Monday, December 24, 2012

It's that time of the year: 2012 Reflections

It's that time of the year. Temperatures are dropping. Days are shorter. We're in the middle of the holiday season. Which means one thing...

It's time to recharge the batteries, take stock, and plan for next year.

I love the holiday season. Yes, it's cliche and the saying is often over-used, but it's nice to be with family and friends. Many of them (and mostly my wife) graciously support my individual pursuits in triathlon and running. She selflessly puts up with my early morning swim workouts; my not being around when she wakes up in the morning; my need to get a good nice sleep to do it all again tomorrow; my structured diet. For 11 out of 12 months of the year, it's seemingly all about me.

There is a lot of sacrifice that goes into it all. And that's why that one month a year (or two) - during the holidays - is so important. It's not about whether I swim 3000 meters that morning. It's not about making sure I get in four bike workouts that week. It's not about going to bed at a decent time knowing I need to be at the pool at 6am the next morning. For one month out of the year, it's not about me. It's a time to sleep in a little on the weekend. It's a time to spend the afternoon at the cafe with my wife sipping coffee and chatting. It's a time to share a bottle of wine with some friends. It's a time to let go of the pressure of "I need to train today."

But, as much as the end of the season is about reconnecting on the other important aspects of life, it's also time to reflect back on 2012 (the good and the bad), and start setting specific goals for 2013. This is the fun part. To look at the entire body of work for the year, analyze where things went well, where they didn't, and find small nuggets of information to help lay the foundation for next season's training. The big thing is to identify very specific aspects, whether nutritionally, biomechanically, or otherwise, and dedicate a solid training block to improving those deficiencies (more on this in my next post).

What I'll remember about 2012 


I would be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled with qualifying for Boston. But, I'm also proud that I made a number of very solid advancements in my training over the past year. Here are three things I'll remember about 2012:

1. The mental game. Five years of marathon running and 18 months of triathlon, I'm finally figuring out the mental game; even enjoying the mental game. Whether you say 50% or 75%, what goes on between your ears has a lot to do with what happens in your chest, arms and legs. Researchers are figuring out there is a closer link between the heart and brain than previously thought, and things like sleep and stress play a major role. Tim Noakes has long expressed the idea of a "central governor," or essentially the idea that exercise is neurally-mediated. The brain calculates a safe pace for the body, and limits exertion and endurance by the number of muscle fibers recruited.

But forget all the scientific stuff, mile 25 of a marathon or mile 95 of a century bike ride is all about the decision to endure pain and keep going, or pack it in and stop. The biggest mental adaptation for me over the year is one of perception. How much can I really endure? As I discussed in previous posts, I've focused a lot on improving my lactate threshold with high intensity interval work. Yes, it has a lot of physiological advantages, but the mental component of the training is equally as important. Run 2 minutes as fast as you can along slightly rolling hills. Rest for 30 seconds. Then do it again another 10 times. By the eighth or ninth interval your legs are screaming; you're hearts pounding out of your chest; you can taste the lactic acid building up. Then you have to decide if you're going to bang out this last interval (and how hard you're going to go), or if you're going to cut it short, and pack it in for the day. This is the same game you play at mile 25 or mile 95.

2. Recovery. If there is one thing I've learned since taking up endurance sports, it's that it's all about recovery. Doing those hill repeats or swim drills seems like the work part, but it's really afterwards when your body gets to work. Recovery is when your body goes about fixing all the damage created during exercise - and then rebuilding. But in order to rebuild, the body, of course, needs the right tools. These come in the form of quality amino acids for muscle repair; or antioxidants for all the free radicals produced during exercise; or dark leafy vegetables to alkalize the body's pH after it became acidic during a hard workout; or cold therapy and compression to reduce inflammation. Bottom line, I've seen my best performance improvements when I'm recovering properly. Not to mention, mastering the art of recovery is also critical when taking a high-intensity-interval-based training approach. Doing the right things between workouts ensures I'm able to maximize performance during workouts.

3. My first coaching experience. On the day before I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, about 2,000 people lined up for the Rothman Institute 8k, including my wife and me. This was her first time running anything more than a 5k. She was definitely nervous. Yes, I was a little conscious of not "over-doing it" with a marathon the next day, but these were nerves of "coach" rather than "athlete." It was a tough task: how to help Stephanie prepare for her first 8k and structure a useful program within her busy schedule of attending law school, serving on law review, and holding down a job. Not to mention, trying to carve out time for her training separate from my own. But in the end she was great - a minute under her goal minute/mile pace and she ran the entire thing. More than anything, it was something we did together, and that's what made it so enjoyable.

She even beat me to the finish line...

Now, she's talking about doing another...maybe a 10k or half marathon...who knows what the limit is...


2012 was a good year. Not only am I happy with my race results (my next post I'll talk about one triathlon-specific achievement that's shaping my training approach for 2013), but I also dedicated a lot of attention to mastering many of the "non-race" things, like nutrition, sleep, recovery, etc. Many of these things, of course, have a carry-over effect with performance, but I'm most pleased with how I've optimized all the different variables for overall health and well-being.

But 2013 is another year, and another opportunity to recalibrate and find ways of doing things even better. 2013 will be filled with a new set of goals, challenges, achievements and setbacks. That's all part of the journey...

Stay tuned for my next post where I go into a bit more detail on how I identified some weaknesses from my 2012 season, and what I'm doing to improve them in preparation for next year's races.

But for now, it's time to relax and enjoy the downtime.

Happy Holidays!

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