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!