Friday, February 29, 2008

Brr . . .

Guess what.

It's still too cold for swimming in Lake Afton.

I know. I checked.

But it was plenty warm enough for biking!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

RAW: Days 8 and 9

I was going to back off on the daily posts for a while, but I really must share.

I posted my concerns and questions at GoneRaw.com, and look what came back . . .

http://www.goneraw.com/forums/3/topics/3518

The response from this community overwhelms. I was expecting a little more vehemence. If someone were to challenge my way of life--and let's face it: raw foodism is as much a lifestyle as it is a diet--I think I would be more hostile in defending it. However, the posts here are nothing but helpful and encouraging.

Today was pretty difficult for me, in terms of detox. My stomach was turning over and over; I felt nauseous at points; and let's just say that things were a little, erm, loose. But that is an indication to me that my colon is cleaning out. Because things aren't just loose, they're also a strange color. I may be mistaken, but I take this to mean that a raw diet really is effective for me, in terms of cleansing. And I like the idea that my body is becoming cleaner and more healthy.

Also, my Amazon purchases (Larabars and hemp protein powder) arrived today.

Being raw is very difficult for me, for some reason, perhaps because I'm still so deep into my immortality phase that I'm not as pressingly concerned about my long-term health as I might be in another couple years. My extraordinarily (current) good health probably contributes to this mindset as well; this year has been awful in my area for flu and respiratory viruses, but I haven't gotten even a little sick. However, the three occurrences that I've mentioned above compel me to continue my raw food experiment, with one concession: I'll stay 80% raw, but allow myself 20% cooked food. I'll still try to stay as clean as possible in that 20% by avoiding gluten, red meat, high fructose corn syrup, processed flour, etc. (with the exception of Girl Scout cookies, of course). But I think that will give me some leeway, so that by the end of this month I don't hate (hate HATE) the very idea of living food.

I'm currently approaching this as an endurance activity. I think of this as a little run-walk strategy: 8 minutes of running, 2 minutes of walking. Maybe next season (month? year?) I'll be able to go 100% for longer. In the meantime, I intend to take care of myself as well as possible, and will continue to post on my experiences with raw and living food.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Race Report: Wichita Central YMCA Indoor Triathlon

500 yard pool swim: 8:56
I went out hard from the moment I pushed off the wall. After the first 15 yards or so, I pulled back gradually, finally settling on a pace after the first 50. I kept on the hip of the woman to my right (there were no lap lanes), thinking I could maybe get a little bit of draft benefit. One thing I noticed was that I was keeping pace with her flip turns with my open turns (which, I must say, are quite fast). A little over halfway through, I caught a little bit of her wake and came up sputtering. I flipped onto my back for a few yards, then turned back over and finished out. I remember it was hard, but the circumstances stand out much more clearly than the feelings. I can still clearly picture the whole thing, but can't remember whether my body was tired or hurting . . . I just know that I went out hard, and that I really worked for my fastest swim split in a race ever.

6 mile bike: 19:16 (includes both transitions)
This was murder. We were on Cybex stationary cycles, the kind with rubber straps for your feet. So this bike was all about pounding the legs, and it absolutely destroyed my quads. I just focused on muscling through it. My heart rate was over lactate threshold the entire time.

2 mile run: 16:32
Once again, my fastest split ever in a race: 8:15/mile. It took me to a whole new level of hurt, and that's what I'm always looking to do in a race. The indoor track was 14 laps to a mile, for a total of 28 laps. One of my athletes, Rich, was there to cheer me on the whole way, and it was amazing to get to see his face every few seconds. Four laps out, I started accelerating, and absolutely sprinted for the last lap. Rich was standing at the end of the straightaway, demanding that I run as hard as my legs would carry me. After I finished that final lap, I slowed to a walk, sagged against the wall, and swore under my breath. It hurt so bad! One thing that took my mind off the effort was considering whether or not I would be disqualified if I threw up on the indoor track. Outside, it wouldn't be a big deal, but indoors, I think it would be a hazard. Regardless, I didn't lose my cookies, and I think that my emphasis on mental toughness is really paying off.

Total time: 44:43
UPDATE: 3rd place Female 21-34! Whoo!

My time at Derby Rec, which was the same distance, was 48:36. And I think that's all I need to say about that.

I love love love these short, indoor races. At this distance, I can stay anaerobic--and heck, even above LT!--the whole time; I can really see what my body is capable of. It gives me hope, to think that I might someday be doing Olympic distance at these speeds. It's just a matter of hard work.

I don't have the results (I had a seminar for personal trainers at the club on Saturday, so I didn't stay for awards) or pictures yet, but I'll post them as soon as I have them! Whoo! I'm so amped!

RAW: Days 6 and 7

Yesterday was race day. I ate mostly raw, but scarfed up whatever was on hand, right after (oranges, bananas, granola bars, gatorade) and celebrated by having a nice (COOKED!) dinner with my dad. Race report to follow.

Today is not going well. I am sick of eating frickin' leafy greens, but trying to stay away from too much dried fruit to avoid the simple sugars. I'm currently munching on mushrooms. Furthermore, I feel hostile towards the entire raw community. I've been surfing message boards, reading chirpy posts, and wanting to punch all those raw food nuts in the face. Not so much enjoying this lifestyle, at the moment.

Finally, I've been trying to find some solid evidence on the benefits of a living food diet. I know the basic theory: heating food above 118 F for longer than 3 minutes denatures the protein, caramelizes the sugar, and destroys the enzymes that are built into the food to help it be digested. But I would like to see some data on the actual science behind this. Every article I've found on line strikes me as a knee-jerk, defensive, propagandistic, and even fanatical. I get that this is something people really believe in; maybe it's something I could believe in. I've even found a few good articles, and I think, "Okay, I can buy that . . . but if you have studies, show me references." Because I don't want to be preached at; I want some facts.

I hope things start looking up in the next 3 weeks, because at this rate, I'm never going to want to eat raw veg again!

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Believing in Belief"

Several things have been brewing in my head for this post: an article by swim coach Richard Quick, an Endurance Planet podcast, a blog post by triathlete Gale Bernhardt . . . consider this post a synthesis of their thoughts and mine.

Have you ever read about the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes? Before Roger Bannister ran his liminal mile, most people--almost everyone, in fact--seriously doubted that it was physically possible. After he broke that barrier, many athletes followed in his footsteps, to the point where running a sub-4-minute mile became almost pedestrian. It was Bannister's belief that carried him beyond the world's assumptions and made him the first.

Not everyone can be a professional athlete; no matter your work ethic, there's a half-dozen genetically-determined and unchangeable variables: muscle type, body composition, VO2 max . . . I would even argue that many professional endurance athletes possess a predisposition for higher tolerance of pain and a stronger sense of discipline . . . what if an extraordinary ability to believe is another difference between the elite and the age grouper? Belief makes the ordinary extraordinary; belief brings commitment; belief gives permission beyond limits; belief will carry an athlete through difficulties and setbacks; belief makes you act as if you cannot fail.

Belief makes the extraordinary ordinary. The success of Roger Bannister gave other athletes permission to believe that running a mile in 3:59 is possible. Before his achievement, the belief was visionary; now it's mundane, because it's fact. His accomplishment--which began with his belief--actually expanded the cultural perception of what is normal and ordinary! Wouldn't it be great to be a person who breaks that kind of barrier?

Belief brings commitment. Roger Bannister didn't run just one mile; I mean, he ran the famous one, but he ran countless others before that. He sacrificed. He reached new levels of physical pain. He restructured his life (he wasn't a pro athlete, by the way; he was a recreational runner) to give him an appropriate amount of time to train. He committed a huge chunk of his life to this goal, because he knew it was attainable--not just theoretically, but personally; there was no reason to half-ass it. It wasn't only something that his coach or his parents or his nation wanted (although they all did); no one thought it was possible, and if he hadn't initially believed himself capable of running the fastest mile ever, his culture never would have expected and demanded that he achieve it. His belief initiated the pursuit for the goal; he was committed before anyone else was.

Belief gives permission beyond limits. Roger Bannister wasn't waiting for someone to say he should or could; he wasn't waiting for someone else to break the barrier. In fact, he was committed to breaking the 4-minute record before anyone else could (there were two other men pusuing the same goal simultaneously). And many saw the 4-minute barrier as a natural limit: 4 minutes, 4 laps around the track . . . it seemed perfect. Bannister disregarded that idea of a natural order; he knew he could run a mile faster than that, and he set out to do it. His own belief allowed him to overlook any so-called limits.

Belief carries an athlete through difficulties and setbacks. Bannister didn't run a sub-4-minute mile the first time he tried. In fact, there were several races and events which were orchestrated specifically to help him break 4 minutes, times when all the world watched and waited thinking, "This'll surely be the time." He failed multiple times, at international events, and small-town races, even with other athletes pacing him. He failed. He failed, he failed, he failed. And in the face of discouragement, he continued his training with a singular aim, and continued to participate in meets and events; his belief did not allow him to look at himself and think, "Well, I guess that's it. I gave it everything, and it wasn't enough." It carried him through the profoundest discouragement--failure.

Belief makes you act as if you cannot fail.

Let's apply. What is an extraordinary goal for you? What's something on the outside edges of what (in your mind) is possible for you? For some, the idea of even finishing a triathlon is an extraordinary goal. I coach one woman for whom swimming 25 yards is mentally inconceivable. Maybe you have an inkling that you could run a marathon in under 3 hours. Maybe you secretly believe that you could get first place in your A-priority race this season. Maybe you dream of swimming the English Channel. Or maybe it's something completely unrelated to performance. Whatever it is, allow yourself to fully define your goal; I would bet that most of you have a little thought niggling at the corners of your brain. Mine says, "Know what? I bet you can get 1st in your age group at Shawnee Mission." Invite that thought into center stage in your mind and take a good long look at it.

What's your first reaction to that goal/dream/desire? Maybe that it's not realistic. It's a pipe dream. It's never going to happen.

Psh. Why isn't it going to happen? Is it because you're not genetically pre-disposed to win first place at a major race? Or because you didn't learn to swim until you were 37 years old? Check this out:

How could Dara Torres--at age 33 and having been out of swimming for seven years--return to the sport in 2000 after only 14 months of training and swim significantly faster than ever before in each of her events, setting tow American records and taking five Olympic medlas (two of them gold on world-record relays)?
How could American 200-meter butterflyer Misty Hyman drop from 2:09.2 (her lifetime best) at the 2000 Olympic trials to 2:05.88 just 30 days later to beat world-record holder and defending Olympic champion Susie O'Neill, breaking O'Neill's six-year winning streak in the 200 butterfly?
-Quick, Richard. "Believing in Belief."
The Swim Coaching Bible. Human Kinetics: 2001.

That's right! Belief! And you may not be a world-class 200 meter butterfly specialist, or a former Olympian, but you are capable of the same kind of belief that drove these athletes to do what was extraordinary for them. Know what? No matter how exceptional the physiology, dropping almost 4 seconds from a swimming PR is extraordinary. And coming back to the Olympics to win big after a seven-year hiatus is extraordinary. For you, extraordinary will look different (for one thing, if you're an age-grouper, you should damn well be able to drop a lot more than 4 seconds from your swim time!), but it is no less extraordinary, and it is no less achievable.

So look back over this post and ask some questions. I look forward to hearing what happens from there.

RAW: Days 4 and 5

I can tell you, the amount of fiber in my body currently is really intense . . .

I feel sorry for whoever might be so unfortunate as to end up behind me at any point during the YMCA Central indoor tri tomorrow . . . because they're in for a stinky ride.

This raw thing comes in phases . . . sometimes it seems ridiculously hard, other times it's a breeze. For dinner tonight, I made some raw hummus using sprouted chick peas, and it tasted really good! Besides which, the friction from processing it in my food processor warmed it nicely. And I haven't had warm food in a while.

One of the most interesting parts about this whole process is wondering where I'm going to land: will I be so full of energy and healthy by the end of the month that I'll never want to go back to cooked foods? Will I be so sick of frickin' fruits and veggies that I'll cook everything forever, until all semblance of nutritional value is gone from whatever I eat? I'm betting that I'll end up halfway in between--glad to have had the experience, but ready to incorporate cooked foods (BREAD!) back into my diet. I could see myself being about 50% raw.

But it's thrilling, not knowing where I'll come down at the end of this experiment.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

RAW: Days 2 and 3

Prompted by dinner with my grandmother last night (she's half-deaf, slightly senile, and loves me to death), I have decided that raw food rules do not apply in the following situations:

  • Special family meals (because there's a special circle of hell reserved for people who turn down food prepared by doting grandmothers)
  • Holidays and birthdays
  • Race days
  • Girl Scout cookies

You think I'm kidding about that last one. I'm not.

I figure even with these exceptions, I'm still in great shape; if nothing else, I'm still well ahead of the 80/20 curve (you know, eat well 80 percent of the time, drink beer and eat oreos after the race--I mean, the other 20 percent of the time). Which led me along the following line of thought: I don't really care about raw eating. I respect people who are raw vegans and who find all kinds of creative things to do with dates, almonds, a food processor, and a dehydrator. But when it comes right down to it, I don't have the kind of spiritual connection with the idea of raw fooding that it takes to give up so much that is totally normal (Girl Scout cookies, anyone?).

Which pretty much parallels my attitude towards Ironman. I respect people who do it. I think it's awesome and bad ass. But I feel no compunction to go out and do 140.6 miles of work in one day.

At least, not yet.

There's the kicker--as sure as I am that I don't want to do Ironman right now, that it's not my thing, that I lack the emotional and spiritual desire to go out and push myself through that kind of journey . . . I know that it's only a matter of time. It might be in two years or in twenty, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will someday finish an Ironman race. I will. It's written into my future; it's part of my destiny. And I'm sure that I'll find the strength for the journey--the emotional and spiritual connection that I currently lack--as I travel that road.

And maybe that's the way it'll be with raw food, too. Yeah, I don't really have the emotional or spiritual conviction that raw eating is the way to go . . . I'm not even sure about the biological basis of raw eating. But I know that I want to see if I can go the distance. And maybe as I test my limits with endurance and discipline in eating, I'll find some connection to this lifestyle that pulls me in and makes me want to give up Girl Scout cookies.

Fortunately, I'll still have these recipes . . .

Monday, February 18, 2008

RAW: Lessons Learned - Day 1

  • Oils have lots of fats. If I want to eat a lot of salads, I'm going to have to find a lower-fat alternative for oil and vinegar dressing.
  • Gotta cut the nuts and nut butters. High fats!
  • I'm going to need to find a source of protein and B12. Percent of calories from protein today: 9%. Amount of vitamin B12: 0 mg. Might need to bust out the poke and ceviche sooner than I expected.
  • Raw food can be good if it's done right. Yeah, if. My first experiment didn't work out well. My second and third were better. I'm starting to get the hang of it, now.
  • I gotta get my mind off of bread, chocolate, bread, cake, bread . . . never mind. Sprouts! Veg! Frozen berries! Almond milk! Delicious, crispy, green, fragrant lettuces . . .
  • Gas . . . not as bad as I thought.

And here's a (successful, I promise!) recipe . . .

Carrot Cumin Soup

2 carrots, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
about 1/2 cup water
cumin, salt, pepper to taste

Blend everything until it looks like soup. Then eat it.

RAW

The title says it all. I am sitting in front of a big bowl of salad with homemade dressing and raisins and tomatoes. I had salad and fruit for breakfast. There's some (homemade!) almond milk in the fridge, and mung beans sprouting on the kitchen counter.

Can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Useful Information

Just found this blog entry about winter riding gear.  Posting this is dangerous, though; it takes away my "It's too cold!" excuse.

Guess I'll have to switch to "It's too expensive!"

A Whole Lotta Nothing: Winter Riding Gear

Friday, February 15, 2008

Malaise, Ennui, and Other Signs of Overtraining

  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
  • Decrease in training capacity / intensity
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Compulsive need to exercise
If you've been in this sport for a while, I'll bet you already know a bit about overtraining. If you're new to triathlon, you'll probably experience a little bit of overtraining soon. As a coach, I have athletes dropping like flies. This winter has been terrible for various flu and cold viruses, to the point that the hospitals have been crowded with patients complaining of respiratory illnesses; I believe that has greatly contributed to the rash of athlete illness I've seen on my team, particularly since they were getting sick even during the first week of training. But I also know that we've been training hard, and that I coach a group of middle-aged women who seem extraordinarily reluctant to slow the frick down! So I'm sure that their midwestern work ethic has made them easy targets for all the nasty bugs out there.

As an athlete, I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, here, because as strongly as I've encouraged them to lay off for a few days and give their bodies a chance to recover, I'm currently experiencing:
  • A washed out feeling, tired, lacking energy
  • Mild aches and pains, soreness, and stiffness everywhere
  • Insomnia (and freakin' nightmares, y'all)
  • Decrease in training capacity/intensity (I've had a hard time even getting into zone 3 this whole week)
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport (haven't lifted weights all week)
  • A compulsive need to exercise
And yet I'm still totally convinced that I just need to keep training for one more week, to make it to that next recovery cycle.

Experienced athletes will be able to relate to this common connundrum (and newbies, take note): we sort of suspect that we're overtrained and should back off, but simultaneously wonder whether we need to work harder instead. If we don't back off and proceed into some hardcore overtraining, we risk the fitness we've built over the past months, but if we do back off, we feel like we will lose fitness anyway! The supreme irony is that symptoms of no enthusiasm or motivation to work out occur along with a compulsive need to exercise. You'd think that if we feel so blah (for lack of a better term) about scheduled workouts, we'd avoid them like the plague; instead, we add extra workouts on.

Practically, here are some steps to take if you suspect you're overtrained:
  • Take the time to prove to yourself beyond any doubt that you are indeed overtrained. The best way to do this is to keep track of resting heart rate and performance stats in a training log (the digital log at Trifuel is a good resource for tracking this information). If your resting HR is up by at least 10% for three days or more, take note; if you see a sudden drop in your speed or wattage, take note; this provides concrete evidence that you're overtrained, so there's no convincing yourself that you should try to muscle through a rough patch by working harder.
  • Take one to three days totally off, and reduce your volume by 20% for the rest of your training week (or whatever microcycle you use).
  • Get a full seven to nine hours of sleep each night, eat healthy and track your nutrient intake, and drink lots of water. This gives your body the tools it needs to recover and rebuild fully.
  • Stretch, use a foam roller, do some yoga, maybe even consider a sports massage. Give your muscles some love!
  • Give yourself a mental break from the sport. As you finish your days of rest, allow yourself to get psyched out a little. You should feel excited to get back into training.
  • If, like me, you're almost to your recovery week anyway, continue moving your schedule up a week.
I know from personal (current, even) experience that it is ridiculously difficult to put on the brakes and bring your training to a halt; we want to train through this mess, dammit! But take it on good authority: if you try to keep going when you're overtrained, you're going to do more harm than good.

(As a personal aside, I have this problem regularly; I am going to look at my training schedule and consider a three-week mesocycle, instead of the four week cycle under which I'm currently operating.)

[Props to About.com for the convenient list of overtraining symptoms; it was much easier to cut and paste than to think all of those up myself]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Looooong Run

You wanna talk about mental toughness? I'll tell ya about mental toughness.

I'll tell ya about running uphill. Into 24 MPH wind. On the sand.

I'll tell ya about roads that I swear are changing pitch; when I run south, there's an incline, but by the time I get around to running north on the very same road, it's flat as a pancake.

I'll tell ya about a mile split that's a full minute and a half slower because I was running into the wind.

I'll tell ya about an internal oblique that felt like someone was wringing water out of a wet dishrag on the last two miles.

I'll tell ya about rounding the last corner, a mile left to go, and thinking, "I know this is going to hurt; I just have to keep going," then repeating that to myself for the next 10 minutes.

And I'll tell ya about the most grueling mental obstacle of all: deciding whether to eat or shower first when it's all done.

8-mile long run splits
1: 10:27
2: 10:20
3: 11:37 (this one against the south wind)
4: 10:33
5: 10:52
6: 10:08 (this one with the wind)
7: 10:25
8: 9:50 (this one against the wind!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Building Mental Toughness

A major goal that I set for this mesocycle is to build mental toughness. One of the ways I want to do that is by always working one minute longer than I have to. So if I plan to do an eight-mile run, I run eight miles, then one minute farther at the same pace.

Today, I had a breakthrough with mental toughness, I think. I was swimming 34 minutes straight in the SwimEx, and it was not going well. I actually considered ending early and trying later in the week, because I was having so much trouble holding my form. The main reason is that I'm trying to improve my catch, but my arms lack the strength to keep up. The way I've changed my catch dramatically improves my pace, but I get significantly fatigued and sore on the lateral side of my right hand, from the knuckle of my pinkie down into my forearm. Today I was also experiencing discomfort in my tricep and anterior deltoid, as well as the antecubital area of my left arm (translation: the side of my right hand and forearm, the back of my right arm, the front of my shoulder, and the front side of my left elbow). So in short, my swimming is improving, but I need to build upper body strength before I can really work it in. Which is why I kept swimming: I figured I needed to push those arm muscles so that they'll get stronger.

I was counting down the seconds by the end of this workout, focusing all my mental capacity on holding a passable form. Then the timer went to 00:00, the buzzer sounded, and I was done. Except that I kept swimming. My goal was to keep swimming for one minute. But at that point, it was like I couldn't stop. As soon as I was technically finished, I just wanted to keep going; I was enjoying it.

I don't know how long I kept swimming; I lost track of time. It probably wasn't more than a minute, maybe two. But I was surprised to find how easy it was to keep moving, as difficult as it had been before, as soon as my time was up.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

An Experiment

I'm not sure how I came to this decision.

I have decided to try out a raw foods diet for one month, just to see how it feels. I've been looking at some recipes and stuff. Looks pretty hard core. One of my primary concerns is that I won't be able to properly fuel my body for training and competition. But most of the proponents of raw food (who strike me as a little nutty, honestly) claim to have more energy, so we'll see.

However, I am concerned about when I should start this. I'd like to do it during my base building phase, since I'm absolutely sure that I'll lose a significant amount of weight, and I've read that it's best to lose weight during base phase, rather than specific prep or competitive phases. But that doesn't give me as much time to prepare as if I waited until, say, April.''

Currently, I'm thinking about starting for the second half of March, which will give me two weeks during base and two weeks during specific prep. And we'll see what happens.

Thoughts?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Finding Your Strengths: Part II

I was re-reading some old posts (because I'm a perfectionist) and I realized I left out an important point.

Just because you swam in high school or spend every weekend on a bike or run marathons as a hobby doesn't mean that that's your strongest sport. I know a couple of people who have come into triathlon from cycling or swimming only to discover that they're excellent runners. So my last piece of advice when looking for your strengths is to keep an open mind. Who knows? Maybe you'll discover a new talent. And if you allow yourself to grow in new directions, your performance can only get stronger.

Mantra

Slow is smooth.

Smooth is good.

Good is fast.

Fast is slow.

I don't know why such a simple syllogism makes me swim better, but it works.

Try it.

Finally . . .

Got outside today.

And how awesome was it?

Pretty awesome.

I set up a group ride for the multisport club today, since we haven't been able to do a group ride all together yet and the forecast was for a high of 56 F with 10 MPH winds (that would translate to warm and calm, for those of you fortunate to live in sunny, warm, less windy climates). Only one of my ladies showed up, but that was fine. She's very chatty, and a lot of fun to ride with. The wind was from the west by northwest, mostly around 10-15 MPH, but gusting to more than that, I think. We started out riding north for about 10 miles, then did a little loop around Furley, KS (now if I meet any of the 80 people who live there, I can say, "Furley? I know where that is! Yeah, I like to ride around there). And it was a really, really little loop. Like less than 2 miles. Then we headed east for 4 miles, the wind at our backs the whole way (and downhill for most of it, to boot). That little jog east was amazing. Even going up the hills, our speed never dropped below 20 MPH. Of course after all that wonderfulness, we had to turn back around and ride uphill into the wind. We did some quick arithmetic, and found it amusing that the speed of the wind was forecast for 13 MPH, which is approximately how much slower we rode heading west. We finished with the 10 miles south towards Wichita, once again with the wind at our backs. We probably averaged 16 MPH, with a few stops for water and gel. All told, we went 32 miles and had a great time. It was an excellent day to be outside.

And so much better than being stuck on a trainer or spinning bike!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Domo Arigato, Mr. Tabata

Today was the first workout in a loooong time where I thought I was going to throw up, pass out, and/or die.

I went through a set of Tabata intervals for the first time, today. I did four intervals. I wanted to do six. I'm working up to eight (assuming I ever try this insanity again). And by the end of the second one, my body was trying so hard to slow down, I didn't think I could do a third, let alone a fourth.

But the workout only took twenty minutes, and by the end my throat felt raw (you know where you feel something like the metallic taste of blood) and I wanted to drape myself over my handlebars like a wet transition towel. I had to force myself to finish up the last five minutes of my cool down, because I wanted so badly to hop off the bike and curl up in the fetal position on the floor.

In short, it was an awesome workout.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Locking it in

It's weird to transition so abruptly from one discipline to another.

One year ago, I was preparing to schedule a time for the GRE; I was looking at Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, asking professors about what graduate English programs might suit my skills and interests, and writing my senior thesis. I was almost positive that I would be going to grad school, or at the most taking a year or two off before continuing my studies.

To tell you the truth, I can't even remember exactly what or how everything changed . . . I remember being really sick of school. I remember being frustrated with L.A. and wanting to get out. I remember gradually falling in love with training and racing, mostly because of the awesome team with whom I was privileged to race. Whatever happened, I changed, and so did all my plans.

As a result, I've found myself very suddenly having to establish a professional image and ethos from scratch. I'm sure that all recent graduates go through this process; it just seems a bit riskier because the field in which I'm working isn't even remotely related to the field in which I built four years (well, probably more like two and a half) of expertise. Consequently, I can feel myself shifting and considering, weighing different considerations as I try to establish a philosophy for my coaching and teaching style. It's very much like starting to take some of your resistance work onto a wobble board or other stability tool; I can feel things shifting and changing as I try to find my equilibrium.

But along with that reflection on coaching ethos, I've also found myself thinking about my training goals, my process, my strengths, my weaknesses . . . the essence of my training. When my wanders as I swim or run, I find myself thinking about race goals and plans, where I should take my training in the next months, where I'll be in this sport in five years. Then I tell myself to focus on my form and stop thinking so damn much.

The questions remain after the workout, though. The primary realization I've come to, and the one I want to share here and now, is that I want to continue to focus on short-course racing. If you've been reading for a while, you know I've been considering--and had more-or-less decided to go ahead with--the 70.3 distance at the Las Vegas triathlon this year. I've changed my mind.

This will only be my third year racing. I don't come from a running/swimming/biking background, really, so the only long-term aerobic base I have has been built in the past two years. I'm still young; I can still demand a lot from my body. I am short, stocky, and muscular; I am built for short, intense bursts of speed, not sustained performance over 70.3 (or 140.6) miles. Taking all of that into account, I am 99% sure that Olympic distance and shorter is where I'm going to see the most success in racing. Could I make it through a half iron distance race? Absolutely! Would it take me eight hours or more? Yeah, in all honesty, it probably would.

I am young, in terms of my athletic career. I am also young in general :-). I want to be competitive, and I think that I can be if I work hard over the next several years. But it's not going to happen if I devote several months in this, my third season, to building enough base to make it through my first half ironman. At this point, I'd rather go fast than go long (I have years and years and years to build up to long course events!), which is why I will not be racing anything longer than Olympic distance this year.

Just like when I tell my bike classes to lock in perfect form before we start working hard, I'm locking in my coaching and training ethos. Which isn't to say that they won't change; after all, aren't we always looking for ways to improve our technique? But I hope that these ideas and decisions will carry me through the coming season with stability and purpose. And I'll share some more of my coaching ideas in the next few weeks, also.

Thanks for reading, guys!

It's Worth It Again!

I had my first real track workout in forever today. I didn't think I was going to get out and run, but decided to after fiddling around on the computer for an hour or so (also eating lunch). Here's what I did:

Warm up
1600, stride the straightaways on the second 800

Drills
High knees (fast, slow)
Hurdles
A skips, B skips
Kangaroo hops

Main set
4x800, 100 active rest in between
On each 800, sprint 100 at some point (fartlek)

Cool down
400 easy

And I stretched. Since I'm in my second base building mesocycle and I'm starting to incorporate more serious intervals (instead of just concentrating on form), I wanted to get back on an outdoor, 400 meter track. The 11-lap-to-a-mile indoor track at the gym was making me crazy, and I don't want to run on the treadmill. So outdoors it was, off to good ol' Clearwater High. There was some snow and ice on the track, but the temperature wasn't too bad, somewhere right around freezing with very light wind (6 MPH).

In summary, the workout was awesome, and I'm so glad that I got out of the house for an afternoon workout. It was totally worth it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Beginners' Guide: 1-page Guide to Swimming

This is a compilation of everything I've read about proper swim technique, a synthesis, if you will. In the interest of exploiting your strengths and strengthening your weaknesses, I'll provide these guides, which I originally wrote for my multisport club at Genesis.

Head position: Look straight down, your nose pointing towards the pool floor, when you're practicing swimming. Your chin shouldn't be tucked or lifted, but held in a neutral position. Allow water to almost cover the back of your head; in other words, hide your head below the water. As you rotate from side to side, try to keep your face pointing at the pool bottom (except when breathing, of course).

Body Position: Always preserve a straight body line in the water; head, neck, shoulders, stomach, and hips should be in alignment, as though you have a steel rod passing from the crown of your head down to your hips. Don't allow your back to bow, or suck in your stomach too far. Press your lungs toward the bottom of the pool. Your lungs serve as a fulcrum for the rest of your body, so to get your body horizontal while swimming, you have to push extra hard on the head/torso end of the lever. The overall sensation should be one of swimming downhill. If your legs are low in the water, they will produce more drag (which means you'll go slower!) and pull you down, forcing you to spend extra energy by kicking in order not to sink. When swimming on your sides (or when rotating from side to side), focus on pushing your armpit down. Reach towards the pool wall immediately after your hand entry and before your catch (but not so far that your hips get out of alignment). Think about squeezing your body through the smallest hole possible.

Hand Entry: You swim with blades, not with fish. Your hand should slice into the water somewhere between your goggle line and a couple of inches in front of your head; they should not fully extend, then flop into the water. It is more efficient to finish extending your hand under water, rather than extending fully in the air. Your hand should enter directly in front of your shoulder, not at the center line of your body (i.e. in front of your head). Keep your arm from crossing over. Pinky should be highest of the fingers during entry.

Pull: Pull doesn't begin until just before your opposite hand enters the water. Don't let one arm sink as your opposite arm recovers (particularly as you breathe); one hand should always be extended in front of your body (this is called front quadrant swimming). Fingers of your hand should be together, thumb straight out to the side. Elbow should be higher than the hand at every point of the stroke. When initiating your pull, think of grabbing a handful of water, holding onto a chunk of “hard” water, or anchoring your hand and swimming past it. Use the rotational force of your hips and torso to pull yourself past your hand, rather than pulling your hand down towards yourself. Your hands should pull back past your hips, your thumbs brushing against your thighs as your hands exit the water. The last part of your stroke is a push back past your hips, not a pull up out of the water.

Recovery: Keep a high elbow throughout your recovery. Imagine that your elbow is attached to a puppet string that is pulling it up out of the water. Make sure that your whole arm is fully clearing the water with every stroke.

Breathing: Do not lift your head out of the water to breathe; raising your head will screw up your body position. Use a slow, controlled exhale throughout your stroke; do not (at any point) hold your breath. End your exhale before turning to the air to breathe. Every second of time you have your face exposed should be used to draw in air; don't waste it on finishing your exhale. Practice bilateral breathing (breathing to both the left and right side, not just to your dominant side) whenever possible by breathing every third or fifth stroke.

Kick: Avoid using an extra strong kick to make up for poor balance and body position in the water. Feet should stay just below the surface of the water, your heels barely kissing the air; you shouldn't be kicking up a lot of foam.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Beginners' Guide: Finding Your Strength

Triathlon, I think, is an interesting sport in that many people come to it from a completely non-athlete background. So while every race you'll attend is full of naturally-born athletes who have been running/biking/swimming since they emerged from the womb, you'll also find a significant number of competitors for whom triathlon represented an end to a previously sedentary lifestyle.

For those of you who are just getting into triathlon from another sport, you probably already know your strengths; if you swam in high school, you're a strong swimmer; if you used to spend every weekend out on a mountain bike, cycling is probably a dominant sport; if you're a former cross-country runner, odds are that you prefer running to the other two disciplines. But if the last time you were physically active was seventh-grade gym class (or high school football in freshman year, if you're like me), figuring out your strengths will present more difficulty. It was difficult for me to determine what areas of triathlon performance I was best at, but now that I've processed that question, I'd like to share what I've discovered with you. My hope is that this post will help you to figure out what you're best at, so that you can maximize that strength as you prepare for competition.

To begin the process, take some time to think about which sport you enjoy the most. Even if it's not the area where you possess the greatest skill, the fact that you want to spend more of your time doing that sport will eventually make you better at that sport. That can work against you, too, you know. If you're a strong swimmer but a weak cyclist, and you spend all of your time swimming, you'll never improve as a triathlete. Because even though you might have the fastest swim split, the whole field is going to pass you on the bike. You have to exercise a little bit of caution with playing to your strengths, since there's no sense in making your strengths stronger while maintaining poor performance in two other sports. But when you're just starting out, why not go with practicing the discipline you like most, as long as you're not neglecting the other two?

Maybe you're strength isn't in a specific discipline, but in combining two disciplines. For example, you may be in the middle of the pack in a track workout, but can come straight off a two-hour bike ride and run like you're totally fresh. Or maybe you excel at staying calm during the swim, so that your heart isn't racing as you hop on your bike. A friend once told me (while reporting on a very successful race experience) that to be successful in triathlon, you have to be solidly mediocre in three sports. So even if you can't run the fastest mile split, if you excel at putting two sports together, your strength is one of the most important ones for successful triathlon competition.

What if there's no one sport that you can be fastest in, no sport you like the most, and you don't feel that you possess any extraordinary skill in putting swim and bike or bike and run together? That's the position I found myself in, as I was considering my strengths and how to exploit them. I'm steadily improving in every discipline, and have trained myself into the middle of the pack as a swimmer, cyclist, and runner. I spend the most time on the bike, but it's because that's a big part of my job (teaching spinning classes), not because I like it more. I feel like I enjoy each sport equally, and once I get started, I love the different elements of each discipline. So I was a little puzzled, at first, when I tried to determine whether I was strongest as a swimmer, biker, or runner.

Then I thought back to my performance at Shawnee Mission, in which I had an average swim, an average bike, and a sub-par run (so at least I know what my weakness was). I also had the the seventh-fastest overall T1 time and the fifth-fastest overall T2 time. So there you have it. My strength is not in swimming, biking, and running (although I may change that prognosis as I continue to develop and start to reach the peak of my fitness in each discipline), but in transitions--the one aspect of this sport where it takes the least pain to knock a couple minutes off of overall time. And even though, as I write it out, that seems absolutely ridiculous (I mean why couldn't my strength be in something a little more physical?!), I have to admit that I'm pretty proud of that.

The point is that we're all good at something. Figure out what you're best at and maximize your advantage in that area, while continuing to train your weakest points in order to grow evenly.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Let me know in the comments!