Recently, in Moab, I had just about two hours to contemplate the state of my current triathlon career as I ran my way down the canyon during the Canyonlands half marathon. Two hours can be a long time, especially when running hard. Time slows to a crawl. The nine-minute time segments between the markers go on forever with few distractions except the mounting pain, rhythmic labored breathing, and thumping heart.
So to keep my mind distracted from the growing pain of pushing my body at race pace, I mentally tallied the top ten lessons, tips, must do’s and words of coaching wisdom that I always forget. My only hope is that if I share them with you (as I share this mental conversation I had with myself during the race), I won’t forget them this year as I prepare for the 2006 race season. So here are the ten really important things I always forget…in proper triathlon order:
10) Always, always, always look straight down.
I can’t seem to help myself but when I swim I always catch myself looking forward or ahead. This of course could be due to the normal fear of slamming headfirst into another swimmer, the wall, or the lane line. It could also be because we naturally like to see where we are going. (Expect when running. Please see number 4)
But this does not change the fact that the second the head looks forward, up, or ahead in the water, the butt sinks faster than a Japanese navy ship stomped on by Godzilla, turning me from shark boy to anchor man.
And unfortunately the converse of this rule is also always true. When swimming backstroke, I always look back and not straight up causing my butt anchor to bite, and slow any forward motion to a sinking crawl
9) It’s not about the fitness, as Lance Armstrong’s next book deal could be titled.
How quickly I fall into the trap of fitness over form. Sure, I go to the pool with every intention of swimming with the perfect hydrodynamic form. But all too soon my form turns to mush, and before I know it I’ve swam 2500 yards of the messiest, splashiest, floppies, silliest, unhappiest, crappiest, freestyle. I always forget that 100 yards of perfect form is worth 1000 yards of junk swimming.
8) If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime
Having just said that junk yardage is a waste of time, there is really only one thing that improves my swimming…swimming.
There is really is no way (zero, nada, no how) to get good at swimming without spending long hours in the pool. So while junk swimming may never make me a good swimmer, it does go a long way in teaching me to breath and feel comfortable in the water. So as Bill Murray said in Caddyshack, “At least I’ve got that going for me!”
7) Spin, Spin and Spin some more...no coasting.
I always forget to resist the temptation to push the bike. I also forget that the best thing I can do is to keep the bike in an easy gear and just spin up AND down hills. And I almost always forget to maintain at least 80 rpm or more.
But somehow, I never forget to throw the bike into my highest gear and really push the pace down hills, instead of using the downhill for recovery and to keep my legs moving.
6) Less is more when confronted by the dreaded monkey butt
Every year when I start biking, I inevitably end up with a raging case of monkey butt on my first couple of long rides. And every year I keep adding layers of clothing in hopes of creating a massive diaper-like barrier between me and the seat. And every year, the monkey butt goes away only when I switch to less padding. When it comes to cycling short pads, less is definitely better, as it keeps me from chaffing.
5) Hills make you faster in the flats, but flats don’t make you faster in the hills
On my typical ride I tended to avoid the hills like a bad case of monkey butt. But there is no way in getting around the fact that hills build strength, muscles and endurance, while the flats build false confidence.
So why is it that when I run I look down and when I swim I look ahead? How easy it is to forget to look forward and not at ones feet during the difficult parts of a run. Unlike swimming, when the head goes down of the run, the shoulders soon follow and so does the pace. I always have to remind myself to look ahead at the horizon and my eventual goal.
3) The Roadrunner had it completely right all along
Whenever I start to push the pace I always end up increasing the length of my stride. The best, most efficient, fastest way to run quickly is to be like the Roadrunner and increase leg turnover. I always forget that to go faster, all I need to do is to keep the stride length the same and just increase my turnover rate.
2) When training, resist the temptation to run fast
So I’m moving along on my long run keeping my heart rate below 140 beats per minute when some big dude passes me, and before you know it the race is on. My heart rate spikes and I’ve just blown a perfectly good workout.
I always forget that the smartest and best way to get fast for endurance running is to go slow and actually build endurance. What a concept! I need to remember to keep the speed on the track, once a week, where it belongs, or save it for my next race.
1) Use my iPod
Finally, when will I remember to bring iPod to these long races so that I don’t have to play these mind games to keep myself distracted for almost two hours?
And you know what’s really ironic? Maybe if I remembered all these things I would be running a half marathon for almost two hours. But that is another mental conversation for another time.