Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This Is Why We Train, This Is Who We Are...

There are those times when I have no idea what to write about. When this happens, I have no problem letting someone else do the work for me. Today I ran across a really cool triathlon related blog. So I'm borrowing the video I found on his blog until I come up with something interesting to write about.

The athlete is one his way to race Ironman New Zealand. Aside from this being one of the countries I've considered visiting for the past few years, I've heard this is one of the more culturally rich places in the world and that they put on a mighty fine triathlon. And I'm not so sure after watching the video Jonathan posted on The Blacks (the national rugby team) that my intensity in my training and my racing has been anywhere near what it should be. So take a few moments, check out Jonathan's blog, send him some good vibes, and get pumped up watching the true meaning of intense.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Clear Skies Strong Legs

Today was my idea of a perfect day.

It started out like this. Get up do 30 minutes of Yoga. Eat (actually drink) breakfast. This would be fruit smoothie, a handful of almonds and a small 4-6 oz glass of fresh,organic fruit/veggie juice. At this meal, I probably meet or exceed the US daily allowance for fruits and vegetables. This is okay by me. Totally. I'm finding it is way easier for me to "drink" my daily allowance of these important foods than it was for me to physically chew my way through them. And what the hey, we have steel and electricity, why not let them do part of my digestive work for me. I am only embracing progress here to facilitate my health and training.

Then I went on to do about 30 min of Tai Chi. After that 15 min jump rope alternating legs every 25 reps. Well, after the rope jumping my day was perfect.

Then I went for a run. You know when I wasn't able to run that was all I thought about. Now that I'm running every day, about every fourth day or so, I'm not that excited. My legs feel a little heavy and I swear I'm not actually running and that I'm slogging all over the trail. But I have to count my blessings. I'm in Austin. Its February and the temperature today was around 65 (18 Celsius) with clear skies. The Town Lake trail is actually quite beautiful with the contrasting colors of spring and fall on display simultaneously.

So back to my run. It actually felt pretty good once I got about 2/3 of the way through it. I still felt as though my legs were running about knee deep in mud but my breathing was even and my heart rate was in the zone I had set for this type of run. My average HR was 153 for 5 miles in 38:00. That's about 7:40 pace which shows I'm not slowing down from running every day. When I started this experiment I did the 5 mile loop in about 43:00 or 44:00 -- so around 8:40 pace at approximately the same heart rate.

This also shows my legs are getting stronger. Even though I did the 10 mile loop the day before and had five pretty intense Yoga classes this week, I seem to be recovering from my workouts quickly and the accumulating fatigue isn't affecting my general leg speed. So we'll see how long I can keep this up and what I feel like in about 3 weeks.

After my run I went for an hour long bike ride.

With Du' Shun. I'll say it again. Riding with Du' Shun is like an out of body experience. Sometimes we go so fast, I swear in my effort to keep up I've actually died and see myself on the bike as my consciousness floats overhead. But for the most part considering my time off the bike from being sick, my legs felt pretty good. I was able to keep pace with our group up until the last 5 - 10 min or so of the ride when I decided to back off. Even though my perceived effort seemed pretty low, my heart rate monitor was reading 176 which is right about LT for me. I didn't want to push things since I'm not back at 100% just yet. I may have to spend some time doing some testing to check my numbers again to be sure. Like I said, I didn't feel any discomfort and I wasn't breathing hard. The day was pretty cool, and I wasn't experiencing distress. There is the possibility the heart rate strap I was using needed a new battery. I use a different strap when I run. I'll have to check that too. Other than that about the biggest thing I had to worry about on this ride was the fact that I appear to be wearing out my seat so, I'll have to decide on a new one soon.

One of my main reasons for riding at the Veloway and S. Mopac is afterward I can drop by Lifetime Fitness for a swim. I like doing my workouts in this order because swimming is sort of like a massage and acts as a recovery from the previous workouts. Today's swim workout was a 30 minute drill session. I wasn't really committed to swimming over the holidays and then I got sick so, now I'm having to ease back into it by focusing mostly on technique. Once I get my feel for the water back I'll start working on more triathlon specific stuff in the pool. But for now I'm just showing up and getting wet. By the time I got home I was relaxed and ready for dinner which was basically a veggie burger, a huge mixed green salad with red leaf lettuce, rainbow chard, apples, carrots, onions and spinach.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yoga Stretches You

While it is a common belief that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens in Yoga is under no such restrictions. When you leave a Yoga class the experience can sometimes linger for hours, if not days. You see while it is common knowledge that Yoga improves flexibility, what they don't tell you about Yoga class is that is more an exercise in how well you can handle your buttons being pushed. This is one of the fundamental differences between mere static stretches and Yoga and why you shouldn't refer to the two activities interchangeably. That's because Yoga classes, the good ones at any rate, often take you right up to, and sometimes just a little beyond, your own personal mental, physical and emotional boundaries. When you find yourself on your edge holding a particular pose beyond what is comfortable, you may not particularly like what you see there.

It is very common for people to describe or see themselves in one way, say successful, easy going, happy, strong, or forgiving only to have a particular Yoga pose show them they are none of these things -- at least not when the pressure's on. And that is where some of the similarity to triathlons comes in. How you respond when the pressure is on says a lot about the results you ultimately get. And it can say a lot about who you really are as a person.

One day I went to Keith's Vinyasa class at Dharma Yoga here in Austin. The class started with Keith calling our attention to the words he'd written on the whiteboard at the front of the room from a Leonard Cohen song:

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

The message of the class was to forget about doing things "perfectly." Most people come to Yoga (if they explore it at all) with the expectation that it is just a bunch of stretching. But over the past year I've discovered Yoga as being so much more. Yoga is about your body and all of the expectations and beliefs you hold regarding it and learning to live in and in concert with it gracefully.

This particular class really didn't involve much actual stretching at all. It was all about headstands, handstands, and arm balances. These are some of the more challenging intermediate to advanced postures you can do in a Yoga class. But what I also discovered was these postures focus more on alignment and core stability than actual "flexibility." There was very little in the way of actual stretching. So in that regard this one class was totally outside of the expectations of what most people would consider to be Yoga. And as such "the edge" we were exploring that day had nothing to do whatsoever to do with how "flexible" I was. In this case there was the more profound and direct edge of fear to deal with. Floors in Yoga studios are typically hard except for where your mat is placed so falling out of one of these poses and smacking myself on the floor is what I was confronting with regard to both my edge and my fear. This would be in addition to the fear of people actually seeing me smack myself on the floor if I fell.

As I moved through the poses, focusing on my breath and my body alignment, I became aware that my fear, though still present, had receded. And as my fear receded, I discovered my previously carefully guarded and highly respected edge (the point at which I balanced on my hands while upside down) had expanded by the an almost equal amount. After class I considered what had occurred. It was within the space surrounded by my own imperfections and fear that I found I could play with both. Like the words of the Cohen song suggest, it isn't by ignoring or attempting to cover up our imperfections and fear that we grow as human beings. We grow as people by accepting our limitations whatever they might be and then working with them. This one of the reasons I find Yoga and triathlon similar and complementary. In both triathlon and Yoga we find ourselves engaged in a meaningful process of self discovery and patient exploration which allows us to deal honestly with fear and discover where our edges truly are. They are spaces that stretch and extend us as people allowing us to come to terms with our imperfections so that we may ultimately shine brilliantly through them.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bike Review: 2008 Kuota K-Factor

Its always a good day when I get to go into Jack and Adams. Its an even better day when they let me take out a new bike to ride. This time I got to try out a 2008 Kuota K-Factor. Jack was smiling when he handed the bike over for my test ride. He had good reason to smile. This was one sweet bike.

The first thing I noticed right off the bat was just how light the frame is. Even with a mixture of 105 and Ultegra components this bike was incredibly light. I couldn't believe how easily I was able to lift the bike from the ground to the bike rack on top of my car. You sort of know that if you are struggling to get your bike from the ground to your rack or in and out of the back of your SUV, you are probably working a little harder than your competition when it comes to riding up the local climbs on your normal group rides.

Riding the K-Factor was a joy. The bike felt confident in the turns even in aero position. That is a pretty big thing. On some bikes the geometry just doesn't let you feel confident when you speed through some of the sharper turns you must navigate -- especially in races. This really wasn't an issue on the K-Factor. The bike was solid and steady throughout the arc of my turns, even when I chose to stay aero and pedal hard out the back side. Even though this bike is very light, the slight feeling frame doesn't seem to hamper its road dampening capabilities. My ride was smooth and quiet on all the surfaces I covered including some roads that had been torn up and resurfaced due to some neighborhood construction.

I found the sense of speed on the K-Factor to be more than adequate. But in comparison to the Kalibur, I'd have to say the K-Factor isn't as aggressive. This is probably due to the K-Factor's more relaxed geometry. That isn't to say the K-Factor isn't fast because it is. In my controlled tests, it just wasn't as fast as its more expensive cousin the Kalibur. And it didn't really inspire me turn on the after burners the way the Kalibur did when I road it. But I think in this sense you are getting what you pay for. The K-Factor I tested was priced right at around $2000.00. At this price point I'd have to say the K-Factor is one of the best, if not the best triathlon bike out there. The bike has internal cable routing, a replaceable rear derailleur hanger, insets for 2 water bottle cages, and an attractive paint job that would make it at home in any transition area anywhere from sprints all the way up to full ironmans. For about $500.00 more you get an aero carbon seat post and upgraded components which make the bike lighter and more aero. And $2500.00 still is a good enough price point to make aero wheels pretty affordable down the road if you feel the need for even more speed on this rig.

Basically if you are someone who has been in the sport for a few years and are thinking of upgrading from a road bike with clip-on bars, or already have an aluminum tri bike that is beating you up in the longer races, this is one bike to have on your shopping list. You get a lot of the same amenities you see on more expensive bikes without having to cash in your 401k in the process to get them. And trust me, that's a good thing when it comes to buying a new bike.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Core Sore

So far this week I've gotten back into the swing of my workouts. But not too aggressively. On Monday I ran for 30 minutes on the treadmill. My heart rate was pretty low so, I was able to hold a pretty nice pace. My form felt pretty good and I was landing right on my midfoot giving me a nice "pop" off the belt. It really felt good to run again and my 10 days off because of the flu didn't seem to hurt my running much. It actually seemed like my body had integrated some of the running techniques I was trying to establish as habits. But maybe I was just glad to be running?

After my run, I did a P90x upper body workout. I really paid for this. While the flu didn't seem to really do much to my running economy or endurance, it did really take a toll on my upper body strength. It wasn't as bad as when I did P90x for the first time but it was pretty close. I was really hating life and pushups after about 30 minutes of my workout. Consequently there was a pretty big drop off from my first set of pushups to my second.

I am also doing a Yoga Teacher Training Certification course. Aside from being behind in learning my asanas because of missing two classes, I'm also behind on my yoga classes. Part of the hours in the certification come from going to about 5 yoga classes a week. So this week, even though I picked different teachers, the three classes I managed to make it to had some sort of focus on core strength. Now add to this the 15 minutes of Hell I've experienced 2 times this week because of Ab RipperX from the P90x workouts and all I can say is now I'm having a hard time sleeping. Did you know you use your core muscles for stabilization while you sleep? Neither did I. At least not until this week of AbRipperX and Yoga.

In fact in one class we were doing headstands but the caveat was that we weren't allowed to "kick" our legs up and use momentum. We had to raise them with control using our core. Needless to say after class my abs were spasming just from getting into my car. I'll let you in a little secret. There probably isn't an intermediate to advanced Yoga posture that doesn't engage the core muscles in some way. All I can say is at this point I'd rather do an Ironman than more Yoga. You have no idea how much pain I'm in. And I have Yoga class again tomorrow....