Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Drugs, Set Backs and Rock and Roll

**Disclaimer: I was on a plane when I wrote this so it does go on a bit, ok it's really long, but bare with me, it's a pretty interesting issue**

With Marathon Monday just around the corner my own spring marathon goals have been on my mind. Over the last month I have been traveling to and sailing at different events in the Caribbean. The break from the cold was much appreciated and the sailing was fantastic but all that rum and sun caused my training to slip. I ran almost every day but my mileage was down and my speed training was practically nonexistent. Tempo runs were replaced with hill repeats and instead of 18-20, long distances were more like 10-12. Being hilly and hot makes Caribbean training hard, for sure, but by this time last year I had run an 18 in Antigua and two 20s in Tortola so that's not an excuse. The bottom line is I have put myself back about a month and probably won't race a full in May, as planned. I want to run my next marathon when I feel really ready and confident that I can decrease my time. I don't know how realistic a BQ really is for me but it is something to run towards and I want to run my next race with that in mind.

As for now I am turning my focus to the half marathon distance, with a race on May 3rd that is part of the Rhode Island Grand Slam half marathon series. Throughout the summer there are four half marathons around the state that count towards an extra t-shirt if you run all four of them. There is the option of running a full for the last event in Newport in October. The Newport Marathon is up in the air this year because of some drama involving the city, permits, Eident racing and sand dunes. Though it is not my favorite race, I still look forward to it because it's my home for now training ground. Eident and the City have both promised to host events, most likely on the same weekend so there will be something to run, there just aren't a lot of details yet. Obviously this has upset the people who have already registered for the series or race but since I don't believe in booking things in advance (or buying round trip tickets, or anything else that commits me to being someplace at sometime) this isn't an issue for me.

With my own training falling off the treadmill, as it were, and an injury to my sister causing her not to run, I have been thinking about goals and set backs. I'm not a goal setter, as I wrote about last year, and I'm sure, along with my unpredictable work schedule, it has a lot to do with the commitment phobia that keeps me from registering for races in advance. If you don't set goals you can't not reach them, right? But I do think it is important to set yourself up for success by setting goals that are realistic. I don't mean that whatever it is it should be easy. It needs to be something that challenges ourself that requires hard work with a big spoonful of self doubt, but something that is achievable. As fate would have it, as I was tuning over these thoughts in my head, I delivered a boat from St. John to The Bahamas and ended up reading one of the recent tell-all books about the Lance Armstrong/Tour de France/Did he or Didn't He/Is Doping Bad? affair. Though I know that it's not realistic, I like to believe that people are honest and hard working and can achieve amazing things and I'm always disappointed to hear about athletes that are striped of medals or honors because they cheated. Reading this book, Wheelmen, made me question my own opinions on the subject. I remember being upset to find out that Marion Jones had taken drugs to win her Olympic gold medals and was equally disappointed when Lance Armstrong admitted to continuous use of the same drugs that probably gave him cancer in the first place. I don't follow cycling and I didn't realize just how much controversy there was over him in particular and his repetitive claims that he was racing clean. It breaks the issue up in to a few different arguments; 

-Why is doping bad?
-Other than the individual athlete, who is it hurting?
-Is it the cheating / lying / legality that is the issue?
-Would you do something drastic to achieve your goals?

EPO, the most common performance enhancing drug, and Human Growth Hormones are two of the big things athletes are tested for. Taking injections of these cause athletes to increase their supply of oxygenated red blood cells, produce them for longer during periods of incredible strain and to feel less strain while pushing their bodies. Honestly, it doesn't sound that bad to me! How fast could I run if my hamstrings weren't straining?  Pain is weakness leaving the body, right? Sort of. Pain is our bodies way of telling us that something is wrong. Strain is different and knowing that difference is important. With pain you should probably stop.  It is a sign that something isn't working the way it is supposed to. Strain is probably fixable with more training and proper stretching or recovery or whatever. Taking a drug that masks the line between the two can lead to two things, achieving incredible feats of endurance and pushing to the point of break down or death, in the case of one TdF cyclist.

Obviously, death is bad but other than the individual athlete does doping in sports hurt anyone else? The main argument in Wheelmen was that the bar was raised so high by athletes and teams that were taking drugs that it made it impossible to compete at that level without it, it was part of the game. Young athletes coming up were encouraged or pressured into taking the drugs, no matter what their natural ability, they wouldn't be an asset to the team if they didn't take it.  Our elementary school teachers drilled into us that drugs are bad but isn't using science to reach new heights part of our culture? The team doctors that were prescribing EPO and blood transfusions monitored these athletes' levels of VO2 (volume of oxygen) and lactic acid and designed drug regimens around it. They were just increasing what the body produces naturally with exercise. Paula Radcliff holds the long standing record for the women's marathon and maintains that she did it clean. I'm inclined to believe her but after reading this book I don't know what to think! Her trainers and doctors have tested her natural VO2 levels and find them higher than most endurance athletes, who have high levels anyways. If her body naturally produces the things it needs to push harder for longer isn't using a drug or a blood transfusion that does the same thing just leveling the playing field?

The other big issue with the Armstrong case was the fact that everyone was lying and lying about lying. Again, from an early age we know lying is bad. Lance Armstrong never felt bad about using drugs to enhance his performance he was just eventually felt bad about lying about it. (Well, at least he told Oprah he felt bad about it, but I would say whatever I thought Oprah wanted me to say too …). If all elite athletes are doing it, should they at least be honest about it?

Then there is the legal side. Using these drugs is against the law and breaking the law is bad. But alcohol and cigarettes are legal and kill more people every year than EPO use. For that matter shouldn't fast food be illegal if it can lead to diabetes, heart disease and death? We're mad at the people that are trying to run 26 miles or bike over the Alps for 3 weeks faster than anyone else. People are upset that these athletes aren't good roll models for their kids or that they let us down in some way but we're perfectly happy to let those young kids become obese and 18 year olds to fill their body with known carcinogens.

We know that dying, lying, cheating, and breaking the law are all bad things and if athletes are doing these things in order to achieve their goals does that make doing anything to meet a goal a bad thing? I don't know, it all makes my head spin. It's a good argument to take on a long training run though! Thankfully, I am not an elite athlete or world record breaker and I'm pretty sure I won't ever be faced with the moral dilemma of taking EPO or HGH. I will admit to taking a strong shot of caffeine, which is a drug, before running. I hope you're all not too disappointed in me. 

As for the comings and goings of this mortal runner, I managed to get home to Newport for about 30 hours this week and was very pleasantly surprised to find that the snow was gone and spring is here! I dropped my bags and turned right back around to run ocean drive, unwilling to pass up an opportunity to celebrate the change of season appropriately. I had an awesome run. All of the doubts and debate about the full were far from my mind as I crushed 11 miles and felt great. I didn't take my GPS with me and mapped it when I returned home. I was pretty happy to see that I averaged an 8:09 pace, way down from last week's 9:21 12 miler. The air was fresh and just a little bit cool and it reinvigorated me completely. Congratulations to everyone who made it through the winter in New England, get out there and celebrate this week, it's only going to get better! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Did you just call me fat?!

One of the guys that I sail with asked me the other day, "If you run so much, why don't you look like a runner?"
My female intuition kicked in and I automatically responded with, "did you just call me fat?!" After watching him bumble around for a bit trying to dig himself out of that hole I kindly explained that I run often and I run a lot but I'm certainly not winning these marathons and am definitely not an elite athlete. I just enjoy running. It did get me thinking, though, about size and shape as well as the plateau. 

-What does a runner look like? 
-Do genetics control our size and shape more than a work out regime? 
-Is it a nature vs nurture argument? 

Having a consistent regime can cause people to stop seeing change in their bodies. The raving that goes on about different diets and supplement routines  having near instant results is great until your body gets used to the change. As you lose weight your body burns fewer calories per the same amount of exercise or calories eaten.  
The theory behind the Cross Fit phenomenon is to keep your muscles guessing by breaking them down again and again with different activities. Running doesn't do this. Sure, we vary our training with intervals and cross training days but for the most part it's one foot in front of the other. 

My best friend has just celebrated returning to her pre baby weight 2 years after giving birth to her beautiful daughter. I'm incredibly proud of her for setting her goal and having the drive and patience to reach it. Over the past year she has focused on calories and exercise. She has figured out ways to workout while caring for her daughter full time.She maintains her caloric intake by removing tempting foods from her vicinity and she tracks her exercise and calorie burn with a Fit Bit because being a mom burns a lot of calories that are hard to track using traditional methods. I don't see 'chasing a toddler around in attempt to get her dressed: 95 calories' in any of the exercise tracking apps! 

Personally, I rarely change weight. I am and have been 150 lbs since I can remember. It doesn't seem to matter if I am in full training or sailing across oceans, that number doesn't move more than a few pounds. There have been a couple of deliveries when the weather wasn't great that I didn't feel up to eating and stepped off the boat about 10 lbs lighter, but short of starving myself for a couple weeks, I don't see a real possibility of living at the ever elusive 135lbs.  When I'm training a lot my body tones up in different areas and there is definitely some firming of thighs and things but no real weight change. I think I used to get stuck on the number and thinking that I needed to be down below 140 but I'm happy now with it just being my shape. 

What do you do when you plateau?
Do you have a non-traditional runner's shape and size?
Do you change up your routine? What do you do?
Here's a great article about what it will take to run a sub 2 hour marathon, perfect conditions, boring course, cool weather and a short guy with long legs!

Here's a nice view from a plateau in St. Barths