Sunday, February 21, 2010


Does the weather suck where you are? Yeah, me too. Today it's cloudy and rainy, wet and cold with no sun and a biting wind. It's not too cold for running, really. But it's too gloomy to do anything enjoyable, or to enjoy anything. Unless you're really determined. Which I'm not.

I'm grumpy.

I bet you're feeling the same way. The weather sucks, and it's going to continue to suck for the next several weeks, if not a few more months.

It's hard to train when you're grumpy and the weather sucks. It's hard to remember that everyone else--all your competitors and colleagues--are going through the exact same thing. We've all been spending way too much time on the trainer/treadmill. We've all had to bundle up and slow down to the point that it's almost not worth going outside at all. And we're all starting to get so grumpy that we don't even want to do it.

We need some sun.

Unfortunately, I don't have the power to bring you the sun. What I can give you, though, is a little bit of exposure to the stars.

Watch these videos and remember the awesomeness that is triathlon. Remember what it feels like to cross the finish line. Remember that you are a part of all of it.

And remember that the long, boring, grump-inducing hours inside will be worth it come summer.

Geelong 70.3 (2010)

GPI Triathlon (2009)

Des Moines Hy-Vee Triathlon (2009)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Race Report: Not 4 Wimps

Note: This picture does not accurately convey the misery that is a 42 MPH headwind.

Well, the best I can say is that I'm not a wimp.

But looking back, I kind of wish I were.

Sunday morning, I woke up to the sound of the tree outside my bedroom scratching against the house. Mind you, this tree is not next to my window. No, this tree is next to a solid exterior wall that sits right next to my bed. When I can hear the wind whipping it around, it means it's indecently windy out there. Indecently, I say.

But since the Not 4 Wimps 10 miler is a trail run, I figured we'd be running in woods, protected from the wind for most of the race.

Yeah, not so much.

The course begins with a mile of pavement, mostly downhill, that leads down into some ATV trails that run along the Arkansas River. You run under a bridge (through sand), then back up onto the trails, which wind along for some miles through the woods (woods being a relative term here; it's still Kansas, after all). Turn around point for the 10k gives you a tough choice. If you decide to continue with the 10 mile, the course heads out (and up) onto a levee on the west side of the river. The levee is completely exposed on both sides, probably 15-20 ft above ground level. There are no trees. No windbreaks. No shelter. The course takes you directly north and west.

Did I mention that the wind was gusting from the NNW at about 40 MPH?

The course continues for about 1.5 miles like that, then you turn around and head back the way you came.

So . . . my race.

First off, the course starts downhill, and I probably went out too hard. I was running with a group from my gym, not really paying attention to speed. I was running comfortably, so I figured I'd be fine. I got dropped by the main group (this is not the kind of race that casual runners do, so it's not like there's a big group of 12-minute-milers for me to pass), but I was passing people, especially as we got into the technical sections--the sand, the winding trails, the up- and downhills.

It might have been the sand that really took me out of my comfort zone. I just tried to maintain a steady pace. Probably what I should have done was walk. About 5 minutes later, my stomach started to get really cranky. Really, really cranky. I've never cramped like that in a race, especially not at 2.5 miles into it. I was doubled over, holding my gut and wondering if I should just turn around and go back. I didn't, of course, but I got to see all the people I'd passed before as they blew by me.

I seriously re-adjusted my expectations, at this point. No longer was the goal to see how well I could do; now the goal was to see whether or not I could even make it through.

I got to the 10k turnaround/water stop, and seriously considered packing it in. It was not going to be a fun race, for me. Might as well throw in the towel, preserve what I could of my day, and head back early. But the name of the race is Not 4 Wimps, and damned if I was going to be a wimp about it.

Had I known where exactly the course was going, I may have chosen differently.

I have never run in winds like that. I've cycled in winds like that, but usually when the conditions are that bad, I just postpone a workout. It's not worth it to go out and have a crappy run just to say I got in my 10 miles for the day. So I would never willingly subject myself to the kind of suffering that I endured on that 1.5 mile stretch. There were times when I was moving my legs and not moving forward at all. Like running on a treadmill.

The real low point, though, was when I got a rock in my shoe and stopped to shake it out. The wind blew me over, and I realized suddenly (and painfully) that the levee is a prime spot for sand burrs. So I sat down to brush those off of my gloves and sock (so that I could put my shoe back on). But you know what? Sand burrs will also stick to your butt. I spent a good 5 minutes there trying to pull all of those damned stickers out of my hands, foot, and ass. Meanwhile, everyone passed me (including the cute girl I met before the race, who smiled and asked, "Did you fall?" as she breezed by me going the other direction).

The race got marginally better after the turnaround. Having a 40 MPH tailwind to push you along sure helps. But my gut still hurt like none other, and I still had to keep stopping to let the stomach cramps work their way out. Apologies to the few runners who were still behind me at that point. I know I was upwind from you. Sorry.

Stomach cramps got to be too much for me to bear somewhere between miles 7 and 8 (I think; my memory's kind of hazy). I started looking for a . . . secluded place. You know. Off the trail. Where no one could see me. Yes, I did. I had to. I felt a lot better afterwards. Dirty, though.

After my Alone Time, I felt able to run again, and finished the race relatively strong. Final time was 1:50:22 for an average pace of 11:02/mile. Pbthhhhh. That's what I think of my time. I mean, any time was probably great for this race, considering the course and the conditions. But I'm still not pleased with the way I performed, even factoring out the time spent picking sand burrs out of my body (still have splinters in my right middle finger, by the way) and (erm) squatting. It was a shitty run (and if you are a good person, you will ignore that pun).

In short, this was the worst race I've ever done (only thing worse was when Shawnee Mission got rained out last year, but I don't think that counts). And if wimpiness = whinyness, then I am the biggest wimp ever.

Monday, February 15, 2010

That Psoas is a Bitch -or- Why Your Back Hurts

Over the winter, I remember reading a couple of cyclocross race reports, several of which included complaints of back pain. And since a lot of the problems in cyclocross riders will cross over into spinning class participants (if not necessarily to triathletes), it's time to address the issue of (dramatic pause) . . .

The psoas.

Wait. The Pso-what?
You may have heard of this muscle. Or you may have heard the term iliopsoas, which is a combination of the iliacus and the psoas major (not the same muscles, but close enough that there's a combined term for them). The psoas is a deep hip flexor, and acts to raise and externally rotate the leg at the hip. Know what activities involve frequent frequent flexion at the hip (and external rotation, if you have something wonky going on with your form). Yep. If you're a cyclist, a runner, a stair-stepper, an elliptical-user, or (I assume) a cross-country skier--in short, if you do cardio on the land--I can almost guarantee that your psoas are tight.

And the psoas originates at the spine; it's attached directly to your vertebrae (from T12 to L4). So when it's tight (or shortened, for example when you're sitting), know what it does? That's right. Cranks that lumbar spine forward! So if you've got one of those crappy jobs that requires you to sit at a desk all day, the psoas is constantly shortened. And if that job happens to entail a long commute (look down at your legs next time you're driving; are they flexed and externally rotated at the hips?) AND you're a cardio person? Yeah, you're pretty much screwed.

We've talked about the psoas before; it figures prominently into the anterior pelvic tilt associated with swayback (lower-crossed posture). It's not the only muscle acting on that posture, but it definitely contributes. And if you drive a lot, sit all the time, and are an avid biker (or runner, or both), it stands to reason that psoas tightness might be acting on your whole lumbo-pelvic area pretty powerfully.

But what does that have to do with this searing pain in my back?
Back pain related to tightness in the psoas usually presents as pain or pressure in the low back somewhere (or possibly everywhere) from the low middle back to the tailbone, off to the side (the pain is almost never right in the midline--that is, directly on the spine, 2). It might be relieved by sitting or laying with the knees bent (later I'll show you a position in which you can lay that--in my opinion--offers instant relief).

There are nerves all up in the psoas; the origins of the femoral nerve (which is the main lower-body nerve of the front, the sciatic nerve being the main nerve on the posterior side) are "invested within [the] psoas" (3). And the femoral nerve itself emerges between the iliacus and the psoas, so overactivity of the latter can cause compression (read: PAIN) of that nerve.

Keep in mind, though, that overactivity of the psoas isn't the only cause of back pain. So if you're getting constant pain, stabbing pain, or shooting pain down your back, you should go get your back checked out by a legitimate medical professional (FYI, I'm not one). But most of the exercises I'll recommend for you here are the kinds of things that won't hurt, might help, so you may as well give 'em a shot.

Yeah, yeah. Shut up with the stupid anatomy and tell me why I hurt!
Your back hurts when you bike because you're not stabilizing properly with your core. You're yanking up on the backside of the pedal stroke using the hip flexors (PSOAS!) and you're cranking down on the front half with help from your quadratus lumborem (remember that guy?). Those muscles are working to push power down to the pedals and stabilize against each other. Without sufficient stabilization from your core musculature, and without the help of other important muscle groups (particularly the glutes), you're going to be left with one cranky body. Or that's my operating theory, anyway.

This effect is going to be particularly pronounced in cyclocross. You're doing all you can to push maximum power at several points in a cyclocross race, and that power is coming from some touchy areas--namely the hips and back. And when you're riding over rough terrain, as on a cyclocross course, the ground is too choppy to allow for the kind of smooth, even pedal stroke for which we all strive on our road/tri bikes. So you're more likely to yank up/pound down on the pedals, overworking the hip flexors and back while the quads/glutes get a free(ish) ride.

Other times you're likely to pedal like that (and so make your psoas and back hate your stinking guts)? Spinning classes, when you crank the resistance really hard. Going up big climbs. And pushing too big a gear.

So what can I do about it?
Ah, we come to the heart of the matter. Key thing is to stretch your psoas. Strengthening the glutes and core (the psoas is connected to the pelvic floor, inner thighs, and quads by fascia, 3) also helps. Yoga has done wonders for me in both regards (but keep in mind that the benefit you get from yoga depends greatly on your instructor). Here are some ideas that I think will help you:

Instant relief
Ahhhhh . . . No seriously. Try it. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet greater than hip width apart. Then let your knees collapse in towards each other. Hip flexion and internal rotation. Say it with me now: Ahhhhh . . .

Low lunge series (I)
One of the best, but it takes a good amount of concentration to get it right. Start on all fours. Bring your right foot up between your hands, and sit straight up. You should be in a knee-down lunge. If you're having trouble not falling over, do this lunge next to a wall, so you have something to hold onto. Make sure that your knee is right over your ankle; if it's pushing past your ankle (i.e. your knee is forming a less-than-90* angle), wiggle your foot forward a little further. Hips should be level and square to the front.

Now assuming you have your balance here, put both hands on the front leg and use them to push your upper body up, making your back as straight and as long as you can. Chest lifted. Shoulders back. Now sink down into your hips, bringing your right bum forward and closer to the floor. Keep your hips level. Keep your hips square. Just let gravity pull your hips lower and lower. Bonus points if you squeeze your right butt cheek. If you can stand it, stay here for a minute on each side. You can repeat this one a couple times.

Low lunge series (II)
You've done both sides with the first lunge. You're back to having your right leg forward, left knee down. Wiggle your right foot off to the side, so it's out wider than your right hip, and turn your foot out to the side (externally rotate your hip). So your knee is right over your ankle and pointing out to the side. Now lower your upper body down towards the floor and see if you can bring your hands to the floor. How about your forearms? See if you can wiggle your left leg a little bit farther back, so that you're more on your thigh than your knee. Sink your hips down. Breathe.

Low lunge series (III)
If you want to take that stretch a little further, stretch your left heel back and raise your knee without letting your hips come up. Sink your hips towards the floor. Breathe.

References and Further Reading
Source 1: The Psoas: Is it Killing Your Back?
Source 2: The Psoas Syndrome
Source 3: The functional anatomy of the iliopsoas muscle and its implications to hip and back injury in dancers
Source 4: Yoga Anatomy - Release Your Psoas

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spinning Workout: Triathlete's 45

I wrote this workout specifically for a triathlete, so it's perfect as a quick, high-intensity spin for tri training!

Triathlete's 45 (45 minutes)
Love's Gonna Live Here (Buck Owens & George Jones) - 91 BPM
Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (Leon Russell) - 88 BPM
Rolling (Soul Coughing) - 91 BPM
Where is my Mind (The Pixies) - 83 BPM
How Long (Toshi Reagon) - 120 BPM
Send a Little Love Token (The Duke Spirit) - 154 BPM
If You Have to Ask (Red Hot Chili Peppers) - 96 BPM
Cocaine (Eric Clapton) - 105 BPM
Super Bon Bon (Soul Coughing) - 99 BPM
My Name is Mud (Primus) - 98 BPM
One for the Road (BANG Sugar BANG) - 148 BPM
Our Love (Rhett Miller) - 165 BPM
Long Legs (The Magic Numbers) - 108 BPM

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Runner's High: Hit by a Train

After this week's training, I feel as though I've been run down by a locomotive.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Most Necessary Thing

I don't have a coach. I don't have a power meter. I don't have a GPS device. I don't run in Newtons, don't ride on Zipps, and don't own a swim skin.

I've considered purchasing all of those things. I've thought about spending money I didn't really have on things I don't really need, because they might (in most cases, will) make me faster. And in terms of improving speed, all of these tools are reasonable investments. I'm on the fence about Newtons (seems to me that they could go either way), but all the others, I firmly believe that they will make you faster.

But I'm not going to spend money on them.

Why? Because at this point in my training, they're not necessary. Sure, I could probably ride faster with a pair of Zipps. And I could probably get more speed out of myself with a GPS device, a power meter, a coach. But the truth is that I can still get so much out of myself just by swimming, biking, and running, that the improvements I would see with a monetary investment aren't necessary right now.

Hard work in the workouts is (right now) the most necessary thing for me.

Same goes for the workouts themselves. This year, I think I can drop 20-30 seconds off my mile pace in the 5k just by continuing the pattern of training I've been doing: long run, tempo run, intervals. There's still plenty of room for improvement for me with getting all my runs done, too. So I probably won't consider adding in additional workouts (hills, for example) on any regular basis until I see the current performance gains I'm making level off.

Chances are good that in a couple years I'll start to see my improvements plateau; my times won't get faster, my results won't improve. That's when I'll consider hiring a coach, purchasing new training tools, upgrading my equipment. And that's when I might start looking for new training methods, concentrating more on strength and plyometrics, re-evaluating my plan.

But for right now, consistency in working hard is my most necessary thing.

What's yours?