Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday and Tuesday

So I'm easing into some semblance, albeit a very light one, of a training routine. Typically I'm more of a time than a distance person anyway so seeing myself doing a couple of 30 min workouts a day for the next few weeks shouldn't be a problem as I gently move from no training, to unstructured training, to short structured workouts.

Tuesday I played basketball for 30 min in the Vibram 5 Fingers. Or VFF for short. I can really tell my stride is smoothing out. But here are a couple of other interesting things I've noticed. I've been wearing these for a little over a month. Mostly I've worn them to work and any other time I've needed to leave the house. I've also taught my yoga classes at the bike shop in them (think concrete floors in the winter). What I've noticed is my jump shot has gotten way better both in accuracy and in elevation. Meaning I not only shoot better, but I jump higher too. I think it has to do with balance and better connection through my feet in the VFF's. One of the things my rolfer (a structural integration body worker) likes to talk about is how often the body is thrown out of alignment because of poor connection through the feet. She says having the feet "firmly" connected deeply affects both our sense of balance and our ability to generate force and power in our movements. After running around in the VFF's for a month I'm starting to see what she means.

After my antics on the basketball court, I swam for 30 min. This was pretty simple following a pattern I used for most of the year last year for my drill workouts. 50m drill, 100m fist swim, 100m swim. The majority of this swim focused on my body rotation and getting the sense of generating force with my core.

Wednesday was an easy (at least it should have been easy) 45 min bike at the Veloway. This time I actually went out on to the South Mopac loop. You'd think I'd have gotten my competitive nature satiated from last year. But no, that was obviously not the case. During this time of year I really focus on two things, keeping my heart rate deeply aerobic 120-130bpm and my pedal stroke. Apparently the combination of having not been on the bike much and not wearing my monitor and the loss of fitness that goes along with not doing anything for a month, my idea of what "feels" easy and about 125 bpm is actually about 140 bpm now. That and the fact I was riding along with a couple of other guys. Still aerobic mind you, just not deeply aerobic. But I think that is to be expected. I've learned it takes a great deal of patience and discipline to train at heart rates like that. It is especially difficult after a layoff. So we'll see how things progress.

I am glad to see my hamstring issues appear to be healing well. I'm using a combination of yoga, Tai Chi and strength work. So far so good. Oh well got to get a move on. The day's getting away from me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Beginnings And Vibram 5 Finger Shoes

So I started training again. Nothing too intense. Just a 30 min swim and a 30 min bike. At least I think it was 30 min. I didn't wear my heart rate monitor so I just sort of looked at my watch and went from there.

I find it interesting how much more you feel after a break in routine. Not bad stuff mind you, but how much more aware I am of what's going on in my body and how it is working. It's as if I've been asleep, or perhaps numbed, to the finer sensations of movement. And that's probably the most overlooked reasons for taking a break. Aside from recovery of energy levels and tissue restoration, taking time off allows you to get back to the point where you can actually feel what you are doing.

To that end I've decided to change the shoes I train in to something more "useful." Right before Ironman Arizona, I got a pair of Vibram 5 Finger shoes (if you can call them that). They look more like foot "gloves" to be honest. At any rate I've been wearing them non stop since I got home from Arizona. This seems to be a natural progression for me. I've been wearing and training in the Nike Free 3.0's for about 2 years now after wearing the Nike Free 5.0 for a couple of years before that. I haven't spent much time in anything else. But while walking in the Vibrams for hours a day was not an issue, running in them took some getting used to. Even as flexible and low profile as the Nike Free 3.0's are, the Vibrams are in another universe altogether when it comes to running shoes.

To get used to running in them for longer and longer periods of time, I've decided to spend some time in the gym playing basketball in them. This has given me the ability to learn how to wear them under some pretty varied conditions requiring both speed and coordination while allowing me to retrain my feet and body to run properly at multiple intensities. Plus it is just plain fun learning how to take off and land without breaking my feet. I figure after a month of this running for 20 to 30 minutes will be a snap. I'll keep you posted and write a decent review after I've had them for a bit. All I know is the Vibrams are going to be my training shoe of choice. I'll use the Nike Free 3.0's to race in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adaptation - A 2009 Training Review

In the past on this blog I've been more forthcoming about my training and getting back into shape than I have been lately. Recently I've asked myself why this changed. After the examining the full spectrum of reasons, ranging from the change in my work schedule from nights to days, or from the obligations that come from training, teaching yoga, leading bootcamps and trying to work full time at a "real" job, I think I finally have gotten to the core of the issue. In the time leading up to my first Ironman at Ironman Arizona, my doubts of whether or not I'd even make it to the start of the race seemed to grow exponentially. And I have good reason to have felt that way. Traditionally, I've been injury prone. And I've tended to allow other things, professional and personal, come between me and my triathlon related goals.

Not to say that hasn't been the case this year as well. But for some reason this year things have changed. I mean I still had to deal with things like a dislocated cuboid bone in my left foot, nerve damage and a dislocated bone in my other foot, flair ups of achilles tendonosis in both legs, knee issues, IT band, shoulder, calf pulls, and lower back stuff. I've also had issues with work, on call scheduling, work related training and meetings outside of my normal hours and personal issues that at times seemed insurmountable. And lets not forget my first race this season where I almost puked in the water, and found myself both nauseous and disoriented in the middle of a lake. Or what about all of the stuff that has happened with my equipment this year (see my other posts)? We can also add the juicer I managed to "burn out" a few weeks out from Arizona to that list too. Really, my list of mishaps does seem endless. Needless to say, all of these things created some major anxiety throughout the months leading up to the ironman. That is until I began seeing the gains in my training that appeared to come from my decision to "drink" a good deal of my daily nutrition.

In retrospect, I probably needed my head examined for even buying that plane ticket to Arizona. Especially given what happened at Longhorn 70.3. And man, given what I experienced in the last couple of weeks of training prior to race day, I not only had my doubts about completing that first Ironman, but a healthy dose of pure, simple fear as well. My respect for the people who have completed an Ironman anywhere in any time has gone way, way up. No matter how fit you are 140.6 miles is still a monumental distance to cover.

So here's the thing. This is why I still went to race in Arizona. In spite of getting sick and then having someone aggravate my right knee again by digging their thumbs the same spot that had been hit with the bike pump at the Longhorn 70.3 in the four weeks leading up to the race - this year, in spite of everything I've experienced I've had more fun than I can ever recall. Even when I was racing before and was younger and much faster. Its funny. Leading up to the half Ironman, I was doing workouts my younger self would have crawled home in a heap of sweat and quivering muscles and not come back for more for at least a week. And here was getting up and doing it all over again the next day. And that gets me to the real point of this post.


Even with all of the set backs I encountered this year I started to see the results of adaptation taking place. Before I got sick, I had some really good results in my training leading up to this point. I was looking over my wattage output from my trainer power intervals for the season and prior to the Longhorn 70.3 I was averaging 25 watts more than I was at the start of the season. During a 100 mile solo effort on rolling hills my average heart rate was 134 on a very, very windy day. Whereas earlier this year my average HR on a 20 mile "flat" time trial was 158 at the same speed.

On the run I saw my ability to cover more and more ground at better speeds with lower heart rates too. The week prior to the 70.3 I ran 16 miles after two hard hours on the bike with an average heart rate of 143 at an 8:05 per mile pace. But the main thing was I was having no problem running two or three days in a row at that point. That really amazed me.

When all of this Ironman business started, I had to give some serious thought as to how best to create the most favorable conditions for my success at trying to cover this distance. But beyond covering the distance the ultimate goal was to create a body with a level of fitness capable in 3 years to be able to "race" at that distance. For me that is going "wire to wire" from each event to the next with a constant but sustainable effort. And I know this is what we most often think of when the word "Adaptation" comes to mind in terms of our triathlon related work. And granted, I think from the results my body and its capacity to handle training and racing stresses has changed for the better. But like most terms we use in the sport (or life for that matter), like "core," or "economy," "adaptation" can have a much more profound side if we take the time to examine it not just in terms of bodily response to training stimuli, but also how it relates to the larger context of our lives.

So as my year comes to a close and my training pendulum has swung decidedly to the recovery side of things, I have time to ponder what do I feel my most important adaptation for 2009 was? The thing is I don't believe my physical adaptation was the most important change that took place over the course of the year. Sure being fitter and healthier were great but for me I think the most important adaptation came when I learned to trust listening to my own body in spite of the lofty goals I had set.

In yoga there is a term known as "ahimsa" which can be translated loosely to mean "doing no harm" or "practicing non violence." So often in sport, accomplishments are pursued to the exclusion of things like harmony and joy. We can tend to overemphasize the outcome and push our bodies and ourselves further than is necessary or wise even with a long held goal clearly in sight. We can get caught up in, I don't know, the moment, our own self doubt, what have you and lose sight of ourselves. In the past, I was a repeated offender and I know it. That's why I couldn't race for 5 years prior to starting this blog. What I learned in the interim with the help of my yoga practice is this type of behavior can be considered an act of self inflicted violence. By demanding more than the body is ready or capable of delivering at any particular moment, we are doing harm both to ourselves and the goals we so strongly desire to reach be it a long coveted yoga pose or a place on the podium in a race. Understanding this delicate balance between our goals and desires and our well being can be a hard thing to master in any of life's arenas, but in triathlon the consequences of not understanding this balance can be both swift and painful. Remembering there is just as much value in the journey as the destination really changed my perspective and allowed me to enjoy my season whether I was racing as fast as I could or just out enjoying the scenery. Personally, this is where I found myself truly adapting this year. I found myself coming more into a space where I readily accepted where I was at any moment in any race or training session and let that be that. And because of it I'm healthier and happier. I accomplished all of my goals for the season and for the first time that I can remember I wasn't injured at the end of it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How I Eat Now & Why

So lately, I've had a few people asking about my diet. Aside from the weight loss perspective, which is way overrated, most of the people asking are the ones who've noticed the benefits I've enjoyed from it. Personally I look at how I eat as less of a "diet" and more of a "pattern of eating" that allows me to do what I like doing which is to work out "A LOT". But aside from allowing me to workout more frequently and with higher intensities, there are other benefits too.

These are some I've noticed:

  • Lower resting heart rate
  • More restful sleep in less time
  • More lean muscle/strength and flexibility
  • Healthier skin/hair
  • More energy
  • Better concentration
  • Better moods
  • Faster recovery

I started using this pattern of eating about 8 weeks before Ironman Arizona with the intent of reverting to a more conventional style of eating once the race was over. The changes I noticed in 2 weeks were so staggering, I decided to keep eating the same way after the race. I think the reason for the change was I had a sense that I was short on training time and my body wasn't ready for the physical challenge of an Ironman. Because I felt I couldn't "work out" enough, I had to figure out a way to create the necessary transformation in the time I had left. It occurred to me if I could pack my body with as many nutrients as I could leading up to the race, then at least my body had a chance to be "nutritionally" ready even if it wasn't physically up to the task. But after 2 weeks I was so much stronger, more flexible and visibly fitter, I knew I was on to something. So the eating "pattern" is pretty simple. I start the day with food in liquid form (fresh juices of fruits and veggies) moving from juice to smoothies. Snack on nuts and seeds. As the day progresses fruits and salad are eaten depending on appetite. Eat what I want for dinner.

Now some details.

The juices are from seasonal fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens like kale, collards, spinach, and chard. But also there are things like carrots, broccoli, asparagus and parsley. I also always include beets because they promote healthy liver function which aids in systemic detoxification. The fruits used can vary according to personal taste and seasonal availability, but they also add volume to the total juice yield. I like to use grapes, oranges, blueberries, grapefruit, pineapple and watermelon. The goal is to make the juices as nutrient dense as possible creating a liquid food that is high in quality but low in calories. I drink about 24 to 32oz of juice like this daily and this is typically "first and second" breakfast. I don't worry too much about calories but from past experience 8oz of juice is probably about 150 calories which is enough for me to start my day mildly satiated for a couple of hours before drinking more juice. It also allows for a morning workout not impeded by feeling stuffed and sluggish. But more importantly if you were to take the term "Break Fast" literally, you would start eating after a fast, even one lasting 10 or so hours, moderately allowing your system a chance to "warm" up to heavier digestive work later on.

Once the liquid food is done, then I'll make a smoothie. There are some similarities between the juice and the smoothie in terms of what goes into making it but as a base I start with a blend of coconut water and coconut milk. The coconut water provides a good supply of electrolytes while the coconut milk adds some base nutrients and needed fat. From there frozen fruits and veggies are added again. One difference from smoothies you may by around town is I add lots of leafy greens (usually frozen, but not always) to this. Typically as it is easier to juice the stalks of the greens in the juicer, so I save the leaves for the smoothies. Aside from fruits and veggies and I few things I don't or can't juice, I add goji berries, stevia (if I need something a little sweeter), a blend of hemp, rice, and pea proteins, powdered chlorella, E3 Live (a green algae superfood), chia seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts and dates.

Interestingly the combination of vegetable proteins from the greens and the hemp, rice and pea protein powder seems to work better for me in building muscle than when I used a single source like hemp or soy alone. Also there is some new research on pea protein that suggests it aids in efficient kidney function. Better kidney function = healthier system overall. Again think detoxification.

Basically, if its good for me or has a purpose nutritionally its either in the juice or the smoothie. If I won't eat it cooked or raw but is healthy, its probably in either the juice or the smoothie where I can disguise the taste enough to drink it. Between the juice and the smoothie, I get more than enough servings of fruits and veggies and a whole slew of things I probably should eat but couldn't get enough of if I was eating solid food all day. And that's the reason I started eating this way. From everything I've read, we don't get enough quality nutrition in the typical American diet to support optimal health hence widespread issues our society faces with obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Also by drinking juice and smoothies, I save my system the trouble of having to break down a bunch of solid food and nutrients are available in greater amounts more quickly. Its a question of time and energy. Energy I'm now not using to break down food is energy that is saved for other things like working out, recovery, or just reading a book. Less energy and time spent digesting food is more energy and time to do other stuff that is more important to me. If I save an hour this way, that's an hour I could be working out or recovering from working out. The solid food I eat at the end of my day, a few hours before bed, provides fiber and gives me the sensation fullness. It lets me eat normally and socially and keeps me from feeling as though I'm depriving myself of the foods I enjoy. I still eat things I like, just not all day long. Also by eating this meal last and before bed, my body has all night to digest the food while I'm asleep thus eliminating the feeling of drowsiness I used to feel when I ate solid food all day.