Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June


June is my absolute favorite month. Its warm and long days are just the best. Plus, lots of summer is still ahead.

In recent years, I didn't run much in June because most of my focus was on cycling. I love riding my bike in warm weather through mountains. 

This year was a little different in that I tried to keep my running alive. And I did. If you follow me on Facebook, you might think that I just ride all day everyday. Sure, I didn't run lots but four days per week is more than I have done in four years in June. None of the runs were specific and most of them rather slow and painful due to heavy cycling legs. But I get them done and I'm happy about that.

This blog will get more lively in August, when I'm out of the mountains and the bike gains dust.

What about Markus you may ask? Well, this NYC Marathon thing is not happening for him. Too many other races on his plate and he feels that he can't just show up half assed prepared.

I agree.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Doping


One of the most obvious characteristics about getting older is the inability to perform hard workouts for days in a row. I used to be able to ride three days hard before I was really tired. Now it's two days. For running, it's even worse: a hard day is usually followed by 3-4 easy days. During the last two days I ran once and rode twice. I'm exhausted today and had to drag myself on the street to get a run in. As a driven athlete, that tiredness is hard to accept. We have all these ideas and plans of how much we are going to train to get in this amazing shape. And that's where some people look for shortcuts.

Given that this now is a personal blog about my attempt on the NYC Marathon, I had no intentions to write about doping. I don't dope, never have and never will.

I have, however, been actively involved in antidoping since 2001 and am extremely vocal about drugs in sports on Twitter. I write articles on the topic and had the chance to be interviewed by NPR and German radio stations as well as by my running club mates on their podcast Cloud259. I implemented the most sophisticated antidoping program at any amateur event which includes out of competition testing, something that has not been done before or since.

The good news is that finally many people understand how prevalent doping is among amateurs. And while very few amateurs get caught, it's a new development that no pro athlete, no matter how big, is safe nowadays: Armstrong, A-Rod, Salazar - busted.

I hate the idea of cheating in sports. I have been beaten in races by many dopers. Doping is actually more visible in amateur sports than among the top elites because it's largely unsanctioned. I'm sickened by "athletes" in their 40s who post fantasy times and win bike races against much younger riders. These guys are doping right into your face. They often show the visual cues of drug abuse, mainly a veiny, impossibly skinny yet strong body. They race almost year round and train hard day after day after day.

I wish I could name names here. There is a cyclists in his mid 40s who wins big bike races in the alps against riders in their late 20s and early 30s, many of which have been implicated with doping. There is a runner in NYC in his late 40s who suddenly started to post incredible times. In triathlon, I had to endure stories of other guys doping told by middle aged dudes who were impossibly ripped.

The gut reaction to my post might be "you're just jealous". I'm definitely jealous of any great performance that I couldn't achieve. That said, in 23 years of racing I have seen enough to get a good feeling which performance is real and which is "not normal". What I have learned is that it's actually as easy as "if it's too good to be true, it's not true."

The obvious solution for a clean athlete is to focus on himself. However, I'm a very competitive guy in races. My race performances are head and shoulder above anything I can achieve on my own. I have beaten guys who are faster and better than I am through skill and experience. Racing is the essence of any organized endurance event.

So how do I deal with it? For me, it's mainly a moral issue. It's against the rules. But what if "everybody" is doing it? What beyond morality can help you to abstain drugs under such premise?

1. Training and competing is a relative process. Unless you have a shot at becoming the best in the world, your overall performance doesn't matter. Most of us can work their ass off and take all the drugs on the planet and will still not be the best in the world. Imagine you are a front of pack amateur who decides to take drugs to be faster. Once you do, you may beat guys you couldn't touch before but you're still jealous of the ones who are even better. Yet, you can't reach them. Now you're not only not the best but also a cheater. You've lost the last thing you had: your integrity.

Hence, the goal is to push and challenge yourself to become better but to focus on the process more than the outcome. Yes, racing is the icing on the cake and winning is even better but when I look back at two decades of racing, I don't mainly think of the races I won but rather of the experiences I lived. Enjoy being part of the races. You'll miss it once it is gone.

2. Don't underestimate the health implications of doping. Supplementing testosterone means shutting down ones own production for good. A lifelong dependency on medication with increased needs over the years is one result. The other can be cancer. Yes, you can lose your balls. Others have.

EPO is readily available online. Administering is easy enough, nowadays as easy as swallowing a pill. How do you feel like going to sleep when the consequence might be death? Your blood might be too thick.

In 22 years of racing bikes, triathlon and running, there were very few things as satisfying as knowing that I achieved all I achieved - as little as it may have been - completely clean, without any exception. There is no money in the world that can buy you that integrity. Yet, it's freely available. It's nothing but a choice.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Cramps


I've been lucky enough to never have had cramps when running. Actually, until this February, I never had cramps when doing any race until I got some in my quads towards the end of GFNY Puerto Rico, an 80 mile bike race. That day, I clearly went being my fitness to win the race so while it was a surprisingly new sensation, it was not surprising that I got them. Last week, at a 150k granfondo in Italy it happened again. I was very, very far from winning the race but I was even less prepared.

For what seems forever it has been suggested that cramps are the result of dehydration or a lack of electrolytes. As a firm believer in most things that Noakes explains, I long shared his view that it's simply a case of overexertion.

Read: you have been going faster than you muscles can handle.

Yes, again: cramps are not an excuse for a poor performance but a sign of too optimistic (read: wrong) pacing.

What you can do about it? Obviously train harder and/or better and pace more in line with your fitness.

Thank you Sean for this.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Settling in


Gran Fondo New York race week was crazy and meant a week without exercising. Ever since, I've crawled back into regular exercise. Nothing worth talking about, just a few runs on the trails through the woods and a first track session (8*200m) which felt slow and sluggish.

Yes, that's a bike on this pictures so yes, I'm cycling. I really should post a running picture which I could because I am running about 5 times per week. I just never schlep a camera or phone with me. There is some running connection in this picture though because the road you see there briefly touches the trail now called Scenic Trail, a 50k run through my local hills here in Ticino. The race (run?) is scheduled to be held on June 13 and I have all intentions to give it a shot. Let's not hope I cop out or opt for the pussy version (aka 25k). Hopefully I can get Markus to come down here and run it with me.

If you click on the above link, you get to look at a dude in some sort of white spandex, tube socks and cross country skiing sticks. I'm not sure what he's trying to achieve with this outfit because he's not roller skiing to get ready for winter. It's what happens when you take a cheap sport like offroad running for which you don't really need anything but shorts and some sneakers and have a few companies find a way to sell useless crap to willing customers. Yuck.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Haile retires


The great Haile Gebreselassie retired from competitive racing today. Thankfully this actually means nothing because a) he's done that before and b) he will continue racing anyway.

So nothing to see here. Run for life, Haile!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Stress your body


Right now my brain is stressed which is not the stress you want for running performance. I can physically feel the negative implications during my powerless jogs I manage to squeeze in daily.

The good kind of stress is mostly physical. I say mostly because pain threshold training is of mental kind and one of the key factors in endurance fitness.

In the final 8 weeks before a race I believe in specificity. But before that an experienced athlete will only improve by applying new stress to the body. Successful fall marathon campaigns for me have always been based on summers spent on the extreme ends of training. Think about doing an easy 50k run followed by a track 5k race three days later. The 50k gets you comfortable for the distance while the track 5k moves your pain threshold.

Marathons are hard to find during the summer for obvious reasons which is a bummer because they are the best catered long runs - as long as you don't race them. Check your local calendar. Here in New York we have the Self Transcendence Marathon at the end of August that does loops around Rockland Lake. I did it back in 2011 and put it in my calendar to go back. I jogged a 2:44 back then. Would be an all out effort now!

(Picture: Fukuoka Marathon starts and end on a track.)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

First post back with some french trail funk AKA Trail du Hohrodberg

Yes. I'm back. Back on this side of the magical interweb. Back on the 'ol Mzungo blog.

As previously mentioned, Uli and myself set up this slice of interweb nerdism to celebrate and hype out inital trip to Kenya almost 6 years ago.

A lot has changed since then.

Two major things did not change. Our friendship and our love for running.

Now that Uli answered the call with a sub 37 10k race i will be back with some words.

As i raced in the Vosges the other day you will be tortured with my race report from the Trail du Hohrodberg this saturday.

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It already was a competition before the actual race. The negligible race website just showed a vague map of the route. No majormunicipality or key landmark close by. It might be my inexistent skills in French language, but it reminded me a bit of my Irish fell running times as I felt a lost along those blustery and petite country boulevards. Despite all the technical treats, it was good to check that I’m still skilled to read a map and, like back in Ireland, can recognise fellow racers and track their car down to the venue. Finally I arrived on site with enough time to spare.

Like most of the years I was in the French region of Alsace to hang out at a friends house and celebrate the bank holiday. Discovering a race in the Vosges is not too tough. As the trail running explosion is not new to France, the scene is energetic and delivers enough chances to roll the feet around these picturesque part of the “Grande Nation”.

The sun hasn’t been seen o'er here for a good few days. Drizzle or rains were the key ingredients of the weather report - a well-preserved outfit for some proper trail dashing. Just as an additional cloud transported more water, the mob got ready on a soaked grass turf on top of the “Col du Wettstein”. The lively horde turned soundless as the marshal counted down. Then the contest was off towards the woodlands that were partially hidden in scenic, deep floppy smokes. After a couple of meters the track curved towards the primary single trail. Hectic all around as the fight for positions got underway. A long stretch towards the top of the mount separated the competition and after excited encounters the first clusters were formed.

The deep woods in the rural Vosges region are just made for that kind of running action. An extensive system of single footpaths and tight forest alleyways make up for a scenery that can undoubtedly host so many suitable trail contests. Despite other “Trail” competitions this race was run on actual, proper trails. Looking back, a total of 300 meters were run on paved roads. The rest was pure bliss as the path was winding past technical, rocky, slippy and narrow natural trail. The spectacular weather and the magnificent surrounding added a lot towards the technical side, which was great distraction. Surfing around the puddles on the steep downhill’s and rolling sections was cool. Again my LaSportiva Helios served to be the best partner for this kind of races. Its good to know that there is grip when you go downhill with top speed.

Knowing that I’m missing the longer training runs recently, the race got tougher and tougher the further I ran. Accumulating to the fatigue I got confronted with long, steep uphill’s in the second portion of the route. I had to dig deep and lost a good few places on the grinds upwards. As I trolled down the last hill after a mere of 25 kilometres and 800 meters of climbing, I felt pretty worn-out but pleased getting to experience a course like this. This is what I would call trail running. Very well marked route, humble but efficient organization and a very friendly but competitive field.



Tune of the day: Denyo – Elbtunnelblick

Cloud 259


Today I actually had to leave my Saturday morning jogging group because they were going too fast: flying at 7min pace. Yup, I'm fried from work. Three more weeks.

I've been an avid podcast listener for over 10 years during my runs (and even now have my own podcast but it's about GFNY, not running). Two of my club mates have a nice running podcast called "Cloud 259". "259" because their goal was to break 3h in the marathon. One of them, Brenn, achieved that last year by running a 2:56. Ever since, he says he's been lacking motivation to train hard again for a marathon. In their most recent episode, he said he would use me as a target for NYC Marathon.

A few years ago I would have laughed at that. Hey, I'm a 2:33 guy! Who are you kidding? 

But he mentioned that I have a kid now and am busy with organizing GFNY's around the globe. And looking at my recent results, he is right to use me as a target. I'm no longer a 2:33 guy. Two years ago I ran 2:48 in NYC (and that was the last time I trained three months for a marathon). I firmly believe that I can still run 2:45 and I think I have a shot at getting under 2:40 again if all goes perfect.

But as Brenn rightfully stated: believing something and actually doing the necessary work for it are two very different things.
 
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