Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Fire Under my Butt

I've improved a lot in the last semester, especially in my running. My first workout of this semester was a 4-mile run with two of my friends who were training for the L.A. Marathon. Our pace was around 11:30/mile. A few weeks later, at track practice, we had a run test to determine our 5K pace, and I ran 11:00/mile. And that was really pushing myself. Two weekends ago, at UCSB, I ran my 5K in 28:08, at about 9:03/mile, and this week at CSULB I ran 8:34/mile.

My next race is the Shawnee Mission Triathlon, which is the first triathlon I ever did. The distances were 1000 M, 18 mi, 4.5 mi. My goal was to finish, and I did . . . third from last. All my energy is going into improving as much as I possibly can in the next two months and presenting myself at that race as prepared as I possibly can be; I want to see how far I've come.

As I was reflecting on my race times for today, I started wondering how my times from that first race would compare. I looked up the 2006 results, and there I was, 46 out of a field of 48 (and 48 didn't finish), with a time of 2:59:10. 24:18 for the 1000 M swim (that's 2:58/100 M), 1:33:50 for the 18 mile bike (11.5 MPH), and 55:26 for the run (12:20/mile). This year, at the very least, I want to swim in 20:00, bike in 1:00, and run in 45:00. That gives me a time of 2:05 (plus transitions). That's almost an hour faster!

Then I started wondering what, exactly, the field was like last year. And I wondered if it would be similar this year. The winning woman went in 1:40:50. But she was 36, therefore not in my age group. In the 20-24 age group, there were only three other women. Only three. And only one of those was in the top ten. So I've been thinking . . .

I want to really, really push myself, this year. I want to knock off those extra 5 minutes and finish in under 2 hours. And I want to finish in the top ten (which last year would have meant a time of 1:58:33 or less). And I want to podium in my age group.

Are these realistic goals? I'm actually not sure. For me to say that I want to finish in under 2 hours is ambitious, no matter how much I plan to improve. Getting my swim down to a 2:00 100 M from today's 3:00 debacle will take lots and lots of work. Averaging anything more than 18 MPH (which I did today) on the bike will be tough, especially since the course is relatively hilly. And to run 9:00/mile after pushing myself really hard through the first two events will hurt like nothing else. But I want to do this. I really, really want to do this.

Race Report: CSULB

Today's race was a quick and dirty sprint in Long Beach, and the last race of our collegiate season, which means my last race with my team. We met to depart campus at 5:30, but had a couple of oversleepers, so we didn't leave until 6:15. Arrived around 6:45. Wheeled ourselves over to transition.

Now, a word about the race itself. It was small. The field was less than 200 people. But there was definitely competition, as UCSB and UCLA both brought some of their top competitors. No timing chips, no swim caps, no little stickers for our helmets. The race had a very grassroots feel, with a wide variety of competitors. The distances were 3.5 mile run, 12 mile bike, 400 M swim (yeah, a reverse sprint).

Coming into the race, I felt a little out of it, and I wasn't the only one. On the drive over, Renee and I were chatting. Neither of us got much sleep last night; our brains were too full. I have to admit, my preparation wasn't the greatest. By which I mean I went to a friend's birthday party last night and stayed out until 1 a.m. When I finally got into bed (about 1:15), I had trouble falling asleep. I think I only got two hours of sleep last night, and not particularly quality hours at that.

And the season has been long. Renee has raced pretty much every weekend for the past couple months, and I've been out every other week or so. It's exhausting; it's been a long haul; and today, in the face of all that work and achievement and disappointment, this little bitty sprint tri just didn't seem to matter that much. It seemed more like an extended workout with a little transition work thrown in.

But as the seconds ticked away, as I warmed up my legs with a short jog, as I pulled off my warm-ups and hit the bathroom for the last time, my mind somehow worked itself into race mode. In short, I couldn't wait to get out on the course and see what I could do this time.

The run began in the middle of an athletic field. All 200 competitors started at once in a mass sprint to get out onto the course. Last time I competed in one of these reverse sprints (at UCLA), I laid back on the first quarter mile, instead of sprinting all out with the rest of the field; I chose to try to run the whole run leg at the same pace. This time, I went all out on that first little sprint. I don't know if that was necessarily a better choice; I think that it was slightly better. It meant that I got passed by many more people than would normally pass me (because normally all the people who are faster than me are ahead of me at the very beginning), and I suppose that being passed by a couple dozen runners could be detrimental to my mental game. But because I was so fresh, I felt that I could handle that passing early on.

The run was challenging, with a large number of stairs, by which I mean eight to ten flights, gradually leading up to CSULB's upper campus. I worked very hard to hold off a few competitors who were right on my tail, put some space between them and me, and stay far in front of them. I also reeled in a few guys in the last mile or so, which gave me a nice boost of confidence. I don't know my official splits (or if they'll be available for this race, since there were no timing chips), but I estimate that I did the run in 30 minutes, which is a 8:34 mile, yo! That is, once again, a personal best. I don't think I've ever run a sub-9-minute mile!

My transition didn't go as well as I would have liked; it just felt slow. And I had trouble getting my shoes clipped in, which cost me more time at the mount line. Once I was out on the bike, it took me about half a mile to get up to a respectable speed (about 15 MPH), but from there I was able to bulid speed consistently. I tried to stay over 16 MPH on this short course (3 miles x 4 loops around campus, all closed course), and was often much faster than that. The course had one short hill that took about 1 minute to climb, but which slowed me down to 10 MPH even as I pushed myself really hard. My slowest was 9 MPH, right at the crest of that one hill, and my top speed was 30 MPH on one of the downhill. All-in-all, I felt very good about my bike; I estimate my split was 40 minutes, which means I averaged just under 18 MPH for the 12 miles.

The second transition I did quickly, efficiently, and quite well. I was very fatigued as I hopped into the pool, though. I tried to get good pushes off the wall and focus on smooth and efficient strokes. But, honestly, my swim was pretty weak. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to my swim split, since at that point all I wanted to do was pass whomever I could and finish. But I estimate that I took 10-12 minutes to finish. Which means that I was swimming a 3:00 minute 100. Yikes. I am not, by any means, a fast swimmer, but 3:00/100 M in a pool is just sad. But beyond the actual time, I remember thinking at one point in my swim that it was so much harder to push myself, which tells me that I did not push myself; I coasted. And that is disappointing to me, even considering my fatigue and the fact that the sprint was reverse.

My final time was 1:25:23 (although that's probably a few seconds slower than I actually raced). My goal was to finish under 1:30. Also, as a bonus, I beat Anthony for the first time ever (he passed me on the bike, but I passed him on the swim). I don't feel like this race was as much of a breakthrough as UCSB was, but I definitely felt like I pushed myself and gave 95% of what I had today. I feel good about ending the collegiate season on this note, and I'm very ready to train hard for my next race, which is the Shawnee Mission Triathlon on July 8.

Edit:: My total split was 1:24:21, #88 out of 157.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Quite literally. Yesterday, I finally got back to really training, including sitting in a bike saddle for an hour at spin class.

As I was determining what to write, I thought it might be helpful to share one of my swim workouts. This is a fairly easy workout for focusing on technique and efficiency. Keep track of your times and challenge yourself, but don't try to break any records. This workout is about feeling strong and smooth in the water.

Warm up
200 swim
100 kick
100 pull
2x50 fist swimming
1x50 left arm only \_2x
1x50 right arm only/
2x50 choice of drill
Main set
600 free
6x100 interval swim (I use 2:20)
600 free
Warm down
100 swim

Quick definitions for the technique drills:
Fist swimming is just like your normal freestyle stroke, except that you clench your hands into fists. Concentrate on using your whole arm to pull. To achieve proper form, imagine you're wrapping your arm around a barrel with each stroke.
When swimming with one arm, alternate between keeping your hand at your side and having your hand in front of you. Keep your face down and in the water. When your stationary hand is ahead, breathe away from it; when it's by your side, breathe on that side. Focus on having good body roll and keeping your hips still, not swaying side to side like a snake.

For the interval swim, pick a moderately challenging interval. I use 2:20 because I generally swim 100 M between 2:10 and 2:15. Whatever you pick, your heartrate shouldn't dip too low while you're resting. That defeats the whole point of interval swimming.

Also, I recommend swimming in a long course pool, if you have one available to you.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I am not dead

I am only preparing for graduation, which is two weeks from Friday.

My watch/heart rate monitor has a feature which will cause it to scroll "GET MOTIVATED!" across the screen if I go more than three days without exercising, and last night I saw it for the very first time.

My nutrition and training have been all but non-existent since Friday (when I ran 4 miles in 39 minutes, thank you very much). Tomorrow I will be trying to get three workouts in; it's been too long, and I have a race on Sunday!

Hanging in there.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


In the absence of my rigorous training schedule, I've committed to trying to eat better this week. I just found this very helpful article on protein:

All About Protein (Trifuel)

Hope it's helpful!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Breakfast: a piece of chocolate cake (95)
Morning: Luna Bar (170)
Lunch: Enchiladas, apple (500)
Afternoon: hummus and pita (220)
Dinner: pizza (600)
Evening: 2 pieces of chocolate cake (190)
Total: 1775

No time!

Well, I have to admit it's pretty annoying to end every day knowing I didn't have time for anything but a few deep knee bends while studying my NSCA personal training textbook. The thing is, I was watching TV, too, so it feels like wasted time. But it's not like I can go out running at midnight. Not in the middle of South L.A., anyway. I've been out running at 2 a.m. in Clearwater, before. Here's hoping that my training gets back on track after the craziness of graduation!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Breakfast: Banana (90)
Morning: Accelerade (100)
Lunch: Enchiladas (430)
Afternoon: Apple with peanut butter (365)
Dinner: Hamburger with all-wheat bun, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, ketchup and mustard; a couple handfuls of chips, ice cream, and chocolate cake (I'm guessing around 1000)
Evening: Grapes (100)

Total: 2085

1 hour spinning class
Total: 2420

I'm cutting back on my training this week. It's a mixed blessing. I'm always afraid that if I cut back, I won't want to get back into it. I miss the chance to relax and enjoy a workout. I don't burn as many calories, which makes me a little paranoid. But I am using the extra free time to work on my senior thesis, and this will all be over in two weeks, so I guess I can hold myself back from training like a crazy person for that long.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Portion Control

If you're at all trying to affect your weight (lose, gain, maintain), if you're counting calories, or if you care about the way your eating affects athletic performance, you need to watch your portions. If you live in America, this especially applies to you. Basically, the farther West you go, the more you have to worry about how much food you're being served. The "supersize" mentality is particularly strong in California and Texas, I've noticed. There's nothing like driving down I-40 and reading billboards about getting a free dinner if you can stomach a 72 oz. steak. At most steakhouses, there's nothing remarkable about ordering a 12-24 oz. steak. We eat our food off plates the size of lamp shades. The spoons we eat with resemble serving spoons; one bite, and you should be done.

So with the swelling sizes of American portions (even our plates and flatware), keep the following in mind:

When eating out:
  • A reasonable portion of meat is 3 oz. That's what constitutes one serving. That's about the size of a matchbook. So if you're going out for steak, order the smallest one you can. Usually that will be 6 - 8 oz, which is probably as much protein as you need for the whole day. If you really want to be good, split the entree with someone else.
  • Look at your right hand. A medium potato is the size of your computer mouse. It has about 160 calories (plus butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and whatever else you like on it). The potato you get at a steakhouse is probably about twice that (plus you need more goodies to put inside it, so more calories there, too). In general, I would recommend staying away from baked potatoes at a restaurant; I suggest steamed vegetables or wild rice, if they're available. But I admit I do like to eat a baked potato every now and then. Just try to ask for a smaller one.
  • Salad is awesome; eat as much of it as you want. But limit the amount of dressing you use. 2 tbsp is a reasonable amount of dressing, and has about the same amount of volume as a ping pong ball. Salad dressing makes salad taste better, but it also has a high fat content, so use as little as you can while still enjoying it.
  • Bread has lots of calories! Don't eat a ton of it (unless you're chintzy and want to fill up on it)! A serving of grain is equivalent to a slice of bread or a dinner roll, and you should be eating 6-10 servings a day of grains. So keep that in mind when you're reaching for that basket in the middle of the table.
  • Take it easy on the chips, too, if you're at a Mexican restaurant. Those have tons of simple carbs and lots of oil.
At home:
  • Eat off of smaller plates. If you go to a department store and look at the plateware, you'll see dinner plates that look like platters. Don't eat off those. In fact, use those to serve food. Seriously, plates and and bowls really are bigger than they were 20 or so years ago. Buy salad plates if you have to, just make sure they're not huge. Same goes for bowls.
  • Know how much volume you're serving utensils hold. For example, my ladle holds about a cup; my serving spoons hold about a quarter of a cup. Just measure it once and from then on you'll know how much you're eating.
  • Measure out your milk and cereal (and anything similar). After a couple weeks, you'll be able to do it by sight. Whatever you do, never ever fill up your cereal bowl all the way to the top. That's like two and a half to three cups of cereal.
  • When snacking, don't keep a bag of chips or cookies next to you. Figure out how much a serving is, put it in a little bowl or a plastic baggie, and put the rest away. Feel free to keep a bag or carrots or grapes right next to you, though; eat all you want of those!
  • At meals, take just one small serving of everything. For example, start with a piece of chicken about the size of a deck of cards, one spoonful of mashed potatoes, and one spoonful of corn. After you finish that, give yourself five minutes to sit and become aware of your body. Is it still hungry? If you start with too much food, you're more likely to eat it all.
  • When eating ice cream, try eating it out of a coffee cup instead of a bowl. You'll eat less of it that way.
If you have any questions about suitable portions, or further suggestions, please comment!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Breakfast: banana (92 calories)
Morning: no snackies (0)
Lunch: 2 wraps (see below, 360)
Afternoon: 1 cup of grapes, 1 slice of bread with 1 tbsp of peanut butter, 1 Clif Nectar bar (397)
Dinner: Enchiladas! (647)
Evening: 1 cup of cereal with 1/2 cup soy milk (255)
Total: 1749 calories consumed

Rest & recovery

Monday was very chill for me. Normally I would do Masters Swim, but I decided to skip it yesterday, since I was a little tired from the race. Knowing that I wasn't going to be working out at all, I was more deliberate about my food choices. I didn't have much of an appetite, although I'm not sure why. I suppose my lack of appetite might be linked to stress and anxiety. I'm coming to crunch time for my senior thesis (well, crunch time for everything, really), which means my training will have to take a backseat for a few weeks. But after graduation, I'm looking to hit it hard again, like I have since Cal Poly.

Monday, April 16, 2007

First question

Hey all! I'm fielding my first question today, for one iggy, who commented on my very first post. Just as a kind of disclaimer, I'm not certified (yet) in any way. I am working towards my personal training certification, but I don't have the official piece of paper yet. That said, I feel I'm pretty knowledgeable about sports and fitness, and will (or have) thoroughly researched what I'm talking about. So (deep breath) here it goes . . .

Hi Tri Harder,
I came across your blog looking for general workout tips. i like what you're doing with the blog and I am wondering if you might answer me two questions:

The first is, I'm 5'9 180 lbs and I'm looking to drop 15 in 2 months. Is it possible? Here's the deal. I am usually in good shape (generally hover around 163) but I recently suffered a bulging disc and thereafter some major sciatica problems... still suffering too and it's been 4 months! Anyway, because I was so inactive from the injury I ended up putting on 20 lbs and it is KILLING ME! I need to get rid of this weight! What is the best thing i can do -- and I mean specifically. Everyone knows diet and exercise... but is there something specific you are aware of?

My next question is: My friend who rows crew is pushing me to try training the way he does. He does Yoga and breathing and weights from a DVD at Have you heard of this?

Looking forward to hearing from you as well as seeing some workout tips and recipes.

(p.s. my girlfriend goes to USC!)

Thanks for your comment, iggy! I'm totally happy to help you in any way that I can.

First off, how's your back now? I know that back problems can be a huge source of pain, and exercise can help. But I also want to make sure that by exercising you're going to make your back stronger, not cause more pain. So I would recommend double-checking with a doctor to see if there are any activities you should stay away from (although I'm guessing that you may already have done this). Losing the extra weight you've gained might also help reduce some of that pain.

15 pounds in 2 months is possible, even reasonable. Basically, you need to drop 2 pounds a week. That means cutting 7000 calories a week from your diet. That's a pretty drastic cut, but it's do-able. I would recommend keeping a log of what you eat and how many calories you burn every day. This will do two things: It will keep a record of how many more calories per day you're burning than consuming, and it will probably help you to make better food choices. If you know that you have to write down everything you eat, you'll eat better. Start by figuring out your base metabolic needs
. I would use a website like to figure out your basic caloric needs. Based on your height and weight, I would guess you probably need around 2500 calories per day to maintain your weight.

Next, cut out 1000 of those calories. Yep, 1500 a day. That'll be hard to do, so I suggest making a plan. For example, my eating plan is based on a 1600/day diet: 200 for breakfast, 100 for a mid-morning snack, 500 for lunch, 200 for an afternoon snack, 500 for dinner, and 100 for an evening snack. I think if you make a plan like this, you're more likely to follow it. Then, I would suggest that you figure out where you need to make the most drastic cuts. For example, maybe the most helpful thing for you to do would be to eat a very light lunch. Whatever changes you make, be sure that you can commit to them. Maybe that means only eating certain things (like sweets) after dinner, or during the weekends.

For exercise, I would recommend a spinning class. Spinning burns a ton of calories, because the weighted wheel keeps your legs going no matter what, which will keep your heartrate high. Focus on getting your legs to turn over quickly, as this will put less stress on your muscles and more on your heart, helping you to burn calories more efficiently and allowing you to keep going for longer. In a normal, hour-long spinning class, I burn 450-550 calories. And that's 500 calories more that you can eat instead of cutting! Additionally, spinning bikes are usually pretty adjustable, so you can probably find a setting that's not going to put too much strain on your back.

I would recommend staying away from weights in general, especially if you have a limited amount of time to spend at the gym, because you're not going to burn as many calories working out with weights as you will doing some sort of aerobic exercise. I'd also be careful about your posture and technique when running, because the stress on your joints might potentially exacerbate your back problems.

I have heard of mind and body workout, believe it or not. I think I read about it on a triathlon forum, and the person who recommended it seemed to really like it. I took a look at the website, and I must admit that I tend to shy away from the phrase "cut your workout time in half." But that's probably because I really enjoy my workout time. If you're not specifically interested in rowing or triathlon, I don't know how helpful it will be. I think it's great that the program focuses on flexibility, though, and that might help with your back. But it's not going to help you burn calories and lose weight, I don't think (although I hesitate to give that kind of statement without having really seen any evidence either way). If you end up getting into sports like rowing or triathlon, it sounds like this DVD might be more helpful for you at that point.

My ultimate advice is to find some form of working out that you really love and stick with it. For me, it's triathlon; before I started this, I was never very athletic, and now it's one of my top priorities. I think if you can find something you love doing, fitness will come naturally from that. Hope this helps, and tell your girlfriend "Fight on!"


Bar Hopping

The other day at UCSB, during the raffle (which was more of a "duck and cover" kind of event), I managed to slide tackle my way into winning a plastic bag full of Clif bars. I'm eating one of them as I speak, and it's a kind I've never tried before: Clif Nectar, Cinnamon Pecan flavor. Now, I've never had the Clif Nectar bars before, but I have been meaning to do a piece on different kinds of energy bars for a while. So prepare yourselves for some supplementary knowledge, because I intend to go over the kinds of bars I've tried, what I prefer, and the nutritional benefits of each.

I would guess that PowerBar is probably the most common energy bar available. It's the first one I ever used (but not until college), and it's the one most of my tri team uses. It's also been around longest, and sponsors lots of athletic events, including most of the collegiate triathlons I've been too this year, and lots of athletes, including UCLA's tri team. So I appreciate the brand and have nothing against the company.

Nutritionally, you can expect 230-250 calories, 2-4 g fat, 40-45 g carbohydrate (about half of it sugars), and 9-10 g protein in each bar. The nutritional data does vary by flavor, but you can check all of them out at the PowerBar website. By the way, I'm only talking about PowerBar performance bars. I've never tried Pria, Harvest, Triple Threat, or any of the other variations. I think they're probably worth trying; I just haven't gotten around to it as of yet.

As far as taste goes, and how I like them, they taste okay. I don't eat them regularly anymore, because I kind of got burned out on them and I prefer other, more natural options now. One thing I sort of dislike is that they have kind of a chemical aftertaste, which isn't entirely unpleasant, but is definitely, distinctively chemical. That said, PowerBars have a pleasantly chewy (like taffy) consistency with a little bit of crunch from crispy rice. I like them. My favorite flavors are Chocolate peanut butter, peanut buttery, and vanilla crisp. I stay away from espresso and wild berry. Price on the PowerBar is going to be somewhere between $1.00 and $1.50. I would advise buying from Wal-Mart or Target, rather than a sports store (unless you have a discount), because it's cheaper.

Clif Bars
Clif Bar is probably my all-time favorite bar. They have a much more natural taste and feel than PowerBars. Plus, they don't have that chemical taste. Clif Bars do have added chemical nutrition, however, so they're not entirely all-natural. When I was climbing with the USC climbing club, this was the most popular choice of bar. Clif Bar also sponsors athletes and events (like the UCSB tri team and their race). I like that the company is home-grown, also.

Clif Bar has about the same nutrition as PowerBar, although they have more fat in general. Calories, 250, Fat 5g, Carbs 45 g (about half of it sugar), and Protein 10g. If you want all the details, go to the website.

For my part, I love Clif Bars. I haven't eaten many of them in the past two weeks, because I've been trying some new things, but I always know that I can come back to them. Clif Bars are chewy, but not sticky like PowerBars. They also don't have that characteristic, crispy rice crunch. My favorite flavors are cool mint chocolate (by far!), cookies and cream, chocolate almond crunch, black cherry almond . . . actually, the only ones I don't like are the chocolate chip peanut crunch, because it takes chemically like a PowerBar, and carrot cake, because it's too bland. Clif Bar is a little more like a granola bar than PowerBar is, but less crunchy and more processed. Also, I should warn you, the chocolatey flavors sort of look like poop. Buy your Clif Bars at Wal Mart, Target, or Trader Joe's, because you can get them there for under a dollar. If you buy at a sports store, you'll probably pay $1.25 or $1.40.

Clif Luna Bars
I've recently become a big fan of Luna Bars. They're specially engineered for women's nutrition. They have fewer calories than Clif and PowerBars, just 180 per bar, and fewer carbs (around 27 g for most flavors). Other facts . . . 4-5 g fat, 10 g sugar, 10 g protein. Luna Bars contain more folic acid, soy protein, and calcium (among other things) especially for women. Men can eat the bars too, of course. Unfortunately, Luna Bars have a kind of chemical taste, but they are crunchier than PowerBars. The only flavor that I'll eat consistently is S'more. Lemon Zest was okay, but the chemical taste was stronger. And I haven't tried every flavor. Luna Bars are the same price as Clif Bars. I don't eat them all the time, but if I need a break from Clif Bars, I'll eat one.

Luna recently started making Luna Sunrise bars, which are formulated especially for breakfast. I tried one the other day, and wasn't crazy about it. Really, the only difference is that "It simply has flavors and nutrition that women tend to enjoy in the morning." It has more whole grains, protein, and fiber to help curb hunger, also. But I wouldn't really recommend these over any other energy bar.

Clif Nectar

Nectar bars are all-natural (like Clif Bars), organic, and raw. They have 2 servings of fruit, 5 or fewer ingredients, no processed sugars, and have no soy, wheat, gluten, or dairy. So they're safe for you no matter your allergy, I suppose. Fewer calories in these, two, although they're significantly smaller. 150-170 calories, 5-9 g fat, 26-30 g carbohydrate (19 g sugar), 2-3 g protein. These bars are an excellent source of dietary fiber, but that's about it. They're a very compact food, so good for what you want an energy bar to be good for: lots of energy in a small space. But I didn't really enjoy eating the one I've tried. I'm glad I got it for free. Maybe the other flavors are better. If you want a raw, all-natural, but still compact food option, I'd recommend Larabar. I'm not sure how much Nectar bars will cost you, as I didn't buy mine. Sorry, but I don't recommend them unless you have special needs for 100% organic, raw food, or have food allergies. I might revise my recommendation, though, if the other flavors turn out to be better.

Balance Bars

Forgive me, but I have recently become absolutely addicted to Balance Bars. I never tried them before because I thought they were too mainstream. They seemed like dieter food instead of athlete food. The whole point of Balance is to provide well-rounded nutrition (i.e. 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat). You can count on 200 calories per bar, 3.5 g fat, 14 g protein, 22 g protein. The best part of a Balance Bar is that it tastes like candy. I know, I know, maybe not what you're looking for in nutrition. But the point of these bars is not entirely to be nutritious; it's to provide fast, clean energy in a compact form that is more healthful than candy and more convenient than fruit, yoghurt, and granola. Balance Bars are very compact, smaller than any of the others, except maybe Nectar bars. They're currently my favorite, but I'll probably switch back to Clif Bars pretty soon. One advantage to Balance Bars is that they're a little easier to find, I think, because they're more mainstream. They're also about $1 if you get them at Wal Mart, Target, or Trader Joe's. Don't know about anywhere else, as I haven't bought them anywhere else yet. I recommend cookie dough, chocolate peanut butter, or peanut butter flavors, although I've liked all the ones I've tried so far.

To conclude, let me make clear that energy bars are not for meal replacement (except maybe breakfast, when you're running out and can just grab one). I do not recommend that you trade one for lunch or dinner. They're snack food, and the reason that athletes choose them is that they're compact and clean and can be carried along on long workouts, but they are more substantial than gels or recovery drinks. So use them for that, not for meals. For final recommendations, I suggest Clif Bars in general, PowerBars if you want to look more like a serious athlete, Clif Nectar if you have special needs, Luna Bars if you need a break from other things, and Balance Bars if you like candy. I think Clif Bar overall is the best--compact, healthy, all-natural, and convenient.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Race Report: UC Santa Barbara

The team headed out yesterday, Saturday, April 14, around noon. We stayed with one of the UCSB team members, all 12 of us. Saved us $300 on hotels, and only two people had to share a bed! The rest of us slept on the floor, which was fine, given enough pillows and blankets. Plus, since we all know that we need to be in bed early the night before a race, we were all in bed by like 9:30. Of course, half of us still laid awake, tense and excited, for another two hours, but at least we were down and ready for sleep early!

Call tim
e this morning was 5:45, relatively late for a race (normal is more like 4:30). Our host was on the race committee, so she had taken off around 4:30. We put her place back together (removed pillows from the floor), loaded up our gear, and headed to the UCSB campus. The weather was a little chilly (and what else would you expect a mile from the ocean at 6 a.m.?), but the skies were clear and the wind wasn't too severe, which had been a major concern (our host said to expect rainy, cold, and windy). Our transition area was on the UCSB campus, which overlooks the ocean, and how awesome is that?

Standard drill, setting up transition, but more fun because there were so many of us (12 is a big turn out for our team). Biked around the course a bit, ran to the bathroom (that's a warm-up, right?), and hobbled over on the unneven pavement to the swim start.

The swim was a point-to-point. The water temperature was about 55 degrees. It was freaking cold. And my wetsuit is a shorty suit, borrowed from the team, and designed for surfing and diving, not swimming. Yeah, it was totally cold. I doubled up on swim caps and made sure to tuck my ears well inside; that helped a lot. But it was still hard to get going. Besides which, the surf was coming in pretty high. Not ridiculously high, swells were probably only 4 or 5 feet, not the 7 to 10 feet they'd been having earlier in the week. But still, ocean swimming kind of freaks me out as it is. I had a hard time getting into any kind of rhythm until past the first buoy, about 200 meters in. After that, I was working with the surf instead of against it. I was still swimming pretty slow, but at least not as slow as I was first coming out, and I had my breathing and technique under control. But I don't think I've ever felt that cold for that long! I lost all sensation in my hands and feet. Well at least that's the last time I'll have to do that for a while!

I came out of the water at 29 minutes. Pretty slow for 800 meters. In a lake, I would swim that in under 20.

We came out of the water into the shallows, water not quite knee deep, and had to walk up four flights of stairs to the transition area. Yeah, pretty mean. I was the second-to-last person in my wave out of the water. I took the stairs slow, but not quite walking. As soon as I hit level ground, I ran for it. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to my transition time, but I think that it was pretty fast. I wanted to get out onto the bike course as soon as possible and try to make up some time.

I really flew along on the bike course. I probably passed a couple dozen people. The course started out on these beautiful bike paths right along the ocean and away from traffic. There were a few technical turns, but nothing I couldn't handle. Eventually, we came out onto the main road, but the bike lanes were still about twice as wide as they are in L.A. Additionally, almost every intersection we went through had local police stopping traffic for us, so we didn't have to worry about watching for cars. This is definitely the best-planned bike course I've ever been on, and Santa Barbara is a perfect town for cycling. There were some pretty strong crosswinds and headwinds, though, which was unfortunate, but I suppsose it made up for the relative flatness of the course. There were a few rolling hills, but nothing significant.

There was one woman in particular whom I kept passing and re-passing. I think I owe my excellent bike split to her, because watching her back get closer and closer pushed me harder than I've ever gone before on the bike. I can't remember if I passed her or not at the end; I remember she passed me just as we were coming back onto the bike paths (about a mile left of the course), and then another woman passed us both. But I ended the bike leg right behind the second woman, so maybe I re-passed the first woman. At any rate, I kept a pretty consistently hard pace throughout the bike; my top speed (on the flats; I wasn't paying attention on the downhills) was 25.5 MPH. My lowest speed was 12.9 MPH going up a hill into the wind.

I entered the run position at about 1:29, which means I averaged a little over 16 MPH.

I blazed through T2. I really, really wanted to get done in under 2 hours (that was my goal), a
nd I knew that I needed about half an hour for the 5 K. Unfortunately, when I dismounted on the bike and started running into the transition area, I knew I was in trouble. After being in 55-degree water for half an hour, then spending another hour on the bike in the cold wind, I could not feel my feet. It was like they weren't even there, like running on stumps. I knew that this would be trouble on the run course. I had taken off my shoes before dismounting, and so yanked on my Asics, ripped off my helmet, took a swig of water (I lost my water bottle about 10 minutes into the bike), and sprinted out onto the run course.

The pace I set right out of T2 was way too fast, and I knew it
. I tried to calm down, to get my legs working together, to find my stride. But my feet were just too cold, and my legs were screaming from all my hard work on the bike. Still, I told myself to keep running, that it would only be another half an hour before I could rest.

The run took us out past our swim entry point, along a kind of bluff overlooking the sea. The first major feature of the run course was a steep set of sand steps. I shuffled up as best I could, then hit the real trail. The actual trail was about half a foot wide through wild grasses. It was really, really beautiful, but I couldn't focus on it or drink it in at all; I was too busy forcing myself to keep going. It was during the first mile, while we running along this lovely bluff, that I threw up a little. You know how you just stop yourself from throwing up, and it kind of fills your mouth and nose a little bit? That's what happened. Nothing actually came out, but I could feel little chunky things stuck in my sinuses. That's when I knew that I was working really hard.

At about the 1 mile mark, at the first aid station (which I needed so badly, since I hadn't been hydrating throughout the bike), we transitioned from the trails to a sort of paved, campus path through some really nice botanical garden area. But we transitioned via another staircase. I walked and tossed back my Accelerade, then picked it up again. It was right after these stairs that my calves really started screaming. The stabilizing muscles on the sides of my legs were absolutely on fire, and it was all I could do to keep my legs moving. We did probably a little less than a mile around sort of a campus area before finishing the loop and coming down a ramp, past the aid station (yay! more Accelerade!), and onto the final stretch around the lagoon. At this point, I could see people around the edge of the lagoon coming to the end of the course.

But oh! I hurt so bad! I have never hurt so badly! And I knew that if I started walking, even for a minute break, I would be defeated, I would have admitted defeat. So I forced my feet to keep shuffling along. It was at about that point that I crossed the 2 mile line, spray-painted in white across the pavement. I looked at my watch. It was 1:50. Have I really been running a 10-minute mile? I wondered. I had felt so slow, so sluggish, so much slower than my normal pace! And yet the whole time I had been running at a 5 K pace that is, for me, pretty decent! I now knew that not only was I making better progress than I had realized, but that my goal of finishing under 2 hours was fully within my reach. I forced my legs to turn over a little faster, to not just shuffle along, but to actively push beyond the pain that I felt at that moment.

And push I did! I realized as I was doing it that I was crossing a sort of threshold. I had never hurt so badly in a race, and I had never pushed my body so totally beyond that barrier of pain. Not that I stopped hurting, but I very deliberately chose to engage with the pain and force a little more out of my legs. And the knowledge that I could do that fortified me even further against that intense pain, even as I came around the edge of the lagoon and saw a few final little hills, one that was pretty steep. I chased a couple of guys down, and powered up the last hill, not slowing a little. I was back in the shade and green, green grass of campus, and I could hear cheering and chattering ahead. I turned a final corner and saw our little cardinal and gold posse standing next to the finish line. They started screaming and cheering for me, and it was like some strange daemon of triathlon took over my body. My legs started absolutely flying, almost beyond my control. I sprinted as fast as I ever have to the finish line, flew across, and almost ran right over a guy from Cal Poly, who had paused to take off his timing chip.

And I finished right around 1:58, which means I did my 5 K in under 30 minutes.

I really felt like this was a liminal race for me. Every time I push beyond the bounds of pain, I understand more how insubstantial pain really is, and how it can be conquered. It's not that it doesn't hurt as badly, but you come to know that hurt and to accept instead of fearing it. You even come to enjoy it. In my future workouts, now, I'll be able to push that much farther into the realms of my limits, and in my next race, even farther beyond them. Because now I know that I can.

The race results for UCSB were just posted. My official splits were:
Swim: 30:05 (this included time of running up the four flights of stairs)
Bike: 1:00:03 (I assume that this includes both T1 and T2, since the 3 splits add up to my total time)
Run: 28:08!
Total: 1:58:16

Thursday, April 12 - Friday, April 13

Lost track

Swimming class
Two-mile tempo run on Thursday


I don't know if I would say that I fell off the wagon, towards the end of the week. I've been keeping track of my eating and training really diligently. I felt like I should have the freedom to have a day off if I wanted it. Additionally, Thursday I started tapering for my the UCSB race. So I was focusing on a brief recovery phase and allowing myself to eat, well, not whatever I want, but more food and different kinds of food than what I would normally allow myself to eat. Like chips and trail mix. And booze. Empty calories. I haven't really permitted myself a lot of empty calories lately, but I went a little bit crazy. Made a run to Ralph's for cinnamon rolls. Yummy!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wednesday, April 11

Breakfast: Balance bar (200 calories)
Morning: nothing (0 calories)
Lunch: Spaghetti with sauce (490 calories)
Afternoon: Luna bar, crackers with peanut butter (500 calories)
Dinner: Apple (80 calories)
Midnight: Cereal (160 calories)
Total: 1430

Masters Swim, 25 minutes, 218 calories
Weight lifting, 45 minutes, 160 calories
Total: 2378

Yesterday was kind of a downer. I really didn't want to go to Masters Swim, but I figured, since it was my last day before tapering for UCSB, I probably should. I got out there and it just wasn't working; mentally, I really wasn't into it. Besides which, it was an IM workout, which I don't particularly like because my butterfly and back strokes are pretty bad, and it seems pointless to me to work so hard in areas that don't really apply to me. So I got out of the pool early, about 12:40, and skated home to eat lunch. I felt horrible, too, because I felt like I had wasted my time on junk meters. It was extra annoying, because I had considered skipping the workout anyway.

The rest of the day was pretty frustrating, too. I had trouble controlling myself when it came to food. Maybe I needed to ease up on myself a little, like I was trying too hard to regulate what I was eating. But I sort of felt tempted to eat because I was unhappy, or anxious. Normally, I don't have a problem with that. I eat when I'm bored, but not to make myself feel better. It's a frightening development for me.

All in all, not a great training day. But I need to be able to get over it when things don't go well, or as planned, and be able to face the next day ready to start fresh.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Junk Miles

It's important to have purpose in training. It's important to come in focused and mentally prepared to work. It's important to know what you're doing, and to pay attention to your body. Because if you're not prepared, purposeful, and focused, you end up with junk.

Junk miles are miles (or meters, or yards) that don't matter. They don't contribute to your overall fitness or to your specific sports-related fitness; they just make you tired and frustrated. Which isn't to say that every time you work out it needs to be targeted towards improvement; there's still room for running because it's fun, or swimming because you enjoy it. There's still time for pleasant bike rides with family or friends and hanging out at the pool.

One of the automatics for junk miles is working out too much. There's some research which has shown that you need at least three workouts a week to improve significantly, but that more than five workouts a week doesn't really do much; five is kind of the maximum for how much you'll improve. In triathlon, this means you're going to be doing nine to fifteen workouts a week. But if you're doing more than that, it's sort of automatically junk.

Another type of junk miles I've run across in my own experience is going into a workout with no real clue as to what the purpose of the workout is. I find that I'm especially susceptible to this in led swim workouts, for several reasons. First of all, I have very little face time with the coach; my face is in the water for most of the workout, and the coach is often walking up and down the pool, watching everyone (some coaches are better about individual work than others, of course). Also, very rarely do my coaches tell me what the purpose of the workout is, which is exacerbated by the fact that they often reveal the sets as we swim them, rather than laying out the whole workout on a blackboard (I know that these problems are pretty specific to my Masters program, also; in swim class, we often have the entire workout written out for us). The point is that if I know that I'm doing an intervals workout, or a power workout, or a speed workout, then I know how to orient myself; I know how to use my muscles to achieve that goal. But if I don't know the point of the workout, I'm much more likely to swim (or run or bike) along without really paying attention.

Which brings me to my final point: focus. Your body gives you feedback, as you work out. I've found that my workouts are much more effective when I'm concentrating on the tast at hand rather than thinking about lunch, or planning my weekend, or whatever. For example, on Sunday, towards the end, I found it harder and harder to focus. My mind wandered to various things, my pace slowed, and I hurt more. But when I pulled my attention back to my running, I was able to maintain a better pace, a faster cadence, and a better form. Plus, it's harder for your body to trick you into thinking it's too hard to go on. (A brief note is that I think it's find to workout with another person and chat as you do it, as long as you can maintain proper form, because the other person will often push you to run harder by their very presence).

So how do you avoid junk miles? Plan your main workouts with a warm up, a main set, a cool down, and a purpose. I have different categories of workouts, like Speedwork, Technique, Power, Endurance, Base Building. If you go into a workout knowing what you want to accomplish, you're more likely to accomplish it. During the workout, focus on what you're doing and try to keep your mind from wandering to random things (like food, which is where my mind usually goes). Finally, eating right and sleeping enough also go a long way to making each workout as effective as it can possibly be.

Time can be tight for triathletes. We have three sports that we're preparing for all the time, plus we have specialized things to practice like transitions and open water swimming. Make sure the time you spend on training is as effective as possible.

Tuesday, April 10

Breakfast: Chocolate chip cookie (100 calories)
Morning: Balance bar, recovery drink (300 calories)
Lunch: Chicken curry with rice (500 calories)
Afternoon snack: Almonds, cookies (300 calories)
Dinner: Spaghetti (600 calories)
Midnight snack: Cookies and tea (300 calories)
Total: 2100 calories

Track practice
1600 warm up
Active warm ups (high knees, butt kicks, lunges, hurdles, side strides)
1x800 @ 5K pace (I forgot to time this one)
1x1200 @ 5k pace (7 minutes, 9:20/mile pace)
1x800 @ hard mile pace (9:20/mile pace)
2x400 @ hard mile pace (9:00/mile pace)
800 cool down
in about 35 minutes; 370 calories
Swim class
Mostly flip turns and drills, about 550 yards
291 calories
Spinning, 45 minutes
448 calories
Total burned: 3109

In general, I love Tuesdays. Yes, they're difficult to manage, and it's kind of intimidating to come up against three different workouts in one day, but it gives me such a feeling of accomplishment! Plus the endorphin high is unbeatable.

Dolce, one of my very close friends, has been thinking about getting involved with triathlon, and so she came to track practice with me. Dolce hasn't run since the L.A. Marathon, over a month ago, and she's a little out of shape, but she worked really hard to keep up with me. And with her there, I definitely pushed myself to a harder pace. Especially at the end of our last 400; Dolce started sprinting with less than 100 to go, so we both finished at a dead sprint. It felt amazing!

Swimming class wasn't much of a workout. Mostly, we worked on comptetition turns. I'm finally getting the hang of flip turns, after like a year, but I still don't want to do them on every lap. At least I can do them without getting a nose full of water, though.

Spinning was challenging, as always, but not as much as it was last week, so it felt like a good balance. I've noticed that I've developed a lot of strength standing, but it feels like my cadence is getting slower while sitting, by comparison. After spinning, Zach intimated that he thinks I've improved the most out of anyone on the team in the past year. That felt pretty awesome. It's excellent to put so much time and energy and soul into improving and then find that you're not only improving, but that everyone knows it!

My 3-hour Olympic seems closer than ever.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

Breakfast: none
Morning snack: Balance Bar (200 calories)
Lunch: Alfalfa sprout sandwich, apple (200 calories)
Afternoon snack: Chocolate chip cookie (100 calories)
Dinner: Chicken curry (500 calories)
Midnight snack: Chocolate chip cookie, rice, milk and cereal (600 calories)
Total: 1800 calories


Yesterday, I took an unplanned day off. I've been having horrible trouble sleeping. I didn't get to bed until 3:00 a.m. Monday, and didn't fall asleep until 5:00. And I have no idea why! But since Sunday is my normal day off and I did a 10 K run, I decided it would be okay to take Monday off, which meant skipping Masters swim. My eating wasn't particularly good, and that's at least partly because I have so little food. I mean, alfalfa sprout sandwich. Good Lord. Time to get to the grocery store.

It's important to get enough sleep, as an athlete especially, and it's something I'm very concerned about. Sleeping is like eating and drinking water; it's absolutely necessary to get those things in order for your body to recover. And so it's very frustrating when I don't get enough sleep, and I'm eager to figure out what it is that's keeping me awake at night.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs (204 calories)
Morning snack: Chocolate chip cookies (200 calories)
Lunch: Dumplings (jiaozi, 120 calories)
Afternoon snack: Chocolate chip cookies (200 calories)
Dinner: Spaghetti with marinara, cheesecake, brownies (700 calories)
Midnight snack: Almonds, tortilla with butter (260 calories)
Total for the day: 1684

10 K run (South on Figueroa, west on Exposition, north on Vermont, east on Adams x 2)
Took me 1:11 (about 11:16/mile) and I burned around 626 calories.
Total calories burned: 2626

Yesterday's run was my first 10 K training run ever. I was excited to find a route that so exactly fit my needs. The loop I took was almost exactly 5 K (gmaps pedometer says it's actually 3.18 miles). It's not the most comfortable route, by any means; it's all within the city, and the number of cars is troubling. The air quality is poor. And especially down Adams, there's a lot of pedestrian traffic to dodge, small shops and bakeries and whatnot.

The first half of my run was the more difficult half. I was reasonably well focused and maintaining an average pace. Within the first couple miles, I had to keep reminding myself that I was on a long distance training run, and that my pace and perceived effort should be moderate; this was not a tempo run. I had to discipline myself to go slower than I might have liked. Also, although I wanted to be out on the road and was extremely motivated, even excited, to be training, I found myself boring with my run fairly quickly; I wanted to cut my run short and go back home.

But I pushed past my starting point in about 36 minutes to begin my second loop, and it felt great. I wanted to work for a negative split, so I pushed myself a little harder. For the first lap, I tried to keep my heartrate between 145 and 150 (which is Zone 1, for those who keep track of such things), but on my second lap I shot for 150-160 (still Zone 1).

On this longer training run, without the fatigue of many of my training runs, I got to be better acquainted with my body. I already knew that I hit a second wind about halfway into my third mile, but now I also know that I feel fresher after about four and a half, and that the hardest time for me is about half a mile from the end. It took a little bit of mental strength to keep going at five and a half.

Overall, a good day for training, although a relatively light load for me. The difference between my estimated calories consumed and estimated calories burned was 942, lower than normal, but still a good balance.


I began this blog for two reasons: First off, I've wanted to upgrade to a real blog (from Xanga) for several months. I believe blogging is going to be the next big thing, the way by which most people acquire information, and I want to be a part of that ocean of knowledge. Second, I feel that I have something valuable to contribute as a triathlete and (soon to be) personal trainer.

So this blog will serve the purpose of a training log, for me, but I hope that it will also set an example for other aspiring athletes. To that end, I'll also include workouts, training tips, diet tips, and recipes along the way.

I'm profoundly concerned with the state of our nation's health, and I hope that I can inspire some people to get involved with sports and, more importantly, to be concerned with their personal fitness and well-being no matter what their athletic background.

Welcome! If you'd ever like any specifically-tailored information, please leave a comment or e-mail me. I might not know the answer, but I can probably find out!