Finish Line 70.3

Finish Line 70.3
Finish Line 70.3

70.3 Finisher!

70.3 Finisher!
70.3 Finisher

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Santa's gifts to athletes

Sometimes my family loves the fact that I am a triathlete (sometimes they don't. See other posts on, for example, late dinner, up early on weekends, vactions must have fitness centers, etc and etc). One of the times they love it is on gift giving occassions. I am sooooo easy to shop for.

There's always a new gadget, thingie or trend to try. Stuff breaks and wears out (worn out body parts are hard to find on line, however). There are books and magazines and videos, and Lordy, we triathletes certainly know how to stimulate an economy.

I got my "big" present earlier in the year with the purchase of my new Specialized carbon fiber bike (I adore it). Which takes up most of Christmas, anniversary, and birthday for a few years (Valentine's is off limits. The only true holiday where women are not expected to cook. Therefore sacred). But there are a lot of little giflts left, oh, so many to get and give the athlete.

Here's what came from Santa (or family and friends) for me this year that I can use as an athlete:

*Reflective bands for my wrist and ankle. Cheap and very practical. For those winter dark runs.

*New carbon Look pedals and new fiberglass S series road bike shoes. OK, shoes are not carbon, I can't seem to get my hands around shelling out over $300 for carbon shoes at my speed and level, but nearly good enough. Took me an hour and a college degree or two to figure out how to install pedals and cleats, etc.

*iTunes gift cards. Always great for loading more songs on the 'pod to while away the weary hours on the road and in the pool. Especially since the Beatles are now on iTunes--all you need is love, baby.

*Gift certificate to sporting goods store. Here comes new wicking shirts and socks and other cool stuff.

*New Garmim Forerunner 310. OK, I'm using up my second college degree on this one, so far I have learned to charge it up. The owner's manual is on DVD. I'm excited because this one is allegedly waterproof so no need to wear a New York streeter's line of watches on my wrist on my next tri--this one supposedly does everything but pump up your bike tires, and it might do that too. Stay tuned for reviews and comments. It's also so much smaller than my old Dick Tracy Garmin.

*Hammer Gels. Doesn't every girl long for that in her stocking?

*Doorway chin up bar: arms and abs, look out. I'm coming after you. Hope to set that up tonight. Which is why I'm blogging today. Tomorrow my arms may be too sore.

Now, patient spouse got from Santa a Road ID (excellent product--Santa also purchased wristband ones for our adult children too because when you go out anywhere without your ID, this baby can be a lifesaver) and a warm Descent bike jacket so he can no longer complain that it's too cold to ride the bikes. In addition, his big gift was a gently used Specialized carbon fiber bike--well, parts of one, he has purchased the frame and wheels and a few other components but we seem to still be missing the crankset and chain....hopefully those will be bought soon and a complete bike will emerge from all the boxes before the spring thaw.

I can't wait to try out all my goodies (hopefully the weather will improve a bit this weekend and I can see if my college degree assembled pedals/cleats fit together). These kinds of gifts last all year long.

Truthfully, someone asked me yesterday if I had gotten all I asked for from Santa. I said yes, because all I really want and need is good health and a wonderful family. I have been fortunate to be granted both of those, although I realize the good health thing is a gift I have to nuture and watch out for as much as I can from my end. I promise to do that.

I hope you and yours had a great holiday, and are looking forward to a happy and healthy New Year. Good health and a wonderful family to you all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Bonk

I looked up the word "bonk" in ye old dictionary. It says that the word is slang for "hit, strike, collide." My trusty scrabble dictionary sez it means "to hit someone on the head."

When an athlete uses the word bonk, it generally means a version of Game Over. It's when the body says Enough, I'm Done, No More, We're Outta Here. I suppose in a way that's someone like being hit over the head, or colliding with that proverbial wall. All of us have experienced a bonk, usually on a long run or bike or swim, but sometimes on a short one, sometimes resulting in a Walk of Shame back to the car or a pullover to the side of the road (followed by the infamous Flop On the Back on the Ground).

Although a bonk does not always mean the race or workout is over, it usually means your planned time or distance is over. A true bonk--which is different from the waves of just being tired or feeling gassed that come and go--takes time to recover from.

Bonks are preventable. And we know it, and yet ignore the warnings that could lead to one.

Here are the Five Ways to Bonk:

Overextend without base training. Chances are you aren't going to be able to do a 56 mile bike or a 26 mile run without some training beforehand. Sometimes young and fit persons with a background in one area can "fake it" through another area with minimal training--i.e. a strong runner might be able to struggle through a long bike or swim after only doing some minimal distance bike and swims beforehand, but he or she is definitely going to suffer--but most people can't go the distance without paying the admission price of serious training beforehand. I do so enjoy watching young men (I'm sure women do this too, but I always seem to be seeing the men) dash out on their first 5K with no training beforehand and find out that I am able to chug on pass them around mile 2 when they are wheezing, walking and staggering. Train your distance. Train your time. It takes a long, long time and effort to work your way up to long distances, so be prepared to pay the price.

Lack of nutrition. When I first started out running, I really had no clue about nutrition. I often went out for a 4 mile run on an empty stomach (yes, Jeff Galloway sez you can but I am going to disagree with him). And lots of times I would end up walking around mile 3, feeling out of gas and weary. Your body needs fuel in order to work hard. You don't have to eat a Denny's Grand Slam before a 5K, but a simple glass of chocolate milk or an energy bar, or better, a bagel or some oatmeal, will preload you with fast burning carbs that will become important about halfway through. Slower runners like me are at the most need for pre race or workout nutrition as we simply can't breeze through 5 miles in 30 minutes before our stored fuel starts to run low. For workouts laster longer than an hour, it's important to take in some carbs (and maybe protein, I tend to believe a small amount of protein with the carbs works best) BEFORE you start to hit a depletion wall, which is around 45 minutes or so into the workout, and then every so often thereafter, depending on the amount you ingest and how far you are going. If you wait until you feel tired or gassed before you ingest nutrition, it's too late. You are going to be behind the bonk ball the rest of the workout or race.

Lack of hydration. I know there has been a lot written lately about over-hydrating and I am cognizant that taking in too much liquid can be dangerous, or at least sloshly in the gut. But I suspect 90 percent of athletes are under hydrated rather than over hydrated. For any workout lasting over 45 minutes, you should take in some fluids, and you will be smart to take in some the day before and after as well. Even on cold days when you aren't feeling thirsty, you can dehydrate just as quickly especially in altitude and wind (both of which dry your tissues out quickly). Water or sports drink, you pick, but keep your hydration level constant.

Lack of rest. I am all over the expression that training plus rest equals results. Your body MUST have time to recover from the stress of working out. Training causes muscles and joints to stress and even tear slightly, and in order for them to increase strength, proper rest must occur for healing and soundness. This means a full rest day at least once a week and a good night's sleep as often as possible (the latter being the thing I skip the most of, what with work and family and working out, and believe me, lack of good sleep will lead to a big bonk for me sooner or later).

Lack of planning. Here is where I bonk the most. I do stupid things like drink too much wine and eat too much the night before a long run and then get minimal sleep and then also run in the hottest part of the day....HELLO. You think at my age I'd plan better. Or I'll oversleep and try to race through a swim workout that calls for an easy pace. You've got to plan your routine as best you can (life throwing stuff at you at the worst times notwithstanding) and work out the smartest that you can. Don't overdress on warm days, don't underdress on cold days, don't forget your water bottle on your bike ride, don't forget your swim cap....all of these things that I have done that have caused a mini bonk or at least a bad day.

There is no reason to ever bonk again. I don't plan on it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

More core

As part of this journey into the outer limits of physical activity that I have determined will be fun and prodcutive, I've realized that all the biking, swimming, and running I'm doing does work, but they all work better when I'm stronger at my core. Certainly biking, swimming and running make me stronger in lots of ways (including increasing the strength of my curse word vocabulary), much more so than if I was just dedicated to doing one of those sports, but they still leave a lot of areas untouched.

Core strength and flexibility--to be more precise, being strong around your gut, back, hips, etc.--leads to stronger swimming and biking and easier running. I can personally attest that running long distances, a lot, will pound you into central inflexibity--you may end up with the world's strongest legs, but you won't be able to bend me shape me too well.

Strength begats strength. Therefore, I am trying at least once a week (twice if I can find time) to do exercises that help solidify my core and flexibility.

I am not very excited about going to the gym and doing the weights/balls/elastic bands thing. First, it's a drive to the gym for a short workout, and second, there never seems to be any real room on the mats. So I'm trying to do these exercises at home, which is easier for me (I can do them in the morning before I hop in the shower) and a lot cheaper. I have some small hand weights (10 pounds each, and some that are 3 pounds each) and an exercise ball, and a mat.

My chosen exercises vary from session to session, but they include side and front planks (if done correctly, with a fairly straight back, these will kill you very quickly), leg lifts, lunging squats, push ups (okay, I will fall on my sword and admit that I have NEVER been able to do a guy push up. I'm determined to get to that stage, but right now I'm on 15 girly push ups. I hate that, but upper arm strength has never been my big thing), simple weight lifts for biceps and triceps, and several yoga poses for flex: the tree (I started out on the Wii Fit with this one before the Wii Fit went to Broken Wii Heaven, and I would get mad at the cartoon instructor who would tut tut me when I wobbled and fell over on this pose--and I am proud to announce that now I don't fall over any more), the sun salute and the warrior poses. I do these all on my mat on my bedroom floor and am done in 20-45 minutes. I've also asked for a chin up bar for Christmas (what every girl wants I am certain). I have no illusions that I can lift myself up to a chin up bar, but I have a stool to use, and my upper body strength really needs some help here.

Since I've started the core strength workouts (which I do either on my rest days, or in the mornings when my workout that day is at night, or vice versa), I've noticed a couple of things: one, I can go a lot longer down on my aerobars on my bike without my neck or shoulders or back nagging at me, my posture seems better when I run (I am just more relaxed), and my arms don't get as tired on my long swims.

I am four months away from my 70.3 this week. I am still nervous and unsure, but every week I feel a wee bit stronger (with some limited exceptions, okay, we all have feet dipped in liquid lead days). I have a long way to go still especially with the bike, but I am confident I will improve and dance my way across that finish line!

Monday, November 29, 2010


There comes a time (and of course, it happens more than once) when that nasty outlier named Doubt creeps into every athlete's mind.

No matter how good you are, how much in shape you are, or how fast you are, Doubt lurks in the back of everyone's head on certain days or certain workouts. OMG, you say, there is no freaking way I can (a) do this, (b) be ready for this, (c) finish this, (d) get there from here.

Half of the preparation for any race or event is mental. If you allow Doubt to come along with you as a guest rider or swimmer or runner, you are going to have a devil of a time finishing your race (or workout). Doubt is the stepchild of Lies, and he loves to sit on your shoulder (as if you needed that extra weight!) and tell you that you are simply incapable.

Banishing Doubt from your workout and race isn't easy. I know that at least twice a week I find myself saying "I can't .... (you fill in the blank--swim any faster, bike any faster, bike in a strong headwind, run uphill, etc.)." The minute I say it, I believe it. And my workout suffers because of it.

Patient Spouse is excellent about telling me to get rid of the negative thoughts and sayings. If something gets hard or I don't do as well as I want, then I can say: "this is hard. And I'm going to really, really make some progress doing it." Or "I'm biking pretty slow. I know I can speed up by just concentrating on my cadence." Or "the swim is pretty long. Good, because I gonna OWN this swim!" You get it. Sounds stupid when you say it out loud, trust me, but it really works. Don't kid yourself into thinking your brain can't kid itself, because it surely can.

On Thanksgiving I had a hard run. It was in Houston, and it was 82 degrees at 7 a.m. and about 340 percent humidity and the trail we went to was ALL little rollers of very steep nature (so much so that you couldn't ever enjoy a downhill because you were looking smack at the next steep uphill). I had 8 miles to crank out and I thought, boy, am I going to tank this run. Then I shook myself like one of my dogs and said to myself, I am going to KILL this run, by golly. And I ran 8 miles in less than a 12 minute mile doing run 8 walk 2 and never missed a beat.

The next day we biked 31 miles in a very stiff and strong north wind. I was disappointed in my speed--at one point I was biking at 12 mph into that wind and was yelling at myself -- literally, out loud--that I needed to bike 15.5 mph average on this 70.3 to make the time cut off and that I was a stupid weak biker who would never get any better. Well, I ended up averaging 14 mph for the ride, which isn't great, but then again, it was a strange trail where we slowed down or even stopped a lot for turns and entrances and people, and then there was this giant headwind for a lot of the ride. So I needed to go a bit easier on myself as I know in my heart that I am steadily improving on my bike every time I ride. I let Doubt come sit on the back of my back and it made a great and fun ride into something unpleasant.

Doubt is always there. It's our job not to let him into our program. We can politely show him the door and remind him that all of our hard work and training really does pay off, and handsomely.

Give Doubt the boot. I did.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How is the Weather?

I think the Turtles were an awesome rock group of my generation (soft rock, actually), plus they had a cool name. And their song "Happy Together" is simply a classic. Until you get to that strange tag line near the end where they croon, "how is the weather?" which I realize rhymes with "happy together" but otherwise makes absolutely no sense in this song. That is like sticking the phrase "can someone please call me a cab?" in the middle of Hey Jude. You would think the Turtles would be smart enough to figure out that maybe the word "forever," while not an exact rhyme, would go better with the happy together phrase. Then again, this WAS the 60s.

What the Turtles may not have realized, is that the tag phrase "How is the weather?" is a big one for athletes. Race day or training day we aren't going to stick our broken toenails outside until we know what we have to deal with regarding the elements. And we've also learned two things about the weather outside: you can't change it by complaining about it, and it's the same for everyone.

If all training or race days were 55 degrees, light south wind at 5 mph and a blue sunny sky, there would be no need for all this expensive gear we buy and fling on and off at random to try to cheat the weather gods. There would also be no need for weather forecasters, which, come to think of it, isn't in itself a bad thing, as it's one of two jobs in the universe where you can be 100 percent wrong 100 percent of the time and still keep the job (the other--you know it already--a financial forecaster). One thing I've learned by watching weather forecasts for five decades is that whatever they are predicting, it's going to occur 24-48 hours later than they predict it.

Of course, we can all go work out inside and discard the uncomfortable preamble of sticking our limbs out the front door to see what the wind and temp is like on any given day, but anyone who prefers to run on a treadmill or ride a spin bike gets what they deserve in other ways.

Here are some thoughts I've picked up about training in what I call Weird Weather:

Heat. Where I come from, if it's not hot, it's working on getting that way, at least 90 percent of the time. Here it is November 21 (yesterday) and my four mile run was in shorts and a sleeveless wicking tank and I left about six pounds of sweat on the road. In July, that temp in the early mornings can soar over 90 degrees before 9 a.m. We Texans know our heat. We run or bike in light colored clothing (it reflects heat, while darks clothing absorbs it) that is loose (for wind to vent inside). Socks are thin and moisture wicking. Sunscreen goes on immediately, and gets reapplied at mile 6 and 10 because no matter what they tell you, waterproof sunscreen doesn't really exist (which I suppose is fortunate, because you'd never be able to wash it off). Bike gloves become important (fingerless) to swipe sweat off your face and a headband helps catch the forehead drip. I don't run with a hat in the heat, because no matter how thin or cool the manufacturers swear it is, it makes me even hotter.

And of course, we all know that as your workout progresses and the sun gets higher, the hotter you will get. I've learned the hard way (like everything I learn, I swear I'm going to trademark that statement) that you don't wear a long sleeved tech shirt out to run 10 miles on a 50 degree day. You wear a short sleeved one and say brrrr for about half a mile.

Cold. I love running in the cold, but then again, cold in Texas is 35 degrees. I would imagine running in minus 10 isn't so much fun. And biking in the cold? Not so much fun either. But either way, I prefer to throw on the clothing and avoid the indoors if at all possible. I have running tights that I love, and I understand they come in various thicknesses. I have the least thick pair I could buy, because it doesn't get all that cold here in the south, and I've never had cold legs on a run but one time (a Turkey Trot where the wind was howling 25 mph from the north). I wear thicker socks on cold days, and open my laceloks up accordingly so my feet don't feel pinched. I have a great one piece long sleeved jersey with a hood that I like to wear and with the hood up and a hat on top, I'm usually pretty good in the neck and head department. I have worn gloves on really cold days, but my hands get hot before anything else does, and I always find myself stripping them off and stuffing them into my fuel belt or waistband after about 2 miles of running. I also have biking tights, but I find I need a lot more under protection on a windy cold bike ride than a run. This usually involves layering two shirts and my hooded jersey, and my full fingered bike gloves are a must on really cold days. I've looked at shoe covers for my shoes--and I think I'm putting them on an Xmas list, because cold toes are just no fun while biking.

There are also leg warmers and arm warmers which cover just part of the legs and arms and not the torso. I've not bought any, but although they look pretty funny, they seem to do a good job of keeping the areas warm that need warming. If I ever move out of the south, I'm buying some.

I haven't figured out what to do about a cold face though. I can't handle any kind of mask--I feel claustrophobic--although I have pulled a bandana over my nose --an old snow skier's trick--on a really cold New Year's Day bike ride, and it did okay, although it fogged up my sunglasses (just like in skiing). For my head, I wear my hood of my jersey under my helmet, although skullcaps are popular for the non-Harry Potter look.

I've not been swimming in terribly cold water, and my wetsuit has done a fine job on the cooler swims I've made. I know they make skullcaps for extra warmth, but again, there is simply nothing out there that's gonna save your face from the cold water. I have heard a thin layer of Vaseline helps, but I've not been forced to try that. Yet.

Rain. I love running in rain. Now, when I say that, I mean gentle rain when it's not windy or cold and the rain is just misting down and you think, oh, this is fun, or at least you do until you trip over your first giant water puddle and soak your shoes. No, seriously, I see no reason to take my run indoors in a light rain. I'm more careful where I put my feet, but I am not going to melt.

I do have a sort of waterproof running/biking jacket I got from Brooks Running. Now, true waterproof clothing for athletes is hard to find. The main reason is pure waterproof means no breathing, and there is nothing more delightful than running or biking in a garment that doesn't breathe, because it's like wearing a sauna suit (this is why you avoid cotton for working out). Most of the times running/biking rain gear is water resistent, not waterproof, which means it will repel a little rain or mist up to a certain point, but if the heavens open, you are gonna get wet. I have not had the opportunity to try this jacket out in a downpour yet. It seems to work pretty well in the misty drizzle stuff and it doesn't seem to act like a non-breathing Hefty Bag. But I haven't really tested it out yet.

And dry your shoes out after a wet run. Even if it means blowing them dry with your hair dryer, there is nothing worse than trying to squeeze on damp shoes the next day. I find putting my shoes on top of the clothes dryer while doing a load works very well.

Biking in the rain is a whole 'nother matter. Biking in the wet frightens me. My tires are about the size of a line of toothpaste anyway, and the idea that such is all there is between me and a concrete divider makes me nervous on dry days, much less wet ones. I suppose I could take the hybrid out on really wet days with its knobbier tires, but for me, a rainy day means an indoor bike ride. Others are either smarter or more foolish than I, but everyone has to have a line in the sand. That's mine. If it rains on a race day, I'll gut it out, but I'm going to be bringing up the rear so badly you might as well put a basket and bell on my bike that day.

Exceptional triathletes have several different sets of bike wheels for different weather conditions. These people don't have mortgages and children in college, I suspect. And there is nothing I hate more than changing out wheels on a bike.

I am going to assume that everyone knows not to run or bike in a thunderstorm. And if you get caught it one, to go seek shelter immediately under a bridge, culvert, parking garage, Jack in the Box, whatever. You want to run LIKE the lightning, not as part OF the lightning. When I run, I'm always aware on my routes of safety areas in case of bad weather and none are more than 2 miles apart.

Wind. As mentioned before, the wind she do blow here in the south. Hard. And nearly every day. I know wind is a good thing for windfarms, pollination, and sailors. Otherwise, I don't have much good to say about it.

Obviously, when it's cold, the wind makes it even colder. What I have trouble with is dressing warmly enough for the part of the run or bike INTO the wind, and when I turn around with the wind at my back, not sweating to death.

Something I learned about running and biking when it's really blowing out there. Secure your loose clothing. That sounds like a warning for a roller coaster ride, but I'm serious. Flapping jackets or shirttails can really cause a drag on your time. Tuck in and secure with velcro bands if need be (God's gift to athletes).

Snow/Ice. It really does snow here in Texas, maybe twice a year where I am. But not enough to make me an expert on it. I see photos of all these northern people out running and biking on snow covered roads and I think, you go, friends. I can assure you that if it snows a lot where I live, there will be no biking outside, because we don't own any plows. Running--I can see doing it in my trail shoes, on a known path, so long as my insurance is paid up.

The only thing I do with ice is put it in my drink.

So...with some exceptions, there is no reason to avoid working out in Weird Weather. Be friends with the weather. As the Turtles would say, be happy together.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

Lately I've been feeling like I'm either taking the Pepsi challenge or being the head taste tester at strange food fair. Less than five months out from my 70.3 (eeps, don't keep reminding me of the fact that my longest bike so far has only been 35 miles) I'm experimenting with all kinds of foods, gels, bars, etc. so that I know what sits best with me before, during and post workout to prevent bonking, upchuking, and passing out at the post race dinner. I'm sure I have driven various manufacturers mad as I order products from every possible source (what would we do without our internet?).

I'm not nearly done yet, as I have a goal to finalize my nutrition before Valentine's Day, thinking wisely that anything leftover might be crammed into a heart shaped box and served to the Patient Spouse (look, dear! Powerbars, Hammer Gels and --the piece d' resistance--a lint covered gummy bear!). Just kidding on that, of course. I think.

I have come to some interim conculsions, however, with regard to the Big Three: Pre Race (training) intake, during Race (training) intake, and Post Race (training) intake. One is that too much wine and homemade chili the night before a long run falls under the category of Slightly Bad Idea. Otherwise, here's what I've come up with so far:

Pre Race (training):

Oatmeal. I've read about the benefits of long cooking (steel cut) oatmeal from so many sources you would think that the nation's oat growners have some kind of cut they give to triathletes. I've been cooking myself oatmeal the last 3 weeks on weekends before I head out for my long run or brick. The benefits of oatmeal is that it is low glycemic and therefore lasts a long time in your system and also doesn't tie up your blood stream into your gut by requiring long and difficult digestion. It's also a great blend of carbs and protein (and as a side benefit, a good fiber source, although that is also one of the detriments to it).

I do notice when I cook and eat oatmeal that I am not generally craving "something else" about an hour into the run or bike; but that I can go up to about 90 minutes before my system demands a refueling. I also haven't thrown it up (always a good sign) or been forced to find a fast bush.

However, the detriments are first, it takes a freaking long time to cook steel cut oatmeal (30-45 minutes) and you really don't want to cook it the night before and try to rejuvenate it the next day (you could, however, use it as a handy glue around the house if you do that). Second, you need to wait about an hour or two after ingestion before your gut says it's okay to get out there (I've tried running 30 minutes post oatmeal ingestion. It's a recipe for a lot of feeling uck and run-burping, which would entertain your four year old but not so much yourself). So if you want to get up at 4:30 a.m., cook some oatmeal, eat it at 5:30 a.m., and go back to bed until 7 a.m. and then start your run at 7:30 a.m. you are gonna benefit like mad. Most of us don't have this luxury. However, oatmeal is on the list for possible race day breakfast, as you are always up and at em three to four hours before you start anyway. Just not for training.

Smoothies. I think smoothies and other stuff you put in a blender are awesome. I just don't like them first thing in the morning. First the blender makes a heckuva racket, which my just awakened ears find annoying, and then you are generally out of something that is supposed to go into the mix. Finally, even with the pre mixed powders, which still to me taste like Carnation Instant Breakfast from college, the smoothies just don't seem to stay with me on a hard workout. I find myself longing for something solid an hour later. Same thing with sports drinks. Although I use them on any work out longer than an hour during the workout, alone, they aren't enough to kick start me out of the gate.

Bars and gels. For early morning workouts, these guys are too full of dextrose and sugars for me. I need a bit more, what, "real food" in my system. They get me going but seem to peter out quickly and also can leave me with a headache. However, for late day workouts, these guys seem to do the trick better than anything else. I've fooled around with several bars, and for me, the lower protein Luna bars work best (around 8 g protein max) for a pre workout snack. On the way to a swim, bike or run from work, I'll down one of these babies 30 minutes before I start and I can go up to 90 minutes without needing to eat anything else, so long as I am sipping a sports drink during the workout. The Powerbars are also good, but they tend to have too high a protein content for me pre workout and I like them better post workout. I have just ordered Hammer bars for a test drive and I'll let you know. PS Yes I know Luna bars are geared toward women. Patient Spouse likes them, and trust me, he is all man.

My favorite. My favorite pre workout booster, whether morning or night, is a half bagel with chunky peanut butter. For some reason, that combo sits easily on my stomach and give me plenty of oomph. The bagel is whole wheat or cinammon, nothing with raisins or blueberries or vodka in it. It's not quite the exact carb/protein mix that the experts say is ideal, but it works for me.

2. During the Race (workout)

Once again, this is a work in progress still, but I have found several things I like and don't like during a long (over an hour) workout.

For workouts over an hour, I always sip a sports drink. I have tried four different kinds so far, and am still experimenting. So far, not to be outdone by the fact they sell it at Walmart, Gatorade still wins my vote. Not the reduced sugar kind, but the full monte. There are still several others I am going to try out and I may end up changing my mind, because sometimes Gatorade is well, too thick and sticky for me and I cut it 1/3 with VitaRain (Costco's cheap sugar free version of VitaWater). If my workout is between 60-90 minutes, usually a pre race snack and sports drink is all I need. Over 90 minutes and I'm looking for something else.

I've tried gels and bars during a long workout. Bars are just not something I can handle, even broken up in small pieces that stick the inside of my fuel belt when I've been sweating and have to be pried out. They just take too much energy to chew and swallow. I love them, but not in the middle of a run or bike. Gels are much easier to ingest, although just as messy and I always end up having to wash out my fuel belt because like a good citizen, I stick the empty gel packet back into my belt. I plan to stick with gels, but not by themselves, on my 70.3. So far I've found Hammer gels (cherry) and Accelgels (chocolate) to be my favorite; they don't seem to upset my system and they get the job done. I'm going to test a few more, however, just in case there is something that will make me go YEE HAH. You do have to drink a ton of water when you ingest a gel; and sometimes that is inconvenient on a run if you have just passed a water station so you have to plan it well.

My latest invention is a hard boiled egg (on the bike, not the run). I am borderline low blood sugar and thus my need for regular intake of protein is a bit higher than the average bear. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, so the articles all warn you about taking in too much on a race as your body will shunt more blood from your feet, arms and heart to your gut to digest it. However, I can't do with pure sugars and carbs for a 7-8 hour race so I have to ingest some protein or I will get the funny shakes. Eggs have always sat well on my stomach and a hard boiled egg (cut in two, and salted and wrapped in saran wrap) comes in a pretty convenient size--much easier than carrying a peanut butter sandwich or a turkey leg, for example. I've tried it and it works fine, the added salt helps too, you just have to drink a lot of water while you eat it. And of course, it helps to keep it well wrapped because the smell of a hot cooked egg can't be something you would want to experience if you are feeling naseous.

Also, I've found that taking in some candy during the bike/run helps keep the energy level flowing. Gummy bears are a bit chewy, but I've hit on leftover Halloween candy corn. It's small and it's pure sugar (I need to look up what kind, dextrose is allegedly the fastest digesting and the best during a hard workout). And if you think generic and Brach's candy corn are the same, boy are you in for a surprise.

3. Post race (workout). Like you, I'm going to fall all over whatever the race folks set out at the finish line and find it to be just fine (so far I've been offered gels, pizza, Chick Fil A sandwiches, fruit, hot pancakes, donuts, cookies, candy, pretzels and --strangest of all--some caesar salad--this was at a 10K). However, post workout, I find a banana and maybe a bar work great for me for recovery--and the higher protein bars come into play post workout, as protein is needed then. Remember, you are supposed to ingest your recovery within 30 minutes of your workout ending for maximum effect. I've also done the peanut butter/bagel post recovery, but face it, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a hamburger and a shake after a 13 mile run. It's not quite the mix of carbs/protein the experts say is perfect, but let's look at it this way: you earned it.

Everyone and everybody is different in how they react to food and fuel. Experimentation is fun, although sooner or later I've got to narrow down my choices to the race day group, and pack it into my fuel belt and bento box. A shame a turkey leg won't fit.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Older is Better

With the exception of some wines, cheeses, and furniture, nearly everything in today's society leads one to believe that youth is the ultimate desire(actually, maybe I should not have included furniture in that list. My stepdad owned several furniture stores. He would shake his head when my mom and I would buy antiques, asking why in the world anyone would pay good money for USED furniture).

Those of us over 50 know that it just ain't so. We know. Our kids and grandkids would not believe us if we tried to explain just why older is better, so we generally just keep that secret to ourselves. (And anyone who says they want to be 16 again--100 percent 16, mentally and physically--needs more help than I can give them).

Truly, sometimes older athletes are just better. Not necessarily faster, but simply better (yes, I did watch the Vikings game, but this is not a discussion on the merits of Brett Farve). Here are some of the reasons why:

1. We work out smarter. Age does a funny thing with your intelligence. It makes it grow in leaps and bounds. We no longer see a need to push to run that extra mile when 10 was our goal, we understand our bodies' limits and abilities, we know the truth in going hard on hard days and going easy on easy days, and we stick with that. We plan workouts like we plan our retirement; we spreadsheet things and keep an eye on our progress. We make sure we back off appropriately, and push when pushing is required.

2. We race smarter. After a certain age, the race really is between you and you. Although age group podiums remain fun and interesting, we will sacrifice those in order to keep our health and bodies intact for another year. When we hurt, we slow down. We quit writing "pain is fun" on our biceps, because we know it isn't. We do understand the concept of suffering, but we know that doesn't mean to an extreme. We don't have to pass that guy who just biked past us. We look at our watches, our heart monitors, and race smart. And we finish.

3. We eat smarter. We know we can't rush out there on an empty stomach after having imbibed a bottle of red the night before and run 7 miles (neither can the younger set, but they won't know it until about mile 4). We've (hopefully) gotten past the diet of fries, pizza and beer and are eating fresh fruits, veggies and lean meats. We no longer think a keg party is the perfect pre race carb load. Very few of us end up upchuking our intake halfway through a long course.

4. We heal smarter. We know our bodies have a limited warranty on them, and we want that warranty to last a long, long time. We have a great orthopedic doctor, a good massage therapist, a cardiologist, and a chiro on our speed dials. We don't just "run through the pain." We don't "rub it out/walk it out." We figure out what's wrong, and we fix it or let it heal, and then we keep going.

5. We think smarter. We don't let the irritation of a bad workout or a bad race overshadow our lives. We don't let the glory of a great workout or race blind us to the need for continued improvement. We laugh at ourselves, especially when we screw up, fall down, bonk, or have to do a Walk of Shame halfway through a run. We get giddy over small victories. We know that life is bigger than us, bigger than our PR, and way bigger than our daily workout routine. We are polite and accomodating to those who share our road, our path, our pool and our treadmill. We've learned that it's really true that it's not all about us.

6. We recover smarter. We know the value of a good night's sleep, a good recovery meal or drink, an ice bath, a massage, a rest day. We quit trying to be Superman(woman) a long time ago. We enjoy running/biking/swimming for its own sake more than the numbers on the watch at the end.

So, yes, although we are often slower, grayer, thicker and more wrinkled, we are better. We may not beat always the youngsters on the clock, but we beat them a lot in our heads. The good news for those young pups is that one day, they will be where we are, and enjoying their own superior status as an older athlete.

We rock.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Triathlon Tidbits

I come up with all this useless information, usually in the middle of a very long bike ride or run. It sticks around for about twelve seconds and then goes into the dark matter and joins stuff like the Last Time I Saw My Shooting Gloves. But since this Saturday was a 12 mile run (yes! done at 12:13 min pace, and no bonking) and this Sunday was a 28 mile bike (not as much fun as it was windy, but still not a bad ride at 14.9 mph average), I retained some of these tidbits, as follows:

1. Goggle Eyes. Not to be confused with google eyes (a la Marty Feldman, Young Frankenstein being one of the world's best movies by the way), this is a condition caused by swimming over 40 minutes while wearing goggles. Some of us try to go to work afterwards, or go out to dinner, and we look, well, like we've gone 12 rounds with an evil eye doctor. Hint: buy some Preparation H and smear it around your eye tissues post-swim. Women over the age of 30 have known this hint for years. You think it reduces swelling only in certain areas?

2. The Hills are Alive. There is nothing--I repeat NOTHING--that introduces you to the microscopic analysis of terrain like having to run or bike over it. A road that you swear is flat when you zoom over it in a car will show you its true underbelly when you are hoofing or biking over it. You will be shocked at how many uphills there are in the universe.

3. Lost toenails. As a last feeble effort against looking like a homeless person while working out, I demand that my toenails stay painted. Until, of course, you start to lose them. Most long distance runners lose a big toenail or two during the year. You will be so grossed out the first time it happens. Then it becomes no big deal (except to your kids). They hurt like blazes when you bruise them too badly by pounding away on them, then they fall off and a new one grows to start the process over again. PS if you are losing more than one or two a year, have someone check those shoes for you. Anyway, you start to learn that closed toed shoes make a good fashion statement. Especially for the guys.

4. Swim hair. We used to call it chlorine hair when I was a kid, back when the way to keep a public pool clean was to pour stuff in the water that would rot your insides if you swallowed enough of it. Today the chemicals are a bit less harsh, but harsh enough. If you wanna keep your hair from looking like a brillo pad, you gotta shower the stuff out EACH TIME you swim--a PIA for sure when you are rushed after your swim to get home or get to work. I've tried all the extra special "swimmer" shampoos and think they are all a bunch of marketing bunk--shampoo is shampoo. Also, here's a good hint: baby powder the inside of your swim cap about every third time you use it. It makes the cap glide on and off easily without yanking out your follicles.

5. Barefoot running. I keep reading about the benefits of running barefoot, or wearing the almost barefoot shoes. Saturday on my 9 mile run I crunched over acorns, twigs, a broken bottle, and some rocks. I am sure glad I was wearing shoes. I don't necessarily disagree with the barefoot idea, but I am not Zola Budd and I think most of us back of the packers would be wise to protect the toenails that we still have left. Just my thoughts.

6. Here's the deal: you can swim 2000 yards, run 9 miles and bike 30 miles over a weekend, and if you eat two brownies, an order of fries, and two pieces of fried chicken over the same weekend, you will NOT lose any weight. Truth. I can attest to it personally.

7. Fuel is important. The longer you run or bike or swim, the more important it becomes. I've managed to learn to like oatmeal (the original, steel cut, long cooking oats--it takes a long time to cook and it makes a mess especially if you accidentally let the milk boil over on the stove, but added with a tablespoon of honey and some fresh raspberries, a bowl will carry you a long way). I'm experimenting now, five months pre 70.3, with different gels, bars, other things (I tried a hard boiled egg on my 30 mile bike ride--it actually went down better than I had expected, although you need to drink a lot while you are eating it). Any time you are out there pounding for more than 90-120 minutes, you are gonna need some kind of fuel before hand and during. This does not include fries, brownies and fried chicken, although I wish it did.

8. Hydration is more important. I hate to say "more" because both are important, but you will bonk faster if you dehydrate than if you don't eat. Hydration does not just mean drinking during the workout, but all day long, keeping your system well watered. Remember alcohol will dehydrate you (so will salty foods) so if you intend to drink the night before a workout, or eat 13 big salty pretzels, slug down more water than usual in the interim. Always carry or have access to more water than you think you will need. This includes during swimming, which sounds redundant, but it's true. Keep a water bottle at the end of your lane and sip often. A lot of bonking is due to poor hydration or nutrition, which can be easily fixed.

9. October and November are simply the best months to run and bike. Get out there. Enjoy the leaves falling in your path, the redness of the sunrise or sunset, the harvest moon lighting your footsteps, the cool north breeze at your neck. I realize if you live in North Dakota these are not your crowning months, but you guys had a liveable August and September. I ran my 9 miles this Saturday just grooving on the cooler temps (okay, it did warm up to 86 later in the day, but the morning was lovely). Dig it, because December and January are coming for us all.

10. You need to have at least one "this is why I run" or "this is why I bike" moment a week. On Saturday at mile 4.2 I passed a big house with a realistic and scary Halloween zombie stapled to the fence. He made me smile, and also actually made me look over my shoulder as I ran away from him (I was looking pretty tired by then, great zombie food). Whether it's noticing the clouds at sunrise, or the light dancing on a lake, or late summer flowers in full bloom, find something that you would not have otherwise noticed had you been in your car, insetad of on the hoof or tire.

This weekend is a brick--haven't done one in a while so it should be just loads of fun; 80 minute bike followed by a 10 minute run/zombie shuffle.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fear Nothing

Starting back in May of 2010, my goal has been to run the 70.3 at Lake Ray Roberts north of Denton TX in May of 2011. I cut my Oly distance teeth on the course in May of 2010, and the 70.3 course was simply more of what I had already experienced. I knew the water (cold but not scary), the bike route (a bit hilly but not terribly so) and the run route (very hot, a bit up and down, but nothing too alarming). I knew where to park and what transition looked like and where the bathrooms were (indoors, I will tell you--this is a park and they had clean, easy access INDOOR toilets at the finish/start areas--what a concept!). It wasn't a perfect event--some of the bike roads were torn up, the heat during mid May is pretty tough, and the handouts at the volunteer stations were pretty sparse (plenty of water and nice people, just not much else). I was also excited because last year, no person in my age group even attempted the 70.3. If that stayed the same, and I finished under course time, I would have the podium all to myself. :-)

I just recently discovered that this event is NOT going to have a 70.3 this year, only a Sprint and an Oly. I am devastated. I am heartbroken. I am frantically searching for other events. I am a triathlete without a country.

My initial thought is to go back to the Galveston (now Hermann Memorial 70.3) where I tried to do my first Oly last year only to have the swim canceled due to high winds and waves. I was okay with the idea of doing an Oly race here but a 70.3 makes my blood pressure rise a bit. The course is fairly flat, which is great news, but in Galveston, the wind is always blowing and it's generally blowing hard and all directions at the same time. I know, I was born there. I'm not sure that riding a bike for 56 miles into a howling wind will make up for no hills. In addition, you swim in the bay, which is not really all that protected--although there will be no big surf, you will get a LOT of chop and swells. I am at best a hesitant swimmer, and although I know in my heart that trying to drown in salt water while wearing a wetsuit is probably less possible than the Rangers digging out of a 0-2 hole in the World Series, I do worry that I will swallow and choke on enough wavelets to either make me panic, or make me vomit, or both. Finally, the run, although flat, is going to be warm and also pretty boring (it's four loops of a garden park track, driveway, and parking lot combined).

Still, it's only a five hour drive for me, it's a well organized race (although very large, being a qualifier for the 70.3 championships). The roads are in good shape and face it, Galveston is still fun and interesting even post Ike and even if you grew up there and know it. I'm mostly worried about the swim in the chop and salt water, and I don't think I am going to be able to get down there and practice in Offats Bay before the race (in addition to all my other worries, you don't get a warm up swim before the event. It's a deep water start from a ladder down the pier because the shallow water is full of sharp oyster beds that will cut your feet to ribbons. That's not a killer reason to be worried, but I like knowing the feel and temp of the water before I take the first plunge. I'm SUCH a weenie).

This race is also the first part of April which moves my timetable up about a month.

I've looked at all the other 70.3s within a reasonable drive from me that are happening in spring 2011 and I can't find anything that makes my heart go pitter pat. If I want to wait to fall 2011 there are more options, but I don't want to wait. The Tall Texan 70.3 in Boerne is too soon (March) and way too hilly for me.

So...looks like I am gearing up for an April 2011 70.3 in Galveston. Ihe the meantime, I am burning my copy of Open Water, and throwing salt tablets into my bathwater to simulate race day. This race I can do. Fear nothing!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Go Long

Sooner or later, every endurance athlete has to face the reality show of going long. No matter how fit or fast you are, you are going to have to strap on your running or biking shoes or your goggles and go for a long, long run, bike or swim. Even if you are prepared to go no further in your athletic career than 5ks or sprint tris, you gotta go the distance sooner or later of at least 3 miles on the hoof.

And once you decide to race past that distance, you are peering into the canyon of spending a lot of quality time out on the road, or in the pool. You might as well get over it now and load a lot of interesting songs on the iPod.

Science is changing daily with regard to the One Best Way To Work Out for endurance events. Used to be, you trod out the long, long miles of bike or run or swim, building up weekly (with a back off week stuck in there every 3-5 weeks) to your maximum mileage, trudging slowly but surely to that distant goal, and then during the week you also threw in a shorter and faster thingie to help your body remember that it's not totally all about slow twitching. Lately, science has cleared its throat a bit and mentioned that maybe a lot of shorter, faster, more focused workouts do almost as much good as the long slow slog. However, no one in their right mind or focus would try to run a marathon after having only run 10 miles at any one time, or do a century bike ride after only posted a 20 mile bike one Sunday afternoon. No matter how much science changes, the truth is you have to go long to well, go long.

There is also a lot of debate over how long you really should go. A great many marathon training programs take you only up to 18-20 miles and assume that on race day, your body will just deal with that extra 10K on its own. For me, when I intend to train for a full marathon (late next year), I want to train for the entire 26 first. No way am I gonna go to a 26 mile race having only trod 20 miles and then have my body tell me at mile 24 that this is not what it was expecting, thankyouverymuch.

Last weekend I ran 8 miles. This isn't a long way by any shot, and I've done a lot longer, but it's been a while. I have been concentrating on sprints and my Oly race, and the last time I shuffled out 8 miles was on Thanksgiving Day 2009, almost a year ago, during the Dallas Turkey Trot. My half marathon (originally planned for December, but because they moved the race day up two weeks, now scheduled for Jan 29) is coming up and I need to start, well, logging those miles with my feetsies.

Last weekend was hot, humid, and very windy. It was a perfect day to run if you were gonna spank out 3 miles early in the day before the heat and humidity took a toll. Unfortunately, for various reasons, I was not able to start my run until about 10:45 a.m. on Sunday. Normally, on Oct 24 this would not be an issue. This year, with the temp scheduled to hit 89 degrees, it was going to be a toasty run. For those of you in North Dakota this week, I'm sorry for you, but right now, not all that much.

For any run over five miles, I carry a fuel belt. Mine is the mini belt with a pouch; I have trouble with the multiple dangling bottle belts--tried them and they drive me nuts banging around like a set of castanets around my waist. I have a small Dannon water bottle (the smallest they sell) that I have crumpled in the middle that fits nicely inside the pouch, along with my cell phone and a gel, and if necessary, my car key. On runs over 7 miles I carry a gel with me. Normally I don't need one if I have fueled up properly beforehand until I hit about a 10 mile run, but you want to be prepared. Heat and humidity and high wind can make a run feel longer than, well, a long run.

I started out slow, with my usual contingent of nerdo gear--heart rate monitor watch, Garmin GPS watch, iPod in ears, loaded fuel belt, sunglasses, with a base layer of sunscreen. I was aiming for around a 12 to 12:30 minute mile. The training rules all say you should run your long endurance run about 1 to 2 minutes slower than your planned race pace. Truthfully, I can't figure out how that works, because you would think your body would adjust to running 12 minute miles and not 11 minute miles, but apparently added with shorter and faster interval workouts during the week, this is the ideal plan. Or it was the ideal plan, as science is now starting to rethink this, but not completely enough to change the routine...yet.

In addition, you are supposed to add more time to your long run if it's hot, humid, windy, hilly, or a full moon (okay, I made the last one up).

I did okay the first six miles. It was pretty hot and humid, and I drank up my bottle of Gatorade diluted with vitamin water by six miles, but there is a park water fountain right at six miles on my out my front door route, so I refilled and kept slogging. I was running pretty much on a 12 min mile schedule so I felt okay, but at 6.5 miles I hit the bonk pretty hard. The middle third of my long route is pretty hilly and as I was slogging uphill into the 20 mph wind and midday sun, I was not having much fun. No, not much fun at all. And running is my favorite of the three triathlon sports.

I had been taking walk breaks of 3 minutes every 12 minutes, but from 6.5 to 8 miles I went to taking 2 minutes every 8 minutes and the last half mile I took 1 minute breaks every four minutes (science, which I am tired of talking about like a person, swears the best and most efficient walk run program is 4 minutes run/1 minute walk, but I have tried that and it just wears me out immediately. One minute is NOT enough time for me to catch my breath, drink water, rezip my pouch, and convince my legs that they are not going to fall off ).

I finished the run about a mile from home, having stupidly calculated my distance out incorrectly, so I had a long walk to cool down and recover, and then I fell right into our swimming pool when I got home (I did take off my shoes and socks). It was a bit chilly, but icing is good for you post workout, and I was pretty sweaty and hot. If you had told me that I would be immersed in my pool on October 24, I would have said you were nuts. Then again, if you had told me my Rangers would be playing in the World Series tonight, I would have also said you were nuts. It's been a strange fall. I averaged a 12:30 min mile, having lost lots of time, as well as sweat, on the last 1.5 miles of the run.

I have a 9 mile run coming up this weekend, but the weather is fortunately supposed to be a bit more tolerable, so hopefully it won't be as much of a grind. In the meantime, I'm recharging my iPod and my Garmin and getting ready.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Larks and owls

I read a lot about larks and owls in regard to training. This is not the National Audubon Society's Guide to Birds, but those of us that have to/like to train in the mornings versus those of us who have to/like to train later in the day.

If you are a professional triathlete, you get to train whenever you want to, so this doesn't apply to you, not that you would be reading this blog anyway.

For the rest of us mere mortals, with jobs and kids and soccer games and grocery store runs, we have to find time in our days when working out for longer than three minutes at a time is viable.

I'm a owl through and throughout. Although my mother swore I was born at 7:25 in the morning, I can tell you that was the last time I got up that early voluntarily. I love to stay up late, especially to read, and love to sleep in until about 8 or so, (as if I have ever gotten the chance to do that in the last 20 years, but still, the desire remains).

I like working out after my workday is done and pre dinner. Unfortunately, as a lawyer, sometimes my workdays can go on and on (and sometimes end up as work nights or even work early mornings, but not as much as they used to, thanks to our economy). I don't mind heading out for a run or a swim at 8:30 p.m. so long as I have a little snackie beforehand, but it doesn't work well with family dinnertime or spousal sharing time. If the Patient Spouse is out of town, I will often find myself at the gym swimming until 8:30 or so, which in my mind is great, because no one else is there. Then I'll have a quick dinner around 9:30 and hit the sack by 11 p.m. and start the next day at 7 for a perfect schedule (I noticed since I started working out so hard that my "owl" tends to shut completely down by 11 p.m.).

When Patient Spouse is in town, I try to schedule workouts earlier so I am at least home for dinner by 8 p.m. (doesn't always work, but I do try). In extreme circumstances, I will drag my lazy backside out of bed early and go for a run or swim in the pre dawn darkness (I do not like biking in the mornings since rush hour traffic is too horrific to consider, and our local bike trails are about a 45 minute drive away on a good day). This morning I grudgingly stumbled out of a warm bed and onto the dark streets at 6:20 a.m. for a 3 mile run since I was planning to do a 2 a day and swim tonight because I could not swim yesterday as I had client dinner (however, I totally forgot that Tuesday nights are Ladies Who Do Water Aerobics at my gym, so my 2 day has to turn into tomorrow's 2 a day).

I have read, time and again, that workouts are less efficient in the mornings. Your body has apparently not had time to get to its optimum temperature for optimum performance until afternoon or evening, plus the most beneficial time to fuel up for a hard workout is about 4 hours prior to pulling the exercise trigger. This is a great excuse to slam down the alarm button. We work out most efficiently later in the day. Go back to sleep.

However, with some exceptions for crazy races in hot weather in the middle of deserts, most events start early in the mornings. If you train all the time later in the day, your body is gonna be in for one heckuva wake up call on race day. It's important to train, at least sometimes, in conditions that will mimic race day conditions.

Everyone's different, and you will have to experiment with nutrition, hydration and time to get mentally alert for a workout no matter what time of day you choose. Early in the mornings, I eat a very small breakfast before my run or swim--usually a protein bar--since I am borderline low blood sugar and simply can't go to town on an empty tank. After the workout I have something a bit more substantial, but I will tell you this: no matter the length or the duration of the workout, if I work out in the mornings, I am literally starving to death. I will eat a snack before lunch and then be ravenous for lunch. I feel good, but I'm acutely hungry.

If I am working out later in the evening, I will eat a short snack like a protein bar or a half bagel about an hour pre workout, and then afterwards will have dinner. If dinner is too far away from the workout (more than 30 minutes) I will have a banana. You really need to eat some carbs within 30 minutes of a hard workout.

Someday, I'd like to turn into a lark. In the meantime, I do the best that I can. Tomorrow morning is an early swim for me....oh joy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind

Notwithstanding Chicago's claim to being the Windy City (I have read on the Internet, so it must be true, that the windiest city in the US is actually Dodge City, Kansas, where no one really wants to be anyway), the wind she do blow a lot here in Texas.

And I hate it when it does.

Despite the obvious need for wind for sailing, wind farms, confusing cross pollination and other nice things like cooling you off on a hot day, wind freaks me out more when I am biking or running than hills, heat, distance, or badly cooked brussel sprouts. Nothing makes me frown like watching my 50 story building sway with the breeze (I know they are built to do that. I know planes are built to go up in the air. Neither thought comforts me).

Sunday the Patient Spouse and I did a 2 hour bike ride through northeast suburbia, which include being sandblasted by a 30 mph headwind on the out portion. At times, on the flat, I was pedaling like a mad thing and my speedometer showed 11 mph for my intense efforts. Yes, the way home was easier, but by that time I was windburned, wind-tossed, and simply (pardon the obvious pun) winded.

Last night I ran 7 miles at White Rock trail in preparation for ramping up to a half marathon this December. It was windy (a north wind this time, the opposite of the bike ride, in Texas the wind is predominatly south unless it's not) and although I choose the trail rather than the lake because I hoped the trees would block some of the blast, they apparently simply created nice wind tunnels for me to barrel into.

Now, I always try to run with the wind in my face for the first part of the run so I'm not as breathless during the second half when I'm tired anyway. This is a great theory but doesn't always work, especially if I start my run from my front door, because there is simply no running south from my front door unless I want to end up in the ER trying to cross a busy road with no lights. So this only works when there is a north wind at my place, which isn't too often. If I drive to run trails, though, I try to note the wind direction and pick my starting place accordingly. Yes, I know that in a real race or event I won't have that luxury. I ran the White Rock half marathon 2 years ago and I swear the entire race was into the wind; I am certain that is not possible based on stuff I learend in my physics class in high school, but I am convinced the tetonic plates shifted that day and that is exactly what happened.

But I am still not going to voluntarily start a run with the wind at my back if I can avoid it.

When running into the wind, especially a stout wind, I try to lower my head and profile slightly (as if I were running uphill, because that is what it fees like) and slow my pace down. I remind myself I will more than likely make up for lost time on the downwind stretch. I take shorter steps, and I hydrate more often, because the wind dries my mouth out fast.

When I bike into a stiff breeze, I am down on the aerobars as much as I dare, although in a really, really high crosswind, especially going down a steep hill with speed, I get nervous about the bike being yanked right out from under me, which has happened to me once. I keep the chainring in one easier gear than I think I should because otherwise, I use up a lot of excess energy just pedaling too hard into the windshear. I tell myself, again, that it will be just so much fun turning around and having that hurricane at my back (this doesn't work, of course, if my first leg was downwind. Then I just tell myself this will all be over soon). Again, I find I need to hydrate slightly more often, especially on a hot day. The combo of wind and heat can take you out quickly if you aren't careful.

I try to conserve my energy for the second half of the workout (a negative split, which is always a good idea) because (a) if I am turning downwind, I am going to be able to spank it and I want the gas to do so, or (b) if I am turning into the wind, I'm going to need that energy to grit my way though the blast.

Last night when I finally turned out of the wind, I was tired from the beating I had been taking, but the ease in running downwind made up for it after a while.

Here's hoping for some calmer days ahead....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Training Wid a Cod

I left town on the 25th for Colorado (to attend the Golden Retriever Club National Speciality if you simply must know) with high hopes of cooler weather, crisp air, and training in the glorious foothills around Loveland and Greeley. Several friends and I had rented a house on the outskirts of Loveland not 20 miles from Estes Park.

I eagerly loaded up my bike on the back of the Pilot, all my bike and running gear (alas, had to leave the swim togs behind), and planned my schedule to include at least 3 bike rides and 3 runs during the days I was Away From Hot Texas. I did remember to load up my 2 dogs as well!

We drove on Saturday to Raton NM and I got up at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and went for a short 3 mile run to start altitude acclimation. Lovely morning, crisp, cool, clear, and without a trace of oxygen to breathe, but I managed to stagger through the 3 miles in a pretty decent clip with only one short walk break to try and find my lungs (which seemed to have exited through the soles of my feet). It wasn't a terribly photogenic run--we had stayed at a motel on the side of the main highway, so my run consisted mostly of a Denny's parking lot into a trailer park neighborhood, but there WERE hills out there in front of me. I felt great.

A caravan of us left the hotel around 8 a.m. and I noticed I was starting to get a sore throat. I was trying to convince myself it was the dry air, but the Patient Spouse had brought home (from one of his many airplane exposures) a nasty cold the previous week and I had been congratulating myself that I had managed to avoid it (we discussed wrapping him in saran wrap and stashing him in the freezer, but we didn't go quite that far--and probably should have, in retrospect). By the time we stopped for lunch in Pueblo, I knew that I was going to get it, and get it hard.

By Monday I was feverish, coughing, sneezing, clogged up and simply miserable. In addition, the weather in Colorado was experiencing a record high temperature--low to mid 90's. The awful cold virus, the altitude and the heat all combined to make me feel like a contestant on "Survivor: Loveland."

I skipped my planned Monday run and Tuesday bike. I kept trying to feel better. Normally, I will work out with a cold as soon as it leaves my throat area and hits the nose, but this one was not in a hurry to pack its bags. By the time it moved into my nose and chest, on Wednesday, I started a horrible, hacking cough that left me completely and totally breathless. The bike that I had so carefully loaded and locked onto the back of the Pilot was looking very sad, as well as very dusty from the trip (which included a rainstorm, a duststorm, and a windstorm--gottta love west Texas).

Finally I could stand it no longer. Although I was still wheezing and hacking, by Friday I felt a bit less woozy, so I cleaned up the bike and went for a 23 mile ride on a well groomed bike/walking trail that ran right behind the dog show site in Greeley (Island Grove Park). I didn't have to show that day until around 11:30, so I headed out on the trail (I had asked some fellow bikers the day before where I should ride in Greeley). It was a beautifully maintained trail, and not heavily populated (this was a Friday after all), but the scenery, again, left something to be desired. The trail allegedly followed the Poudre river, and it tried hard to do that, and if you kept looking to the right you could see the riverbed and trees, but to the left was Greeley Industrial behind a prison-like high fence for about 8 miles. Then, after crossing a couple of busy highways and portaging over a rough railroad track, the path turned through a historic dairy farm where you had to dodge a lot of cow paddies, not something I was terribly used to. Finally, the trail wound through some new development subdivisions with lots of signs of LOTS FOR SALE. It was fairly flat, although it had some minor ups and downs, and it had lots of twists and turns to it. And face it, it was 68 degrees and sunny with little wind, and the concrete was smooth, so big deal on the scenery.

I stopped halfway to cough, wheeze and blow my ever-filled nose, and then headed back through the development, cow pats and WW II fencing, being scolded by about 15 prairie dogs on my way.

The next day, I forced myself to get up at 6 a.m. again and go for another 3 mile run. This one was from the Loveland house and had some up and down hills (nothing terribly steep, but definitely Not Texas). I was still not 100 percent well so I went easy and took a walk break halfway to catch my still-not-there breath. That afternoon a friend and I went for a 5 mile hike in Homestead Meadows with the dogs, and I packed and loaded up that night, so by the time I hit the sack I was one tired pup.

Back home again with the bike on Sunday and Monday--a 1400 mile trip and only one 23 mile bike to show for it. The bike was so dusty and dirty that I took it into the local shop to have it professionally cleaned. And I am just now getting over the cough.

I know a lot of people work out with colds, but I can't do it the first 2-3 days that it settles into my chest. After it moves to my nose, I can usually stagger through some shorter and easier workouts. If I have a fever, I'm not even going to try. I'm dedicated and determined, but when I feel like uck, I simply have no energy to do anything but whine and suffer.

Fortunately, I'm pretty healthy and usually only get 1-2 colds a year (and usually from Patient Spouse, who unfortunately is given ample opportunity to get one because he flies so much). I hardly ever get the flu, a virus, or anything of that nature. So except for about twice a year, I'm usually good to go. I have read--and I believe--that working out regularly helps stave off infections by keeping your immune system healthy.

So I'm back at it now, trying to make up for a bit of lost time. Next event is a half marathon in December!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Learning to Share

It's with a mix of sadness, horror and deja vu that I've read about the young jogger killed on the Katy Trail after being hit by a biker. Lots of fingers were pointed in all directions--the biker was riding fast, the jogger had on headphones and turned right into the biker's path with no warning, etc. etc. etc., and she happened to fall and hit her head just the wrong way.

But it's not a finger pointing thing. We have a young woman killed in her prime and a biker who will never ever forget what he or she was involved in. There for the grace of God go one of us. No matter who was at fault, or even if no one was at fault, the issue remains that it's so very difficult to share the limited pathways and trails with bikers, joggers, baby strollers, dog walkers, skaters and meandering toddlers. It's just tough and we all know it.

I got home Monday night from 10 days in Loveland and Greeley Colorado. Both towns had bike paths clearly designated along major streets and highways. This IS Colorado, land of nature, but I know there are similar designated paths in other states across the country. Unfortunately, Texas has very few, if any. Bikers must either choose to ride on heavily populated trails and pathways, dodging pedestrians that have equal right to enjoy the trails, or must ride on the streets and take the risk of being killed that way--a female triathlete was killed not two months ago on her bike when she accidentally veered a little bit onto the highway and a car struck her. In our state, there is just no safe place to be a bike rider.

Most of us chose to ride the roadways and take the risk of being car-pummuled, although I will admit that I ride White Rock Lake trial and some of the shared paths on White Rock Lake. It's always a terrifying experience either way for me. On the paths, walkers and hikers and moms trying to herd 3 small children are always wandering around the path and as a biker, you have to guess where they are going to avoid collison. One day I nearly hit a runner who stopped suddenly in front of me and decided to walk across my path without looking behind her. We could have both been killed. I screamed like a banshee and she jumped out of my way at the last second; there was no way I could stop and I was only riding about 14 mph, not nearly as fast as the elite 19-25 mph bikers who zoom the lake.

All we can do is practice safety and defensive riding/running at all times. I expect a small child or a dog to jump into my path; I expect runners to stop and turn to walk in front of me; I expect a skater to fall down next to my front tire. Every time I pass anyone or anything, I slow down and go on high alert. Yes, it wreaks havoc with my time and heart rate and cadence and interval push, but ya know, we all gotta be careful out there. I save my fast pace for the weekends when I feel less timid about hitting the streets rather than during rush hour traffic when I know each driver is eating, texting, drinking and changing the radio while they are approaching me. I never pass another biker or runner or walker without looking over my shoulder first to see what is behind me. I always shout "on your left" when I pass someone. I never, ever wear headphones on the bike.

When I am running on a shared path, I stay far, far to the right unless it's an actual road with cars, then I swith to the far, far left and run facing the traffic. I do not veer into the road or even go around slower people UNTIL I have checked over my shoulder (like when driving in a car) to see what's coming--because something probably will be coming and it's easier for me to wait than a fast biker to have to stop. I wear headphones, but at a very very low volume.

I don't think the solution is to impose speed limits on runners/bikers/skaters. How do you enforce those? I think the solution is for all of us to be aware of each other and to ride/run defensively. ALWAYS assume the other person is going to do something sudden and scary and be prepared to react. Do not assume a parent is going to be able to corral a dashing toddler; that's not any more fair than their assumption that you can stop quickly on your 25 mph bike dash.

I don't ride my bike on the Katy Trail because it's too crowded. I'm not wild about the other shared paths in Dallas either for the same reason. But sometimes we have no choice but to deal with it. We athletes do not have a mandate that the pathways are ours alone. Everyone has the right to enjoy the areas set forth for walking and jogging and biking and just meandering around counting the clouds. Do not get into a huff or snit about having to go slow around the pokes. Get over yourself and be careful, fair and patient.

And be safe. Please, please be safe.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

From sea to shining sea

It's getting later in the year and it's time for me to buck it up and do one more open water swim before the water turns to, well, semi chilled (this IS Texas). Sometime in October I've got to wrestle into the wetsuit and go paddle around the lake to prove to myself that fresh lake water is NOT scary.

What is it about open water swims that freaks us all out (okay, most of us)? I mean, I grew up swimming in either the Gulf of Mexico or the bays behind my house in Baytown. The community pool was fun, sure, but you couldn't sail or water ski or have dock diving competitions (for people, not dogs, although my friend Keith's black lab was constantly jumping off with us). I spent literally thousands of hours in the open water, and never had one minute of worry or problem. I experienced a jellyfish sting or two (uncomfortable but not a major deal), and hundreds of encounters with slimey undergrowth, fish, shells, rocks, sticks and nasty dirty dark water.

So why is it when I suit up for an open water swim that my heart races, my mouth goes dry, and I pray to the Water Gods that I just make it through so I can screw up the race on my bike? Even the little short pool swims that I do for some sprint tris get me more nervous than any other element in the race.

And I do know how to swim. I swim pretty well--okay, I swim pretty SLOW, but I am not going to drown, not even if three thousand Macedonians in full battle gear jump on top of me. I'm more likely to lay down the bike or to trip during the run than I am to go to Davy Jone's locker (or even his attic) during a swim.

Of course, most of it's mental. We know, in the deepest recesses of our minds, that we can swim 400-1500-2100-3000 yards out in the bounding blue. We know we won't drown, or get eaten by a shark, or attacked by piranha. We know we won't choke on water and sink (just trying sinking in a wetsuit, it's next to impossible), and if we get a bad cramp or become exhausted, a resuce kayak is right there for us, and we can float nicely on our backs while waiting for one. WE KNOW.

Still, we manage to go into panic mode on the open water swim. I'm sure seasoned and hardened triathletes with hundreds of races under their fuel belts get the same flutterbies as we novices do, peering out at that impossibly far first buoy on the horizon. They just are too smart to say so.

So, I have come up with some things that have helped me quiet the open water dragons in my head.

1. Practice swimming in open water. D-oh. Of course, the more you do it, the less weird it's going to feel. It's not convenient, because you have to have a buddy along, and you need to wear your wetsuit (if you are going to race in one) and putting THAT on takes a herculean effort, and you have to get in the car and drive to a lake or ocean that has a reasonable place for people to get in and out of, and you are subject to the weather and wind and speedboats full of people drinking. I know all about those things. Do it anyway.

2. Realize your wetsuit is going to feel tight and learn to live with it. Of course, tight doesn't mean literally choking you to death, but it's going to feel quite snug under your arms, on your chest, and around your neck. You will initially think you can't breathe or move in the thing. You will be wrong, so you need to get used to it. The suit will loosen up slightly once you get in the water. If it's too loose, though, it will cause drag and keep you from being warm, which is the opposite purpose of a wetsuit. Don't put on your wetsuit for the first time the morning of your race!

3. Learn to sight and practice it often. Start in the pool. The best way IMO is to "Tarzan swim" for a few strokes--poke your head 2/3 of the way out of the water (I keep my mouth underneath it, because if I lift up further than that I start to flail, but my eyes and nose are dry) and keep on stroking, turning and breathing but use the time when your eyes are face forward to see where you are. I do a four to six stroke Tarzan after about every 10-12 strokes. The more you practice this, the more natural it will feel. I found out that switching to a breast stroke or a dog paddle in order to sight is a huge energy and time waster.

4. Break the swim into segments. Swim from buoy to buoy. I look at a swim map and mark out the approximate distances to each buoy. Surely you can swim 400 yards to the first buoy. After that, let each segment take care of itself. This isn't as easy with an out and back as it is with a three legged course, but it will still work.

5. Do NOT look behind you, or at the shore for any reason until you are headed back to it. No reason to freak your little mind out about how far away you are from terra firma. Focus on the next buoy and nothing else.

6. Start slow and behind, but not TOO far behind. It's good advice to let the fast pack start ahead of you, but don't dawdle on the shore forever because then you will never, ever catch up and you will feel very alone out there. There is comfort in numbers, even though they may be trying to kick you in the head. Start to one side and count to three when the gun goes off and then start swimming. You will let the wild fast people get out there past you, but still feel like you are not the last of the Mohicans.

7. Learn to protect your space. Even if you start out at the end, chances are you may end up with a group washing machine anyway, especially if you are not in the last wave to start. I learned quickly to be prepared to kick and flail my arms in a crowd and I swear, people stay away when you do that. Maybe you create enough bubbles for them to steer away from. You gotta get a bit territorial in your head to make this work. Don't let anyone bully you by running into you. I landed a good kick to the upper arm of a young man who didn't think he needed to watch where he was going. He immediately gave me a wide berth. Meow!

8. HAVE FUN. Channel that inner child during the swim. Sing, hum, blow bubbles, enjoy the feeling of moving easily through soft water. The rest of the race is going to be a lot of pounding. Here you can enjoy a bit of relaxation!

Get out there before the weather changes--and be a fish!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Well, the earth still turns on its axis (despite the Cowboys' loss to the Redskins) so that means the days are getting shorter, even here in steamy Texas where the temps are still in the mid 90's and the ACs are still in full blast (September is such a teaser month for us).

This also means daylight savings time, a boon for us worker bee worker outters, is getting ready to come to an end. And thus will end weekday training outside in the light, except for some early morning quickies (short runs mostly).

Of course, most swimming is done inside, so that's not going to be affected other than I don't like looking up at the skylights in the gym pool and seeing black...but that's my own SAD issue.

Spin class, treadmills, indoor tracks, indoor bikes, computrainers---gag. But at least I promise myself I won't be wheezing in the 104 heat index.

Since I simply hate working out inside, sometimes I choose to run in the dark. It's not the safest thing you can choose to do (it falls somewhere between eating raw eggs and accidentally using the "reply to all" button on a sensitive e mail). If you have a choice, run in the light. But if you don't, and you follow some careful tips and plans, you may find running in the dark to be an amazing, uplifting experience.

First of all, if you have sidewalks and they are in reasonable shape, use them. You must check out these sidewalks in advance to ensure there are no potholes, cracks, or step ups or downs that you aren't ready for. Even with a full checkout, people sometimes park strange things on sidewalks--toys, cars, hoses, Grandma--so you have to be diligent on your run and be ready for a quick stop or sideways leap out of the way. But at least most moving vehicles won't be sharing them with you (there are exceptions. I realize that. I myself in my younger and wilder days have been known to put a couple of wheels on the sidewalk).

And if you have streetlights nearby, of course, run there. Nothing like a lighted path to help you with unseen obstacles and safety. If you have a lighted track at a local high school or college, even better, although IMO track workouts are no more fun than a treadmill.

I live where there are no sidewalks or streetlights (yes, I have a flush toilet, thanksverymuch). No schools nearby allow strangers on their tracks. The local nature preserve is too dark and scary for me to run there alone (I would do it with someone else though). So I hit the local streets in the dark, and I go out there well prepared to be seen, and to see.

First, I have a reflective vest. They are PIAs to wear, as they do flop a bit, but they really do make you A1 visible to any light that shines on you. Second, I wear a flashing light on a hat--this is an easy thing, as I just fasten my bike light on my hat and turn it on. Third, I carry a small flashlight. Fourth, I wear white shorts and a white hat. I look like one of the Village People at a garage sale.

Then I go on the defensive. Every car IMO is filled with a 21 year old who is texting while drinking Diet Coke and trying to change the radio station. I never, ever presume they see me even though I am flashing and reflecting like a Vegas sign. I run facing the traffic (left side of the road) and when a car is coming, I immediately track into the ditch area (carefully) and keep a sharp eye out to make sure they don't do the same. I'm fortunate to live in a less populated neighborhood so the cars are few and far between.

I also worry, as a female, a bit about safety, even in my 'hood. Therefore my night runs are usually done before 9 p.m. (don't ask me why I think that is safer, other than my mother always told me nothing good happens after 10 p.m.). If I feel uncomfortable, I can carry pepper spray. And I always, always carry my cell phone in a lightweight fuel belt on night runs (or any run over 4 miles). I realize throwing my cell phone at a would be rapist is not the best idea I've ever had, but I also know that I can probably outsprint half the male population, and if I get a head start I can outlast about 60 percent of them at a distance race. You had better be ready to catch me first, that is all I'm sayin'.

The flashlight I carry is primarily to light my way and shine on things I don't want to trip over, like branches, bottles, car parts and snakes.

With rare expection, my night runs are always special. Some have been magical--with a full moon rising over the trees or blazing pinprick stars lighting my path. You can't see your heart rate monitor or your GPS so you have to simply run. Sometimes, that is the best kind of training you can do.

Be careful out there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Bad Do You Want It?

This coulda been subtitled "And sometimes you have to vomit." But that is not a great headline for a Tuesday.

When I was a wee sprout back in a small town Texas high school (1971-1975), girls who wanted to do anything athletic had two choices: you could play on the tennis team or you could join the swim team. Otherwise, Friday night lights ruled the universe, with boys' basketball, track and baseball filling the gaps in between.

In order to be on the tennis team, you had to know how to play tennis well. I didn't.

In order to be on the swim team, you had to agree to wear an embarrasingly thin red and white striped thing and not drown too noisily during practice. You really didn't even have to know how to swim well, at least to be on the JV team. Swim team practice consisted of a bunch of drills written on a blackboard that we all were supposed to complete, but there was no one available who taught us the rudiments of how to swim, stroke, breathe, kick--you either already knew it or you faked it, and our coach spent her entire time with the 4-5 ringers on the varsity. I'm not sure I ever even saw her except at meets.

Still, I joined for two years and faked it, never managing to get past the JV freestyle relay team, as my swimming skills were mostly self and friend taught. After two years I quit, tired of seeing my hair turn green for no real reason. Since I was in the marching band, I was exempt from PE anyway.

Fortunately for me, I was an active teenager, doing a lot of water skiing, walking, biking, swimming (for fun), and sailing. I watched very little TV and of course, the first video game (Pong) was about 2 years away. Otherwise I would have been the size of a small mountain because I was a rabid junk foodie with a serious love crush on Ding Dongs, snowballs and Nehi Grape Soda.

So, what I am getting at here (finally) is that I never had the opportunity to learn how to train or compete at any level when I was young--no youth soccer or softball leagues, no volleyball summer teams, and no one had ever heard of lacrosse. Boys had summer leagues and teams, but us girls were supposed to either try out for cheerleader (I was not cute enough) or lie in the sun by the pool. I had no one to tell me to rub it out, buck it up, push harder, or do just one more.

My first foray into personal competition (I had competed at dog shows and field trials since 1985, but that is not personal, although a lot of people unfortunately feel otherwise) was in 2006, when I trained for and ran my very first 5K event. Up until then, any working out was sporadic, accidental and without form or function. I wasn't overweight at the time--in fact I was borderline thin, which ain't the case any more--but my law firm had a discount at a local gym and on a whim I joined. Once I paid money, I got a bit determined. I started going 2-4 days a week and even took a six week coaching clinic on how to use the weights. Then I found the upstair indoor track and tried a little running (on shoes that were 3 years old and were probably Target specials). One quarter mile and I was completely and fully exhausted, but I decided it was fun, kinda.

The rest, as they say, is all boring history. However, remember, I had no experience in training for ANYTHING.

What I had, and apparently still have, is a lot of dumb determination. And when the question How Bad Do You Want It arises, well, my answer is generally, pretty bad.

Dumb determination is what keeps people like me up at 2 a.m. swearing at the stubborn screw on the back door that won't turn like it's supposed to, rather than giving up, going to bed, and calling a contractor the next day. It's what makes me finish a stupid idiotic trip to the grocery store at 9 p.m. when I could just as easily go the next day, because I said I would get it done that night, dadgummit. I didn't say dumb determination was always a good trait.

Last night, I started on swim drills after a week off. One of the drills was 6 X 50s at about 90 percent effort (I have a hard time figuring the difference between 90 and 100 percent, but I guessed that 100 percent would have my eyes falling out). After number 5 (I get 30 seconds of rest in between) I collapsed against the side of the pool, seriously wondering if I was going to toss cookies into the pristine water.

Now, no one was standing over me with a whip or a watch. In fact, no one was there at all other than an older dude wearing a face mask and snorkel in the next lane. I could have turned those 6 50s into 5 and there would not have been a sword that came down and sliced off my toes.

But, dadgummit, I was determined to do this. I want to get faster and better. I want to do this 70.3 in May without quitting. So I heaved off the wall and did number six (no, I didn't vomit. In fact, I haven't vomited yet in training or racing, although I have come close a few times).

When you train alone, as I do, you have to have some of that dumb determination to get through the hard parts. Otherwise, it's way too easy to listen to that voice that says STOP NOW THIS ISN'T FUN ANYMORE. It's way too simple to run 50 minutes instead of 60, or bike 20 miles instead of 28. After all, who's to know? Who's to care?

The answer is: you do. If you want it bad enough, you won't short yourself (there are exceptions, what I call the Bad Days, when you are permitted to call it quits, but those should be very few and far between, maybe two or three a year). You'll gut it out. You'll make it happen, even if it makes you feel like yurking on your shoes. And after it's over, you will feel a lot of pride in your accomplishments.

So for those of us that missed the youthful athletic boat and the joy of hearing an overweight coach yell at us to run one more lap, it's not too late to get on board. How bad do you want it?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Downtime for any amateur athlete is critical. Essential. Required. And oh, so very difficult.

This is not the same as "rest days"--those one to two days a week you take off and do NO working out so your body can rest, recover, and benefit from the previous poundings. No, this is DOWNTIME--a week or more of doing nothing workout-y at all.

Downtime happens for various reasons. If you get injured, obviously, you will need time to recover from the injury, and the time taken depends on the seriousness and nature of the injury. Many of us choose to blindly "fight through" minor injuries as if they will simply heal themselves if we pound them hard enough. It's a foolish theory, but I've subscribed to it myself at times. If you are sick (with the flu or a bad virus), you should take time off until you feel human again, especially if you have a bronchial issue or fever. Sometimes family or work or travel forces you to take downtime, whether you want it or not. (This can often lead to contorted facial expressions and bad attitudes, by the way, so you can explain to your family why you have to get up and go for a run before you can enter the hallowed gates of Disneyworld).

I chose to take this entire week off as downtime after my Labor Day sprint tri. No working out. No running, no biking, no swimming, no weights, no yoga (I would permit myself to walk the dogs around the block, if it hadn't been raining 10 inches in the last 3 days). The reason for the voluntary downtime is trifold: (a) I want all my aches and pains that I have ignored (see the "blindly fight through" idea above), such as my hamstring, to completely heal and be ready for the next big push (b) I have a lot going on this week anyway, and I need some extra time, and besides, it's raining and muggy as all get out, and (c) most importantly--I want to mentally decompress and get fresh for my next training onslaught--which will entail getting ready for a half marathon in December AND a 70.3 in May--that is going to involve serious and dedicated training. I want to be ready for it every single way.

Working out definitely keeps me sane, but sometimes even I get tired of the whole process--my personal Haiku poem goes like this:

"Friday is a swim
Saturday is a long run
Sunday is a brick."

After a while, after week after week of swim-bike-run-weights-yoga, even my mind starts to get annoyed with the routine and I just want to go home after work and watch Ice Truckers. So by taking a full week off of doing anything of this nature, I want to start up again next week ready and eager to hit the pavement or pool without any whining. One week off is not going to make any real difference in my conditioning or training levels (I've read that after 2 weeks off, you will see deterioration, but I suspect that time frame is going to vary by individual).

And it's not been easy! I had no issues on Tuesday, but yesterday, my mind started to say "how about a nice easy run? 3 miles, no more?" This morning I actually looked hard at my running shorts and shoes before shaking my head NO and going on with my routine. I promised myself a full week, and a full week it will be. When your mind and body are conditioned to push their limits 5-6 days a week, taking a full week off really does make you antsy. I suspect by Sunday I will be in that unique state of mind where your spouse simply demands you go run or else.

So I'm taking a Time Out from working out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Race Done!

Well, we finished the first tri of the season yesterday--a sprint-and the weather wasn't too brutal, between 87-92 degrees but there was a 20 mph stiff headwind blowing that really knocked some speed off the bike ride. I managed to shave 10 minutes off my 2009 time in this same race so I was very pleased. I really didn't have the swim I wanted or expected, but I did very well on the 15 mile bike and smoked the run (for me, anyway).

Finished in 1:45 and was 4th in my age group (7 minutes out of the podium--watch out for me next year) and 265 out of 500 overall, which isn't too shabby for unathletic me. The Patient Spouse managed to finish a minute faster than last year at 1:43 and the winds knocked his bike time down seriously. It also is making him think about a new bike. He is salivating over mine, which is fortunately too short for him.

We started the day at 6:15 a.m. (this was a late start sprint as they have a kid's tri at 7 a.m.--the adult sprint doesn't start until 8:45 a.m.) I woke up without the alarm after a partially restless night's sleep (always visualizing all the things I think I forgot or will forget). We dressed, fed the dogs, and I ate my pre race breakfast of a full bagel with peanut butter and some water and about a quarter cup of Diet Dr Pepper (certain tests show caffiene improves performance. I don't want to drink so much that I dehydrate myself, but just enough for a boost). We grabbed our backpacks and hydration and got in the car and drove the five minutes to the race site and arrived at 7:30 a.m.

After pumping the tires and checking the gear, we greeted some friends who had elected to do this tri as their first one after hearing about it from us. Jim's friend Doug thanked him profusely for introducing him to the sport, his whole family got invovled and Doug lost 40 pounds training! Jim said that if nothing else good happened in our race, he was happy that he put Doug in touch with the sport and that it led to such good things. Turns out that Doug beat both of us with a time of 1:38 in the Clydesdale division! His son Scott finished with 1:47 and his wife, a first timer as well, who has arthritis and can't run, finished in 2:10 with a 15 minute per mile fast walk pace on the run portion--that speed is a VERY fast walk! We are very proud of all of them and they deserve recognition for their first time doing so very well.

Nothing went wrong or badly in this race other than my swim time of 9 minutes which for 300 meters was not what I had been posting lately in practice (I'm swimming about a 2:40 100 yard at a fairly relaxed pace; around a 2:30 at a moderate pace). I have tried to figure out why I had such a slow swim time, because I thought I was swimming well, but there are maybe three factors that led to that: (a) the start--I didn't want to jump in as I was afraid of dislodging my goggles (last year's mistake) so when the timer said "GO" I sat on the pool edged and eased in, and then pushed off--probably lost 10-20 seconds here (b) the finish--I actually overshot the exit ladder by mistake (I was pushing fairly hard on the last 50 meters) and had to swim back to it--there's another 10-20 seconds (c) my southern girl politness at each wall. At all but one wall there were swimmers coming toward me, and rather than just ignorning them and pushing off and letting them pass me--there was plenty of room and I am good about staying to the right, except when I am passing someone myself-- I did the polite thing and waited for each of them to go around me before I went on. All together that probably cost me about 30 seconds. I was expecting around a 7:30 swim time so I am guessing these little things cost me that extra 1.5 minute, since my stroke seemed strong and I wasn't fooling around while swimming.

The swim was easy and as I said, I was pleased that I had a strong stroke and pushed moderately through the entire swim, remembering I still had a long day in front of me. After overshooting the ladder and finally making my way up, I checked my watch and frowned at the time, but there was no point in worrying about it. I ran the long way out of the pool building and up the hill to transition, yanking off my swim cap and goggles and headed for my bike, visualizing my transition and the start of the bike.

My T1 time was 2:54, not as fast as I want, but it is a long way from the pool to the bike and it's uphill, so it wasn't all that slow. On with the bike shoes, on with the sweat band, helmet and sunglasses, grab the bike and go, clomping along to the mount line which seemed an awfully long way away from my rack spot (so long that I asked one volunteer "is this the run portion?"). Onto the bike, which I had fortuantely remembered to put in a low gear, and out the driveway to the road and the upcoming Killer Hills, which now had a 20 mph headwind built into them. I chanted out loud "BRING IT ON" and tried to ignore that other little voice that said "Killer Hills and 20 mph headwind--you are gonna die out there."

I also passed the first runners out on the course. Fast people. Not even in my type of zip code.

The first 2 miles of the bike is mostly downhill and downwind so I grabbed a sip from the Gatorade, geared up and pedaled hard, sustaining around 18-19 mph and around the turn into the wind and facing the first Killer Hill (the one I call the Long Hill). I had practiced this in my mind several times so as I came within 100 yards of the first incline, I changed to my little ring and stood up and pumped the pedals for about the first 20 yards of the hill, and was then forced to sit down and spin it out, gearing down rapidly but passing 2-3 people on my way up. I got down to about 8.3 mph near the top but managed to push through and thought, okay, only 3 more Killer Hills to do (although the rest of the course has some Injurious Hills, none are as serious as the 2 Killer Hills). Catch my breath a bit, go back down on the bars and try to speed down the one big hill where without a headwind I can often get up to 34 mph (with this wind, I managed 22 mph), hanging on for dear life as the wind buffeted my tiny carbon perch and praying I didn't end up upside down. Then here was Killer Hill 2 (the one I dub the Steep Hill), I could see a passle of riders creeping up it in front of me, did my 20 yard up and pump and sat down and geared down until the bike cried mercy and managed to heave my way to the top aroun 7.9 mph. Halfway done with Killer Hills!

The next leg was to be a recovery leg, it's a very flat area where I normally can pick up a lot of speed but with the huge headwind it was a tough leg. I managed to drink some more and gear back into my big chain, soon I turned off the wind and picked up more speed, up and down a few minor hills (one was a major-minor hill), passed some people and others passed me, turned back toward the event center and started the second 7.5 mile loop. Back to the Killer Hills I zoomed, this time they went a wee bit slower and a lot bit harder (especially the last one) but then they were done and I knew I was going to make good time as I was looking to be under an hour for the 15 mile bike. I got down on my areobars and pedaled hard, passing as much as I could and keeping aggressive without killing myself, and suddenly I was done and had averaged 15.5 mph even with that headwind, which was awesome for me, as last year was 14.7 and we didn't have this kind of wind.

Into T2 I clomped, put the bike up on the brake levers, off with the shoes, on with the shoes, on with the Garmin, turn and oops! off with the helmet!--grab the race belt and jog towards the exit, had to turn the belt around to fasten it properly but never stopped moving; T1 was 2 minutes flat, pretty good, and now it's just 3.1 miles before the finish line.

It was getting warmish, around 90 degrees, but the stiff wind helped keep me cool and I settled into an easy pace, forcing myself at times to go slower for that first mile, trying to keep around 11:15 min pace. Passed several people and encouraged them. Also got passed by several (no one encouraged me!). Suddenly I was at a mile and I grabbed a cup of Hammer and walked for one minute while I drank it; my first mile had been 10:50 pace and that was a bit fast, so I started up again trying to concentrate on going easy for the next mile, which was a bit uphill. Started to get a little hot but not too bad, and then I saw Patient Spouse coming toward me about 1-2 minutes ahead of me and we waved at each other and I kept on running. Now it was downhill, although into the wind, and I was picking up the pace to about a 9:45 mile until 2.1 miles at the water stop where I grabbed a water and walked one more minute. Then back to running, still mostly downhill, to the turnaround which seemed forever, seeing Patient Spouse again and slapping hands, then the turnaround, wind at my back now but uphill for most of the way, stopped to grab a final water at 2.6 miles and walked another minute to drink, then ran it out picking up pace as best I could on the uphill, NOW I'm getting pretty hot, but there was the 3 mile sign and the last tenth of the race was sweet downhill so I could sprint it out across the line with a big grin and into the arms of (sweaty) Patient Spouse. My watch showed 1:45 which was a great time for me.

We grabbed post race snacks and drinks and waited for results, but they never got completely posted, so we left and went home and spent the rest of the day doing chores around the house like a normal weekend. Turns out I was fourth in my age group and Patient Spouse was fifth. I was 7 minutes behind third place, and I know I can shave those minutes off by next year, by being more aggressive on the swim, pushing a bit harder on the bike, and running a faster negative split. So watch out next year--I am looking at a podium placement at the top of the age group (54) before I move up.

It was a great race, good weather, and much better organized than last year's race, so although it's a hot weekend, we'll do it again next year.

Next event is Oct 31--the Monster Sprint Triathlon in Keller. In the meantime, I'm taking a couple days off to rest and then back to training!