Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Tribute to Ziggy and Run to Win

On Tuesday evening about half a dozen runners came to Peak Performance Multisport to find out more about, and register for, Coach Ziggy Gillespie's Nor'Easter Run six-month training program. Several runners have already registered and many veterans plan to return for the 2009 season. There will probably be somewhere close to 25 members on the team - it's hard to know for sure. The first practice is next Wednesday evening, March 4th.

Ziggy developed this team training model nearly 20 years ago after his sister Nancy approached him about coaching her and a few girlfriends to run their first road race. He agreed and they started working together on a weekly basis. Everyone improved; road racing opportunities for women were expanding; and the Run to Win Ladies Team was born.

Every Wednesday evening from March through September, this group of women, (which was never exactly the same from one season to the next,) would meet at what used to be Westbrook College on Stevens Ave. in Portland. Typically, they would do a slow warm-up and arrive at a designated place for interval training, uphill/downhill running, or to practice on a particular race course. Then the group would slowly run back to the college as their cool-down. They met on Sunday mornings for a long run, and, there were a couple years during which the team continued to train together over the winter months, traveling from Portland to Lewiston for weekly track workouts at Bates College.

So much more than running occurred during these gatherings. Over the weeks, months, and subsequent years, barriers were overcome; personal goals were met; friendships developed; teammates got new jobs, fell in love, had babies, changed houses, went through divorce, lost jobs, got married, even moved through one's death from cancer, together, as a team. This was not a haphazard community. It became the 'real deal' for many.

In the meantime, the local running community began to notice these ladies in team singlets at the races. They showed up in numbers, and, they had talent. They looked like they knew what they were doing. Occasionally the team traveled to races such as the Winner's Circle Women's Run for the Roses 5K in Massachusetts, the Brewer 5K, the Sugarloaf 15K, and cross-country races at Franklin Park in Boston. It looked fun and others wanted to become a part of it. At some point, Ziggy agreed to let men join the team.

The core principles of the program remained intact: individual participation and progress toward personal goals, in the context of a supportive group, and under the tutelage of an experienced and dutiful coach. Ziggy's dedication was unwavering, and his insistence on smart, injury-free running clearly communicated.

As the saying goes, "Success breeds success." New this year, Ziggy has agreed to re-brand his training program and become the Nor'Easter Run team coach. Following on the success of its triathlon club Team Nor'Easter, last fall Peak Performance formed the Nor'Easter Run club. Ziggy is offering his six-month program to men and women of all levels of ability under the new brand. He will also coach a select racing team.

Personally and publicly, I would like to thank Brian ("Ziggy") for the years he committed to the Run to Win team. Over the years he occasionally expressed the desire to take a break for a season, yet the team rallied to keep him on. We are grateful for his continued service. Many runners have become very successful in their own right on account of Ziggy's coaching. We gained so much from his shared knowledge and patience to stick with each runner. It is greatly appreciated and won't be forgotten.

Nor'Easter Run stands to be a highly successful program with Ziggy at the helm. Best of luck.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ayuh, it's Time to Plan

I wanted to update you on upcoming running happenings out of Peak Performance Multisport in Portland, Maine. Now is the time to plan your training for 2009!

On this coming Tuesday evening, February 24th, Coach Brian "Ziggy" Gillespie will be at Peak to talk about his six-month training program slated to begin on the following Wednesday evening, March 4th. The informational session is at 6:00 pm, is free of course, and you can go here to register.

On Sunday March 1, and every Sunday thereafter, we’ll meet at Peak for an open group run at 8:00 a.m. These will be structured much like the mid-winter runs we did in Cape Elizabeth – various distances and paces, water stops, and camaraderie all the way. Please let me know if you have any questions on this. I foresee occasionally changing up our meeting place to get a change of scenery. Of course I’ll keep you posted. Register here.

On March 18, at 7:30 P.M., Ziggy will offer a free clinic on "How to Prepare for a 5K". If you don't have much training or racing experience, this would be a terrific session to hear - in clear and simple language - how to get ready for that most popular distance race. Even if you are experienced, you just might learn a tip or two! You can go here to register.

On April 15th, at 7:30 pm, after the tax returns are in, Julia Kirtland will be at Peak to talk about injury prevention and teach us some good self-care techniques. Julia is a massage therapist in Portland, Maine and was one of the top runners in the country. She won the USA Marathon Championships in 1997, and twice qualified for the Women's Olympic Marathon Trials. She is a three-time champion at the Beach to Beacon 10K in the Maine Women’s Division, and presently competes in triathlons. Don’t miss this invaluable free clinic!

Finally, on April 29th, at 7:30 pm, I’ll have an informational session at Peak to talk about the 18-week marathon and half-marathon training program beginning at the end of May. While there will be an overlap with the Sunday group runs, this is a distinct program from Ziggy’s six-month group, in that the focus is the Peak Performance Maine Marathon and Half-Marathon on October 4th. Here’s the link to register for the informational session.

All of this is on the Peak Performance web site, AND, there are more running clinics planned for each month. I don’t want to completely flood you with information here - thank you for staying with me this far!

Feel free to comment or e-mail with questions. I hope to see you next week!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Are You Thinking Marathon in 2009?

Are you thinking this might be the year to get into a marathon? Well, you're not alone. Marathons and road races of all distances are seeing an increase in participants and there's no end in sight. After all, running is a relatively affordable sport and in this current economy we could all use to find budget-friendly and healthy past-times.

The marathon distance presents quite a challenge both physically and mentally. I've run five of them over the years and the metaphor I have used in my training is, it's like putting blinders on and staying keenly focused on the process and the goal out in front of me. In my Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) coaching certification program, the instructors advised that runners should have two years of consistent running, that is roughly 20+ miles per week on average, before embarking on a marathon training program, and they suggested, a runner should take six-months to properly train for the event. Good, solid, careful advice. The point with a conservative approach such as this is to run for life and not get terribly injured during your first marathon experience, like many people do. But as we say in Maine, 'there's more than one way to skin a cat.' I've seen runners successfully complete a marathon less prepared. It's just important to realize what you're getting into and to consider good advice when it's presented.

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of "New England Sports", a free magazine that comes out eleven times a year. This was "The Keeper 2009" calendar edition presented by City Sports of Boston, and an article called "Tips for the First-Time Marathoner" caught my eye. We all like tips, and this author provides understandable, non-technical information.

Mike Norman is a Boston Marathon and Ironman World Championship qualifier, with multiple marathons, triathlons, and swimming events under his belt. He is a coach and co-founder of Chicago Endurance Sports, an active and organized club in the Chicago area. Mike graciously permitted me to share these tips with you:
  • Be prepared: Before you start training for a marathon, you need to make sure you're ready to take on the challenge. Ideally, you have been consistently exercising (30 minutes, three times per week) for the last year.
  • Get ready for the training: Before you start your 18-20 week marathon program, a good rule of thumb is to work your way up to running a minimum of 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week, including one slightly longer run on the weekends.
  • Make a Plan: You wouldn't try to bake your first cake without a recipe, and the same goes for marathon training. Do your research and find a program that is designed for someone with your fitness and health background.
  • Be consistent, but flexible: As your training progresses, realize that things come up, and that it doesn't mean your whole season is ruined. If you miss a workout, don't worry - just get back on track with the next workout. If you miss a week or more, you will need to ease your way back into it, or you risk getting hurt.
  • Extra motivation: Join a group, so you meet other friends that are going through the same things you are. Not only will it make the training more fun, it will motivate you to stick with it, so you don't let your training buddies down.
  • Tell everyone: Tell your friends family, coworkers, and everyone else that you're training for the marathon. They will be a lot more forgiving of your strange new habits (going to bed early on Friday nights, saying "hydrating" instead of drinking, etc.) and it will keep you motivated to stick with it.
This last bullet made me laugh because it is precisely how I followed through with a commitment to run the Martha's Vineyard 20-miler last weekend. I had been blabbing about it for so many months there was no way I could back out, even though I felt under-trained. [The race went very well, by the way. The weather was clear, milder temps than Maine, with only a slight wind which was both a tailwind and headwind during the course of the race. The tailwind was more fun, of course. Paul did a terrific 2:33 as he preps for the Boston Marathon, and I was just back in 2:35. Two minutes faster than last year! It's a great trip we highly recommend.]

There are many options available for marathon training programs such as coached groups with personal plans, books, internet plans, etc. If you are considering running the Peak Performance Maine Marathon on October 4th, 2009, I'll be offering an 18-week program beginning May 31st. Go here for more information.

Good luck with your planning and your training, and don't lose faith, spring is coming.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Beach Day

There were two horse trailers in the parking lot today when I ran through the municipal lot at Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, Maine. I got excited that one of them might belong to the trainer who brings his trotters down to the beach for their off-season workouts, though when I hit the beach and saw only hoof marks and no wheels, I knew they weren't there and hoped they would come during my run.

I love seeing the sulkies training on the beach at low tide. Scarborough Downs is nearby, and the trainers have the advantage of running their horses on the beach. There's just something wonderful about seeing a horse run, particularly a racer. As a runner and racer myself, I fully appreciate what they are doing there: They're doing a workout! They run a couple lengths of the beach, at varying speeds, good for three plus miles one-way to the Old Orchard Beach Pier. Sometimes, of course, they are flying! And the drivers are so committed. They're out there in cold, wet, and often uncomfortable conditions.

One day (I'll never forget this,) the driver, horse and sulky were finishing a fabulous full-on run to the finish area and instead of stopping and walking, they headed straight into the ocean! It was amazing since not only was it a raw 40 degrees, but the sulky and its sand-covered driver went underwater as well! OMG, I thought, that is passion, and commitment. As runners know, there is nothing better for your legs after a high intensity run than to get in the icy ocean water. A shower or bath will do but on the coast of Maine, one might as well take advantage. And this driver was not only taking advantage but taking the dip voluntarily, for the sake of this horse under his tutelage.

Today, I saw three clammers hip high in the water. As mentioned, the tide was low and these guys gotta dig. It was sunny and clear, 3o degrees, and the ocean was very calm. I've never quite figured out how they are able to see where they are plugging their shovels and landing on clams when they are in the water. I would think the depressions and air holes are easier to see on the beach.

Many people were out walking on the beach today, as well. It does seem like spring is in the air. The sun is noticeably warmer, and it stays light until well after 5:00 pm. There were lots of dogs, too. What was missing for me, though, were other runners.

Self-employment, coupled with a sick school-aged child during a school vacation week, tend to warp my sense of time and place. Today, after I went through all sorts of gyrations, manipulation, and planning to get out for a run - the desperate homemaker that I was - I looked around the beach and felt like a retiree. I saw two children with what appeared to be grandparents, and one woman doing a power walk who was probably in her late thirties. Otherwise, the rest of us were AARP eligible and except for me, not runners. It felt strange. I missed the vibrancy of the Tuesday noontime run with friends in Portland, and, I felt like I was moving about as fast as a slug. Oh well, I figured, this is temporary.

I was coming off a long race, I felt tired, and it was a beautiful beach day in Southern Maine. Maybe I should have pulled up a chair, snuggled in my down coat with binoculars in hand, and looked for the sulkies for inspiration.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Face to Face Conversation

For the past two evenings I've taken a sabbatical from any on-line activity. Now granted, this means only a few hours from after dinner until bed-time; but this is usually when I hunker down with my computer and engage in any number of running conversations.

Some work days can be spent almost entirely on-line: making connections with people, finding contacts, researching information, planning events, creating collateral marketing materials, or just simply communicating. This is my work.

So to continue on-line when I'm not "working", that is with two e-mail accounts, a facebook page, running forums, and blogs, I question just how present I am in my everyday real world. Present may not be the right word, I'm not sure, but I can tell you that on Wednesday evening, when instead of checking my e-mail I picked up a book I've been trying to get to and read for a while, I felt much more "at home" with myself. Part of the value of technology is obviously the speed at which we can communicate. But there is something hugely refreshing about wrapping up with a blanket and a book. I could finally slow down.

Speaking of slowing down, I'll be off-line for the next few days while my husband and I travel to Martha's Vineyard to run in the 20-miler on Saturday. I'll be slowing down my running that day to make it through the distance and still feel okay, and I'll be engaging in different kinds of running conversations, not the quick one-liners on a running forum or facebook.

These conversations will occur over the course of a three and a half hour drive, and they'll continue on the ferry. Here's is where we'll start seeing the other runners, our co-conspirators, and we might talk about whether or not they've ever run this race, and what they think about it. Are they running Boston? Where are they from...and on and on they'll go. Friday evening at the Hanover House Inn in Vineyard Haven, you can be assured there will be running conversations over the pasta dinner, which the innkeepers graciously agreed to provide.

Race day is slated to be in the high thirties and sunny. Wa-hoo! There should be plenty of excitement at the 11:00 a.m. start as there always is at road races regardless of the distance. In fact, sometimes the din is remarkable. There could be a few hundred runners, and as we set out, we'll hear many interesting conversations underway. Part of why we enjoy this race so much is because the race management is also terrific. The volunteers are hospitable and the director welcoming. In fact, he hosts an after-event party at his home which we have thoroughly enjoyed.

I look forward to leaving my computer at home and to engaging in these face to face running conversations. I also plan to enjoy my book by the fire, after the race. And yes, my feet will be up. Have a great weekend.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday - A Day of Rest?

Growing up in an Irish Catholic family in a suburb of Boston, Sunday was typically a very low-key and predictable day for us.

Of course there was the morning Mass. We had several time options to choose from beginning as early as 6:00 a.m. and going until 12:45 p.m. The 8:30 was popular for it's lead-in to the mid-morning brunch; and the 10:45 was the "folk Mass" with guitars and singing and child care in the sound-proof room. As we got older, we took advantage of the Saturday evening Mass, leaving Sunday morning for much needed adolescent sleep.

My family had a tradition of sharing the 'big meal' at mid-day on Sundays. Usually between 1:00 and 3:00 we would sit down to a roasted dinner of some sort, with all the fixings. This would take an hour or so, and was followed by reading more of the Sunday paper, watching the Red Sox or Patriots on television, doing homework or playing outside. Supper was something like cereal, PB&J or leftovers. Lest we forget, Disney came on at 7:00.

It always seemed to me that Sunday was a quieter day than the others. In a state like Massachusetts with its "Blue Laws" not all the stores were open or their hours were abbreviated, and families generally seemed to stay close to home. It might be a day for visiting relatives or catching up on things at home, but definitely not a "work" day.

When I was living on my own, I continued to consider Sunday a precious rest day - I think that was in my blood - but how I opted to spend it changed quite a bit.

There were the college years at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Yep, 26,000 students and life as a co-ed in a 22-story high-rise dorm. There was always something going on, especially on Saturday nights, and one can imagine how Sunday mornings were spent. Perhaps we can call it a recovery day. Still a day of rest, I suppose; it just might have been shorter than other days.

It was during this time in my life, though, that I began to pursue running for the sake of running. I had always played three sports throughout high school, though never cross country or track. And in college I played Division I lacrosse during the spring season. I was "running" for sure but never for too long. I discovered that Sundays were a good day to take a leisurely run.

During graduate school there were the assorted waitressing jobs that called for Sunday work hours. I worked at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. which boasted a fabulous Sunday brunch. I often worked that shift, and it was one of those gigs where you didn't have to work too hard. People served themselves from the buffet; I just needed to clear their plates and pour juice and coffee. To boot, it was a nice price point per plate! Despite the good tips, I never really liked to work on Sundays. It was a sacrosanct day, after all.

When I moved to Maine in 1987, I'd been running a little more consistently, had participated in some races, and was fairly committed to my fitness and health, in general. In fact, a Sunday morning aerobics class at the Regency Hotel, a walk around Prouts Neck in Scarborough, or a run around Peaks Island became my spiritual practice. And while it may not sound like rest in the true sense of the word, it certainly did not feel like work.

I started training and racing consistently once I joined up with the Run to Win team, coached by Brian (Ziggy) Gillespie. It's here that I learned how key a regular long run is to develop a distance base and provide a foundation for all runs, especially races. Training for marathons, the long runs are the bread and butter and just how long they are is relative to where you are in your training. The schedule I adapted to reserved Sundays for this prolonged activity.

Today, my husband and I live a running lifestyle and can hardly imagine a non-running Sunday. This winter we ran with a group on Sundays training for the Mid-Winter Classic 10-mile race in Cape Elizabeth. We decided the weekly group should continue, as its such a nice way to cover the miles. Beginning March 4th, Ziggy Gillespie's Nor'Easter Run training program will workout on Wednesday evenings with a long run on Sundays; and May 31st begins the Peak Performance Maine Marathon and Half-Marathon training program, also with the group run on Sundays. Not coincidentally, we plan to combine these efforts to enhance the long run with other runners.

Do I still think of Sunday as a day of rest? You betcha, just only after a good long run.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just Imagine

Last night on my drive home from the Team Nor'Easter social night at Peak Performance Multisport, U2 came on the radio and I found myself, all of a sudden, listening. I was struck, because oftentimes, especially when driving, I'm deep in thought (or something like that) and completely unaware of what is being said or sounding around me. But with a first line going something like, "I'm sick of hearing again and again that there's never gonna be peace on earth," and Bono's continuous plea to "move on" from the pain of it...I was compelled to listen.

I've heard this song, "Peace on Earth/Walk On," before, though have never really thought much about it. But tonight I was coming from a positive, spirited, running and triathlon social event, and all was well in my world. I felt content. The song got me thinking about the possibility of peace on earth. What would that be like? I mean, seriously, can you imagine? Can you imagine Israelis and Palestinians peacefully crossing over shared borders; or Iraq and Afghanistan not as war zones; or Africa as a united continent, all people relishing the natural world and cooperating as needed? It's pretty amazing to stop and really think about it; to see it.

Since the beginning of time artists have implored the world to make peace. Through lyrics, music, paintings, drama and poetry, they expose their perspective of reality and try to create something different. Or they question what is. I mean for chrissake, on my way to work this morning Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" came on. "...and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows too many people have died..." This could have been written today except it was sometime in the late sixties. Long story short, the issue, the longing for peace, is timeless.

The predominance of the artists' need to have it be different and to publicize it, is what I find most intriquing. What about the rest of the world? Where are their (our) perspectives and voices, whether verbal or otherwise? Or maybe it's just that I am most touched by the artists' comments.

Regardless of the vehicle to denounce war and conflict, when it comes to solutions, I think John and Yoko had it right - imagination is the way to go. And here is where and how athletes can emerge and have their speak, assuming peace is a goal.

We've all heard about Olympic athletes using visualization before a key event to 'see' themselves in the winning position. Educators, behavioral psychologists and yoga practitioners all use the power of the mind to create change. Elizabeth Quinn in her piece on "Improve Your Sport Performance with Visualization Techniques" says:

An athlete can use this technique to 'intend' an outcome of a race or training session, or simply to rest in a relaxed feeling of calm and well-being. By imagining a scene, complete with images of a previous best performance or a future desired outcome, the athlete is instructed to simply 'step into' that feeling. While imagining these scenarios, the athlete should try to imagine the detail and the way it feels to perform in the desired way.

So what about 'stepping into' peace, people? It's an incredibly far-fetched and simplistic idea....and what about it? If you, the athlete, close your eyes, and imagine for even just a moment, a peaceful planet; that is far-away lands, people and governments using their words and reaching collaborative solutions, not war; and closer to home, families, communities, competition, and employment working harmoniously. Imagine armies laying down arms and people cooperating. It really is rather mind-boggling.

I suspect, as we hold out hope and practice these images, in even a small way, things will get better. So go ahead. Just imagine.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Excuse Me Goal

My eight year-old daughter has been exploring the proper usage of the noun "excuse." When she asked if the neighbors were home yet from Sugarloaf and I said "I wasn't sure," she asked, "Is that an excuse?" Well, no, but I suppose it could be if I needed to cover the fact they were home for some strange reason.

It's easy to understand how the meaning could be difficult to comprehend when a young mind hasn't discovered the need for rationalization or self-defense. The dictionary defines the noun as "An explanation offered to justify or obtain foregiveness." Unfortunately, I've learned all too well the meaning of the word when it comes to running, and racing in particular.

Yesterday I raced the Mid-Winter Classic 10-Miler in 1:10:58, a 7:06 pace. My goal was to better last year's time and do it in 6:50s. But to accomplish any goal there have to be deliberate, appropriate steps to get there. I know this; this is a basic tenet of training. In order to run ten miles at a 6:50 pace, I would have had to train, at least once a week, at a faster pace per mile. A good workout would have been mile repeats at a 6:15-6:30 pace, progressively increasing the number of repeats each week. It also would have been important to run longer than the race distance, also weekly. That means run 12-14 miles for the long training run, instead of ten. I did neither of these things.

Other steps toward the goal might include regular strength training, dynamic stretching, core work, a conscientious healthful diet, lots of good rest, hydration of the non-alcoholic sort, keeping a positive mental attitude, and reducing overall stress in your life. I achieved these partway.

I mean you know there was the late October marathon and recovering from that, which led right into Thanksgiving and cornmeal stuffing and then Christmas and homemade eggnog and then New Year's, pop!, and then the inauguration, cheers Obama, and oh, the weather, did I mention this winter weather, I missed so many days of running, I can't stand the treadmill and I don't have a gym membership anyway, and I just can't seem to get a good night's sleep anymore, I am 50 after all and you know what that means to one's hormones and chemistry, and school vacations and snow days and childcare, and homework, and the economy, and the competition, I knew Ellie was going to beat me - she is the better long distance runner, after all, and the salt and sand that I had to breath in mixed with the freezing temperatures, I felt nauseous at mile four, and the hills, and that headwind in the final stretch, OMG. What's a poor road racer to do?

Thankfully, I do know and understand I was not trained to run any better than I did. I can only imagine what the twenty-miler is going to look like in two weeks. I guess I'd better start getting creative. SG will be understanding excuses in no time!

Kudos to all of you who ran and raced, and who achieved and exceeded your goals, as I know many of you did. Keep up the great work - you are an inspiration!