Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Athlete Profile: John Smallwood, Trans-America Cyclist

We met in the strangest and most serendipitous way. Although we had never set eyes on each other before, and although he had just biked 70 miles down Oregon's Willamette Valley when he called me from his cell phone, John Smallwood was in reality standing just 50 feet away from me. It was a surreal moment. The traveling cyclist was going to be our houseguest, via an organization called Warmshowers.org, which pairs cyclists with host families. Typically a cyclist calls me when they get into town and I give them directions to our house. This time, I was near downtown, about to pick my son up from Spanish class when John called. I asked him where he was at. "The corner of 6th and High street" he replied in his Australian/British accent.

The funny thing was, I was also at the corner of 6th and High. I looked around.

"Are you wearing a neon green vest?" I asked, pretty sure that the guy with the heavily-laden bike trailer might just be my guest. I waved.

John waved back and I walked over to meet him. Not only did I instantly like him, but as we heaved his 50-pound trailer into the back of my mini-van, my dogs Sophie and Callie, normally quite wary of strangers (especially ones with helmets and neon green vests) took to him immediately as well. Callie climbed right up into his lap as he got in the van, and Sophie set aside her usual period of wary growling and barking to cozy right up to him. This latter I chalk up to the fact that as an Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog mix, she was very partial to his accent.

Since our city sits right near the beginning (or the end) of the Trans-America Bicycle Trail (established in our bicentennial year of 1976), we get a fair number of folks in the summer who are doing the Cross-America route. They are all interesting, adventurous, and fun people as you might guess. But some of them are just really special and you hate to see them go. John Smallwood was definitely one of those.

As he says on his website, BicycleAcrossAmerica.org, he is "determined to make a difference" by raising money for Maison Chance, an organization that provides housing, health care, educational and vocational training for orphans, street children, disadvantaged and physically handicapped people in Vietnam. And he's doing this by riding across the country, solo. He became involved with Maison Chance while cycling in Vietnam, and I enjoyed hearing his stories about the people he'd bet there whose lives had been greatly changed by this organization. You can read more about the work they do here in his description and there is a link to donate on his main website. You can also send PayPal using their email address, usa@maison-chance.org .

Although our household was deep in its usual craziness (I was juggling kids, dogs, chickens, laundry, and heading out to teach my Karate Conditioning class while John was here), he just rolled with the punches as our guest. The next morning, I took the opportunity to ride out of town with him and see him launched on his continuing journey across the country. You don't know how hard it was to turn back!! Some day, I would love to just keep going, pedaling across this large and beautiful land of ours.

More than anything, John inspired me in so many ways. For one thing, if I had to guess his age, I'd probably put him somewhere around 50. So I was quite surprised when he said 66! If we could all look so fit in our mid-sixties!! That's testimony to a cycling lifestyle for sure. And he said he'd only taken up cycling a few years back, which is pretty amazing really. When you add in his dedication to using his bicycle journey to help others, you can see why I thought you all would like to be as inspired as I was in hearing his story.

There's really no excuse not to get out there and live our lives to the fullest.  As I watched John roll away down the road toward the East Coast, Thoreau's quote came to my mind:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.

Somewhere out there on the open road, John Smallwood is doing just that.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Swimming Across Crater Lake: The Adventure, The Plan, The Camaraderie

Transcendent. That's the word I'd choose to express my feelings about our Crater Lake swim last weekend. It transcended my expectations in all possible ways. We have been planning this for many many months, training in ever-longer lake swims, making lists of gear and staging, reserving camping spots and buying tickets for the lone boat that travels across the lake to Wizard Island.

For those of you who have never been to Crater Lake: Go. It's one of the wonders of the natural world, and a truly spectacular place. Some of our swimmers and their family members had never been there, so to see their faces when they first caught sight of it was very cool. It is the deepest lake in America at almost 2,000 feet deep, and one of the clearest lakes in the world with visibility well over 100 feet. Our route would take us almost 6.5 miles from Wizard Island (the famous cone-shaped landmark inside the lake) back to the boat dock. A straight shot would've been closer to 5 miles, but we felt it was safer to stay within hailing distance of the shore, just for safety reasons.

There were so many unknowns going into this swim. This year's snowfall had deposited over 600 inches by the end of April, and there was plenty of snow to be seen even in August. That meant the lake temperature might be far below the average for this time of year, which was only in the high 50's to low 60's. Hypothermia was a real possibility, and we agreed that somewhere around 55 degrees was our cutoff point for swimming such a long ways. Weather was another factor, with August you get thunderstorms which can come and go with rapidity. Being stuck in a gigantic bowl of water is not the safest place when lightning strikes, and indeed we were told that the late afternoon storm that deposited some rain on our post-swim barbeque had launched at least seven lightning strikes directly into the lake just an hour or so after we got out. We had swimmers of varying speeds, many of whom had never swam this far before. Myself, I felt like my broken arm in June had left a big question mark over my head. I hadn't been able to swim more than 3 miles in practice before our planned traverse of the caldera. There was also the question of safety: no boat support was allowed, not even an inflatable innertube could be towed along. We had small dry bags that we could swim with, and that was it. They could hold some food, a space blanket, a handwarmer or two, and a two-way radio connecting us to the Rim, but that was it for safety gear. Any emergency we met with, we'd have to handle on our own.

Strangely, while all of our fears about water temperature, weather, ability of swimmers, safety, and gear came to naught, the biggest stumbling block to completing the entire thing was..... boat tickets! We had been told that we could line up to buy tickets only the morning of the trip. Of course, our entire plan hinged on us all getting on the same boat to Wizard Island, and they only run three boats out there per day. Imagine my surprise, when I asked the ticket agent what time we should come to line up for tickets and she said that they'd changed the entire ticket selling system just two days before. Now the tickets were being sold at kiosks up to two days before. They were probably sold out, she informed me. As it turned out, there was only one ticket left. What to do? We brainstormed many possible permutations of our swim, including swimming an out and back, having some of our swimmers start from the island and some from shore (a few had managed to get their hands on advance tickets), and begging the boat captains to commission a separate boat (nixed by the Coast Guard regulations).

Eventually, it came down to the last moment. We snagged the last ticket which brought us up to five. One swimmer bought four tickets on the afternoon boat with the notion of offering to trade morning boat passengers their tickets. That worked for two more. The boat captain himself shifted a couple of staff members to later boats and voila, we were all happy and smiling and headed for the island at 10:00 a.m.

So there we were: the moment had come at last. The water was a brisk 61 near the shore (the captain cautioned us it would be colder out in the middle), and we filled our towable dry bags with snacks, donned our wetsuits, and jumped off the Wizard Island dock for our adventure.

Our plan was to break into three "pods", with color-coordinated caps. We sent the slowest pod off first, the medium pod a little while later, and I brought up the rear with Ethan and Dan, my "white cap" pod-mates. Our first leg took us around the island in about 45 minutes. From there, we sighted on Lao Rock and took off across the deep, and hour-long leg that led us over the bottomless blue, an area where there was 1700 feet of water beneath our wetsuit-clad bodies. The water was so clear, you could look over and see another swimmer like they were moving through glass. It looked as if we were all floating in air, very beautiful and surreal. The light rays converged beneath us in the startling blue water, and at one point we just stopped in the middle all laughing and shouting and just having so much fun. It's like we were all injected with pure joy. We goofed off and took some photos and video there.
After a stop at the rock for some food (no water needed, since we could just drink the lake - now that's purity!), we headed for a deserted beach, another 45 minutes or so away. This was one of the highlights of the journey as we all got out and lounged around on "Aquaduck Beach" (well, as much as one can lounge while wearing a wetsuit, that is!). Such a great company of people to share this journey with!

After that, we did another staggered start with our pods leaving separately toward a point of land, and then our final crossing to the boat dock. All in all, it took us somewhere around 2:40 (for our white pod) and we swam about 6.3 miles, give or take a few yards. We calculated our staggered starts well as each leg of the journey had the white pod gaining on the green and catching up with the yellow so that we all got to each check-in point with a couple minutes of each other. Still, it was amazing how hard it was to see each other across the lake. Since we were down in the caldera, with no noise other than the slap of waves and the breeze, we could sometimes hear our other swimmers but not see them.

All in all, the experience of traversing Crater Lake's caldera was an adventure into the unknown. How many times in your life do you get to embark into the utterly uncertain? Test yourself against nature and your own limitations? Do something where the outcome is not a given? And how many places can you go these days where there are no other humans? Even the summit of Everest has a crowd on any given day in the climbing season. We swam through those pristine waters, we sat on that deserted beach, we looked across the lake and saw nothing but water and sky, heard nothing but wind and waves. Our journey together bonded us as the self-styled "Crater Lake Nine", and a big barbeque later with our family had us all with perma-smiles on our faces that this week since has not erased.

Above all, my gratitude is overwhelming. So many things came together for us to make this swim: an amazing group of athletes and friends, our families who supported us, the helpful people running the boats, the anonymous tourists who kindly traded us their boat tickets, the weather, the water temperature, the good health that kept us all swimming strong. It was like a perfect storm of wonderfulness.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Triathlon Training Questions?? We've Got Answers!

Questions of the day: Nutrition, training while sick, and road biking vs. mountain biking while training for a triathlon.

Laura is training for the Iron Girl triathlon in Lake Tahoe (and I'm so excited to get to meet her at the race!). But, like anyone relatively new to the triathlon world, she has questions. Since these are things that many people might wonder, I asked her if it would be okay to answer them here, and she agreed. So here's the first one:

The whole topic of nutrition makes my head spin. There are so many different ideas about what is best. My understanding is nutrition should be viewed as fuel for the body yet I am having trouble filling my tank! I am hungry ALL the time.  I graze on wholesome foods during the day but, the hunger comes back within a half hour or so.  Do you know of any foods or perhaps the timing of when I eat that will help me feel fuller longer?  Also, if you know of any foods that seem to do a better job at sustaining energy throughout the day, I would love some ideas. Some days I am wiped out by three o'clock.  I realize this can probably be a tricky question because we are all unique. I would be appreciative of your input on  general nutrition guidelines an endurance athlete should follow.

It's definitely true that nothing besides religion and politics has as many opposing viewpoints as the topic of nutrition! My views on nutrition guidelines can be summed up pretty simply: Eat simple, whole, non-processed foods. If you've followed my journey here from vegetarian to Paleo, you'll know that while I've always focused on a diet of high-quality local and organic foods, I'm also not averse to changing things up to achieve a better and more nutritious eating plan. And recently I've been tweaking my Paleo ways to include more carbohydrates for endurance fueling.

When it comes to hunger, there are some important questions to ask. The first is, are you getting enough calories in? When you start training more, you get more hungry! This seems like such an obvious thing, yet a lot of us get used to "how much food I eat", and are reluctant to eat more than that, especially if we are worried about gaining weight. The fact is, how much you eat is directly influenced by how much you burn. I may eat 30 - 50% more food on a heavy training day than on a rest day, and I'm always amazed at how little I eat on my days with no workouts. It really doesn't take all that much food to keep a sedentary body going, yet it can sometimes take huge amounts of food to fuel an athlete's body. So the first thing to do is to make sure you're eating enough. If you're curious about calories in vs. calories out, you can use an application like Sparkpeople.com or FitDay.com (both of which have Android and iPhone apps) to track how much you're burning (including workouts) and how many calories you're taking in.

The second part of the equation is meeting your body's specific needs. If you're training hard, you are burning through glycogen, which you then need to replenish, hence the need to eat at least a certain amount of carbohydrates. Luckily, carbohydrates also fall fairly high on the satiety index, so they help you feel fuller longer. Sometimes that "empty tank" feeling is simply your body's glycogen fuel stores getting low. I've come to be able to distinguish between what I call "stomach hunger" (the familiar rumbling belly) and "body hunger" which is more an overall sensation of needing fuel.

Many people find that adding more fat to their diet helps them feel full longer. Healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil are great for this (in fact, I had an athlete friend who swears by a tablespoon of oil when he starts feeling hungry). Now that we are far from the fat scare of the late 1990's ("eating fat will make you fat" was the motto of the Snackwell generation) and hopefully know better, we can make good choices regarding getting fats from great sources like eggs, fish, grass-fed meats, nuts, and seeds. I almost always start my day with two eggs combined with something (veggies, bacon, or coconut/banana are three favorite options) and that helps me avoid the hunger-crazies through the morning.

Hopefully that's helpful and you can avoid that afternoon burn out by fueling your endurance workouts! Next question:

The other thing is biking. I am mountain biker. I love the tranquility of riding in the dirt and through the trees.  Recently, I dusted off my road bike for the first time in three years.  This bike certainly handles the road much better than my moutain bike.  However I am not accustom to riding near traffic!  I need to shake the road riding jitters. Do you have any important road biking saftey or ettiquette tips (besides the obvious like wear your helmet and pray) that I should follow? I just want to be sure that I am not missing any important safety items, especially when I am making left turns or when the bike lane crosses between the right hand turn lane. Also, if I do some of my training rides on my mountain bike will that still be adequate training for the road coarse?  Or will I be short changing myself?
I completely understand - I love being off of the main routes of traffic and I know how nerve-wracking it can be to ride close to cars. My tips are as follows:

1) Wear girlie clothes. Sorry guys, but studies show that drivers are far kinder to female cyclists than to males. They even give them way more room when passing. Anecdotally, I've noticed that when I wear my flowered cycling shirts, I get more consideration than when I wear the green/blue/black team kit. So flaunt your flower power and get some pink/orange/girlie jerseys!

2) Give yourself some room. Unless there's a wide shoulder or bike path, I don't ride right on the edge of the lane. It's useful to take up a little room in the lane, not so much that cars can't get around you, but enough that if you swerve around a stick or rock, or get buffeted by the draft of a big truck, you won't go flinging into the gravel shoulder.

3) Be courteous to drivers and obey traffic rules. Know your state's laws for cyclists (including hand signals) and use them. I always try to send very clear body language to drivers to let them know what I'm doing. A big left arm out, encased in neon yellow is an easy sign that says I'm turning left. Don't make tentative gestures.

4) Wear great reflective gear, blinkies, and lights. A blinkie during the day is even a good idea, and my reflective gear has saved my life in dusk-like riding conditions. For the most part, drivers want to see you, and are happy when you provide an easy way for them to spot you in plenty of time.

As for training on a mountain bike, sure! Make sure you're comfortable on your road bike since the saddle, seat angle, and strain on places like wrists or lower back may be different than on your mountain bike, but go ahead and put in some of your training time on your mountain bike as well. I know the year that my hubby took up mountain biking he became a monster climber on the road bike. It's great training for those hills!

Last question:

What happens when you catch a pesky head cold during training? =(  Can I keep going and watch and see how my body feels? Will throttling back on the training hurt me race day?    
  Taking a few days off to recover shouldn't hurt you much on race day, but more than 4 or 5 might start to have an effect. Generally, I'll train through a light cold, but if I feel it start to go into my lungs or if I'm running a fever, I give it a rest. Also, my sister makes this awesome soup that has a ton of cayenne and garlic in it. If you feel a bug coming on and drink a couple bowls of that stuff, it knocks that pesky cold right outta the ballpark.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 44: Long Cold Swim? No Problem!

I've been told that one of the reasons that Ironman Coeur d'Alene does not sell out like the other North American Ironman events is because people are scared of the cold swim. I have no idea if this is true or not, but that's one aspect of the race that at least will not intimidate me. Because....

I swam across Crater Lake this Saturday!

My Aquaducks team have been planning and training for this for months now, and the weekend was finally upon us. I'll have more pictures and probably a long rambling post about it up soon, but the short version is that it took us nearly 3 hours of swimming, it was about 56 - 61 degrees in most places, the water was clear as glass, and it was fabulous, amazing, incredible, adjective-defyingly fun!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ask And It Shall Be Answered

Wasn't it just yesterday I was asking if you could fuel an endurance athlete on bananas alone? Today the answer appeared on my doorstep, in the form of John. John is a 66 year old cyclist embarking on a solo journey across the United States, and one of the coolest humans I've had the pleasure to meet. But I'll talk more about him, his journey, and the reasons behind it tomorrow and add some photos as well.

As it relates to my banana question, John informed me that he cycled across Vietnam eating largely nothing but bananas. There, my question has been answered! Man can live on bananas alone. He also started telling me that he eats rather differently now than he used to, he's on a mostly "caveman diet" now. I had to stop him from explaining further as I know exactly what he was talking about. He was right at home in our Paleo household.

Since my own burning question has been answered, I think I'll go on to address a couple of questions I've gotten this week. Both are swimming related.

The first is from Kathy, who asks:

Can I request a post? I've read about running frequently vs long runs and cycling in the same vein but do you believe swimming is the same? I.e. swim shorter distances but more frequently as IM prep? I'm already sold on running 6 days/week (but 1:2:3 ratio) but wonder if swimming 4-5 days/week would be "better" than 3 days (for the same distance).

 I don't think swimming more than 3 days a week would be harmful, assuming your stroke has good mechanics and you aren't going to give yourself an overuse shoulder or elbow injury. But I also don't think it would be necessarily any better for IM training for several reasons:

1. The swim is such a small component of the Ironman. Any extra time you put into swim training is not going to buy you much of a time advantage at the IM distance. Putting the same amount of training time into extra bikes or runs would probably give you a better net gain in your total time.

2. Swimming for most people is time consuming. An hour of swimming typically involves travel time to get to a pool or open water and may take as long as two hours to accomplish, where a bike or run can happen right from your front door. You get less training bang for your buck from hours spent swimming. Increasing the number of swims means also increasing the amount of wasted time (unless you live on the ocean or a lake or have your own pool).

3. If you're a fast swimmer, then extra swim sessions won't make you considerably faster in the grand Ironman scheme of things. If you're a slow swimmer, you're better off spending your swim time working on your technique, and for that you can optimize your time with one coached session, one session to work on what you're learning from your coach (more on that in a minute) and do some intervals, and one session to work on endurance.

Which leads me to the next question, from Stephanie at FitMomInTraining.com, who says
I need tips/training on how to increase endurance in swimming.

The answer to this one goes back to the discussion of technique above. When people think about endurance, they think of gradually building up the ability to go longer and longer. This works well with sports like running and biking, where if you just keep upping your training distances in small increments, you will eventually be able to go longer without fatiguing.

Not so with swimming.

And here's why: Both speed and endurance in swimming are more tied to technique than anything else. Water is more than 700 times denser and 55 times more viscous than air. That means that while you can wave your arms at your friends and family all you want while running a marathon, the slightest pinky out of place when you are swimming will cost you dearly in terms of increased drag.

Most swimmers do not take all the possible steps to reduce drag in their stroke, and many incur additional drag by making very common stroke mechanic mistakes such as keeping the head high or weaving from side to side. It takes a huge amount of energy to overcome this additional drag in water, therefore much of the reason for a swimmer's lack of endurance is simply that they're spending far more energy than they need to.

As a case study, I'll mention a lady in my swim class. On Monday night, I was watching her stroke. She has gotten the hang of a nice long glide phase in her stroke, which extends the "vessel" of her body in the water and reduces her form drag. Over the months we've worked together, she has also ditched her habit of crossing the centerline of her body on hand entry. This has greatly reduced her side-to-side wiggle, which in turn also reduces drag immensely. As a result, it now takes her 18 strokes to move from one end of the pool to the other, instead of the 28 that it used to take. You can easily see how her endurance can be greatly improved simply by the fact that she's taking 30% fewer strokes to go the same distance!

Beyond simply reducing drag, you can also increase the efficiency of your stroke. Many swimmers spend time moving water in all sorts of directions (downwards, upwards, to the sides) but the only direction that counts is moving water straight behind you, because that's the only way to gain propulsion in the forward direction (assuming you DO want to swim forward, right?). ALL of this muscle power that you may be using to move water in random directions costs you in terms of fatigue and reduced endurance.

So the bottom line is that to increase endurance in swimming, the best and easiest method is to improve your stroke and reduce your drag and therefore your effort in swimming. Finding a local Masters swim group or coach can be your best bet. If you live in an area with no available swimming resources, you can consider video coaching (which I offer, among other online swim coaches). As a last resort, I'd consider self-coaching using a book or DVD like Total Immersion.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Countdown to Ironman: Week 45: The Paleo Ironman

Everyone knows what endurance athletes eat: bagels, pasta, bread, gatorade, and Gu. Right? Isn't this necessary? Any endurance website or forum will tell you this much, it's an accepted fact. And if you're going to do an Ironman, better buy stock in the wheat farming industry, because according to many experts, it's "foolish" to eat otherwise than a heavy dose of grain-based carbs.

So what the heck am I thinking? I started eating Paleo when I was doing more intensive and less endurance-based training (Crossfit and Karate as opposed to Ironman). But I feel so darned good, I don't want to give up the benefits and go back to eating grain, sugars, etc.. For one thing, all of those niggling little joint pains I used to have? Gone. The creaking knees, the arthritis starting in my knuckles? Gone. Muscle aches and pains after a hard workout? Gone baby gone. Still think I'm nuts? Read 10 Reasons to go Grain-Free and get back to me on that one.

So that leaves me with the Great Unknown, which is how to train for an endurance event on a diet that doesn't give you a whole lot of carbohydrate replacement easily. I mean really, just how many yams and bananas can I be expected to eat? The guy over on the Castle Grok blog can answer that (he's transitioned from Paleo to a high-carb fruit-based diet that involves way more bananas than I will ever be able to stomach) but I don't think I'm cut out to be a fruitarian. Still, I know that as I ramp up my endurance workouts, my body suddenly gets this very intense carb craving, and I'm tuned in enough to my body to tell the difference between OMG get me a Cinnabon NOW and I really need some healthy carbs or my muscles are going to feel dead tomorrow.

So part of this new Ironman journey for me will be figuring out how to do it without the 80,000 boxes of cereal, bagels, and bowls of pasta I consumed last time. As my general guide, the book The Paleo Diet for Athletes will come in handy, although I think it didn't really go far enough in explaining what to eat during workouts. The book covered eating Paleo pretty handily for meals, and essentially says that during racing you need to revert to simple sugars like gels and sports drinks, but it doesn't really say much about how to eat during training, so I may be forging my own path in that direction.

Still, although the Ironman is a huge goal in anyone's life, my real aim is this journey to strive for ultimate health and fitness in all aspects of life. Finding a way to merge my desire to train for ultra-endurance and my need to eat in a way that fuels my body healthily is just part of the challenge.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our War With Sugar: Notes From the Trenches

The battle lines are clearly drawn. I walk through the front doors of my local grocery store and this is what confronts me: a towering wall of sugar.

Sugar in caramels, sugar in cookies, in chocolates pressed to look like Lego pieces, or Band-Aids, or even more horribly, in chocolates pressed to look like vegetables! To the left is a wall of sugary juices, and straight past the main Wall O' Sugar is the bakery section with donuts displayed prominently in front. To my right is the mocha stand with its drinkable forms of sugar, surrounded by more stacks of scones, cookies, and jars of biscotti.

Clearly, I have to walk through the encampment of the enemy just to get to allies: the meats, the vegetables and fruits. Is it any wonder that good health is so hard to achieve? We are not just having to employ our will power to eat healthily, but that will power is being actively sabotaged at every turn. And it's not just the grocery store. A trip into my daughter's favorite clothing store, Justice (don't even get me started on my clothes-made-in-sweatshops rant, it's her money that takes her in there, not mine), reveals yet another wall of sugar at the checkout. This more of the Gummy Worms and Sour Patch Kids variety, yet its purpose is quite clear: make money for the store and addict our children to not just garden variety sugar (bad enough) but a chemical goo of food coloring and high fructose corn syrup. In case we somehow overlooked its glaring neon-boxed display, the sales clerk drew our attention to the fact that all candy was on sale, two boxes of crap for the price of one.

Is there any good news in the war trenches? Well, I'm happy to say that there is. You might recall some of my previous posts about what a terrible sugar addict I have been. So you might think that walking past this barrage of sugar-soaked gluten-engorged substances would be darned near impossible for me. My trembling hands would simply reach out and start filling my cart while my brain looked helplessly on. But the truth is that after going cold turkey, and buckling down to a solid few months of Paleo, it's just not even that appealing to me. After all, when you stop eating the stuff, then you get a total sugar hangover when you do indulge, it's loses a lot of its luster.

I can stand there and look at this enormous pile of macaroons, cookies, cakes, donuts, gelato, mochas with whipped cream, and then turn and walk away. I can turn and walk away! Without buying a darned thing. This is the kid who used to fill her pockets with cookies at the Methodist bake sale, take them into the church bathroom and stuff her face with sugar until she puked. This is the girl who had such raging yeast infections that she had thrush as a teenager, stumping her family doctor who'd never seen it outside of infants. I mean, I've been a sugar addict my whole life. This is huge.

And yet, I try really hard not to be like those converted evangelists. I try to resist the temptation to tell everyone I know who struggles with the same thing how simple the answer turns out to be. When people say things like "I could never give up bread." or "I couldn't live without my mocha and scone", I try to just be sympathetic. When someone says to me "I can't give up my sugar, so I can't give up my 90 minutes a day of cardio, I nod my head because I know what that's like. Totally know what it's like. But now I also know it doesn't have to be that way.

The Ironmom Extra Mile: 

First Read This: The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar, and Type 2 Diabetes from Mark's Daily Apple

Then Do This: The Whole30 Challenge

That's It. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Can Home Improvement Cause Insanity??

Have you ever heard your voice, elevated beyond all rational levels, arguing with your husband about.... brick colors? If not, congratulations. You've never embarked upon the utter madness known as a Home Improvement Project. They might as well call them Marriage Destruction Projects. And because we didn't have enough craziness in our lives (right???), we decided to tear off our back deck and tear up our entire back yard to redo everything. I'm just praying that the rains don't come early because you can only imagine what our two dogs would look like after romping around in these piles of clay dirt in the RAIN.

Since our entire back yard has a slope approximately equal to the sides of Mt. Everest, creating any flat space at all is A Project. Involving backhoes, bulldozers, and millions of wheelbarrowloads of gravel, rocks, and retaining walls, several million workers, and lots and lots of noise and chaos. Did I mention that I'm the kind of introvert who craves peace. And silence. This has been a trying summer.

The good news is that this particular series of holes and dirt piles on the side of our house will be a water feature and  a pond (yes, that's my kitchen door you see hanging out in space with no deck below it!). I think this will be gorgeous when it's finished. The kids are excited about koi for the pond. I'm worried that my dog will think it's her personal waterpark.

And this giant hole with concrete pillars:
This will be a covered patio that will no longer drip water on our heads when we go outside. And above it all will be a new deck without the scary rickety railings and splintery boards of our old one. So all will be good at some point. I am hoping I'll be home from the loony bin in time to enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Countdown to Ironman: Week 46

Forty-six weeks to an Ironman that I'll do at age 46. How's that for synchronicity! Forty-six is a year that, according to Google searches at least, women are concerned with crow's feet, tummy tucks, anxiety and depression meds, and the onset of menopause. I don't know about you, but that sounds downright depressing! No wonder we have midlife crises. But triathlon can give us a wonderful gift - a desire to concentrate more on what our body can do than what it can't do, to look at what it's capable of and not so much what it looks like (because for sure I have crow's feet and grey hairs and all that fun stuff). So, forty-six. Is it an age at which you could expect to feel at your peak, mentally and physically? I'm hoping the answer is yes.

It's hard to believe, but at age 45 my body feels fitter, stronger, and healthier than it ever has. It's not the lightest it's ever been in my adult life (thank you anorexia, I don't want to go there again). Nor is it the heaviest (I always did tend to gain a *lot* of weight when pregnant) but it feels like I can ask it to do almost anything and it responds willingly. It sleeps well and trains hard, it craves healthy food and feels mentally alert and creative.

This last weekend saw me do about a 70.3's worth of training. Three miles of swimming, 57 of biking, and 12 miles of trail running over two days. Considering that I took a fair bit of time off of training to heal my arm, it all feels fairly easy and I'm not sore or overly tired. I think I can comfortably lay a good base down this winter for my Ironman specific training. Now that my kids are older, I can train a bit more than I did last time and hopefully feel even better prepared than I was for the first.

Paleo-style training nutrition this weekend included my Banana-coconut custard, some fruit leather for the trail run and bike, and my chia gel before my swim. At-home meals were grass-fed hamburgers and salad, shrimp-veggie stir fry, and chicken masala.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Monika and Laura (ThreeBoysFull), please contact me

I don't have a way to contact either one of you about the Iron Girl race entry giveaway. Please leave me an email or some other method of contact. Thanks!

Got Gear? What You Really Need to Do A Sprint Triathlon

It's six weeks to the Iron Girl Sprint triathlon at Lake Tahoe California. With only a month and a half to go, it's time to start thinking about gear. You can look at my own Triathlon Checklist to get an idea of what I take to a race.

Triathletes are notorious gear junkies, and the selections of everything from water bottle holders to tri shorts can be overwhelming for a first timer. What do you really need to do your first sprint triathlon? Surprisingly little!

Swim Cap
Wetsuit (optional)

The first thing you have to think about it the swim. A pair of goggles is highly recommended, and the most important thing to consider is how they fit. Try them on if possible (press them against your eyes and if they stick a moment, they'll probably be fine in the water).

Next you need to decide if you're going to need a wetsuit or not. It's important to find out the predicted water temperature ahead of time and plan for what you're going to need to wear. Tolerance for cold water is highly individual. My personal rule of thumb is that I can tolerate 55 degrees or above in a full sleeve wetsuit, 62 degrees and above in a farmer john (sleeveless) wetsuit, and about 70 degrees and above with no wetsuit. Some races will not allow wetsuits above a certain water temperature (76 degrees is typical).

If you will need a wetsuit, you may purchase one, or rent one. Iron Girl races have wetsuit rental available, and this is an excellent option for first time triathletes.

If you're wearing a wetsuit, you can wear triathlon shorts and a top underneath the suit if you want to, or you can wear a swim suit or one-piece triathlon suit. If you're not wearing a wetsuit, wear something you can swim in, such as
a one or two piece swimsuit, or triathlon wear designed for swimming.

Stay away from non-triathlon wetsuits. I often see first-timers at triathlons in some sort of water skiing wetsuit. These are bulky and difficult to swim in. You may get chafing and other problems from wearing such a suit.

Speaking of chafing, pick up a stick of BodyGlide and you will be much happier! Apply it liberally around your neck, under your arms, and anywhere else your wetsuit might rub.

Lastly, most races will provide a swim cap, but I always stick an extra one in my bag, just in case.

Sunglasses (optional)
Gloves (optional)

Obviously, you need a bike to complete a triathlon! If you already have one, you're in business. Many first-timers use a mountain bike or commuter-style bike in their first race and you don't have to worry that you'll be the only one. Make sure it's a bike that you're comfortable on. If you're borrowing a bike, make sure you get the seat and handlebars adjusted to fit you. An improper bike fit can cause knee or back pain, something you definitely don't want!

Helmets are always mandatory in triathlons, and make sure the buckle is secure and will stay so throughout the entire race. You must buckle on your helmet before leaving the bike transition area, so getting used to doing that before every ride is a good idea.

You don't need fancy bike shoes or pedals, but if you have specific pedals/shoes, make sure you are comfortable getting in and out of them.

Sunglasses are optional, but I always wear them in a race to protect my eyes from any road debris or flying bugs. Gloves are also optional. They take some time to put on, especially when your hands are wet from the swim, but some people feel much more comfortable with them on.

Hat or Visor (optional)
Sunglasses (optional)

Run in shoes that you're comfortable in, that you've trained in, and that are not brand new! Don't buy new shoes just before the race, make sure you've had a couple of weeks to break them in. I always go over my socks before I pack them to make sure there are no splinters or burrs in them. A hat or visor can shade your head on a hot day, and sunglasses are something I always wear for eye protection.

Nutrition and Hydration
First aid kit
Safety pins
Electrical Tape
Garbage Bags

A watch is a great thing to wear if you want to know how fast you're going. Some folks don't, so it's not mandatory! A towel is something you put down in your transition area for your gear to sit on. I always bring one that I can easily identify.

Depending on how long the race will take you, you may need to bring some food (gels, energy bars) and water or electrolyte mix such as Gatorade, Accelerade, etc. Most races will have water and electrolyte drink on the run course at the least. Many athletes like to pack some kind of protein bar to eat in the transition area about an hour before the start, and one gel to take 10 minutes before the start. In a sprint triathlon, many people find that they don't need to eat anything at all during the race.

Sunscreen is a must-use, as you'll usually be out on the course for at least an hour or more. I always bring emergency items such as a first aid kit (with ibuprofen, band-aids, etc.), electrical tape (for anything loose on the bike), safety pins (for wardrobe malfunctions), and garbage bags (big black ones, in case it rains - you can cover your gear and you can cover yourself.)

Friday, August 05, 2011

Ditch the Sugary Gels? Paleo Fuel for Endurance Training

How much money does the average triathlete spend on sugary gels and bars in one year? Now wouldn't that be a scary statistic?  Maybe I don't even want to know, especially considering that most of what's in them is some form or another of sugar, and some flavoring. Maybe a few electrolytes thrown in if you're lucky.

Now don't get me wrong, when I'm racing I know that my body starts shutting down digestion in ever more serious ways. It starts gently but by the time you've been out there five hours or more, there's very little that you can put in your stomach that will actually make it to your bloodstream. Simple sugars are one of those few things. Even the coke that I wouldn't normally ever touch will start to be a necessary staple of my existance at Mile 14 of the Ironman marathon. So I'm not saying that there's not a place for gels in the triathlete's arsenal. I'm just wondering how necessary they are in the overall scheme of a year's training plan.

Tomorrow morning's lake swim will probably be about four miles. I'm going to follow that up with a 1 - 2 hour bike ride. Do you think I might get hungry? Yeah, I'm guessing so. I'm trying to take a "train low, race high" approach to fueling my body. Instead of relying on those sugary gels and bars to get me through my Ironman training like I did last time (I shudder to think of how much money I actually spent on that crap!), I'm going to try and use a more whole foods approach for the bulk of my calories, with some gels/bars thrown in for training purposes (never do in a race what you don't do in training is an important truth in triathlon). I know I'm an Experiment of One when it comes to this kind of thing, so I'll let you know how it fares in human guinea pig land.

So what am I eating tomorrow? A breakfast of my favorite Banana-Coconut Custard, which I've recently taken to adding Chia seeds to for a bigger protein boost. I've also made up some Chia gel, which I've created by combining several teaspoons of Chia seeds with some coconut water. I make these up in little tupperwares to take with me. I need to experiment with finding a more gel-pouch-like way to carry them on my bike though. Stay tuned as I experiment with that in weeks to come. I happen to like the Nutiva Organic Chia seeds, and I buy them from Amazon.com as I've found it's cheaper than the bulk food section of my grocery store when it comes to chia. Chia seeds have this absolutely cool property where when you combine them with a liquid, they turn into a jelly-like substance. This makes them easy to slurp down, but nicely high in protein. Sometimes I mix a few teaspoons of juice in, like cherry juice or a berry mix for a different flavor.

For post-race, I'll bring along my favorite "Macadamias Mix Gingerly" nut mix from Trader Joes, which has macadamias, almonds, cranberries, and candied ginger. Yum!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Reminder: Drawing for Free Iron Girl Race Entry is TOMORROW!

Tomorrow I'll be drawing the name of a lucky woman who gets a free race entry to Iron Girl's Lake Tahoe Sprint distance triathlon on September 18. All you have to do is comment on this blog post, telling me why you want to do the race. I will draw one winner at the end of the day tomorrow.