A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ultrarunning Balances Triathlon, and Vice Versa

This morning I hopped on my bike in Great Kills Park and proceeded to spin nice and easily. The distance that I wanted to do? 30 miles.



Now for a lot of triathletes, 30 miles does seem like a lot of miles to do. Especially when tapering for one of the biggest races in their life.

The Western States 100 is a huge race. I only have 11 days before it happens, right? Why am I including a longish bike ride of 30 miles this close to the race? Surely I'm not going to get any more physically fit in this short a time, right?

Ah, but that is where "physical" leaves off, and "mental" begins! My goal on this ride was to spin as easy as possible and not pushing any harder pace than necessary to complete the workout.

So I started out on a nice light, small chainring., spin easily, and just enjoy the marvellous day that nature gave me. The easy pace got me thinking about triathlons and ultrarunning in general...

I remembered that I started out as a hard-core triathlete. My training reflected my racing; a lot of hard rides and runs. Heck, my swim also was very physical; I tend to battle other swimmers to create my space in the water during races and not give an inch. I practiced very quick transitions, and, during Ironman races, I never even let a "call from nature" stop me. If I had to go on the bike and on the run, I went. Let's just say that I always had to throw out the shoes immediately afterwards when it was done!

I was the typical "Type A" personality racer. Just like 80% of the other athletes out there in triathlon and short distance running world.

It made sense, of course. The goal was to get to the finish line as fast as possible, right?

Grrr...faster, faster...!

In those early days, my training reflected my racing. Try to knock out some hard workouts as much as possible. Hammer down "red line" pace. Heck, maybe go anaerobic too! Any "easier" paced workouts were just a tad under "red line" too. If I wasn't feeling exhausted at the end of the workout, then what good was it, right?

As I was easily spinning on my bike this morning when reaching the 10 mile mark, I started to remember when I realized I was training too hard...

In the late 90's, I started to relent a lot on my easier paced workouts when I found out that I was getting too exhausted to hold onto my weekly volumes of swimming, cycling, and running. Apparently, getting over 30 years old has a way of telling you that maybe this isn't the way to go! I looked into periodization and the benefits of easier paced runs to try to remedy the situation.

It worked a lot. I was able to do very well in Ironman New Zealand and Ironman Canada in 1999.

But now, in hindsight, my "easy pace" should have been even easier. I didn't know this until I was introduced to ultrarunning in 2002.

Cruising through mile 20 of my bike this morning, I focused on how ultrarunning as made a significant difference in my training and my life...

Ultramarathons are different. Yes, the premise is the same as the other races; get to the finish line as fast as possible, but the vast distances of ultramarathons make this a very complicated issue. No longer can you just "go fast" from the starting line and try to hold it until the finish. The "type A" personality does not work here at all, it tends to break down somewhere soon after 26.2 miles.

Clearly the fastest guy from the start doesn't usually make it to the finish.

When I attempted, and subsequently failed, my first 100 mile attempt, I was around 30th place (of around 300 runners) at the 35 mile point. I thought I was going at my "easy pace" at the time. My "easy pace", from a Type A mentality, of course. It destroyed me at the end. I managed to make it to mile 75, but I was down and out and couldn't run another mile.

Burning River 100, my first 100 mile attempt. 30th place was no place to be in at mile 35. Crashed and burned at mile 75.


Right then and there, I knew Type A didn't work. I knew what I had to do then. I had to *GASP* develop a Type B Personality!

Yes, that laid back, almost lazy-like attitude. Don't worry about the future and just live in the moment. Me? Laid back? Living in the moment? I'm goal oriented! Square peg in a round hole! How was I supposed to adapt to that?!

If I was to succeed in a 100 mile race, I was supposed to redefine EVERYTHING, from my training basics to my racing style.

And so I did.It took a lot of patience, but I'm getting the hang of it. Type A always come natural to me. Type B constantly needs reinforcement. Hence, this morning's ride.

While on the final miles of my bike this morning, I realized some truly wondrous things about what I learned from ultrarunning...

First, ultrarunning is a beautiful counterbalance to triathlon training. Type A and Type B. Yin and Yang. If done right, if you can get a beautiful mix of Type A and Type B mentality into your endurance training, you will most certainly finish high in the standings EVERY TIME. One of the most time consuming things I do as a coach is to make every athlete I coach UNLEARN what they perceive as an easy pace (which, in most cases, is still too hard), and get them to run even easier than before. Heck, I even tell them to leave their watch at home and just enjoy their run! The Type A stuff is usually left to only 3 or so key workouts during the week. That's it. Everything else is easy!


If done right, they will be 100% ready and energized when one of the Type A workouts has to be done. Most of the time, they nail that sucker good! That is the best way to train. And, with the easier paces, they can also increase their weekly volumes without getting tired. It's definitely a win-win situation!

But secondly, and most importantly, is that this combination of Type A and Type B mentality should be expanded to your whole life too. Too many times, the Type A person is ever looking forward to the next goal. He or she never stops and takes a step back to appreciate where he/she is already.

That is one of my biggest regrets when I look back to when I was a triathlete in the 90s. I always got an age group award and the occasional overall award but I was always consumed about trying to move up even further in the standings. I never really stepped back and appreciated the position I was already in. Looking back over the many plaques and trophies that I've won during that time, I realize in hindsight that I was too blind to know that I was already one of the best in my field.

Type A: Goal oriented. Work hard to achieve your goals and dreams, but don't eliminate Type B: Step back and look at where you are in the present! Appreciate where you are at this moment.

At that point I finished the ride. A typical Type B ride: I didn't push the pace and worry about the miles ahead of me; all I did was live in the moment. The miles actually wound up taking care of themselves. I didn't realize I was finished until the last lap of the ride. My speed? About 16MPH.

Perfect! That's exactly the mentality I need to finish a 100 mile race too.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, the "Type A Easy Pace" disaster is certainly familiar. You can think you're at the peak of fitness, but if you're mentally not in sync with the goal you're training for, it means nothing.

    Good luck next week!

    ReplyDelete