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Running 100 yards at sportswriters camp

Yesterday my colleague Mike Harrington and I spoke to some students who were at Dunn Tire Park for a Bisons sportswriters' camp run by the Newspapers in Education program. We talked to them about interviewing, how it's really just a conversation and how sometimes you go in with a list of prepared questions but after listening to the athlete talk, you ask different questions.

Mike then explained to the kids why I was dressed so informally in my running gear -- I was training for a triathlon and writing about it for The Buffalo News and off to run after our talk.

We finished up with a few more pointers when a girl raised her hand with a question.

"What's the farthest you've run?"

You know that principle of interviewing we just talked about -- the one where you listen to what the person says and asks questions based on that? This girl got it immediately. Heck there are college kids who spend $40,000 in tuition who still can't get that right. Color me impressed.

"The farthest I've run is about 5 miles," I said, thinking that's about the length of the 8K I did at the Shamrock.

"That's 4 1/2 miles more than I've run," Mike joked.

"I've run 100 meters," the girl said.

"That's outstanding," I told her.

And I meant it. It's absolutely fantastic. I was so happy for her. I thought about her while I was out chasing the wizard on the waterfront wonder if he had any Coffee Crisps tucked in his robe.

Because whatever distance you run, whatever time you run, the point is you worked for it and you did it.

Granted, this morning I'm hoping for more than just an "I ran the Niagara County Bicentennial 5K" sticker. I would like my time to be at, or better than, my previous 5K time. I have my race plan, which is simple -- easy start and pick it up with each mile. I've put in lots of running between my last race and this one. I'm prepared.

But at the end of the day, it's about doing something I enjoy and having fun and knowing that whatever the results were, I worked hard for them.

A fresh start on the Gorge Trail

One of the ways I can tell that I'm becoming immersed in the triathlon culture is that I now carry workout clothes with me pretty much wherever I go.

You never can tell when you might get a workout in.

Yesterday, it was a good thing I had my running gear in the car or else I would have missed a beautiful day.

I was at Niagara University in the afternoon and decided to try and get in my hour-long, easy-paced run before dinner. I ducked into the hockey offices and asked for running route suggestions and immediately got directions for the Gorge Trail.

It's not that I've never been on the Gorge Trail before but my usual jaunts along the Niagara Escapement have been the hiking variety, going down to the rocky trail along the water's edge. Clearly I was not running there.

But I was unfamiliar with the path that led from Devil's Hole past Whirlpool Park. It's almost all unpaved and what is more miraculous than the fact I thoroughly enjoyed my 60 minute run was that I didn't once fall, trip or otherwise stumble in a way to potential injury myself. For those who know me, this is no minor feat.

It was a spectacular run. The trail had a few hills in it (which didn't make for an entirely "easy" pace) and was peppered with a few tourists strolling and taking pictures. The wind was a bit strong in some open areas, but nothing like the wind I faced running around my neighborhood back in February.

The only down side was I turned around a bit too quickly and had to run around the parking lot once to finish my hour. Oops. I should know better by now to go further out than I think I need to before turning back.

Sometimes there's comfort in running a familiar route. You know what to expect, you can gage improvements in your time and you just know the routine.

Getting out of that comfortable route though is a great feeling. It's not just the change of scenery but a feeling of something new. It's almost like running for the first time. And after nearly five months of training, I'm up for anything that makes workouts feel fresh again.

Celebrating Niagara County with a 5K

After my first 5K race, my coach wanted me to look for other races to enter. She loves using races as training tools and they are a great way to see how much progress you've made -- or where you need extra work as my 4K time in Tampa demonstrated.

So I looked through the Buffalo Runners website which has a pretty complete listing of races in Western New York and found the Niagara County Bicentennial Heritage Run.

As someone who grew up in Niagara County, this I couldn't miss. I mean, what better way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the formation of a governmental structure than with a road race? I am all over this one.

With the blessing of my coach I'll be at the start line Saturday morning -- which is actually in Erie County, go figure -- with my usual race plan. I'll be starting slow then building speed each mile. Hopefully, this is where chasing the wizard will come in handy and all those interval workouts pay off. Of course, I have to wait to get pancakes from the wizard since my coach wants me to hop on my bike after the race for an hour high-cadence ride to flush out the lactic acid.

That will give me more time to dissect the race and think about how many of the 10 types of runners I saw. The piece is a humorous offering from Roman Mica after he recently ran a marathon in Florida. While none of these types are ones to aspire to, I have to admit that I'm probably pretty close to a sloth when I start to get tired.

A little help from my friends

This morning I went back and reread emails from friends which I only had time to skim while I was on the whirlwind of college basketball coverage.

And I'm so glad I did.

Because these women are doing some pretty incredible things.

My friend Margy, whom I met during a Women's Quest retreat in Colorado a few years ago, is preparing for her first century ride later this month. That's 100 miles on a bike. At one time. It's on my personal to-do list but something I have yet to accomplish.

My friend Amy from high school meanwhile ran a marathon over the weekend. Her time of 3 hours, 44 minutes and 39 seconds qualified her for the 2009 Boston Marathon. This is not on my personal to-do list but that didn't stop me from nearly doing a cartwheel in my living room I was so excited for her.

All around me people are doing marvelous things. Michele is looking into yoga teacher training. Darlene is willing to try anything new at the gym to reach her fitness goals. My sister-in-law is looking fabulous thanks in part to her time spent on the good old treadmill at her house.

It is so easy to get caught up in your own to-do list, your own aches and pains and fears and successes that you can miss what's going on around you.

What's that line from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop every once in a while, you might miss it." Or something to that effect.

When I'm at spin class today, I'm going to think of Margy and her 100-mile ride while my painful interval run tomorrow will bring thoughts of Amy.

Inspiration and motivation is all around us, if we just take the time to notice it.

Showing up with purpose and focus

The saying goes that 90 percent of life is showing up.

And I whole-heartedly believe that.

Just taking initiative to start something, to show up and be consistent in showing up can take you pretty far.

But then, there's the way in which you show up -- the attitude you bring to showing up. Another life axiom revolves around the principle that you get what you focus on.

Hence sometimes just showing up is not enough.

I thought about this as I read an article by Cliff English, who will be the 2008 USA Triathlon Olympic Team Head Coach. He wrote about swimming, specifically about devoting time to work on technique.

He writes:

"You must let go of the have-to-get-a-work-out-in mentality. .. If you are swimming 4-5 times per week and just put your head down to the pool to thrash about and 'get that workout in' then you are reinforcing a poor stroke in a big way."

This actually made me feel better. As I swim, I tend to focus a lot on my technique which in turn makes me a slower swimmer. (I am the poster child for it being called the forward "crawl.") It takes me longer to complete a workout because I'm not just putting my head down and thrashing out a swim. Frankly, I don't really know how to do that just yet. So my emphasis on technique is not all for naught.

That being said, the focus of my swim this morning was twofold: Work on technique/endurance since it's been a week since I had a real solid swim and work on speed, or the turnover rate of my stroke.

I considered my speed work to be another form of technique work. I wasn't just trying to get through my workout -- I was trying to work on increasing the rate at which I can perform solid stroke techniques.

English also wrote: "Every session has a purpose and a focus. Come to a swim session with the mind set that this is an opportunity to become a better swimmer."

All right, so when I'm thinking of bagging that extra 300 yards with the kickboard? Yup, think about purpose and focus. This extra bit may be a pain in my rear, but it will help become a better swimmer.

It's something that can translate into almost any task I don't want to do. I don't have to turn cartwheels at every job that comes my way -- whether it be professional, personal or training -- but I can think of it as an opportunity to practice and become better whether it's as a reporter, a person or an athlete.

Questioning a good run

Maybe it's the sunshine. Maybe it's coming back after a light week. Maybe it's having a few days off to clean my house and exhale.

Maybe I'm just getting used to the pain cave.

But this morning's interval run was ... well, great. It didn't seem as difficult as last week's interval runs. Maybe my body is adapting. Maybe I just work better when I actually use my heart rate monitor.

Maybe I run better in brisk sun than in warm and humid.

Who knows?

And why should I question it.

My progress in swimming has been the most visible because, well, I couldn't swim at all before this adventure started and the possibility of real physical harm (i.e. drowning) was higher than in the other disciplines.

But I've grown a lot on the run, too. A few years ago, I couldn't think of running for any length of time. When I decided to kick up my fitness routine, I went to an interval "learn to run" sort of program (thanks in large part to the Internet searching ability of running columnist Budd Bailey). Those programs alternate between walking and jogging, jogging and running until you're comfortable doing almost all running. It still was a slow process for me and frankly, it was mostly mental. The thought, "I can't run" would swirl through my head and before you knew it I was walking or turning down the speed on the treadmill.

Now, my interval workouts alternate between running hard and running easy. I've finished an 8K, a 5K and a 4K. No way I would have thought that possible a few years ago. Heck, even a few months ago I would have thought that was out of my league.

I'm still chasing the wizard. He has pancakes after all. And I'll need them this week. That nice light recovery week from last week is over and this week I'm up to 10 hours of training.

World championships and reading lists

To be honest, I didn't know that NBC Sports was scheduled to broadcast its coverage of the Ford Ironman 70.3 World Championships yesterday.

I just had the NHL playoff game on in the background as I worked on cleaning my house.

But I caught the teaser for it and immediately knew what I would be doing from 5-6 p.m. And in case I might have missed it, Sherpa called from Florida (where he still is visiting his brother) and said, "Hey, did you know a triathlon is on TV right now?"

It's good to have people you love fueling your insanity.

The Ironman 70.3 is formerly known as the half-ironman. In other words, same insanity, half the distance. It's a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run and something I'm not likely to attempt in my lifetime.

The coverage was heavy on the professional racers but the show did feature a few age-group participants.

Why would you put yourself through a competition you know you're not going to win?

The answer from one of the age groupers was that if you're a sports fan, you will never get to play in the World Series or the Super Bowl, but that the Ironman championships are the greatest amateur sporting event and you can be a part of it.

One of the final participants to cross the finish line was a 41-year old woman who had lost 80 pounds while training for the 70.3 distance. And if anyone thinks just finishing isn't a good enough goal, they need to see this woman's story.

It helped give me perspective that yes, finishing my sprint triathlon is a worthy enough goal. Competing is good enough. Living a lifestyle that is healthy and fun is reward enough. I really am just racing myself. I am my own competition -- it's my own fears and doubts which will hold me back or inspire me to go farther and faster.

Today is an off day for me (though I'll probably sneak in some Shiva Rea yoga) which also gives me a chance to catch up on some reading. Interesting stories on the web include the final word that Alberto Contador can not defend his Tour de France title since his team is banned for a history of doping.

Also interesting is a story on CNN about the nutritional dilemma for some Jewish marathoners who will be running the Boston Marathon during passover. It reminds me of my own nutritional dilemmas when attempting to keep Catholic fasting rules during Lent without passing out during my workouts.

Back to the pool ... and loving it

During the times when I wonder if I'm totally crazy for jumping into this triathlon thing, I need to remember moments like today.

After a week of running workouts while on the road covering the women's Final Four, today was an easy swim workout. Nothing prescribed. Nothing hard. Just 30 minutes of easy swimming or a day off. My choice.

I picked the swim. A friend of mine considers swimming a full body massage and in a way in can be. I took it easy in the pool this morning doing 100 yards of warm-up drills. I kept my flippers on the entire time and decided to do a gradual ladder swim -- I swam 100 yards, then 200, then 300, then 400. Then I did 50 yards with a kickboard and called it a day.

I wasn't concerned about my T-time or my turnover rate. Heck, I wasn't even too concerned about my form (until I realized I was snaking all over the lane ... then I thought I better pay a bit of attention to my form).

It was relaxed and easy. Oh I was breathing hard after each interval but I wasn't killing myself. I was enjoying myself. This must be what a real recovery workout feels like.

And I thought about how far I've come. Those who have been with me through this journey remember the time when I couldn't swim a length of the pool, when I was so frustrated I had a meltdown in the locker room.

Now, a week away from any swimming and I can jump back in the pool and swim laps for 30 minutes.

That's a perspective I can't lose. Because whatever happens in that triathlon on June 8 I've already accomplished more than I previously thought I could.

Running makes you high

Just in case I needed extra motivation to get out the door this morning to do my latest interval training run, two different people sent me a link to an article in the New York Times.

Apparently, scientists have now confirmed that running can make you high. You know those endorphins people talk about? They are the body's natural mood enhancers and it seems that researchers have finally found proof that exercise can raise those levels giving some people a feeling of euphoria -- or at least calmness.

I have never really felt euphoric after a run. I did feel euphoric after my first race, but I chalked that up to a combination of relief, pride and endorphins.

Maybe I can achieve that euphoria today with my interval workout which includes eight sets of two minutes hard running, two minutes easy running along with a 15 minute warm up and eight minute cool down.

It appears I am searching for the wizard again today, as my coach calls these workouts.

Today I think the wizard has a nice big pecan waffle from The Waffle House. It's my last day in Tampa and a trip to the chain is my personal treat for hitting all of my running workouts and this week and not completely blowing my nutrition in media work rooms this year. I will, however, stay clear of the covered and smoothered hashbrowns.

Chasing the wizard

TAMPA -- I have now progressed from building my base to adding interval training to my runs this week.

On paper it doesn't look so bad -- easy paced warm up then intervals of four minutes hard running, two minutes easy running.

That was my interval yesterday. I did that three times.

And oh by the last one I thought that I might die.

Yeah, for the record, those intervals are hard. What's even harder though is the easy-paced recovery run. After running hard for four minutes my body didn't feel like backing off into a slow run. It felt like walking. Heck, at the final interval, it felt like stopping and curling up for a nap underneath one of those nice palm trees which dots the Florida landscape.

But I also knew that while I'm training my body I'm also training my mind. Parts of the race will be uncomfortable and painful and the thought of pulling over for a rest will at times sound very tempting. I need to learn to use the pain to my advantage. To feed off of it. To battle through it. "Eat the pain" I thought during a few of those intervals coupled by the sentiment "Why would you want to stop now?"

My coach said I did a really good job with my first interval run. She calls that run "searching for the wizard." I haven't figured out just why yet. But if the wizard has something valuable, like say pancakes or Canadian candy bars, well then, I'll just have to continue to chase after him.

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