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Final half marathon prep

It was a long travel day and there times when, quite frankly, I was just plain cranky.

Times of crankiness often bring good indicators of great friends and my two travel partners and fellow runners, Sue and Herm, not only rolled with my occasional crankiness but made me laugh at the most important times.

One of the true blessings of becoming part of the endurance sport world is the tribe you are able to create -- the people you not only meet but the friends who become like family and carry you through all kinds of things that life throw at you.

The major marathon experience and travel to race can be a bit of an art form. We arrived in Miami, gathered our luggage and made our way to our hotel. Immediately we then went to the expo. This was part of the reason of getting to town early -- not only to get some extra rest and attempt to acclimate to the heat and humidity but to take care of business at the expo. We picked up our race packets with our numbers, timing chips and instructions and then spent time walking around the expo.

The expos associated with major races are both awesome and full of pitfalls.

First, you can spend way too much time walking around the expo, staying on your feet too long too soon before the race. There are deals on gear, gadgets and nutrition which can be good, but also can lure you into spending more money than you planned.

Free samples abound of drinks and bars and cheese (yes, there were two booths with cheese samples, which I found odd for some reason). Samples generally are good, but there is always a danger of not knowing how something might react with your stomach and so you want to nibble through the samples gingerly.

Back at the hotel, the three of us went for a scheduled short, light run and felt the heaviness of the South Florida humidity. Knowledge is power and the humidity can likely have an affect on our performance. Knowing that, and having felt that on Friday, will make it easier to push through the run on Sunday and stay in a good mental place.

A generous serving of pasta topped off our day while we were inspired watching the Millrose Games on ESPN2, amazed by the speed of the indoor track runners.

Another day of rest comes today.

Then we let it all go for 13.1 miles on Sunday, enjoying the warm weather, our health and the friends we share our lives with.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Off-season training tips

For most in the endurance sports world, the winter denotes the off-season. Granted there are opportunities to race year-round which many people take advantage of (such as my upcoming race at the ING Miami Half Marathon) but a vast majority of people who like to run distances or participate in triathlon aren't specifically building toward a specific race in January and February.

What to do with your workouts?

The folks at Ironman.com talked to three of the sports most respected coaches to ask their ideas and suggestions for off-season training. (You can read the entire article here.)

Suggestion No. 1 involves using the offseason to challenge yourself in a short distance -- either by improving your mile time, a 400-meter swim or a 2.5-mile ride. It offers a look at your fitness and, coach Paul Huddle believes, will ultimately make you a faster triathlete.

Suggestion No. 2 is to think variety and get away from your sports. Coach Roch Frey said a common mistake is that marathoners start adding too many miles too quickly and that triathletes also tend to up the volume too soon. Use the winter off-season instead to keep training fresh and try trail running, paddling and other sport-substitutes. 

But even if you add some variety, sport-specific training can be valuable, said Coach Lance Watson. In this final suggestion it again is not about the miles and volume but about skill development -- classic running drills, balance drills in the pool, bursts of speed on the bike. He also suggests targeting one sport for improvement and signing up for a competition to measure your success.

Meanwhile, in this week's The Biggest Loser recap, Melissa continues to make her case for most annoying person on the ranch. While she lost 11 pounds this week, she is chest-deep in game-playing and make enemies left and right. The grey team, cousins Sam and Koli, continue to become two of my favorites not only for their work ethic but also for the honorable way in which they approach all the members of the house -- something that seems impossible at times. The product placement this week was for Ziploc bags to help keep fresh produce from going bad. The segment has no way but to look contrived, still it was less obnoxious than some of the other product placements on the show.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Never too late to start

When Lance Armstrong tweets a link to an article, it's usually worth taking a look-see.

This morning, Armstrong gave his followers on Twitter a teaser "Guess I'd better keep racing ...: with a link to an article in Time magazine online.

The idea that exercise is good for you isn't exactly news, but a series of independently conducted studies point to more evidence that exercise may help prevent the onset of chronic diseases such as heart disease, dementia and osteoarthritis.

One of the most interesting studies in the article was a Canadian study which looked at the cognitive effects of weight training (free weights, machines, squats) versus toning and balance exercises. The women, aged 65 to 75, who did weight training saw more improvement in memory and learning than those who did the toning and balance workout.

One possible reason is that with the resistance training, there were more things to learn -- how to use machines correctly or how to keep the correct form -- and there more things to retain -- machine settings and repetition counts. The physical benefits of the exercise were coupled with the engagement of the brain.

While more studies need to be done to replicate the results (and all studies have some flaw in their design or execution), the evidence is encouraging. In particular, the takeaway message is that it really is never too late to start exercising.

---Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Taper Week Begins

The ING Miami Half Marathon is six days away meaning my training has officially entered the taper zone.

Sunday marked my last longish run leading up to the 13.1-mile race that starts in downtown Miami and winds through South Beach. It was an hour and 15 minutes with a few tempo pick ups and generally felt good. In fact, my runs lately have felt so good it almost made me nervous. But in general I'm feeling strong, confident, like I could run faster during my easy runs. It was a bit of a challenge to hold back. That's never happened before. That feeling of not just being able to go faster but wanting to go faster I take as a good sign.

Within the last week, the race has updated its website to offer the ability for runners, family and friends to donate to Haiti relief efforts. Runners can still get involved with Team World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization which works with children and families to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice worldwide. While it's late in the game for this week's ING Miami event, the organization's website has a list of other running events across the country in which they are officially sponsoring teams. The group has a strong connection to running as American distance runner Ryan Hall is a supporter and has volunteered with World Vision.

Additionally, runners, friends and family can donate through the ING Miami Marathon website.

The charity tie-in for major races can, at times, be a point of contention within the running community. But whether you're a fundraiser for a cause close to your heart or just running with a lot of spirit in your heart, there is an energy that is uplifting among the runners on race day. We run because we can. Because it brings us the intangibles in life -- whether that be joy or confidence or peace or strength. And when we all find those things in our lives, we can't help but affect change in the world.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
For more on taper week, visit www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Help for Jenny

It's one of those powerful stories of hope, loss and determination.

It's the story of Jenny Crain, a former national-class distance runner who now struggles to do ordinary daily tasks. And now that her story has become better know, the cyber running community is getting involved to offer help.

Jenny  Crain's best performance was likely the 2004 New York City Marathon, where she earned the title as the top American finisher. She qualified for the Olympic Trials and still had hopes of competing in the Games when, in August of 2007, she she went out for a run and never returned.

Crain was struck by a car in Milwaukee, Wis., when she was out for a training run. She suffered severe brain damage destroying her spatial awareness and short term memory and limiting her ability to read.

An in-depth article on Crain, her career, her accident and her recovery appeared in the November issue of Runner's World (and can be read online here). With her medical expenses growing, the Jenny Crain Make it Happen Fund helps with costs, hosting a benefit in Milwaukee on Feb. 4. But the rest of the global running world wanted to help, too, and a cyber auction is in place with details on the Jenny Crain website and on Facebook.

Among the items available for pre-bid are a VIP spectator package for the 2010 Boston Marathon, a weekend at the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, a 1979 Boston Marathon poster signed by winner Bill Rogers and a Mammoth Track Club women's hooded sweatshirt autographed by Deena Kastor and Anna Pierce.

Items that are available for an email bid including two entries to the Bay to Breakers 12K, entries into the Peach Tree Road Race 10K and a collection of autographed books from the staff of Runners World.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com.amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

The return of Deena Kastor

There is something so likable about Deena Kastor. It's just her results as one of the most accomplished American distance runners that's appealing. There's something about her personality, her willingness to be in nearly every running-themed magazine or website, her example of hard work and positive attitude, even going through adversity.

She won bronze in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics and looked like she could swap for another color medal in the 2008 Games, until she broke her foot. She spent 2009 recovering and training and still remained smiling and upbeat and an inspiration for distance runners, particularly for women.

Last weekend, she made another step in her comeback efforts, winning the Arizona Rock n' Roll half marathon. It was her first win in 10 months and came in a time of 1 hour, nine minutes and 43 seconds.

"This race solidifies that my training has been going well," Kastor said in an Associated Press article. "Running sub-1:10 off this training makes me excited about my next phase."

It should have her fans, and fans of American distance running, excited, too. A healthy Kastor not only makes for interesting races, but helps push the bar for the generation ready to take the mantle when the 36-year old leaves competitive racing.

Her next goal is the London marathon in April.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
Looking for thoughts on last night's The Biggest Loser episode? Visit here: www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Cycling season begins

It's prime time for sports in Australia this week with the kick off of both the tennis and cycling seasons. While the Australian Opens begins the season on the court, the Tour Down Under begins the season on the road for professional cycling teams.

The Tour Down Under went big time last year when Lance Armstrong made his return to professional cycling at the event. This year with Team Radio Shack, Armstrong is hoping his team picks up a stage win to gain momentum (mostly from a sponsorship standpoint) heading into the 2010 season.

The race, in its 12th year, has generally been won by those strong in sprints -- not a speciality of Armstrong so a podium placement for Lance is probably not in the cards when the nine-stage race ends on Sunday. But, in an article in Cycling News, he cited teammate Gert Steegmans as a rider to watch.

The first stage was won by German sprinter Andre Greipel of HTC-Columbia. Greipel won the Tour Down Under in 2008.

For those who have Versus from their cable or satellite provider (such is sadly not the case for me) you can watch daily coverage of the Tour Down Under. If not, look for daily recaps at Cycling News, VeloNews and the official Tour Down Under website. There also is always Twitter. You can find the sites for individual cyclists at twitter-athletes.com.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

The final two weeks

Ah, it seemed like just yesterday when there was plenty of time to prepare for the ING Miami Half Marathon. It was light years away.

And now, it's T-minus 13 days.

At this point, it's more an observation in how quickly time passes rather than any sense of panic. Because after this weekend's long run, I feel ready to tackle the 13.1 mile tour of downtown Miami and South Beach.

This week's long run was another two-hour endeavor. While the temperatures and the roads were just fine for outdoor running, I kept my workout on a treadmill. I wanted to be able to control my pace. I wanted the heat and humidity of the gym. And I wanted to mentally challenge myself.

I took the lessons learned from last week's long treadmill run and applied them to this one. Focused on my workout, I let go of the obsession of trying to hit my prescribed workout paces perfectly. Instead, I tried to simulate a road workout, where my speed would vary greatly without me even realizing it. During tempo intervals I played with the speed button on the treadmill, paying close attention to the 40 second countdown intervals on the machine's dashboard. I picked a base pace -- quick but still something I could sustain -- and increased my pace every 40 seconds, falling back for a 40 second recovery to my base pace. My tempo intervals were 10 minutes long and the 40-second game made that time fly by.

At the end of my run I had covered just about the same distance as last week. Only this time I felt so much better. The quality of the run was amazingly good. It was hard and challenging, but I felt confident, even in the last half hour. I straddled the treadmill only twice taking a pair of 1-minute "walk breaks" which, to me, simulated how I approach water stops in a race anyway.

More important than the actual pace and distance was how good I felt. I didn't breeze through the workout physically. Mentally I had to challenge myself, talk myself up that I could do that final 10 minutes of intervals and finish off the workout at my fastest pace. But while there were difficult parts to get through, there was a decided absence of struggle. That made all the difference in my attitude before, during and after.

My volume of workouts begins to decrease this week as I slide into taper during race week.

And I have never felt more ready for a taper to begin.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
For video of Sunday's long run, visit www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Bertinelli and Boston

As we began our long, slow run this morning, my friend immediately launched into her pet peeve of the day.

Apparently, actress Valerie Bertinelli will be running the Boston Marathon this April. She plans to join more than 500 runners who hope to raise $4.5 million for research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Bertinelli, once a star of the sitcom One Day at a Time, is most recently known as the celebrity spokeswoman for the Jenny Craig weight loss program. She has lost about 50 pounds and to keep her fitness momentum, she set some athletic goals for herself. In July, she completed the Wine Country Half Marathon in California in 2:12:19.

In an article in People after the half marathon, Bertinelli hinted at her next goal. "My trainer things I'm going to do a marathon before I'm 50. I have until April," she said in the article. "I'm not committing yet. I haven't wrapped my head around it. We're negotiating."

Apparently, the negotiations are done.

On Monday she appeared on the Today show and talked, among other things, about running the famed Boston Marathon. "I"m really going to do it," she said on the show. "I'm training right now and come April 19, four days before my 50th birthday, I'll be running 26.2 miles."

What has my friend in a frenzy is the combination of celebrity, cancer research and the Boston marathon. She is a cancer survivor and a former Boston qualifier and finishers. She would love to get back to Boston, but her road back to racing has her slower since her treatments.

If Bertinelli wanted to raise money and awareness for cancer research, she could have picked any other marathon. But people spend their entire lives working to qualify for Boston. Additionally, my friend would be more sympathetic, perhaps even more encouraging, if Bertineli took the charity spot in the most famous marathon as a cancer survivor, or as someone known for her continued efforts in cancer research.

Instead, what Bertinelli looks like to my friend is a celebrity getting special treatment, picking a charity so that she can run Boston.

Heck, even people who reached Boston's qualifying standards were shut out of this year's race because it sold out.

Personally, I think races with charity spots have their place. I like the idea of people supporting a cause, a community through a challenging athletic endeavor.

But you have to pick your spots.

Bertinelli's Boston marathon quest will be portrayed more for her weight loss and role as the Jenny Craig spokeswoman than it will to raise awareness and money for a worthy cancer research center.

Charity runners and qualifiers (or elite runners) can co-exist. And I believe there is plenty of room for all at the table.

But you do have to be sensitive to the meaning and significance of the event.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
For details on today's half marathon training run visit www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Cold weather workouts

The early morning temperature was in the double digits. There was no wind and the streets (and most sidewalks) were plowed. So Sue and I decided to take our easy run outside for the first time in weeks.

The combination of frigid temperatures and concern over our footing (and hence injury) so close to the Miami half marathon made us lean toward taking our runs to the treadmill -- especially on days which involved pace or speed work.

But this was an easy day, so we put on the layers and went outside. We were slow, but we knew we would be. That was, in part, the point. Overall, the run was refreshing and in the end, we both felt we dressed a bit too warm for the conditions.

A good friend of mine who lives in the general Washington, D.C. area earned a lottery spot for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in the spring and began her training this past weekend in cold weather. She asked for tips and aside from the typical advice to wear layers and cover your extremities, I told her to make sure she brought a change of clothes. Why? Because after the run when your warm-gear traps the sweat next to your skin, you will freeze instantly.

That was a bit of wisdom that came from a live-and-learn perspective.

But now that temperatures will warm up into the 30s this week and weekend, there's a good chance to get even more running accomplished outside.

If you're ready to venture out, check out an article by the Mayo Clinic which offers tips on how to stay motivated, fit and safe in cold-weather workouts.

And if you think that running in cold weather will burn more calories, sadly that seems to not be the case says a science section Q&A in the New York Times.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
Looking for thoughts on last night's episode of The Biggest Loser? Click here.

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