Monday, October 28, 2013

Goals for Beginner Runners

To be successful at anything, it is important to know what your goal is and where you are starting. So logically, when I am working with runners I start by determining where they are, and where they want to get. 

For an absolute beginner, someone who has been sedentary and wants to start running for health benefits, we start from the absolute beginning. 

We start with brisk walks, with the goal of building up to 30 minutes of continuous brisk walking. Then we gradually introduce running intervals into the walking building up the run to walk ratio gradually and in a safe manner. The goal being 30 minutes of continuous running at an easy pace. 

Along with the running, it is important that the runner is doing some strength training. Strength training is also built up gradually and safely. The goal of the strength work is to strengthen the muscles that are the prime movers of running, as well as muscles involved in stabilizing the hips and core, muscles important to good running form and posture, etc.

This is important to make running easier and to reduce the risk of injury to new runners. 

If you are getting started running and want help, contact me. I have programs at GT Fitness for runners of different experience levels including strength classes, running plans, and training runs so that you can learn the right effort level at which you should be learning. 

Steven O'Nan

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slow and Steady

I was not the last one put of the water, but I was only----- ahead of the last one out. I knew going into this that the swim was going to be the big challenge for me. I have grown leaps and bounds from the guy who was only willing to swim if his boat sank, but I still have a long way to go. Halfway through the swim I had myself convinced to never do another triathlon longer than sprint distance.

I knew it was going to take a long time, but I had no idea the swim was going to be so humbling and overwhelming. I never did set aside time to swim in open water, so I was spoiled by that thick black line on the bottom of the pool.

After the national anthem and the going over of the rules and course all the triathletes headed down from the transition area to the lake. It was about a quarter of a mile between the two, so we were encouraged to bring a pair of shows to run up the asphalt from the lake to T1. I grabbed my Xero Shoes huaraches and walked down with my wife. When we got there, I looked at her and said, "Did I give you my earplugs?"  I hadn't. My earplugs were gone. For a triathlete who struggled with swimmer's ear all through training this was a bad thing. Visions of nausea danced in my head. I pulled my blue swim cap over my ears and hoped for mercy.

I got in the lake for my first open water swim. The lake was cold enough that the race had been deemed wetsuit legal. I don't have a wetsuit, I never even fathomed that a triathlon in Tennessee in August would be wetsuit legal. Fortunately the pool I had been training in was kept pretty cool. The lake seemed warmer to me.

It was overcast, it had been a rainy summer, the sky was a canopy of grey over a muddy brown lake. It was not a very scenic start to the triathlon. I started wondering if I would get sick from swimmer's ear (it didn't matter, I was going to finish this thing whether I threw up or not). I wondered if I would be able to swim in a straight line from buoy to buoy. (Not even remotely) I wondered if  I would be the slowest swimmer of the day(no, but just barely). I wondered if that feeling was nervousness or if I really did need to find the nearest portapotty.


The first wave started. They swam further and further out while I waited the three minutes for my wave to start.

The second wave started. They swam further and further out while I kept to the pace I needed to keep and frustratingly zigzagged back and forth in the general direction of the next buoy.

The third wave swam past, around, and over me and swam further and further out while I continued frustratingly trying to swim straight.

The two waves of women swam past me. Except for a few other stragglers I was out in the lake alone. We stragglers were spread out enough that there was no chance for camaraderie among the slowpokes.

The constant battle of getting off course, finding the next buoy, getting back on course was hammering my resolve. The very kind kayakers asking every once in a while if I was OK became maddening. "Yes I'm OK, I'm just a lousy swimmer would you leave me alone!" I never actually said that, I wouldn't have really meant it. I was feeling intensely alone as it was.

I wanted to be done with the swim.

I wasn't even halfway through.

I had to do something.

I remembered I had wanted to start focusing on improving my kick. So instead of allowing myself the frustration of thinking about how far I had to go. I started trying to focus on my kicking.

I started looking for that Zen feeling I get when I run. I needed a rhythm, a physical meditation, a mantra of movement.

I needed to accept where I was and do what I could with what I had.
I need to do that every day.

I found a rhythm with my swim stoke and my breathing. Breathe in to the view of the blank, grey sky, breathe out to the murky brown water. In. Out. In.  Out. Find the buoy. Aim for it accept limitations. Start again.

My goal was to do the swim in an hour. I crossed the mat at 1:00:27. That'll do.

Next, I really needed to go poop.

I slipped my feet into my sandals, jogged up the pavement right past the bike racks and straight to the bathroom. Out of the bathroom and to my bike. It was easy to find my bike since there were only 4 or 5 still on the racks.


I sunscreened myself. Yes, I stopped for sunscreen we of Irish descent must be careful. I put on my shirt, glasses, helmet, bike shoes, and race belt with bib and energy gels attached and took off.

I took the first part of the bike ride as a chance to get in about 100 calories of gatorade, then focused on picking people off on the bike ride. I was confident I could do this because I am such a poor swimmer that most people that are just ahead of me on the swim are not as fast on the bike as I am.

It was, however, hard to pick people off on the bike ride when they had such a big head start on me.

Eventually I saw a bike in front of me. The guys shirt had a reflective triangle just below the collar, so I started chasing that triangle. That triangle stayed reliably out of reach, but while chasing the triangle I was able to catch and pass several other people on the bike. I made an effort to say something encouraging to others on the bike route. I like it when people encourage me, so I try to give that which I would like to get. I passed maybe a dozen people on the bike route, but never caught up to that triangle.

Another humbling moment, as I pulled my bike in to the transition area, I was watching people finish the run.


I put the bike on the rack and my helmet down. I squeezed an energy gel into my mouth and took off.

The run course was the prettiest course I've ever run that was not an actual trail race. It was a combination of the road around the lake, the paved bike path through the woods in the park, and a brief stint through the parking lot of the Fall Creek Falls Inn.

The crowd was sparse this far back in the event, but around mile two I briefly talked with then passed another runner. From then on I was able to gradually catch and pass several runners.

A scene I will never forget. After the parking lot the course reconnected onto the bike path, and we ran right alongside the lake. The trees closest to the lake leaned out towards the water, reaching for the reflected sunlight that shines from beneath. They looked as though perhaps they were bowing humbly to the lake, or maybe trying to reach out and catch a fish.

I paced myself carefully, after looking at the results and thinking about it, I think I was too careful. I could have gone harder. I was feeling great on the 10K run. If I'd been racing hard, I would not have felt great.

My wife did not know I was feeling great. She was about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, anxious. She thought my goal was three hours, rather than three hours and thirty minutes. She was thinking about my swimmer's ear and lack of earplugs. She was concerned that I would be throwing up all over the course.

As I climbed the hill. ---Hold that thought. --- Never trust the race course description. "The run features rolling hills--nothing steep." That last 3/4 mile to a mile is steep.

As I climbed the hill on the way to the finish, I saw my wife, taking a video of me coming up. Little did I know she thought I was in agony. She put down the camera, turned around and said, "Come on." She ran with me up the hill. She had no idea the only discomfort I was having was that the swim had left me psychologically shaken and feeling immensely lonely. Running next to my wife had me nearly in tears at that point. She ran hard. I know it was hard for her, because she made me pick up my pace. She knows I like to kick at the end. She said, "Not yet, don't sprint yet, wait until the top of this hill. . . now GO." I kicked as hard as I could. I didn't take much pride in passing the guy who carried his daughter across the line, but I don't run hard at the end for pride, I run hard at the end because I like the way it feels.

Goal time: 3:30:00
Actual time: 3:35:53.9
Should I subtract the bathroom break?

Lessons learned:
Practice sighting on the swim, take time to swim in a lake, practice swimming in a straight line.
Work harder on the bike. I was too fresh at T2.
Remember what 5K effort feels like and make sure the last 5K feel like 5K effort.

My next big goal:
Fall Creek Falls 50K trail race. I'm aiming for my first Ultra Marathon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

70.3 Becomes 71.8 The Big Day

Ready to swim./

We planned the date, planned the route, got Grandma to watch the little one, and went to the pool. Stage one would be 1900 meters of lap swimming at the pool. The pool staff at the Warren County Aquatic Center were great. They made sure we had a lane gave us some words of encouragement and off we went. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Before the adventure.

I had a personal victory in the pool. With my new careful pacing I was able to start swimming continuous freestyle without breaks or switching to backstroke. I swam the 5th and 11th lap backstroke, but managed to swim all the rest freestyle.

Pacing is important.

Transition Zone
AKA our car.


T1 was interesting. we had to get the bikes off the car rack, we grabbed a little snack, and headed out on the road. We stayed together, she swam at my pace, I biked and ran at her pace. Except the first part of our ride was through town back to our house, so traffic did impede our progress quite a bit. I choose to focus on the 95% of polite drivers who made room for us, passed carefully, etc., rather than the few impatient ones who did things like see me get to the left of the land with my left hand out signalling a left turn, then gunning past us on the left. Most drivers that day were very friendly. We biked to the house, stopped for a quick snack and water bottle refill then hit the road again.

After biking across Bowling Green, we biked out to Simpson County, stopped at an old cemetery with Civil War soldiers buried in it, then on to Auburn in Logan County before biking back to the house.

We stopped for a quick lunch at the cemetery. We stopped at a convenience store to buy new gatorade. This self supported stuff requires more planning. It is a good thing we were planning on finishing the distance and not racing the distance. To nail a killer time while self supported would have required carrying a lot more stuff on the bike ride.

Our bike ride turned out about a mile and a half long. We had to reroute part of our ride due to some heavy, unsafe traffic. Basically this means we are a little more awesome than just half Iron distance finishers.


Transition Two was really fun. We grabbed our Gatorade and water bottles out of the refrigerator, then took the dogs out to potty. I bet there are very few triathlons that include dog poo at T2.

We were basically wiped out at this point. We had swum 1900 meters. We had biked 57.5 miles. We were tired. The good news was all we had to do was run a half marathon.

So we ran. We talked about whatever we could think of to distract ourselves from our task. We enjoyed the scenery. Living out in the country is wonderful. Our race route included restored prairies full of yellow coneflowers, chicory, and queen anne's lace. We saw horses, sheep, and cattle. We had rarely cool weather for August in Kentucky.

At about mile 6 we were both feeling pretty sorry for ourselves. We started thinking of people who inspired us. Examples that had been set before us to help us get our perspective back. At times like this, the elites don't inspire me much. It doesn't help me much to think of someone who has coaches, Nike sponsorships, and a lifetime of athletic training behind them. My inspiration was one of my fitness clients who has decided to take charge of her life. She's lost 60 pounds in the first 6 months of this year for a total of 100 pounds of weight loss. When I thought of the mindset, work, and consistency that that required, THAT was my inspiration.

Just before our turnaround point there is a concrete pineapple by the road. So we called this event the Rockfield Pineapple Triathlon.

We turned around and started hobbling home. Our spirits were low. We both wanted to cry. So we started pointing out the beauty of the scenery around us. Usually when we do this on runs we say things like, "Hey, look at that sunset! Aren't those clouds beautiful?" At this point it was, "Clouds. Pretty."

Then I started singing.

We must have looked crazy, sunburnt, messy haired, covered in sweat singing the Rocky Theme, and "Be A Man" from Mulan, and the Superman music while running down the road in the middle of the cornfields and soybeans.

My wife sang with me as much as she could, but we were much higher in her workout zones than we were in mine. So I sang us home. One crazy song at a time. Whether or not I could remember the lyrics. We finished with "Jingle Bells".

We made it home hand in hand.

She won 1st place overall female.
I won 1st place overall male.

What were our times?
They were wonderful times.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Half Iron Training

I still couldn't manage to get the hang of swimming long distances, and this was a problem because I was going to have to swim over a mile. I was still getting out of breath after just 50 yards. Rather than stopping to rest I would roll over and backstroke until I had caught my breath. I was still very frustrated by the swim, and still not enjoying it at all.

Some would say that if I don't like it, and it is that hard for me I should probably just not do triathlons. There are all sorts of other things I could do, marathons, duathlons, ultra marathons. . . Here's the thing though. I like being challenged. I like the facing the feeling of, "I can't do this," and then finding a way to do it. I enjoy finding what seems to be my limit, and then discovering a way to go past that supposed limit. At one point in my life I thought I couldn't run, thought I couldn't swim more than enough to get back to a boat if I fell off it.

I didn't like the swim. I was not very good at the swim. So I kept getting in the pool.

So I trained. I swam, I biked, I ran. I kept adding more distance to my long bike rides and my long runs and trying to add distance to my swims. I kept hitting this obstacle though.

I went out one evening to swim, started feeling queasy, cut the swim short, drove home in misery and threw up in the yard. I kept getting sick whenever I would swim. So I asked for advice from my triathlon friends on Google+. Earplugs fixed the swimming problem, then I  was able to build my swims up in distance as well.

One day I finally figured out why I got so winded swimming, and I felt like an absolute fool. The same thing I kept telling new runners I had to tell myself. "Slow down." By easing off on my stroke a bit, I lost only a little bit of speed but was able to keep swimming without changing to  backstroke or stopping. Over all this saved me time and energy.

So I was able to get my training in. I was ready to get out there with my wife and complete a 70.3 of our own design.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

70.3 Or Rather 71.8

When she told me to smile I got a little mad so I said, "No." I stayed for the picture, because I knew it was important to her, but I was in no mood to smile at all. I had just done the most physically challenging thing I've done yet, and she had too. I don't know how she managed to smile.

That runner's euphoria was not kicking at that time. Although I had felt it a few times in the previous nine and a half hours. I was just finished. Frustrated. Done.
There was no way I was going to smile at that point.

Don't tell me to smile.
We had each finished two sprint triathlons with distances of 400 meter swim, 14 mile bike ride and 3.1 mile run. We made plans to move up and do an olympic distance tri, 1500 meter swim, 28 mile ride, and 6.2 mile run. I started programming our training plans, then my wife for some reason said, "We should just go ahead and do a half ironman this year."

That would be 1900 meters, 56 miles, and 13.1 miles.

So I said, "OK."

We like challenges I guess.

And then the training began.

Stay tuned for more!

Update: Part two is here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Low Hollow Trail 5K Race

So I've got this long running joke in my family. There is this guy in my age group at races who ALWAYS roasts me and usually wins my age group. There was this one race in which I won my age group simply because he won overall and was no longer in the running for age group prizes. He usually finishes 4 to 5 minutes ahead of me. So when they give out awards, or when we look at online results, I do my best Lex Luthor impression, raise a fist and say his name as if he were my arch nemesis. In fact, with that analogy, I will refer to him as "Superman" for the rest of this post.

I ran a trail 5K last weekend, and when I got near the start line I say him. Superman!! (imagine that in a great Lex Luthor growl). So I ran the race had a great time and at results time when they got to my age group awards they said, "Third place, Superman!" I said, (in my head of course) "Superman!! That means I didn't place at all." Then they said something that sent me into shock. "Second place, Steven O'nan."

Wait, what?!?!?

I beat Superman?!??!

Now I realize there are all sorts of reasons that could be behind this, but the fact remains, the day after riding my bike 45 miles I went to a 5K race and defeated Superman. 

22:29, 13th place overall, 2nd place in my age division.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Craving the Effort

Despite the fact that I barely slept last night, I am looking forward to this run. I am full of excited anticipation. Today is tempo run day. I'll be doing six miles total, with four at a hard pace, not race pace hard, but harder than usual. I am craving the breeze on my face, the sweat on my forehead, the sheer effort of maintaining a harder pace. Sometimes I dread these workouts, but today I want it. It must be that runner's high, that response to high effort that makes us forget how hard it was and only remember how awesome it can feel to push the body. Right now my mind is foggy from lack of sleep, but I still can't fall asleep. I know, deep down in my bones I know that when I am done with this I will be able to sleep again. I know that my mood will improve. I know that my heart, lungs, and muscles will benefit, but mainly I know that I will feel good.