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In the fall of 2001 I decided to put off the inevitable no longer and registered for the 2002 Boston Marathon. Because I also wanted to do my first Ironman triathlon later in 2002, I took a cross-training approach to preparing for Boston. In addition to running seven days a week I completed two to three half-hour swims per week and two to three 45-minute bike rides. This approach not only gave me a foundation of swimming and cycling fitness that would put me in a good position to develop peak triathlon fitness after Boston but it also took my running to a whole new level. I set huge PR's at 5K and the half-marathon in February tune-up races.



In March a mild pain emerged in my hip. I kept on training heavy and the pain grew worse. I tried everything short of running less to make it go away, but the degeneration continued. At last, just two weeks before Boston, with all of my hard training done and nothing but the taper left in front of me, I broke down and got x-rays. Sure enough, I had a pelvic stress fracture. I was out of the marathon; all of that suffering and sacrifice was wasted.



In the fall of 2008, after running a disappointingly modest PR at the marathon distance, I decided to take another crack at Boston. I also decided to do my second Ironman later in 2009, but I chose to run as much as 12 times per week in pursuit of ultimate running performance instead of cross-training as I had done in 2001/2002. The training went very well for a while. I set another half-marathon PR and was fit enough to demolish my 10K PR, although I failed to do so in both of my 10K tune-up races due to fatigue from training. I did flirt with overtraining, but responded to the symptoms aggressively and had a great tempo run on March 21, 10 effortless miles at 5:41 per mile, which suggested I was still on track to run somewhere around 2:35 despite everything.



With 27 days to go until Boston a pain emerged in my left achilles tendon. It got worse quickly, so I decided to take three days off from running. Yesterday I performed a tentative test run on the treadmill. After covering 2.33 miles at 8:00/mile the pain was as intense as it had been before the layoff. You know a soft tissue injury is serious when three days of no impact does absolutely nothing to heal it.



Deja vu all over again. My Boston Marathon dream has been shattered again in the 11th hour. This time there's still a good chance that I will be able to travel by foot from Hopkinton to downtown Boston on April 20, but that mode of travel will, in the best case, be better described as jogging than as running. I will not even attempt to run again until a week out. In the meantime I will start my Ironman trainingthe swimming and cycling parts thereof, anywaya little early and try to move on.



The life of the long-distance runner is a life of many disappointments.



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Sometimes I wish I could fast-forward life a bit. Don't we all? Of course we do; that's why the Adam Sandler comedy Click was made. But as that film demonstrated, it's really best that we don't have that kind of power. I like the scene when Sandler's character, Michael Newman (I looked it up-who actually remembers these things?) suddenly finds himself at an office party celebrating his big promotion after having fast-forwarded past several months of his life in which he had to bust his *** and sacrifice to earn the promotion. Sandler's character is less than halfhearted in accepting the congratulations of his coworkers because skipping the struggle to get where he now finds himself stripped away any possible satisfaction he could derive from his ultimate triumph. For all of Click's faults, there is an astute undertanding of human nature that informs this scene, which appeals to me especially because I have always been the kind of guy who would not want to win the lottery. Rewards are worse than meaningless to me unless I earn them. I don't mean to suggest that I am a tower of virtue; I've just always noticed that I feel like Adam Sandler's as Michael Newman at his promotion party when rewards come to me too easily.



There are times, though, when I would be sorely tempted to use a life fast-forward button if I had one. And now is one of those times, because of my Achilles tendon injury. The situation is this: I will run the Boston Marathon in three and a half weeks. I am in excellent shape. But last night I decided that my Achilles injury is severe enough that I must discontinue running and let it heal, lest the injury become so severe that I cannot run the marathon at all, let alone perform respectably. Intellectually, I know that if I cross-train aggressively-which I will do-I will remain fit enough to run well in Boston even if I can only do half as much running as I had planned to do in the next 24 days (and perhaps no running whatsoever for three or four days). But because I am a competitive endurance athlete and have the mindset of same, in my heart I believe that I will be fat and completely out of shape within a week if I don't continue running as planned. Having been through situations like this one many times before, I know that in perhaps 10 or 11 days I will do a challenging test run and be pleasantly surprised by my performance; thus, if I had a life fast-forward button right now I would want to use it to leap ahead to that moment of relief and skip past all the pain and worry and drudgery (elliptical training-ugh!) I will have to endurance between now and then.



The best I can do is remind myself what I would tell an athlete I was coaching who was in my current situation: "Don't worry, you'll be fine." And I would mean it. But it's different when the worried athlete is you. I suppose the other thing I can't remind myself is how halfhearted my celebration of finishing the Boston Marathon with a good time would be if I did skip over the challenge that is now facing me.



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Altered States

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Mar 26, 2009


A few weeks ago, Darwin Fogt, a Los Angeles-based physical therapist, invited me to stop by his facility at my convenience and try his Alter-G antigravity treadmill. I had been dying to step onto one of these machines since I first heard about them, so I readily accepted his offer. Last week I consumated the arrangement on my way to the Adidas Running Camp, which was conveniently based just a few miles from Evolution Physical Therapy. (Get it? DARWIN Fogt? EVOLUTION Physical Therapy?)



As soon as I walked in I pegged Fogt as my idea of the ideal physical therapist--someone who is always thirsty for the latest knowledge in his field and curious to explore cutting-edge therapies. I could tell just by the layout of the place and the types of equipment there. So many physical therapists are stuck in 1987. But not Darwin Fogt. He told me that he was initially skeptical of the antigravity running concept when he was first contacted by an Alter-G sales representative, but he agreed to take a look at it nonetheless (curiosity always prevails in a nature such as his)and he made the decision to purchase one (price tag: $75,000) the moment he set foot on it.



After introducing himself to me and making a little small talk, Fogt had me change into my running gear and then handed me what looked like a pair of cycling shorts with a wide rubber brim around the waist and a zipper running around its circumference. I pulled them on.



The Alter-G looks similar to a regular treadmill except that it has a waist-high tent around it. That is, the tent is waist-high when pressurized, but when not in use the tent deflates so that the user can step through a circular hole in its top. The other half of the zipper on my cycling shorts lined the edge of this hole. After I stepped through it, Fogt zipped my shorts to the hole, creating an airtight seal. He then started me walking and then running slowly at my full body weight.



The Alter-G allows the user to walk or run at the equivalent of as little as 20 percent of his or her body weight by increasing the air pressure within the tent that encloses the legs and thereby lifting the runner. My epiphany came when Fogt increased the belt speed to my normal jogging pace and then reduced my effective body weight to 90 percent. I felt as if I had suddenly become 10 percent fitter. Scooting along at 7:00/mile pace was utterly effortless.



It's funny, right now I am working on a book entitled Racing Weight, which is about how to optimize one's body weight and composition for endurance performance. Obviously, I am writing this book partly because I appreciate the importance of body weight for endurance performance. But I don't think I fully appreciated it until I effectively instantly lost 15.5 pounds on the Alter-G. It was a stunning lesson.



I'm not sure the Alter-G's effective body weight gauge is perfectly accurate, because when Fogt brought me down to 20 percent I felt as though I had to stretch my legs toward the treadmill belt just to avoid floating. Even at 50 percent of my body weight I felt confident that I had never experienced any running injury that I could not have trained through at this setting on this machine. And that's what makes the Alter-G possibly the most important running invention of all time, in my opinion. If you have access to one of these things you need not ever miss a single day of running due to injury ever again.



I could use daily access to an Alter-G right now. I have developed a fairly severe case of Achilles tendonosis. It hurts to run at any pace. I can do it, but it's nervewracking, and I have serious doubts about whether I can safely run faster than marathon pace right about now. With only three and a half weeks remaining until the Boston Marathon, I cannot afford to let this thing get out of hand. But due to the training I missed in recovering from overtraining fatigue last week, I really can't afford to back off any more than I already have, for the sake of staying healthy. If I had access to an Alter-G I wouldn't be sweating. I could do the 20 x 400m intervals at 76 seconds per lap that I want to do at the track Friday on the machine instead, at perhaps 80 percent of my body weight and taking the pace up to something ridiculous like 69 seconds per 400 to match the target intensity of the workout at full body weight.



When I left Evolution Physical Therapy, Darwin Fogt kindly issued a standing offer to come back and use his antigravity treadmill anytime. I'm thinking about renting a room in that neighborhood for the next three weeks...



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Happy Trails

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Mar 24, 2009


I am in the process of movingspecifically, from an apartment in downtown San Diego to another apartment in the Rancho Penasquitos area of San Diego. For endurance athletes like us, a change of home addresses is also a change of exercise environments. The wisest and/or more compulsive among us factor exercise environmental considerations heavily into their relocation decisions. I certainly have done so (whether through wisdom or compulsiveness it is not for me to say)for example when I convinced  my wife to move with me into an apartment complex that had its own lap pool. Others just hope for the best and simply find out what sort of exercise environment they have put themselves into after their move is completed. But no amount of preparatory research can prepare you fully for what it will be like to train in a new area.



The main factors that my wife and I considered in choosing our new home were location, the size and quality of the apartment itself, and price. Our new place is closer to my office, twice the size of our downtown apartment, and $900 per month cheaper. I did not think about the exercise environment much except to note that there is an L.A. Fitness facility with an indoor lap pool located smack between the apartment complex and my office. I will join it just as soon as I get home from the Boston Marathon and start training for Ironman Arizona in earnest.



I had heard that there are extensive trails in Rancho Penasquitos, and I had hoped that what I had heard was true, because at first glance Rancho Penasquitos does not look like a very nice place to run. It's extremely hilly and most of the roads are very highly trafficked. The closest flat stretch to run on is Mira Mesa Boulevard, which is strip mall ****. So I took a leap of faith in moving to that area.



Yesterday evening I went for my first run there--an easy 10-miler. I left the apartment complex and made a right turn on a road that took me up a long, steep hill. When I got to the top I saw nothing but other big hills all around me (my choice: up or down). I found a small park and ran a few desultory laps around a baseball field, fearing that I was going to absolutely hate running in my new neighborhood. Then I decided to see if I couldn't find those trails. I bombed back down that long, steep hill and made a turn onto the road that seemed most likely to lead to the trails I had been told of. Sure enough, I was scarcely three miles into my run (and less than three-quarters of a mile from where I had started) when I stumbled into a vast nature preserve.



Moments later I was pacing along a beautiful equestrian trail leading into the wildernessan equestrian trail with actual horses and riders on it! I ran three miles out and there was still no end in sight when I turned around and headed back home. The trail wasn't perfectit had some rocky sections and a few short technical stretches that brought me to a near standstill, but even so, I haven't had such easy access to a natural running environment such as this in a very long time. And I have a feeling that there are many more delightful trails in the area that I am soon to discover.



Suddenly I'm really looking forward to the run training that I will do this summer in preparation for Ironman Arizona!



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Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Mar 13, 2009


It's that time of year when college basketball fans become bracketologists: predictors of which 65 teams will be selected to participate in the NCCA tournament and which will win each game in the six rounds thereof. Nobody ever gets it all right, and the so-called experts' predictions are seldom more accurate than the average casual fan's. There are so many factors that may influence the outcome of any game that it's impossible to account for all of them. As Malcom Gladwell suggested in Blink, a hunch is often more reliable than a prediction based on exhaustive analysis.



An analogy can be drawn between bracketology and racetimeology, or the inexact science of predicting how one will perform in an upcoming race. It's usually easier to predict your own race results than it is to win an NCAA tournament pool, but it is also usually more difficult than it seems it ought to be. That's because human exercise physiology is incredibly complex, so it's impossible to account for every factor that may affect your performance in the next race. Even as you stand on the starting line. Sometimes even after you've already started!



Nic Bideau, Craig Mottram's recently jilted coach, put it well in an interview I conducted with him last year: "You should know from your training what is generally reasonable, but there's a black box between the training and the performance. In other words, you put what you do in your training into this black box and then in the race it comes out as a great performance not."



I'm racing a 10K tomorrow (Saturday), and because I ran a 10K on the same course just a few weeks ago, you'd think I might have a very good idea how fast I will be able to go, but I don't. My time in that last race was 33:36. My goal for tomorrow is sub-33. Between then and now I ran a half-marathon in 1:13:15, which equates to a 32:55 10K according to . And that half-marathon course was tougher than tomorrow's 10K course. So you'd think my goal was safe.



But my training has not gone especially well since the half-marathon. I've had dead legs lately. Even after two very easy days of mini-tapering my legs do not have that springy feeling they had before the half. Thus I'm left knowing that I probably could run a sub-33 10K, but having serious doubts about whether the version of me that posseses that potential will be the version of me that shows up on the starting line.



The real mystery in racetimeology is not your finish time, really, but how you will feel after the first mile or two at your goal pace, because it's this feeling that really determines your ultimate finishing time. Exercise scientists are currently engaged in some fascinating research on the complex mechanisms that determine this feeling. They have not gotten nearly far enough to make an exact science of racetimeology.



At some point you just have to step forward and make a call, so here goes: 32:55 on the nose.



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This morning Jim Woodman of Pathway Genomics, a start-up consumer genetic testing company based here in San Diego, visited the offices of the competitor Group. I am going to write an article about Pathway and, more broadly, about the nascent industry of consumer genetic testing, particularly as it relates to athletes, for Triathlete, and I'm excited about it, not least of all because I will get a free, comprehensive genetic analysis out of the bargain.



I've known Jim Woodman for a long time. He used to publish Florida Sports magazine. In the late '90s he created a website called ActiveUSA, which was purchased by a company by RaceGate, which then became I met Jim in 2000 when he was working as Active's senior VP of business development and I was hired there as a content editor. I'm not sure exactly when or why Jim left Active, but he seems pretty excited about his new gig. And I can see why. His business is on the frontier of a world-changing phenomenon. Genetic analysis is fairly primitive today, but before long it will have amazing capabilities, and companies such as Pathway will drive that evolution, so to speak. As Jim said, "We're like the Internet in 1993."



There are lots of genetic testing outfits out there, but most are narrowly focused on testing for such things as paternity. Pathway is one of only four noteworthy companies in the world that does very broad testing. They do the paternity thing, as well as ancestry, genetic predisposition for numerous diseases, pharmacogenetic testing (which potentially reveals that certain medications won't work on you, or will kill you), carrier screening (which reveals the likelihood that you will pass along certain disease risks to your offspring), and "interesting traits" such as athletic potential.



I am most interested in learning about my athletic genes. The trouble is that currently Pathway only tests for one genetic marker of athletic potential, which is the sprinter's gene. I told Jim I already know I don't have that one. And in point of fact, through many years of training and racing I already know virtually everything that any number of genetic markers could possibly reveal to me. I strongly believe that there is no better test of athletic performance potential than athletic performance itself. Why bother getting a VO2max test when you can run a 5K? Why bother getting a gene test when you can run a 5K? But I do see some potential for genetic analysis to have some benefit for athletes down the road. There are genes that determine not only raw potential for endurance, speed and so forth but also how the body responds to different types of training. So it's conceivable that genetic testing could be used one day to help athletes develop customized training programs that cultivate their potential with less trial and error. Maybe not, but maybe.



Of course I am interested in learning about my health risks. I don't think I'm one of those people who will freak out if I learn that I am predisposed for early-onset Alzheimer's disease (which is not to say I would bear the news with complete equanimity). And I am also interested in learning about my ancestry. Several years ago my mother did some genealogy research that led her to the discovery that she may have some Jewish blood. Until then I had thought I was nothing but Irish, Scotch, and English. I'd love to confirm that I am one of the Chosen People!



The testing process is very simple: I just have to spit in a vial and FedEx it to the Pathway lab. Within eight weeks I will know who I am. I will let you know if I find out anything interesting.



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