Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Triathlon Helped Me Be a Better Robotics Coach

Here I am, surrounded by robot parts, cords, cables, batteries, computers, team t-shirts, snacks, bolts, tools, and random pieces of electronic gear. The high school robotics team I'm coaching is off to the State Championships tomorrow. I could be really overwhelmed right now.

Oh okay, I admit I AM really overwhelmed right now.

But the reason I'm confident that we'll make it to our championship tournament intact and with all necessary supplies has more to do with triathlon than anything else.

Packing up for a triathlon can feel like packing for a six-month Arctic expedition at times. Between the necessary gear, clothing, food, and hydration, it's a lot of stuff to remember. Fortunately, many years ago I created a Triathlon Checklist that lets me pack with confidence. I know if I just use the checklist, I'll arrive with everything I need to have a great race. So it was a natural step to do the same for our robotics team. One Excel spreadsheet later and we have a fool-proof item-by-item checklist that makes sure nothing gets left behind.

My years in triathlon have also taught me many other things that come in handy no matter what the endeavor:

  • The race is often won by the most tenacious, not the flashiest
  • Gear and money aren't everything
  • If you get so nervous you can't sleep beforehand, use positive visualization to see yourself accomplishing everything you want to do
  • Get to know your competitors, they are often as nervous as you and usually are really great people
  • Having fun is the name of the game, so look around and enjoy what you are accomplishing
Whenever I try anything new or difficult, I am grateful for the lessons that triathlon has taught me. I know how to win, and how to lose graciously. I know how to pick myself up from a crash and keep going. I know what's really important is to enjoy the journey to the start line, not just what comes afterwards. Triathlon has been a gift in my life that just keeps giving.

Have a great weekend everyone, I'm off to stuff robot parts in bins!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Look Ma, No Bruises? Paleo Strikes Again

My karate partners reported something shocking. Both women were cautioned by their doctors about domestic violence, given helpline phone numbers, and information about the women's shelter. Why? Because their arms are covered with "defensive wounds", aka bruises from our karate class. Their doctors thought their husbands had been whuppin on them. If that wasn't so sadly all-too-common, it would be funny.

So now the big question is this: why, when my partners and I have been hitting each other, our forearms colliding a few hundred times per class, are my arms not covered by bruises? Why, when I leave class with them red and blotchy and starting to purple do they look like this just a few hours later?

The answer came when I was browsing though a Paleo eating forum (there's a forum for everything, isn't there) and someone posed the question: "Does anyone else notice that they don't bruise easily any more?"

Yeah, as a matter of fact, I noticed that. My arms and legs used to be covered with bruises all the time. And now they're not.
One person had this to say in response:
Another aspect of the paleo eating lifestyle is that the blood vessels, veins, capillaries slowly become more pliable and elastic. Thus when the body is abused, the veins and capillaries have some give and do not break as easily to leak blood under the skin.

Also the vascular system is not as rigid due to some microscopic removal of plaque that had been layed down before elimination of non paleo foods such as wheat and sugar. Also the vascular system has opened up a tiny, tiny bit thus allowing more blood to flow with less effort by the heart muscle.

The resulting increased flow of blood, the pliability and less rigid vascular system due to changing to a paleo eating lifestyle are aspects of why people are able to correct their high blood pressure with diet alone.
Now that may be speculation, but it sounds plausible to me. For sure, my body feels completely different. It heals faster, I don't have the stiffness of beginning arthritis in my fingers that I've had for the last couple of years. My muscles are barely sore after tough workouts, and now my bruises barely appear and then they're gone. All evidence that the paleo diet is effecting change on a deep and cellular level in my body.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Am I Going Over to the Dark Side?

I know many of you have seen this video already. It's actually responsible for almost wrecking my laptop. I was watching it and my son was standing behind me drinking orange juice, he laughed so hard he had a monitor spew moment and I ended up cleaning orange juice off my keyboard for an hour. It's very funny for precisely the reason that there are so many little elements of truth in it.

But as I thought about it after (okay I admit) multiple viewings, I started to wonder which character I most identified with. And to tell the truth, I'm not quite sure. I think I might be going over to the dark side of ultra running. I haven't worn my watch on a run in ages. I seem to gravitate toward trails and now hate to run on the streets. I've started thinking "A 50k run really doesn't sound all that bad". My bike hasn't been off its rack since my last half-Ironman in September.

Now a lot of that is just because I'm training so hard in karate right now, I barely have time to get a couple of runs or swims in during the week. When you add in the snowy/sleety/hailing/nasty weather we've been having, getting the bike out is less than appealing. And I may have some exciting triathlon news to share (soon) about some upcoming races.But in the meantime, I feel torn in two. I'm coaching people who are training for races. We're doing track workouts and pool workouts and using heart rate monitors and GPSs and gadgets and here I am wandering in the opposite direction, going for long rambling aimless trail runs. No periodization, no goals in sight. I guess we'll just have to see when the warm weather hits whether or not the hardcore triathlon bug will bite me again, or whether I'm beyond hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


The bad news is, I missed my run on Friday and my swim on Saturday. That's because the robotics team that I coach was busy all day Friday (and actually up until 10:30 Friday night) getting ready for their big competition. And Saturday morning we were up by 5:30 to head off to the tournament. We didn't straggle back home until Saturday night at almost 11:00 pm, which made me grateful for good endurance since this was certainly one very long day.

The good news is..... OUR TEAM WON THE TOURNAMENT. Yep, that's what I said. Even though they're a very young team (mostly middle schoolers in a high school division), and even though it's our rookie season, they did it. Totally amazing, they completely blow me away. This means that we'll be heading up to Portland for the state championships next weekend.

Which also means I'll probably miss next Friday's long run and next Saturday's Master's swim. But I think I can live with that.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh Beep Me!

You might have noticed my new little Powerpuff Girl countdown timer on my blog sidebar (True Confession: I actually have -- and sleep in -- the Powerpuff Girl pajamas pictured above...). The timer is there to remind me every day that I need to focus my attention on my karate practice. As of this exact moment, it tells me I have 27 Days, 20 Hours, 2 Minutes and 47 seconds until my black belt test.

Or not.

Our Sensei dropped this little bomb on me: We'll have to do the test twice. The first time will be on video, which she'll send up to Morris Mack Sensei, head of the American Shudokan Associatio. There, he will give a Caesar-like thumbs up or thumbs down. Assuming we pass that, then comes the pre-test at our dojo to make sure we're not going to waste the time of all the black belts who will come to judge us for the actual test. Then there's the test, which is now 27 Days, 19 Hours, 48 Minutes and 31 seconds away (but who's counting?).

So, what this means is that I have to be ready to test in less than two weeks for the video. Ulp. I am ramping up my game every way I know how: eating well, sleeping eight hours a night (you might notice I miss a few day's blogging now that I'm not staying up late here on the computer), practicing daily by myself, in class, and with my partner, focusing my attention and practicing positive visualization and affirmations.

One thing that's working in my favor is my years of conditioning: strength, endurance, and speed. I don't really have to work at any of that right now because it's already stored in my body and brain. That's a big bonus that I never thought about before, but it's a gift from my triathlon and strength training. I know I can last through the test without becoming fatigued. That's one thing I know will go right at least.

Beyond that and for all the rest, I just have to pray that I'm ready.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Girrrl Power and Triathlete's Dream Set

For the first time ever, we had more women than men at the morning Master's swim practice this a.m. So awesome! For many many years I was the only woman in the pool with the Master's, and while I adore all the guys I swim with, I have to admit it's really cool to have some girrrl power in the pool! Some of these ladies are smokin' strong too, and with any luck we'll be able to field a great relay team at the Association Championship meet in April.

Today's workout was a toughie, designed to get people ready to swim long with a strong pace, this is a great set for triathletes or open water swimmers, as well as people aiming to swim the 500, 1000, or 1650 in a meet.


200 each: Swim, Kick, Drill, Pull
4 x 75 Build Each

Main Set:
5 X 500  + 100 EZ 
Before each 500, do 10 pushups on deck then get a hard start and really push the first 25.  After the first 25, settle into a sustainable, aerobic pace.
#1:  Swim
#2:  Pull buoy.  Breathe every 3 the whole way 

#3:  Swim, faster than #1
#4:  Pull buoy.  Same breathing pattern as #2.
#5:  Swim, aim for fastest split of the day

100 EZ

4200 yards

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Help! My Alarm Clock Is Killing Me!

Why do the Master's Swimmers look so shocked every time I show up for the 5:15 am workout? They get a good laugh in at my expense because I am SO NOT a morning person and it shows. I only fill in for this crazy time slot, I don't do it full time and now I know why. On my second week now of being a slave to my alarm clock, I'm getting nothing else done.

You see, night time is when I actually make things happen. The kids are asleep, or at least in bed. My early-to-bed-early-to-rise hubby has wound down for the night, and the house is all mine. ALL MINE. I get to type random stuff here on my blog, I get to catch up my 80,000 emails, I get to see a few friends online, read some stuff, fill my brain. Then around midnight or so the old grey matter winds down, I stagger off to bed and wake up at the very reasonable hour of 7:30 or 8:00. Without the alarm clock.

Sigh. I'm turning off my computer now. I'm setting the alarm for 4:30. At least I've got a good swim workout to get revenge on anyone laughing at me on the pool deck in the early morning hours. I'll post it tomorrow... if I'm not asleep that is.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just When You Thought A Carbon Fiber Bike Was Expensive

I was checking out the beautiful and amazing-sounding guitar that singer-songwriter David Wilcox was playing tonight. I was looking at it when he was on stage thinking Damn, that looks like he's playing a carbon fiber guitar! The customary blackish-greyish hatchmark pattern glimmered in the light, and who but a triathlete wouldn't recognize that pattern? The first real triathlon bike I ever bought was this Giant Cadex, the first carbon fiber frame I'd ever seen. I think this photo was probably 1989 or so. It was unpainted, and it just looked like a black checkerboard. You gotta love those Scott DH bars on the front end. The first Aero bars I'd ever seen, too. Boy was I a mover and a shaker with that setup! . The neon grip tape too. And that styrofoam Gyro helmet, and white Oakley glasses, yeehaw!

But back to tonight's concert. As it turned out, the guitar was carbon fiber after all. Custom made by Rainsong, it's a David Wilcox limited edition, with a price tag of $3,995.00, which makes a triathlon bike look downright cheap!  Still, when David plays that thing, it's priceless. I dare anyone to go to a David Wilcox concert and not come out with a smile on their face and in their heart. It's like a bicycle on a windless day on the smooth open road. It's like that runner's high that just won't leave. Like the zen you feel on a really good day in the pool when you get out and your whole body sighs in contentment. That's how his music makes me feel.

As a bonus, it was date night with the hubby, a little pre-Valentine's night out. In our 19 years together (OMG, did I just write that?) we've seen David perform many times, and it's always wonderful. In a way, David's music feels like the score to our life's journey together. So in honor of that, I'll share with you some lyrics that seem appropriate for Valentine's Day, something I'd say to any one of my friends, including you. These are from Burgundy Heart-Shaped Medallion, from the album How Did You Find Me Here?

If I had a spell of magic
I would make this enchantment for you
A burgundy heart-shaped medallion
With a window that you could look through
So that when all the mirrors are angry
With your faults and all you must do
You could peek through that heart-shaped medallion
And see you from my point of view

The Ironmom Extra Mile: More than you ever wanted to know about early aerobars!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Paleo Challenge Report Part 2: What I've Been Eating

A couple of quick notes about the Paleo eating plan and the Paleo Challenge:

1) This is not a diet in the usual sense of that word. Originally, diet meant basically what you eat. Like birds eat a diet of seeds and bugs. But now if you say "I'm eating a Paleo diet", what immediately pops into people's minds is "weight loss". While the Paleo diet seems to induce weight loss in a lot of people, especially if they're typically eating a lot of simple carbs going into it, that's not the main focus (for me at least) of trying to eat this way.

2) The main focus is health, across all body systems. Good health feels like this: You go to sleep easily, you pop out of bed with lots of energy, you can perform all sorts of demanding tasks during the day both mental and physical without feeling tired or lethargic, and your body systems all function well.

Okay, that being said, it seems like eating this way might take some getting used to. So what's a typical day on the Paleo Challenge like? Easier than you might think.

First of all, I try to think of each meal as about 2/3 vegetables, 1/3 meat or other protein. I've tried to get really good about prepping a bunch of vegetables all at once so I've always got a supply on hand of vegetables cut and ready to go for anything I want to cook.


I like to start out my day with a whole bunch of veggies, scrambled up with some eggs or sausage or bacon or even some hamburger left over from last night. For hubby and I, I basically fill my cast iron skillet with vegetables before adding 4 eggs, so there's a good wallop of vitamins, anti-oxidants and protein to start off our day.

Once a week on Sundays, I cook up a big batch of "Paleo Crepes" made with almond meal and coconut flour. I put the extras in the fridge and the kids eat them all week. I usually have them on Sunday morning with a bunch of berries.


If we're at home for lunch, I might cook up a nice stir fry. Throw a bunch of veggies in the pan and add some frozen shrimp. Toss in some garlic, onions, ginger, a spritz of sesame oil, some Bragg's Liquid Aminos  which add a flavor similar to soy sauce, and you've got a really great lunch in five minutes.

If we're out of the house, I might take along some turkey or chicken slices and a bunch of snackable veggies like carrots, red pepper slices, celery, etc.


For dinner, I try to get creative and find things that fit well with my Paleo desires, but that the kids will also like. Taco Night is a good one, because I just make a huge Taco Salad (with no chips or taco shells), and the kids make regular ol' Tacos.

Other favorites are:

Pasta (I make a big meat and veggie sauce and serve it over steamed cauliflower for myself/hubby and pasta for the kids)

Soup: My homemade chicken or turkey is a huge favorite, and if we roast a whole chicken or turkey I can make an extra meal or two out of it by boiling up the carcass and making soup. I make it good and spicy with lots of veggies and pepper.

Fried Chicken: I've discovered I can make this by lightly rolling the chicken pieces in coconut flour. The kids declared it "delicious". I served it with some big bowls of steamed broccoli. Yum!

That's about it. I try to rotate through stuff so I don't get bored. I try to make sure I'm feeling happy about what I'm eating, and getting lots of fresh and steamed vegetables in there. If I feel like I need a few carbs during a heavy workout day, I'll throw in an apple or some dried fruit. Snacks are often nuts, jerky, or coconut chips (my favorite).

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Paleo Challenge: The Report, Part 1

I finished the 30-Day Paleo Challenge this week, re-starting it after the stomach bug caused me to resort to saltines on Day 5.  For the most part, I found it was very easy to do.

The Sugar Monster

After just a few days, my sugar cravings were completely gone. You might remember that just a couple of months ago I was craving sugar like a heroin addict looking for a hit. So to have it depart so suddenly, to be able to open up a cupboard and look at a pound of chocolate, or to dish out an entire pan of lemon bars to hungry teenagers and not have a single bit, that's pretty amazing, right? Well, I think it is. I've lived with the Sugar Monster my entire life. I remember walking to the store as a 12 year old to replace with my crumpled up bills of allowance money an entire quart of ice cream I'd eaten, so my parents wouldn't find out and get mad at me. How screwed up is that? I ate so much sugar, I had a yeast Army living in my body. I actually got thrush as a teenager and the doctor said that was so unusual he'd never seen it except in babies and seriously ill old people.

So the fact that this Sugar Monster was just {poof} GONE is amazing all by itself.

The Thyroid Horror Show

The next issue I was wondering about was my thyroid. One of the things that spurred me to take the Paleo Challenge was that my doctor had recently decided to lower my thyroid medication (possibly because the earlier switch to mostly Paleo made my thyroid actually start working again, hooray!). Whenever they muck with your medication, Bad Things Happen. Like you hair starts to fall out, you get incredibly cold, your skin gets scaly, muscles get achy, and you gain weight like nobody's business. The last time my medication got mucked with I gained 13 pounds in about three weeks. It's crazy. So this time when they changed my medication I watched all of this happen and decided that if Mostly Paleo was good news for my thyroid then 100% Paleo might just stave off the Thyroid Horror Show.

You know what? I was right. By the time I started on the Challenge, I'd reduced my medication (per doctor's orders) by 25%. I was already starting to experience some of the thyroid symptoms (very very cold for one thing) and had gained 5 pounds. But by a few days into the Challenge, it all stopped. Within a week I wasn't cold anymore, and my family was happy that I didn't have to roast them out with the heaters. My muscle cramps stopped. The weight gain stopped, and within three weeks I'd lost it all back to my regular body weight. Pretty powerful stuff.

No Carb Exercise???

Through it all, I've continued both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. I've run as much as an hour and a half on the trail with no carbs whatsoever (and doesn't that run counter to conventional exercise "wisdom"??). My typical pre-workout breakfast is a big egg-and-veggie scramble. No bagels, toast, or even a banana to get those carbs flowing. Post workout snacks are jerky, and maybe some carrots. For fruit I've mostly stuck to frozen berries that we picked last summer. I have had a few bananas and half an apple here or there, but no serious carbs.

So without fueling with carbs, I've worked out an average of 13.5 hours a week, with a low of 11 and a high of 15.5. I've done weights, crossfit, trail running, kickboxing, Master's swimming, karate, track workouts, and taught Karate Conditioning without feeling underfueled or under-recovered. In fact, my recovery is pretty amazing.

For instance, my Tuesdays  include an hour to hour and a half of Karate in the morning, then an hour long hike with my dogs at noon, two hours of Karate in the evening (which often includes bodyweight work like pushups, situps, squats), and Karate Conditioning at 7:00. By the time I get home, I've exercised for 4 - 4.5 hours, some of it very high intensity (like today included sparring matches). I wake up Wednesday morning feel fresh as a daisy.

In A Nutshell: The Wrap-Up

At age 44, having that kind of energy is, well, nothing short of miraculous. So that's the first installment of my Paleo Report: Sugar Cravings Gone, Thyroid Stabilized, Incredible Fueling for extreme workouts. I call that success.

Tomorrow: What did I eat?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Under Armour Is Not Swimwear, And Other Swimming Guidelines

Miss Manners I'm not, but folks there's a few important bits of pool etiquette that we should all be aware of, for our own protection. Here's just a few that have sprung to mind in recent pool sessions:

1.) Guys, Under Armour is not swimwear. In fact, it's quite a bit more revealing than the infamous red cycling shorts, especially when wet. Go buy yourself a Speedo. If you don't want to wear the traditional style, the "jammer" style looks just like Under Armour long shorts, yet not transparent. Go with black. Trust me.

2.) If you make noise underwater, we can still hear you. Sound travels better underwater, so if you happen to make sounds akin to a humpback whale's mating call while lap swimming, we will all hear you. Ditto if you hum along to Lady Gaga on your SwiMP3

3.) However, even while keeping Rule #2 in mind, Humming Keeps Water Out of Your Nose During Turns. As long as you're not too loud about it, a little hum during flip turns lets air out your nose and keeps the water from rushing in when you're upside down. Just don't sound like a humpback whale.

4.) If you thought that your humming travels well underwater, the incessant beeping from your pace watch can be heard off the coast of Guatemala. A couple of laps while using one is fine. Anything more is grounds for a kickboard or two that "accidentally" float into your lane. Just sayin'

5.) If you jump into the shallow end to start your swim off with a bang, it creates a sort of tidal wave that fills the mouths of all swimmers near you unlucky enough to be trying to breathe. We really don't want to think about where that water's been, so don't make us drink it.

6.) And this one is serious: If the sign says "Parental Supervision Required", that does not mean you can leave your four year old on the pool stairs while you chat with your gal pal in the hot tub. Especially if you can't see your four year old from the hot tub. Especially if your four year old doesn't swim. I'm not paid to be the lifeguard at any pool, but I can't tell you how many youngsters I've saved from possible death by drowning  (in public, private, hotel pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, and creeks). Supervision means to supervise. Please let your kids grow up to be swimmers old enough to be annoyed by the man who created the tidal wave in Lane 1 and is now making the whale sounds with every breath. Thank you.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Anaerobic Endurance Workout: Death By Ten Meters

Anaerobic Endurance. Now there's an oxymoron. Or is it? Once you go anaerobic, there's not that long that you can last in such a state. Yet, if you can keep coming back to that state with just a very little rest and push yourself again, it offers a huge benefit for your body. Many studies are indicating that this is the best way to ramp up your metabolism.

With that in mind, I put my Karate Conditioning class through the "Death By Ten Meters" workout tonight. Except that the main room in the dojo is about 20 by 50 feet, and I had 14 people to squeeze in there, so I sent half of them to each wall and they ran to the center line and back for each "lap", making sure to touch the ground on each side. It ended up being 50 feet, or closer to fifteen meters for each with a turn in the middle.

Here's how this workout goes:

Set a timer to repeat every one minute.

The first timer goes off, you run one lap of ten meters (fifteen in our case). You get a lot of rest since you don't go again until that minute is up.
The second time the timer goes off, you run two laps.
The third time, you run three.
You get the picture.

With each passing minute you run more and get less rest. Eventually, you can't squeeze in another lap. Several of us in class made it to eleven laps. We almost made it to twelve but got caught by the timer before we could complete the last lap. I've also done this one on a football field, which is more like Death by Ten Yards instead of meters, and with a bit less ground to cover we made it to 17 laps.

Afterwards, while we were all gasping for air and trying not to puke, I managed to explain that this sort of workout is perfect for Karate Conditioning because what you need a lot of in Karate is A) explosive power and B) The ability to continue generating that power with very little rest for a significant amount of time. By making sure you touch the ground on each lap, you're essentially throwing a lunge into the mix, and forcing your body to generate power out of that lunge to start each sprint. Perfect for the application to karate.

If you're an endurance athlete, you might be asking why you'd want to inflict this kind of pain on yourself. Nah, why not just go do another 6 miler at a reasonable pace? The answer is that endurance athletes are often weak in key areas, like hips and glutes. This type of workout will tax your muscles in new ways and give you a more robust body that's less likely to get injured. There is also a fair bit of evidence that anaerobic workouts have a lot of carryover into endurance as well.

So go ahead, kill yourself ten meters at a time.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Days of Sun and Roses

True Confession: I hate running in a rain jacket. I hate the way it makes that swish swish sound, especially if you have the hood up. I hate the way you get clammy and sweaty inside, even if it says "breathable" on the label. I hate the way none of them are ever, EVER waterproof. Note: if you're a raincoat manufacturer and you think you can prove me wrong, please send me one to test here in Oregon's wetter side. I've tried so many!

I always feel better when the sun comes out to stay for a few days, even if it's cold and the trees are still leafless and bare. Taking the dogs for a walk when it's NOT pouring down rain is a real treat. And running in the sun with only a couple of layers of clothes? Heaven. In the last two weeks, I've only run twice, total. I've missed my trail runs with Adventure Dog. I've missed my little slice of peace and quiet and time to myself. In the chaos that was this weekend, I quickly became overwhelmed with noise and activity and needing to be "on" all the time.

So today's run was wonderful, blissful, regenerating. The sun has climbed in the sky 'til it's no longer hovering on the southern horizon. It's capable of generating some warmth, enough to let me remove a layer about 20 minutes into the run. And now I feel almost human again. Friday's trail run should put me the rest of the way there.

I know some of my East Coast friends are in the aftermath of some hellish storms. They've been shoveling feet of snow and unable to get outside easily. I wish I could package up some sunshine and send it to you all.