CVS road 5k championships and what I'm doing

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The fall season has officially started.

This past weekend, me and my teammate, Jeff, traveled out to Rhode Island to race in the USATF road 5k championships. I really had no idea what to expect, as we have been really hitting the strength work. Because of that, we had really no indicator workout or anything to go by. Even our coach told us not to expect much, as the training we've been isn't condusive to a fast 5k. To further complicate things, I mildly strained my hamstring on monday, so I wasn't able to do much before the race. It altered my stride a bit, so I was worried about that.

Regardless of that, we wanted to get in a good early season race, test the wheels out a bit, and give us something to compare to later in the season. In November, we are most likely doing another road 5k (Seagate 5k) so it will give us a good indication on how much we've improved.

Having said all that, the race went pretty well. I ended up placing 14th overall (13th american) and running 14:40. The field was pretty stacked, so I got dragged out pretty fast and faded a little bit more than I would have liked, but overall it was a solid performance. The start of the race has a downhill in it the first 400m, so it leads to going out pretty fast. If it were'nt for the downhill part, the first mile wouldn't be considered fast, as there are a ton of turns on the course, some pretty sharp. I really didn't have a defined race plan going in, except to not go out too fast to hurt my hamstring. I just wanted to get out on the back end of the pack or the front of the second pack and just try and feel it out. So after about 800m in when things started settling down I tried to latch onto Ben Bruce and Phil Reid. I'd met both of those guys the day before, and had raced Phil a couple times in college, so at the moment it seemed like the best option to try and hang on to them for as long as I could.

That last until about 1.75mi or somewhere in that range. The middle part of the race has a couple of long straightaways in it, so you can see everyone in front of you and kind of guage the distance. I was starting to hurt pretty bad at about 2mi and kind of had a lapse in concentration for a bit. I finally started to regroup with about a half mile to go and picked off a couple of people.

To get to the finish you make a couple of turns, the last being a turn onto the finish line street that has about a 100m hill on it before flattening out for the last 75m or so. I didn't pay enough attention the day before when we were jogging the course, so I kind of mistimed my kick. I passed another runner in the last 100m, but had too much left.

So overall, it was a solid opening. I definately think that I could have run 14:30-35 if I had run a little bit smarter and my hamstring wasn't bothering me. It was tough having such a big race being the first race of the year. I still had some kinks in the system.


The trip:
This is definately one of the best races I've run. The elite coordinator and meet director do a great job with the race and it really is a first class event. They do a great job of taking care of all of the athletes.

We had probably the longest flight plans from L.A. to providence. On the way out, we spent 12 hours traveling. On the way back, about 19 hours. That's longer than it has taken me to get to Europe when I've gone there. The only good thing is we had a layover in Houston on both ways, so I got to eat dinner with the family, which was really nice.

Other than the horrible travel, the trip was a blast. It was cool hanging out with other elites and getting to know some of the other runners. We jogged the course the day before with Ben Bruce and Phil Reid. The night after the race, I roomed with Dan Browne and we went for a run with him, christian hesch, and sean brosnan. In fact, we kind of got lost on the run...

But anyways, it was a great trip and a solid race. I'll save some of the stories for later posts.



My plans:
I got a comment asking what my plans are exactly and I know I've given bits and pieces of info throughout my blog but I'll try and sum things up here. Also, I got a couple e-mails on the letsrun thread on myself. Really, I think those threads are hillarious. When I was younger, it would bother me a bit, but now I just kind of laugh it off. So I'll answer some of the questions raised in there too.

I'm in Chino Hills, California training and living with a couple of other guys who are trying to accomplish the same thing I am, to see how good we can get. We've been offered the opportunity to basically live the running life to see what our potential is. Right now, my teammates are Jeff Caron and Carlos Handler. Me and Jeff are on similar schedules this fall, while Carlos has been training for the Twin City's marathon.

So, yes I basically eat, sleep, and run. I'd like to do graduate school at some point, but for now I am going to take this opportunity and give it a go. Since I have lots of time, I do watch too many movies (since we don't have cable) and read too many books. A lot of the time I read two books at a time. One being for entertainment, and one running related book.

I get a lot of flack for learning about my sport. Some people say I'm too engrossed in the science of it and it negatively effects my running. I can certainly see how it comes off as myself being too concerned with the details, but I think the opposite is true. I KNOW and learn about all the details, but that does not mean I constantly apply or worry about them in my own training. Most of the reading I do is because I enjoy learning about the sport. It's a passion.

But contrary to popular belief, I'm not sitting here worrying about my lactate levels in every workout or hitting X,Y, or Z time. In fact, I think I'm the opposite. I mostly run by feel and try and listen to my body much more so than most people. I coach the same way. I keep my running simple. I run a lot, I work hard, I try and rest/recover the best I can, and I do whatever workouts my coaches give me.

Which brings me to my next critcism. I am not coaching myself right now. I am coached by Marco Ochoa (2:13 marathoner). At times after I left Rice (which was not for grades- I graduated suma cum laude from Houston), I coached myself on and off, but not consistantly. Only the last year did I coach myself. I think I did a respectable job, especially considering the health problems I had. I came within .03 of qualifying for NCAA in XC and then managed to run 3:47.08 despite not being able to breathe half the time in races. That being said, coaching yourself is a whole different ballgame than coaching others. At this point in time, I am very confident I can coach others. However, I do not know if I can be completely honest with myself when coaching myself. I am too stubburn and can not be objective enough. In ways, I think being your own coach is at odds against trying to be a tough runner. As a coach, you have to continually adjust and adapt the training program. As a runner, you never feel good cutting a workout short or changing up the week. You just want to put your head down and hammer through it. It takes a person who can seperate the coaching and running part completely to be able to have tremendous success going the self coached route.

I do however coach some HS kids. Each one has improved from where they started, many significantly. In the little over 2 years I've been helping out, one runner has already moved on to the Div. 1 running level, and the rest of the guys are on the brink of being nationally ranked as a team in Cross Country. I mentioned this not for tooting my own horn, but to show there is a reason that I spend so much time writing about running. In coaching runners, I feel it's my responsibility to give as much as I can to them if they are willing to put the work in. Having gone through a very rough college career, I want my runners to continually improve and reach the levels that I know they can. There's no worse feeling than having a runner peak too early or run bad at the time he should be running fast. I try and do everything possible as a coach to figure out how to get each individual runner to run up to his potential at the right time. And if I don't accomplish that goal, then I accept that it was my fault and look for a way to fix it. Which is something that a lot of coaches don't do. If the runner runs poorly, they usually blame the runner first. I'm the opposite, I blame my training program first, and see what mistakes I made as a coach.

Anyways, the point of that off shoot is that all the writings and such I do, is to flush out my ideas as a coach. It's the best way I know of to get all of my ideas in my ahead sorted out. It helps me refine my training ideas and kind of flushes everything out.

Lastly, you can't measure talent. Every runner, even the elites, like to think of themselves as having little talent and being where they are because of hard work. Newsflash, you all have talent. We can not measure talent at all. There is no scientific measurement that can come anywhere close to measuring talent. I have no idea how talented I am. Just because I ran 4min in a mile in HS does not mean I am loaded with talent. I could be, I could not be. Who knows, who cares.

And I got an email asking what my health problems have been. This is going to sound like an excuse or a pitty party, but it's not. Rather I hope it shows those who read this blog to never give up and keep going at it, no matter the obstacles. Find a way to do what you love.

So here's my brief list of my diseases/problems that have effected my running: Hashimoto's disease (thyroid), Vocal Chord Dysfunction, Exercise induced asthma, a hole in my heart, and horrible allergies. That's about it, with a couple other things here and there, but basically mix them together and when things are going bad that means no breathing during races for me. So it's quiet the pain. But hopefully that's in the past.

That's all I've got. I'll get criticized for responding to whoever in this post, but that's no big deal. I just wanted to write a little bit of a response once, so that I can just link whoever emails me bashing me or whatever this post. That's the last I'll say on this subject.

I'm just a guy trying to explore his limits. I feel I have a lot of improvement left in this sport and I plan on finding out. Whatever happens, at least I can look back and have no regrets as I gave it a full go. Not many people can say that.
-steve

P.S.- for you letsrunners...
I hate core stuff. I think most of it is overblown and useless. There is benefit of course, but it's a fad. Running is running. There's not much transfer. I've never written 11pgs on core, but I might some day. If I do, I'll post it for you.

Questions answered: Nutrition

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I figured I'd use this blog to answer a question from darwin lo in the comments section. I enjoy trying to answer people's questions on here, as everytime a question is asked about my philosophy on a subject it challenges me to reexamine that subject and helps further define my views on that topic. So, questions are appreciated, and I'll try and do a much better job at answering the ones I get on here. I generally get questions from people e-mailing me, but I think this is a better forum for answering general questions. That way, everyone can benefit from seeing the answers and it's easier on me, as I don't have to repeat answers all the time. Now that I've rambled on about nothing, I'll give a brief training update, and then answer the question about nutrition.

Training update:
Had my first workout where I actually felt like I could run fast. On wednesday we did 3x 2mile with 5 minutes rest on a 1 mile loop course. I actually like the course that we do it on, except for the fact that it is ALWAYS windy, so that slows your times down a bit. Besides that, it's a good dirt loop with only one real sharp turn and one hill about 30-40m long or so. I wasn't sure what to expect as I've never done 3x2mi, but it turned out to be a pretty good one. I ended up running 9:41, 9:42, and 9:35 for the three of them. I was pretty consistant with my splits too, except for the 800m with the most wind in which I slowed down by a couple seconds each time. Overall though, I was very pleased with the session and wasn't too beat up from it.


Questions section:
This was posted by Darwin Lo:
"Talk about your nutrition. Since proper nutrition ensures that you maximally re-fuel your muscles, rather than, say, adipose issue, it would be interesting to hear what you have to say.- Do you take advantage of the recovery window?- Do you weigh yourself before and after workouts to figure out how much water you need to drink and how much salt you need to make up?- And so forth...."

There have been volumes written on nutrition and I could certainly write volumes here. The problem is that when you go into detail about nutrition, most people don't apply anything you say. I could cite you the correct amount of carbohydrates and protein to take per day based on your mileage and weight, but is that really necessary? Not many people count calories, and if they do they normally have problems that need to be addressed, or too much time on their hands worrying about the details too much.

So, here's my basic philosophy on nutrition:
1. Monitor your weight, but don't be obsessed with it. Weigh yourself every so often (1-2x a week or so). Make sure you are weighing yourself at the same time for comparison's sake. I like to do it first thing in the morning. This is just for general informational purposes. Rapid changes in weight can give you a heads up on things like overtraining, undereating, and not consuming enough fluids. The idea isn't too weigh the least amount you can. The idea is to find your optimum.

2. Eat a lot of a variety of fruits. Fruits do soo many good things for you. Antioxidants are key. Add them in with lunch and dinner and it's easy to get enough.

3. Iron, Iron, Iron. Most distance runners have a problem with iron. We lose a lot thanks to the nature of our sport. The best iron source is heme iron. That means red meat. Eat it. Don't worry about the latest media craze of how red meat will kill you. You need iron and it's the best source. Plus IN MODERATION, red meat is good for you, not bad.

4. Calcium and Vitamin D- Once again, most distance runners need to pay attention to these. Normally what you find is that a runner can be fine on one, and low on the other. Load up on the milk, yogurt, etc. Also, with yogurt, get the ones with active cultures (acidophulus- butchered the spelling). Good bacteria is definately a good thing.

5. Everything in moderation- Don't worry about eating a cookie here or ice cream there. That's fine. You can't live off of green stuff anyways. The key is not having 4 cookies every day.

6. Stay away from fast food and fried food. Doesn't do anything for you.

7. Drink lots of water.

8. Find what works for you.- There's a lot of crap info out there with nutrition. You'll hear things like eat 5 meals a day and such, but the key is to find what works for you. Get in a routine. Not eating the same thing every day, but eating at around the same times each day. It's much easier to maintain caloric intake that way and prevents random snack binges.

Now onto the most important thing, Recovery with Nutrition:

Timing is critical. You have to get something in your body within 15min, or at least 30min, post workout. It is when your body is most insulin sensitive, which means the time when it can replenish glycogen stores the fastest. If you wait much longer after that, it's almost makes no difference whether you ate 50min after or 2hrs after. So timing is a BIG deal.

Let's quickly look at what you are trying to do post workout. When you workout, your body is breaking things down (catabolic). You are breaking down energy sources, your body is getting microtears in the muscle, etc. Once you stop working out, this process will continue for a bit if you let it. But what gets you better as an athlete is when it goes into build up (anabolic) mode. Your body starts to replenish those energy sources, and repair those microtears, making them stronger than before. That is when you get better.

So how do we switch from the catabolic state to the anabolic state. Well, your body will do that through the secretion of various hormones. We'll leave most of the science out, but basically, it's got to switch gears and nutrition is a great way to give it a boost. If you take in some food, your basically sending the message that the workout is done and it's time to get repairing.

What kinds of food do you need?
Carbs and protein. Carbs help replenish glycogen stores and protein helps repair things in the muscle. Both combined also help switch the body over to an anabolic state. How much? Well the science generally points to around a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, but if what you are eating is off a bit, it's no big deal. How many calories? Depends on the workout, but a substantial amount. I'd say at minimum 200.

Here's the most important part of this whole topic. These are MY guidelines. They are based on the fact that those carb/protein drinks are expensive.

What to drink:
Carb+protein drinks- Accelerade, endurox, powerbar stuff, Chocolate milk.
Carb+protein foods- read labels, the possibilities are endless. I like to combine fruit with something a lot. Yogurt is another one I like to use.
Carbs only- fruit, gatorade, lemonade, fruit juices, etc.

Here's the important stuff:
Runs shorter than 20min- water is fine
Normal runs of less than an hour or so- gatorade or some sort of Carb only drink is fine
Long runs, any hard workout- Carb+protein drink.

I say gatorade is fine after runs of an hour or less because it's cheaper and easier to get than some of the other drinks. So, sometimes it might be better to get a carb+protein drink mix, but it's no big deal if you don't. What I like to do, is drink Chocolate milk after my longer easy run of the day. I save the accelerade for workouts because it basically does the same thing as chocolate milk, but most of my workouts i'm driving to and milk doesn't travel as well. Plus milk is cheaper. So I use accelerade maybe 3x a week, and milk the rest of the days. On my shorter shakeout runs (35-40min) I'll just drink some gatorade after.

As far as weighing myself before and after runs... I don't do it. I've lived in TX all my life. I lose a ton of fluids on all runs. It happens. I think the key is making sure you are hydrated GOING into the run. Now, this would be different if I was training for a marathon. Then I'd get some fluid loss data, among other things, because fuel during a marathon is key.


That's about it, off the top of my head. Hope you got something out of it.

Mindnumbing training.

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I've settled into the mindnumbing pattern of eating, sleeping, and running. The life of an aspiring professional runner requires a person to be absolutely content with doing nothing in his life for the vast majority of each day and then expending enormous amounts of energy for about 2 hours. It's a never ending cycle.

Training update:
It's been a couple weeks since I've last updated so to get whoever reads this caught up, here are the training highlights.

The last 5 weeks have been 103,108,99,100,99. I'm kind of glad I hit the 99 mi weeks because that is the ultimate show that you are not a slave to the mileage figures. Most distance runners, myself included in the past, can get caught up with mileage figures. It can actually kind of consume people. Part of the problem is that it is the one easily quantifiable thing that can sum up your training. When you ask another runner how his training is going, he almost always responds by telling you how many miles per week he's been running. The problem with this is that it tells you nothing. Just because you run 120mpw doesn't mean you are going to race fast. The key is in the details. Even the best of us get caught up in easily measurable variables. It happens in science too (think Vo2max or lactate in our sport).

Anyways, we are still building strength. Lots of hills, thresholds, and some hilly runs. My last threshold was a 2x4mi in which I averaged about 5:07 pace. It went well, especially considering it was windy where we were running it. My 800m splits would vary by 6 or so seconds with the same effort thanks to the wind.

Last week, my legs were feeling really flat until friday's session of hill sprints. It really is amazing how a short but fast session of just 6-8x10sec hill sprints can bring the legs around. It just shows how big of a role the neural work can play. In distance running, it is also neglected. Thankfully with the likes of Canova's influence and Brad Hudson's recent work, the importance of the Nervous system and peripheral muscular systems is getting a little more attention. One area that deserves some more research is how to get optimal muscle tone going into a competition. It's a big thing in sprinting, but once again neglected in distance running.


Besides the workouts, I had the hilliest run of my life on saturday. We literaly ran up a mountain. Coming from Texas, hills aren't my forte, but I stuck it out as best I could. It's an interesting feeling running lots of hills when you're in shape but not used to them. My breathing was practically normal, but my legs were burning. It's a great way to develop some general strength endurance though. I've never had the option of extremely hilly runs back home, so hopefully it's a new stimulus.


That's about it training wise for now. The first race is coming up pretty soon. I'm not sharp at all, but it should be a good experience and lots of fun. The race is on September 21st in Providence, RI. It's the US road 5k champs.

Good job to the HS kids. 3 for 3 in winning meets as a team, and ranked 2nd in the state. What a way to start the season!

Life besides running has been good. I watch way too many movies, so if anyone has any suggestions, go for it. We've also almost finished watching every episode of the office (we've been hitting about 4 a night, with one day where we were without internet and watched the entire season 2). Naps are another highlight of the day. Along with eating.

To keep my mind stimulated I'm reading a 400pg Physiology textbook that is specific to running. It helps keep my mind sharp.

Besides that, not much else goes on. Me and Jeff went to a pool party in LA, which was a nice change of pace. Jeff's friend from HS was a competitive swimmer training out here, so we got to meet some new people, escape the confines of our place for a couple hours and have a bit of fun. It was interesting hearing some of the swimmer's take on issues that we deal with in both sports. Drugs was a nice topic, but I appreciated hearing that they suffer from the same dread of sitting in a hotel room all day during meets. It takes skill to be able to master doing nothing and still being sane. We also met a swimmer who just barely missed going to the Olympics (4th at the trials). It was kind of sad to hear her take on the whole thing. Just makes you realize how much we all sacrifice and put into it for one shot every 4 years. At least at the end of the day though, you can look back and say you gave it a shot and tried to maximize your potential.

That leads me to a quote I saw the other day from former Olympian, a gymnast, Steve McCain:

“Gymnastics is like any Olympic sport. It’s once every four years, and you can train those four years and then go out on the first event and fall flat on your face. You can. It’s part of the game,” he said. “So you have to accept the rules of the game, and you have to be responsible. You have to be responsible for your successes and your failures, the teams you make and the teams you don’t make. You can’t make excuses for any of this.
“Ultimately, it would behoove you to appreciate that you had something that motivated you enough to find out what you were made of and inspired you to have these great moments. Take responsibility and be proud you had something that drove you to be exceptional, and as long as you have those two things, you can walk away from any competition with your head held high.”
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