Friday, November 27, 2009

Return to the Scene of the Crime

I ran the local Pequot Turkey Trot 5-mile race yesterday. This was my fourth time participating in this event. I was curious to see how my recent triathlon run fitness would translate into a fresh road race. I had not competed in a road race in a few years. My first impression is how much different it is then a multi-sport event. I had forgotten just how different the effort is.

A good friend of mine had lured me into this race back in 1999. At the time, I had not run competitively for over 12 years. As I look back on that race, a decade later, I remember how comical our preparation for that race was. We would do 2-3 two mile training runs a week leading into the race. The day of the race was chilly and raining. We lined up in the middle of the 5,000+ pack. I still remember how my lungs burned from the anaerobic effort. I crossed the finish in 37:39 that day. It was not exactly pretty, but I had enjoyed the event tremendously. I would race again the following two years with finishing times of 31:26 and 30:40 respectively. My multi-sport training and racing really started to build after 2001. I found that by the time late November rolled around, I was pretty tired from the racing season. Therefore, I had not participated in the Pequot Turkey Trot since 2001.

This year I felt pretty fresh and I was carrying some good run fitness from my Clearwater preparation. I decided I would give the race a go and see where my "fresh" running was. Race morning was ideal, with temperatures in the low 50s and overcast. As the horn went off, I tried to get out quickly without going out to aggressively. I settled in behind the two lead runners. The pace felt comfortable at the time, so I decided to try to stay with them for a little bit. As we approached the first mile marker, we hit the first slight climb and the lead guy just pulled away. I dropped back a bit and heard 5:10 as I went by the timer. I felt good and I was wondering if I would be able to hold that pace. I then spent the next 3 miles learning what it was like to run a fresh road race again. I went from 3rd place to 9th over this time. My pace slowed some: mile 2 @ 5:24, mile 3 @ 5:27, mile 4 @ 5:20. I was holding it together, but my effort was not the "proper" pacing strategy for a running race. The individuals who passed me, all got stronger as the race went along. I, on the other hand, was holding on for dear life. As I went through the 4-mile marker, my left achilles started to really tighten up on me. This achilles tightness has been a little nuance for me almost the entire year. However, it's never really flared up during a race before. I was a little concerned and I tried to focus on keeping my effort as steady as possible. My form really suffered in this last stretch , but I was able to finish mile 5 in 5:30. That gave me an overall time of 26:54, which placed my in 9th place overall.
I was very happy that I decided to do the race. However, the race and events that events that unfolded during the effort are both fantastic reminders of how different a "fresh" running race can be compared to a multi-sport event.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

70.3 World Championship Race Report

I started my 2009 70.3 Championship journey with the standard flight delay out of JFK airport. Things quickly turned for the better, however, when I landed in Tampa. Timex teammates Bruce and Andrew picked me up in a shiny bright red mini-van, sweet! We then drove to the condo that Bruce had lined up for the weekend. The place was amazing! It even had its own elevator. With the lavish accomodations the pre-race was a very enjoyable experience.
Andrew, Bruce, and I ventured over to the pier Friday morning to do a short swim. We were greeted with rolling surf that made swimming an interesting adventure. It wasn't anything outrageous, but there were some decent size rollers and it was almost impossible to get into any type of rhythm while swimming out into the surf. However, once we turned back towards shore, it was a completely different story as the waves made it feel like I had fins on. We finished up our swim and I was able to catch the Lifesport swim clinic. Lance Watson was going through several race tips to deal with the rough conditions. However, both our swim warm-up and the race tips turned out to be unnecessary as the swim was moved to the bay side of Clearwater. While the decision to move the swim did not make Bruce "the shark" Gennari happy, it made our race morning jog to the start only 400 meters.

The race morning went pretty smooth. Bruce and I headed down to the swim start and found the lines moving very quickly. I jumped right into line; got my Aquasphere Icon wetsuit zipped up, and quickly found myself on the timing dock about to jump into the water. There really wasn't any time for pre-race nerves and I focused on trying to get a decent effort going. The remainder of the swim was pretty uneventful. With the time-trial start, I had no idea where I was in relation to the rest of my age group, so I just went as hard as I could. It was a time trial effort from beginning to end. I exited the water in 27:23, which placed me as the 93rd amateur. I quickly made my way through T1.
Once I got through T1, I was really excited to get on my Trek Equinox TTX. I had just come off of my best bike training heading into the race and I was very eager to see if it would pay off. I quickly dialed into my appropriate heart rate zone using my Timex Race trainer. My perceived effort felt about right and my power output was also coming back with good feedback from my Saris Powertap. The time trial start seemed to spread things out a bit to start the bike, although there were some tight roads for the first 5 miles. I managed to get the cleanest roads I've ever had in Clearwater and I was able to really focus on my own effort. I did hit two packs during the middle section of the ride, but I was fortunate enough to get through them quickly. My nutrition and electrolyte strategies were pretty aggressive as I took down almost 1,000 calories and about 16 Thermolytes. This strategy worked for me as I was able to keep my energy level high and I did not experience any cramping during the entire ride. In fact, this was my first race of the season that I was able to keep my heart rate average up in zone 3. I rolled into T2 with a 2:04:17 split and I had managed to move up to the 4th place amateur position starting the run.
Paul Regensburg, my coach, had asked me to build into my run effort. He wanted me to avoid the adrenaline rush of the first 400 meters out of transition. The plan was to find my cadence and build the effort similar to a progression run. I had done several progression runs in training and that practice was a great source for me during the race. As I was approaching the .5 mile marker, Daniel Fontana (2nd Place Overall), went blasting by me. It was a little shocking and I wondered if my legs were fatigued from the bike. Then I saw the third place bike pull up next to me. I awaited the inevitable pass of the next pro. I was starting to find a decent stride rate and beginning to feel comfortable. I ended up running next to the bike for the next 3 miles. As I approached the aid station around mile 5, Matt Reed came up on my shoulder. I asked him if he wanted to go in front to get his calories in. He said he was just trying to hold his place and he was hoping I could pace him in. I told him that would make my day if I could. I then proceeded to go a little above my comfort level for the next mile and a half. I was thrilled to be able to hold it together for that stretch, but I was a little concerned I might have exerted a bit too much energy. I decided to grab my first cola of the day at the next aid station. The simple sugars kicked in quickly and I was able to keep my form together. I ran the 10th mile in 5:30. However, that fluid stride began to get labored in the 11th mile as my pace dropped to 6:18. I then climbed back over the causeway for the last time. I attempted to carry the momentum from the downhill section of the bridge, but I was starting to fatigue and my 12th mile came in a little over 6 minutes. I saw Paul right after the mile marker and he gave me some nice encouragement to push into the finish. I allowed myself to glance at my overall time for the first time during the run. I saw 3:47 and change. I then realized that I had a chance to have a finish under 3:53. My form went completely out the window at this point. I gave it everything I had. I saw Lance Watson with about .5 mile to go and he yelled to sprint to the finish. I tried, although it certainly was not pretty. I crossed the line with a run PR of 1:16:55 and a total time of 3:52:50. I was completely ecstatic to find out that this placed me as the first M35-39 and 2nd amateur overall. I want to thank Team Timex, Lifesport, and all of our phenomenal sponsors for a tremendous year of support.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Body Fat Testing Methods

There are several types of methods used to assess body composition. What exactly does body composition stand for and why is it so important to determine? First of all, body composition is the ratio of lean body mass compared to fat body mass. When you see the percentage number from a test, that number is approximately how much of your body is comprised of fat. These numbers need to be treated just like anything else in life. The extremes are unhealthy. Sometimes people believe they need to get as low as possible. However, there are dangerous levels at the lower boundaries. The human body needs 10-12% essential fat in women and 2-4% in men. This is the fat necessary to protect the organs and maintain a healthy daily living. The numbers on the high side are associated with all kinds of ailments including: hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The high risk boundaries are >32% for women and > 26% for men. So now that we know the boundaries that we should stay between, how exactly does one measure body fat percentages? Some methods are more accurate than others, but they might not be as realistic to perform. Here are some thoughts on the methods and their relevance.
DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) is used to measure bone density. It also is used to measure body fat percentage in addition to where the fat is located. This is a whole body scanner with two different low-dose x-rays to read bone mass and soft tissue mass. The test takes about 10-20 minutes to complete and is highly accurate (2-3% margin of error). This test is painless and is rated as one of the most accurate tests. It usually costs around $100. Insurance may cover this test.
Hydrostatic weighing is another extremely accurate test (2-3% margin of error). For this test, picture being lowered into a big fish tank. One sits on a scale inside a tank of water, then one expels as much air as possible. Next you are lowered underwater and asked to expel even more air, if possible. The accuracy of the test depends on if one is able to blow out all of the air. The simple explanation of how this works is: fat is lighter then water and the more fat you have the more you will float. So the scale measures underwater weight to figure out body density. This test can be a little scary and is certainly not a good option for high risk individuals as it probably will cause a pretty big spike in anxiety levels. The cost for this test is between $25-$50.
Plethysmography is a technique that requires an individual to enter a dual-chamber device. The device measures the air displaced inside the chamber. This is an expensive technique and it has not been thoroughly researched as of yet. The standard error is about 2.2-3.7%.
Calipers are a common sight at most health clubs. This is the device used to measure skin fold thickness at several locations on the body. The basic premise of this test is that the thickness of fat under the skin reflects total body fat. There are several potential flaws with this test. First, a skilled tester is required. One needs to use the same tester for each test to avoid slight variations in testing methods. This test is not that accurate for people that are fat on the inside. Some skinny individuals as well as older adults can fall into this category. The benefits of this test are that it is generally painless and easy to administer.
Bioelectrical impedance is probably one of the fastest and easiest methods to test body fat. A handheld or standing scale is used for this test. An electrical signal passes from hand to hand or foot to foot. The speed of the signal indicates the amount of muscle one carries. The faster the signal the more muscle the individual has. The basic premise of this test is that water conducts electricity. Fat contains almost no water, while muscle is comprised of 70% water. The margin of error of this test is about 4%. The variables that can affect the accuracy of the test are: hydration, food intake, and skin temperature. If one is dehydrated, then the body fat will register at a higher level. The general rule of thumb is test at the same time each day, preferably first thing in the morning after a cup of water.