Thursday, April 30, 2009

As it Stands

We've come to that special time of year when I sacrifice writing about my favorite hobby to get out and actually do my favorite hobby. The weather's starting to clear up in Kansas (not counting the week of thunderstorms and rain we've had), and I've been out enjoying it!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my race report; I love the sense of community we're all able to enjoy online. I would never have the chance to meet such a diverse and interesting group of people if it weren't for the whole blogging scene, and for that I'm grateful.

That said, I've been doing an absolutely attrocious job at keeping up with it. Haven't read blogs, haven't commented. It's not that I've been busy, exactly; it's just that there are always about 20 other things to do. And in the battle between blogging and yoga, yoga has been winning out.

Speaking of, I feel like I'm falling apart at the seams. Seriously. My hip hurts. My hamstrings hurt. My shoulders are sore. I was afraid I had a hernia on Monday (I don't). I bruised the toe mound of my right foot swimming on Wednesday (and who the hell hurts their foot while swimming?). I've really ramped up my yoga, taking more challenging and longer classes, and I don't think it's doing for me what I need it to be doing. I need yoga for restoration and range of motion and relaxation, but my yoga time has become just another kind of strength workout! I may have to back off my yoga practice, taking easier classes, fewer classes, and incorporating more joint opening into my home practice.

The real news, though, is that I'm leaving for vacation on Sunday! I'm heading up to Ohio to visit my aunt and uncle. They live near Mansfield, and I'll be taking advantage of their hospitality to run my own private training camp. Planning to bike and run in the backwoods of Ohio, swim in Charles Mill Lake and at Ashland University's rec center, practice yoga everyday, and generally relax. I don't know if I'll have internet access, but if I do you can expect a few posts from me, as well.

Thanks for staying with me, friends. Happy training!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Race Report: Emporia Spring Migration '09


I drove up to Emporia alone, this time. It's never as much fun to be heading to a race alone. But it did give me time to be with my thoughts, which is always valuable for me. The day was cloudy, cold, and windy, which I had expected. If anything, it wasn't as windy as had been forecast--or, I should say, it wasn't as windy as I had anticipated from the level of anxiety I'd witnessed at the KSRVTC meeting the day before. Still, it was not ideal weather for a race, and I spent most of my drive north hoping that the conditions in Emporia weren't as bad as they were in Wichita.

Emporia is about an hour and a half from Clearwater, so I left around 6:30. Arrived just after 8, and was a little frazzled. Would one hour be enough time to get registered, bodymarked, set up transition, and warm up?

Turned out it was plenty of time. Registration was a breeze, there was no line at bodymarking, and transition was simple: one pair of shoes, one hat, bike, helmet, and some nutrition. Shoes and water were already on the bike. I decided against arm warmers, leg warmers, skull cap, and jacket; I didn't want to waste the time in transition.

Transition area at this race is on ESU's track, so I warmed up with 4 laps on the rubber. This was my first race in my new Zoots (did I mention that I got a pair of those Zoot flats?) sans socks, so I was concerned about blisters, but they felt fine in the warm-up. I took my bike out on the road just long enough to get my shoes on my pedals. Then I headed into the pool to warm up there. Oh, and I should mention that I was really concerned about hydration, so I made several pee stops during this time, as well (because that's obviously such a vital part of this race report).

I did a few laps to warm up, trying to practice my flip turns at both ends of the pool, including the turn under the lane line. I flubbed every single one of them. And I should have been smart enough at that point to know not to try the flip turns. The issue was that Emporia's pool is stainless steel and my feet kept slipping on my flip. Also, Emporia has a deep end, which threw me off; I couldn't tell how close to the wall I was, because the T at the bottom of the pool was so far away. So two issues that should have convinced me during the warm up to just cave and use the open turns.

Swim: 400 m, 7:35, 1:53/100 m ('08 was 7:50)
This swim starts like a time trial, with a racer leaving every 20 seconds. Which isn't so bad if you're number 52 (which I was), but is probably kind of a bummer if you're number 208. If you're number 208, the fastest racers are finishing up by the time you're starting. That's gotta be kind of depressing.

My swim went pretty smoothly, except for the fact that I could not get my flip turns going. I think I could have swam a couple seconds faster if I had just nixed the flip turns at the beginning. Because I messed up every single one that I tried, and the ones where I tried to flip turn under the lane rope were even worse. After the third 50, I just gave up on it and switched to open turns. And I was swimming way off pace, at that point. I think it was during the fifth 50 that the guy right behind me passed me. And I couldn't have asked for anything better than that, because I got to draft off of him for the rest of the swim. Really, that couldn't have been any better if I'd planned it (which I didn't).

T1: 52 seconds

I got out of the water right behind number 53, passed him on the way out of the pool, and managed to get out of transition before him. This transition seemed to take forever, but I guess it wasn't that long. I'd rather see it at 35 seconds, but I'll take it under one minute.

Bike: 20 km, 40:30, 18.41 MPH ('08 was 17.95 MPH)
So I said it was windy, but I didn't tell you how windy. According to the Weather Underground, the wind speed was around 22 MPH from the north at around 10:00 a.m., but with gusts up to 30 MPH. That's frickin' windy. The Emporia course is set up as an out-and-back with the first half due north and the second half due south.

The first half, to say the least, was unpleasant, but not unbearable. Unbearable is when you could swear that the wind is out to get you. Unbearable is when the weather becomes personal, when you're convinced that Kansas has a vendetta and you are its chosen target. This wasn't on that level. There were several points on the north-bound course that were sheltered by trees or hills, and so the wind was tough, but not vicious. The last mile and a half before the turn around was completely unprotected, though, and that's where I saw my speed drop steadily, finally bottoming out at 10.9 MPH on an uphill combined with a fierce gust. It was shortly after that, however, that we turned south.

And then I flew.

If you've never had the benefit of a 25 MPH tailwind, let me tell you: there's nothing like it. I found my biggest gear and was spinning at exactly a comfortable pace. I watched my speed climb from 27 to 28 to 30 to 33 MPH. It was amazing. I had saved myself through the whole first half of the bike portion, bowing to the wind and watching my speed slide south, saving myself for the big ring and the tailwind. And it totally paid off. I caught number 53, who had passed me shortly after we got onto the main road. I passed a few of my fellow female competitors. Most importantly, with about 2 miles to go, I passed Emily McVay. Emily McVay works at the Derby Rec Center; she's in charge of the annual Derby Rec Center Tri. And she's enough faster than me that one of my goals on the day was to beat her. And I passed her with just over a mile to go! I was ecstatic.

T2: 57 seconds
Again, longer than it probably should take me to get through transition. I managed my flying dismount without a hitch (no scrapes or bruises to add to my growing collection) and did everything I needed to do quickly and efficiently. I honestly don't know what took me so long. Maybe the time is off a little bit; maybe a few of those seconds belong on the run time (although I'm perfectly happy to leave them classified under T2).

Run: 5 km, 25:48, 8:17/mile ('08 was 9:07/mile)
I swear that I remember every single foot of this run course. It's nothing compared to Wildflower, or any other race in a place that has real hills. But for a Wichitan, this course is nothing short of brutal. The run course begins with a long, leisurely climb out of campus. It climbs steadily, then tops out as soon as you get off campus. You cross over into residential Emporia, and quickly face another hill. Downhill for a brief respite (although it's not really a break, you know, because the downhill takes it out of your legs in a whole different way), then back uphill again.

It was right about this point that Emily McVay passed me, and flew away from me. She ran away at a pace I could not possibly hope to maintain, and I let her go. While struggling up the next hill, another woman passed me, along with a few men. But this race is interesting in that you have no idea where people are going to place, because everyone starts at different times. For example, I started my race 17:20 after number 1. I could finish the race 17 minutes after number 1, and still have beaten him or her by 20 seconds, even though I never saw or passed him or her on the course. So it's easy not to get too caught up in passing or being passed (except as a mental exercise to make you run faster) and just run your own race. Which is what I did.

The whole course is rolling, but I kept plodding along. I tried this new (to me) trick where I picked a point up ahead and counted the number of footfalls it took to get to that point. It really makes the time and distance pass, although I found it sort of monotonous. Most significantly, at one point sometime after mile 2, I found myself thinking, "I am not at my peak fitness." I had never felt that so distinctly, before. I knew that I could go faster, could do better, but I just couldn't do it yet. So that's exciting to think about what I might be doing later in the summer.

I didn't have much left for a final kick; I felt like I paced myself really well, and didn't have a lot left in the tank for one more push to the finish. But I still managed to pick up the speed, a little bit; I may have been like a really small plane coming in for a landing.

Final: 1:15:42; 1st F 20-24; 6th F overall ('08 was 1:17:36, 7th F overall)

Emily McVay was 5th, but only by 50 seconds.

I was pretty happy with this race. It's the first time I've had a tune-up race that actually felt like a tune-up race (I guess my training program must actually be doing what it's supposed to do, this year). I raced with new running shoes, new biking shoes, and a new bike, and all the equipment worked out fine. I nailed my nutrition. I did well with my pacing. I had one of my best run splits ever. I didn't quite beat Emily McVay, but I'll get her next year.

In short, I'm confident about the rest of my season. I feel strong and capable, and I'm learning all the things I need to do (i.e. don't work so hard this year that I burn out, do drink water and eat, don't treat a B priority race like an A priority race). My one concern is that I don't really want Lawrence 70.3 to be my A race, but that's where my training program is supposed to peak. I was thinking about this on the ride back home (and talking about it with a teammate), and I've decided that I want to try to peak about two weeks after Lawrence, and try to carry the peak for a full month. That month will encompass Shawnee Mission and Mudwater, and after Mudwater I think I'll take some time off before trying to finish the season in September. That way I'll be peaking for the small, short races--the ones I have a better chance of winning--and I'll still be getting my first 70.3 under my belt. Now I just need to do some reading and some research to figure out how to do that . . .

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pre-Race: Emporia Spring Migration '09

I'm sitting here nursing a few injuries . . .

The first two are from a little wipe out I had this morning while doing a cornering drill at a cycling clinic. We were using water bottles for cones, and I cut it a little too close. Hit the water bottle dead on and completely slid out. So I got a little road rash on my hip and elbow. The third picture is from last week's transition clinic. I was practicing a flying mount (with all of my athletes watching, of course). Missed the seat and landed on the back wheel. Ugly, ugly bruise on my inner thigh, wrapping all the way around the back of my leg. You should see it in person; it's epic.
Anyway, I'm nursing my injuries, packing my bags, and preparing for the first real race of the season: Emporia Spring Migration. 400 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run. The swim is in a pool. The bike is flat and fast. The run is ridiculously hilly (um, for Kansas). Last year, I did 1:17:36, 1st F 20-24, 7th F overall. I really want to do better this year, and I think I can. Maybe knock 30 seconds off the swim, a couple minutes off the bike, a couple minutes off the run. I think I can come in under 1:15, if I have a good race.

Forecast is for 52°, possibility of light rain, and winds from the northwest at 13 MPH. So it's probably going to be chilly. That's my main concern. Warm clothing takes time, and I don't particularly want to spend that time in transition. I'm hoping that adrenaline and exertion will keep my body temperature high enough that I won't need arm warmers, leg warmers, or a jacket.

For the rest, I'm just going to go out tomorrow and do my best. First race of the season. We'll see how it goes.

Edited to say:
You know what I'm really wondering? I wonder if I have what it takes to race tomorrow. I've been getting faster and faster in all 3 sports. I did a 1650 yd time trial in 29:31 on Monday; that's 1:47/100. I've been biking at 20 MPH. I ran last weekend at an 8:40/mile pace for a full 10k. But what if I get into the pool tomorrow and just don't have the get up and go? What if I fail to access that very special intensity? What if I can't get in the zone? What if I find myself unable to do much more than coast through? And what if I end up unable to match last year's performance?

The questions don't matter; the result is the same. I rest well tonight, prepare myself as best I can tomorrow, then get out on the course and do what I can do. My preparation has been in line; now I just need to withdraw on the deposits I've made up to this point.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eight Great Alternatives to Plank

Don't get me wrong, here--there's nothing wrong with plank. It's a great abdominal/core exercise (even though it's somewhat misunderstood). But if you're tired of spending long minutes on your elbows and toes, here are some alternatives. I've ordered them from easiest (i.e. use them to work your way up to plank) to most difficult. I've also tried to include exercises that are especially applicable to triathletes. So without further ado . . .

Quadrupedal iso abs
Begin on all fours. Make sure your knees are directly under your hips, hands directly under your shoulders. Make sure that your back is in a neutral curve (not extended or arched). In one movement, tighten all the muscles of your abdominals and back without allowing your position to change (i.e. maintain neutral alignment of the spine). Hold for 10-20 seconds, relax the muscles (again, without changing the shape of the spine). Repeat 3-6 times.

Bird dog
Begin on all fours. Make sure your knees are directly under your hips, hands directly under your shoulders. Make sure that your back is in a neutral curve (not extended or arched). Maintaining the neutral position of your spine and pelvis, extend one arm in front of you and the opposite leg behind you. Hold for just a second, return to the starting position, and switch sides. Repeat 8-15 times.

Plank + Dolphin
First, go here and here and read all about how to do Plank and Dolphin properly; a full explanation of those poses will take more time than I want to devote to just one exercise. Focus on keeping the serratus anterior (muscles just below your armpits on your sides) engaged by thinking of wrapping your shoulder blades around your rib cage. This exercise is equally useful for increasing shoulder stability and flexibility (helpful for swimming), which is why I include it. Hold each position (Plank and Dolphin) for 10 seconds each. Switch back and forth 3-4 times.

Side plank
As you can see in the video, there are several variations of side plank. The easiest is to balance on the knees and elbows; the most difficult is to balance on one arm and one leg. Whichever position you choose, make sure your arm is directly under your shoulder, because stacking your shoulder over your arm/elbow will encourage you to use the strength of your core rather than your arms or shoulders. Also be sure that your hips are perpendicular to the floor and that your body makes a straight line from your head to your feet/knees.

Plank w/ one arm/leg variations
This one can be performed either from the elbows and feet or from the hands and feet. Begin by making sure you can hold a standard plank position with the spine and hips in neutral extension; if your back sags or arches when you try this one, you need more work in plank first. From the plank position you can raise one arm, one leg, or the arm and the opposite leg. The key is to prevent your back from changing shape and your hips from rotating--that's where you really get good work for core stability.

Twisting plank
This is a variation of side plank, which means that you need to be able to hold sideplank from the hand and the side of your foot properly. Begin on hands and toes, as if you are about to do a push up. Rotate the whole body to one side so that your torso is perpendicular to the ground and your arm is reaching up towards the sky. Rotate back to the starting position and without setting your arm down, reach your hand under and across. Repeat 8-10 times on each side. Note that the hand does not touch the ground until the set is over.

Downward Facing Dog + plank series
Begin in Downward Facing Dog (that means you need to know/learn how to do it), and walk your hands back until your heels are flat on the floor. Raise one leg straight up behind you, forming a straight line from your hands (on the floor) to your heel (in the air). As you exhale, bring your leg forward, aiming the knee towards the elbow. Return to the one-legged dog position on the inhale. On the next exhale, bring the knee towards the opposite elbow, then return on the inhale. Finally, bring the knee forward towards your shoulder on the exhale, and back on the inhale. Repeat 3-4 times, then switch sides. Note that your body should move forward over your hands as you exhale; this brings you from Downward Facing Dog into more of a Plank position.

Bakasana (Crow/Crane) into Plank
Again, this assumes that you know how to do Bakasana. If you can't do that pose, then this exercise is out for you. From Bakasana, pull your pelvic floor powerfully up into your body and float your legs back to land in Plank. That's really the best explanation I can give; this one you've just got to try! Do this one 3-6 times, then rest and stretch your wrists by slowly moving your hands in a circular pattern.

Each of these sets can be done 2-4 times, depending on how much time and energy you have. Obviously, these exercises won't translate directly to your standard "Knee-up crunches, 3 x 20" ab routine, but you should be able to insert them in your training plan where you would normally do core work, and particularly where you might do Plank.

In addition to preventing boredom in your ab routines, these poses will (I hope) give your abs a kick in the butt. Your muscles get used to routine exercises, so if you throw in something unusual, you'll get a better training response as your muscles try to adapt to the physical stress of an unfamiliar exercise.

Also note that there are variations in how you can do plank--with arms straight, from the elbows, with arms bent (as in Chaturanga Dandasana). Some of these alternatives and variations require a particular beginning position (for example, Dolphin), but you can also experiment with different arm positions to add even more options to your abdominal routine (for example, you could try side plank or twisting plank from your elbows).

Do you have any further ideas of plank alternatives? Please share in the comments!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Race Report: Easter Sun Run 10k

Do you realize I've never done a 10k before? I mean, I've run a 10k at the end of an Olympic distance race. And I've run 10k in training. And I've run way farther than 10k. But this race was my first-ever 10k race.

Consequently, I was a little bit nervous. I've been hammering the run this year, working hard to increase my speed all winter long. I'm definitely faster than I was a year ago, or even three months ago. I'm improving all the time. But I had no idea about how to pace myself for a 10k, and I had nothing against which to compare it. So I wasn't sure what to expect.

The Easter Sun Run is the first big road race of the season for Wichita runners, and there are lots and lots of people from the community, as well. So the starting line was jam-packed. I seeded myself about halfway back. The first minor annoyance was two very tall guys who came and stood right in front of me. It was like a large, red and yellow wall decided to move directly in front of me and stop. Frickin' tall people.

Anyway, the race was pretty uneventful, and I don't have much to report. I held way back for the first 5k, watching people pass me and thinking for sure that I could keep up with them, but not wanting to blow up later in the race. There were a couple times when I drafted off of faster runners, then reminded myself that I wouldn't be able to hold their pace for another 7k.

At the halfway mark, I started negative splitting my kilometer times, getting progressively faster. And it felt great! In retrospect, I'm sure it hurt, but not too bad. I was pushing it, but not to the point of wanting to throw up or pass out or anything.

Around the 7k mark, I passed this skinny little high school boy, all arms and legs, huffing and puffing up a hill (by which I mean a bridge that we had to run up for a few yards). Dropped him and thought nothing of it. Just a little after the 9k mark, I see him again. He sounds like he's still hurting, but he's definitely outpacing me. I go with him. Skinny little bastard's not gonna pass me in the final kilometer! We were probably at least 400m from the finish, still; maybe 600m. But I cranked it up anyway, dropped his skinny ass, and ran for home. By the end, I was absolutely yelling with the effort, and it felt incredible. I don't know how much time I put on him, but I didn't see him at the finish line. I'm going to assume that I ran so fast that he disappeared in a big, blue cloud of my awesome.

Final time was 54:07, according to the official results; 54:03, according to the pace clock at the finish line; and 53:55, according to my heart rate monitor, which takes into account the time it took me to get to the starting line after the air horn sounded. So we're going to go with 53:55 and say that I ran my first 10k in under 54 minutes.

You wanna talk about strange, though? I finished 301 out of 602, at the very, very bottom of the top half. Weird. And the other strange thing (to me) is that my age group isn't that fast. Top F 19-22 time was 47:05. That's not that fast; I think I could run that, eventually.

But by far the best part of this race is that my family was there. My dad (who is kind of a runner) came out for the 10k (which he finished in 1:10:20, but he could have done way faster if he hadn't been keeping another runner company). My mom did the 2-mile walk, which is a big deal because she's significantly less active than my dad and me. My brother had band practice all morning (he played the bass for Easter service at their church). And equally significant was that my client, Kim, did her first ever 10k! She said she ran kilometer 8 for me, and every time she wanted to stop and walk she told herself, "No! I'm not gonna quit on Jamie!" The cool part is that I got to see her and cheer her on near the beginning of that kilometer.

So all in all, a great race. I'm happy with my performance (8:40/mile! Hell yes!), but I still think I can do better. I'm proud of my family, and of my clients, who did a great job. It was a great race and a (surprisingly) beautiful day.

Note: My mom is the one in the picture by herself; Kim is in the picture with my dad and me. I know; it's weird. But look at the facial features! It should be clear which two out of those three people are my parents.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

As It Stands

So . . . training is not going well. I mean, it's not going poorly. But it's certainly not going well.

All last week, I felt like I was right on the edge of overtraining. I don't know if I tipped over the precipice; I've just been trying to take it easy. I'm wondering if the 5 hours of indoor riding on my new, shiny bicycle last weekend was simply too much.

The weather has also been famously uncooperative. After last weekend's blizzard (no, really. blizzard), I was hoping that winter had had its final roar and would shuffle meekly out the door. But no. Oh no. Snow on Sunday, as well.

What's even worse, though, is that we have all the negative aspects of spring and none of the positives. Crazy winds? Check. Wind speed on Friday was a constant 25-30 MPH. Saturday was even more epic, with wind speeds holding steady in the 30s and gusts as high as 50 MPH. Allergies? Check. I can still smell without too much trouble, but I can't seem to drink enough water to keep my throat moist. But we haven't yet encountered the slow, soaking rains, the epic thunderstorms (not great for training, but very majestic), not to mention the warm temperatures that April should bring. So thanks a lot, Kansas.

Really, though, the issue is that I'm doing too much without affording my body the proper time for rest and recovery (not to mention a frickin' social life). And stress is stress, whether it comes from training, lack of sleep, or demanding/unreliable/obnoxious client relations.

So I'm stressed, guys. And it's messing up my training!