Saturday, January 29, 2011


I'm pleased to be a contributor to a new multi-contributor triathlon site, TriCrowd.

The featured bloggers are age-groupers like me, but each of us with our own goals, challenges, and foci. Sites like TriCrowd are so important for tapping into community, especially because many of us (myself included) do a lot of solitary training and it's too easy to get stuck in our own heads and become our own worst enemy. I draw strength and inspiration from the challenges and ruts that others face and overcome. I appreciate the humor that they can bring to a troubling situation.

My blog began as a way for me to reflect personally on my own fitness journey, which began nearly three years and 25 lbs ago and has resulted in a life that is radically different - and happier!  The blog has become an integral part of my fitness routine and ongoing self-discovery.

I give credit to TriCrowd for inviting me aboard just after my injury occurred, understanding that is a part of being an athlete.  Just the same, I look forward to posting about my return to running in the coming weeks as I work toward taking my spot in the Boston Marathon in April!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Childhood lessons in perseverance

My kids are freakishly good with computers, no surprise with two engineers for parents. For a math assignment, My 10-year-old, Spencer, chose to create a computer game that would generate fractions on domino-like tiles that the user then drags into place, ordering them from smallest to largest.  The game then tells the user which are right or wrong. The algorithms behind the movement of the tiles, making comparisons to determine ordering, and comparing user input to the correct sequence are complicated. Most freshman engineering students I taught at Virginia Tech would struggle.  He probably spent 24 hours over the course of a week on this project.

After much trial and error and consulting with my husband he was ultimately successful. At that moment, he was spilling over with the pride and joy that comes from struggle, perseverance, and ultimate victory!  It was a beautiful thing to see. So check out his Domino Game. (he warned me it's really slow online)

I asked him if he ever had doubts that he could do it and he admitted that he did, but said he had faith he could eventually figure it out. Where did that confidence come from?  Had it been nurtured or is it hard-wired?  I think it's some of both.

It is so important to learn these early lessons of perseverance and to feel the success that comes from consistent commitment.  I had that parental light-bulb moment where I realized one of my jobs is to help my children experience that so it carries into their personal life and work life, helping them to find meaning and satisfaction in life.

Reflecting back, I see where I got my own ideas about it.  Growing up I was a member of the United States Pony Clubs, which has a hierarchical rating system and defined learning objectives.  I spent years working my way up the ladder which required a lot of self-directed learning and there were many opportunities for success as well as failure.  As an adult dressage competitor, I had another opportunity to train and work up through a system of levels with judge evaluators at every step along the way. Of course my master's thesis and PhD dissertation were each a lesson in fortitude too.

Each of these experiences has contributed to the athlete I am today. I am steadfast in my commitment to consistent training, with my best effort brought to each workout. I've been called fanatical or OCD, but I disagree. I just know what is required to be my best: hard work, long term view, and an ability to overcome setbacks (as is the current situation). The payoffs come in fun and success (as defined by me, not races).

I see many adults who lack "grit" as Jake calls it. Earlier this week, a colleague who I had not seen in years was at the gym having an initial workout with a trainer.  She teasingly remarked that she wanted to look like me "in a week." That struck me.  I wouldn't want results in a week, and neither should she!

So the things I'd like my kids to discover through their own endeavors (currently Karate for Grant, cello and CrossFit for Spencer) are:
  • DO bite off more than you think you can chew!  The things we do outside our comfort zone are what are most rewarding.
  • Recognize that struggle is a part of great achievements. Approach it as a problem to be solved, another opportunity to learn something.
  • Take a long-term approach to some of your most important dreams (it's relative - could be weeks, months, or years)
  • Seek out and be open to teaching, coaching and criticism. Learn to suppress your defenses and open your mind to the possibility that someone else is right.

Spencer and Grant, whatever you go after, I will be there as your BIGGEST cheerleader for the highs and the lows. I'm enjoying watching your lives unfold!  Love you guys!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cycling, Aquajogging, and Dressing for the Occasion

I'm groovin' along pretty good in the boot these days.  I have remarked on several occasions that the large portion of my brain that had obviously been taken up (eaten away?) by the logistics of the crutches is now available for general use again!  I feel so much smarter!!

I've ramped up the bike pretty good and did a solid 50 min ride the other day with mixed cadence intervals.  I truly do not notice the boot at all. I was dripping like mad and jacked up the heart rate nicely!!  Good times!!

I've added in some aquajogging laps after my swims too.  I still feel a tad silly doing it, especially today when at that point it was just me and the lifeguard.  How incredibly boring for him, I kept wondering what was going through his mind and how the lifeguards in general keep from going totally batty sitting there. They probably think a lot of things they can't say.  Like "dude your swim suit is so bleached out and threadbare do you realize you look naked swimming?" Maybe just I think those things.

I've been reporting on my ongoing healthy eating adventures. My initial goal was to get a bit leaner, then structured eating became something to keep me entertained during my layup, and now I'm pretty well sold on it. Three times over the last two months Jake has weighed me and done skinfold testing. I'm down 4.5 lbs and my estimated body fat dropped almost 3% while maintaining the same amount of lean muscle mass.  Yes, there's a pretty significant margin of error here, but I do feel lighter and leaner and have really no need/desire to take that any further, but I like the energy and feeling good part of it all!

Next week is the massive (in my mind) Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy that I chair.  800+ registered!!  With the whole leg thing I admit that I've been dressing worse and worse at work and I have got to step it up for the conference. So over lunch I went to Ann Taylor Loft and they set me up with a gorgeous dress AND oddly enough the greys in it match my boot, so surely no one will notice it!  The tricky thing was finding a shoe of the right height (and it had to be cute) to go with it. And I found just the thing!  I do like to dress up now and again, but given the choice to go shopping, I still prefer the local Runabout Sports, Dicks, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports or online REI, Athleta, or Title Nine. I'm not a "dry clean only" kind of girl.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Conscious eating

Over the last two years, since I really committed to a healthy lifestyle, my eating habits have gone through a pretty radical change. Working out with Jake, a former bodybuilder who has a lot of knowledge and interest in nutrition, has had a lot to do with it.

For most of my life I never gave much thought to what I ate and I certainly never planned ahead much. There was a lot of grab-and-go eating. That resulted in a lot of stomach issues and frequent days of feeling horrible for no discernable reason.

This year I finally became a believer in conscious eating and meal planning. I’ve written before how I enjoy using SparkPeople to plan different meal combinations and learn about their macronutrient breakdowns. Many of the food combos I use are derived from Jake, Kurt, and Juliet, part of the bodybuiding contingent at the gym. But I’ve added and changed things to suit my taste and need for variety and to best meet my requirements endurance athlete.

Below is a picture showing some of the meals I’ve had in the past week. Good eating can be yummy and beautiful!!

Top (left to right):
  • Steel cut oats, flax seed meal, raspberries, vanilla extract
  • Ezekiel bread (sprouted grain) with almond butter and two dried figs
  • Ezekiel bread with banana and peanut butter
  • Chicken, brown rice, spinach, and hummus
  • Hard boiled eggs (locally “squeezed”) and Wasa bread
  • Chicken, amaranth, broccoli, flax seed meal, and aminos
  • Flatout wrap with avocado, salsa, chicken, brown rice, and spinach
  • Lean ground turkey, green beans, brown rice, and aminos
  • Cottage cheese, oats, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and splenda
  • Cottage cheese, oranges, sliced almonds, vanilla extract
  • Post-workout whey protein and carbs

The results of giving my body healthier food in the appropriate amounts at the right times are:
  • I feel healthy and have had no stomach or GI issues like in the past
  • I no longer have those random days where I feel like crap
  • I feel lean and agile (bodyfat around 13% from the last skinfold)
  • My energy levels are more consistent through the day and as a result I am a lot more productive
  • My meals are MUCH more meaningful to me now
  • The kids are aware of good nutrition and making healthier choices

It’s been interesting how I’ve had to let go of so many social norms about what foods are expected to be eaten at what time of day. Depending on my workout schedule, I may have a second breakfast at 9 am that includes a lot of vegetables, or I may have eggs late in the afternoon.

I'm so thankful that I have come around to this way of thinking and eating. Sure, I still go out to eat on occasion and indulge in a glass of wine or beer from time to time. I'll eat pizza or have a cookie, but it's the exception and not the norm.  There's really no downside to my nutrition makeover, only upsides. So why is healthy eating so often associated with deprivation when it's really a win-win?

(Note on the leg: I have adjusted to life in the boot and sleeping in the boot.  cast free-swims went great with my fastest ever 16x50 sets!  Woohoo!! I can do the stationary bike in the boot without much weirdness so i have more cardio options now!!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Got the boot

The weather held and there were no big surprises.  I suspected what I was in for, but parts of it still don't make a lot of sense.  I can bike but IN the boot and I have to SLEEP in the boot?  He said to treat it like the cast, except it can come off to shower only.  After two weeks I transition out of the boot and I go back to see Dr. Lebolt in three weeks. It's still frustrating, but it is forward progress.

So I'll keep lifting, rowing, and swimming with some dorky biking added in. I'll have to engineer something to make that work.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Goodbye, my fiberglass and gore-tex friend

Tomorrow is the big day of cast removal, yay. I have the aircast boot packed and ready. Annnd we are expecting a wintery mix that had better not jeopardize my ability to get to my appointment tomorrow.

I had the last one-legged swim today and repeated some marker sets from a few weeks ago done with the pull buoy.  I knocked 10 seconds (combined) off of 4 100's. Evidence of improvement in the pool, I'll take it.

So as I say goodbye to the cast, I ask, in addition to the swim stuff, what would be the silver lining(s) to this cloud?

  • spent $0 on shoes, and never had to think about shoes since I wore the same one on my right foot the entire time.
  • have gotten out of ALL grocery shopping for four weeks (that I would like to keep)
  • didn't feel (too) guilty sitting around a little more
  • discovered the fun of Biggest Loser reruns (or maybe that goes in the disadvantage category)
  • had the time to learn more about nutrition, meal planning, nutrient timing
  • spared the frustration of trying to figure out where and when to run on the cold icy days
  • kids discovered they CAN carry a full laundry basket up the stairs and ARE capable of making their own sandwich.
  • stepped up the strength training with Jake
  • discovered the fun of rowing
  • parking perks
  • will be mentally fresher (hungry!!) for spring workouts and summer racing
  • takes one kind of pressure off of the Boston Marathon. Now it's about running it safely and finishing.
  • fear that I have grown too comfortable in this geared-down lifestyle
  • fear that I will have lost "something" on the run especially.  will I still have my top gear?
  • concern about balancing continued healing with training progress over the coming months.  I don't want any more setbacks.
  • concern that I am not capable of reading the signals my own body is sending.  How did I not know I had a major problem brewing for so long?  I had so few signs.
  • uncertainty about the ability to prepare in time for the Boston Marathon.
  • wondering if I will always feel defective and broken now and if that will mess with my head.

And the big question of WHY?

There is frustration wondering why this happened again and what, if anything, can I do to avoid the recurrence. I was not running crazy mileage, don't have strange biomechanics, I cross train, I strength train, I take calcium supplements, I switch out shoes regularly, I take rest days.

What now?  

Different calcium supplements? Neutral instead of stability shoes? Fairy dust?

This can't happen again. I got countless comments related to the fact that this was a repeat performance for me, having done the same thing to the other leg in April of 09. I will not miss having to explain myself.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Making the most of the situation

    If it wasn't for the last leg injury, I really don't think I would have ever made the leap to triathlon, so for that I am grateful. I wondered what good might come out of this injury, and I can begin to answer that now.

    The upper body is definitely getting stronger (abs included) from more intense focused workouts at the gym, not to mention the added crutch workout. I did three sets of parallel dips yesterday, shooting for three sets of 10, and got 17 on the last set.  Today I did three sets of timed (30s) bench dips and got 25+ on each.  All very cool!

    With limited cross training options, I discovered that the rower is a lot of fun and a great overall workout too.  I struggled to do half an hour at first, the other day I did an hour, bumping my heart rate up a zone every 10 minutes until the last interval was in the upper 160s. Progress!

    Jake flat-out asked me the other day if I would have done the rower had I not injured my leg.  No, I wouldn't have. He has suggested it before and I've blown it off. Now I love it!  Here's the view from the rower.  It's in the corner of the track so there's the added bonus of great people-watching. That's been fascinating, let me tell you...some strange stuff for sure!

    Sometimes you need something to knock you off-kilter to open your mind to new possibilities.

    The swim. Yes. Today I had a ladder swim, which is basically some parts at upper aerobic with intervals of easy, but it's essentially a 1350y continuous swim. I've never done more than a continuous 500 with the cast and no equipment, but today I did the full 1350 with nothing.  Nada.  No pull buoy, no zoomer.  Just two arms, a body, a leg, and my club foot (haha) dragging behind. But you know, it was smooth and my stroke stayed solid. I felt like I gained strength and confidence as I went, and I finished elated.  Coach Jim was in the next lane to celebrate with me!

    If I can swim 1350 in this condition, I will NEVER again question my ability to swim a 1500 in a race.  Not having the runs and bikes competing for my energy and subconscious thought has allowed for development of my swim. I wanted a swim block to bring that element up a notch, and I believe that is happening.

    Just the same, I am counting down the days (3-1/2) till the cast comes off and I get the aircast and can at least stand again. After two weeks in that, the slow return to running will begin. I'd be lying if I said there was no fear in that.  Will I love it again? Will I reclaim what speed I had? Will the endurance return? Will I stay healthy? Will I have enough time to run safely and respectably at Boston? Will I hold up for triathlon season? Time will tell.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Snow Days, Cross Fit

    We've sure had a rough start to the winter here, not a lot of snow, but enough to cause numerous school delays, early releases, and cancellations. We live down in a valley, with a shady "S" curve between us and town that is notorious for ice and car wrecks. And they don't make chains or YakTrax for crutch tips. So I consult multiple weather forecasting sites and make/adjust plans one day at a time to schedule trips to the pool and gym. Fortunately I can do quite a bit of my work from home as needed.

    Speaking of work, in three weeks I am chairing the 3rd annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy and we have over 600 people registered, including quite a number from overseas. It's a bit of its own endurance event but I'm in my element organizing and herding!  Work itself remains a workout, with four heavy doors between my office suite and the copier/coffee maker/mailbox/bathroom. Ugh, I am so tired of that.

    Training is going well.  I'm working my butt off in the gym and swims are solid. Monday night I did three sets of 500 with different accessories - the first with the pull buoy, second with nothing, and third with the single zoomer.  I wanted to compare times, perceived exertion, changes in body position. I noticed with the pull buoy set I thought more about high elbows, cocking the shoulder, hand position, and power.  It felt the toughest on my shoulders, and I still got some "fish tailing" which I don't like. The "no accessory" set is the toughest and I focus on staying relaxed and employing a good body roll.  The zoomer set gives me a sensation of elongation, and I find myself reaching further, and swimming more front-quadrant catch-up style. I feel like a leaf floating on top of the water and I try to carry that feeling with me. I've said before, this cast has given me a heightened sense of body awareness in the pool.

    My son Spencer stared working out at Cross Fit Blacksburg. He's in a class for elementary school boys that meets three times a week. I've always been intrigued by the Cross Fit approach because they use traditional compound movements and circuit training in a coached group workout. It's similar to what he does in personal training sessions with Jake but allows for more frequent workouts.  It's nice that Jake gave him background with many of the basic Cross Fit exercises - box jumps, lunges, planks, pushups, etc. [While I'm thinking about it, here's a link to Jake's latest newsletter, it's a fun read with lots of good info!!]

    One new thing was the jump rope!  He is having a lot of fun working on that, so much so, that we had to go buy a jump rope and he's been practicing at home.

    It looks like the Cross Fit gym is deserted, but it's not.  There's about 15 in the group!!

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    Resistance training for princesses, divas, and prima donnas

    I consider myself to be a hard-working, blue-collar type.  I grew up shoveling horse poop, dabbled in competitive powerlifting, and I have a motorcycle license (not that I use it, it's a relic from my crazy days). I'm not afraid of work and sweat.

    But thanks to my one-legged, non-weight-bearing status, I can't lift or move anything unless I am seated, kneeling, lying down, or have my one leg propped up. So during my strength training workouts, I pretty much sit there while Jake selects dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, bosus, stability balls, dyna disks, resistance bands, ab rollers, cable attachments, benches, seats, and boxes.  He adjusts pulleys, benches, and weights.  He loads the equipment and cleans it up.  He plans the workouts and records the efforts.

    My job?  Crank out the reps and move myself from point A to point B as directed.

    It's very weird, I feel like some kind of prima donna in there.

    I wonder if this is what it is like to be a famous celebrity working out?!

    Of course, the non-princess side of it is that Jake sees this as an opportunity to focus and bring up the intensity and effort. I have been working harder and sweating more than ever. I get no assistance to hoist myself up on the pullup bar or parallel bars for dips.  When the shoulders are burning I still have to crutch it to the next exercise. We are doing more max reps in timed intervals to boost my heart rate. My upper body is no doubt benefiting from the situation. I finish workouts in a very depleted state.

    Jake has done a great job of coming up with creative alternatives for leg workouts.  We are continuing with some unilateral movements with research showing it can benefit the opposing limb. He's added some non-weight bearing leg movements that I sometimes scoff at, thinking they look like lame exercises you'd see in some women's magazine, but the next day I am feeling it! We are definitely making the most of the situation.

    I'm grateful for Jake's direction with strength training workouts, but I will be glad to set aside the princess status and do my part to retrieve, load, and clean up again. Hmmm, or maybe I could just get used to this! Bring on the tiara!

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Swim groove, Reading "The Long Run"

    I'm actually starting to have some fun with the challenge of the cast swimming.  It brings about a different type of body awareness and focus.  I've been upping the ante a bit each time and working to stay true to form.  I hardly touched the pull buoy today, but did my 16 laps of drills (including kick drills, mind you) with just the one zoomer THEN did a very smooth in-the-zone 500 with nothing.  Nada.  Two arms and one leg.  Coulda done more. 

    This is where the competitive part of me comes out.  Now I start thinking how cool it would be to do a 1500 like this and never, never again could I fret about a two-legged 1500.   Hmmmm.....

    Haven't sung the praises of the waterproof cast in a while, but honestly I don't know why anyone would use or choose anything else.  Did I mention it's thin enough that all my pants fit over it? 

    I've been reading the Long Run by Matt Long.  He was a BQ marathoner and triathlete, fireman, bar owner who was literally run over by a charter bus while riding his bike (out of necessity) during a transit strike.  He sustained MAJOR damage and it was a miracle he lived.  This book interleaves stories of Matt before the accident with his journey back to an athlete. I haven't finished so no chance I'll spoil the ending, but it's been a captivating read thus far.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    The Visible and the Hidden

    Over the last 2+ weeks there have been a lot of questions about my leg - how did it happen, how do you drive, what can you still do?  It's hard to think of a more visible sign of injury (or personal weakness as I feel sometimes) than a cast and crutches.  While I understand the questions and answer them (very briefly of course), what I think of each and every time is all those who are living with unseen injuries and illnesses that are FAR more limiting and scary.  I would like to deflect sympathetic comments and understanding to them.  After 6 weeks, all my accessories will be gone.  In a few months I hope to hardly even think about this.

    So yes, this continues to be a pain in the neck, but not much more.  I will heal and life will go on.

    Countless others live day in and day out with conditions that may never resolve or may even deteriorate.

    So I count my blessings and hope I might be more understanding of others who live with limiting acute or chronic conditions.

    And onto a less serious note and for your's my 8-year-old hula hooping on a Bosu!

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    New Year, New Opportunities

     I celebrated the first day of the year with...a day OFF!  I spent it in my PJs, in part sorting through a year's accumulation of paperwork, including my workout and racing-related papers.  I added all the printed weekly training plans to a binder, and enjoyed flipping back through to see all the fun I'd had! I love racing, but I LOVE LOVE training.

    For some reason the trip down workout memory lane inspired me to enter all my basic meals and snacks on Spark People which is a free online community that supports fitness and weight-loss goals.  They have a nutrition and meal-logging site that works well for me and allows users to create food groups that can be plugged into a custom daily meal plan. I enjoy the process of making a day's menus of snacks and meals, preparing it, and not having to waste time thinking about what to eat. For me food is definitely (1) fuel and (2) a means to not be hungry.  I enjoy good simple whole foods.

    January 2, it was back to work. I did an interval workout on the rower, bum leg propped up on a DynaDisk.  Jake devised a series of intervals with a diminishing rest period, and the heart rate chart below shows that you can indeed get a good cardio workout on the rower!! I hit 168-170 on each interval. I think I even made those grunting gym noises that any self-respecting female would not do.

    Later I hit the pool for my first workout of the 6-week intensive swim block that Coach Jim and I had planned. We are still going ahead with it.  I used the pull buoy for most of the drill work, the zoomer for the main set, and did just a few odd laps without any equipment. I am settling into a groove with my one-legged swimming.

    In two days registration opens for the Virginia Triathlon Series events.  2011 is here!!   I have a race plan and game plan, but I need to spend a little time developing some specific goals.

    Get excited everyone!!