Friday, September 06, 2013

Unscared of Hills

I used to be scared of hills on my bike. I'm not anymore. So many cyclists are worried by hills, but I've finally made my peace with them, come to embrace their challenge, and even love them. The only reason I can think of is just that I've done a lot of them in the last few years.

Crossfitters like to use the word "Unscared". I like it. It's stronger than "unafraid": Being scared of something is just a notch worse than being afraid of it Maybe it's a bit better than being terrified, but "Unterrified" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So I was scared of hills. When I first started riding around here, there was this Big Hill on one of my regular rides. I always dreaded that Big Hill. I knew it was coming, steeled myself for huffing and puffing my way to the top, and was relieved when it was over.

Here's the hill profile for that ride:

That Big Hill in the middle is about 75 feet tall. I used to have to stand on my pedals to get to the top.

Here's one of the rides I did recently:
The hill you climb (twice!!) on this ride is over 3,000 feet tall. Yeah, no kidding. A 75 foot hill used to have me quaking in my bike cleats, and now I can toss off 6,000 feet of climbing in a day and still get up the next morning and go for a run.

How did I come to love hills? It's been a gradual attitude adjustment on my part. Firstly, somewhere along the way I stopped being scared of just plain old working hard. When you see a hill, you know it's going to be hard. Assuming it's not so steep that you're in danger of falling over (I have worried about that on a couple of them), the worst thing that will happen is that you will go really slow, it will be hard, and it will take a long time. That's not so very terrible, once you get used to the notion.

Secondly, I decided to prepare for the hills I would encounter in racing by doing even harder hills in training. One year I trained for a Half-Ironman that was reputed to have a 14% grade. So I went out and found a hill with a 15% grade, and went up it repeatedly. By the time I got to the race, I knew I could do it. I was Unscared.

Lastly, this year in training for the Leadman (two weeks away, but who's counting, right?) and training for last year's Ironman Coeur d'Alene, I knew I would have to do a lot of climbing in my training rides, so I've sought out the hilliest rides around, deliberately. Going out and looking for hills to do sounds crazy, but once you start embracing them, hills lose the terror factor and become your friend. I'm still not the fastest hill climber on the block, but I can do them and I'm no longer scared.

And when you get to the top, you get to look out over the universe, see down to where you started out, and know that you earned that view.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Biggest DNF Of All Time - My Marriage

If you read here regularly, you might've guessed by now that something happened. I sort-of fell off of the edge of the blogging earth, and largely off of my other online activities as well. As it turns out, my life has been pretty crazy lately: my husband and I separated two months ago, just six months shy of our 20th Wedding Anniversary. In sports terms, I guess that's a DNF (Did Not Finish). In reality, it's just weird, painful, and awkward, as well as also hopeful, exciting, and freeing. It's a lot of things all rolled into one.

Before anyone offers warm fuzzy feelings, I'm doing fine. I won't go into the reasons here, but suffice it to say that I took my wedding vows seriously, and had very good reasons for leaving. I still care for my separated husband (I guess he's not officially an ex right now), he's a good guy and we have remained on good terms and wish each other well.

Other than a whole lot of anxiety about finding a job, preferably within my skill set (anyone want a software QA person??), this experience is really a net positive. Which is not to say it's not tough. Heck, an Ironman is a net positive and it's tough as hell. So is this. But I know that I will work through it and persevere and come out the other side tougher. If there's one thing I've learned from triathlons it's this: the only way to end the discomfort is just to keep moving through it.

Okay, that's all I have to say. You can give me some hugs now.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Late in Coming: A Thrilling Duck Bill Race Report

That elusive race: the one where everything comes together. The one where you're in The Zone, even if it hurts like heck you know you are operating at top form. Such a race was the Duck Bill Thrill in May at Fall Creek Reservoir. This was an out-of-the-blue surprise as I hadn't put much preparation or even taper going into the race.


I didn't know it when I pulled into the parking lot on race morning.

In fact, I thought everything was going wrong. First, it was supposed to be sunny. Beautiful. Balmy. Race morning looked like this as I pulled up to the lake. Cold. Wet. Rain coming down in sheets. This day was going to suck.

Since it was dry at my house when I left, I had somehow neglected to pack a jacket.

Second, the registration people didn't have me on their list. There was no day of race registration. Thankfully, they took pity on poor wet me and let me sign up anyways. Probably because they were worried no one else would show up with the crappy weather.

Lastly, I didn't really have any cold weather gear with me. It was supposed to be warm and sunny on race day, right? I had some arm warmers with me and spent a ridiculous amount of time debating whether or not to wear them. My friend told me I'd regret taking the time to put them on, and since I still remember the race where I didn't qualify for Nationals because I put on arm warmers(!)  I decided to listen to him and leave them in the car. I came to both deeply regret and wildly appreciate taking his advice.

I went through my usual neurotic warmups (out on the bike, several power-ups, lace on my running shoes, 15 minutes plus some strides). The lake felt almost balmy when we got into it, what with all the freezing water falling from the sky. I warmed up thoroughly in the water as well, swimming for at least 10 minutes. This turned out to be a good thing, because....

The Swim:  19:55

As we lined up for the swim, I saw a guy ahead of me whom I know to be a super-duper ultra-fast swimmer. I got behind him and thought if I could just hang on to his toes for a quarter mile or so, it would give me a better swim split. The race starts and there I am right on his feet as planned until BLAMMO, I get hit from the side by something that felt like a linebacker swimming perpendicular to the course. Goggles knocked off, stop and re-set them and of course my beautiful draft pack is long gone. Oh well, settle in. I get my stroke-rate song going in my head (Determinate from the Lemonade Mouth soundtrack - don't ask) and I'm off. Pretty soon I notice I'm in a very good place - pretty much by myself with just a few swimmers around and the lead pack in front of me. And believe it or not, I'm reeling in the lead pack, actually getting closer to them! By the time we came around the loop for a second time, I was just about on their heels, getting out of the water with only three men in front of me (including Mr. Super Fast), for a killer swim time. Looked at my watch and got instantly very happy. The official time has me at 20:04 going over the mats.

T1: 1:07

Buoyed by successful swim, I execute a decent T1 in the rain, getting out of there in just over a minute including the run from the beach.

The Bike: 1:18

The bike is one long painful memory of cold, cold, shivering cold. Wishing I had my dang arm warmers on, and gradually losing sensation in my lower extremities. However.... I am in front of the women's pack, so that keeps me focused like a laser beam on powering through the hilly course. My bike split is almost 3 minutes faster than last year, and I'm a year older, so I'll just go ahead and be happy about that. There are two out-n-back sections on the course, which gave me the ability to see any women who were gaining on me. At the time, it didn't look like there was any females getting closer, though there were several within striking distance of me, given that running is my weakest link.

T2: :39

Still in first place in the women's race after the bike course, I had no choice but to blaze through T2. I had one of the faster T2 times, it seems that I've finally learned how to transition!

The Run: 54:37

Okay, yeah looking at that time, you can tell I'm not a fast runner. In my defense, this is a quite hilly run course and the fastest women's run split was 45:41, so that tells you it's not exactly a fast course.  My run was 3 minutes faster than last year and I felt pretty strong throughout. Even with the hills, my knee didn't give me any grief.  I hung onto my lead until about mile 4, well after the turnaround. The bummer is, I didn't even see this gal coming, I had thought she was a guy on the bike (sometimes it's hard to tell with jerseys and all) so when she passed me and I heard her woman's voice, I was taken by surprise. I thought I still had a decent lead on the next woman behind me. Oh well, this gal passed me definitively and left me in the dust. The next runner to pass me got me right not far before the finish line and beat me by 12 seconds, but I just didn't have any finishing power to hang with her. That's a harsh way to end a race, but I was more than happy to take the Master's Female win and 3rd place overall in the women's race.

Total: 2:34 :27

Not bad on a hilly, wet, cold course. Not much taper, no race specific prep. 17 minutes faster than last year, though about 10 minutes of that was last years' ultra-long swim course. Still, even taking that into account, I shaved off 7 minutes, nothing to sneeze at. Overall, I am happy with my race. I executed well on the details I could (strong swim, good transitions) and hung in there when it got tough, wet, cold, and hilly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Conversation With Self on The Big Weekend

Building up to a long distance race (Ironman, or in my case Leadman) there's always a threshold you cross where suddenly the distances start to feel a little overwhelming. Okay, a lot overwhelming. The hours necessary to train begin to mount up, and inevitably you ask yourself the following question:

Me: Self, why am I doing these ridiculously long training rides and runs?

Self: So you can do a ridiculously long race, of course!

Me: Why would I want to do that?

Self: Because it's.... fun?

Me: I'm not sure I believe that anymore

Self: Because it's....healthy?

Me: I'm pretty sure it's really not

Self: Because there's an outside chance you'll someday qualify to go to the World Championships of people who train for ridiculously long races?

Me: Of course! That makes sense...

Yeah, none of it really makes any sense. Up to a certain point, the training makes sense. I know that I personally need a certain amount of time out there on the open road to keep my body functioning well, to keep my mind and soul balanced, and frankly to keep The Big Crazy at bay. But beyond that, training gets to be a strain. I don't know if this is the last year in a while I'll be able to train long, and maybe that's as it should be. This year, I'm committed.

So, this weekend included a 4.75 mile swim. A 10 mile run. An 82 mile bike. I woke up this morning feeling better than most folks do after a weekend spent gardening. Nothing hurts. Nothing sore, nothing tight, nothing painful. I'm sure if I took off in a slow jog I'd realize how fatigued the major muscles in my legs are right now, but beyond that my body has adapted really well to the ridiculous.

What lies ahead? For the foreseeable future, more of the same. It's just a tad demoralizing to realize at the end of an 80 mile ride when you just want to Get Off the Bike Already that in your chosen race distance you would still have 60 miles to go. What was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn't.

Take the bike in for service, Robin. Get some rest. Eat lots of high quality foods this week. Be prepared to hit the road next weekend. Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Exchange Between A Motorist and a Cyclist

Not all interactions between cyclists and car drivers are negative. Yesterday I stopped my bike when I realized a big newt crossing the road was about to get flattened by the oncoming car. As I bent over to retrieve the newt, the car driver stopped and the following exchange occurred:

Driver: Are you okay?
Me: Yes, I'm just saving this newt (holding up newt for evidence)
Driver: Oh, well thanks for doing that. I appreciate it.
Me: No problem. Thanks for stopping!
Driver: Well, I just wanted to make sure you were okay and everything.
Me: Thanks for doing that, I appreciate it.
Driver: Have a great ride!

Yes, I love where I live. Not to mention, my favorite cycling road looks like this on a beautiful June day:

Thursday, June 06, 2013

About To Become An Official Coach

I'm here in Colorado this week to go through USAT's Coach certification program, thus making me finally an "official" (or at least certifiable) coach. I've been doing the coaching gig for many years, but am looking forward to making it a bigger part of my life.They keep us hopping here, with seminars runnig from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, lots of good topics to learn about.

In other happy news, I got my invitation today to the National Age Group Championships. I don't think I can make it back to Milwaukee in August, but it's nice to know I qualified again. One of these years I'm actually going to go, I hope. Unfortunately, the year it was in Oregon, I was in Italy. Go figure. But still, I am honored to qualify, and happy that I'm having a good season so far.

I do intend to write up my race report for the Olympic Distance tri that got me the AG win and my slot at Nationals, but I've just been too crazy-busy to get it written yet. Suffice it to say, I had a great race, one of my best, and I'm excited to see what I can do with the rest of the season.

That's all the brief news from here, where I need to get to bed so I can get up early to the seminar.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Hey Coach"

There are people in life whose wisdom, helpfulness, teaching, and mentoring I value so much that I've ceased to identify them by their given name. Instead, they have become "Coach", "Sensei", "Sifu". In my mind, this is who they are, as much as they might also inhabit their own name, they also inhabit this title like a name. Indeed, when one day I received a phone call from my Wing Chun instructor, he simply opened the call by saying "This is Sifu". Of course. There is no one else who inhabits that name in my world. He simply IS Sifu, and not just to me, to hundreds of people, people who look up to him and honor him. Similarly, my college swim coach will always and forevermore be the one person to me who is just Coach.

So imagine my amazement and delight as, over the years, I've become simply "Coach" to many of my swimmers and athletes. In my race Sunday, which had several out-and-back sections where you could see your fellow competitors, my swimmers hollered out "Way to go, Coach" and other words of encouragement as we passed. At the outdoor pool that just opened this week, I swam with the group - just as another swimmer, not on deck with a workout. Yet still they greeted me with "Hey Coach" and parted with "Goodbye Coach".

To me, this is probably the greatest honor anyone has ever said to me in my life. It means more than any award, ribbon, or plaque ever could. If I go to my grave having passed on a fraction of the encouragement, thoughtfulness, and mentoring that my coaches, senseis, and sifu have given to me in my life, I will be extremely happy.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Guide to Becoming Race Ready

Race #2 of the season is coming up Sunday. The first Olympic distance in a year. How do I answer the question "Am I Race Ready?" Only one part of the question can be answered by training - did I do enough training to complete the race? To compete in the race? Have I tapered off of my training to give myself a full measure of strength for race day? After that is answered (hopefully with a resounding "Yes!"), then comes the details. Triathlon has an abundance of details, and therein, so the saying goes, does the devil lie.

Whether you're a first-time triathlete, or an experienced veteran, nothing says "Not Having Fun" more than letting some little overlooked detail ruin a race for you. As reigning Queen of Obsessive Race Preppers, I therefore bequeath you this Guide to Becoming Race Ready, and ensuring that a lost shoe or broken goggle strap does not derail your day.

Step 1: What Will You Wear? (Determine 1 - 4 weeks pre-race)

Each race has its own characteristics that may influence what you'll be likely to wear on race day. These include: length, temperature on race day, pool swim or lake swim, and your own personal preferences. For myself, I alternate between a one-piece triathlon suit (all pool-swim triathlons, and most sprint and Olympic distance races) and a pair of tri shorts plus a women's tri top. If the race is very long (half Iron, Iron) I may throw on a t-shirt for the run to fend off sunburn and chafing. For some races, especially in the spring and fall, I may add arm warmers or even a windproof vest.

Regardless, you will want to practice swimming, biking, and running with what you'll be wearing on race day.

Rule of Thumb:
The longer the race, the more time you need to take to determine the optimum apparel. A little chafing from a bad pair of shorts won't kill you in a Sprint, but it may make you want to kill yourself by mile 112 of the Ironman bike. For longer races, experiment with your clothing choices until you have the optimal outfit. You don't have to be as obsessive as I am (anyone else have an Excel spreadsheet where they rank their clothing choices?), but some thought and consideration can go a long way toward making race day comfortable.

Avoid these mistakes:
- Wearing the race shirt that comes in your packet: It might be washed in detergent that will give you hives, it might chafe, it might ride up in an unflattering or uncomfortable manner, it might be all-cotton which is a big no-no. Save it to put on afterwards and impress your friends.
- Over-dressing: Sure, it may be a bit chilly on race morning, but a lot of new triathletes drastically over-dress, which leaves them out on the bike course with big coats tied around their waist, flapping in the wind. Figure you'll warm up a fair bit once you get going, and dress appropriately.
- Underdressing: Yes, let's face it peeps. That too-skimpy singlet might look fine on the pros, but it's not made for all of us. Let's keep the egregious wardrobe malfunctions for the MTV music awards shows.
- Wearing bicycle shorts with thick pads: Unless you're in a race like the Ironman, which has changing tents, you'll be wearing those shorts to swim, bike, and run in. Which means that your thick biking pad will first feel like a giant soggy diaper after the swim, and later like a giant pillow between your legs that you have to run with. Invest in some triathlon shorts and make yourself happy. It will take awhile to get used to riding with them, but in the long run most people find them far more comfortable.

Step 2: What Will You Eat? (Determine 2 - 6 weeks pre-race). Except for a sprint triathlon, most races will require you to eat and drink something on the course besides water. Everyone's stomach differs in what they can tolerate, and discovering what works for you will take some trial and error. Make sure that comes on practice days and not on race day. Trying different bars, gels, gel blocks, sport beans, and drink mixes in various combinations while going approximately the same effort level as you will on race day will tell you what your particular stomach can handle. Find out what will be served on the course, and practice using that. If you find it doesn't agree with you, you'll need to figure out how to carry whatever you need to supplement it with.

Rule of Thumb:
Again, the longer the race, the more time you need to figure this out. In races lasting longer than 5 hours, you can expect some degree of stomach shut-down. This means you have to be careful not just about ingesting too little, but of ingesting too much over time. It's a delicate balance and may take weeks or months to work out. In shorter races, you may be going at a more aggressive pace, which may mean that you can't take in any solid food. For myself, I like to use Infinit drink mix, because I can change the protein ratio in my custom mix for different race lengths. With enough protein, I don't need to eat any solid food for quite a few hours, which makes it easier to go without bringing bars along on the course.

Avoid these mistakes:
- Drinking only water: This is not only a bad idea, it can be fatal due to a condition known as hyponatremia. Also, the lack of sugar can cause the dreaded "bonk" where you flat out run out of energy. Make sure you're taking in some calories in the form of simple sugars, and electrolytes.
- Using something new on race day: I once had a friend convince me to use her organic drink mix, telling me that the artificially flavored and sugared version popular with athletes were just downright bad for you. Let's just say that fructose-based drink mixes do not sit well with me (nor most people, I have realized). This was the only time I experienced that level of gastric distress in a short race, a mistake I won't repeat. If you haven't used it in practice, don't use it on race day. For Ironman athletes, this includes other things on the course like chicken broth, de-fizzed coke, and pretzels. For my Ironman race prep, I filled thermoses with these liquids and set them on a 1-mile loop. At each mile of my long run, I came by my "aid station" and practiced drinking defizzed cola and warm chicken broth. No surprises on race day.
- Packing too much along. I see competitors in sprint and Olympic races with 60 ounce camelbacks full of water. Or competitors with more packaged food hanging off of their bike than a 7-11. Unless your sweat rate is simply enormous, you probably won't need more than a couple of water bottles in a short race, and if you are going to need to eat that much, you should probably get used to the foods served at an aid station. Many athletes overeat by a large amount. You cannot digest much more than 200 - 300 calories an hour. That includes the calories coming from your drink mix. As you can see, you can't eat a ton of solid foods and keep within that limit.
- Undereating/Overeating: Again, avoid the dreaded bonk or the roadside barf session and figure out how many calories you need to personally take in per hour - take in that, no more and no less.

Step 3: What Gear Will You Use? (1 - 4 weeks)
Same as above goes for gear: helmet, sunglasses, wheels, tires, goggles, sunscreen, glide, bottles on your bike, running shoes, laces, hat, etc. Make sure you test it out ahead of time. Yes, even if it makes you look like a dork biking down the bike path with your race wheels on and your Pointy Helmet of Speed. It's especially impressive if you do this during your taper week when you're biking pretty mellow and all of the roadies can pass you laughing at the silly triathlete who thinks she's fast by wearing all the fancy stuff. Oh well, stuff your ego and just make sure all your gear works.

Rule of Thumb:
Nothing New on Race Day. Practice your race rehearsal a few days out. For instance, my first race of the season this year, I put my race wheels on a few days early, only to discover that when the bike shop tuned up my bike, they tightened the brakes to the point where I couldn't get my wheels on. Lucky I didn't find that out on race morning. I had plenty of time to troubleshoot the problem and get it sorted out.

Avoid these mistakes:
Doing Anything New on Race Day! 'Nuff said

Step 4: Practice Transitions (3 - 5 days before the race)
If you've been doing Brick workouts, you may have gotten some transition practice in already. But during race week, take an hour or so and use the specific gear you'll be using in this specific race and practice your transitions. I like to do a workout where I go three repititions of a 10 - 15 minute bike ride and 5 - 10 minute run. Just going over smooth transitions and working out any gear issues.

Step 5:  Packing It All Up (1 - 7 days before the race)

I like to use a checklist (Here's my basic one) to make sure I have everything I need for race day. I pull it out a few days before, just to make sure there's nothing I need to buy. Have all my gear assembled, cleaned, dried, and ready to roll. Make sure I have food, drink mix, glide, goggle straps, all the little details in place.
For longer distance races, especially Ironman, or races you travel to, you may need to pack and ship your gear, or place it in transition bags a day or more ahead of time. Planning everything out in advance can save you those moments in the hotel room where you panic about what you will need and when.

Rule of Thumb:
Don't wait until the last minute. Get your gear together, make sure everything's working right.

Avoid these mistakes:
- Not being organized: I was at a triathlon once where a man was running up and down the transition area yelling "Does anyone have a Left Size 9 Running Shoe?". Apparently he had multiple pairs of shoes, and packed two right shoes. Laying out your gear ahead of time, inspecting it, and packing it carefully will help you avoid race day nightmares like this one.
- Not checking over your gear while packing. Look for pieces of glass in your tires, rips in your wetsuit, goggle straps on the verge of breaking. Bring extras if possible, especially of small stuff.

This might seem like a lot to think about. For your first triathlon, perhaps a bit overwhelming. The big take-away I think is that a bit of time spent in planning and prep can make your race day go smoothly and allow you to have fun, the best reward of all. Taking the stress and putting it up front reduces the amount you have to feel on race day, so you can just go out and do your best.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Big Moments and Small Victories

I think the thing I like best about individual sports is the bravery it brings out in people. Whether it's toeing the line at your first Ironman, as my pal John did at Ironman Australia this Sunday (at the age of 68!!!!!), pushing the limits of a long ride as another friend did in training for her first cycling century,  overcoming a lifelong battle with eating disorders, or combating a chronic disease or debilitating injury to come out healthier in the end, a sport like triathlon enables people to find their own best self.

I feel like I'm surrounded by people who each have an incredible story to tell, who have each triumphed over numerous small and large obstacles in their path. The more I get to know them, the more I am impressed by what they have faced to get where they are today. I got the opportunity to do a wonderful ride this weekend with a group of friends (more on that in another post), but what I took away from it was just what a journey it is for each of them.

For me, the week has been an accumulation of small victories. Nothing big or important. Not even big enough to merit a Facebook post for the most part. Just little things that give me faith in my own journey. In my Wing Chun class, I was able, for the first time, to complete 1,000 straight punches without having to stop and rest my arms. That means two things: one is that my conditioning is better, and two, that I have been able to hold better technique and punch from my core instead of my arms or shoulders. Although I am still very much a newbie in this martial art, it has, for the first time, started to give me glimmers of fluidity. One drill feels a little bit easier here, another technique flows better there. Once in awhile, our instructor walks by and just nods instead of coming over to correct. Just little glimpses, but it's a start.

On another day, I rode my bike up a hill I tackle regularly, and only realized at the top that I had never had to stand up out of my saddle. That's a first, for that hill. Nothing big, but perhaps significant (especially considering how much climbing I'll face in the epic Leadman Triathlon at the end of the summer). At swim practices, I've been able to move up the lane in some sets, not always following, sometimes leading. After several years of injuries, I'm feeling my full fitness return and it feels great.

Whether the sport brings a big triumph or a small moment, it's almost always a benefit to my life. Sometimes on the Paleo or Crossfit blogs, I read about how much endurance training tears you down, wears you out, weakens you. But it's been almost 30 years of this kind of training for me, and it still energizes me, brings me joy. That's a victory in itself.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Race Report: Heart of the Valley Triathlon

There's nothing I like better on my birthday weekend than to do two things: One: grab an open-water swim, the first of the season. And two: get the first race of the season going. Luckily I got to do both this year. I chose to race at the Heart of the Valley Triathlon, a sprint set in the hills out of Corvallis. The last time I did this race was 1988, I guess it's been awhile!

A bunch of my fellow AquaDucks headed up to Beaver (OSU) country to do the race, we had a really fun group going, even though it meant getting up at the crack of dawn, something I'm not particularly good at.

As with all of the early-season sprints in the PacNW, this one has a pool swim. Luckily for me, it's a 750m instead of 500m like some of the early season races. More swimming is always better for this Duck. My swim time put me in the fastest lane, along with two guys who figured they were going to go sub-10's. I had a bit of a verbal altercation in the transition area with a young man who thought it would be fine to stick a crate to sit on right in the middle of my transition area. I asked him to please keep it off of my stuff and out of my area, he seemed to figure that I wouldn't be out of the pool anywhere near his awesome self so it wouldn't matter if he was all over my stuff. Grrrrrr.

I've started doing long and longer warmups before sprint races, and this time we were there with plenty of time to spare so I took the bike out and also got some running strides in. We got plenty of time in between heats to warm up in my lane of the pool, which was a bonus. Then we were off, the first race of the season. I was sandwiched between two pretty fast swimmers, both young men. The one behind me thought it would be fine to swim right over the top of me instead of passing at the wall, and he banged up my bad arm in the process. Not cool. Then did a fast flip turn and crashed right into me. I wonder if he was the same guy with the crate in the transition area. In any case, the timing mats outside the pool clocked me at 10:02. Although the swim didn't feel great, that's nice and fast for a 750m for me.

When I got to the transition area, crate boy was in my space. Grrrrrr again. He got up and unracked his bike, leaving the crate sitting in my way. I kicked it out of the way, probably a little angrier than I should've been, maybe from getting swum over. Other than that, the race went off without a hitch. The bike course was hillier than I remembered, not rolling hills but little sharp up-and-downies that kind of kicked my butt. Haven't done enough hills yet this year, for sure! Two women passed me on the bike, and one of them was really smoking fast. Since I was pretty sure I clocked the fastest women's swim time, that left me in 3rd place, at least in my wave.

When I got to the run, I really felt great though, and I got a good turnover going and just felt strong. This was welcome news for me after the winter of not running much at all due to my knee injury, I was happy to be running on pavement and still feeling fine. I turned in a fairly respectable (for me) 25:30, two minutes faster than the 5k I ran in a sprint triathlon at this time last year. With as little running as I have done, that made me happy! I kept looking behind me, expecting some runners to come up and pass, but other than a couple of guys, no women passed me on the run. That's always a good thing for me.

As it came out, I ended up 4th in the women's overall, and as I head into my 48th year, I've got to be pretty darned happy about that. They had a terrific swag bag for the overall winners and also for the overall Masters winners, so I got to take home all kinds of lovely Kind bars (my favorite!) and Muscle Milk. There was a little scare after I crossed the finish line as Crate Boy's mom actually filed a complaint against me! His mom, really? Dude, when you're in college, maybe you ought not to let your mom fight your battles for you. In 27 years of triathlon, I have never gotten a penalty or a complaint, so that was pretty frustrating, but I explained to the race officials what had happened with the crate, and all was fine. Best of all, this Duck beat the entire women's Beaver triathlon team, all of whom have to be 25 - 30 years younger than me. YES. Okay, so that's a petty little collegiate competition, but I can't help myself but be happy about it.

I got to watch a lot of my Aquaduck friends finish the race, everybody looking strong! And my friend Kristen brought a birthday cake along (dense, dark gluten-free chocolate - triple Yummmmmm) and they all sang Happy Birthday to me. I can't think of a better way to celebrate - one year older, surrounded by friends, still feeling strong.

Final Numbers:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Acupuncture Made Me Levitate and Grow A Third Eye (Oh Yeah, and Cured My Headache and Healed My Knee)

It all started with a Groupon. Don't so many interesting adventures start that way these days?

Two weeks ago I was levitating on an acupuncture table, taking in the entire universe through a giant new purple rotating third eye in my forehead, and this weekend I was racing a triathlon faster than I should've been able to.

I was going to start the blog off this week by writing up a race report about the Heart of the Valley Sprint Tri (short story: I had a great race!) but I think leading up to it, I need to tell you about some pretty interesting things that happened in my quest to arrive at the starting line healthy and whole.

You all know about my knee injury leading from the bike problems in my build-up to Ironman Coeur d'Alene last year, how I didn't run for two months before the race, and then was unable to do any other triathlons last year. Since then I have done everything under the sun to rehab my knee: physical therapy, taking months off of running, pool running and elliptical machines, and finally a cautious return to soft-surface trails only. Eventually, I had worked up to running 15 - 18 miles a week, but anytime I pushed the pace, the mileage, or ran too much on pavement, the knee started to hurt again.

Enter the Groupon. For Acupuncture. Yeah, someone sticking needles in you TO HEAL YOU. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. But several of my friends have had good results, including one who was healed from a knee injury. And to be honest, the more I learn about the energy that swirls in the human body, the more I understand that we really are just scratching the surface of understanding it. I had already had one experience with acu-stim (acupuncture with electricity instead of needles) where my chiropractor healed my shoulder by acu-stimming my ankle and unlocking this wild energy flow. So hey, I'm game to try it, right?

I had two treatments on my Groupon, and so I figured with the first triathlon of the season coming up, I would be running hard and running on pavement. It's time to get this knee up to full health. So I booked an appointment with Yumiko Freeman at Eugene Family Acupuncture. Going into the appointment, I had something unusual happen: I got a headache. This is rare for me and usually limited to the occasional spring allergy attack. But this one had lasted for three days (unheard of), and was radiating up from my neck and nowhere near my sinuses. I decided to ask if she could do something about that as well.

The first treatment was pretty straightforward. She did a long Q&A and I really felt like she listened to and understood the problems I was having with my knee, and also the headache. One cool thing is that, like my experience with the acu-stim previously, I could literally feel the energy unlocking when she put the needles in. Some had no effect, but some set forth these wild electric currents coursing up and down my leg. Cool. Except then I started to cry - not like wracking sobs or anything, but like the kind of tearing-up thing that happens when you watch a movie like Marley and Me. Just overcome with emotion, spilling over. Okay, that was weird, but it passed within a couple of minutes and was gone. Eventually she took the needles out and I went home. No levitating. No third eye. That came later.

That night, I woke up with wracking pain in my knee and a sinking feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. It hurt so stinking bad. I just lay there calling myself a dummy and promising Never Again. But then when I woke up in the morning, the pain was gone and hey, my knee felt great. A little tender, but okay. My 3-day headache was gone too, just vanished. The lack of pain was refreshing. Through the week, my knee felt better and better. By Sunday, I decided to try a little experiment - a 5K at the track. The last time I tried to pick up my running pace past an easy jog, I got some pretty big jolts of knee pain, so this would be the acid test.

The result: a 25:28 5K. That's faster than any of the 5Ks I ran at the track last year. Last year, when I was doing all that interval training? And this year when I haven't done anything more than some slow jogging? I'm faster. Whoa. Okay. I'll take that. And even better: no knee pain. What? Yeah, you heard me.

So, needless to say, I kept my second appointment with the acupuncturist.

And that was when things got weird.

I have to admit right now, what I'm going to tell you is going to sound really out there. You're going to think I'm a real whack-a-doodle, if you don't already. And I was actually too confused and maybe even embarrassed at the time to talk to the acupuncturist about this and ask if this ever happens to other people. Like how do you even start that conversation: "Um, when your clients are getting acupuncture, do they ever have out-of-body experiences or feel a giant purple third eye blooming in the middle of their head?" I would sound like I was high or something. Which is about how I felt, but I digress.

Same as last time, she stuck some needles in me - knee, back, neck, head. I was lying face down on the table. She left the room for awhile so I could just hang out with my needles and let my energy unblock or whatever. But by now with the miracle 5K behind me, I was a believer. Heck, if it would make me run faster, I'd get needles poked in me every day!

So I'm lying there face-down on the table like a human pincushion. My eyes are closed. This is when I see inside my head a giant purple third eye opening in the middle of my forehead. It's pulsating and vibrating and looks a bit like Sauron's eyeball, except with purple flowy lightning instead of orange flames. Yeah, I know you're thinking exactly WHAT did I smoke before going to see the acupuncturist but my answer is nothing! This is just happened. And then the eye started opening and closing, and it was like it was my eye but it wasn't. Everytime it opened, it's like I could see the whole universe in one shot, and the whole universe was getting sucked into my giant purple eyeball. Then I would close it and just take it in. Open. Close. Open. Close. Suck in the Universe. Relax. Suck in the Universe. Relax. I was just tripping on this completely.

Then after maybe five minutes or eternity, I don't know, the eyeball just closed.

And I was unbearably sad. Come back giant purple eyeball, come back! Come back! I wanted to cry again.

But I didn't have too much time to feel sad, because this is about when I started levitating out of my body. Every time I took in a breath, I would float up out of my body. I could literally feel myself leaving it, leaving all sensation of my body behind. All of a sudden, I couldn't feel my fingers, my toes, my stomach pressing down on the table. I was just spirit, nothing else, hovering a foot or so above my body, insubstantial as a wisp. Then, when I would breathe out, I would re-incorporate, sinking down into my flesh, regaining the sensations of my body instantly. Breathe in. Breathe out. Spirit. Body. Spirit. Body. I have no idea how long this went on either, but finally I settled back into my body for good and didn't leave it again.

Yumiko came back in, removed the needles, and I went home. Dazed and confused. What the heck just happened to me? I used to take yoga and my instructor would talk about weird stuff like third eyeballs but I always thought that was too Hindu metaphysical for me. 

 And then I googled Third Eye on the internet, something I've never done before. And all of these images I found are all PURPLE and SWIRLY, just like my own very real third eye.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of ANY of this. Except that I think that any experience that opens yourself up to other ways of seeing the world is good. I have always believed that there is more around us - more energy, more spirit, more ways of seeing - than we know. Unlocking the ability to see and experience that, even if it only happens once, even if it's transitory, that's an unbelievably cool thing.

And on top of that, I ran a 25:33 in the 5K at my triathlon last weekend. After not running most of the last 12 months. After not doing any speed work, or track work, or much of anything really.

In my sprint triathlon last year in the same week in April, I ran a 27:30 on a similar flat course. After 20 weeks of sprints and fartleks and tempo runs and pacing work.

Let me repeat that: Tons of running work = 27:30. No running work + 3rd eyeball floaty acupuncture experience = 25:33. What the heckity-heck is going on here???

Bottom line: Acupuncture good, roll on Third Eye. Race Report to follow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Running As Prayer, Prayer for Boston

Many of you know this about me: I am not a churchgoer. I, and many of my friends, attend the Church of the Open Road, although it is known by different names among different athletes. When I run, and when I bike, I often find myself deep in prayer. I almost never pray while swimming, probably because I am too busy breathing. But my moments of deepest connection with God have all come on the open road. So far, I have struggled with trying to write about these experiences, and I have more than a few unfinished draft posts for this blog that have not yet seen the light of day. It's hard to put something so personal and raw into words.

Today though, the prayers from this runner were for other runners and their friends and family, those struck by tragedy at the Boston Marathon. These are times when people of faith struggle with trying to understand evil and the desire to harm others. We struggle to have compassion for our enemies, when those enemies could do something as heartless as create a device that kills an eight year old child standing and cheering at the side of a finish line. My kids came to watch me run a marathon. They were six and nine. Thinking about your own kids being in the path of this kind of evil just socks you in the gut.

For athletes, this kind of tragedy hurts in another way. It may not be personal for us in the sense of knowing a victim, but almost all of us knew someone who was there today, or we might've been there ourselves, or have always longed to qualify to go there. This horrible act by some unknown person(s) becomes personal because it strikes at our sport, our passion, our camaraderie, the root of much that is good in our lives. For some of us, running has saved us from our own frailties and flaws - from obesity or drug abuse or smoking or character flaws that seem to go away (or at least be mitigated) after we hit mile a few miles out.

I had to take myself out of the house yesterday because I was so cranky and worked up and tense that I was about to go postal on my family, who were doing absolutely nothing wrong but were irritating me nonetheless. It was raining, cold, and miserable. I didn't want to lace up those shoes, but I knew it's what I needed to be sane, to be kind, to be a good mom and wife for the rest of the day. Sure enough, a few miles in and a few prayers along the way, my running remedy began to work. I came home renewed in spirit, if tired in body.

Maybe if the person who built this bomb could've gone out for a run, they would've felt differently about pressing the detonator. Maybe if when they ran, they saw God's presence in the drops of rain on the leaves, on the face of the old lady walking her old dog, in the kids running around the soccer fields, in the golden edges of the rainclouds, maybe then the pain or hatred in their lives wouldn't drive them to such depths of hell that they could do something like this.

So tomorrow I will put on a race shirt and run. I'll pray for the victims and their families, first and foremost. And I'll pray for all the runners for whom tragedy interrupted their much-anticipated moment of personal triumph, something they had been training for a year or a lifetime. I'll also pray for the person or people who did this, that they will find something in their lives to banish the darkness. Something like running has been for so many of us.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why A Good Bike Fit Matters

I admit it, I've been putting off getting my bike fit. Yes, I know I bought my lovely pink bike a year ago. But I got it to a "good enough" fit by tweaking it here and there and I thought I was just fine. Except that sometimes after a hard ride my left knee would hurt a bit.

My left knee, by the way, is my "good knee", not the one I injured last year. The fact that it was hurting was maybe not such a good sign. But it was rare, and mild, and.... well, I just kept putting it off. But then hubby got a terrific bike fit from our local bike store, Collin's Cycle Shop and it made a big difference for him and so I finally found the time to fit it in.

Wow. So glad I did. For one thing Jay, my fit technician, could show me on the video exactly why my left knee was hurting. It wasn't tracking straight (the right one was). He got that fixed, and in the meantime adjusted my saddle, stem, cleats on my shoes, aerobar angle and position, and many other things. All along the way he measured me, my flexibility, the bike, my positioning, and explained what he was doing and why. It took a good 2 hours or more, and when I came out I felt much better on the bike.

So this last week I've been taking the new fit for a spin. Let's just say I loved my "Pinkalicious" bike before, but now it's like I got married to it. After a couple of shake-out rides, I set out with some friends on Tuesday to the local time trial course. I only did a 20 minute TT, about half of the 15 mile course, but I managed to average over 21 mph (without my aero helmet, wheels, or anything) and felt great. I felt like I was able to deliver more power to the pedals with less effort than ever before.

So, bottom line: Bike Fit Matters. It matters for comfort, speed, injury prevention, biomechanics, and just pure enjoyment of your ride. It's not cheap - a good bike fit usually costs $200 - $350. But considering how much we bike nuts usually invest in other doodads for our two-wheeled loves, it's an investment well worth making.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Swimmer in the Family

If there's one thing better than having an adorable grandbaby, it's having an adorable grandbaby who loves to swim. We're up visiting my step-sons in Spokane and this was the little cutie's first time in the pool. She's so adventurous, the water didn't faze her at all. She loved it.
 In fact, it reminds me of another water baby I once knew, one who is now a swimming, water-polo-playing 13 year old dynamo. Her little tutu-ruffled swimsuit was a sparkly blue, but otherwise she shares a lot of the same personality and daring. As I recall on this vacation, once we introduced her to the pool, every time we walked by it she would fling her little arms out to the water and screech her lungs out. 
Some of us are born to the water, and it only takes once to know that's where we belong.

So I hope you don't mind if I take a pause from talking about triathlon training, clean eating, swim technique, and martial arts, and share a little video of grandbaby's first swim. Check out the smile at the end. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It May Seem Difficult At First...

I can't express how much I love this quote. Sometimes, as capable adults, we forget this very simple fact: everything is difficult at first. Maybe that's why parenthood is so great, we get to experience something that we don't remember much of: the learning process from the ground up. There's a reason that baby's first steps are a Kodak moment. But we forget how much time and energy go into mastering even those "baby steps": strengthening the core muscles by first pushing up, then sitting up, then crawling, strengthening the legs by pulling up on furniture and "cruising", walking around and holding onto things, letting go and standing and trying to balance, falling down on your bum and doing it over and over and over again.

It's hard to keep this in mind though, even though it's a lesson I learn over and over again. I recently took up playing the piano more than casually again, mostly because we finally got rid of our old out-of-tune upright and got a digital piano which is beeeyoootiful (and in tune). I don't know why I thought I could just sit down and sight-read and play easily, but guess what? Learning a new piece is difficult, and takes a lot of work. I need to sit down every day and practice (yes mom, just like you told me!) Lesson learned. Again.

I spent last night at our Wing Chun (Kung Fu) class. The drills we are doing are completely unfamiliar to me, and very different in almost all aspects from what we do in Karate. Where Karate is hard, meeting force with force, Wing Chun flows around. Where Karate is straight, Wing Chun is circular. It's so.... difficult! But as I posted awhile ago, I think everyone should be incompetent sometime. It's good to face the difficult, as long as you don't let it frustrate you. Sometimes that's a tall order, and often we stick with things we're good at because, let's face it, it's nice to feel competent and it's often uncomfortable to feel incompetent.

In the swim classes I teach, I occasionally get a person who thinks that mastering new skills should be easy. For some it is, but I do try to dispel this myth on a regular basis. Learning something new can be hard, and if people get that, they're willing to work for it. The person who continues to believe it should be easy will not last long, nor will they ever achieve competence, let alone mastery, of a new skill. Conversely, embracing the fact that it can be difficult, that it probably will be difficult, can give us the will to continue trying until we prevail. That is, until the next difficult thing comes along.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Gift of Now

I learned an incredibly valuable lesson this week, from my teenager no less.

It didn't start off feeling like a valuable lesson though. It started off feeling more like a pain in the ass. Maybe that's how all valuable lessons start.

It was 4:30. I had just dropped off my daughter at her dance class, taken the dogs for a walk in the pouring rain, and was picking my son up, heading for a 5:00 karate class, ready to practice together. Partway to the dojo, we realize his backpack with his karate gi is not in the car. Great. I turn the car toward home, we are going to be late for class, but probably not by more than a few minutes. We get home though, and his backpack is nowhere to be seen. He comes back out of the house with a shrug.

On a whim, I ask him if, just possibly, it might actually be in the trunk of the car? Lightbulb moment. We've been driving around town with the pack in the car all this time. Sigh. Back in the car, back on the road to the karate dojo. Now we're definitely going to be late.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the dojo. Not really funny, more like amazing. The sky started turning orange, then pink, then bright purple. Then, I kid you not, purple rain started falling from the sky. I have lived almost 47 years and it was the most amazing sky I'd ever seen. Like the aurora borealis in the middle of the day - lighted sheets of rain dancing around the sky in amazing sheets of color. And of course, as a photographer, I'm going nuts because A) I'm driving on the freeway, and B) I don't even have my camera. You'll have to settle for my description and this bad photo we shot out the windshield.

At this point, I'm going nuts and I pull in to a local park and run like crazy for the high ground, hoping I can at least capture it on my phone. By the time I get to the top of the footbridge, of course, the sky has faded completely to a dark blue. The incredible photographable Best Sky of My Life is gone. I walk dejectedly back to the car.

But here's one thing that most parents know: having kids is like having little Zen teachers with you every day of your life. My son says "Well, at least we got to see it."

Bam! Yes. Yes we did. I got to experience that amazing sky. Maybe I don't get to sell a photo of it to National Geographic. But I was here on this earth to see it. And I'll never forget it. And here's the kicker. The real kicker....

If he hadn't forgotten his backpack, we would've been in class. We never would've even known it existed. This incredible miraculous bit of everyday wondrous beauty would've just occurred and we would've been none the wiser.

I'm so grateful for my forgetful son. I'm grateful for his teenage wisdom. And I'm happy to have had the Gift of Now.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

How I Got Stronger on the Bike, by Doing More.... Karate....???

Last year, just before the Ironman, I rode my last FTP test* on the Computrainer. As anyone who has ever done one can attest, that's an ugly, brutal session to sit your butt down to. You know you're looking at 30 minutes of Unmitigated Hurt, and a point somewhere near the end at which you're reasonably sure that your heart is simply going to explode all out of your chest in a big bloody mess like that Alien creature in the movie.

So of course, I wasn't really looking forward to doing that all over again. Especially since I was pretty sure that my numbers this time around would be lower. Much lower. Right before an Ironman you're out there riding like an animal, putting up crazy amounts of mileage. But now it's the end of winter, which means I've cranked out a few lackadaisical trainer workouts in the basement, watching Dexter or Breaking Bad, taken a few 1 - 2 hour rides on days when the sun has actually shown, and been to the triathlon store a few times for Computrainer workouts, but nothing consistent.

As a split-personality martial artist/triathlete, I spend my summers with my first love - my tri bike, my running shoes, and the outdoor pool or lake, and my winters with my new love, the karate dojo and the kung fu school. So as you might notice, here in the Northern Hemisphere it is still winter. Which is why I was less than optimistic about my FTP test. I've been hanging out in the dojo far too many hours to make a good showing on the bike. Or so I thought.

Fast forward 30 minutes of serious hurt later and.... my new FTP is 2 points higher than my last. A whoppin' 207 watts! When that's coupled with losing some pounds this winter, my watts/kg ration is very close to 3. My goal is definitely to push that higher this year, but I'm very excited that I not only didn't lose any ground this winter, I actually gained some.

So what's the secret? I think that I've cycled just enough to maintain what I had, or at least not lose too much over the winter, and when I couple that with the martial arts classes, and the Karate Conditioning classes I'm teaching (lots of Crossfit and Tacfit-inspired workouts, none of which are easy), I was more physically and mentally prepared to bring it on the FTP test. Paying close attention to calories and nutrition has made me a bit lighter, and the two things combined should give me some powerful biking in this summers' triathlons.

*An FTP test is, simply put, a test of the maximal sustainable power you can put out over a given period of time - generally considered to be an hour on the open road or 30 minutes on the Computrainer. For more detailed description and analysis, go here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Carb Question

As an endurance athlete, I'm always experimenting with what/when/how much should I eat before, during, and after exercise. It's nice to see some quantitative data that helps this decision-making process. Here's an interesting article on carbohydrate consumption during exercise that seems to peg the optimum carb ingestion at about 70 - 80 g per hour.

While I typically eat a primal/paleo diet most of the time, I do use Infinit as my carb drink of choice on extended (>1.5 hour) bikes and runs. The nice thing about Infinit is that you can personally adjust the amount of carbs, electrolytes, protein, and even flavor to your own specifications and taste. For me, a person who sweats very little (so needs less salt and electrolytes and even less fluid), this is very important. I can increase the density of my drink mix, while dialing down the amount of flavor so that I can get the right amount of carbs and electrolytes while not drowning in fluids that my body simply won't sweat out (there's nothing like that sloshing sound of extra fluids in your stomach while running).

Using my personal formula, I know that I took in exactly 130g of carbohydrates during my 2 hour bike ride yesterday, for a rate of about 65 per hour. I might try upping this with my next batch of Infinit and see if it works better.

If you're going long in your races this year, it's a good idea to start thinking about nutrition now, practicing it on long rides and runs, dialing it in until on race day there are no surprises and no problems. I credit my dozens of nutritional trial runs last year with seeing me through an Ironman on a stomach that was still reeling from the bout of food poisoning earlier in the week. I don't think I could've finished the race if my nutrition hadn't been spot on.

This week on Philosophy In Action, Dr. Diana Hsieh will be interviewing Nell Stephenson on the subject of "Paleo for the Endurance Athlete". I'll be interested to hear if she has any good info for training (other than eat more yams and bananas!).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not the Valentine's Day I Expected

Do you ever dream of a romantic Valentine's weekend with your hubby.... in a hospital emergency room with him vomiting uncontrollably? I didn't think so. But that's life, in't it? Throwing us curveballs when we least expect them.

Hubby was on the road for actual Valentine's Day, but we planned to go for a bike ride on Sunday followed by a nice brunch where we could finally get some quality together time in. As it turned out, he got appendicitis on Saturday when we were on our way back from our daughter's dance competition, and we ended up pulling off the highway into the ER where eventually he had his appendix removed.

Here's where my public service announcement comes in: If you experience vomiting that gets worse and worse, even if you've had something like food poisoning before that seems similar, it could possibly be appendicitis. This is something I did not know before this weekend. I also didn't know how fast someone could go from perfectly healthy (we ran 5 miles together on Friday afternoon) to near-death (by Saturday afternoon he was in massive amounts of pain and heading toward surgery). Since his experience, I have heard horror stories from others about how fast this kind of thing can come on and how dangerous it can be. So: abdominal pain or severe fever or severe vomiting - get thyself to a hospital or urgent care!

Also of course, he's a bit derailed from his Ironman training for a couple of weeks, but I think he's bouncing back pretty quickly for as sick as he was.  I guess I could look at the bright side - it's usually me in the emergency room. It's a bit of a relief to be the person in the support position for once.

Also, this kind of event tends to focus you on what's really important. As you hold your husband's hand at 3:00 in the morning as they prepare him for surgery, life becomes very distilled. The things that are important become very clear: your family, your love, the time you have together. I'm glad that even though he's on the road so much, we do make a priority to get out there and spend time with each other. Maybe this kind of clear thinking is the best Valentines present after all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Active Family Travels: Storming Seattle

Question: How much luggage does it take for one mom and two kids to go to Seattle for five days?

Answer: A LOT!

The problem is this: We stayed with my sister in Seattle for five days, but in that time:

- Asa went to a two-day dance intensive with some of the nation's top choreographers. Result: three bags of dancewear and shoes.

- Mackenzie wanted us to visit the Shudokan Karate dojo in Mercer Island. Result: Two bags of karate gis (those funny white outfits) and belts.

- I wanted to fit in a bike ride and run with my sister, who is also a triathlete. Result: One bike, one bag of biking gear, one suitcase full of cold-weather biking and running clothes.

- We wanted to go visit a Wing Chun Kung Fu school while we were there. Result: more athletic wear.

Oh yeah, and we wanted to go out for dinner and visit friends while we were at it. Result: Pack nice clothing and shoes. And I had to feed my teenage son for five days. Pack lots and lots of food and snacks.

In the end, it's a very lucky thing that we still have a mini-van. You could've mounted an invasion of a small country with less stuff than we packed in that van. I'm just glad my sister was not overwhelmed when we landed in her entryway with our massive amounts of gear. But the upside is this: hubby and I have accomplished one of our goals: we've raised active kids. Kids who are engaged in life, and fit in body. If that takes a little more equipment, cargo space, and planning, not to mention lots of fresh food, so be it.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Upside of Injury: Getting Faster

Most triathletes will have to deal with an injury at some point in their training and racing lives. It can be demoralizing, debilitating, frustrating, and of course painful. But there can be an upside to injury too: Speed. All too often as Type A triathletes, we fixate on mileage, intensity, heart-rate, wattage, and other easily measurable and trackable outputs, sometimes at the expense of the less-quantifyable but important aspects of sport like technique, flexibility, and core strength.

An injury is a setback, sure. But it can also be a benefit when you use your injured time to focus on these overlooked areas of training to make yourself stronger, more flexible, and more efficient (not to mention more injury-proof for the future, since poor technique, lack of flexibility and low core strength are big contributors to most training injuries)

Unfortunately, I speak from all too much experience with injury, especially in the last few years. But as much as it has upset my training, my injuries have had some unexpectedly positive consequences. Coming back from three years in which I broke my hand, my arm, and my arm again (at the elbow), you would think that my swimming would be far worse than it was, say 5 years ago. But instead, I'm faster now than I've been at any time since college. I used the last few years to work steadily on the things that truly matter to speed in swimming: technique, flexibility, and utilizing my core more in my stroke instead of my arms and shoulders.

 The result was evident the other day when I swam a series of 200s in 2:20, a training time that I haven't hit since my days of swimming two workouts a day, six days a week (I'm only swimming 3x a week currently). I can't pile on the yardage that I used to, but I can make every yard count.

This year with a knee injury from a biking incident, I faced much the same problem with running. From last April, two months before Ironman Coeur d'Alene until now, I haven't been able to run more than a couple miles at a time, and until the last few weeks I've been holding my mileage down to 1 - 3 three mile runs a week, hardly an inspiring amount of mileage. Also, no speed work, no track workouts and no tempo runs. Those are three-mile jogs, not anything with intensity or difficulty.

So how is it that on a run with my sister yesterday, she came to comment "You're a lot faster than you used to be!"? I simply applied the same principle to my running that I have to my swimming over the last few years: work on the things that you can, instead of focusing on what you can't do. With running, this has meant a focus on holding good Chi Running form, working on a light and quick turnover of over 90 per minute, and putting a big emphasis on body composition. I've been tracking calories using an Android app called LoseIt, and have very gradually dropped over 10 pounds in the last year. I figure this makes it easier on my injured knee, as well as making me a little bit faster.

So if you find yourself staring an injury in the face this training season, you might think of it as a bonus, not a drawback. Use the time to work on the things you can: core strength, flexibility, technique, body composition, and see if you just don't come back stronger!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Everyone Should be Incompetent Sometime

That is, I think every adult should try something completely new every few years. If you don't, how would you get to experience that moment when you realize that you know absolutely nothing. Or worse, that everything you know is wrong, all your instincts incorrect, your movements backwards and inside out. Every time you experience this, you gain countless amounts of empathy for every person you have to deal with in your life who you might otherwise be inclined to view as  incompetent themselves. Instead, you realize that we all have varying degrees of knowledge about different subjects, and at any given time in the situation of the moment, you may be the master, or you may be the newborn, helpless and incomplete.

As a black belt in karate, I could be basking in the feeling that I have Achieved Something. Arrived Somewhere. Hold some vast store of knowledge that I didn't hold before. Of course, most anyone who has achieved the rank of black belt knows that it's just the opposite. It's more like holding open a door to the vast yawning abyss of all that you don't know in your martial art. It's a dawning realization that even your entire lifetime would not be enough to master all of the skills encompassed in your study. That you have barely scratched the surface.

On top of that, my son recently convinced me to join him in studying Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu. Now I should point out that all of my training in Karate prepares me to be absolutely incompetent in Wing Chun. I would probably be better off if I had no martial arts training whatsoever. When I'm punching, my Karate instinct is to bring my hand back into the chamber position and then fire it off using my hips and whole body to throw a big old punch, focusing on a fist that is parallel to the floor with the striking surface being the first two knuckles.

Which of course is absolutely nothing like a Wing Chun punch, which uses a vertical fist, no chamber, no big hips, short and fast, nothing of what I already know. And likewise the other strikes and blocks in Wing Chun are very different from what I have studied, leaving me basically feeling like I did on my first day as a white belt in Karate - a newborn, knowing nothing, an empty vessel. Or worse, not even an empty vessel. I first have to empty myself, which is much harder to do than you'd think.

Still, I'm loving this new focus, this new way to turn myself inside out. A new opportunity to still my mind, to unlearn and to learn anew. And when I take it back to my Karate classes, I find myself better prepared to understand what I am studying there. My focus in preparing for my 2nd degree black belt is a "package" of 10 kata (or forms), and these kata are all influenced by White Crane Kung Fu, which is different than Wing Chun, but shares some similarities. In essence, I'm learning the origins of moves that were folded into Shudokan karate many years ago.

As I study both arts, I find myself wrapping back around, like the tails of the yin yang symbol, into a place of understanding. A hard art, a soft art. An intercepting fist, a redirecting touch. Both effective in their own way, both with a place in my body and mind.

I'm learning to be empty, and I'm learning to be full.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Ability to Break Through Our Ceiling

The oppressive grey fog that has blanketed us this week could be seen as a metaphor. There are times in life when we can't see a path upwards, when our goals feel obscured, we feel boxed in, pushed down, unable to move. All too often though, the grey matter that stands between us and our visions and dreams is quite literally all in our heads. So how do we find a way to break through, up and out to the sunny vistas that we desire for our life?

A run this weekend with my hubby gave me pause to think about how firmly we see our barriers above us, and how yet they are often the thinnest of layers, easily broken through with a little effort.

We started out in the grayest of gray cloud banks, the forest air literally dense with frozen water. In places, the trail was a skating rink of black ice, in other areas it was blanketed in fallen ice crystals from the trees above. But as we steadily worked our way up the ridgeline, the thick mist began to lighten, then to positively glow with a lovely pastel radiance. The air around us became luminous and the snow reflected the pale light so the ground beneath our feet felt like it was glowing.

All of a sudden above us through the trees, beams of golden light shot out through the mist. Although we hadn't planned on it, I knew we needed to take a detour from the trail and head upwards to the top of the butte. Hubby was not so convinced. The trail was treacherous, and as it got steeper it became increasingly impossible to navigate. But I knew that where there were sunbeams, there must be sun, so up up we went.
Sure enough, once we arrived at the top, we could see that we had broken through the layer of grey and were now on top of an ocean of clouds stretching in all directions across the valley below. What had once seemed like an impenetrable ceiling was now beneath us. Although the frigid air below had chilled us to the bitter bone, we stripped down to t-shirts at the top and basked in the warmth like lizards. Sadly, we were on a timeline, so we had only a few short minutes to enjoy the top. I inhaled deeply, taking in the defrosting earth, the unmistakable smell of green growing things, warm dirt. All the way down into the fogline, I sounded like a yoga practitioner gone bonkers, trying to savor those smells before they were frozen into so many impenetrable crystals.

So, when the grey closes in around you, and the walls above feel too thick, what gets you to break through? For me, it's often my training. It might not feel like it at the time, but every time you push your boundaries, you  in turn become less bounded. When you know that your limits are malleable, you can make yourself work all the harder to move them back.

Even on this run, the fact that we had run before, run many winding trails up and down the ridgeline, enabled us to decide on the spur of the moment to run up the mountain. Running up a mountain is not something everyone can do. Most folks would be gasping and wheezing after a minute or two of such effort. So our prior hard work paid off in allowing us this moment of freedom above the clouds.

When relatives, co-workers, or friends express doubt or dismay over your training, it's nice to remember that there are these wonderful times when it pays off in spades. When the grey ceiling that everyone thinks is immovable can actually be broken. By you.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fifty Shades of Grey

I think I've seen all fifty shades of grey in the sky this week, but not one ounce of blue. My run today on a trail through the misty, frozen woods was hauntingly beautiful, but brought little but chill to my heart. My mood drops, only picking itself up to little spikes of anger or irritation, then flattening out again to a dull flat sameness.

I admit, my heart is tied to the sunshine. Even with the cold, if those rays are falling on my face, I'm good. Like the rest of my generation, I sang along with John Denver and his "Sunshine on my shoulders". Truer words were never written.

I suppose what makes this week even worse is the feeling of betrayal. Oh sure, I know better. I live in the Pacific Northwest. When the weatherman issues a chart that looks like this, I should know enough not to pin my hopes on it. But is one tiny ray through the clouds too much to ask for? Today was supposed to be that little round yellow globe with the number 52 beside it. Instead, on my run I noticed that the plants alongside the trail were rimed with ice that has not melted once this week. Another runner said his portable thermometer read 33 F, and that was at noon.

Still, I am fortunate to have accumulated over the years an arsenal of cold weather running clothing. I can be completely comfortable, and even become warm, while running in the fog-chilled damp 33 degree air. Without that, I truly would go insane, so I guess it's time to thank God for small blessings. And perhaps beg for a bit of sunshine while I'm at it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Swimming Technique For The Win

As a swim coach, my greatest satisfaction comes from helping people make swimming easier, faster, and more enjoyable by fixing technique problems that are slowing them down and/or causing injuries.

This week was breakthrough week for many of my swimmers, and nothing makes me happier.

In my Monday Swim Conditioning class, we use a performance metric called the Swim Golf (sometimes abbreviated as SWOLF):

Each Swimmer goes 50 yards, counting their strokes (each arm stroke counts as one). They also keep track of their time for the 50 yards. Their Swim Golf Score is Time (in seconds) plus Strokes. Just like in regular Golf, under 70 is optimal. The idea with swim golf is to swim as efficiently as possible as fast as possible. If you swim fast by churning the water, you may get a faster time, but in the long run the energy hit will be too great to keep up. So a balance of long smooth strokes and stroke turnover is needed to get a good swim golf score.
EVERY ONE of my swimmers improved their Swim Golf scores!!!  My least experienced swimmer came down from 115 to 95, and my most experienced shaved off 7 points from 70 to 63, and everyone in the middle experienced similar improvements. This comes from weekly drills where we focus on improving different elements of the stroke for greater efficiency. And it works!

The next day, two of my Masters swimmers told me they had hit PR's this week. Yeah!

And then in a private swim lesson, a swimmer had a wonderful breakthrough. We were working on hand entry - on angling the hand down for a nice entry and a smooth long glide. As we worked through the drills and integrated it into her stroke, she commented that yeah, this was nice and all but she was swimming so slow, how could she hold this technique and actually get faster?

In answer, I timed her while she was swimming. When I told her how fast she was swimming, she wouldn't believe me until she watched the clock herself: She was six seconds faster per 100 than her normal pace, and all with so much less effort, it felt like she was swimming "slow". Now that's one of those moments where I jump up and down on the deck like a demented cheerleader.

The bottom line people: if you want to get faster in swimming, don't just crank out the yards. And don't get your buddy who used to swim in high school 20+ years ago to look at your stroke and give you a few tips. Find a masters group or a good swim coach and work with them to improve your technique. You'll save yourself some future swimming-related injuries, swim smoother, faster, and have more fun!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Twelve Blog Posts of Post-Christmas

I think I should get used to doing mini blog posts. It seems like I think I have to have some big involved idea in order to post, and then I never have the time to sit down and write something big and involved. It may be that one paragraph bursts are all I can do for awhile. Since it's now been 12 days since I posted, here are twelve things that happened recently that I didn't manage to write about (in no particular order):

1. My son started college. Wow, can't believe I typed that. One of the benefits/drawbacks of homeschooling is that the kids are ready to move on pretty early. He's currently enrolled at our local community college, pursing a certification in IT, preparatory to continuing on to a computer science degree. Since he's 16, and doesn't have a driver's license yet, this week involved getting him used to the bus schedules he'll need to keep track of, learning his way around campus, buying textbooks and other new things, and most importantly making sure he has enough food packed, and that all the food he needs for a day and evening can actually FIT in a backpack - sheesh, 16 year old boys eat a lot. On the first day, he informed me that the lunch I packed (two sandwiches, a container of yogurt, an apple, a banana, three fruit leathers and a protein bar) had all disappeared by lunchtime and he was hungry by the afternoon.

2. The heater broke on our club's pool. By Wednesday, it was at a chilly 75 degrees, and I had the BEST WORKOUT in forever. I forgot how much I love swimming in cold pools. I came out invigorated, and extremely pleased that in descending sets of 100's, I was able to hold 1:15, 1:12, and 1:08 respectively. Woot! My swimming has been getting stronger and stronger lately, but this was definitely the best I've felt in a very long time.

3. My hubby was home for 4 straight weeks. Now that was weird! Normally he's gone just about every other week, it was nice to have him back with us for awhile. We got some good bike rides and runs in together, and the occasional sneak out to Starbucks for a mocha.

4. I get to  go see my sister and brother-in-law in a few weeks in Seattle. I wish we lived closer!

5. This is unprecedented: Our weather report says 10 straight days of sunshine are coming our way. In January. In Oregon. Yeah baby!

6. Chip Kelly is going to keep coaching the Duck football team.

7. I've managed to lose 15 pounds since last March, and kept it off over the holidays. Better for my (recovering) knee.

8.  There's a heart-shaped lake I see all the time on a local bike ride. Love it.

9.  I CAN RUN. Well, I'm up to 9 miles a week. That's very good news.

10. Immediately after her performance run as Veruca Salt in the musical Willy Wonka, Asa has auditioned for the musical Aladdin. Because we can't have a month or two without shuttling to rehearsals now can we?

11. I saw Les Mis. I loved it. Again. Just like I fell in love with it when I first read it (26 years ago, in French Literature class), first saw it on stage (20 years ago), and last saw it on stage (last year's 25th anniversary touring company). Now I have the CD on endless repeat on my car stereo, can't get the songs out of my head. I'm reading it to the kids (in English this time) as our bedtime story.

12.  I re-wrote my resume for the first time since 1988 and submitted it for a job in the computer field. Not saying just what yet, but cross your fingers for me.