Monday, March 14, 2016

Race Report and Lessons Learned

This past weekend I raced in the End of the Trail half marathon.  This race is in my backyard; literally started 3 miles from my house.  I enjoy coming out to this race because of the positive locals all pushing themselves and spreading the “I CAN” mindset.   This was an exciting year though, as they changed the course to a more scenic and runner friendly route.  Also, they placed the start and finish line right in the heart of historic downtown Visalia.  Kudos to The Visalia Runners Club who puts on this race to raise money for local high school cross-country teams.  Thank you to all of the supporters and volunteers who donate their time and help out this great race.  And a big congrats to my good friend and training partner, Joshua Hickey, who was the official race director of this event.  He truly put on a terrific and organized event. 

Going into this race, my training has been consistent.  Consistency is one of my strongest traits; I clock in and do the work.  I do not look for day-to-day gains per se; I understand that this is a process and each training block helps build the fitness I need to achieve my goals. 

There have been slight modifications to my training plan thus far in 2016. 

1.     Mindfulness practice.  I would say this has been the most vital to my performance gains over the past 12 weeks.  Notice I said the word “practice” because that is what this is.  I’m not sure one can master mindfulness.  Because once you “master” mindfulness, you start over.  (Think about that one for a second)  Daily practice is needed to truly maximize this super power.  Here are a few strategies:
a.     breathing practice: take 3-5 minutes to take some deep abdominal belly breaths. Do this before work or before you walk into the house.
b.     quiet/meditation time: you can do this after your breathing practice or by itself but this is you gently silencing your thoughts and calming your mind; start with 2-4 minutes and build to 8-10.  Try your best to be still.  Yoga can be a great practice for both breathing and meditation.  (Make sure to go at your own individual level)
c.      laser focus on specific tasks: this can be done anytime, anywhere.  Plain and simple, be in the present moment.  When you are with someone, focus on them and their words.  When you are doing dishes, focus on that moment without anxiety.  When you are exercising, focus on your movements and breathing.  When you are driving, focus on driving.  Slow down a bit and be mindful about your day and watch the positive results that follow.
d.     focused exercise: “focused” is the key word here.  When you exercise, listen to your body.  Control your breathing, even when your heart rate is rising.  Move well and controlled.  This mindfulness strategy has major physiological benefits as well.
2.     Higher quality nutrition.  My nutrition is usually pretty healthy and supportive to my goals.  But I wanted to rearrange a bit.  Starting in late January, I began the revamp by decreasing my carbohydrate intake and increasing my healthy fat intake.  My goals were to improve upon my overall nutrition, fill my body with more nutrient dense foods and become more efficient at burning fat during training.  I think I was getting very dependant on carbohydrates.  Last year, I had some days where I was eating over 600 grams of carbohydrates.  As the majority of these carbohydrates are needed due to 1-4 hours per day of training, I had to reevaluate my overall state of nutrition and the impact this high consumption of carbs would have later in my life.  So what I did was flip my carb intake to approximately 20-25% of my daily calorie needs and fat intake to 40-55%.  Protein would be at about 20-25%.   I followed this protocol for 5 solid weeks.  One day per week during this 5-week period, I would splurge and eat heavier carbohydrates to “refill” my tank after a strenuous week of working and training.  My main carbohydrates are vegetables, fruits, beans and grains like pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain breads and can’t forget the tortilla chips!  See below for a couple of my macronutrient breakdowns of various days in February.   I was pretty aggressive with lowering my carbohydrate intake to see how my body would respond.  If I had higher intensity training planned, I would increase my intake leading up to the workout and post-workout. 

This is a low carb/high fat day.  If training was moderate, this worked out well.

This is a higher intensity training day, so I added carbohydrates to prepare for the workout and replenish post-workout.

      After this 5-week period, I have increased my carbohydrate intake back to approximately 250-400 grams (30-40%), depending on the day.  This has aided in my glycogen replenishment, which is key for recovery and for the higher intensity training I am doing.  (And since I was leading into a half marathon, I needed a fully functional source of glycogen ready to be utilized.)  I also feel due to the healthy fat increase in my diet that I have been able to burn fat more efficiently during workouts.  How do I feel this you ask?  I have recognized the decrease of my need for food during longer training sessions.  I have also saw that my recovery has improved (due to the flood of nutrients) within each workout and I am able to absorb the training stress more rapidly.  As an endurance athlete, it’s imperative to be as efficient as possible at oxidizing fat for energy.  If carbohydrates are your dependency, you risk erratic insulin behavior, high inflammation in your diet, gut issues when training and unhealthy patterns as you age.  Yes, even endurance athletes who train a lot can surface unhealthy issues!  I also dramatically increased my cruciferous vegetable intake.  Kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and red leaf lettuce as become staples in my daily intake.  These foods, no matter the fitness goals you have, should be consumed regularly for their nutrient dense properties.  I increased my healthy fats like coconut and olive oil, walnuts, salmon, raw nut butters, almonds, avocados and olives.  These foods are anti-inflammatory and promote post-workout recovery and improve circulation.  So what I was doing through this process was ingesting a higher amount of vitamins and nutrients to decrease inflammation and assist my body rebuild and recover after training, which equals improved performance; also increasing my fat intake would help boost my recovery outside training and I would become more efficient at burning fat during training, which also improves performance.  This combined with my training points below has assisted in my early season performance. 
3.     Training points.  I am a believer in quality over quantity in my program.  And the past 12 weeks have been no different.  Something that I have changed from years past is my longer phase of power and strength work in the gym.  In past years, I hit the strength workouts post-Thanksgiving up until mid-January, about 6 weeks.  This year I have continued hitting the strength workouts longer into the beginning of the season (I am now on about week 12).  This added strength and power have been noticed in my swim, bike and run training and it’s been a great way to build my athletic foundation for the upcoming year.  Also, I have followed an unorthodox endurance training method by keeping volume (training mileage) low to moderate but very intense.  So my workouts are shorter in duration but higher in intensity.  Of course not every workout follows this protocol as I always add in lower to medium intensity training to help with the adaptation of the harder training sessions.  But to give you an example, in the past 12 weeks, I have only ran over 10 miles three times.  I will begin to add volume into my training as I move closer to my “A” race, which is in July.  This added strength, power and speed from my early season training plan will be firing on all cylinders come May and June and as I peak for my race in July. 

A little about my race…

I had a good warm up that consisted of a 10-minute easy jog, dynamic stretches and some 30-60 second race pace pick ups.  This charged my system and prepared it for the day ahead.  The warm up is critical to any athlete/runner looking to succeed. 

My goal was to be around 6:10 minute per mile for the first few miles, then settle around 6:20 for the middle miles and descend to as fast as I can withstand towards the end. 

Here were my mile splits: 6:13, 6:17, 6:15, 6:18, 6:20, 6:21, 6:22, 6:16, 6:22, 6:20, 6:17, 5:51.  Consistency was the name of the game.  I went out aggressive but controlled, settled down and found my rhythm and finished with a bang!  It’s exactly how I train.  Any runner at any level can use this same philosophy. 

During the race, I found myself being mindful of my breathing, talking myself into “staying relaxed” and keeping form and staying positive in my thoughts.  I guess you can say I was in the “zone”. 

I finished with a time of 1 hour 22 minutes, 3rd place overall and 1st in my 35-39 age group.  This also gives me confidence as I embark on a new triathlon season, hoping to get as close as I can to the 4 hour 30 minute mark for the Vineman half Ironman in July.  (Last year I went 4:45)

If you have any questions with anything I discussed, please send me a private message through Facebook and I will get back to you in a timely manner. 



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