Friday, February 12, 2016

"In Soviet Russia, Weather is Under You!"

I only wish that were the case. I've been under the weather for over a week now, and home sick for the past two days. I think I have a sinus infection. It feels like someone is standing on my face. I also feel like someone has been hitting me in the back with a baseball bat, but that may be because I've been sitting down much more than usual.

This is the first sinus infection I've had since college. I haven't had one (at least not one that's bad enough to bother me) for almost 10 years. I used to get them all the time--at least once a year, all through high school and college--but they stopped at about the time I started doing a lot of yoga. I think all the deep breathing helped keep my sinuses clear enough that no nasty little buggies could grow in them. So there's your pro tip for the day: do yoga and pranayama to prevent sinus infections!

I haven't been doing as much yoga in the last year or two partly because I'm not teaching yoga (and I'm too lazy to do it without that motivation) and partly because of the way everything ended with my "guru" (let us not speak her name, for it is evil). In spite of that, I tried to bring myself back from this illness by natural means: yoga, pranayama, neti pot, goldenseal, and lots of capsaicin. That was last Tuesday. And yesterday, like I said, I woke up feeling like someone (someone really fat) was standing on my face.

So I have abandoned the touchy-feely, au-natural crap in favor of decongestants (not helping), Excedrin (also not helping), and good old western medicine (we'll see). I have an appointment with a doctor at 2:45 today, and I'm hoping that the evil pharmaceutical industry will be able to help me out.

The worst part of this whole thing was that I have had to take it easy on the training. Last weekend was the first weekend since Snowzilla that there weren't mountains of snow for us to be crushed up against. So the rest of the team went out for a nice ride, and I stayed at home and watched the cyclocross world championships with hot tea and a quilt. I'm still sick this weekend, and I'm afraid I've missed the last decent riding-outside weather that we'll have for a while. And I have all the usual fears that having two weeks mostly (I've still been teaching cycling classes at work) off the bike will destroy my fitness, and I'll be a sad sack of under-cooked grits when I try to get back to actual riding. Add to that the fact that the racing season basically starts in two weeks, and I have an almost overwhelming compulsion to try to ride through this illness.

But I know that will make the recovery longer, and that I will serve my fitness better by resting instead of riding and blah blah blah. Which is why I'm sitting here writing blog posts and making funny graphics instead of outside (or on Zwift) training.

Hope your February is shaping up better than mine, whether you're under the weather or the weather is under you.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jamie's Diet Food: Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

Doesn't that look appetizing?
This is a tasty breakfast for days when I'm meeting my team for a long-ish ride (I have trouble calling 3 hours long, compared to my 8-hour rides last year). I do my short (60 minutes or less) morning rides fasted, and have breakfast after. That's usually zucchini frittatas, which I'll post next week.

I use quick-cooking steel-cut oats, which come par-boiled to save cooking time. Old-fashioned/rolled oats will cook quickly, but they will digest more quickly and cause a greater increase in your blood sugar. Same thing to a greater degree with quick-cooking rolled oats or instant oats. In summary, if they're quicker to cook, they'll be quicker to digest, and you'll run out of energy from them faster.

If you want to do true steel-cut oats, not the quick-cooking kind, I recommend making them in a crockpot the night before. Use a ratio of 4:1 liquid to oats, rather than 3:1. And you might want to grease the inside of your crockpot, or else you'll need a lot of elbow grease to clean off the dried-on oatmeal.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

1/4 cup chocolate almond milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup quick-cooking steel-cut oats
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp all-natural peanut butter

Combine the water and almond milk in a small saucepan. Add salt Heat over high heat until it just begins to boil. Add the oats, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Stir every minute or two for 5-6 minutes. Add peanut butter at the six minute mark. Cook for two more minutes, stirring every minute or so. Remove from heat and let the oatmeal sit for a minute before you eat. Add a banana if you need more calories.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Jamie's Diet Food

Cyclists are mostly skinnier than triathletes. Since I'm a cyclist now, instead of a triathlete, I need to get skinnier. Also, I put on about 8 lbs. after my Ironman. I need to lose those extra pounds, plus some.

There are a few tools I've been using to help. As a part-time housewife-type person, I'm responsible (or rather I take responsibility for) planning meals and grocery shopping. So I start with a simple spreadsheet, with meals for the week laid out for both Emily and me (since we eat different things for many meals). From there I go to to help me generate meals for the week. It helps me plan within narrow parameters of calories and macronutrients for each day. With a premium membership, you can plan different meals for each day, but I tend to eat the same thing every day in spite of that. If I have leftovers or something specific I want to eat, I enter that, then generate other meals to fill in around it.

I buy all the ingredients I need for my weekly meals and do all the cooking on Saturdays and Sundays. It's much easier to stick to a restricted diet when it's easy, and with this set-up, I never have to make the choice to cook something healthy; I just eat the healthy stuff that's already in the fridge. I use MyFitnessPal to track my calories and exercise.

The diet has gone well so far. I've lost about 5 lbs. since I started monitoring in late December. My goal is to be down to my racing weight (I'm shooting for 130-132 lbs., which is the lightest I've been since middle school) by March, then stop trying to cut calories and focus on eating for performance. For the first time last year, I restricted my weight loss to base phase, and my training was better for it. I have enough fitness and training know-how to realize that your body's not great at splitting focus; if you're trying to lose weight, you don't gain as much fitness, and if you're trying to gain fitness, you shouldn't try to lose weight. But last year was the first time I actually put that into practice, and I noticed the difference in my fitness, especially late in the season.

I do notice that I'm cranky by the end of the week, and it's harder to motivate myself through hard workouts. My theory: I use so much willpower staying within my eating plan that, by the end of the week, I don't have the mental energy necessary to push through hard workouts. I eat more on the weekends (partly necessitated by long team rides that are, for me at least, pretty tough), which keeps the crankiness at bay. Mostly. But we still use the word "hangry" pretty liberally by Friday. Emily's dieting too; there's lots of hangry to go around by the weekend.

I'll post some of my favorite recipes that I find/come up with, in case you're a (relatively) fat triathlete trying to keep up with skinny cyclists, too.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hello, my Name is Jamie, and I'm a Recovering Triathlete

Triathlon and I have broken it off. We're through. I'm keeping all of triathlon's stuff, though. Maybe, with some time and space, we'll become friends again. But our relationship is at its end.

By the way, it wasn't me; it was triathlon. Triathlon was fun and easy-going when we first met, but over time it became high maintenance. It took itself too seriously. It was kind of a jerk. I'm done with it. I've got a new sport in my life, though. It's less demanding of my time, and doesn't take itself as seriously.

Yes, friends. I've broken up with triathlon and am focusing exclusively on cycling.

I've been planning an exodus from triathlon for at least a year. I figured, after doing an Ironman, I'd either be addicted to full distance or be done with triathlon. I was looking forward to finding a new challenge. The choice came down to cycling or rugby (exclusively as a referee, though; I don't need any more head injuries). I've decided to remain on the sidelines (as a fan and occasional touch judge) regarding rugby, mostly because my local women's rugby team practices from 8:30-10:30 p.m. and I have to be at work no later than 6 a.m.

So I set about finding a cycling team that would suit me. There were several to choose from in the D.C. Metro, but I found myself most comfortable in the company of Veloworks-Spokes Etc. I'll be riding with them as a Cat. 4 woman. I think they have a great team philosophy (primarily "Don't be an asshole."); there are enough women to do cool things in races without having so many that you can't know each other really well; they're serious about training without taking themselves too seriously; and I really like the people on the team!

I've never focused exclusively on cycling before. If anything, I've de-emphasized cycling in my triathlon training, because it's my strongest sport. I'm excited to see what I can do by training exclusively as a cyclist. Maybe I have pro-caliber talent as a cyclist! But probably not. Probably I'm average, or slightly above. But I'm excited to find it out, and to do it in the company of a cool team.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Strength Training

I've gone back and forth on the utility of strength training during my athletic career, mostly based on how much I dislike it as an activity at the time. When I was in college, weight lifting was the only exercise I ever did, other than a short warm up on the bike beforehand. I don't know how I got the idea in my head that I was a weightlifter. Maybe it was because I'm naturally muscular, but I suspect that it was because I was chubby and out-of-shape. I assumed that I was a natural sprinter. I hear this all the time from people who never work out: "I'm just naturally a sprinter." I always think, "How do you know, if you've never worked out?" But I don't say it.

When I first started triathlon, I lifted all the time. Then I started working at a gym 10-15 hours a day, and I had plenty of downtime between sessions to lift. I thought it was important, and that it would make me a better athlete (because I liked it and wanted to do it, not because of any empirical evidence, although there is some out there). As I've gotten older (and had better things to do) and done longer distances (necessitating more time swimming, biking, and running), I've prioritized strength training less and less and less . . . until it's become a little joke among my co-workers ("What?! Jamie is actually lifting?!") And after 8 years as a personal trainer, I'm less gung-ho about how valuable weight lifting is for endurance athletes. There's plenty of evidence that strength training makes better athletes, but there are just as many coaches and researchers who question those findings.

The question of whether or not to weight train comes up once or twice a year on the Slowtwitch discussion boards, hotly debated between the athletes who swear by weight training and those who think it's a horrible waste of time and makes you a stupid, gullible, Gatorade-guzzling tool (which is why I mostly stay away from Slowtwitch's forums).

This year I am leaving the world of triathlon for criteriums, road races, and (most importantly!) cyclocross. I've found a team that I like (more on that later), and have taken the "Swim" and "Run" columns out of my annual training plan. As a result, I have this weird free time thing, and I don't know what to do with myself. It feels strange only doing one workout in one sport every day . . . so I'm making a concerted effort to do more strength training this year. Since I'm such a generous person, I'm sharing my base phase strength routine here with you (actually, I just want other people to suffer as much as I have been). There's nothing magical about this routine. It addresses some of my personal weak areas, but mostly it's designed as a high-intensity workout to help me lose the 8 lbs. I've gained since September. There are shortcomings to this workout, too: it stays mostly in one plane of movement; it focuses on large, compound movements in the same muscle groups to the detriment of corrective exercise; it has traditional sit-ups (which have fallen far out of favor). But I like these exercises, and I'll actually do them. For me, that trumps the disadvantages. Maybe they work for you, too.

This isn't a great routine if you're new to strength training, or to working out in general. Find another program if that's you. There are high-risk movements in this routine: the sit-ups, the overhead lunges, the atomic push-ups, and the thrusters all have the potential to mess up your back if you don't know how to do them correctly. Consult a doctor before you start a new exercise regimen, and work with a trainer (or at the very least a knowledgable friend) if you don't know what you're doing. Disclaimers aside, I hope this routine helps you.

Circuit A (20 reps each for time)
1-leg squats
Burpees over bar
Back extensions
Pull-ups (I can't do 20; do as many as you can)
1:30 rest, then repeat

3:00 rest

Circuit B (15 reps each for time)
TRX chest
TRX row
Kettlebell deadlifts
TRX face grabs
Overhead lunges
1:30 rest, then repeat

3:00 rest

Circuit C (10 reps each for time)
TRX atomic push-ups
TRX triceps
TRX biceps
Kneeling forward lean
Bird dog/plank
Side plank w/ knee/arm extension
:30 rest, then repeat

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year's Special

Every year at about this time, I offer a special discount to help get you started on your way to your goals for the New Year (or your New Year's resolutions, if you're into that kind of thing). This year, I'm once again offering a 10% discount on all cycling workout purchases. To get the discount, decide which workouts you'd like using my online storefront or the spinning catalogue and order form on my website, then enter the code JAN2016 in the coupon code field at checkout.

Happy New Year, and don't forget to spin & smile!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Baby It's Cold Outside: Four Lessons for Cold-Weather Cycling

It's not actually that cold outside, at least not here. We have yet to have a hard frost in my part of Northern Virginia. But we inevitably will. It'll get cold and miserable outside, and unlike back in 2009 when I did a similar post, I don't have the luxury of skipping cold, wet, snowy, or otherwise miserable days (because I commute by bike, you see). Fortunately, I also have a lot more disposable income than I had in 2009. So I've been accumulating gear year-by-year, and I have more insight to offer regarding what to wear.

Lesson One: You Get What You Pay For
The last post I did on this topic was all about making do with cheap gear. Part of this was based on my relative poverty, but part was based on a misunderstanding of what makes clothing expensive. The technology and development that have gone into a $250 pair of cycling shorts is worth more than what's gone into a $20 pair. You will feel that difference on a six-hour ride (and I've had the saddle sores to prove it). The take-away is that you should buy the best gear you can afford, rather than looking for the cheapest gear you can find. It probably won't matter for a 55-minute spin class, or a quick ride in 55* temps. But the more extreme your riding conditions, the more you will suffer if you buy cheap gear. Since we're talking about extremes in this post--extreme cold, extreme wind, extreme snow/sleet/rain/ice/brimstone--you want quality gear. It's okay to look for items on sale, but make sure it's quality stuff on markdown, not cheap stuff with sub-par materials and construction. On a related note, this goes for buying stuff from your local bike shop rather than from a discount site; at your LBS, you get the expertise of fellow cyclists, and they can help you separate the quality kit from the second-rate.

Lesson Two: Layers
Weather can change. Your intensity may vary. You might get lost. It's important to be prepared for multiple scenarios when you go out for a ride or a run. Unless you're running or riding with a backpack, the easiest way to take what you need with you is to wear it. Layering will also help with moisture transfer and heat management. If you know how to layer for other outdoor activities, the same principles will work for cycling. Bottom layer (closest to your skin) should wick moisture away from your body. Middle layer should insulate you by keeping warm air close to your body. Top layer should protect you by keeping wind and/or water away from your body. For my base layer, I usually wear an undervest and arm warmers, but if the temperature goes below 30*F I'll switch to a long-sleeved base layer. For temps 30*-50*, I use a short-sleeve jersey as a mid-layer. Below 30*, I switch to a long-sleeve jersey. For my top layer, I wear a wind- and water-resistant jacket if the temps are above 30* and a thermal cycling jacket if temps are below 30*. REI has some really good advice about layering, too.

Lesson Three: Protect the Bits
As a female, I'm fortunate to have genitalia that are kept warm and snug inside my body. For my male readers, I highly recommend you read Steve in a Speedo's advice on keeping your man-parts from getting frost-bitten. I can offer recommendations on some of the other body parts that I consider bits, though: fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Do not skimp on items to protect these parts of your body! They won't freeze or fall off, but they will make the difference between enjoying your cold-weather ride and hating your life and wanting to die. Get nice gloves with wind-proof tops and fronts. If you have the option, buy your winter gloves a little on the big side, to leave room for a thin glove liner in case it gets really cold. Buy a pair of wind- and water-proof shoe covers. Get warm, wind-proof headgear to cover your ears. If you tend to overheat easily, opt for a headband that covers your ears rather than a full skullcap. If it's really cold, cover your nose with a buff, a balaclava, or a ski mask (try to find one with ventilation holes so you can still breathe). If it's not super cold, I recommend putting Vaseline on the tip of your nose and in the nostrils to prevent windburn.

Lesson Four: Have Options
This is particularly important if you're commuting. Because if you don't have the right gear for a training ride, you can just throw your bike on the trainer and spin & smile with one of my workouts. But if you have no option but to ride your bike to work day in and day out, you really need to have options for your gear. Have a pair of light-weight, mid-weight, and heavy-weight gloves; have thermal tights and cool-weather tights; have pull-on booties and a pair of full overshoes; have options for jackets based on how cold, wet, and windy it is. Write it all off as commuting costs for business purposes. Don't mention to the IRS that this gear moonlights for personal use. After all, you are kind of saving the world by commuting on your bike instead of in a car.

If you need to pick up some new gear and don't have a local bike shop (FIND ONE!) or you've tried them but found the customer service lacking, you can e-mail me and I will gladly give you some recommendations. Or come and ask me over on Facebook.