Monday, September 29, 2008

Your Body Is Precision Instrument

I would be well advised to keep that sentiment in mind. For the last couple of weeks I've been attempting to deconstruct my body's apparent mutiny against all things training related. Honestly, it wasn't really all that difficult and it didn't take a PhD to figure it out. My work schedule at the latter part of the summer was abysmal. (You know, maybe there is something to my mom's assertion that the use of profanity is for those who lack the vocabulary to express themselves appropriately. (Did you notice my use of the word "abysmal?" If you did can you tell my mom?) At any rate if that wasn't enough, when both my Naturopath and Acupuncturist used the same phrase to describe my sudden onset of chronic fatigue, "Low Kidney Chi," I knew I wasn't gonig to like what came next. But don't ask me what the phrase means exactly. All I know is that in their traditions the kidneys are the energy stores that come into play AFTER the adrenals. So when you burn through the adrenals and deplete the kidneys, you've essentially dug through the bottom of the well. When they both looked at me with those, "You poor, poor dear" eyes, I knew my season was done. Crap.

But I digress. Looking back at my year, I can see that my training, when following a set pattern yields consistent fitness gains. What I can also see is that when my schedule is changed I begin to "wing" my training attempting to fit in the same number of workouts with less recovery and/or sleep. I also notice when this compression of my workouts comes into play, my carefully crafted diet also gets shot full of holes. It is just one short fast downward spiral from there. "Game over, player one."

But now after a couple of weeks of low intensity work, consistent rest and restoring my prior eating habits everything seems to be looking up. I've upped the intensity of my workouts recently but kept their duration modest. Nothing much over 2 hours and I've been consciously finishing my workouts with plenty of energy left.

This winter I want to spend some time addressing some things to get ready for next season. I'll have to deal with my job because this is be biggest challenge I face not only with regard to my training and racing, but simply with my overall health and well being. I also want to deal with my body composition. I made a lot of headway in this area over the last couple of years but I could still lose about 7 pounds. Losing this weight would go a long way to improving my running speed/economy. To do this I put some of that Personal Trainer knowledge I've acquired over the last couple of years and started some serious calorie counting. Don't worry, its all very scientific. I don't plan on losing more than a pound a week.

The next area I plan to address is my swimming. My swimming was affected by my decision early in the year to take the Yoga Teacher training class. This was followed by the 6 weeks of recovery and rehab after my bike wreck. For some reason I wasn't comfortable putting a lot of stress on the arm so, I pretty much babied my swims in races and in practice. Over the course of the winter I'll be doing a lot of long sets for base/strength to address my lack of actual time in the water this spring.

Last but not least my cycling has to get much better. I'd like it to be better than when I stopped racing 6 years ago, but at this point I'll settle for just as good. Thanks to aging, most guys in my age group can't ride as fast as I was riding so that's fine with me. :) This winter I'm going to focus on power more. My pedal stroke doesn't appear to break down so I'll spend less time on economy. I'll do more sets with turning over bigger gears faster now. We'll see what happens with that. As I get more specific I'll keep you up to date with what I'm seeing as far as results are concerned. Well, I'd better get back to work.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yoga For Triathletes - Pose Of The Week - Kapotasana

This fall I'm going to start teaching Yoga. The class I'm envisioning will cater primarily to athletes -- triathletes, runners, and cyclists. Since it will be starting in the off season, it will probably focus on recovery and integration at first, then build into strength and balance as the season approaches. I don't have all of the details worked out just yet but I want to start thinking more about the poses I'll primarily incorporate into my classes.

I think all told I've been doing Yoga for about 5 years now. The first 3 were just to some DVD's I inherited. I remember the first time I did a 30 minute yoga session on one of those discs and thought "Man, this is pretty tough." But I kept at it because I liked the way I felt when I was done. In the beginning I didn't think I'd ever go to a yoga studio to take a class largely because I'm pretty highly self motivated when it comes to athletic stuff and don't really mind doing it by myself. Fortunately I have a pesky friend named K who kept at me to take a REAL yoga class. Because of K's persistence I finally gave REAL yoga a try. And I got hooked on that too. I now can honestly say for the most part they take it easy on you in those DVD's. For one thing, most of the classes in studios are an hour to an hour and a half long. For another, there are more challenging poses, more of them and the poses all seem to be held forever.

What I will point out is that Yoga is not necessarily the same as static stretching which typically involves isolating and lengthening muscles. Yoga poses are as a general rule more dynamic in nature calling for stretching, relaxing, balancing and coordinating muscle groups to achieve a desired result. Because of Yoga I've been able to find and access muscles I didn't realize I had. This has been most noticeable in my core. Enough said.

Anyway, the pose I'm studying today is called Eka Pada Kapotasana or One Legged Pigeon. Technically the pose I'll describe here is a more common variation of the pose that is more effective for the typical issues faced by endurance athletes. I've found this pose to be really helpful for accessing and releasing a notoriously tight muscle in many of the runners and cyclists I know, the piriformis. This asana is also beneficial because the piriformis crosses over the sciatic nerve. The lengthening in this area can create a great deal of relief if you are experiencing some issues with the area. Working with this asana can also be beneficial if you have lower back pain that is isolated to one side of the body just above the hips which can be sourced to a tight piriformis.

Starting in a low lunge with both hands on the floor the right foot is in between the hands, the thigh and the shin are at a right angle. Press into the floor and lift the right foot and rotate it over toward the left hand. Gently lower down on the bent right leg, using your arms for support. You may find as you lower onto the right leg you need to allow the foot to move in toward the left hip. The more open your hips are, the closer you can get your right leg to a 90 degree angle. Your left leg should shoot straight back from your left hip. The top of your left foot will be on the floor. In the this pose you don't want to just collapse. You want to keep isometric tension from both legs and radiate it up through your torso. At this point if it is available to your body you can begin to lower the torso forward over the front leg. For some simply bending forward slightly and keeping the support of the arms will be enough to engage and begin the release the piriformis. As you work with the pose you may eventually get to the point where the torso can come to rest over the front leg.

After you've found your body's point of expression in the pose, you will hold that position for about 60 seconds. To come out of the pose, you can simply plant the palms into the floor, lean forward, tuck under the toes and move back into a lunge over the right leg. You will then repeat the same sequence with the left leg.

You can find a picture and additional notes/instructions for entering the pose here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Things Have Got To Change...

People who know me well know that I am not an angry person by nature. And when you race, sometimes a bit of the "red fuel" can be just what you need to kick a little azz, or shoot, just get out of bed for a key yet dreaded workout. Heck because of this added zing, my swim this morning had me cruising almost 8 seconds per hundred faster than normal. On the positive side this probably means I've been babying my swims this year because of the bike wreck I had in March. But when you begin to realize a consistent, slow, steady increase in the red fuel over time, its time to start asking some bigger questions.

I guess I could say I'm lucky. I know exactly where my frustration is coming from. For the better part of a year now things at my job have deteriorated to such a point that no amount of money could fix what's wrong. I could say its the people or the work or the conditions, or a combination of all these things but taking the time to consider the situation, I know the real problem isn't actually any one of these things or a combination thereof its me. I've changed so much in the last few years and what I want to do with my time and what I want from it are much different from when I started working with this company and these people almost 5 years ago.

Joe Friel's excellent book The Triathlete's Training Bible, provides an excellent introduction and discussion of the concept of limiters. Limiters are things which basically stunt performance and athletic development. They are the things that hold us back. For the most part they can be physical. Someone with less endurance will not do well at longer distance races so, their limiter is endurance. Someone without much strength or the ability to apply force continually will be limited in hilly, windy, or rough water races. If your diet isn't what it should be, this could limit both your training, racing and recovery. Other limiters can be purely psychological or emotional. If you feel you don't race well in cold or hot weather, or if "so and so" shows up, you probably won't. You get the picture. Limiters are things that keep us from having our best performances. And as such they potentially keep us from experiencing our best selves.

I've been seeing the same thing in a lot of different sources I've been reading lately. The gist of the idea that comes up over and over again is that if we aren't constantly growing, we are regressing. It is this sense of regression that causes the experience of "dis-ease" which can not only be applied to races and athletic performance but to other aspects of our lives as well.

So my job has to replaced with something that will support my life more fully and also my desire to train and race to my full potential -- whatever that potential may ultimately be. That is, I suppose, one of the gifts of racing and this sport in general. You get to look at your performances and your life and make informed adjustments that will bring you into a fuller alignment with your true goals. And you get a supportive group of folks to help and cheer you all along the way. A healthy analysis of your limiters will always lead to change. And change that leads to a greater experience of potential and self is always good.