Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lucho is Right! We are Made to Run

And Discover magazine says so here. The other day I was sitting in a chiropractor's office an hour outside of town. I'd heard this guy was special so I decided to see what it was like to be in the presence of a "true healer." But that is a story for another post.

Needless to say while in a waiting room decorated with a tomahawk, some antlers and a four foot tall wood carving of a bear begging for food, and underneath a mountain of hunting and fishing magazines, I found an old Discover magazine. My synchronicity must have been working overtime because it literally fell open to an article entitled, Born to Run. And since I've been doing this run every day experiment, my interest was peaked.

Basically the article explains that humans are actually more efficient runners than horses, or gazelles, or even cheetahs. While all of these animals are faster than we are, humans have evolved to be able to run for longer periods of time at slower speeds. We can run for days apparently. This made us good at running our food down even though it might have been faster than we were. Quite a bit of scientific evidence goes into this but even things like our spines come into play allowing our heads to counter balance the movement of our arms. And our skin is one huge cooling system supplementing our cardiovascular systems ability to shunt heat from our core to our skin via the blood while our sweat and air flow carries the heat away from our bodies. It is a really good article. Be sure to check it out. Then stop by Lucho's blog because Discover is just saying what he's been saying all along.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Very Merry (Triathlete) Christmas!!

One of my friends on my MySpace page has the right idea about the true spirit of Christmas. And an excellent tree decorator as well....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Review: The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler

I finished reading The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler about 3 weeks ago. So I've had some time to try it out. To be honest, while a good deal of the book is devoted to the diet, a good 1/4 of the book talks about working out. In this context the book details not so much a diet or eating program but a way of living and thinking.

The basic premise of the book is similar to what I've heard about the Paleo Diet. Basically if you aren't familiar with that particular viewpoint, it works something like this. Modern society, with its abundant food and all of the chemicals that go into creating and cultivating it, has basically stripped humans of the diet they were intended to eat. By having an endless, readily available, and highly synthetic food supply, we have created many of the health issues we now experience like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. By moving to a diet that emulates the foods and portions that our ancestors ate we can eliminate many of the ills we suffer. In this regard the Paleo Diet and The Warrior Diet agree. Where they differ in small detail is the types of foods that are eaten. Where they differ in larger detail is the size, timing and spacing of meals.

The Warrior Diet advocates what the author Ori Hofmekler (a sort of latter day renaissance man, being an author, former soldier, a painter, and a scientist) calls the "Warrior Cycle." The cycle is made up of an "undereating phase" where minimal calories are consumed in the form of fresh organic fruit and vegetable juices, some nuts such as raw, organic almonds, fresh water, poached or boiled eggs, whey or milk protein shakes. The goal is to simply sustain and not to satisfy your body's hunger until the evening meal.

The evening meal is what is called the "overeating phase." During this phase, you are allowed to eat as much as you can until you are full. But there are some caveats about what to eat and in what order that are pretty detailed. Too detailed to describe or explain adequately on my blog. But the basic gist of this approach is to consume most of your calories during the overeating phase prior to retiring.

The reason Hofmekler gives for this constant cycling from undereating to overeating is that this is probably the way our ancestors ate when they awoke each morning confronted with the task of finding food. Throughout the day they ate enough to sustain their hunt and feasted at night when they caught their prey. Hofmekler posits it is the cycle of eating that allowed their bodies to remain lean and their systems to purge the toxins of eating and living from their systems more frequently and easily. He makes a strong case for the toxic build up seen in people living modern societies being caused by the practice eating large meals throughout the day which do not allow our bodies time to cleanse themselves. Couple this with the advent of readily available processed foods in super sized portions and the current obesity epidemic becomes completely understandable when viewed through Hofmekler's eyes.

I tried the diet for about a week. I found it doable but difficult. Especially for an active triathlete. After 3 days I was so hungry no amount of juice, fruit and nuts was going to sustain me until dinner. I will admit Ori does advise more food during the undereating phase for active people and professional athletes. But even with this in mind, I was not able to train at pre diet levels. I just found the choices presented in the diet's undereating phase too limited for me to sustain the level of training I was accustomed to. What surprised me was that while I had no problems with the hunger portion of the day, by day 5 I had lost my desire to train. To me this was a sign of nutrient imbalance. This is not to say Hofmekler's claims of clarity and more energy were wrong. I had plenty of that. What I lacked was desire to go outside and work out. I also lacked the desire to work out inside. So I knew something for me was amiss nutritionally. I wound up after a week of eating more in the "spirit" of The Warrior Diet than in actual hard core practice by keeping the food I consumed during the day on the lighter and rawer side. But I didn't restrict my caloric intake in any way going back to a more intuitive consumption pattern which I felt was already working for me.

I also found it somewhat hard to consume the lions share of my calories in one meal. Eating so many calories at one time not only started to make me nauseous, but also tended to make it hard for me to sleep unless I had my main meal earlier in the evening. To be fair, this could have contributed to training lethargy I experienced. But I also found having such a large meal earlier, due to the prep time necessary, also conflicted with the timing of my evening workouts. In theory, I think The Warrior Diet offers some insights which are worth considering in anyone's fitness journey. I would recommend the book on the soundness of some of Hofmeklers diet insights alone. However, in practice for my training requirements, I found the way of the warrior not so much my personal cup of tea.

If you want to see some of my personal thoughts on eating click here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Handstand Practice

Lately I've become obsessed with doing handstands. So obsessed in fact, I haven't really thought about blogging that much. I know, I know, if God had meant for us to be upside down she would have put our feet on our wrists. The thing of it is though, I think I'm on to something. Bear with me. This is just the way my brain works.

So in Yoga each week, we do handstands. At first, I was was like, "No way. I'm not 10 anymore. Besides, I have two perfectly good feet to stand on thank you very much..."

But the thing about doing anything in a group is that even if nothing is said (and not a word was that first day in Yoga class when everyone started turning themselves upside down without a second thought) is you start feeling a little self conscious because everyone else in the room is upside down and you are not. So initially I started doing handstands purely as a result of peer pressure. Plain and simple. I mister, super individual, think for himself, went to yoga class each week, lined up on the wall and turned myself over when commanded. Which by the way in case you were wondering was not nearly as easy as writing about it some months later.

But then one day I went swimming after a Yoga class that had us focus on inversions. (In Yoga, headstands and handstands form a subset of the practice called "inversion".) Anyway, at the pool that day I noticed something I'd never noticed before. I was aware of my feet in the water. I know this may not seem like a big thing to those of you who grew up swimming but to an "adult onset swimmer" (you can find a complete definition for this term on Fedofsky's blog which is where I stole it from) like myself, this was nothing short of miraculous. You see in my initial forays into the world of triathlon, swimming was definitely my limiter. And one reason for my being limited, as the woman who swam in my lane with me at masters swimming back then called to my attention, was that my feet were pointing straight down toward the bottom of the pool. So for all practical purposes, while I was a drag racer on land, capable of high speed in both the bike and the run, I was a dragster in the water with both of my braking parachutes open and deployed as I tried to swim.

You know, you would think a person could feel something dragging their feet in the water like that. But I didn't. Chalk it up to the survival instinct. I was so concerned with just making it from one end of the pool to the other without actually drowning at some point in between, what my feet were doing was not really high on my list of priorities. Keeping my arms moving so I wouldn't sink to the bottom of the pool and drown was.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was in the pool and could actually feel the tops of my feet pressing against the water when I kicked. But what was even better, I could tell that my toes were pointed!!! Now I suspect the pointed toes had been going on for a while and this was also due to Yoga. In yoga, aside from sitting cross-legged aka Lotus pose, you sit on the tops of your feet. A lot. This is probably where the actual flexibility for toe pointing came from. But the sensation of pointing toes, that came from the handstands. Here's my theory. When you are upside down, your brain, marvelous little computer that it is says, "Hey I'm gonna need some balance and sensation in the feet if this guy is going to be spending time upside down so I don't fall over." And because falling over would SO suck that's what it does. It creates new little neural pathways connecting it to your feet so that it can keep your body upright and balanced whether you are on your feet or on your hands. And what is one of the key skills in swimming?? Balance.

So that's my theory and I'm sticking to it. So now at home every time I walk by the front door I do a handstand. Just like turning over a new leaf, you never know what you'll find. On my blog until I get over my new obsession, you'll find video. Handstand videos...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Fine Line...

I saw this posted on another blog the other day. On that blog the story was used to illustrate dedication and courage necessary in sport. I can see this. Unfortunately, my initial reaction after seeing the video was one of sadness and disbelief. I think I felt this way largely because of the attitudes of the parent quoted in the story and the coach. The cause of this girl's injury is overtraining (common in cross country in general and girls in particular). As a coach some responsibility must be acknowledged because an athlete under her guidance suffered a tragic, painful injury which was both preventable and common. As a parent, watching my daughter drag her broken body across a finish line is probably not going to illicit pride as my primary emotion. Concern. Anger. Fear. Yes fear. But not pride. That isn't even in the top 25 emotions on my list watching his daughter crawl across the line. If you watch the vid, be warned it is quite graphic...

The story can be found here

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Rare Air

You know the saying about something you do working so well you stop doing it? In one sense I suppose I could say I'm somewhat guilty of that right now. The other day I posted a comment on Nick's blog and then forgot about it. Just now I was looking at his blog and checking out his latest P90X photos when I realized my comment was the focus of one of his entries.

"Whoa!" It was sort of like reading about yourself in the newspaper.

Well one thing I learned is I need to use the preview function on the comments and check what I write for grammatical correctness... But aside from that I was like, "You've been sitting around here all week trying to figure out what to write about on your own blog and you dropped a perfectly good topic on someone else's as a comment? And then proceeded to forget about it?"

I know. I know. I do amaze myself sometimes.

So where was, I? Oh yeah, Nick's blog. Nick was writing about an elevated heart rate during the P90X Plyometric routine. He'd been advised by some of his friends who were endurance athletes to work on controlling his breathing when he did Plyo. The comment I left on his blog advised him to go beyond controlling his breathing and to look at his overall breathing pattern. And this is where my earlier statement about having something work so well we stop doing it comes into play.

By and large most adults have just stopped breathing properly and do not completely fill their lungs with oxygen. In life this leads to high stress levels and a greater overall sense of anxiety. In exercise the result is a higher average heart rate and quicker fatigue. This is because most people breathe mainly into their chests which can be loosely associated with our "flight or fight" response.

But this was not always the case. If you want a quick primer on how breathe properly, just watch any child under the age of five. Children breathe primarily into their abdomens by fully engaging their diaphragms and expanding their bellies. This is what is known as belly breathing. When you belly breathe you literally fill you lungs and thus your body with oxygen. I don't have to tell you what this means to you as an athlete. More oxygen = more stamina, lower stress levels, and longer time to fatigue.

Retraining yourself to belly breathe isn't that hard. It doesn't take more than a few minutes to get the sense of it. To get an idea of what belly breathing feels like, lie on your back with one palm on your chest and the other on your stomach. As you breathe try to keep the palm on your chest still while you try to push the palm on your stomach up. At the same time try to get the feeling of having your diaphragm shift downward. You want to think of filling your belly with air. Once you get the sensation you can practice it whenever you think about it. Over time this will again become your normal breathing pattern and you should notice a dramatic difference not only in well being, but in sports related performance as well.

Oh and when you start breaking all those personal records, and you have to give all those, "Gee whiz, I didn't do anything special, I was just doing my thing..." speeches, try not to forget to breathe.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

P90X Review Week 12... Finally!!!


Well, I finally made it to and through the week 12 workouts. And I'd really like to say how happy I am and so forth. But honestly, I'm just tired. Not necessarily tired physically. But I am mentally tired of doing P90X. This would probably be a different story if I were just in it for the cosmetic changes and didn't have to attend to my triathlon specific work at the same time. So I do not really fault P90X for the way I feel mentally. That is just the nature of my personal goals and how they have affected my outlook at this point. Honestly, I'd rather be spending more of my time swimming, cycling and running. I can probably attribute some of this to being inside a little too much lately. I do live in Austin, Texas and the weather here hasn't been all that bad lately. It is pretty much in the 70's and sunny right now.

Okay enough of that. Lets look at some of the results so far. Basically when I started P90X the one thing I could do was pushups. So I wasn't really too concerned with those. But when I started these workouts I was doing 20 standard pushups. Now I do around 45. This is not my max, just what I do to be able to complete the rest of the 1 hour workout effectively. What is really telling is when the sets are repeated, I can still do 40 pushups during the second round.

When I started doing pullups, I could only do 2. Now I can do 10 unassisted.

But I started doing P90X because I believed it would make me stronger for triathlons. What happened there is nothing short of amazing when you consider I have done in 3 months what may have taken much longer without the program. In the pool since P90X, my swim times have dropped to pre-hiatus race levels and below on just the most basic technique work I can do. And my endurance is still quite high even though my time in the pool has been limited.

On the bike, the results are the same. My endurance is higher than it was this summer and comparable to pre-hiatus race levels. I have no problems with wind, hills, or just throwing down the hammer when I feel like it and I am pushing bigger gears at a higher cadence. The biggest difference I can say I see on the bike is being able to endure more uncomfortable efforts without sacrificing technique.

But the most dramatic effect has been on my running. For the first two phases of P90X I limited my running to once or twice a week for fear that I wouldn't have the needed recovery for all my other workouts. During this last phase I have run every day. Yep every day. I was NEVER able to run every day before this. Even when I was racing at my best, I wouldn't have even considered it. Running just beat me up too much to make that a possibility. Now even though I'm doing P90X and yoga and the rest of my workouts, with a little basketball thrown in for good measure, I still can run daily without injury. That is HUGE.

Last night I was talking to a friend who is a self proclaimed "fitness buff." He likes to collect vintage workout books. So he has heard a great deal about P90X even though he has never done the program himself. He was asking me my take on the program so far. I told him what I have told everyone else. The program works. Like most things you get out of it what you put into it. Even if you don't do the diet, you will still walk away with more functional, usable strength than you had when you came into the program. And you will have more functional strength than if you were working out on your own in a gym. Look at it this way. Basically for $120.00 you hired yourself a 7 day a week personal trainer. And a kick butt one at that who shows up whenever you want and works you out for an hour every day for 3 months. If you include all the necessary materials, like the pullup bar and resistance bands or dumbbells, for $300.00 you still can't beat the price. For a triathlete, or anyone else, who just wants to create more durable, usable muscle I don't think there is a more efficient use of time than doing P90X. Just be aware without the diet you won't look like the photos you see on the commercials so, if that is your goal make sure you commit to the food plan and put as much energy in your eating as you put into the workouts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What to do if You are Hit by a Car While on the Bike

I saw this on a cycling blog I ran across here. And these are a few things they suggest we remember if this ever happens to us:

1. Call 911. If you are badly injured you should have someone else call if possible.
2. If there were witnesses ask them to stay. You should also take down their contact information if you or someone else can get it.
3. Get the license plate number of the vehicle. With the proliferation of camera phones it would be even better if you could take a picture of it.
4. Get the driver’s information. Hopefully they won’t drive off from the scene.
5. Take pictures of the scene from different angles if you can. The key here is to document as many aspects of what happened as possible. If you or a bystander don’t have a camera or camera phone try to write some of the details down if you can.
6. Try to stay as calm as possible. If you can stay calm, you will remember the details better. You will be able to assist the injured if you were a bystander better if you do not panic.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lions and Gazelles

So now that I am at the end of my strength phase (I'm moving into a strength maintenance cycle now), and after reading Lucho's blog, I've started a run focused phase where I will run 30 times in 30 days. If I like this I'll do similar 30 day stints in the pool and on the bike. So far I'm on day 7 now and not feeling anything like I thought I would. Honestly after 7 straight days of running I thought I'd be dead. But I'm not. And that is a good thing.

One thing I have noticed already is a much "lighter" foot strike. So instead of having a sensation of heavy legs I'm actually feeling lighter on my feet, almost as though I'm floating. I am splitting my time on the road with time on the treadmill to make this 30 day streak happen more easily.

In the past I wasn't really a big fan of treadmill running. I still feel you have to be careful with them. There is a huge potential for injury on them if you aren't an efficient runner or if your form gets sloppy due to fatigue. Simply put, if your pace is slower than that of the machine's, the machine has a tendency to "run" you. And if you run faster than the belt (this is less likely in the general population) then you try to "run" the treadmill. When either of these things happen, the slightest bit of pronation or supination gets exaggerated and puts more stress on your tendons and joints than you would experience on the road. I used to see treadmill injuries quite a bit when I worked at the running store. Part of the problem I suspect was the tendency to zone out while running on one, I suppose. Since you don't have to worry about where you are going and there is usually a TV monitor nearby, running mindlessly is easier. So as I use the treadmill, I'm going to pay attention to my form. When it starts to go south I'm getting off.

I think I'm gonna start wearing my old RunTex "Lions and Gazelles" tee shirt around the house after my workouts. It will serve as both my reward and my motivation to assure these daily runs happen. Here is what it says:

Lions or Gazelles?

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle:
when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.

Think you want one too? Look here. Be careful though, I used to have two of those shirts and a sweat shirt. Now my mom has a sweat shirt and a tee shirt. I did not give either of them to her if you catch my drift...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

P90X Week 12 So Far (Week 11 Redux)

So if you read my P90X post about week 11 you know that I basically got my azz handed to me on a silver platter complete with all the fixin's. It wasn't pretty. I was sore, I was stiff, I was beaten. It was bad. I felt like I'd been 10 rounds with Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier at the same time. Pushing play was never harder. Because of that I came into week 12 with a game plan. What was that might you ask? Two things really. First, "REPEAT THAT SEQUENCE!!!" I don't know about you, but while I can be a very gracious loser on the outside, that in no way means I am not plotting your ultimate destruction on the inside for our next encounter. And in this instance since the person who beat me was me (via a proxy by Tony Horton and crew), I figured it was time for me to take back what was mine -- aka my dignity and do some serious butt kicking of my own. Even if it killed me.

I know, I know, you're probably like, "Well Ace it was just one week. FIDO (forget it drive on). You are almost done!"

And you know, you are exactly right. But I don't roll like that. So after I decided to repeat the week, I knew the second thing that was needed. I needed to get right in the mind. And once my mind was right I was gonna bring it BIGGER, BADDER, MEANER and more RESOLUTELY than I had ever brought it before. To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite tribloggers, I was gonna show Tony and crew who was THE BOSS. Not even the dreaded AbRipperX was going to stop me. Because I was going to do AbRipperX every single day this week. And, and NO BREAKS. That's right. You heard me. No breaks. Except for water. But no stopping the DVD. During that time when I completed my sets before Tony and crew finished theirs, I jumped rope. And during the programmed water breaks, usually about a minute after each 10 or 15 minute set depending on the workout, I jumped rope. During the cooldown, I jumped rope. Then I went and ran for 30 minutes.

So now it is Thursday, and I can say to you after four days of this, I'm still doing it. But I also know I wouldn't be able to do it if I hadn't been doing these workouts for the last 3 months. So what I can say is this is a way to intensify your P90X workouts once you've completed the program once or if in that last third of the program for a week or two before the recovery week. But be warned, jumping rope through the breaks adds a dimension of aerobic intensity to the workout like no one's business. Even I wasn't prepared for how much energy it took. In workouts where exercises are repeated, during the last 1/3 of the program, I struggled. Jumping rope for 5 minutes can feel like running 30. But no matter what make sure if you add that dimension to your workouts that you drink a lot of fluids. As for doing AbRipperX daily, the first 3 days were brutal. Doing that program with a rested midsection is difficult at best even after consistently working at it for almost 3 months. Doing it back to back is just plain brutal. Try that one at your own risk. Personally, I won't be doing that again.

But after tomorrow's Leg and Back workout plus AbRipperX, I'll have the knowledge that I took this workout further than I have ever done before. And I'll have my dignity back. Though I'll probably be due for a nice long nap. Because that is how I roll.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Some Thoughts on Strength Training

For most triathletes on the northern side of the equator, this is the time of year to begin recovering from the race season and the beginning of the base training phase. This is also the time of year when you start to see articles popping up regarding incorporating use of strength training. For many triathletes just making it to the gym is a challenge. There are a lot of reasons for this. And as the proud owner of three different gym memberships, I should know about most of them. The fact that you actually have to "go there" being at the top of the list. There are others. One of my friends looked at me with a very, very stern face when I suggested we add some strength training at the gym to our winter routine and just said, "It's inside."

As a group endurance athletes are often both time obsessed and time oppressed. When this happens, they do what any time efficient person would do, they look for places where they can optimize their training time. Spending more of their limited hours swimming, biking and running just seems like the best way to produce the results they seek. And in some instances there may be some research which suggest their thinking on the matter may not be too far off base. For more on this see what Joel Friel has to say in this blog.

This winter I decided to take a little different approach to my strength training. I decided to ask myself some questions prior to committing to a course of action that would ultimately carry me through until June 2008 when I planned on racing again. I had to ask myself what does strength mean for me as a triathlete? Once I could say what strength meant for me as a triathlete, I wanted to know what was the goal of the time I was going to be spending training strength?

When you just consider the term strength, an exact definition can be elusive. One of the simplest I found was "The ability of the neuromuscular system to produce force." And while this is a concise definition, you can see it does not specifically address the issue of strength as it pertains to an endurance athlete. And this is where the answer to my second question comes into play.

Basically I determined I had five goals for strength training this winter:

  1. Change my body composition -- specifically build lean muscle and lower body fat percentage
  2. Improve strength related stamina -- the ability to apply force for long periods of time, also known as muscular endurance
  3. Develop functional strength -- focus on creating applicable strength that can be used in each of triathlons three disciplines
  4. Develop muscular balance -- this would mean less chance of injury
  5. Develop muscular flexibility and range of motion necessary for coordinated muscle recruitment

Once I decided on what my goals were for strength training it became obvious I wouldn't be spending much time in the gym at all. Here's why. Triathlon and the three sports that comprise it require you to move your body efficiently through space. The problem with most of the strength workouts you will see relying on large amounts of time in the gym is they limit the body's use of coordinated muscle recruitment with an overly focused emphasis on benches, bars, and special apparatus. In triathlon, the resistance you overcome is primarily your own. What is missing from work such as this is the ability to learn how to balance and effectively move your own body through the mediums of water and air. And your workout needs to address the aerobic nature of the sport as well in order to be an efficient use of time. Based on my goals and observations, I turned to several sources and started to do strength routines focused primarily on Isometric and bodyweight exercises and calisthenics. This means work focusing on resistance provided by my own body both with and without flexation (or movement). The workouts do not require much more equipment than dumbbells, a pull-up bar, a set of resistance bands, a chair, a jump rope, an ab wheel, some guidance (primarily from books and videos), a little imagination and some Yoga. A typical workout session can include pushups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, curls, Hindu squats, pistols (single leg squats), Hindu pushups, handstands and core work. In fact one of the things about doing these exercises versus going to the gym is my core is engaged in every single movement I perform now.

Some of the results I've noticed:

  1. Convenient -- all work can be done at home
  2. No boredom -- after 3 months I average 4 one hour strength sessions per week (5 if you count Yoga) where 2 sessions per week was a challenge to get in before
  3. Less useless muscular bulk than when I used weights and a traditional gym routine
  4. More actual range of motion -- probably the result of less bulk
  5. Faster recovery time -- less stiffness/soreness making triathlon training while in a strength phase much less unpleasant and more productive

So far, the impact on my triathlon specific training has been positive. I have been able to utilize the additional strength and see it manifest in each sport. We'll just have to wait and see just how well this approach works when I race next season. My takeaway from the change in my strength work this winter is the more specific your strength work is to helping you realize your personal goals, the more likely you are to stick with it. The more often you get in the strength work the more likely you are to see the results you were looking for. In this way strength training isn't something to just squeeze in or add on to your other workouts, it is an integral component to realizing your multi-sport goals.

I found a video that shows what the functional strength workouts could look like. However, the guy in the video is extremely well conditioned. The work I do while somewhat similar is in no way as intense. Yet...

Friday, November 23, 2007

P90X Week 11 Review

Okay, I'm not going to sugar coat this. There isn't any other way to say it. Somewhere between day 65 and day 80 there is a crevice the size of the Grand Canyon that is very, very hard to bridge. This is probably the most dangerous part of P90X. This last third of the program is where the fatigue, both physical and mental come into play. So on one level you are sort of worn out. On another level you see all the gains you've made so far which at this point to say the least are pretty significant. Your body probably looks nothing like it did on day one. And you probably didn't expect the program to work nearly this well. I'm here to tell you it works pretty well even if you don't follow the diet specifically. (Though, that being said, following the diet and doing the workouts with as few interruptions as possible will always yield the most positive results). If you don't believe me take a look at Nick's page and check out his photos.

But as I was saying this is the most dangerous part of the program. Because you aren't in that place you were in when you started, you look great, you feel even better, and more importantly you feel even better about yourself. No matter how you slice it, this is essentially what you wanted in the first place. You wanted to feel good about yourself again. You had to or you never would have been so captivated by the infomercial in the first place. So at about 2/3 of the way through, if you've been doing the program properly you should have gotten your money's worth already. People who know you tell you how good you look. Heck, maybe even people who don't know you are beginning to tell you this. But the thing is by this time you are also tired. The program takes a lot of mental and physical energy, your calories are fluctuating from one phase to the next, and the time commitment is starting to loom larger and larger. At the same time the end starts to feel further and further away.

This is about the time I remembered something that was in quite a few blogs that I'd initially ignored. I remember seeing more than one blog where the person stopped doing P90X right about here. So coming into week 11 I felt it both mentally and physically. I felt the weight of the program on my shoulders. I felt the knowledge that while I had seen some tremendous gains and changes in my body, I also felt like I hadn't reached the promised land and saw no safe harbor on the horizon. Every workout this week was tough. I felt as though I had just started the program. I took more breaks than I was used to, I was sore and I was frustrated. Even yoga was hard.

And that brings another thing to mind. Tony Horton doesn't know my yoga teacher, Keith. And Keith doesn't know Tony Horton. The two really should meet so that when I'm doing both of their programs in the same day, or even the same week, I don't wind up truly hating my life. Anyway, the take away from week 11 is that once you get to this point in the program, you really are almost done. Be careful here. It is really easy to stop. To quit. To walk away. But don't. Try to just settle into the workouts and not over do it if you are fatigued or burned out. Take more breaks. Look at working on your form as opposed to beating previous highs in weights or reps. Just keep pushing play because no matter how satisfied you may be with the results you have created so far, the best you is just around the corner.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Track is The Truth

At some point in our lives we get it. How we spend our time, the things we say, the choices we make, they all matter. I spent six weeks last summer lying in bed with my leg elevated and on ice waiting for the swelling to go down and the pain of standing to go away. I had plenty of time to consider the consequences of my actions and the weight of my choices. Another summer spent not racing (my 4th). A couple of times given the pain and the size of my leg, I wondered whether or not I'd ever see "normal" again.

So as I weighed the consequences of my choices, the seemingly innocent sprint down a corridor and the pulled hamstring that came from it pointed to a series of inappropriate decisions made over the course of the preceding months. These decisions in turn pointed to other poor choices which spanned years. From this perspective, as I started to unravel the tight yarn of my blurry eyed past self deceit, a disturbing pattern began to emerge. Over the course of years there were the nights where I stayed up beyond the point of tired after a day of working out, work and then working out again. There were the times I skipped meals or ate food of substandard quality. All the times I drank soda instead of water. The times I raced or trained dehydrated. And I couldn't count the times where I worked out even though I hadn't properly prepared, or did workouts or raced when I shouldn't have -- when my body said, "I am not ready." And there were the countless times where that "easy" training ride with friends turned way too "race like". But worst of all were the times I remembered pushing too hard, went too far and wound up injured or over trained or both. I began to realize each time I was injured, there had been a little voice in the back of my head advising caution and suggesting moderation. And I had ignored it.

In the times in life where we are fortunate enough come face to face with ourselves, we should look long and hard. There is wisdom to be found in the face of our consequences. This time I realized I should try to learn from it. For me it became apparent that I was guilty of forgetting who I truly was in favor of the athlete I thought I was, or was trying to become. What do I mean by that? Well in terms of training and in life, there is the person we are at the moment. Becoming aware of that person and respecting them is a true talent. Otherwise, we "ignore" this and have to live with the consequences. It is in the times where we ignore who we really are that we are choosing to be "truly ignorant" of ourselves and our truth.

My friend Luis understood this all too well. When we met he worked a couple of stores down from the running store I was managing at the time. He hadn't run since college and had put on some weight. He wanted to start again. I don't know why but I asked him if he wanted a job at the store. But working with him gave my own running new focus. And the results were amazing. Unlike most people who had run in another lifetime and been quite good at it Luis was different. He was patient. He understood that he was overweight and out of shape so he ran like it. He ran slowly. Somewhere between an 8:00 and 9:00 pace to start. For someone who was formerly a legitimate 4:15 miler in college that is a huge difference.

"Of course my body remembers the speed it had and so does my mind, and I could try to run like that. But to run like that before I am ready will only leave me disappointed and probably injured. I didn't magically wake up one day and run that fast. I did it in stages. This is what we are doing now. By running slowly we prepare for the day when we can run fast later."

And so we ran like this all summer long. Easy recovery runs around the lake to begin with, later adding some short fartleks, then eventually some tempo runs. After about 3 months we started to enter a 10k a week. But even these races were run at a conversational pace which by this time had dropped to about 7:30 per mile. About 6 weeks later this pace soon gave way to 6:45 and we still talked. Runs with Luis were always different. Sometimes in the morning. Sometimes for lunch. Other times we ran late at night in the middle of the road. What was constant was lots of talking and laughing. His approach was simple, training should always be social and fun. This was the only constant in our runs. From Luis, I learned that fast wasn't always the way to faster.

It wasn't until early winter that Luis took us to the track and I finally saw a more serious side to my friend. "The track is the truth," he said to me as pressed his palm to the surface in a sort of private greeting. "You cannot hide in this place. Think you are a 5:00 miler or a 6:00 miler, and the track will show you. It will show you and everyone else who is paying attention. If you race here and you do not belong, everyone watching will know. Think you can run such and such pace for so long? Come here and find out. You may be right. You may be wrong. But at least you will know." I didn't argue with Luis when he said those words because I was seeing a side I him I hadn’t been shown before. But now I knew why he had been able to run so fast. You can’t fake the track the way some people fake races by blurring the lines a bit. “The course was long, the turn wasn’t marked and it added 400 meters to my time.” “I’m usually faster but, you know with that wind…” You get the picture.

The reasons we all run are as varied as they are deeply personal. I learned that if nothing else from Luis with his easy-going, jovial training style that became razor-like once he stepped onto a track. If Luis was going to race, he was going to know exactly how fast he could run, period. He was going to know exactly who he was and live with it. I suppose there is a sort of peace in that. So while we joked and laughed running through empty streets at midnight lit often only by moonlight, Luis got in shape, changed his diet, and slowly but surely got faster and faster.

The truth comes at us from all sides and from all angles. I wish I could say that I really appreciated the wisdom and the friendship Luis had given me that year. I can say a faint and whispering sense of his words and his actions finally came to me as I lay in bed last summer some 10 years later. That is how I come to write about them in the here and the now. It is only now that I come to fully understand what Luis was saying and why. Today it is cool and clear, and I press my palm to the dimpled, spongy surface of the track in a form of greeting saved those who have grown close over the course of their years of running together. It is early winter. And I am here to find out what I am made of.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Dog Ate My Race Photos...

That's what I should call this post. Or my best friend was smoking crack! Looking around the internet at other triathlete blogs, everyone's has race photos but mine.
Heck, some actually even have race photos with the blogger in them. Anyway I think this first shot is of the awesome race venue. As you can see the lake is just HUGE! No wait, I think that's a tree.

Here I am running into the transition from the swim. Obviously the time I've spent working on my speedy transitions is paying off. Take a camera to the race and give to a friend to get some pictures for my comeback race is what I was thinking. What I should have been thinking was give my camera to a 5 year old, couldn't have been worse. Or could it?

By the timestamp this is supposed to be me exiting transition. No wait that's just my friend's finger over the lens. Or a really nice shot of Mars. Not that I have anything against the god of war or the planet mind you, but I did have something else a little different in mind when I thought of getting a few snapshots of my return to racing.

As you can see it was a very flat, fast bike course. There was really no need to worry about traffic as the race director obviously had his little section of road pretty well isolated. Needless to say this would also make for an ideal run. But just between you and me, I will say the bike might have been a tad short.

Finally I made it to the run. Due to the "cloverleaf" loop nature of the course and the excellent spot my buddy was located with the camera, I passed within 5 feet of him 5 times on the run course. How many shots of me did he get? One. And this is it. Enough said.

Crossing the finish line is the moment of truth for any triathlete no matter what the distance. That's where the emotions of the day and what you've just accomplished are on display for all to see. And I was lucky enough to have my best friend there with my camera to catch it. Can you imagine how happy I was to complete my first race in five years? And to have it captured forever? Well if not it'll have to wait until next year. My friend was obviously imagining something else when he took this shot.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bike Review - 2007 Lynskey Tri Level 3 House Blend

Let's face it as triathletes we really want to know one thing about a bike. "Is it fast?" Now we may walk around a shop asking questions like, "What's it made out of?"

"What is the seat tube angle?"

"How much does it weigh with Dura Ace?"

"Does it come with those wheels?"

"Will it make ME fast?"

You see, we want to know when push comes to shove, or more specifically in a triathlete's case, when push comes to crank, the bike underneath us isn't going to be the thing keeping us from realizing our deeply held dreams of race domination. I think the folks at Lynskey must truly get this because they not only make fast bikes, they make bikes that people notice. They make fast bikes with souls. As my friend and coworker said upon seeing the tri bike, "Dude that bike is THE SEX !"

I got to ride two of their bikes on this test. The first was the Level 3 House Blend road bike outfitted with Dura Ace components. The second was the Level 3 House Blend tri bike that I wound up buying because of my experience on the road bike. Lynskey calls their stock frames House Blend. They come in two levels (four levels for the road frames) that differentiate things like butting, tube shape, dropouts and the titanium blend either 3Al-2.5V or 6Al-4V/3Al-2.5V which affects weight and strength of the frame meaning weight can be saved without sacrificing strength on the higher level blend.

Because the folks at Jack and Adams were so great and I really liked the road bike, I got to ride it in a few different situations. I got to ride the tri bike later because I bought it. That being said, both bikes were really fast and able bikes. Cornering was sharp and quick. The climbs were effortless. My experience of balance on both the road and the tri bike made taking fast descents and sharp turns confidently a non-issue. The bikes have a smooth but solid feel to them that is very pleasant but unexpected on frames this responsive and lively. I've had the tri bike long enough to use it on more varied terrain, including some poorly paved roads and can say the frame dampens road shock quite well. My body still felt good after putting in 50 - 60 miles (80k -95k) on it and my legs were fresh which is very good news if considering Ironman or 70.3 distances for racing.

One of the reasons for the popularity of carbon tri frames is their vibration dampening quality. I think the Lynskey bikes do an admirable job that from my experience was as good as all but the softest carbon. In terms of flex, there was none that I could feel which meant when I stepped on the pedals and wanted to go the bikes took off like a rocket. The same friend that rode with me on my test of the Guru Crono and had to hit his brakes every time we went up hill to keep from running into my rear wheel got dropped while I tested these bikes. And that's what you want to know when you are thinking of buying a new bike -- can you pass, catch, or drop everyone in sight. Personally, on these bikes I think you can. I surely felt as though I could. But this type of two-wheeled confidence doesn't come particularly cheap. Depending on the level frame and options like components and custom paint the cost of these bikes adds up. Complete custom builds cost even more. The level 3 House Blend tri frame is about $2700. The bike pictured above came with Campagnolo Centaur components, Alpha GS-20 carbon fork, bead blasted flame design on brushed titanium and costs about $5500.00. If you want a closer look at the frame, then look here.

But cost aside the Lynskey family has a long history of building great bikes starting with the first company they began then sold, Lightspeed. From my experience on these two House Blend frames, I can only imagine the care and quality that must go into their full custom bikes. They interview every customer who buys a custom frame by phone to design the frame around each rider's strengths and riding style. They also offer a virtually unlimited array of paints and frame styling that makes each bike one of a kind. My opinion is that if you want a bike that not only makes you go fast and is as unique as your personality, give the folks at Lynskey a serious look. You won't be sorry. Who knows, you may ride away on your soulmate.

Images of Functional Strength

These videos are examples of functional strength -- meaning multiple muscle recruitment for balance and stability along with isolated strength to perform the range of motion the exercise requires. Enjoy.

Pistols. Enough said.

Hindu Squats. Try doing 500 of these in a row. Talk about endurance:

Handstand to Elbow Stand and back again:

Handstand Tutorial - very impressive:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book Review: Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin

My copy of Total Immersion (TI) is actually pretty worn. I will probably have to buy another one soon. But that makes sense given the fact that I've probably had the book for almost 10 years. Taking this into account, I'm sure some folks would wonder why I'm taking the time to write about a book this old. I'm writing about it because I sat down recently and read it again. For the third time, I think. I heard somewhere that the number three is magical to our subconscious. A friend of mine swears that if you want to really learn something, you should either read an authoritative source three times or find three varied sources and read them all simultaneously. Maybe he's right because I'm really coming to appreciate what Terry Laughlin is trying to say in this book.

The basic premise of the book is that swimming, due to water's being 1000 times more dense than air is a hugely difficult medium to move through. Because of this generating more force in order to move faster through the water is a poor strategy. To illustrate his point he uses the equation "V = SL + SR," where V is velocity, SL is stroke length and SR is the stroke rate. From the equation, one can also derive that increasing velocity by favoring either stroke length or stroke rate is essentially a "zero sum" game. This means that as you increase your stroke rate to achieve more speed, your stroke length gets shorter. In essence, as your arms move faster requiring greater and greater amounts of energy to move shorter and shorter distances. Ultimately, even if you could achieve super stroke rate you would run out of gas. For triathletes in particular, this strategy would potentially have devastating results in that valuable energy necessary for the bike and the run would have been expended in the swim where time gains are really minimal.

So to address this zero sum problem, Laughlin attempts to shift the reader's perspective by advising three important things:

1) Look at the body as a vessel (like a ship) moving through water creating as little drag as possible.

2) Look at swimming as a technique sport more in the way people think about golf and tennis as opposed to looking at it as a strength sport like running or cycling.

3) Because swimming is a technique or skill-based sport, just like golf and tennis, these skills can be taught.

The rest of the insights in the book, as well as the drills provided, do support these three tenets. My personal experience however, after my first reading was not as promising. When I first read this book, I was working out with two very good friends and we had all started doing triathlons at about the same time. For a while we all did the drills but instead of seeing our swim times decrease, we all saw our times in races stay the same while our times in the pool were a lot slower. By the end of the season both of my friends had abandoned the book altogether. I kept using the book on and off and was a regular at a masters swim group. This would be my routine until I stopped racing five years ago.

At some point during the five years away from triathlon training and racing I read the book again and used it to structure my workouts. Total Immersion places a lot of emphasis on counting your strokes so most of the actual swim sets are structured around how many strokes you take and not how long it takes you to get from one end of the pool to another. Because of this element I sort of stopped timing myself altogether and shortened my time in the pool to about 30 minutes. This is specifically how I swam until spring of 2006.

In spring of 2006, I had planned to start racing but didn't because of a severely pulled hamstring. My rehab for this injury consisted of weekly rolfing and acupuncture treatments along with short sessions (about 30 minutes) of cycling and swimming. Because of the pain in my leg, I was forced to swim even slower and by and large all I could really manage to do were some of the basic TI drills. It was then I read the book for the third and final time.

For some reason reading the book the last time and spending all of that slow, focused time in the water I saw something I missed completely. For Total Immersion to work the way Laughlin envisions, you have to be able to completely connect with how your body is positioned in the water at each moment during the stroke cycle and make subtle adjustments to your position on the fly. This really isn't explicitly pointed out in the book at all. Even here for all of Laughlin's talk of looking at swimming in a different light, I think his falling back on using the term "feel for the water" while accurate does not convey the state of mind necessary for the drills to work properly.

Over the years as I've used these drills so many people have come up to me to ask why they aren't getting any faster or to say the drills are boring. Some have been to the TI seminars, enlisted TI coaches, and used the videos. What I also find telling is there aren't many people I've run into that come out of the water in that first wave that credit TI for this. Part of the fault for this I believe is Laughlin's in being unable to communicate what is really necessary for the drills to work the way people want. But part of the fault is also our society's. By and large our society is interested in quick solutions. That is why we buy our stuff on Amazon and our food at McDonalds. It is fast. We have it and we move on.

Terry Laughlin is exactly right when he says Total Immersion is like Yoga or Tai Chi. These are more than just workouts or stress relievers. They are both practices which are deeply spiritual in essence and require a commitment to a different way of seeing and living in order to integrate them fully and successfully into one's life. When you look at the numbers of people who actually study and understand Tai Chi or Yoga, you can understand why Total Immersion doesn't seem to work for large numbers of people.

The drills in Laughlin's book are really just a series of dots he leaves you to connect to create your own perfect stroke. The book is sort of like "connect the dots" meets a "coloring book" of effective swimming. If you were to go to a Tai Chi class taught by a master, you will be shown a small series of movements which are a blueprint on how to move your body from one point in space to another. Each week this is repeated until you master this series and a new series can be introduced. In my own experience with Tai Chi, my teacher taught a form consisting of only 39 postures. Within each posture I was shown no more than 3 movements. Each week I practiced the 3 new movements and added them to what had come before. It was almost 18 months before I had learned all 39 postures. It was at this point my teacher said, "Now you understand the basic movements, create your own Tai Chi form."

Total Immersion for me was no different. After the third reading I decided to give TI the same commitment I gave Tai Chi and now give my Yoga practice. First I mastered all the drills. I noticed which ones made me faster in the water and which ones didn't. I focused on my body in the water and how it moved there. Once I mastered the drills I found made me faster, then I refined them. Now the majority of my practices focus on two objectives. The sensation of sliding through water and counting my strokes. I work out either 30 or 45 minutes depending on what I feel like doing. My workouts consist of anywhere from 60% to 75% drill work. I swim sets no longer than 300 meters at once. And now I am faster in the water. This year I lopped 3 minutes off my 800 meter open water swim time. So the bottom line is Total Immersion does work, but for it to do so you have to be willing to change how you relate to swimming, how you relate to the water, and how you relate to yourself. In this respect, Total Immersion isn't just the title of a book, it speaks to the level of commitment you have to be willing to give in order to change everything for the better.

P90X Week 10 Review - Sort of...

Where the heck did this week go? I truly have no idea. I looked up and it was Friday and I still had 3 P90X workouts left to do. So what did I do given it was Friday night at 9PM when I had this revelation? And I was at work? I started trying to figure out which workouts to do when I got off at 7AM Saturday morning. Maybe Plyometrics. Maybe Back and Biceps. Maybe both. How does one get into this sort of predicament, you ask? Well when one absolutely HATES the Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps disk, you sort of avoid it. So instead of starting my week with that on Monday, I did yoga instead.

This is what Monday looked like workout wise:
7:00 AM - Run 30 min Ave HR 152
8:00 AM - Swim (Open Water) 30 min - worked on sighting and body position
9:00 AM - Sleep
4:30 PM - Bike 1:15 Ave HR 124
7:00 PM - Yoga 1:30
10:30 PM - Sleep

Tuesday's workouts:
8:00 AM - Swim 1:00 3300 yards
9:30 AM - Sleep
3:00 PM - Bike 1:30 Loop 360 and Bee Caves (Very Hilly, Cold, Windy, and not my idea)
7:00 PM - Movie

Wednesday's workouts:
NONE (unless you count the two hour nap I took as a workout)

Thursday's workouts:
10:00 AM - P90X Chest, Shoulders, Triceps & AbRipperX 1:15
7:00 PM - Greencards show at The Saxon Pub

So as you can see, I waited until Thursday to start the dreaded P90X workout. That's how I got into trouble. The good news, I only face planted twice and from the looks of the reps I was doing I have gotten stronger and my endurance has improved a lot. I sort of knew this going into the workout because I had been doing some testing in my swimming, biking and running last weekend and had seen some improved aerobic function. Which I sort of put to use on Monday and Tuesday. Then applying some common sense, I rested Wednesday. This allowed me to really go into the Chest, Shoulders, Triceps workout with a guns blazing and take no prisoners attitude on Thursday. Better late than never I suppose.

The thing you have to remember about workouts like that, whether in regard to P90X, triathlon, running, the gym, or even mowing your lawn is that your unbridled enthusiasm can only lead to consequences later. Basically what I'm saying here is while you may think you are taking the workout to Tony and his buddies, or your boss, or whom ever, you are really taking it to yourself. This is a small but important point to consider when you start a workout frothing at the mouth. Translation? I woke up really, really sore the next day. And as a result, plus starting my work week (Yep, my week starts on Friday and I only work Friday, Saturday, Sunday), I took another day off. So that's how I got to Saturday.

Saturday's workouts:
7:00 AM - Got off work
7:15 AM - P90X Plyometric workout 1:00
8:30 AM - P90X Back and Biceps workout 1:00
10:00 AM - Bike Ride 1:45 (Windy - 20mph from the south) Aerobic Avg HR 127 Max HR 153
12:15 PM - Sleep
7:00 PM - Work

All I can say is that was a learning experience. And I'm finding it really hard to keep my focus exclusively on P90X while my primary objectives for starting the program seem to have been met within the first 60 or so days. It could be I'm seeing the result of continuing my triathlon training in the midst of P90X. It is sort of feeling like a "race" build up. Not that I'm tired. Because I'm not. And I do actually still like doing the workouts. Except for the "face plant fiasco" that is Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps. I think what is most challenging for me right now is developing the functional strength and not feeling like I'm applying it to its fullest. But I think that is a misperception on my part. It isn't like I'm going to stop doing these workouts at the end of the 90 days. I plan on integrating them into my regular routine alternating the 6 key workouts 3 sessions every two weeks. So there is really no "finish" to look forward to per se. I need to keep that in mind as I finish up these last couple of weeks. And I need to just do the workouts spaced properly while keeping my aerobic enthusiasm in check. I feel as though I could race now and I won't be doing one until May 2008. That has to be the hardest part. The waiting. Perhaps that says it all about P90X. The program works very well. Maybe in this instance it is working too well. Now all I have left for the week is Legs and Back and an easy endurance swim. But I think I'll go to bed first, then go workout after I wake up.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Have You Done Your Yoga Today?

No? Well, neither have I but after this post I'm heading downstairs and popping in a DVD. Maybe P90X. Maybe some Rodney Yee. I don't really think it matters which DVD I use. What matters is that I spend some time on the mat. I could give you all sorts of reasons why yoga is good for athletes, but nothing says it like a picture. Unfortunately, these pictures aren't mine. Lord knows I wish they were. They are truly priceless and you can find all the reasons you need for doing yoga right here. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Few Words on Base Training

I think everyone has some sort of idea of what I'm talking about when the subject of base training comes up. But when particulars are discussed, you can hear a wide range of ideas as to how to really "Do" base training and what it is supposed to achieve. Here is a definition I ran across the other day cruising through the internet:

"To develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally
responding to the stress of competition specific training."

This is probably the most concise definition I've run across. Take a look at the rest of the post here.

What is amazing about this description of base training is it sets a criteria that is both simple and meaningful. So many people come away with the abstract concept that "Base Training" or building their "Base" is just a bunch of long, slow efforts done during the winter. And to be fair a lot of people have some success with this strategy of endless slow miles and laps. But as Jason points out, Lydiard wasn't saying run long and slow for the sake of long and slow. He was saying the goal would be to "...achieve a definite and sustained rise in the average speed at which you practice..." This in turn squares quite nicely with the advice of Mark Allen and Phil Maffetone when using the MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) Tests in the base building period providing a framework for feedback to determine whether or not the training load and stresses from it are sufficient for effective racing and adaptation later.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

When you can't find the motivation to excel...

Then you should beg, borrow, or steal it from someone else. So when I didn't feel like going swimming this morning (It is actually cold here today, and I usually do an open water swim on Wednesdays) I cruised over to Chuckie V's blog and got a shot of inspiration. In the spirit of full disclosure I stole this from Chuckie, who stole it from his friend Lucho, who stole it from Simon Whitfield. I have no idea where Simon got it, but in the spirit of viral motivation I post it for you. Now I'm going swimming.

My Thoughts on Fueling - Real Food for Real People

I tend to separate my thinking about time this way. "Before Triathlon Hiatus, or BH" and After Triathlon Hiatus, or AH" The ability to view my tendencies from both perspectives has given me more than a few insights. Getting back into triathlons made me think a lot about training. When I look back on the type and amount of training I did before or "BH," all I can say is I did a lot of things very, very wrong. And it showed in the results I got. But I can say that I had started to change before I got sidetracked by my life. What stands out now, and what was beginning to become apparent back then is triathlon is really about being able to grasp "wholeness." In life we spend so much time taking things apart, breaking them down into their unique components that we sometimes do not see the bigger picture. Triathlon falls easily into this category. We often see it as three different sports and train according to this view. Our workouts mimic those of the swimmers, cyclists, and runners we sometimes try to emulate.

The problem is we aren't just swimmers, cyclists, and runners. We are each of these things and we are more. And our body's requirements for training stimulus, fuel and recovery, while somewhat similar, can still be markedly different from the requirements of athletes concentrating only on one of these sports. We need to acknowledge that and then plan/train accordingly.

Looking at my own life I had to start with a long look at the foods I was eating. For physical and personal reasons, I had already made a choice to eat what I felt was the best diet for me by becoming a vegetarian after college. But a vegetarian diet, while being good for overall long term health, can be lacking in essentials like B vitamins and iron. There is also the question of making sure I got enough quality sources of protein. Now I supplement these to ensure my overall health.

As I planned my "AH" transition back into the sport I started some new dietary habits and let go of some old ones that I think have helped. Things I have changed:

1. I no longer drink energy drinks that I do not make myself or are not 100% natural. Yep, no Gatorade, no Powerade, no AllSport, and no RedBull (I never drank this stuff anyway. It had way too much sugar and caffeine to be useful in training which is why they now market it as liquid speed). In place of these I use Ultima. There are a couple of reasons for this, my main one being my teeth will probably thank me when I'm older. But I also just started drinking a lot more water (on the order of 10 - 15 8oz glasses a day depending on training load, eating more fruits, and riding with a Camelbak on rides lasting over 2 hours. I've used this hydration protocol for over 2 years now and so far I haven't encountered any problems except a recent ride that had disgusting water so I was forced to use Powerade.

2. I no longer use refined sugars. No more cookies, candies, or cakes unless I make them myself, are 100% organic and use low glycemic sweeteners in place of sugar. Instead I eat more servings of fruit, on the order of 8 to 10 servings daily, both whole and in smoothies. I am finding my caloric needs as well as my hydration requirements are being better met by doing this than using sports drinks. In place of refined sugars I am using Agave Nectar and Stevia. I am finding I have fewer sugar cravings these days and my energy levels are more consistent.

3. No more fried foods. No potato chips, no french fries. These just made me feel gross no matter how good they may smell or taste.

4. Eat more frequent meals throughout the day. Once I started doing P90X along with my normal workouts, it became very apparent three meals was not going to be enough. This is where extra servings of fruit and vegetables comes in handy. These extra meals are "nutrient dense." And once I made the shift to more natural organic foods I found my actual meal sizes decreased. I assume this is because the foods I now eat provide more actual essential nutrition allowing me to eat smaller portions while getting more actual usable food. This is just a guess but I think it is probably correct. The big reason for larger and larger portions in our societies is probably because the foods we get from fast food chains or processed/manufactured foods is calorie dense and nutrient poor.

5. Take more meals in liquid form. This is by no means every meal. But out of 6 meals I shoot for at least one smoothie and one glass of fresh juice daily. I currently use both a Vitamix (Yeah, I own a blender that can mill grain or knead bread) and a Juicer to prepare nutrient dense juices and smoothies made from fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I use various recipes for fruits and veggies as recovery drinks, snacks, and full meals depending on the combinations of the foods I choose. I am also making and eating more soups year round. The reasons for this are many but the two that stick out most are that by taking more meals in liquid or semi liquid form, I am making it easier for my system to digest the food and get the necessary nutrients into my system more quickly.

6. Buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. This was one of the easiest changes I think I made. For a long time I didn't think the expense and effort necessary to find organic foods was worth the trouble. The major selling point for me, aside from the possible health benefits, was simply taste. I cook most of my meals myself and I found the taste of the food I was preparing was superior when I used organic foods in my dishes. This in turn made it more appealing to prepare my own foods and stick with eating them.

7. As much as possible drink only pure water from a trusted source. This is sort of an add on to the first change but I feel it deserves its own mention. I came to this conclusion after I stopped using the common sports drinks. When I drank sports drinks, I often still felt thirsty. That sensation of thirst ceased when I relied only on water and Ultima. Then I noticed I drank more water when I started having my water delivered in glass containers. I also noticed I stopped drinking water out of fountains and other sources and started to carry extra bottles with me or in my car. I can only assume the reason for the change in my behavior was taste. If the water you drink tastes good, you drink more of it. Drinking more water also allows you to flush toxins from your body which is necessary for optimum health.

8. I no longer use gels or many of the common bars on the market. I either make my own training foods for rides and runs or I eat Garden of Life Whole Food Bars. Aside from being made from whole fruits and vegetables, these bars include probiotics which aid digestion. Healthy digestion is essential for a properly functioning immune system. And for endurance athletes especially, a strong immune system is a must.

In addition to the benefits to my training and recovery, these changes seem to have enhanced my overall sense of wellbeing. I just feel better about everything now and honestly tend to get a lot more done both in my training and in my personal life. It makes you wonder how much social and personal emotional turmoil could be caused by poor nutrition alone. Personally, I believe everyone's nutritional needs vary widely so developing a fueling/nutrition plan is something that requires as much attention and insight as you would put into any other area of your life you find meaningful like your training/racing or your work. But I also feel most people, whether they are athletically minded or not, would benefit just from drinking more pure water, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and limiting the use of processed foods (especially sugar) whenever possible. And hey, Chuckie V says as much on his blog so it must be true.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bike Review 2007- Kuota Kalibur

So have you ever gotten on a bike and felt like you'd come home? This is a machine that fits you so well that you almost can't see yourself as not being a part of it. It's a bike where going fast and breathing are exactly the same. If you haven't don't worry because if you stick around bikes long enough, trust me, its bound to happen to you at least once and then you'll know what I'm talking about.

The Kalibur is one really amazing bike. The bike was everything I wanted when I started looking. It was stiff where it needed to be making it incredibly responsive and quick to accelerate. It took corners like a champ and shifted like butter (The bike I tested was outfitted with Ultegra components). And man this was one tri-bike that actually climbed almost as well as my road bike. In my standard tests which includes short climbing, a series of sharp turns on a closed 3 mile loop and an 8 mile time trial at a comfortable 140 bpm heart rate and moderate gearing from 39/15 to 39/12, the Kalibur was still amazingly fast. I liked the ride so much I rode it around my neighborhood just for fun. I even did a local time trial on it and posted a PR on the course for the year.

In a race environment this bike was amazing. It was silky smooth, dampening road noise and vibration while retaining enough rigidity to provide snap when attempting to bridge gaps or run down someone up the road. The Kalibur probably owes much of this snappy responsiveness to the Kevlar reinforced rear triangle. Yep, Kevlar. The same stuff they make bullet proof vests from. On this bike I was able to take aggressively sharp turns without really thinking about it and descend quickly with confidence. Sometimes when you are in aero position, things like descending and cornering can feel dicey. But the Kalibur inspires confidence in this area like few tri bikes I've ridden. That may be the best thing I can say about the Kalibur is that it is a bike that inspires confidence. You step on this machine and you know it isn't going to be the thing holding you back on race day.

For all that confidence, comfort, speed, and a super stiff rear triangle that's practically bulletproof, the Kalibur with an Ultegra build is amazingly affordable costing about $3800.00. About the only thing negative I could say about the Kalibur is that it won't make you invisible. But hey, being fast and practically bulletproof for under four grand won't seem like too much of a compromise on race day.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

P90X Week 9 review

So this week I went back to a full complement of P90X workouts. Week 9 is really a repeat of the workout sequence done in Week 1. One on hand it was sort of cool to go back to the original DVDs and see how much progress I'd made. Overall, even with the 10 day hiatus I took from all things P90X, I saw some really dramatic improvement in my overall muscular strength and muscular endurance. This made it really easy to get through the week even with some lingering fatigue that I still had from the swimming, biking and running I'd done while I wasn't doing P90X.

I noticed that I was able to do a lot more reps without assistance on the Pull Up Bar. And I was able to keep up with the advanced moves in Ab RipperX (no small feat here) even though I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I say that 15 minutes is a piece of cake.

This week also was a first in that I decided to do one of my workouts at the gym using dumbbells instead of resistance bands for a change of pace. I took the workout sheet with me and actually this works quite well once you know what movements to do. I must admit I was a little surprised. For some reason I thought doing the workout in a gym I wouldn't push quite as hard or I'd be self conscious. But instead P90X gave me a really narrow focus and rather than spending time wandering around the gym looking for an empty machine, I stayed in one place and just hit it. It probably looked like I knew what I was doing.

I think Beach Body, the folks who produced the P90X videos, should see about putting the videos on iTunes for download. How awesome would it be to carry P90X on your iPod? You could take it to the gym and have Tony and the crew to help you where ever you wanted to work out. Oh well I now have a couple of days to get ready for Week 10 and the one workout I have truly come to hate, Chest and Shoulders. There will be no doing this one in the gym. I think I'm going to have to take my heaping helping of humiliation in the privacy of my own home, "Thank you very much." (If you don't know what workout I'm talking about, you can find my description here.)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Serious to the Core

OK. So I thought Tony Horton was evil incarnate when he put together the Ab RipperX routine and included it in P90X. Now, I'm sure he is just a disciple. This is serious core work. And honestly I wouldn't try this at home (or anywhere else for that matter) without the supervision of a trained professional on hand. Still seeing is believing...

And here is a link for the article that describes the movements in the video.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Recovery, The Effortless Workout

One of the things that makes training for triathlons difficult, especially when you have a full time job, family, and other responsibilities outside the sport, is getting adequate recovery. Your performance is basically the sum of your stress (or workout load/intensity) added to your recovery. But all too often when obligations work in direct opposition of planned training, recovery can be one of the first things removed from the training adaptation equation.

I've been thinking about this a lot this week. Probably because for the last two days I've gotten out of bed and haven't felt recovered at all. I also have been quite sore. Everywhere. So what caused my additional fatigue and continued soreness?

This morning I went to ride my bike. I had planned an hour tempo ride with a heart rate range between 130 and 145 bpm with a cadence between 95-100 rpm. From the beginning my legs were on fire. And my heart rate was drifting over 145 after about 20 minutes. I cut the ride short at 30 minutes and went to yoga. In yoga, fortunately the normal teacher was out with a sore throat, I was able to work through some of the soreness in my thighs and relax a bit. The substitute's class wasn't too physically challenging. But I still felt fatigued.

The good thing about yoga is that it can be both therapeutic and reflective. It occurred to me I'd made some new changes to my diet because of allergies recently. I hadn't gotten as much protein as I was used to. I also realized I hadn't taken a nap yet this week. Normally I nap daily for at least an hour. Monday I had gone shopping for some of my new foods during my usual nap time. And Tuesday, I had taken over someone's rolfing appointment when they weren't able to make it. My rolfer knows my schedule during the week is flexible and calls occasionally to let me fill a vacancy. Both days I had gone without a nap.

So between the change in my schedule and a subtle change in my diet, I wasn't recovering as I was accustomed. I came home from yoga and ate a Boca Burger (I don't eat these often but I do find the protein in them is readily accessible) and had a veggie/fruit/protein smoothie. Then I took a 3 hour nap. I woke up refreshed and "Look Ma no soreness!" Later I was able to complete my daily P90X workout (Shoulders and Arms) at the gym as well as play a little basketball.

I got lucky. I was able to pin down the cause of my poor recovery and fatigue and correct it within a couple of days. Next time you feel a little more fatigued than normal, or have some muscle soreness that seems to linger just a little too long, make sure you are getting the nutrition you need and the rest you require. Make sure you schedule your recovery and stick to it just like your other workouts.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bike Review - 2007 Guru Crono

There isn't too much you can say that is negative about this bike or about Guru, the company that makes it. Guru is like the Dell of bike companies. They build their rides one customer at a time and the Crono is their flagship. This is the bike 2006 Kona runner up Desiree Ficker rode. This is the bike I thought I was going to walk out of the store with when I started looking for a new tri bike. But that didn't happen.

The hard thing about reviewing a bike like this is no matter what I say about my experience testing this bike, I will always have to use the disclaimer, "This may not be your experience." The reason for this is the bike is made custom unless you buy a used one off eBay or take a floor model from a local bike shop. The folks at Jack and Adam's stressed this point throughout my tests on this and every Guru I tried.

What I liked about the Crono was its unique styling. The bike looks like you could take it out for a ride then hang it in your living room like a museum piece. It is both cool and sophisticated looking at the same time. In my test this bike was fast and solid through corners without sacrificing any agility when changing gears or directions. On flat sections of road, the bike just moves and moves fast. As far as road shock, there was literally none. This bike was like riding a sofa. So if you are one who needs a softer ride and you have about $4500 to spend (for Ultegra) then this is a bike to consider. Also keep in mind the 10 year warranty. Ten years is really good, especially for carbon frames. But lifetime is better.

What I didn't like about the bike I tested was the same cushy feel that made me feel as though I was riding on air on the flats completely left me feeling as though I was riding through quicksand when it came to climbs. As the friend who was with me that day put it as he watched me on one hill after another, "Your legs were a blur. But you weren't going anywhere. I kept having to hit my brakes to keep from running you over..." Ok that is a bad thing. My buddy is about 6'2" and weighs close to 230 lbs. I am 5'8" and 159 lbs. You get the picture.

To put this into further perspective, a couple of days later I was on my road bike sailing up the same climb. I was able to bridge up to local pro triathlete Andrea Fisher who was on her tri bike. Andrea is a human specimen to put it mildly, about 6' and at least 165 lbs of solid muscle. My point here is once we hit the flats again she was gone and I couldn't stay with her. But on every small rise I could gain ground. This experience got me thinking about the Crono. The wheelbase on this bike was one of the shortest I tested and it was the least effective climber in the bunch. From my experience on these bikes the shorter wheelbase helps get you in a steeper position and further forward over the cranks. This is great for triathlons because it saves your quads for running. But you pay for this positioning on climbs because you don't get the same angle to apply leverage to the cranks by using your seat as counter-leverage. On a flat or gently rolling course this won't hurt you much. And if you are a larger rider able to produce more power on the flats you get this time back and more anyway just like Andrea did to me that morning. But if you are an efficient climber, one who can sustain high speeds going uphill, this bike could cost you unless the folks at Guru can address that concern specifically when your bike is being built.

All in all the Crono is an excellent bike. It is aero and fast and silky smooth. And it is one of the best looking bikes I've ever seen. The difference with this bike is probably how well you can communicate the specifics of your riding style to the folks at Guru so that the bike can be built to emphasize your riding strengths and not take away from them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Outlaw Trail 100

This weekend I did the Outlaw Trail 100. This is a very well organized and supported ride. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get some good mileage in without having to worry about food, water, mechanical issues or routes. Actually for most cyclists or triathletes these types of rides can be a good test of fitness as race season approaches or they can be casual base building affairs. And as I've indicated here in the Austin area this is a very good ride. These folks do it right. I've done this ride for about 10 years and I've never been disappointed. The day before the race at packet pick up there is a free pasta dinner for ride participants. The tee shirts are usually long-sleeved due to the time of year. The routes change from year to year largely due to road closures and development, but the courses are always clearly marked. There were signs designating every thing from direction, to gravel, to the conditions of water crossings. Aid stations were spaced approximately every 10 to 12 miles or so. SAG wagons (city pickups and local bike shop vans with racks), Bicycle Sport Shop mobile mechanics, and several motorcycle patrols radioing rider status were all visible throughout the ride.

My friend Karen and I chose to do the 100k. For me this ride was to be a completely aerobic effort. I had my heart rate monitor set for a threshold of 151 bpm. This is approximately 15bpm below my aerobic threshold. The ride was set to start in waves beginning at 8:00 AM. Unfortunately, because I got off work at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning, we were about 45 minutes late starting. This really didn't concern me, however. I looked at it as a blessing because it made riding my own pace easier for me.

The first half of the ride was windless and the skies clear, the air cool. A great morning for some base training. It also allowed us to keep the pace high because my heart rate stayed pretty low. We skipped the first 3 rest stops because of this and had ridden about 50k in 1:30. The course wasn't completely flat. It had some pretty gentle rollers and long straights so keeping this pace wasn't difficult. At least it wasn't until the front came in. That's when the 25 mph winds kicked up. From this point on the course and day that had been so pleasant was now a complete nightmare. It was so bad that my friend Karen, who is normally quite engaging and chatty, was pretty silent except to point how much it sucked riding into the wind. About the same time the wind came into play so did the climbs. Over the first 50k, my heart rate averaged about 135 bpm. Over the last 50k all I heard was the incessant beeping of the monitor just above the roaring wind.

Unlike the first half of the ride, we stopped at each of the last 3 rest stops to fill our bottles and stretch our legs a bit. I was pretty good at eating on a schedule. About every 45 minutes or so I had a bar and at the rest stops I ate oranges and bananas. I don't normally ride with sports drinks because I don't drink them. (Perhaps I should clarify that. I do drink them if they are all natural. I just don't drink gatorade, powerade, or any of the other common "ades" on the market). For rides lasting over 4 hours I drink Ultima. Unfortunately because the water at the second to last rest stop was so bad, I had to use the powerade instead. As a result I think I drank less than I would have normally had I liked the water. (Note to self, always bring your camel bak). Anyway the last half of the ride took us 3 hours to finish. But get this. We still came in with a large group of the 100k folks because even though we weren't riding that fast we must have been moving faster than they were to have made up 45 minutes on them. I really didn't notice much at the time but Karen pointed out later that we had passed quite a few people on the course after the halfway point and none had stayed with us.

All in all it was a fun, albeit hard ride. Here are my stats from the effort. 63 miles 4:25.35, Max HR 163 (probably at the end when trying to avoid a dog), Ave HR 144, Calories 2999. And if you are ever in Austin the 3rd week in October. Bring your bike. This is one of the cooler rides around. Like I said, the city of Round Rock does this thing right. Maybe next year they'll have an answer for the wind.