Monday, July 27, 2009

Say 'hello' to my little friend

One of the many things that can be said about Austin, TX is that there is no short supply of great hills to run and ride. You have Wilke, Jester, Spicewood Springs, Cat Mountain, Mt Bonnell and countless others. Well, I visited one of my old workouts last week and it took me to Ladera Norte. It's not one of the more famous ones but this badboy does not disappoint.
Ladera Norte (or as I like to call it La Sacre a Norte) is located off of Far West. Just take Mopac to Far West and go as far as Far West will take you. Take a right at the very end and you'll drive up this hill that doesn't seem to end. Once at the top, park you car, say a prayer or 2 and easily make your way down the hill. You are now going down what you will be climbing back up.
Take notice that this hill really doesn't offer any recovery through it's .64 mile distance and when you think it's bad it gets worse. Much worse because the last 100 yards is a 20% plus grade uphill to the top. But don't let that scare you. Be more concerned with why it's taking you more time to go down the hill than run up! The grade at that point is so steep and long that you actually have to walk some of the downhill or you're going to end up doing a nose dive. I actually jog backwards on parts of the downhill so that I can save my quads.
Just to give you an idea of what you are getting into.
Wilke: .19 miles with about 700 feet of climbing. That's short and steep.
Ladera Norte: .62 miles with just over 1000 feet of climbing.
This hill has beaten me many times but I keep coming back because hills build power in your legs and power will build speed. Avoiding hills does nothing to help your run so go out and find some nasty hills and make yourself work. I am always glad when I do this run because I know it has beaten me many times but each time I come out a stronger runner.
btw..... The most I have ever done was 5 repeats last fall and my fastest one was 6:05.
Last Thursday I did 3 with my fastest being 6:30...... oh and it was about 103 outside. :)

Happy running!!!!!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You are a runner! Especially, an endurance runner!

Have you ever thought about what it takes to run? I do not think most people realize how much of their body is designed just for running. We have a lot of muscles, tendons, and bones that are not needed for walking but are essential for running. Some of those are leg and foot tendons and ligaments that act like springs, foot and toe structure that allows efficient use of the feet to push off, shoulders that rotate independently of the head and neck to allow better balance, and skeletal and muscle features that make the human body stronger, more stable and able to run more efficiently without overheating. It was not until about two or three million years ago before we started developing those muscles, ligaments, bones and the body structure that makes us one of the best endurance species on the planet.

We have some key features that help us in running. We have a ligament that runs from the back of the skull and neck down to the thoracic vertebrae; this ligament acts as a shock absorber and helps the arms and shoulders counterbalance the head during running. The low and wide shoulders of modern humans are almost disconnected from our skulls. This allows us to run more efficiently, but has nothing to do with walking. Our short forearms make it easier for the upper body to counterbalance the lower body during running. They also reduce the amount of muscle power needed to keep the arms flexed when running.

Our vertebrae and disks are larger in diameter relative to body mass than those in other animals. So are the surfaces areas of our hips, knee and ankle joints. These larger bones allow for improved shock absorption during running by spreading out the force of when a runner makes contact with the ground.

The Achilles tendon acts like springs that stores and releases mechanical energy during running. These tough, strong bands of tissue anchor our calf muscles to the heel bone. We also have an enlarged heel bone for better shock absorption, as well as shorter toes and a big toe that is fully drawn in toward the other toes. This arrangement of bones in the foot creates a stable or stiff arch that makes the whole foot more rigid, so the runner can push off the ground more efficiently. During a run, all of these tendons and bones work together to contract then uncoil to help push a runner ahead.

When it comes to sprinting, compared to other species on the planet, we are horrible. So if we stretch out that distance a little bit then we do a lot better. Horses, for example, are a lot faster than humans in short distances, but in foot-to-hoof competitions, humans usually catch horses between the 20 and 25 mile mark, particularly in warm weather. Dogs are excellent distance runners when it’s cold, but run with Fido in July and he doesn’t do that well. Evan a chimp can out sprint us for a very short distance.

Our skull has features that help prevent overheating during running. As sweat evaporates from the scalp, forehead and face, the evaporation cools blood draining from the head. Veins carrying that cooled blood pass near the carotid arteries, thus helping cool blood flowing through the carotids to the brain. Our lengthy human body—with a narrow trunk, waist and pelvis—creates more skin surface for our size, permitting greater cooling during running. The fact we are not covered with a fur coat also helps in the summer heat.

All of these characteristics make it so when you shift from a modest walk to a modest run; you can double your speed with only a 40 percent increase in energy output. Even our brains release endorphins that make us feel good when we run, ‘runner’s high’. All this is just to remind you that you can run, you should run, millions of years of evolution has made that way.

Coach C

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

First Time TRI

This year's CapTex race brought back so many memories for me -- mostly doing CapTex as my very first triathlon in 2001! It was really fun to think back about where I started and how far I've come since that first race. For some reason, I've noticed that I've been asked about this story a lot lately, so I thought I'd share it with you below. Don't laugh!! (ok, you can laugh, but keep in mind I was only 19 and didn't know a single thing about triathlons..)

I was home from college during the summer of 2001, coaching the neighborhood swim team as my summer job. One of the dad's was telling me that he was training for a triathon and went on and on about how fun it was. I was like, "what's a triathlon??" He told me that it involved swimming, biking and running -- all in a row. At that point, I was playing water polo on the UT Club Team, had just finished running competitively in high school, and everyone can ride a bike -- so why not try it! While I was home for the summer, my friends and I would always do these super long workouts together for fun, always a combo of riding bikes, rollerblading (again, don't laugh!), swimming, lifting weights, tennis, running, etc. We would go for hours, although not super serious and always incorporating snow cones or something fun. Anyway, I decided that I should try out this "triathlon thing" and started to incorporate more swimming, biking and running into my fun workouts. I looked online that week and found a race called Capital of Texas in Austin. The Olympic distance looked like something I could handle (not sure why I didn't start with a sprint?!?) and signed up right away. I found a training plan in some book and set up some loose guidelines for all three sports. For training, I don't think I ever did a long ride, more like just riding for an hour around the neighborhood on my mountain bike. Swimming I could handle - I think I did workouts ~2000m at the local rec center. And running I just continued to run ~4-6 miles around the neighborhood. I continued to "train" for about 6 weeks and then headed to Austin (with my parents) for my first race!

At the time, Capital of Texas was held up in Georgetown rather than downtown. The swim was in Lake Georgetown and the course was actually fairly hilly. I showed up that morning with a big water jug (the kind you used at soccer games growing up), my school backpack, and (get this) animal crackers to eat in the transition area. My attire included a speedo for the swim, bike shorts to put on over my speedo for the bike, and (stop laughing) wind shorts to put over my speedo for the run. Why not!?! I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and I didn't know anyone at the race except my parents who came to cheer.

The race itself actually went pretty well, except for the fact that the bike portion took me 2.5 hours -- about what it takes NOW for me to finish the whole race! I remember people just flying by me on the bike like I was sitting still, even though I was pedaling so hard that I couldn't feel anything below the waist. I guess a mountain bike in the hills was not the most efficient equipment -- I thought I might fall over at mile 12! The swim was actually good, despite swimming waaay off course. And the run came together pretty well -- I guess my rollerblading/weight lifting bricks had paid off :) After the race, I don't think I could move for about 4 days, and I think I slept the whole way back to Houston with my parents. Not sure if I had ever been THAT tired before.

After that, I was HOOKED. Luckily, being young, my dad bought me a bike after that race (my purple trek tri bike, the only tri bike in Clear Lake small enough to fit me) and the rest is history! I did a few more races that summer and then slowly learned (very slowly actually) what to wear, what to eat, how to train, etc.

It is really fun for me to look back now and see how far I've come. How many friends I've made along the way. How much my training has improved. How it has shaped my life and my lifestyle. And how much FUN this sport can be! So if you are a rookie triathlete now or a beginner with more questions than you can imagine, take comfort in the fact that we all have to start somewhere! And if it makes you feel better, I'm sure you are 10 steps ahead of where I started with animal crackers in the transition area. Stick with it and get ready to LOVE the journey ahead!

Coach Suzanne