Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Resting heart rate

Data from this morning. Yeah, I don't think so.

Time to replace the battery. So I put on the watch and strap and sat around waiting the interminably long time it always seems to take to pair. Bingo! And I discovered my resting heart rate (sitting in a chair, a rare time of not moving) was 44. Interesting. I'd never bothered to check before.

I had no idea what "normal" resting heart rate was, but according to the source-of-all-knowledge, Wikipedia, "normal" is 60-90, with lower rates for athletes. The reason is the heart, like all muscles, grows stronger (hypertrophy) and can pump more volume per contraction.

I did a manual double-check (finger on wrist pulse) to verify. (I'm a good scientist when it's convenient!)

Pretty cool. While I knew from reading that fitness is good for cardiac health this evidence made the information far more real and personal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How acupuncture really works

I wouldn't know my metaphysical qi from my...well....metaphysical butt. I've done no research on acupuncture. Therefore I am highly qualified to report on precisely how it works. (haha)

I've had a stubborn case of posterior tibial tendonitis (behind inner ankle bone) since spring which was showing no signs of relenting. This summer, I turned to acupuncture out of frustration and desperation (and a suggestion from Kurt) but I have to say I think there is something to this stuff.

I go to John Thacker who works with my chiropractor. He's not what you might picture as a licensed acupuncturist. He played football and he's very much an athlete. I see him on a regular basis and by golly this tendonitis situation is pretty much gone. Unfortunately, pain is a moving target once you get over 40. There is always something new to work with!

In a typical session, I present my list of trouble spots for John to direct his needling process. I'm guessing it's around 15 needles?  It's amazing how some of the spots trigger an instant and dramatic neural reaction that can shoot out in multiple directions. Some areas get an extra "jump" with electro stimulation complete with alligators clips. It's a pretty neat sensation. Unless we crank it too high.

Here are my thoughts on how acupuncture works, based on my highly scrutinized scientific method, n=1. (John, forgive me...)

Acupuncture breaks your body out of endless pain loops.
I think pain patterns can become habitual, kind of locked in, especially with tendonitis type things. Just like we always drive the same way to work, or eat the same breakfast, sometimes you need an outside force to point out to your body that there is another way to process information! 

Acupuncture is like a meat tenderizer, making tendons and muscles more compliant. 
Tough piece of meat? Beat it a little. Stubborn kid? Tickle him a little. You get the idea.  The micro-lesions also stimulate blood flow, helping to flush the area and encourage healing.

Acupuncture forces me to be still for up to 40 minutes at a time.
I'm never really still. But flinch a bit where you're doing this porcupine impression and it can be pretty uncomfortable. So I lay there, quietly. It's good thinking time.

For acupuncture to be most effective, you need to rest the parts for a day and use ice.
So you get a multiplicative effect - acupuncture, rest, ice, and a general reminder to take care of yourself.

So there you have it, another tool worth considering for the toolkit!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Will run for pancakes

I had a date with my son Spencer for pancakes immediately following this morning's long run. I can't think of better incentive than that! The last few miles that was pretty much all I thought about. pancakes....will run....for pancakes!!!

We went to our favorite local breakfast joint - Gillie's. It's right downtown and has been around as long as I can remember, with the character of the place evident in the sturdy but lived-in solid wood chairs, specials written up on the chalkboard, and the excellent staff that serves up the best food pretty quick - one you get a table. It's worth the wait and Spencer and I enjoyed some nice uninterrupted conversation. We split an order of pancakes and the Gillie's Special of eggs, potatoes, cheese, and salsa with a homemade biscuit. SPLURGE!

It's Virginia Tech's homecoming weekend and I was treated to a preview of the parade floats as I headed out of town on my first loop. It was only in the 30's but once the sun burned off the fog I started shedding layers.

I knocked out 18 happy miles, with a nice speedy one thrown in at mile 16 just to show I was feeling spunky and finishing with plenty in the tank! I should have my marathon pace dialed in by now but I don't exactly. I keep coming in about 10-20s/mile faster than what is suggested for my "marathon paced" work. I don't know if it's belligerence/denial/delusion/inability to follow directions, or if my happy pace really is faster than we thought. There is a big difference between 18 miles and 26 though. I'm meeting with Coach next week and I'm confident he will bring me back to reality.

I am enjoying this marathon training block tremendously. There is no pressure - it's not like I'm going to win the thing - and the time on my feet, away from technology, is a welcome reprieve from the busy-ness of work and and family.  My legs are feeling good and I am so thankful for that. That is not something I will ever take for granted ever again. I emerged from this run unscathed....except for a small injury sustained when going off-road for a...uh....pit stop! Darn briars!

Run happy!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Running as Therapy / Antidepressant

My friend Michael on Facebook posted this graphic yesterday, prompting a string of responses.

In close succession, NPR had a link to a story that now 1 in 10 Americans takes antidepressants and nearly 1 in 5 women aged 40-59! That's my demographic.

Then for some reason, this photo of me, taken in October, 2008 (three years ago if you want me to do the math) popped up again on Facebook causing me to think about my own relatively short running history in relation to antidepressants.

Few people know that I was on antidepressants for about 18 months and had stopped not long before this photo was taken.  I had a prescription-happy doctor and in hindsight, I wasn't depressed so much as incoming stress levels exceeded my stunted stress release resources. I had returned to school for my PhD, I had two young kids, we were building a house (that was a saga, yikes), and I was out of shape and unhealthy. I slept horribly and had stomach problems. Easy fix - antidepressants!! They are commonplace and no big deal, right?

No one ever suggested exercise or eating better. No one warned me that weaning off of antidepressants could have some very unpleasant side effects.

Fortunately I found running and training -- and a healthier lifestyle to go with it. One of the postings under the Running, Cheaper than Therapy image above was a woman who said I want to learn to run, is that weird? I jumped on that. NO! Not weird at all. Outside of being forced to run the mile once a year in school for gym class, I had never run until age 41 either. I had no running shoes, no clue, and all I could do was dare myself to run from one mailbox to another around a really small block. 

In the photo above I had been a runner for just 8 months and had finished a 15 mile trail race, my longest run at that point. I was genuinely happy (and sore!) throughout every fiber of my body. There is no pill that can make you feel THAT happy.

I'm not saying that some people don't truly have biochemical imbalances that can be helped by prescription antidepressants. I'm just saying I'm not one of them.

Running saved me. Running, and now triathlon, helped me find true joy and gave me the resources to better cope with stress. Are my stress levels lower now? Am I less busy? No way!! But endurance sports are my antidepressant, they are my endorphin rush, they are my quiet refuge from sensory overload. I am the happiest I have probably ever been in my adult life.

So now how do I/we get more people thinking "I want to learn to run" (or bike, hike, swim, etc) and then help them to make it happen? How do we change a culture that thinks pills are the answer to so many things including happiness? I don't really know, it's daunting. But I do remind my husband regularly that Triathlon is cheaper than drug addiction and rehab.

Run happy! 23 days till the Richmond Marathon!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

San Diego Swim

This photo shows the view from the 24th floor hotel room -- the bay, skyscrapers, and the general hustle and bustle of San Diego. But more importantly, check out that rooftop pool and blue basketball court in the lower part of this photo. I've been watching, mesmerized, as tiny figures would swim back and forth and back and forth.

I wanted to be one of those tiny figures!!

Today Krista and I went over and paid a day fee to enjoy this outdoor urban gym, Pure Fitness. The lap pool and adjacent basketball court were surrounded by every piece of exercise equipment imaginable. They even appeared to have a busy physical therapy clinic operating under some simple pop-up canopies, poolside. The crazy thing is, this is the gym's last day of operations here and they are moving to a new location (also with larger pool and deck) that will be 3x larger! I can't imagine making that move.

In case it seems like I just came all this way to run and swim, no, I attended a great conference and presented a session on Community Action Projects: Scaffolding and Authentic Assessments for Effective Service-Learning. Very impressively stiff and academic sounding, isn't it? Yeah, well, someone asked me the name of my session the day before and I couldn't begin to recite that title, so I described it as the "Couch-to-5K approach for meaningful community-based projects." And so my subtitle was born!

I wanted to geek out for a picture - goggles on the Roman Chair!!

It was only 65 today but the pool was heated

This is a rooftop, can you believe it?

Equipment everywhere!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

San Diego Run

I had a very happy medium-long run in San Diego this morning with perfect temps and legs feeling good! I'd had a solid night's sleep, unlike the previous night when I was up at 2:45 AM to get to the airport for this trip.

Despite my initial misgivings and fears of running long in a BIG s-c-a-r-y city, things went smoothly. I was grinning and glistening at the finish.

I tend to deal with my angst through evidence gathering, planning, and analysis (engineer, remember?). For this run, I consulted with my San Diego-based Endurance Films Teammates Scott and Diane, the hotel concierge, and then did a little Google Earth virtual flyover last night to be sure it looked doable and safe.

My plan was to run along the edge of the bay with little loops on Harbor Island and Shelter Island. It didn't exactly work out that way as I followed pedestrian pathways and never even got close to Shelter Island, but it was still lovely -- scenic and very flat. Keeping water in sight reassured me that I could not be too lost. There plenty of runners out including a bunch of Navy guys (no girls...odd) from the nearby Naval station.

I'm glad Coach Jim put this on the schedule, just like the ocean swim he put on my beach trip. I appreciate that he challenges me to do things that I would not otherwise do. That is one of the main reasons that I love this sport (and appreciate my coach!).

On Harbor Island

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gratitude for Race EMTs!

After the Patriots Half I was treated to some very helpful medical intervention. A few days later it dawned on me that it didn't cost a dime yet made the rest of the trip/day/weekend enormously better. Traveling home in a cramped-up ball would have been no fun for anyone.

I tracked down the folks who provided the EMS support for race day and sent them a donation and hand-written note of gratitude. The amount is pretty paltry, and I'd like to do more, but I feel good that I at least did something and recognized the help that they provide. I appreciated the personalized note back, "we're glad we fixed your cramping problem"!!

I'd like to do more but right now it seems like the only person we know making money is our mechanic, thanks in large part to us. If you can believe it, over the last week, we have had to have BOTH cars (van and truck) towed and BOTH needed a fuel pump. How's that for luck?! Good that race season is over and we can sit home and spend no money. But I digress.

Thanks to all the EMTs and EMS personnel who stand ready to save lives and put so many of us back together after we tear ourselves down.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Tiny Social Life and Medium Run

What a week!  Work was insane and I knew it would be so naturally this is the week both kids end up with issues - strep for Spencer and a face full of poison ivy for Grant. Robert's truck needed a tow and a new fuel pump too. But we deal!

I was running on fumes by Thursday but got my butt out the door to the Roanoke Triathlon Club social that evening. I don't live there (it's about a 40 mile drive) but I've gotten to know a number of the members this season and they are talented, fun, encouraging, and very welcoming. I traveled back from Nationals with a bunch of them and it was a riot!

I'm so glad I went because I tend not to do many social things. Even though I'm high-energy and love people, I need a fair amount of quiet, at-home, boring recharge time. The conversation was exactly what you'd expect from a bunch of triathletes - swim technique, new and discontinuing races, season results, ramping up running, injuries, bikes. There were just a few brave non-tri spouses. We got our end-of-season  tri-talk out of our systems and could return home and spare our spouses, family, and friends from having to hear about it all.  "How was it?" "Oh, fine!"  That was sufficient for Robert!

Friday was our 16th anniversary! Being the understanding tri-spouse, Robert didn't flinch when I asked if we could postpone a celebratory evening out to Saturday so it would be after my long run!! Friday we were trashed and tired anyway so we just vegged out with the kids. I did have to make one concession...we picked a restaurant that will have football on TV. I'm OK with that. We all have our vices ;-)

I did get a nice confidence-building run in today (amidst the tailgaters of course). Last Saturday I did 16 miles, but split into an 11 and a 5, intended to give me time in between to asses and be sure that lower legs and such were holding up OK. This week I did just under 17 in one run, with instructions to go by heart rate and perceived exertion, and things felt terrific. It is such a relief after this tenuous year and the ups and downs of coming back from my winter injury.

The last two years I put a lot of pressure on myself for the marathon and hitting a specific time. I would push so hard on long runs and finish just feeling gutted (I was not marathon training with Coach Jim then but am now). There were a few times I remember my stomach was trashed and I was just worthless the rest of the day. I don't want to go there this year.

This year above all, I truly want to have fun, stay healthy, and enjoy the training and the race. I was able to finish this run with reserves left in the tank, legs feeling good, mentally happy, and fully functional. I dashed around this afternoon with my kids and am ready to hit the town with Robert. This is how I need it to be.

Five weeks till Richmond!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Morning ride in Southern California

This morning I did my first EVER trainer ride to a DVD. I was pretty skeptical and was not sure how this would hold my attention. It's the rare show or movie that I can actually sit through. No way it would motivate me. I braced myself for some boredom. Boredom didn't stand a chance.

Usually my Coach prescribes the trainer workouts, I program them into my Garmin Edge, and I settle in to watch old episodes of Biggest Loser or Modern Family or whatever. So this was a departure.

I popped the RIDES DVD in and off I went - me, and about a dozen VERY strong and fit cyclists in Southern California. Except I was in my house in Virginia, with no helmet!

I got sucked in pretty quick. There's a dashboard along the bottom that tells gives a cadence range, heart rate zone, and level of perceived exertion. I love numbers! It counts down the time for each phase of the ride. (The DVD includes a card that shows all the info in tabular form if you want to plan ahead.)

There is a coaching voice-over (can be disabled) that I found that to be really useful. As a fairly newbie cyclist (2 years) when I am on the bike trainer, all I really think about is general effort as it registers in my legs and lungs, plus some technique in terms of pedaling full circles. But the coach had lots of suggestions for things to think about and do with position, breathing, and imagery. And by gosh, when that guy said stand up and PEDAL up that hill! I DID! Motivation was not an issue. I liked the facts about the local community and the inspirational quotes too.

The video had a variety of shots from the back, front, and side of the pack, and it really showed how solid and steady those guys are. They waste nothing and you could balance a teacup on their handlebars.

I enjoyed this ride through the mountains and canyons of SoCAL and when I was done, I just clicked my heels cleats and I was back home in Kansas Virginia, ready to shower and drive the kids to school. 

I will be doing this DVD (and my other RIDES DVDs) a lot this winter. Especially when I am snowed in and want to remember what cycling outside was really like!!  So if you are looking to spice up your trainer workouts I would definitely recommend the RIDES series from Endurance Films. Just be prepared to sweat. A lot.

(disclosure: I am sponsored Endurance Films Racing Team athlete and received this video gratis but was not obligated to say nice things about it. It just was surprisingly fun and effective.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Save the Asparagus!!

I've been trying to get frozen asparagus at the grocery store for a couple of weeks. At first I figured they were sold out, I mean, this is asparagus we are talking about. Who doesn't like asparagus? Then the last time I read all the labels in the frozen vegetable section and didn't even see a place for asparagus. I got very worried. Today I asked. I was told they were discontinuing asparagus. Yes, DISCONTINUING ASPARAGUS.

It's not like I can get a different brand of frozen....there's no SteamFresh, no PictSweet, no Kroger brand, and no generic brand. There is ZERO frozen asparagus at our Kroger. (Note this may not apply to all Krogers, just mine that caters to beer drinking, chip eating students.)

This is the same store where I could spend two hours in the yogurt section alone with umpteen flavors, fat content, forms (squeeze, blended, fruit on the bottom), quantities, and sizes. I can wash it down with any of maybe 125 kinds of beer (mmm, yogurt and beer!) and then follow that up with one of 150 kinds of crunchy chips/popcorn/pretzels/doodles.

So Kroger, you really don't have maybe a cubic foot in your freezer for some asparagus? Are the Hot Pockets and frozen pizzas needing some elbow room?

I went online and started searching things like asparagus association, save our asparagus, and Kroger Frozen Asparagus. I found my way to the Washington Asparagus Association, the Save the Asparagus tshirt (clearly I am not the only one fretting about this), and then this:

Hypocrites!!  They love the stuff, my guess is that the higher ups are hoarding it, keeping it for themselves.

I know what you are seasonal, eat local, eat fresh, freeze your own. (I even have my own asparagus plants!!)  All true.  But I still liked knowing that the frozen asparagus was available. A little chicken, a little brown rice, a little flax oil, some salt, and a lotta asparagus...mmmm mmmm good!!

It's a sad state of affairs when an entire vegetable is "discontinued". What's next...broccoli??  NOOO!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Race Report: Giant Acorn Sprint Triathlon

This sprint triathlon at Lake Anna, NW of Richmond, VA was a late addition to my race schedule. It was just one town over from Mineral, the epicenter of the recent earthquake. This was intended to be a low-key, fun, getaway wrap-up to the season with my friend Krista. Coach called it the “icing on the cake” race. I envisioned a relaxed little event with plenty of sunshine (and maybe rainbows and puppy dogs). What I got was a sold-out (870 registered) race with rain and temperatures in the 40’s. It was more ice than icing.

We stayed at Krista’s friend’s lake house with another racing family. The conversation provided a nice distraction from the falling temps. (We scored the room with the bunk beds and Barbies!) 

I agonized a bit about how to dress on the bike leg. Normally for a ride in the low 50’s I’d have neoprene shoe covers, leg warmers, a long sleeve shirt, a windproof jacket, and gloves. For the race, I contemplated riding in my wetsuit or perhaps slipping into some nice fuzzy footie pajamas.


Race morning I drove Krista crazy because I kept saying, “hey, at least it’s not raining.” So of course….here comes the rain to add to our pleasure. We all decided we would do each other’s body marking before we left the house to save needless COLD disrobing at the venue. At least the start time was a very civilized 10 am.

Winter hats required!
We set up in transition and I was happy to be very close to the bike start/finish. Despite Coach’s admonitions that “less is more” in transition, I laid out gloves, arm warmers, and extra socks just in case. We didn’t even warm up or take our bikes out. We did the minimum then retreated to the van to “preheat” until the last possible moment when we would have strip down to trisuits and don our wetsuits. We sat in near silence, there was no sense complaining. We knew what the other was thinking…what are we CRAZY??

We got out of the warm van and the air seemed even colder. We wriggled into wetsuits and found the ground was miserably cold to stand on, so we ended up ankle deep in the water that was quite warm at 72 degrees. There were a few brave folks without wetsuits -- covered in goosebumps.

750m Swim (47/304 - 15:52)

Coach told me to start wide left, so I was determined to be the absolute furthest left person in my wave for the in-water start and I was! My plan was to go out more aggressively than I usually do and try to keep up with the faster swimmers, maybe catch a draft. I never really found an opportunity to draft, but I chased someone and focused on a quicker arm turnover and swimming straight. I passed some folks and had a sense of racing the swim.

At one point my mind did briefly wander and come to the conclusion that they probably don’t use yellow or orange swim caps because they could be confused with the buoys. I was momentarily proud of myself for figuring that out, then got back to the task at hand. I actually got warm during the swim, and running to the bike I knew the windbreaking bike shell would be all I’d need. It’s not easy getting wet arms in sleeves and zippers zipped, but I managed.

20k Bike (7/304 - 36:18, 20.54 MPH)

The bike was uneventful, other than some winds, and not at all cold. Yes, the agonizing was for naught. The road surface was smooth and clean with gentle rollers that made for an all big-ring ride. I probably should have dialed up the effort, it might have been more Oly level than a quad-screaming sprint level. I don’t know if it was the winds or me being weenie but that pace was the same I held at the Patriots Half (not that it paid off!!). Something is wrong with that equation.

Folks wore all kinds of things to stay warm on the bike. The worst choice was the hooded jacket. The way they puffed up and caught the air, those riders would have been more aerodynamic with a parachute tied to them. I had the screaming yellow high-vis bike jacket and even it flapped around too much for my liking.

I took in a caffeinated gel on the bike and with the jacket on, I couldn’t reach my tri top pocket to store the garbage so I stuck it under the shoulder strap of my tri top…where it would remain…until about half an hour after the race. That was plenty of time for the remains to leach out and for the brown (chocolate) color to spread out like a bullseye, I looked like I’d been shot in the chest. Classic!

5k Run (12/304 - 21:59, 7:05 avg pace)

I enjoyed the run! In the last few weeks I have rediscovered the joy of running because the lower legs are feeling better than they have all year. I was having fun passing folks including a 40-year-old (my age group) just past mile 2. That turned out to be a critical pass.

This run is an out-and-back on roads, but the last bit of the return trip cuts through a patch of woods on a trail. I don’t know if anyone has seen Disney’s the Black Stallion, but there is a scene where the boy has a flashback to riding his stallion on the beach - wild and free. I know it’s cheesy, but I thought of that scene and how that bit of trail felt like our Pandapas Pond Trails in the Jefferson National Forest. I felt free, got super happy and found another gear. I passed a fellow in the narrow chute headed to the finish (yelling “on your left”!!). I crossed the timing mat and bid farewell to the 2011 triathlon season.


At this point I was just in my tri top, shorts, and running shoes. I was toasty warm. What was all the fuss about? Then about half an hour later, I went immediately from warm to freezing. All Krista and I could think about was changing out of damp clothes (done skillfully in the van).

Look warm clothes!

We had to get back to families and couldn’t stay for the awards. This race was really us against the elements anyway, and we had persevered. Krista and Cortney: 1.  Weather: 0.

That pass on the run? That made the difference between a master’s podium finish and an age group win. I was fortunate enough to finish 3rd masters. My age group (40-44) was huge – 49 women!


I’m really glad I did this race. It left me supercharged and excited for next year. I will need some time to process all that has happened this year, to take a break from the structure of swimming and biking, and to enjoy the remaining weeks of prep for the Richmond Marathon.

There is no vacation, no big home, no fancy car, no material possession that I would ever trade for the everyday adventure that is triathlon.

Such a gift, bringing with it deeply meaningful relationships.

What I do is only possible because of my husband Robert and my children Spencer and Grant, Coach Jim, and Kurt; my folks, my mother-in-law Therese, and great friends (including One on One training mates); my sponsors and teammates on Endurance Films Racing Team;  colleagues and my supportive boss and director, Peter Doolittle; the folks who keep me pieced together - John Thacker, Mario Travis, Greg Tilley, Beth Ashe, and Jim LeBolt; and those who equip me - Runabout Sports and Just the Right Gear.

Drying the wetsuit for the final time in 2011
Farewell, 2011 Triathlon Season!!