Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do Tread on Me

Today I realized I am....gasp....becoming set in my ways!  When did this happen?  I tried to switch tire brands on my bike today and just couldn't do it!!

I took my bike into the shop for a tuneup and new tubes and tires.  My trusty mechanic recommended a set of Schwalbe tires (right, below) that have proven durability and would be good all around.  When we looked at the sample, I noticed there was no tread, they were slick, where my current tires have a pretty good tread pattern.  We discussed the fact that on bike tires it's less of an issue since so little is on the pavement.  Logically, I get it.  But then he sized me up and said, you know, you are so used to looking at these tires that I think it will just bother you to look down and see a slick tire, so if for no other reason than that you probably should go with what you have.  I realized he was right!!

Hundreds of road tires on the market and we ordered the exact same tires as last year - Continental Grand Prix 4-Season (left, below). Maybe it is all in my head, but yeah, I do like seeing that tread and it's gotten me through the last year - through gravel, rain, cold, sun, heat, and a bit of snow. I'd better hope they never stop making them.

I trust my equipment. Which is why it would take a lot for me to replace my entry-level aluminum road bike that has gotten me this far.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Airing my (dirty) laundry

Scenes like this one in my laundry room make me laugh. The workout clothes get washed separately from the lowly "everyday" clothes and hung to dry with great love, care, and respect.

My work and everyday clothes?  It's a survival-of-the-fittest approach.  If you can't survive the washer and dryer and then go directly to my body without ironing, I'm not interested. And dry cleaning? Forget it. Who has time for that nonsense?

This is why I will never be nominated for "best dressed" at the office. That and the fact that I won't wear shoes that might negatively impact the health and wellness of my feet.

I am a no-frill, no-nonsense girl.  This point is driven home when I see folks in the pool and gym locker room who take 30, 45 minute to primp for work and have bags of products, appliances, and things that I don't even recognize.

My transition time? About 8 minutes to shower, get dressed, dry my hair, and fly out the door. Who has time for that other stuff?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Frustrating Heart Rate Monitor Issues

Heart Rate Data - Normal "redline" for me is low to mid 170's
Is it just me or do other people have issue with their heart rate monitors?  (Please, feedback wanted...)

I have two Garmins - a Forerunner 405 for running and the Edge 305 on my bike.  I have several heart rate Garmin heart rate monitors - the older style and the newer one you can swim in.  On occasion they flake out, like today!  Check out the data below.  I'd be coasting down a hill and watch my HR soar to 240, then watch it plummet with no rhyme or reason.  I can't seem to nail down the problem but I admit to not being very good with my experimental controls.  I've had lots of theories:
  • my clothing produces static
  • interference from iPod
  • air too warm, too cold
  • I am too sweaty, not sweaty enough
  • band is too tight, not tight enough.
  • is it when I am aero or sitting up?
  • Does my skin get bunched up?
  • it's the monitor (hence the reason I have several)
  • it is my electromagnetic personality 
  • perhaps I have a metal plate in my head, unbeknownst to me
  • I'm actually an alien or some kind of cyborg
For a while I was paranoid that something was wrong with me, and I'd take my pulse just to be sure.  Now I try a few clothing or position adjustments, but mostly try not to let the data distract me from the job.

The monitor I used today I'd been using on the bike trainer and I had been gaining confidence that it was pretty reliable. Until today, out in the elements.

Other than the data issue, it was a pretty good ride despite being in the mid-30s with something freezing pelting me at the very end. This was one of my favorite routes but they tar-and-chipped a big section of it last fall and it's rough and slow now.  It's still beautiful with creeks, farms, animals, and many opportunities to play guess-the-roadkill.

My chain slipped off once and I was skipping some gears, time to get it into the shop....

Love the names - "Half Acre of Rocks" etc.

Typical elevation chart in the Blue Ridge Mountains!!

Is this any way to have to dress for a late MARCH bike ride?!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Birthday Deadlifts

Today I am 44!  Not such a big milestone for a triathlete, right?  No new age group with that number!

It's a gorgeous warm sunny day, and I kicked it off with the birthday tradition started three years ago by my trainer, doing 135# deadlifts with the number of reps equal to my age. The limiting factor there was oxygen more than strength, you end up almost hyperventilating by syncing breathing with the lifts.  It's a fun tradition that I hope to keep up for many many years to come.

The solid back and core workout was followed by a scheduled visit to my chiropractor where I popped and cracked from stem to stern.  I'm knocking out some work, then bugging out for that little brick ride/run. Then off to get kids from school and haul them around to CrossFit, cello, and Karate for several hours.

I have SO much to be thankful for on this day and every day.  I appreciate my family, friends, and community and am blessed to live in comfort and work at a job I love in such a great college town.  I'm grateful and humbled, particularly in light of all the hardship, natural disasters, wars, and personal struggles that face so many others around the world.  We're all just a step away from that. When I'm in a pool, out on the bike, or running freely, I try not to take for granted the opportunities that I have been given.

It's shaping up to be a pretty nice birthday!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Signs of Spring in my Triathlon World

Yay!!  Spring is here in Blacksburg, Virginia.  How do I know? Well, the daffodils, obviously! No, the real signs are that the underground triathlon network seems to be surfacing again. All winter, we hibernated in pool lanes, on trainers, and on treadmills, quietly putting in the miles and laps to nowhere.

But we are back, baby!!   Back on the roads and tracks and before long in the lakes! Other signs of spring in my triathlon world:
  • The level of chit-chat has increased at the pool - what's your first race, how's your training coming...
  • My first brick workout is scheduled for tomorrow, just a baby "briquette" really, but a start.
  • Just made lodging reservations with two girlfriends, Tanya and Jennifer, at a B&B for the Bath County Triathlon in June...this makes race season seem real!
  • My friend Krista is already threatening to get me out for a lake swim the minute the water hits 55 degrees. I've countered with a threat of swimming in a suit of bubble-wrap. I am such a wimp with the cold.
  • I had my first run on the Virginia Tech cross-country course on Sunday.  It's wide open now, but by summer, all but the running path will be corn, corn, and more corn.
  • Tanya and I got out for a road ride together Saturday - her first of the season.  She had on shorts, a shirt, and a light jacket.  I had on my leg warmers, two pairs of socks, neoprene shoe covers, mid-weight gloves, two tops, and a bright yellow wind breaker.  Like I said, spring or not, I am such a wimp with the cold.
  • Swim workouts include sighting practice again.  My thoughts turn to whether gains made in the pool will translate to the races, what is my swim strategy, and honing in on my race pace.
  • Coach Jim has had to put on his spring pre-race season sports psychologist hat again :-)
  • It's nearly time to take the bike in for new tubes and tires plus a tune-up to get 'ol Ace RACE READY.  I have a great mechanic who is a retired engineer.  (My dentist is a former engineer too.  I suppose as an engineer I should be able to work with my own bike.  But not my own teeth. I'll leave both to the experts.)
I have my race schedule set through June and then it's a little less defined.  I want to wait a bit and see how things feel and how I progress. It's strange because I'm such a planner.  This time last year I had my entire year mapped out.

One footnote - I finally canceled my Boston flight and sweeet hotel reservation I had at the Sheraton near the finish line.  I had toyed with going for the weekend to scope it out for next year, even though not running would kill me. Then we got our tax return back from the accountant it seemed prudent to stay home and think of ways to save money!!

Happy Spring everyone!  Hope you are feeling good and ready to roll!! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Artsy Resort Pool Can Stop Me

The last few days I have been away at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association meeting. (Haha, nooo, not as a department head, but thanks if you connected the dots that way!)  A colleague and I were showcasing her "Lab-in-a-Box" on-the-go lab kit and curriculum we use at Virginia Tech.

I had two runs and an unstructured swim scheduled.  The runs were no problem.  One was done on the trails of a convenient adjacent mountain preserve.  The other called for strides on grass, but because the only suitable areas were within the manicured golf courses, I felt it was best to stick to the long vacant parking lot of the nearby visitor's center.  Not ideal, but had some fun revving the engines!

The swim presented the greatest challenge. I knew I wanted to do a continuous aerobic session and enjoy the outdoor swim and sun on my back. There were about 9 or 10 pools scattered throughout the resort - lagoons, adult pool, children's pool, hideaway pools....you get the picture. I scoped them all out and wouldn't you know, there wasn't ONE single pool suitable for laps! (Yeah, poor me, but lest you think I live like this, I assure you this work trip was a rarity.) I eventually settled on the pool adjacent to the workout room which was in some artsy non-symmetrical geometric shape and had a step/bench all the way around the perimeter which would make pushing off the wall interesting.  But the pool was quiet and fairly deep even if it was better suited to sipping umbrella drinks than training.

I swam from the top shady corner to a point off the photo on the right, dodging the edge of the hot tub!

I put on my swim cap and goggles, and set off on the longest diagonal of the pool, looking for landmarks among the drains and walls to create a lane for myself. After a warmup I started my watching thinking I might try for 2 x 20min continuous swims.

As a few folks began to take a dip in the water, I feared that if I stopped swimming I might lose squatters rights on my impromptu lane.  I imagined myself as a big container ship, far out at sea in the shipping lane, staying the course. I rethought the 2 x 20min plan.

Sidebar: At this point I should probably mention that immediately prior to this swim, I had been reading the blog of Sheila Plemich - Mind (and Body) of Iron.  She's a competitive master's endurance athlete in her 50's who trains at incredible volumes. In one of her recent entries, she reported on doing a 13,500m continuous pool swim.  Yes, 13,500m!!!  I can do 2500y in about 47 minutes, so That would take me about 4-1/2 hours, if I even had the mental fortitude to do it.

Sooo, to preserve my "shipping lane" I decided to change to a 1-hour continuous swim, something I had not ever done before in the pool. Physically it would not be a problem, mentally I wasn't sure.  Plus there was the issue of possible pool congestion. With the chronograph running, and my 18-20 y lane determined, I got to work.

And a quick 60 minutes later, I stopped -- happy and feeling good.

It made for a memorable swim and a good workout to boot.  The funny thing is it left me with tan lines on the top of my back and based on that evidence, one of the ECE department heads asked me if I was a triathlete. That started a chain of conversations where I was introduced to many of the runner/cyclist/triathlete/windsurfing department heads!

No matter what our jobs, positions, education, or power, doesn't it seem that endurance sports are a great equalizer?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Very Short Example of Why I Have (and Need) a Coach

Email exchange  March 11, 2011
Background: I have run (run/walked) 7 times in the last few weeks following a 10 week injury layoff and am up to 10 min jog intervals with 1 min walk breaks.  I'm getting the spring race itch.
Me: I suppose a 5k on March 26 in Radford wouldn't be prudent, would it?
Coach: You suppose correctly!  Good try though, you get points for asking at least.

This is one of the many benefits of building a relationship with a great coach.  The first race for me is, and remains, Smith Mountain Lake Sprint Tri, May 7.

Integrating Strength and Endurance Training

Yesterday at Grant's Karate class, where the floor is the only seating option, I had to take a deep breath to lower myself to the floor and then later to stand. My quads and glutes were screaming.

I had gone from the "good sore" of the morning that says hey I had a great workout to the "this-can't-be-good sore" that says hey where's the ibuprofen?

We've started re-incorporating leg training into the gym routine - mostly pretty tame bodyweight things at this point, squats, lunges, some curls and extensions. But it's all a giant leap from the near zero leg workouts I got for 10 weeks.

Despite this temporary discomfort, I remain a big believer in the integration of strength training with endurance training for triathletes, especially for those us "master" athletes.  More and more elite athletes and top coaches are endorsing year-round resistance training. For example, Ironman winner and top coach Mark Allen says, "strength, or resistance, training is one of the most commonly overlooked means to improve endurance athletic performance" (See Mark Allen's 12 Best Strength Exercises).  He goes on to say, "All too many triathletes sacrifice strength training in favor of additional swim, bike or run sessions. This is unwise. In fact, a well-executed strength-training program can allow you to carve up to 25 percent out of your swim, bike and run volume while improving performance and enjoying better race-day results. "  Dave Scott is a big proponent too.

I would suspect that the number one reason triathletes cite for not incorporating strength training is a lack of time followed closely by concerns about how to integrate the two without jeopardizing performance.

I hit the gym 3-4x a week for an hour each time.  An endurance athlete could still see benefits from 2x a week but I prefer more. I feel stronger, I enjoy it, and the gym also serves as my athletic community base with many triathletes and runners to provide an infusion of energy and inspiration.

I admit it can be a bit of a tricky business to integrate the strength training with the swim/bike/run plan.  Most of the time things work fine and a bit of residual soreness does not significantly affect training. Rarely it's an issue. We are thoughtful and avoid, for instance, scheduling heavy bench and critical swims on the same day, or a hard leg workout with speed or tempo work. The resistance work tapers before races and ramps up slowly afterward. 

Annnnd I take days off as needed.  Like today - a chance to recover from what I'm sure was a middle-of-the-night elephant stampede across my legs.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Inventory of current supplements

Endurance Planet, as you may know, is one of my favorite podcasts.  They put prompts up on Facebook so as a follow-up to my stress fracture question that was covered a few weeks earlier  I put up a question about calcium sources.  It was discussed on the February 16 episode with Ben Greenfield.  He mentioned the importance of magnesium in conjunction with calcium, something I had not previously considered.

So my immediate reaction is I'd better make sure I'm getting enough magnesium, and I quickly look at all my pill bottles and labels which have virtually no Mg to speak of, and I high-tail it to the health food store and buy myself a new calcium supplement that has magnesium.  I proudly tell Jake about my new purchase, and he reminds me that with all the spinach, almonds, peanut butter, almond butter, yogurt, etc that I eat I am probably not so deficient.

I'm ashamed to think that I didn't consider my food sources first!!  That always beats a supplement.  I am still a nutrition newbie, knowing just enough to be dangerous sometimes.

I do use a few supplements on a regular basis though.  I have better reasons for some than others.  Time for an inventory and maybe some homework.

As needed:
  • Whey protein and carb slam (waxy maize starch) - a standard post-workout recovery shake mix for after gym sessions
  • Casein protein - a-MAZ-ing mixed with peanut butter and water for dessert!
  • Creatine Monohydrate - used to minimize leg muscle loss during immobilization, I also cycle it in during heavy bench press season in the winter.
  • Scivation Xtend - Branched Chain Amino Acids - helps with building lean muscle mass, I add it to water during workouts, and an extra benefit is that it encourages me to drink more because it's flavored.
  • Calcium with D3, K, Magnesium - because I'm a girl trying to avoid future stress fractures.
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin with MSM - the reason I take this goes back to my experience owning old horses. The vets recommended this for joint mobility and I swear it made a difference.  Sometimes I think vets are ahead of human docs in what they know. And see, my joints are good, it's the in-between parts that have had issues.
  • Women's multivitamin - with a long list of minerals too
  • Fish oil 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Trifecta Training Weekend

Finally, FINALLY I was able to fire on all cylinders and get workouts for all three sports in.  No, no...not grocery shop/laundry/cooking.....run/bike/swim!!!  This is a first post-injury, and a first since fall.

I must mention this achievement occurred amidst several challenging obstacles:
  1. The weather has been crappy, 100% gloom, switching between drizzle and downpour, with a touch of snow.  During my layup I admit it's JUST possible I'd gotten a little soft, a little too used to having control over my own interior micro-climate, where rain gear is not required.
  2. I've been sneezing my head off and have a face full of snot (please don't divulge this to my fellow swimmers, they might find it gross)
  3. I hosted that sleepover birthday party Saturday for Spencer that turned into 21 hours of non-relations in the household with all the prep/cleanup/care/feeding that entails so obviously I got a lot of rest. Not.
All you healthy Ironman athletes might scoff at what has me so excited, but this little weekend made me feel like a legit triathlete-in-training again.

Bike: 80 minute low-key out-and-back aerobic ride in a steady cold drizzle, thankful for my neoprene booties that keep the tootsies toastie. Got 17-1/2 miles in the first hour, backed off a bit on the final few miles.  See the elevation profile.  Need I say more. Never considered this climb when building the house on top of a big hill.

Run:  5 x (6 min run + 1 min walk).  Total with walking and dynamic stretching = 5 miles.  Run intervals around 8:00 pace. Hey, this is 18 days post-boot.  Admire me for my self-control, because I COULD run 10 or 15 miles (at least in the fantasy world of my mind) but I'm smarter than that. Plus I have pledged to behave and abide by the training plan as prescribed by my coach.

Swim: I logged my longest pool swim ever!!!  Loaded up my iPod with a bunch of old tunes (Eagles, Cat Stevens...) and cranked out a continuous 2500, after 600 with the hand paddles, so with warmup and cooldown a sweet 3500. I really wonder how far or long I could go, the limiting factor seems more time or boredom (or having to pee) because I wasn't tired or sore or anything when I finished.  The snotty head seemed a lot better too!

So a good weekend with a good week to follow. All the VT students have cleared out for Spring Break so everyone kind of relaxes for the week.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tug-o-War of the Parent Triathlete

Now that my training schedule is returning to normal with a collection of swims (3x), bikes (2-3x), and runs (3x) in addition to the gym (3-4x), the familiar tensions of the parent-triathlete Tug-o-War have resurfaced.

This morning I hit our Huckleberry Trail for a run and saw some mom friends out with their kids picking up trash along the trail for a service project. I knew I'd be heading out post-run for a bike session and thought, there goes the entire morning. A wave of mom guilt washed over me. I wasn't out picking up trash or (insert other wholesome life-lesson bonding experience here) with my kids. Am I being selfish?

While I do get most of my early morning weekday workouts done before anyone is fully conscious at home, and lunches are packed before kids are even vertical, I do worry that the family is taking a hit, particularly on Saturday mornings.

It helps to have the support of other triathletes, runners, and athletes who have made the same choice to integrate sport with family and wrestle with the allocation of precious time and energy. Through my friend, Juliet, I learned about a blog called Mother Fitness written by another athlete mom.  She's been gathering stories of other moms and I was featured this week as a Fitspiration! The intro overwhelms me, but my goal as a contributor was to share the message that moms can be athletes too!

I'm not feeling tooooo guilty right now as I sit here playing host to three kids plus my two for about 18 hours for Spencer's sleepover birthday party.  He turned 11 on Wednesday.  We'll have the requisite pizza and ice cream cake, play Wii, Xbox Kinect, and air hockey, watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off projected on the wall, and finish up with biscuits and eggs in the morning.

I'm happy and relaxed from my run and bike and glad to spend this time enjoying my kids and their terrific friends.

So maybe both sides can win in the Tug-o-War of parent and triathlete!

Bod Pod

This is not me, I would not wear a yellow swimsuit, haha.
This week I took advantage of Virginia Tech's new Bod Pod, which is a device that estimates lean body mass (i.e. percent body fat) using air displacement. It set me back $12.50 but the engineer in me could not resist!!  I love numbers!

You are told not to exercise or eat for two hours prior. The test only involves a weight measurement and then sitting in the "pod" for a few minutes in a swimsuit.  There is sensitive diaphragm between the front and rear pod chambers that is used to measure air volume (and hence how much air your body displaced) which is used to calculate the volume of one's body.

I've had a number of skinfold estimates done, which use measures of subcutaneous fat and a formula to estimate lean mass, but there is a pretty big margin of error on the final number - something like 5% - and it's a wider margin if you are at the really high or low end.  Skinfolds are great for tracking trends, for instance over the last few months I watched my sub-q thigh "fat" decrease more than any other site telling me that it's where I am most likely storing my extra groceries.

With the skinfold, I'd been coming out around 10%, again, at the pretty lean end of the spectrum, giving a potentially larger margin for error.  With the BodPod, I came in around 18%.

The Bod Pod also claims to measure Resting Metabolic Rate based on your exhaled CO2 levels which gives "the amount of calories required to maintain vital body functions (i.e., heart rate, brain function, breathing). It is the number of calories a person would burn if they were awake, but at rest all day."  Mine came out to 1258.  Then depending on your activity level, they suggest daily energy needs, so around 2200 for "active".  The tester said that if the RMR can come out really low in those who severely restrict calories and over-exercise (read: eating disorder).

I'm confident my body is at a happy point of equilibrium with enough wiggle room in there for things like occasional pizza, chocolate, etc. The results don't change anything for me other than satisfying my curiosity and enjoyment of numbers!!!