Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bench Press Meet

Today was the second year I did the VT bench press meet. It's not sanctioned, but always nice to do a competition of any sort close to home and it doesn't get much closer than the VT War Memorial Gym (heck, it's like home, remember I have the locker and towel service there!). I've been working toward this since last year, but with a particular focus for several months. Last year I got all three lifts and maxed out at 120.

This year I opened at 120 and got that handily. I missed my second attempt, which was 130, because I pushed forward instead of back. But I bounced back and got 130 on my third attempt. I was happy and satisfied.

While the adrenaline of a meet helps, it's offset by the disruption in the normal routine and flow of a bench workout in the home gym. I like the fact that Jake and I have established a system in the gym with consistent warmups, liftoffs, processes - everything the same. He pushed that and now I'm glad. At a meet, there is so much chaos especially in the warmup area, that it's nice to have that plan nailed down and agreed upon.

My missed second attempt was the same kind of miss I had at the December meet. I'm wondering if I'm somehow getting extra arch in my back or extra coil that I'm not prepared for and it's throwing me off, causing me to push forward rather than back. Anyhow, it's something I need to consider.

On the drive over to the gym I was thinking about all I had done to prepare. I ate in a specific way this week. This morning I warmed up on the bike at home, had a shower, stretched out. I visualized how I wanted to feel. Had I done enough? Had I done it all right? Had I missed some crucial step? Then it occurred to me that success comes from the work done in the gym. Stop focusing on the externals, and focus on what *I* have been training to do! Then just do it. No excuses!

Oh, and my inspiration for next year? The senior citizen lady who benched 205!! YES, 205!! It was with a bench shirt, but still, dang impressive. So I figure I have room to improve :-)

Addendum: awarded top placing among women and $50!! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pullup PR, nutrition

Today I was stunned to blow away my old wide-grip pullup PR. I flew through 10, chin way up over the bar, got two more most of the way, and needed a nudge to get two more. So 14 total, but 10 legit. On the first one I knew I had it today, I felt light, felt good, and it was easy.

Which brings me to my next point on the importance of eating right for feeling good. I have been learning (I'm a slow learner) over the last nearly two years from Jake that the ideal way to eat is to have 6 or 7 small meals and snacks spread out every 2.5 or 3 hours throughout the day, with a mix of carbs, protein, and fats, that are appropriate to the activity level. When I have a competition or race coming up, Jake helps to set up my meals, entering them on them the SparkPeople web site and I just have to follow along. It NEVER ceases to amaze me that when I eat according to his plan, I feel great and can manage my appetite in a way that cravings are not much of an issue.

I have to plan and cook things ahead of time, then pack meals each day, but the meals are basic and simple, good and filling. The payoff is huge. I'm reading a book called "Racing Weight" by triathlete Matt Fitzgerald. He maintains that before you go to bed, you should know what you are eating the next day, where and when. Jake says the same thing and I'm beginning to really see the wisdom in that. We can't rely on body cues and the abundance of readily-available food to sync up and deliver the nutrition we need.

I believe one can truly train the appetite. When I eat a lot of sweets, I want more sweets. When I don't eat them, I don't really miss them.

Right now I am trying to shed some weight to make the 122 lb weight class for the bench press competition at VT on Saturday. Otherwise I'll be competing against women who are significantly bigger than me. I realize it's not that big of a deal either way, but in a weird way, I like the structured eating and reminder that my choices do impact my weight. These weeks rein me in a bit and give me a reason to cut out all the junk.

I'd been around 127/128 earlier in the year. Today I was just over 124. It should only take a few lower-carb days, and maybe a little sweating on Friday and it should work out. But the real benefit is the way I feel and knowing I'm eating only good stuff. I'm eating like an athlete :-)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Counting deficit disorder

I suffer from CDD. I know this because about half the time at the gym I am unsuccessful counting reps. I can't help it, the brain wanders and numbers get skipped or repeated. On Monday I was off by 10 on one set. Usually my margin of error is just plus or minus one or two.

I thought it was just the gym and my secret was safe with Jake. Nope.

Today at the pool, Jim asked me to count my strokes on a length of the pool. As soon as the words had formed, he issued a retraction and said, "I'LL count your strokes." My swim reports usually have some kind of caveat about being PRETTY sure about laps or times, but not absolutely confident in my reports.

An engineer who can't count.

Double-header weekend

This weekend was positively glorious - mild and sunny. I had just wrapped up a big conference and was feeling fabulous and ready for some adventures.

Saturday I set out for a longer run, gunning for about 13 miles at a conservative pace. My goal was to keep my heart rate lower than it usually is to prove to myself I could hold back. Anyway, the problem was I had a haircut scheduled for 9:00 and needed to meet Jake at the gym at 10:30 so to fit in the 13, I had to either start really early to leave time to get home and shower, or wait till 11ish and blow a bunch of the day I could spend with the kids. So I set out around 7:15 and planned a course that would go by the hair salon. Wouldn't you know, I arrived by 9:05, my normal 5 minutes late! I realized later how lucky I was that it did work out considering I didn't stop to figure out the distance/time/pace required. It turned out I did 12 miles pre-haircut, than did a long route back to the gym adding on another 4. There is something pretty empowering about running purposely to an authentic destination!!

Sunday was not quite so epic, but I did do a 25ish mile bike loop that included a stop at the Blacksburg Rec Center to hear some friends who were talking about sports nutrition type products. From there it was a quick bike ride home, flying down Harding as fast as I trusted myself to go given all the residual gravel from the winter.

I cleaned up the bike pretty good and put it back on the trainer where I rode tonight. The weather was enticing, but the schedule did not allow for a ride in the reasonable daylight. Plus I was too lazy to clean the bike up again. Sad, but true!!

Swimming nuances

Of all the triathlon sports, swimming has got to be the most nuanced of them all. That's part of what I enjoy about it. Today Coach Jim brought his camera and new laptop poolside (yikes!) and shot footage then analyzed it on-site. Video never fails to reveal a gap between what we think we are doing and what we are actually doing!

For one thing, I need to stop wasting energy to get my right hand so high. And Coach Jim reminded me again to minimize my kick. When I finally did, and he called it my "triathlon kick" it stuck! Now I'll always try to have the "triathlon kick"! Funny what little coaching tricks can motivate and help.

Other things:
  • Flat hand entry, right one tends not to be flat
  • Hands in first, high elbows (elbow first creates drag)
  • Kick up, little kick, little bubbles, toes pointed, kick from hip, nice and long
  • Picture swimming over a barrel along the chest, hands have to go out to the sides to go along the barrel top and bottom
  • Keep a goggle in the water
  • Small tube that the body slips through
And...don't show up at the pool at 6 am. Wait for the first wave to finish and plan to start at 6:30 or 6:40!!

But all in all, swimming continues to feel much more natural. Gone is the anxiety I used to have starting each session. And did I mention I cut about 5 seconds off my time for the 100 from October? Doesn't sound like much, but I'll take it!

left arm pretty good

right arm, what's up with THAT?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Glimpses of spring

Today we broke freezing, had a cloudless sky, it is Friday, and I just wrapped up a big two-day conference we have been working to organize for the last 6 months. Woo hoo!

Tomorrow I am planning on a medium-long run, something around 13 miles, and as I started to think about it I got a feeling I haven't had in a while...a huge rush of excitement that just envelopes me and leaves me feeling supercharged and up for adventure. It's hard to explain, but it's like an anxiety attack, only totally positive and empowering.

This winter has been a tough test with something like 40"+ of snow and week after week of sub-freezing temperatures. It separates the runners from the joggers, that's for sure.

Conditions are still not ideal for speed, but it does add some adventure. Because sidewalks are not clear I've changed some of my routes and today found myself running down Southgate drive that has one of those sensors and signs that tells you how fast you are driving and when you are going too fast. Well, darn if that thing didn't flash a big "8" mph when I went by!! Then I tried the walking path and discovered the slim asphalt trail was obstructed by big snow boulders that rolled onto it from the plows. That made for a nice steeplechase course of sorts.

I'm still in my "unstructured" running phase. I noticed though that all my running seems to have my heart rate in the 160-170 range, with little variation. I'm not doing such a great job managing my workouts and changing them up, but I'm enjoying it and have been logging consistent miles. For now that will have to suffice.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sprint - Olympic - Half IM - IM

Listening to coaches and athletes on these newfound triathlon podcasts has challenged my thinking in many different areas including this implicit assumption I had made that various triathlon distances are a ladder to be climbed. You know, the "more is better" philosophy. Longer is more noble. Greater suffering yields greater rewards. Well, it turns out maybe not, and definitely not for everybody. With increased distance, there is often increased sacrifice, a price to be paid, whether in terms of relationships, health, or enjoyment. So the net result may be positive or negative. For everyone this crossover point is different.

This particular podcast guest and noted triathlon coach (whose name I can't recall) suggested finding the distance that works for your physiology, motivation, and lifestyle and not just thoughtlessly aspiring to longer, bigger, more.

I have to admit I was looking at sprint triathlons as primarily a stepping stone to other distances. (Note: this is rooted in my own personality er...attributes because I certainly don't get any pressure or that message from my coach or anyone else.) Now I see that's the wrong way to look at it. There's no shame in training specifically for sprint triathlons. And if I never move out of sprints, that's totally fine (although I doubt that will be the case).

No doubt competition is stiffer as you move up the distances and there are fewer under-prepared athletes. But the wider variety of participants should not detract from one's personal accomplishment in a sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run = .47 mi, 12.4 mi, 3.1 mi).

That said, I am interested in dabbling in the Olympic distance triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) perhaps trying it this fall. But not as a stepping stone. The primary draw for me is the swim, to prove to myself I can do almost a mile swim in open water.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I have let myself go as far as to think about a half Ironman (1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run). I got really excited when I saw some of the warm beach areas that host these events (Cancun comes to mind!) and thought how fun that would be to make a vacation out of it.

Ironman? Nah, it gets back to the whole sacrifice thing. My family is too important to me and I know I could not maintain that vital balance that keeps me (and more importantly, THEM) happy.

Nothing wrong with happily hanging out in the Sprint/Olympic range and working to maximize my potential there.

Yes, I know, I've done exactly ONE sprint triathlon so I'm not exactly speaking from a place of experience. So this whole reflection may seem irrelevant. But I'm a dreamer and a planner and like to look ahead. And understanding my motivation and how I define personal success is an important element.

Overtraining in hindsight

I'm finally prepared to admit that I was experiencing symptoms of overtraining in January. I knew something was wrong and off, but I was reluctant to recognize it as overtraining because my training load/time/intensity had not gone up. If anything it had backed off a bit. So to call it "overtraining" seemed like a major cop-out, an excuse, a weakness, a miscalculation. When it was suggested by coach and trainer that I was flirting with overtraining, I brushed it off, until I heard it described by an elite athlete on one of those triathlon podcasts! As he described the experience, I finally tied it all together and understood that it's a multivariable formula, and training hours are only part of the equation. And if HE could admit to it, so could I. I had to stop looking at it like a fault on my part, and recognize it as a learning experience and a situation to be managed.

My general stress level had gone up with the holidays, not knowing if my husband would be employed after the New Year, the end of one semester, the planning of another, preparing to chair a major conference in February, plus all the general family-kid-house-pet stuff we all have. And admittedly, I didn't take the downtime I should have after the marathon.

So as a result I had:
  • anxiety attacks - I'd often have these after starting a workout with a big HR spike
  • trouble sleeping, waking up panicking and sweating (not a good feeling)
  • loss of confidence
  • heavy, sore legs that became the weak link in my runs
  • moodiness and over-reactions
  • loss of speed/performance
  • soreness lasting longer than usual, sometimes full body soreness
  • series of injuries
I'm realizing we each have a finite quantity of "coping powers" that are apportioned among physical, mental, and spiritual stresses. We fill up the tanks with rest, sleep, healthy eating, good relationships, and general life balance. We drain the tanks with workouts, stress, injury, worry, illness, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and unhealthy choices. I was draining the tank far faster than I could refill it.

I thought for a while that if I worked harder and focused more, I'd get over the hump. In an email Jim warned that he could "see the writing on the wall" and I heard the same message from Jake. I had to get things back on track.

The real fix was to get my stress level back down. I focused on eating and sleeping better, knocking things off the to-do list, and backed running off from 4 days to 3. Things smoothed out, stress levels have fallen, and I'm refilling the tanks again. I'm taking rest/off days with less fuss than before, having fun on no-pressure runs, and trying to maintain a better balance in my life. Just as I sensed something was wrong before, I know things are headed back in the right direction. I am mindful that this delicate balance is something I need to consciously and constantly reassess, fine-tune, protect and preserve. I need to keep the tanks topped off, and recognize when they are getting low and make the needed adjustments.

Maybe if we called it "under-recuperating" rather than "over-training" it would be an easier diagnosis to accept. Us type-A personalities can get more excited about working harder to recuperate than working less hard to train!


A quick video of some swimming...this was right at the start of a session, no warmup. It looks relaxed and comfortable, so I like that, but still room for improvement:
  • My left arm has a tendency to cross the midline
  • My kick can get wide; when I am on my side it approaches a scissor kick
  • My kick is also low in the water, so my back end is dragging and I'm not as balanced as I should be

Triathlon Podcasts

I discovered some great sources of regular triathlon podcasts - and not just cheesy amateur ones either!

David Warden hosts Tri Talk ( In the first episode I listened to, he was addressing research related to angle of body rotation in the swim and its relationship to cadence and speed. As one who teaches students to refer to primary peer-reviewed research AND to be judicious in the interpretation of it, I got really excited that he was pulling in this ground-level research!

The Simon Gowen Triathlon Show ( is out of LA and is very professionally done. This show features interviews with coaches and athletes. The first podcast I heard was about training quality over quantity and the importance of arriving to a race rested and ready and not tired and depleted. Quite a number of points hit home with me.

The third set of podcasts relate to swimming specifically, by coach Kevin Koskella ( These are short and focused on specific issues (e.g. breathing, or kicking) but you could hear where segments were pieced together and it was a little distracting. I listened to this while running which was a mistake because I couldn't concentrate enough to get the most out of it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Working out around the weather

On Friday, we got our second significant snow event with a full foot of snow. Fortunately, we knew several days ahead of time and I could plan accordingly. I shuffled workouts, ran outside while I still could, and even fit in a short outdoor bike ride -- shoehorned in after class. I'm not sure where I rate as "mom" though because I called the school and told them to have the kids ride the bus home which bought me about half an hour extra on the bike!! They rarely ride the bus and don't fuss too much when they are asked to.

I scheduled my off day for the big snow day and went into slug mode. I watched a great movie on Netflix, a subtitled foreign documentary on the Tour de France called "Hell on Wheels". Those guys are amazing - just machines!! Yet they candidly shared their fears and doubts and showed tremendous courage when they would ride again the day after some harrowing wipeouts.

It was a good training week last week, and my first full week of managing my own running workouts. I got in a stadium workout, an hour run, and a 75 minute run. They all felt good, in fact, the running mojo is beginning to return. Friday was the first time in a while that my legs felt a bit fresh. I think the advice I got to back off was spot-on.

For now it's back to indoor running and cycling. It's so good I can do both at the house. The treadmill is a major downer compared to running outside, but I don't mind the indoor bike trainer much at all. It's actually kind of nice not to have to worry about traffic, lights, road conditions, etc., and I sweat more inside than out.

It's nice to think about moving all the training outside in a few months, especially the swimming. Seeing the clouds reflected on the When I signed up for my pool locker and towel service at War in the fall, and committed to two semesters, I wondered if I would really follow through. Five months later, I'm still at it twice per week.

I'm still dealing with that odd injury in my collarbone area. It's almost as surprising to see what does not aggravate it (bench, swimming) as what does (hack squats - from the pressure on top of my shoulder, shrugs, some row movements, even pushing against the steering wheel with my right arm). I just know it'll be a while before it resolves, but it's getting there.

I guess the bottom line is I still very much enjoy and love my training. It is like recess for me...even if occasionally it's a little tough to get started. It's fun, I feel great, and can't imagine not doing it.