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...