Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday Snap: Killer Robots

I start this week off being so proud of my son Mackenzie (he's the blondie in the back of the team line-up) and our whole robotics team. They did AWESOME in their tournament this weekend, which was their first ever using the bigger FTC robots. They designed, built, and programmed this bad boy in the last 8 weeks and it performed really well. They ended up coming in 7th overall in the tournament, which was a big surprise.

Mackenzie was one of the two team "drivers", the robot operates autonomously at the start of each match (following the programming that the team did ahead of time) and then is driven by two drivers from the team, one who controls the wheels and one who controls the attachments that can score points by removing batons from a dispenser and placing them in goals. This is tough stuff people!

My entire write-up of the event is on my Blue Skies Blog here with lots more photos and descriptions. If you have a kid or know a kid who has a mind for engineering, I can't say enough good things about the FIRST program for robotics. This is Mackenzie's 5th year, and my 4th year as the team's coach and it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience each and every year. Our country and our world will depend on the minds of our young engineers. Encouraging them is a top priority.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kill Yourself in the Pool: Swim An Entire Swim Meet

I gave them fair warning. I threatened to do this last year. Half of our Master's team went off to a swim meet in Portland this weekend. The rest of the swimmers who showed up for practice today were met with quite a workout!

Here's what I came up with: We're going to swim the entire siwm meet. Every event, in order. Lots of groans. Especially when they realized the last event is the 1000 Free. Oh yeah, and there's a 400 IM in there, and a 200 Fly, and a 500 Free. Oh yeah.

Today's workout: "The Swim Meet":

Warmup: 150 Swim, 150 Kick, 150 Pull

500 Y     Free
100 Y     Back
200 Y     Fly
50 Y     Breast
100 Y     Free
200 Y     Breast
50 Y     Fly
400 Y     IM
100 Y     Breast
200 Y     Free
50 Y     Back
200 Y     IM
100 Y     Fly
200 Y     Back
50 Y     Free
100 Y     IM
1000 Y     Free

Friday, January 28, 2011

Warning: Weekend of Craziness Ahead

Remember the Dr. Seuss book 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins?? That's me for the next three days. I'm going to be wearing about a dozen different hats, and I keep waking up nights worrying that I'm going to drop one of the things I'm trying to juggle between now and then.

My prayer this week: Please God, don't let me mess up and screw up someone else's big day!

From now until Sunday:

  • Two training sessions with athletes I'm coaching
  • One all-day robotics team meeting (I'm the coach) Friday in which (hopefully!!!) the team can get their robot ready for competition on Sunday
  • Coaching the Masters swimmers on Saturday morning
  • My daughter dances at "Tea With Tights", must remember all 80,000 costume bits and accessories, plus hair, makeup, blah blah blah
  • I'm the official Dance Team Photographer at Tea with Tights. Must remember to charge camera, clear card, bring lenses, tripod, etc.
  • Possibly another robotics practice after dance thingie on Saturday if the kids don't have the robot ready yet
  • Up at 6:30 Sunday morning to drive 120 miles to robotics tournament
  • Tournament over at 7:00 pm Sunday evening. Drive 120 miles home.
  • Collapse. 

I'm thinking I might not get my workout in this weekend.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Flipside: What Happens When An Endurance Athlete Goes Anaerobic

I've been tired lately. Like really tired. Go to bed at 10:00 tired. Take a nap in the car while my daughter is in her riding lessons tired. Tired like training for the Ironman tired. At first I thought maybe it's this Paleo eating thing, I remember the last time I felt really bonked out from the lack of carbs for the first couple of weeks. But that should've passed by now.So I took a look at my exercise/food/sleep journal to try to tease out what the problem is.

Oh. Yeah. There it is. I added up my hours for the last few weeks. 10+ hours of karate a week. Plus an assorted 3 - 5 of running and swimming. Yeah, that makes 13 - 15 hours a week of training, or about what I averaged for the longer weeks of my Ironman cycle. On top of that, it's flipped from what my training was for the last few years, where my endurance workouts made up the bulk of my training, with a bit of sprints, hills, and anaerobic stuff thrown on top. Now most of my training is anaerobic with just a smidge of endurance and boy does that anaerobic stuff kick your booty. Today I went to three karate classes. In each one we did several sets of 50 punches in a squat position, alternating with sets of kicks. That was the warm up.. By the third class, I was taking bets whether my arms would fall off before my legs collapsed beneath me, or vice versa.

Couple that with the fact that I've largely been doing trail running instead of street running (my favorite trail run gains 1000 ft in the first mile alone) and that means that even my "easy run" days are a lot harder than they used to be.

So if I'm not up late posting here on my blog anymore, you know why - I've collapsed beneath my down comforter and I'm sawing logs. Or more likely dreaming of kata.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vitamin D: Are You As Smart As A Chicken?: The Sunday Snap

When it comes to Vitamin D, are you as smart as my chickens? Whenever I let them out to free range on a sunny day, the first thing they do is come right around the the porch on the south side of the house and commence to sunbathing. Yes, that's right - these chickens are sunbathing! They fluff up their feathers, stretch out their little chickeny feet and soak up some rays like a bunch of bikini-clad ladies on a beach.

Personally, I find it very interesting that pastured chickens, those allowed to free range around outside, produce eggs that are 4 - 6 times higher in Vitamin D than eggs from chickens raised indoors. In fact, a chicken's comb will grow extra large if the chicken is kept in darker conditions, the chicken's body is attempting to increase the surface area of the comb to capture more sunlight. As you can see from my sunbathing birds here, they like to loll around on their sides, spreading out their wings and making sure their feet are in the sun, exposing every bit of skin they can to the sunshine, especially now in the winter months.

Many of us humans stay inside from sunup to sundown, going from our climate-controlled homes to our tinted-windowed cars to our sealed-box office buildings without stepping out into the outside world at all. This sets us up for a big Vitamin D deficiency, and researchers are just now beginning to understand all of the implications (including increased risks of cancer and even the flu) of becoming deficient in Vitamin D.

So what's a poor Northwesterner to do? Well, speaking for myself, I make sure I get out whenever I can, riding my bike to work, walking to the store, walking the dogs, running outside instead of on a treadmill. Even in our winters, that gives me time out in the real sunshine as often as possible. Also, I started taking Vitamin D supplements, following new guidelines that show that adults should take 2,000 I.U. a day. Since Vitamin D is linked with thyroid disease (something I already have issues with), I'm trying to stay on top of it as much as possible.

I found this article by Dr. Mark Hyman to be interesting and informative. I especially like his conclusions that the Dietary requirements should be based on "the collective knowledge from paleobiology, basic science, gene expression data, and large population studies." instead of on isolated trials that treat a complex nutrient with thousands of implications for the human body as if it was one single compound with one outcome. I've noticed that this word "paleobiology" is coming up more and more in everyday scientific articles. Huh, you think we should be looking at what our ancestors did and understanding how we evolved to be the creatures we are today? Yuh think? Heck yeah.

In the meantime, we can follow the example of the humble chicken, make sure we get our Vitamin D in every safe way that we can. I'm taking my book out on the porch now, right next to my sunbathing chickens!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Swim Pacing and Sprint Faster: Saturday Swim Workouts

I didn't post last week's Saturday Master's workout so today you get a "two for one" deal and I'll post this weeks as well.

Since we're entering swim meet season for the Master's, you'll notice that I'm working on some very specific stuff in these workouts, namely pacing, starts, turns, and sprinting. Let's start with pacing. Do you know your paces for different speeds? Can you accurately set out to swim a specific pace and nail it within a second or two? A lot of swimmers could use more work on pacing, especially if they want to swim a distance event (whether in a swim meet or a triathlon). There's nothing worse than setting out at too fast a pace for a Looooongggg swim and feeling dead by halfway through. So this first workout puts some very specific work on knowing your exact paces down to the second.

In the main set, you will pick your absolute fastest pace for the given distance, then calculate out your paces from that. For instance, the 9 x 50. If your fastest 50 was going to be 35 seconds, and you have nine 50s at one second increments, that means your 50's will be at 44, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, & 35 seconds. For the 75's, if your fastest is a :58 and you have seven of them at 2 second increments, your 75's will be at 1:10, 1:08, 1:06, 1:04, 1:02, 1:00, and :58. The first ones will feel VERY slow. The later ones will feel very fast!

WORKOUT #1: Know Your Paces

2 x
(200 Swim
4 x 75--> 50 Drill/25 Kick)
4 x 75 Swim: Build Each

Main Set:
9 x 50--> Descend in 1 second increments, rest :10
7 x 75--> Descend in 2 second increments, rest 10
5 x 100--> Descend in 3 second increments, rest 10
3 x 125--> Descend in 4 second increments, rest 10
1 x 150--> ALL OUT

Rest 1:00 in between each set

200 Pull
5 x 50 --> Work starts and turns
5 x 50 ALL OUT @ 1:00
200 EZ

WORKOUT #2: Sprint Fast, Now Sprint Faster

This workout concentrates on getting some yards in the different strokes. At the end, just when you're good and tired, you get a killer sprint set that will knock your socks off.

200 Swim
4 x 50 with good long underwater dolphin kick off the wall
4 x 75 IM kick (dolphin, back, breast by 25s)

200 Swim
4 x 50 backstroke with good long underwater dolphin kick off the wall
300 Pull
Main Set:
4 x
(50 Fly @ 1:00
100 Free Smooth and steady @ 1:45)
 (50 Backstroke @ 1:00
100 Free Smooth and steady @ 1:45)
(50 Breaststroke @ 1:00
100 Free Smooth and steady @ 1:45)


25 rest :30
25 r. 10 + 50 r. 45
25 r. 10 + 50 r. 10 + 75  r. 60
25 r. 10 + 50 r. 10 + 75 r. 10 + 100


4 x 50 Starts and Turns
200 EZ

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Date With The Black Belt

What do Pythagoras, St. Augustine of Hippo, and myself have in common? As it turns out, a bit of an obsession with numbers and the meanings behind them. I don't like to think of myself as superstitious (who does, in this modern "logical" age?) but I admit that I have a set of personal numbers, and our family has a family number that just seems to keep cropping up in everything we do. I won't give away our family number, but let's just say that everything from phone numbers to license plates to driver's licenses to the tail numbers on our old airplane keep repeating the same four digits in the same order.

My personal number though is 19. My birthday, my wedding anniversary, and other important dates keep cropping up around the number 19. So although I hate to admit it, I was really happy when my Sensei told me that our black belt test would be on March 19.

In various numerological systems, the numbers one and nine translate as follows:
1: Individual, agressor
9: Highest level of change

That seems auspicious for a black belt, no? No one can do this test for me, it's a purely individual effort. And it would certainly reflect the "highest level of change" if indeed I can achieve it.

Or how about the Chinese (Cantonese) interpretation:
[jɐ́t]  — sure
[kɐ̌u]  — long in time

I like the notion of "sure" as it relates to the coming test. I'd like to feel REALLY sure about it when the day comes. And "long in time" is certainly appropriate. This year will mark my 5th year in this dojo, and 10th year total in the martial arts. My black belt test will be a culmination of many years of effort and practice.

So I'm very happy to have this date hanging out there, a date when everything I've been practicing will hopefully come together in one perfect moment where I can demonstrate what I've learned. Not unlike a big race like the Ironman, so much preparation has to go into it. It's one of those things that can't be faked or shortchanged.

When I was younger, many things came easily for me. I came to associate myself with being "successful" in my head. But what that meant was that I was very afraid to try anything that would show me to be "unsuccessful". If indeed I tried something and I failed, I had to immediately make an excuse as to why I didn't succeed. I was feeling sick that day, I twisted my ankle, I was distracted by some important thing. Eventually, I tried fewer and fewer things that I didn't think I could accomplish.

Martial arts was one of the first things I ever tried that was really hard for me, and that I couldn't immediately succeed at. It's a practice that takes years and years to master. There's no way to cheat it or to learn it quickly and easily. You simply have to put in the long, hard work. Several times I quit, for various reasons. Then, five years ago I made a determination that this time I was going to see it all the way through. And now it comes down to this:

Two months. Eight weeks.

That's all the time I have left to solidify everything I know into my muscle memory. Make sure it's buried in concrete in there so every technique is as good as I can make it, and every move gets remembered. I'm training as hard now for this as I trained in the last two months for the Ironman. Twelve hours a week of karate, plus my usual conditioning work (swimming and running and weights).I go to sleep and I dream in karate. It all comes down to this.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RELAX... In Between the Punches

Have you ever learned something new, only to have it pop up over and over again in all kinds of circumstances? That's how my week has gone. In my karate training, I have lots of power. Power is not my problem. Relaxing is my problem. Especially when the sensei is watching, I get so tense I'm wearing my shoulders for earrings. Not surprisingly, this has always been my issue with running as well - carrying a lot of unnecessary tension in my upper body.

Funny thing is, I coach swimmers and one of the main tenets of swimming is you have to be able to relax your recovering side while all of the muscles in your stroking arm are tense. You have to be able to relax your feet and ankles while your hamstrings and glutes do the hard work of kicking. So I should be able to apply that knowledge of simultaneously relaxing and tensing in other circumstances right?

Except that it's really really hard to do. Karate is humbling for me. One of the reasons that I love it is that it teaches me on a daily basis how hard it is to learn this stuff. And that's how hard swimming is for many of the people I'm coaching. Swimming always came naturally for me. I was one of those kids that people called "a fish". I firmly believe I was a dolphin in a former life, that I've always lived underwater until now. That's why I'm so clumsy on land. And maybe that's why my feet are the size of flippers.

So my lesson this week is to relax in between each block, kick, and punch, and only tense my muscles at the last possible second. It doesn't sound all that easy, and trust me it's not as easy as it sounds. Our muscles are so tied together in our brains that undoing those connections of which muscle to tense and which to relax takes time and some mental effort. At the Chi Running seminar this weekend, I also got a great refresher on relaxing my ankles and feet while running, something I struggle with more than any other aspect of Chi Running.

If I think about it, there is also a great application in the rest of life. There are times when tension and action is necessary, and times in between when we need to relax. If we fill all of that time with activity and stress, everything suffers including the things we want to be able to do well. We need the Yin as well as the Yang. Just as I struggle with relaxing the non-necessary muscles, I also struggle with allowing myself time to just be, time without busyness and action. How do you get yourself to relax, either mentally or physically?

The Ironmom Extra Mile: More reading on the Han Dynasty Synthesis and the meaning of Yin and Yang within Taosim at WSU's Chinese Philosophies site

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chi Running Refresher For Injury-Free Running

Running used to be pain. Knee pain. Hip pain. Shin splint pain. Plantar Fasciitis pain. Maybe some of you are experiencing the same kinds of running injuries that I used to. Running injuries are so common among runners we just kind of get used to them. We talk about them in coffee shops.

"So how's the marathon training Charlie?"
"Oh okay. The knee's getting better. I got a bit of an IT band thing going right now."
"Oh yeah, me too. I got one of these foam rollers and some orthotics and I think that's helping."

Only it doesn't help. Or maybe it does and you just get some other injury for overcompensating for the first one.

Then six years ago I found Chi Running, and it was like my running found religion, hallelujah! No more pain! Throw away that knee brace, and run free. It wasn't a quick fix solution though. When I started using the Chi Running techniques, I went to a small track near my daughter's dance studio and did the following, over and over and over again:

  • Adjusted my posture, my core, and my Chi
  • Leaned forward at a slight angle
  • Started running with good form
  • Made it about 200 yards before my good form fell apart
  • Stopped and started over again.

After awhile, I could run longer and longer before my form fell to pieces. That year I ran a marathon with no knee brace, no IT band pain, no injuries whatsoever. And here's the kicker....

I have run pain- and injury-free for six years since that first Chi Running workshop.

You heard me. Pain and injury free. Well, except the time I tripped over my dog and broke my arm, but I'm not counting that one.

So today I went for a refresher at Keith McConnell's Chi Running Workshop here in Track Town USA. It was really helpful to correct some of the areas that have gotten a bit sloppy in my form. All of that rocky, rooty, hilly trail running has also helped erode my technique as well. I went for a flat run the other day and noticed I was not near as smooth as I used to be. 

For several hours today, Keith explained the techniques and had us do all kinds of fun little exercises with feedback to make sure we were getting it down. Then we went out to run (unfortunately in the pouring rain) for more technique work.  

Also, athlete Julie who I am coaching to train for a half-marathon has been having some knee pain while running, and I suggested she do the Chi Running thing. She was instantly impressed by how effortless the running felt during the workshop, without that usual five minutes of warmup hell where running just feels sluggish and wrong. I think the techniques we learned today will help her get to her half-marathon goal with an easier stride and no running injuries or problems.

I'm looking forward to many more years of smooth, chi-filled, painless and injury-free running. For those of you starting to think about barefoot running or running in the Five Fingers toe shoes or other minimalist shoes, I highly recommend Chi Running as a great way to transition from the traditional heel-strike stride to a barefoot-friendly midfoot stride.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Free Your Inner Animal!

Here's a great post with a video that Julie from Chubby Mommy Running Club put together of yesterday's training session, where I took her through an "Animal Day" workout designed to strengthen her core and supporting muscles (no, running is not just about the legs, at least not when you train with me!). We did salamander pushups, bear walk, crab walk, spider crosses, and wall balls. And we ran. In the pouring rain. It's a funny video, and shows most of the stuff we did, so if you're interested in creating a great core body workout without a lot of equipment, give it a watch!

Several of these exercises came from Darryl Edwards' excellent blog The Fitness Explorer. In his FAQ section, he has lots of great little how-to videos for natural movement and bodyweight exercises.

Watching Julie's video, I only have a few thoughts:

1. I should never try to talk on camera after exercising. Sheesh, I meant crabs have EXOskeletons, not ENDO skeletons.We have endoskeletons, and they're quite useful little things, but you do have to surround them with muscles in order for them to work right.

2. I should remember that Julie ALWAYS brings her little Flip camera and I should dress appropriately. Big baggy white karate pants = not very flattering on film. I had just finished my morning karate workout and was already tapped out by the time she got there. Sweaty, sticky, hair all over the place. Yikes! Where's my hair and makeup people???

3. I'm glad that Julie is open to my unorthodox training methods. She's training for a half marathon and I only have her running three days a week. Each running day is a quality workout (track work, tempo, endurance), and is supplemented by three days of cross training and core strengthening. With anyone I train, my goal is for them to be a strong, well-rounded athlete, not just limp across the finish line of their chosen event.

1. Julie is a ton of fun to train with, you can see that by watching her on video. A good workout with someone fun can brighten your whole day!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stone Age Diet Deserves Iron Age Pan

I'm trying to be really good about putting only the best food in my body right now (oh, I had to turn away and actually NOT LOOK at those Lemon Bars that one of the moms brought for snack time yesterday. Lemon bars! I didn't eat one). No sugar, no grains, just good quality veggies, meat, nuts, and a bit of fruits. The Paleo Challenge is going well, and other than the cold I had at the start, I feel strong and full of energy.

But regardless of the quality of our food, it also matters what we cook it in. Did you know that the off-gassing that occurs when you cook in Teflon and other non-stick coated pans can be fatal to pet birds? Talk about your canary in a coal mine! If it's fatal to birds, what is it doing to us? As it turns out, it's not good. The chemicals used in creating non-stick cookware can cause cancer, and birth defects. Companies like DuPont (maker of Teflon) have already paid millions of dollars in fines and lawsuits because of these issues.

The great thing is, there's an age-old alternative to non-stick pans. It's the good-ole' cowboy standby, the cast-iron skillet (or griddle, or Dutch oven). It takes awhile to get used to cooking on cast-iron. In my case, it was a few months, in hubby's case. Well, let's just say he's still in training and occasionally sticks the eggs to the pan. Once you get the hang of it though, cast iron is a near perfect cooking medium. Here's a few benefits:

1. Cast Iron heats completely evenly across the pan. No hot spots or cool spots.This makes it great for things like pancakes.

2. Cast Iron lasts forever. You could inherit a rusty old cast iron pan from your great-great grandmother, and as long as it doesn't have any cracks or nicks in it, you can scrub it out, re-season it (more on that later) and use it for dinner.

3. They're non-stick when well seasoned and they actually get better with age. The longer you use them and the better they're seasoned, the easier they are to cook with.

4. You don't have to worry about scratching them. You can use whatever utensils you want.

5. You can actually increase your blood iron levels by cooking in cast iron. If you tend toward anemia like I do, this is a huge health benefit.
Researchers found that cooking in an iron skillet increases the iron content of many foods. Acidic foods that have higher moisture content, such as applesauce and spaghetti sauce, absorb the most iron. In fact, for 100 grams of each (about 3.5oz.), the applesauce increased in iron content from 0.35mg to 7.3mg, and the spaghetti sauce jumped from 0.6mg to 5.7mg of iron.
6. You can stick them right from your stovetop to your oven. I do this when I cook a good steak: get my cast-iron pan heated way up, throw the steak on and sear it on each side for about 90 seconds, then put the whole skillet into the oven and bake it for about 5 minutes. It stays nice and tender and juicy on the inside with that seared tasty outside. Yum!

7. It makes a really good weapon in a pinch. I would totally clock an intruder over the head with my cast iron if I had to. Just saying.

How to do it? There are instructions for seasoning your cast iron pan (as well as re-vitalizing old yard-sale or handed-down rusty skillets) on this website. I've found that when I'm done cooking, I just scrub it out with a plastic scrubbie and hot water (I don't even use soap), then put it back on the hot burner until all the water has evaporated. A quick rub-down with some oil (coconut oil works great) and it's ready to use the next time.

The Ironmom Extra Mile:   More great tips on using cast iron here at

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Two kettlebells on sale at Fred Meyer's: $35

Lifting the kettlebells with one hand onto the checkout stand: Easy

Look on the checker's face when she couldn't lift one of them with both hands: Priceless

Look on the checker's face when I picked them up and handed them to my 11 year old who easily put them in the cart: Even better.

Sometimes I forget how weak the "average" person is. We've come so far from the world of my great-grandma, a world where you might have to cart water in buckets from the well (at nine pounds per gallon, a three-gallon bucket is twenty-seven pounds, and I bet most people in 1900 could lift one with each hand easily). When I go to pick up chicken feed at the feed-n-seed store, the guy there always asks with concern if he can carry it out to the car for me. Nope, a forty-pound sack is something any woman should be able to lift with ease. But I bet even a lot of men can't do it these days, not without throwing out their back or something.

If you are not strength training, you're cheating yourself. If your strength routine consists of lifting weights that are suspended from a machine by a cable which is then attached to some muscle-isolating device (like a bicep curl machine), you're cheating yourself. You're cheating yourself out of all of the benefits of lifting free weights: Balance, core strength, strength of smaller muscle groups instead of just the big ones, coordination, and more.

I know free weights are intimidating for a lot of women (they were for me). We don't typically grow up being introduced to using them, and we may feel that they are for men who want to get pumped up with big huge muscles. It's worthwhile to take the time to find a coach, trainer, or program (like Crossfit) that helps you get used to lifting free weights. Whether that's a kettlebell, an Olympic weight bar, or a set of hand weights, learning to use them right brings so many fitness benefits. And it prevents the embarrassed checker syndrome!

Monday, January 10, 2011

No, There's Not An App For That!

Okay, what is it with people who don't want to wear watches anymore? I get it, you've got your Palm/Droid/iPod/Blackberry/iPad with you all the time so you don't have to have a watch. But seriously folks, if you're going to be an athlete, a watch really does come in handy. Really. It does. You'll have to take my word for this.

So Julie, from Chubby Mommy Running Club is training for a half Marathon (go Julie!). I'm setting up a program for her based on the awesome book Run Less, Run Faster (I highly recommend it). This program will have her running only three days a week, but all three workouts will be quality. An interval run, a tempo run, and a distance run.  The paces are all based from your 5k time, so I want her to run a 5k for us to base her intervals on and she emails me this morning and asks if there's something to make it easier to count laps, like maybe there's an app for that?

You might not have guessed this about me, but I'm a bit of a technological Luddite. Yeah, I know I took computer science back when I actually programmed on the college mainframe. Yeah, I used one of the first Macintoshes (I can still remember having to swap out that little floppy disk a thousand times to do anything at all cuz the poor thing only had like 128k of memory. Yeah, I said "k", not "m" or "g")Yeah, I worked for Microsoft for 10 years. But I don't have much in the way of tecchie toys. I'm writing this on a computer that's running Windows XP. I don't even have a smartphone. And hell, I'd probably love to have a GPS, Droid, iPad, and Nike footpod thingie, as well as a Powertap and a few other techie tools at my disposal. But the truth is, they're really not necessary, they're just fun. And I can't justify spending the money unless it's actually necessary. Especially when I'm just about taking out a second mortgage to write a check for my daughter's dance costumes this year.

Now Julie is the opposite. She's a high-powered techno kind of gal. Her droid beeps, bloops, sings, and talks to her non-stop. She's conversant with more TLAs than anyone I know (that's Three Letter Acronyms for those of you who know even less of them than me). I sometimes have to stop her just to have her translate. She makes me feel like I'm stuck in the stone age. So I have to be able to laugh when she asks me about an app for counting laps at the track. An App.

You see, there's this thing called a watch. And they have lap timers, and if you press the little button on it, it gives you not only what lap you're on, but how much time it took to do it! So I recommended that Julie get one. If she was the only one who trained without a watch, I probably wouldn't be writing this. But it's such an endemic problem that last year when I was coaching a group at the track, I had to bring a bunch of my old watches just to make sure that everyone had one!

So for the record folks, a good little Ironman watch that's water proof, counts laps, gives you your splits, and has an interval timer is only about $30 these days. Even better, Ironman makes a really nice women's heart rate monitor watch which is what I've used for the last six years for my triathlons. At $99, it's all I need for my training and racing data. Just get one already.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sunday Snap: The Wall of Green

This is the north side of the hills that fringe my town, where the Ridgeline trail runs along through fern and fir-covered forests. Luckily, there are several trailheads within five miles of my house, a blessing since I've become a trail addict and rarely run on the street if I can help it.

A friend of mine once said that when she goes out hiking in the forest, it all looks like a "wall of green". But as a trail runner, if you know the types of local vegetation, it can help you orient yourself on the trail. Why is this important? It might not be on a well-trodden path like the Ridgeline, but a week ago I was running on an unfamiliar trail system further from home. With only a glance at the map at the trailhead and very little in the way of trail signage, I could navigate my way through the looping trails and end up back at my car an hour or so later. Why? A couple of skills that help make you a good trail navigator.

1. Which way is north? One of the things I pay attention to is what grows where. Where I live, a forest that looks like this is almost certain to be on the north of a hill. The sides with southern exposure get too much sun and heat for ferns and moss to grow like this. You're more likely to see oaks and pines on the southern slopes, and that's also where the poison oak mostly grows (an important fact if you're as sensitive to it as I am.) Even on an overcast day like today, you can also see the direction that the sky is lightest, and here near the 45th parallel, that means you're looking south.

2. What's it look like on the way back? I like to build a good mental map in my head of where I've been on the trail so far, and this map requires me to orient to the points of the compass. I know which direction I've started out and when the trail bends, the map in my head bends accordingly. When hiking with the kids, I try to get them used to this sort of mental navigation, as well as turning and looking behind us so that we can see how things look coming from the other direction. On a hike last week, we came to a small tractor that was being used for trail maintenance. It happened to sit at an unmarked crossroads where five trails met. I asked the kids to turn and look back and tell me how they would tell which trail we had come in on - which one led back the way we came? "It's the trail that's right behind the tractor" they said. But I pointed out that the tractor could be moved. Oh yeah. "It's the one with bark chips from a freshly cut log, and a sharp bend to the east in about a hundred yards." That's much better. Sure enough, an hour later when we got back to the crossroads the tractor was no longer there. We were glad we were observant enough to know which trail to take.

3. How far have I come? Becoming a good estimator of time and distance is extremely helpful in any kind of trail or off-trail navigation. It's another area I practice all the time, and get my kids to practice too. Every time we go to the grocery store, I ask them to estimate the total price of everything in our cart. We all take turns and see who gets the closest. If I get the question "how long 'til we get there?" in the car, I tell them the miles and our current speed and ask them to give me a ballpark estimate for an answer. I'll ask them how big, small, or far away something is, or how much it weighs. I have to say, I kind of pride myself on my estimating skills. I can usually estimate how long or far I've been running within a tenth of a mile or so. Sometimes I take a guess and then look at my watch to confirm. The more you practice estimating and checking your estimates, the better you get.

Sometimes I wonder if the availability of relatively cheap GPS technology will leave us with a generation of poor navigators. Think of the WWII navigators who were trained to use a sextant and navigate by the stars! That's only a couple of generations ago. I've got nothing against a GPS (and I'd eventually like to get one, especially for the elevation logging capability), but it can't replace knowledge and common sense. With a combination of these skills, you can assess fairly accurately where you are in the world, whether navigating the streets of an unfamiliar city, or the trails of a forest. You never know when that might come in handy.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Saturday Swim Workout: The AMRAP

I learned of the term AMRAP in the Crossfit gym, perhaps it originates there, or maybe it predates Crossfit. In any case, it's a very useful tool to have in your arsenal. AMRAP stands for "As Many Rounds As Possible" and a typical AMRAP workout has a time period (20 minutes or 30 minutes) and a list of exercises (with the number of reps of each) that makes up one round. One great thing about the AMRAP is that you know how long you're doing it for. Usually not more than 30 minutes, so you know you have a defined ending point. Another great thing is that AMRAPS are very trackable and measurable. If you did 15 rounds this time, and 18 rounds in three months with the same AMRAP workout, you know you're faster, stronger, etc.

If you know me, you know I'm all about things that are measurable and trackable. I like know if what I'm doing is making an improvement in my fitness. And if I'm coaching someone, I want to know if I'm helping them to get better. So the AMRAP is a perfect tool. Plus, they make you push yourself hard, and that's usually a good thing.

So today's Master's Swim workout was an AMRAP. And just for kicks and grins, I made my swimmers get out of the water and do pushups in every round. A lot of our team is going to be training for some long swims this year, including a 10k competition. The pushups in this workout help simulate the type of arm fatigue that you feel in very long distance swims. I was pleased to note that a lot more of the swimmers could do decent pushups than the last time I inflicted something like this on them!

Here's the workout:

DRILL: One-arm crawl. Emphasis on keeping the non-stroking arm straight and steady, turning head to breathe instead of picking it up, and hand entry on the stroking arm.

Warm Up
4 x 75 D/S/D (that's 25 Drill, 25 swim, 25 Drill)
100 Slow Corkscrew – concentrate on Body Position
4 x 75 IM Order Drills
100 Corkscrew
4 x 75 S/D/S

Starts and Turns

10 x 50: Start Hard, good push off the wall, underwater dolphin, Good turn, cruise back

30 Minute AMRAP:

Swim 100
Pull 75
Kick 50
Pushups on deck: 5

Cool Down

EZ 100

6 x 50 Starts and Turns

EZ 100

Total Yardage:  2100 + AMRAP (8 rounds would be 1800 for a total of 3900 yards)

Friday, January 07, 2011

I Caved (and Not Like A Cavewoman)

Guilty. I admit it. I busted my 30 Day Paleo Challenge on only Day 5.

You would think that Day 1 would be the hardest, giving up on the chocolate and all that.


You would think that Day 3 might present problems, being taken out to a nice restaurant for a business dinner. They ordered a big basket of bread with roasted garlic and butter and put it right down in front of me. They practically ran the dessert cart over my toes. Did I cave then?


It was the stomach virus that did me in. I've been a little queasy for a couple of days. At first I wrote it off to maybe changing up what I was eating, but that wasn't it. I'll spare you the gory details, but at a certain point you simply know it's not caused by your menu. So what do you do when you have endless intestinal troubles? The BRAT diet of course. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast. The rice and toast are out in Paleoville, so I tried the applesauce (homemade, no sugar) and a banana. No dice. I tried some pickled ginger. No dice. By 7:30 yesterday evening when hubby was on his way home and called to see if I wanted him to pick up anything at the store, the only thing my body wanted was a few Saltines and an Ultra Strength Gin Gin or two.

So that's what I had. And I felt a whole lot better.

I guess that means I have to reboot the 30 days for busting the challenge, but it was worth it. I could actually sleep without a visit from my friend Ralph, and all was well in the world.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Fire Your Muscles

"Okay, that's it muscles, you're fired!"

Though I've sometimes felt like saying this (most often at the dreaded "wall" of a long race), that's not what I mean by firing your muscles. What I'm talking about is the ability to consciously control which of our muscles moves, when, and how much. Gaining mastery over our muscles is something we typically call "coordination", and people have widely varying abilities to do this.

When I teach swimming skills, I can readily see that some people can easily change the way they move a single body part - a hand, say, or the twist of the abdominal core. And some people can't do that easily at all. I wonder how much it boils down to innate coordination, and how much is learned? How much depends on what kinds of things we did as kids - did we run, jump, play, tunnel, climb? Or were we inside watching a TV or reading a book? I wonder about the current generation of kids, and how much control they'll have over their bodies when they don't use them as much as my generation did.

One thing I do know for sure, you can improve your muscle coordination skills. If it's sport-specific improvement you're looking for, you can do that simply by practicing that sport well and often. Malcolm Gladwell (among others) makes the point that it takes approximately 10,000 hours for a person to master a subject. That includes academic subjects like computer programming, musical endeavors like playing the voilin at a performance level,  throwing the perfect karate punch or winning the 100 meter butterfly at a swim meet. So part of it is just time spent doing the particular thing you want to get better at.

I frequently have people come to my Monday Swim Conditioning class hoping to improve their stroke, but they never get in the pool between classes. I'm sorry to say that one hour a week just won't give you much in the way of improvement. Let's see, those 10,000 hours for mastery would take you about 27 years at that rate! In swimming, I'd say it takes a minimum of two swim sessions a week to maintain whatever level you're currently at, and a minimum of 3 - 4 to improve. I can see a real difference in the people who come to my class who also swim a couple more times a week. Frequency is as important for improvement as the total amount of time you spend.

If we're looking to improve our general muscular coordination, and not just sport-specific, we can do this by engaging in a wider variety of activities. Often, we get in a fitness rut, going to the same classes or activities over and over and over. A marathon runner might be quite accomplished in his sport, but if he gets nudged sideways he can hardly hold himself up from falling because his lateral muscle stability is near zero. He's only worked his leg muscles in one particular way, and his arms and upper body not at all.

So what can we do to improve? Take a lesson from the kids and PLAY. Run, jump, roll down a hill, run up a hill, run up a sand dune, play frisbee, catch, badminton, sprint, spring, leap, climb a tree, knit, thumb-wrestle, use a hula-hoop, jump-rope, or pogo stick, do familiar exercises in different ways. I think the more different things you can do, the more likely you can gain mastery over how your body works, and it will respond more quickly to the things you ask of it.

This last Monday, I was teaching my swim class to do the butterfly. We started with the kick. In order to kick the butterfly or dolphin kick, you have to fire the muscles of your abdomen (your rectus abdominus, or "six pack muscles") in series, one after the other in order to create a wave that runs through your whole body, ending at your feet. This is tricky for many people. Some folks can only fire them all together or not at all. When they try to kick butterfly, their whole body bends in half in what I call the "inchworm" approach. No momentum is generated from this motion, and they stay almost in place in the pool. In short, you have to become like a belly dancer to swim butterfly, or someone who can roll a quarter down their abs by contracting them one at a time. By the end of class, everyone is making progress but some people have had a much easier time than others. I would put money on a bet that anyone who could use a hula-hoop as a kid though could do the butterfly kick.

So if you're trying to learn a new skill, or want to improve your overall body coordination and conditioning, remember to go and fire your muscles in new and exciting ways!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Paleo Challenge: Ground Zero

It's Moment Zero today for the 30 Day Paleo Challenge. I moved all of the chocolate and anything else tempting down to the basement cupboards. If hubby or the kids want some, at least I won't have to see it! I don't really like much in the way of sweet stuff, but giving up my daily dark chocolate habit will be HARD, no doubt about it.

I also went to Trader Joe's today and stocked up on veggies and nuts. Tried to get some different stuff that would be interesting palate-wise so I don't get bored. Also got some seafood and just in case I need a carb fix I got a small thing of figs. I figured one of those babies would do in a pinch ;-)

I'm not going to bore you with a daily blow-by-blow of Paleo eating, but my general plan (which is pretty much how I usually eat these days anyways) is:

Breakfast: Big egg/veggie scramble. I try to mix this up from day to day so I don't get bored. Mushrooms/spinach/bacon is one favorite combo, another is green pepper/zucchini/onions, and sausage/sun-dried tomato pesto in another.

Lunch: Often a salad. Lately it's been Lamb's lettuce with leftover holiday turkey. Sometimes I do tuna fish on celery, or other stuff. Usually some kind of fresh greens with some kind of meat that's not hot. Either that or leftovers. Today I had some leftover Turkey Soup that was really spicy and yummy on such a cold day.

Dinner: Variations on a theme of "How many different ways can I combine meat and vegetables and not get bored?" Stir fries are good, curries are also good, especially if mixed with coconut milk. Taco salad is my hubby's perennial fave. Mine is usually a good, really spicy pasta sauce served over steamed cauliflower.

Snacks: Some nuts, dried coconut, fresh snacky veggies like carrot sticks, and if I'm exercising I might have piece of fruit or some applesauce or yams.

That's it. It's not tough, though it can get boring. The rest of the family will probably complain some as I get very uninspired to cook things like my homemade Mac-and-Cheese or pizza for the kids when I don't even get to have a bite. Eventually after the challenge, I'll try to go back to my usual 80/20 or 90/10 eating, which is to say most of the time I eat pretty paleo, but I'll have half a piece of pizza or something when I feel like it. Plus the dark chocolate. Sigh. The dark chocolate, how I will miss thee!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

What's An Ironmom Without the Iron?

2011 was supposed to be the year I returned to the Ironman, I had big plans for Ironman Cozumel this November. But in the meantime, this little thing called the Recession hit and (sigh) an Ironman isn't the cheapest thing on the planet. Don't get me wrong, I am one extremely grateful gal. We have our house, plenty of food, a working vehicle, and more than most people on this planet will ever have. We have health insurance and our kids are healthy, happy, and can still do things like dance and karate. So why do I feel like throwing a good ol' toddler-sized tantrum cuz I can't have my Ironman cake and eat it too?

I guess I'm one of those people that once I get a goal stuck in my head it's very hard to let it go. Since Ironman Florida in 2006, I have worked hard at bringing down my half-Ironman times and building up a bigger and bigger base to get ready for this year. Barring any miracles though, I don't think I'm headed for Iron this time around. In fact, for the first time in 25 years, I don't know if I'll do a triathlon at all this year!

So without my biggest of big goals, what do I choose to forge for myself this year? How do I want to challenge my mind and body, yet have fun and keep it within the family budget?? I do have some very big goals out there, so here's my plans for 2011:

1. Black belt test in March - want that Black belt BAD! This is where the bulk of my training is going right now
2. First official trail running race sometime this year, I don't know which one yet, or even what distance, but looking at a local race schedule it looks like I have several options to choose from within 15 miles of my house!
3. Swim the Applegate Lake 10k race (yes, I said swim!)
4. Swim across Crater Lake to Wizard Island with my Masters team (approx 5.5 miles, 58 degrees, no boat support possible, this will be a big endeavor for all of us)
5.Personal trail marathon with friends around Waldo Lake in September

Saturday, January 01, 2011

This One Goes To Eleven

Happy 2011 everyone! I went to bed last night dreaming of cinnamon rolls. Know why? No, not because I'm swearing off of flour and sugar and all that nasty stuff in just two days (ulp!), but because one of our Master's swimmers is married to this woman who bakes the best cinnamon rolls on the face of the earth. No, really. The Best. And he brings them to our annual New Year's swim, for those hardy swimmers who complete the challenge need an enticing reward at the end to soothe their tired bodies and replenish the massive amounts of carbohydrates burned.

For it was the day of the annual "Year in Fifties" workout. This year in honor of 2011, it was 111 Fifties, on the :45 interval. Yes, on the interval. Whooboy. That interval starts off not feeling too awful tough, but by about the ninetieth fifty, it's feeling like you only get a few seconds to breathe and you're off again. Unluckily, I got stuck in the swim order behind a guy I'm going to start calling "Don the Knife" because he's built about like a knife blade and he has the draft of one as well. So although I only led every 3rd set of 10 fifties, it felt like I might as well have been leading all of them. Luckily, at about lap number ninety, a point where felt like my arms were going to turn into wet noodles and stop working, I got to go behind Dave the Tidal Wave, a swimmer so fast and so mighty that I felt like I was back in California body surfing and all I had to do was wave my hands around in the water a bit and move my feet and there I was back at the wall again. That got me through the last couple of sets and on into the hot tub where I was handed the Best Cinnamon Roll in the World Today.

And thus started the year of 2011. I hope your year has started as happily as mine, looking forward to a wonderful trip around the sun.