or live the rest of their lives wondering "what if?"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The War Before the War

May 22, 1856 - John Brown looks out at the aftermath of a raid of Lawrence, Kansas.  The Kansas-Nebraska act in 1854 stated that each state could decide whether it would be free or slave.  The result was that both slave supporters and abolitionists moved into Kansas in order to decide it's fate.  The town of Lawrence was the heart of the abolitionists - a few days earlier slave supporters came into the town and destroyed two newspapers and one hotel.  The next day a U.S. congressman beat abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner with a cane. 

News of both events made Brown's blood boil.  Not only was he angry about these attacks - he was angry that the abolitionists didn't seem to have the stomach to fight back.  He set out with his men - including four of his sons to exact vengeance.

June 10, 2012: The Swim - The sea was angry.  The sea in this case being Clinton Lake, just west of Lawrence.  I am not an experienced triathlete - but one thing I know is that if there's a current in a lake it's probably not a good thing.  I lined up near the front, but on the outside.  After several open water swims this spring I decided that part of my anxiety is when people are directly in front of me.  I don't like the idea of having to navigate around people or running into them.

Oddly enough the 2-3 foot waves didn't seem to faze me - at least emotionally.  My head was down and I was even able to bilaterally breath at least some of the time.  However the current meant that I was constantly turning left - even though the course went straight.  At the turn around I looked at my watch - 20 minutes.  Crap - not what I had hoped for.  With a wetsuit I thought I could swim a little over 30 minutes for the swim.  Since wetsuits weren't allowed because of the water temp (it was only about .5 degrees above the max temp allowed for wetsuits) I knew I wouldn't swim that fast - but I still hoped to swim ~35 minutes.

When I finally came out of the water I looked at my watch and saw 42 minutes.  Very disappointing.  But, this is my experience as a triathlete.  A very emotionally/physically challenging and yet slow swim followed by trying to get myself mentally into the bike and the run.  Don't get me wrong - this was my best swim ever in some ways.  There were 2-3 foot waves with no wetsuit and I didn't freak out at all.  But I was still slow.  I need to get better before Madison.

May 23, 1856 - John Brown and his men went to the houses of known slavery supporters and killed five men with broad swords.

June 10, 2012: The Bike - Big swells on the water were signals of even more difficult times on the bike.  The race started out heading south, directly into the wind.  However I had some broad swords of my own.  My neighbor and Omaha triathlon winner Gerald let me borrow his aero wheels.  The wind and hills were still tough - but when I had a downhill or the wind was at my back I was flying.  I used all three aid stations - drinking down all of my perform  drink between each stop including some water (more to cool me off) and a gel every 30 minutes.

The bike is difficult for age groupers.  My age group was pretty far back for our swim wave, meaning that I was going to have to bike through a bunch of people who may or may not understand that they need to stay to the right.  I probably yelled "on the left!" about 40-50 times.  The most dangerous parts were when there was a more smooth part of the road in the middle - which meant that nobody was on the far right part of the road - and basically cut the amount of road that was used by half.  That's not good when you're trying to pass a somewhat slow person who's trying to pass a really slow person.

Near the end of the bike someone came up from behind me and yelled - "Hey Ben - do you think we're near the front of our age group?"  Just then a wind gust came up (it was a crosswind at this point) and we almost ran into each other.  He saw the number on my back - which is why he knew my name.  We pledged to help each other on the run - but I never saw him again (I think he passed me on the last aid station and I passed him on the run).

1856 and beyond: John Brown had a few more clashes in Kansas before returning to the east.  Of course he is most famous for his attempted slave revolt in Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859.  His revolt was a failure in that it was put down almost before it started by future confederate general Robert E. Lee.  Brown was put to death relatively quickly, but he became a martyr in the north.  A song called "John Brown's Body" (a tune that became eventually became the "Battle Hymn of the Republic") was the song of the North of the Civil War.  The south saw John Brown's attempted slave revolt as a major reason for seceding from the north.  Which may have made sense if there was an army of John Brown's - but for better or worse there were no other John Brown's in the north.  He may have been a crazy terrorist - but he did help to end slavery in the US.  And in many ways it all started out in the wind swept praries of Kansas.

June 10, 2012: The Run - My main goal was getting through the swim smoothly.  The bike was probably my secondary concern.  The run was really just about being strong while not putting myself so deep that I would have a hard time recovering this week.  It was warm, but there were aid stations almost every mile.  I took in Perform, water, and ice at every station.  The first mile was slightly uphill - I looked at my watch and saw 6:05.  I really didn't expect to be running this fast, but I felt strong and relaxed.

The only relief for the embarrassment of the swim earlier is hearing spectators say "Hey, he's looking strong!" during the run.  There were only two real hills on the run (it was a two loop course).  But there wasn't much shade and the temperature was close to 90 degrees by the end.  Through nine miles I was actually under six minute pace, but I slowed up a bit the last four miles and ended up about 6:05 per mile.

Overall I feel really good about my performance on Sunday.  The swim is something that still needs work.  I feel pretty good about my bike - especially since I'm still riding a road bike with clip-on aero bars.  The run showed that I'm fine just running mostly easy with a tempo race thrown in every once in awhile.  I would have been happy with a 1:25 - so, to run sub 1:20 and feel relatively good the entire time is great news. 

What specifically do I think I'm doing right in my training?  I've averaged 1-2 ~56 mile rides per week almost always followed by a run of 30-45 minutes.  Most of those were in the middle of the afternoon at the warmest part of the day - which is almost always windy here in Nebraska.  I always take gels every 30 minutes and a bottle per hour (sometimes less if it's cooler).  By Sunday my body was used to riding that distance in conditions that were even worse. 

Most weeks I've been including a two hour run (usually ~17 miles).  My week at elevation probably helped too.  Santa Fe is 7,000 feet - I did one ride there where I climbed up to over 10,000 feet.  I've been running quite a few races - but I always treat them as tempo runs or escalation workouts.  I never put myself into the red.  I figure that long endurance racing is mostly about keeping yourself out of the red - so, there's no reason to do it in training. In May I swam 38 miles, biked 629 miles, and ran 165 miles.

Of course there's a lot of training to go before the real war on the second Sunday in September.  The next two weeks I'm going to actually increase my volume, but decrease intensity.  In two weeks I'll experience my first century ride and in five weeks I'll be at the Great Lakes Relays (26 miles of sub-6 minute running in three days), 

Monday: 1 hour swim 3 hour bike
Tuesday: 30 min swim 45 min run
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 3 hour bike 30 min run
Thursday: 1 hour run
Friday: 1 hour swim
Saturday: 30 min swim 3 hour bike 45 min run
Sunday: 1 hour swim 2 hour run (sub 1:20 half-marathon)
Total: 19 hours - 9 hours bike 5 hours swim 5 hours run

Monday: 1 hour swim
Tuesday: 1 hour swim 30 min run
Wednesday: 40 min swim 1 hour bike 45 min run
Thursday: 1 hour swim 2 hour run
Friday: 1 hour swim 2 hour 45 min bike
Saturday: 30 min swim 45 min run
Sunday: 1 hour swim 3.5 hour bike 30 min run
Total: 18 hours - 7.5 hours bike 6 hours swim 4.5 hours run

Monday: 1 hour run Bolder Boulder ~35 minutes (5:40 pace)
Tuesday: 1 hour swim 1 hour 45 min bike
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 1.5 hour run
Thursday: 3 hour bike 20 min run
Friday: 50 min swim 30 min run
Saturday: 3 hour bike
Sunday: 1 hour 10 min run 1 hour 40 min swim
Total: 16.5 hours - 7.5 hours bike 4.5 hours swim 4.5 hours run

Monday: 1 hour swim 3 hour bike 30 min run
Tuesday: 1 hour swim
Wednesday: 30 min swim 2 hour bike 45 min run
Thursday: 50 min swim 45 min run
Friday: 1 hour swim
Saturday: 20 min swim 30 min run
Sunday: 40 min swim 2.5 hour bike 1 hour 20 min run
Total: 17 hours - 7.5 hours bike 5.5 hours swim 4 hours run

Next two weeks:
Monday: 1 hour swim
Tuesday: 1 hour bike 30 min run
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 3 hour bike 45 min run
Thursday: 1 hour run
Friday: 1 hour swim 2 hour bike 45 min run
Saturday: 2 hour swim 4 hour bike
Sunday: 2 hour run
Total: 20 hours - 10 hours bike 5 hours swim 5 hours run

Monday: 1 hour swim 3 hour bike 30 min run
Tuesday: 1 hour swim 1 hour run
Wednesday: 1 hour swim 4 hour bike 1 hour run
Thursday: 1 hour run
Friday: 1 hour swim
Saturday: 5 hour bike 30 min run
Sunday: 2 hour run
Total: 22 hours - 12 hours bike 4 hours swim 6 hours run