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Measuring success in the pool

By now, February is becoming a drag. It's the shortest month, yet seems like the longest path from winter to spring. The days are getting longer, Outdoor runs are a bit more bearable. And thoughts are turning toward spring and early summer races.

Since running and cycling pretty much are just about getting in the miles and perhaps working on some drills at the moment, this can be a great time for a swim focus. Of course for me, all year is a good time for a swim focus as I continue to get comfortable in the water and learn how to propel myself more efficiently, and hopefully a bit faster, in preparation for the 2010 season.

I have returned to working with Swim Master Greg, who in one masters swim session already gave me two corrections which have made a difference in the way I feel in the water. He was able to take video of my stroke and frankly, I could not believe what I was doing with my arms in the water. An adjustment and focusing on my arm placement, the catch and following through on my stroke have already made a difference -- the most important being in how I feel moving through the water.

Joining a group for swim workouts is a great tool. It not only gives you a social aspect to the sport but it allows someone with knowledge to learn your stroke and be able to help you make corrections.

You can find nine other tips on how to improve your swim in 2010 in this article from Austin Fit Magazine and if you're relatively new to swimming and are bummed by looking at your times to measure success, check out this article from Tri Swim Coach on other ways to gauge your progress in the pool.

--- Amy Moritz

Running for more birthdays

As most people, I have several friends and family members who have confronted cancer. Some have triumphed. Some have struggled. Some have lost the battle. One dear friend of mine has been turning "50" since I met her several years ago. Why? Because she wasn't sure if she would make it to 50. It makes her birthday a celebration of not just another year on the planet, but another year of success and health and happiness and, well, life. It makes the American Cancer Society's campaign as the official sponsor of birthdays pretty meaningful.

While my race calendar is pretty full for 2010, the idea of running for a bigger goal in the future is high on my to-do list. And while there are many worthy charities, a recent partnership between the American Cancer Society and the Rock 'n Roll Marathon Series already has me excited. 

Since 1996, athletes have raised money for the American Cancer Society through endurance events under the "Charity Runner" program. The organization revamped its program, branding it "DetermiNation" and has partnered with events across the country. Runners are required to raise a minimum amount of funds for the American Cancer Society in order to participate in the event. In return, they receive training, support and VIP amenities on race day.

The Rock 'n Roll Marathon Series began in 1998 as a way to incorporate live music during the race and places bands at each mile marker along the 26.2-mile route.

In this partnership, three Rock 'n Roll Marathons and 1/2 marathons will be branded for the benefit of the American Cancer Society -- Seattle (June), Chicago (August) and New Orleans (February 2011). Additionally, the American Cancer Society will be the preferred charity for the Rock 'n Roll events in Denver, Los Angeles, Nashville, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Jose and Virginia Beach.

For more information on the DetermiNation program, visit the American Cancer Society website while info on the Rock 'n Roll marathon series can be found here.

--- Amy Moritz
For thoughts on last night's episode of The Biggest Loser, visit

Race report: ING Miami Half Marathon

The walk from the hotel to the starting corrals was less than a mile. It was 5:30 in the morning. By the time my friend Sue and I made our way into the starting gates, we were already sweating.

This was going to be one long run.

The ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon experienced one of its hottest and most humid days in its eight-year history. Humidity at the start of the race, at 6:15 a.m., was 93 percent. I trained my long runs in hot, sweaty gyms on treadmills but unless I moved the treadmill into the sauna there was no way to prepare for a 13.1 mile race in this kind of weather conditions -- at least while training in Buffalo in January.

We started the race with the intention to run hard and run smart. And survive.

P2040164  Sue stayed with me for the first four miles and we kept a solid, moderate pace. At every water stop I took in water and gatorade and every 35 minutes or so took a gel. I worked hard. I kept a positive attitude. I felt qualitatively stronger, fitter and more prepared that last year. Whereas last year I started to ache in the eighth mile, I didn't start to really struggle until the 10th mile. My legs held out longer.

But when it fell apart, it fell apart hard. By Mile No. 10 I started to experience the chills -- a sure sign that my body was being deeply affected by the humidity.

By Mile 11 my quads were done. With less than a mile until my finish line, my legs ... just ... would ... not ... go ... faster. Despite my mental toughness. Despite my cardiovascular fitness. Everything had been sucked out of my body.

I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 13 minutes -- slower than my time from last year and below my desired outcome I had set for this race during my training. The pain, the dehydration, the disappointment in my time all came out in tears in the finisher's chute. This would take some recovery time.

Perspective and reflection came in the few extra days of relaxation and vacation in Miami.

What was so frustrating, so disappointing, was that the result did not match my effort.

As I replayed the race in my head, there was no instance I could point to that I did anything wrong. No place where I could have picked up the pace, no place where I went out too fast and burned myself out for later. Perhaps I should have had a heavier hand with the gatorade rather than diluting it with water, but that would only have made me hurt less and perhaps gained me a minute. My mental chatter was strong and positive, quickly shouting down the whispers of doubt that came through my mind. I was prepared. I was strong.

I controlled everything I could. And so in essence I did achieve my goal. I did everything that was within my power. The outcome, the final time, that was not in my control.

Sometimes the result, the outcome, doesn't match up with your effort. It happens.

And so in the end, I'm pretty darn happy with the race -- because I ran strong, I ran tough and I finished.

On to the next challenge. And probably an early sign-up for the 2011 ING Miami Half Marathon. I still have some unfinished business in South Florida.

--- Amy Moritz

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

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 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

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

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
For more on taper week, visit

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

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
Looking for thoughts on last night's The Biggest Loser episode? Visit here:

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

--- Amy Moritz

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