Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 26: Santa Brought Suffering

Celebrate Christmas with Pain and Suffering? Only if you're a triathlete, and only if your "Secret Santa" buys you a nine-pack of SUFFERFEST videos. What an exciting thing to get in your stocking (if you happen to like torturing yourself on a bike trainer in the basement all winter, that is).

I downloaded the first of my Christmas Sufferfest videos today, one that's called "The Downward Spiral", and by the time I was done I was thinking it should've been called "Circling the Drain". The whole concept with the downward spiral is that you do sets of intervals, getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Like 2 minutes all out, then 2 minutes rest, then 1:45 all out, then 1:45 rest, etc. until you get down to :15/:15. Then you do it all over again. Wheee! Actually, it made the interval time pass pretty quickly, with good pounding music and visuals from bike races and mountain biking tracks, not to mention some cheeky comments from the video creators stuck on the screen from time to time as motivation.

One thing I really liked is how the video creators thoughtfully included an audio cue to tell you to look up at the screen. So if you're head-down, pedals-to-the-metal cranking out an interval, you know to raise your head at the right time to start and finish the sets. I can hardly wait to try out the other eight videos!

So if Santa only brought you soft and fuzzy things like slippers or snuggies, and you want to kick some serious a** on the bike course next year, treat yourself to some holiday suffering from .

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tis the Season for Crazy Ironman Dreams

It's a little early in the season, but with some traveling and holiday food, I guess my brain decided it was time to start the Ironman dreams. In this dream, Ironman Coeur d'Alene has been transformed into a charity event to benefit world hunger. The swim start begins with a world music festival and an African drumming circle.

My swim is fine and I feel like I'm having a great race in the water. As I get out and run to the wetsuit strippers, they direct me to a huge long table where the athletes are supposed to go next. A big sign explains that 70% of the world subsists on eating staple foods like beans and rice, so in T1, we are each given a mixed bucket of dry beans and rice that we have to sort out. My hands are shaking and cold from the swim as I try to grab little rice grains and separate them out from the beans. All the athletes are laughing and joking with each other about how hard this is and how bad our T1 times will be. I finally complete the task and then run to get my transition bag and head out on the bike.

At the bike turnaround is a big soup kitchen for homeless people. We get off our bikes and stack them to the side, then take our turn cutting vegetables into a giant soup pot. After dicing several onions and stalks of celery, I get back on my bike to finish the course. At that point, I wake up.

My take-away: Christmas is a time to reflect on those less fortunate than ourselves and to make sure we're balancing our focus on our own family and on what we might like to give and receive with what other people actually need to survive.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 27: Have a Plan for the Holidays

Do you feel at the mercy of the holidays? As if it is inevitable that stress, travel, inactivity, bad food choices, and overindulgence are simply going to fall on you like a load of bricks that you can't do anything about?

Having a plan for the holidays can make the difference between dreading them (and the inevitable aftermath: most Americans gain a couple of pounds of weight each year, and most of that is gained during the holidays) and enjoying them (complete with some of grandma's holiday fudge and a candy cane or two).

Here's my plan for the holidays, feel free to share any tips you have for de-stressing and boosting health during the holidays.

Stress: Stress during the holidays often comes from a clash between expectations and reality. Expectation: a big pile of presents under the tree. Reality: Paychecks for many are shorter this year and we have to stretch them farther. Food alone has eaten up 10% more of our yearly budget than it did last year.

Cure: Set the stage for expectations that match your available reality. When our kids were little, we told them that Santa brought one (yes, that's ONE) toy to every boy and girl. So that has been their holiday expectation every year: one present. Yes, even in today's overconsumptive society, this is possible! We also give them a book on Christmas eve. That's it, the extent of my Christmas shopping is one gift for each child and a stocking stuffer for my hubby.  For relatives, we give gifts of animals via Heifer Project or of microfinance via This removes the stress of finding a sweater that will never be worn by an aunt that you don't know well enough to shop for.

Stress: Travel. No doubt about it, holiday travel is stressful.

Cure: We try to mitigate the stress and often danger of traveling at busy times by going at off-times, visiting relatives in the week before Christmas instead of on the actual day itself. The kids really love to have a mellow "just family" Christmas at home with no expectations other than staying in our pajamas all day. We have been quick to see the wisdom in this, and now enjoy a relatively stress-free holiday.

Stress: Inactivity. You're at the relatives house, you don't have your familiar fitness equipment or routines. It's easy to sit around all day yakking and staring at a TV screen.

Cure: Don't be afraid to be the Exercise Wacko of your family. Let's face it, every family needs an eccentric or two, why not step forward and fill those shoes? The easiest cure: bring your running shoes and head out the door for some routes that are out of your routine. Or go to a local high school track and run enough intervals to burn off a plate of pumpkin pie. Engage the active family members in a holiday hike, or a walk around the blocks with the best holiday light displays. I have also been known to bring my bike and trainer and set it up in the living room along with my laptop, headphones, and a DVD or two.

Stress: Overindulgence

Cure: Remember that the first bite is the best. An old friend used to joke around about having the "first and most satisfying" bite or sip of something. But there's big wisdom in that. Try this: open an ice cold Coke. Take a sip. Savor it. Now take a few more. By the 10th sip, it's really just not that good, is it? Try it with a cookie or some fudge or anything else. You'll see that it's true. So take that first sip or bike or two and throw the rest away. Yep, you heard me, starving children in China be damned, throw it away! I hereby give you permission to waste or discard food (surreptiously if need be) this holiday season. Think of this motto: Waste, not Waist. I'm not saying don't enjoy it. By all means, do. But when it truly stops being enjoyable (which is usually sooner than you think), just don't eat another bite.

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday who has been eating paleo this year and we both realized that on Thanksgiving, we didn't overeat. We ate a reasonable plate of food with a little bit of everything, but found we didn't need to take seconds or thirds. We were satisfied, a state that many people find it hard to achieve. Practice Satiation. It gets easier.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Paleo Fueling for Interval Training

Everyone knows that training hard burns through glycogen fast. You can do a lot of slow, easy miles while using primarily fat for fuel, but start to pump up the intensity and your body switches to glycogen. That means when a hard, fast, interval workout is done, you need to replace that glycogen in your body.  Plenty of people have told me that you just can't do that adequately on a paleo diet, but most of my training right now is intervals and intensity.

On my Endurance Nation Out-season plan (I'm on week 7), I'm doing a lot of long "FTP" (functional power threshold) intervals. These are 1/2 - 2 mile repeats on the run, and 10 - 20 minute intervals on the bike, all at just around the lactate threshold region. So they're not all-out sprints, but they are very intense for quite a long duration. In addition to that, I'm training at the karate dojo for five or six hours a week, and throwing in a couple of swims for good measure. So I'm asking a lot of my body, and there are times when I'm simply ravenous for carbs.

I've learned to keep a good supply of quick, easy carbs on hand for post-workout refueling. This includes fruit leather and Lara bars for on-the-road snacking, and bananas, yams, oranges, and frozen cherries and berries for at home. I now cook up 3 - 4 yams at a time, mash them and leave them in my fridge for immediate consumption. I also ran out of bananas one day and made my Banana-Coconut custard with yams instead. It was a little more bland, but I added some pumpkin pie spices which made it quite tasty and it fit the pre-workout fueling needs just fine.

Another variation on the custard recipe is to throw in some coconut flour and some blueberries. This makes it into a blueberry-muffin-like consistency and makes for an easy-to-travel snack.

Is any of this as easy as grabbing a bowl of cereal or a Powerbar? No, quite frankly, it's not. Paleo takes some prior planning, grocery shopping ahead of time, and ensuring that the fridge and cupboards are filled with quick and easy Paleo carbs to refuel after those tough workouts. But by putting forth just that little bit of effort, I'm ensuring that my recovery from these hard intervals is quick and complete. I can feel totally trashed after a hard effort, sure I won't be able to walk the next day, and yet when I wake up the next morning I feel just fine, ready to hit it hard again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 28: Running Doesn't Suck Anymore

I like to run. Sometimes I even love it.

I didn't use to like to run. I used to hate running. I used to say that running sucked, and that I sucked at running. But now I like it. Sometimes I think I'm maybe even not so sucky at it after all.

What changed? How does a person go from hating to disliking to barely tolerating to just doing to kind of liking to loving to run?

For me, there were several things that made a difference:

The first was Chi Running, which I've posted about before. That was my first introduction to a different style of running than the heel-striking, shin-splint inducing plod I had done for so many years. It was also the beginning of the end of my years of plantar fasciitis, ITB issues, knee braces, and shin splints. The twenty years before I found Chi Running were littered with running injuries and problems. The six years I've spent since then have been injury free. 'Nuff said.

After Chi Running came barefoot running and my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers in 2007. Now I run all of my weekly mileage, four times a week, in my Five Fingers. Pavement, trails, grass, concrete, dirt, bark. No matter, I run in them.

Two years ago I started trail running and that's when I went from "Like" to "Love" in my feelings about running. That's when I really started looking forward to runs. Being in the woods, away from traffic, noise, stress, and people really is the cherry on top of the running sundae for me.

Now comes Endurance Nation and their "Out Season" training plans. It turns out that I really like having some focus and work to my running. Now I wouldn't want to do this year-round because when the weather's nice, there's nothing like just getting out on a trail and going. But for right now in the dark part of the year, it's keeping me motivated and making me faster.

Granted, I started this year's off-season at a slower pace than normal. Breaking my arm meant very few running miles this summer, and the ones I did put in were S-L-O-W. No speed work, no track work. So when I did a 5k test at the beginning of my training plan seven weeks ago, it took me 27:11. Ouch. My PR is 25:00. Not anything like an actual REAL runner, but in the ballpark of decent.

I've been doing focused 1/2 mile and mile repeats in the seven weeks since that disappointing 5k test. They started out at an average 8:48 pace. Again, ouch. But look at the progress in the weeks since then!

Week1: 8:48
Week 2: 8:40
Week 3: 8:34
Week 4: 8:16
Week 5: 8:13
Week 6: 8:08
Week 7: 8:04

Now I don't think I'm ready to break my 5k PR just yet, but if this trend continues, it might be in the cards sometime this spring. As they say at Endurance Nation: "Work works!"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yonder Breaks A New and Glorious Morn

I have to admit, I'm a sap for Christmas. Not the commercial, over-the-top version that's on the TV ads, but the kind that's about family traditions, togetherness, and the message that lies at the heart of it. I'm not sure what's worse these days, the merchandisers who have co-opted it into a fest of conspicuous consumption, or the fanatics who are worried that anyone who celebrates a different religion or even wants to be sensitive to that fact by saying "Happy Holidays" is waging a "War on Christmas".

The only War on Christmas comes when people forget that the central themes of the holiday are:
Peace on Earth.
Goodwill to All.

Tonight as we decorated our family tree with ornaments both old and new, we sipped hot cocoa and listened to carols (I jollied my teenager into being festive and wearing a Santa hat), and sat on the couch to read Christmas stories. When I stop for a moment and absorb the words to those timeless songs filling the air, I can't help it, my eyes fill with tears.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
 For despite all of our troubles, despite terrorism and economic woes, despite the fact that people I care deeply about lost loved ones this year, and that we will always face trials and tribulations and sorrows, I have to believe that the world can be a better place when humans strive toward good.

In the world today, there are 123 electoral democracies, up from 40 in 1972. My country, which saw African-American leaders assassinated less than 50 years ago has an African-American president. The World Development Report on Gender Equality now states: "The lives of women around the world have improved dramatically, at a pace and scope difficult to imagine even 25 years ago. Women have made unprecedented gains in rights, education, health, and access to jobs and livelihoods." Child mortality rates are falling:  in 2010, the world average was 5.7%, in under-5 year olds, down from 8.8% in 1990. The Gates foundation announced a malaria vaccine this year. There is much to celebrate. When I think about what it would be like to live in the world a few hundred years ago, I know how very lucky and blessed I am to be living here, now.

That's not to say that we don't have more work to do, much much more work. So this is where I will plug my favorite holiday gift: a donation to Heifer Project International. Bringing together the core values of investing in human initiative, ending hunger, helping women and children become self-sufficient, working for sustainable solutions, and fostering peace and love, giving Heifer Project gifts has become a family tradition for us.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or the Solstice or Kwanzaa or anything else or nothing at all this time of year, I think for the most part, we are all, in this weary world, hoping for the same thing: a new and glorious morn. Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What Three Plates Of Vegetables Can Do

Several times a day, every single day, we make choices about what to put in our body. For instance, every day that I haven't thrown it away (and I haven't done this yet), I choose not to eat more of that Flan I baked for a Spanish-food-themed party this week. It's calling my name, but instead I reach for the vegetable drawer and a fresh red pepper or celery stalk. Okay, okay, I confess, I did have a piece after my bike ride on Tuesday. But I really should throw the rest away, even if that goes against the whole "starving children in China" thing that we were all raised with.

What is the net effect of those changes? We don't feel them instantly. If we make bad choices, we can't feel our mitochondria shriveling or our liver being taxed. In a way it's too bad, maybe with some more instant feedback it would be easier to make good choices. Or maybe not. How many people have you watched in a coughing fit after smoking a cigarette, but the pack still goes back in their pocket. Unless it delivered an instant electrical shock or something, we humans are very good at ignoring the poor outcomes of our choices in favor of instant gratification (and Mmmmmmm, that Flan is so gratifying...)

Yet day in and day out, I'm reminded of the ways in which my move to a Paleo eating style has positively impacted my health. I'm doing some really hard workouts these days. I'm following a plan from Endurance Nation (who TOTALLY ROCK, but that's a different post) called the "Out Season". This is different from the "Off Season" that triathletes normally follow in that instead of lolling around the winter months putting in a lot of long slow miles, I'm having to actually do intervals and hard hard work.

At the end of each workout, my muscles feel absolutely flogged. I am certain that the next day I'm going to wake up and be stiff and sore and too fatigued to work out again. Yet miraculously the next morning arrives and I pop out of bed feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to hit another hard workout. The miracle, I am certain, involves what I am eating. Specifically, lots and lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed meats.

But don't just take it from me, watch this amazing video, a Ted Talk by a doctor who cured herself of advanced MS with a paleo-style diet. Believe me, even if you think you eat well, even if you think you know a lot about nutrition, you will learn something and be inspired by this talk. I have known for awhile that the paleo diet is changing me on a cellular level. I've talked before about how it has affected my healing from everything from a challenging trail marathon to a broken bone, but this explains the Why of all that. I'm also showing it to my kids today, so that they understand that it's not just Mom As Usual telling them to eat their vegetables (isn't that in the Mother's Manual they hand us when we're pregnant?). And the reason it's in the Mom's Manual? It's a good rule for life. Check it out:

Monday, December 05, 2011

Countdown To Ironman, Week 29: I Have Only One Task To Perform

Trying to squeeze my workouts in this weekend was excruciating. Asa was dancing in the Nutcracker, we had hair to curl and makeup to do, costumes to keep track of. Also houseguests to keep track of and all of the usual chaos in a house with 2 adults, 2 kids, and 17 animals. Spare time was at a premium, and I had to wedge my workouts into some stolen moments her and there. 

As a busy parent, spare time is a rarity, but if I have 15 spare minutes in my day, what should I do? Laundry? Clean the refrigerator? Edit my writing? Read a book? Watch the Daily Show? Help my kids with their projects? Run? Walk the dogs? Play the piano? Meditate? Stretch? Tweeze my eyebrows? Listen to my Italian language learning CD?

The possibilities are endless, and sometimes paralyzing. I've heard people say that they're bored, but this is a phrase that I don't understand. The world is too full of amazing possibilities, not to mention tasks that have to get done to ever ever have a spare minute to spend on boredom. Sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices available to us. I picture my great-grandmother, who was born in a sod house on the Dakota prairies. What did she have to choose from? Churning the butter, sweeping the floor, or reading the bible most likely. Her life was far simpler than mine, and in many ways probably more fulfilling. We live in a world of endless possibilities (awesome), which breeds endless choices (overwhelming). Sometimes just coping with that feels intimidating.

Mary IronMatron over at Tri-ing To Do It All writes about something we all experience - the feeling that time is slipping away and there's not enough time to do everything we want or need to do in her post Time...Is Not On My Side... Thinking of what she wrote reminded me of this wonderful poem that has the answer.

This short poem is printed on the back of my favorite triathlon shirt ever, from the Sri Chinmoy Triathlon in Victoria BC, 1989, a beautiful race filled with wonderful people. I thought it was worth sharing with you all in answer to that question about how to get everything done in the time we have allotted to us.

So this week, I've brought the shirt out of my Triathlon Shirt Archives to wear, and to remind myself of what is truly important. I have only one task to perform: Smile.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Black Belt Dreams

I've posted before about my Ironman dreams, where I do strange things like run through houses, or have to compete in a frilly pink ruffled wetsuit. Strangely, I didn't have any such stress dreams when I went for my black belt test. But this week, a friend of mine tested for her black belt and I had a stress dream for her.

In the dream, all of us black belts who were there to judge her were sitting in an old-fashioned British courtroom with huge wooden benches and desks. She walked in calmly and then announced that instead of performing her kata for her test, she was going to do an interpretive dance about her journey to the black belt. The dance involved her twirling colored streamers representing all of the different belt colors that she had passed through, and feathers to show her "upward journey". It was very moving and original. And then I woke up.

Fortunately, when the day came the belt test happened in the same room in the dojo that it always does, and she arrived prepared with her kata and bunkai and other techniques, no interpretive dancing needed. Along with a partner, she demonstrated her mastery of the black belt curriculum and she passed! Since we've been training together for many years, I'm so excited for her.

Interestingly, since having this dream (among many other very detailed ones), I came across this post on about Vivid Dreaming and Eating Paleo. It looks like I'm not the only person out there to experience more vivid dreams since switching up my eating habits. I'm not complaining, since I always like a good nighttime entertainment, even if it involves interpretive dancing.