Saturday, April 25, 2009

Crossfit Update #3

About a month and a half into this Crossfit experience now, and I'm just starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of things. I really like seeing myself progress, this week I switched up to a lighter band for doing pull-ups, which is one step closer to being able to do them without a band.

As you might guess from a software engineer and triathlon nerd (you know all us triathletes just love our stats and spreadsheets) one thing I like is the trackability of Crossfit. Many of the workouts are named and come around every so often, so you can see what you did last time (weights, reps, time) on a particular workout and evaluate your improvement. Most Crossfit gyms use a whiteboard to keep track of everyone's time for the day, and ours utilizes a website called beyond the whiteboard where you can track your workouts on cute little graphs, and compare with your gymmates and with Crossfit members from other gyms.

I'm continuing to struggle with integrating Crossfit into my triathlon training however. Because my schedule as a homeschooling mom, and a new puppy owner, and an urban gardener, and swim coach, etc. is so sporadic, I've always just slotted in my triathlon workouts whenever I can. However, that doesn't work so well when a Crossfit workout is scheduled at a particular time. For instance on Thursday I was planning to go for a 1.5 hour bike ride in the morning, and then do the 5:00 pm Crossfit class. However, life intervened and I didn't get to ride my bike until almost 3:00. That means I finished my (hilly) bike ride and rushed off to Crossfit. After the Crossfit warmup (pullups, situps, squats, ring dips, back extensions, etc.) this was our workout:

Walking lunge 100 ft.
21 Pull-ups
21 Sit-ups
Walking lunge 100 ft.
18 Pull-ups
18 Sit-ups
Walking lunge 100 ft.
15 Pull-ups
15 Sit-ups
Walking lunge 100 ft.
12 Pull-ups
12 Sit-ups
Walking lunge 100 ft.
9 Pull-ups
9 Sit-ups
Walking Lunge 100 ft.
6 Pull-ups
6 Sit-ups

and that all was topped off with a 2 minute Max Squats (how many squats you can do in 2 minutes). Needless to say, with the hilly bike ride, starting into all of those lunges my legs were already toast! About halfway through the Max Squats I could feel that they were just going to seize up on me and I had to stop. I think our Crossfit coach maybe thought I was nuts or something (these Crossfit folks usually don't just stop in the middle of a workout). But at some point, something has to give and that day it was getting the full benefit of a Crossfit workout because I had already really taxed my legs too much.

Same thing happened the next day when I ended up doing a 7-mile run way too close to the evening Crossfit. I don't honestly know how all this will work out in the long run. I can easily see integrating Crossfit into winter base training, but it remains to be seen whether or not I can continue working it into my training as I approach the more intense months of summer race schedule. First race is in three weeks, so I guess we'll see how that goes. I definitely think I should not Crossfit in the taper week!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Swim Workout: How to Add Speed Without Adding Churn

Many times when I'm working with inexperienced swimmers I will perform the following metric. I have them swim 100 at their slow or long distance pace, then with adequate rest a 100 at their medium or middle distance pace, then rest again then 100 sprint. Often the result will be that their slow, medium, and fast 100's are only separated by a second or two, or are exactly the same speed. Sometimes the "fastest" one is actually slower than their "slow" despite the fact that they are way more winded after swimming "fast".

The reason for these strange results is that for many swimmers when they try to swim faster they drastically increase their churn. This leads to increased drag and despite the fact that they are working much harder, they are actually not swimming any faster at all.

If you have never tried this metric, try it sometime after a good warmup. Ideally your slow, medium, and fast speeds should be separated by 10 seconds or more.

The following workout is meant to help with these issues. The main set is comprised of "descending" (meaning: getting faster) sets. For instance, the three 50s, 100s, etc. are to be swum at a distance pace (pace you would swim 1500 at), middle distance pace (pace for 300 - 500) and sprint (pace for a 100).

On the first one (distance pace) I have my swimmers focus on swimming smooth. I use the mantra "slow is smooth, smooth is fast, therefore slow is fast", repeating that over in my head when I swim a distance set. This keeps your focus on a smooth, low-drag stroke. Use a 2-beat or relaxed 6-beat kick.

On the second (middle-distance pace), I have the swimmers use the exact same smooth stroke, but add power. By this I mean as soon as you instigate the catch in your stroke, you pull back on the water with more power. Everything else stays the same.

For the third (fast pace), use the same smooth stroke with power but add in a strong kick. This should be your sprinting stroke - a hard kick with a smooth and powerful stroke, but relaxed and smooth recovery.

Keeping all this in mind, here's the workout:

200 Swim, 100 Kick, 4 x 50 Pull DPS (Distance per Stroke)
8 x 75 Kick/Drill/Swim IM Order
4 x (25 - 50 - 25) 5 sec rest, 10 sec rest, 5 sec rest - Start to add some speed here on the 50s

Main Set:
Descending - 1: Smooth, 2: Smooth with Power, 3: Smooth with Power and kick
3 x 50
3 x 100
3 x 150
3 x 200

Cool Down:
100 Choice

Total 3100 yards

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Swim: Middle-Distance Dream Workout

I'm a little behind in writing these up, but here's last Saturday's Masters Workout. This one is aimed at the middle distance of 500 - 800 yards, perfect for tuning up for your spring Sprint triathlons. The key to this workout is picking a tough interval for the broken 500 ladder in the main set. You want to pick an interval that roughly matches your 500 pace, with a little rest. So if you normally swim a 500 on a 1:20 per 100 pace, pick an interval pace of 1:30, which means you'll do the 50s on the :45, the 100s on the 1:30, and the 200 on the 3:00. There is no rounding up in this main set, it should be continuous at a strenuous distance pace.

Swim 300, Kick 100, Swim 200, Pull 200
8 X 50 swim, IM Order (if you can't do the full strokes yet, do IM drills)
6 x 75: 25 Kick (no board), 25 Drill, 25 Swim

Main Set:
2 X
(50 - 100 - 200 - 100 - 50 Free
4 x 100 Odd DPS Pull, Even Kick

6 x 75: 25 Hard, 25 Cruise, 25 Hard (the Hards should be ALL OUT)

Cool Down:
100 EZ

4,000 yards

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Today I'm 43. I Run Up Mountains.

Yesterday I was out biking with hubby doing errands around town. We were about to leave the Builder's Garage Sale (would've been better to bring a truck than our bikes, honestly) when this man walked up to me and out of the blue says "Do you run up mountains?"

Um....not recently

"Well," he said, "you just look like you could run up mountains"

and with that he walked off.

Today is my birthday. My 43rd birthday. I can't count the number of people who have told me "you don't have to tell me how old you are." I could care less how old I am. I'm 43. 43 years on this planet. There's nothing to be ashamed of, being 43. 43 trips around the sun. Why do we treat it like it's some horrible curse???

I'm 43 years old, and while I haven't run up mountains since hubby and I trained to climb Kilimanjaro in 1995, I could do it at any point I chose to. Isn't that the coolest thing about keeping your body, your mind, and your spirit in tip-top condition and feeling young?? I COULD run up a mountain tomorrow, if I felt like it. And you never know, I just might.

And while no one in our family ran up any mountains today, Wayne and the kids ran down some sand dunes with our new pup, Callie. Now Wayne is a pretty speedy runner, but this dog is something else. Doesn't she look like she's channeling greyhound in this picture???

Speaking of Callie, it's amazing how much more healthy and vital she's gotten in the almost two weeks we've had her now. When she first came to live with us, she slept a lot and seemed almost lethargic. Little by little she pepped up and just in the last few days she has become quite another dog altogether. I know our neighbor who rescued her said she was infested with fleas, ticks, and worms when she first found her and she was still getting over all of that, so this is probably just her returning to good health, maybe for the first time ever. She has definitely filled out and filled up with energy now!

So for my birthday, I got what I most wanted - no presents, just the presence of my kids and hubby. We took an impromptu run to the beach. Despite having a ton of work to do around the homefront (we are currently remodeling the front of our house/deck) we grabbed a half a day since the sun was shining and headed west. The sun and sand were beckoning, and I got to play a little bit of frisbee with my kids, watch them run around with the new pup and...

What birthday would be complete without a swim? This is a lot earlier than I usually get in the lake, even with the full wetsuit. But the water looked too inviting to pass up and of course I did pack the wetsuit along just in case.... I'm guesstimating it was about 57 degrees, cold enough I had trouble talking when I got out due to my lips freezing. But still, it felt marvelous, simply grand. As soon as I took that first stroke, I was in heaven. Sunlight sparkling on the water droplets flying off of my fingers, and the sound of the small waves in my neoprene-covered ears. In my head, Beethoven's full orchestral Ode to Joy started playing, perfectly timed to the rhythm of my strokes, and I felt that peculiar joy of being so very alive down to the last nerve ending in my little toes.

I may be {gasp, cue drumroll....} 43 years old... but I can still run up mountains, or swim laps around a lake any time I choose.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Banish the Popcorn Knees

I typed this up in response to a question on Trifuel's forums about how to do a proper flutter kick. I thought it might be helpful to share some of this info here, in case kicking is anyone's personal bugaboo (all you triathletes out there who always train with pull buoys, maybe???)

If you're having trouble with the freestyle kick, chances are, you’re doing one of two things. You’re either bending your knees too much when you kick, which is the most common kicking mistake people make, or you’re not bending your ankles/feet enough.

First, the “popcorn knees” (I call it that because if you flip over and kick on your back, your knees will look like popcorn popping out of the water). It’s only natural to do this, we humans bend our knees to do everything else, but in the pool it costs us a lot of extra energy and drag to do so. To see if this is your issue, kick on your back holding the end of a kickboard very loosely in your hands with the kickboard itself extending (floating) over the tops of your thighs and knees. If your knees hit the board, you have popcorn knees. But wait, some people cheat by simply bending their knees but keeping their feet underwater. So what you need to do is kick with your feet breaking the surface but without your knees hitting the board, then you will start fixing this issue. I like this drill because you can tell what you’re doing and whether you’re getting better without a coach there, it’s self-correcting.

In order to kick correctly without the knee bending, you should be feeling it in the tops of the backs of your legs (upper hamstrings) and in your glutes. You can stand at the end of the pool and tense those muscles and then start kicking and try to feel the same muscles firing.

Second, the ankle/foot flexibility. Usually when people start trying to kick with straighter legs, they also lock their feet/ankles up. This is the pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy syndrome. As you try to bend one thing less, you also bend the other thing less. To counter this, stand on the pool deck and kick one foot as if you’re trying to kick peanut butter off of your toes, in a toe-flipping kind of motion. Notice how your leg doesn’t bend much but your foot flops around. This is the sensation you want while kicking – very little knee bend, lots of up and down with the foot. Now get in the pool and stand at the end and do the same peanut-butter-toe-flick. Then start kicking. Chances are, you’ll be moving quite a bit faster than you were before. But then you might find yourself slowing down again. If so, stop where you are (do not reinforce poor kicking technique). Repeat peanut-butter-toe exercise, start kicking again. Repeat if necessary.

This is one of the hardest issues in swimming to tackle (besides breathing). Be patient with yourself, it might take a bit of time to conquer this. After all, on land we never walk around with straight knees and floppy ankles, it’s an inherently un-humanlike motion. So it’s something we have to teach ourselves to do.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Silk Purse Run

The sow's ear: yesterday was one of those days from Mothering Hell. Well, okay I exaggerate because I know that somewhere in the world are mothers who are worrying about getting enough food and water for their kids' survival. But it was straight from Pampered Westerner's Mothering Hell. First of all, dear darling daughter went to a sleepover on Friday night, which meant that of course (word "SLEEPover" not withstanding), she got NO SLEEP. So by Saturday evening she was a raging ball of melting down 9 year old. She's normally a feisty little thing, but cheerful and kind. Not so when she gets no sleep. She collapsed at 7:00 pm in her room after much door slamming and didn't wake up again that evening.

Fast forward to 12:15 am, NOW she wakes up, of course. And can't get back to sleep. By the time I install her in our bed, shoving various cats out of the way, I'm wide awake. Which turns out to be a good thing because I sit bolt upright and realize that in all of the hoopla, I forgot to do the Easter baskets. Though she is nine, she is a firm believer in all things magical, like Easter bunnies and Santa Claus (not sure how much of this belief is willed at this point, but whatever). So there I am at 1:00 am putting together Easter baskets. Except that I forgot to buy artificial Easter grass, so what I'm really doing at 1:00 am is cutting up the remains of a roll of birthday streamers into a Easter Basket Grass Simulant. It takes awhile. By 2:00 am I'm back in bed and maybe asleep by 2:30. Daughter, now duly rested after 12 hours of sleep is of course up at 7:00, excited about Easter baskets. I'm feeling already a little whupped.

We get the eggs dyed (supposed to happen yesterday evening, but due to sleeping daughter it's now last minute). Mackenzie, 12.5 year old son goes out to the guinea pig pen to take them to their outdoor hut and comes in saying that something's wrong with his guinea pig. Turns out she has prolapsed something bloody and awful looking out of her nether regions. Pretty much I know at this point that she's a goner, but he and I take her to the emergency vet hospital, bundled up in a towel. The kids have had their guinea pigs for over 5 years now, and I know that they've been approaching the end of their normal life span, but I was hoping for a peaceful passing in the sleep that's more common with smaller animals, not this. Poor little thing, she's such a sweetheart. Vet confirms that it's probably a prolapsed cancerous uterus, and that otherwise she looks to be a very well cared for guinea pig but that she's now come to the end of her days. Horrible decision to put her to sleep after son asks about life-saving surgery. A "damn it", fist in the eye and stifled sob instead of a tearful hugging breakdown are just some of the few indicators that my baby boy is venturing into manhood with not just physical but emotional territory these days.

The rest of Easter goes relatively smoothly - family brunch with my usual strawberry crepes and then for the first year Mackenzie plays Easter Bunny while Asa takes the dog for a walk, and this cheers him up immensely - he loves taking on these older roles. By 5:00 in the afternoon I knew that I SHOULD go for a run, but I had no energy whatsoever. I literally felt emotionally drained and completely lethargic and did one of those long debates about whether or not it was better to just give up or to force myself out the door.

I ended up running with my friend Kay, and I'm glad that she got me out the door. Sometimes it's strange but with exercise you really can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. Sometimes the very hardest times when you can barely force yourself to start out seem to end up the best. After 20 minutes, Kay turned toward home but I was feeling so good I just kept going. 75 minutes later, I came back in, soaked to the bone with rain but feeling just terrific. It was one of those runs where everything just came together and felt great - strong, smooth, and effortless. I really needed it and again it made me grateful for the blessings of exercise in life's harder moments.

In memoriam, RIP Acorn, one of the sweetest little critters around. This is a funny photo that Mackenzie had me shoot of her, playing on his GameCube.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Nothing To Do With Triathlon

Okay, so I have to just do a teensy weensy little callout here to the fact that my kids are in People magazine this week. Along with our garden, and one of our chickens. No kidding! In the article about turning lawns into gardens.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Dog Days

Haven't had much time to post this week, something completely unexpected happened... we got a puppy! Although it's hard to believe, it's been two years since I had to say goodbye to my best buddy Sabre. The kids of course have wanted another dog, but we've just told them it had to be the right dog at the right time, and we knew that someday it would come along. Well, I guess this was the week!

Our neighbor took a trip to California and ended up rescuing a puppy down there from a bad home situation. She's a 4 month old Jack Russell terrier mutt/mix (we think with some beagle), and she's a real sweetheart. But of course she's also still a puppy, which means a lot of work. Overall though she has a great temperament, not a barker and a real snuggly pup.

I don't know if she'll ever be the running companion that Sabre was. And honestly, I think out of the four of us I'm the only one who really wasn't ready yet to get another dog. She's very cute and very sweet, but she really hasn't taken my heart like Sabre did. Maybe because he was all mine from the start and he and I spent so much time together, or maybe just because there's this place in my heart that I can't really open up yet. Only time will tell. But it's been just great for the kids. They knew Sabre their whole lives, so it was very hard for them not to have a dog around. So far they're doing a great job taking care of her, I'm hoping that lasts!

And so now we have eighteen, yes count them, eighteen animals! Oy! I keep having this panicky feeling when I've left the house that maybe I've forgotten something. Guinea pigs in their outdoor pen, check. Baby chickens have food and water, check. Hens are out of their coop for the day, check. Cats fed, oldest cat had medicine, check. Now dog is with us, check. Phew.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Swim Workout - Building Speed

Some of our Masters swimmers are headed to a big swim meet in two weeks, so this is my last pre-taper workout for them. It's a hard one. I seriously thought I was going to puke after that last 200, haven't felt like that in the pool for long time.
The 200's and the 100's in the main set are on a fixed interval. The key to this set is setting a relatively long interval so you can hit the Hard parts HARD. Our fastest two lanes were taking a 3:20 interval for the 200s and 1:40 for the 100s, coming in on 2:15 - 2:35 for the 200s and 1:05 - 1:20 for the 100s. So plenty of rest, hit the hard parts hard, and the medium parts are not easy or cruise but medium.

Enjoy, and don't eat within a couple hours of attempting...

8 x 100 Odd Free, Even Choice
6 x 75 25 Kick, 50 Swim
6 x 50 Drill/Swim IM Order

Main Set:
5 x 200:
#1: 50 Hard, 150 Medium
#2: 100 Hard, 100 Medium
#3 150 Hard, 50 Medium
#4 Cruise
#5 All Out

50 Easy Recovery

5 x 100:
#1: 25 Hard, 75 Medium
#2: 50 Hard, 50 Medium
#3 75 Hard, 25 Medium
#4 Cruise
#5 All Out

Pull 5 x 50 – 1st stroke every lap with weakest arm

10 x 50 Sprint 25 ALL OUT, flip hard and cruise back 25 @ 1:00

Cool Down:
5 x 50 Progressively slower

4100 Yards

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April Runnin' Fool

I got a real good one over on my hubby today for April Fool's Day. He was madder than a wet hen before I started busting out in laughter. And I successfully avoided being the butt of any April Fool's jokes from my kids. Those of you who have ever had a mischievous 12 year old boy or impish 9 year old girl know exactly how hard that is to accomplish!!

So today I was a fool in a good way, a running fool, a smiling fool, a gearing-up-for-tri-season kind of fool. I had a great run today, the kind where everything finally comes together and feels just right. A light rain sprinkled down on me and each foot set down on the pavement in a kind of happy rhythm. My strides felt long and limber and my back felt miraculously free from the last remains of my autumn injury. And now the days are getting longer, I can run in the evening hours, which is my favorite time of all.

Happy Aprils Fool's Day to all the running fools out there...