Monday, April 30, 2012

First attempts at the "Running Mount"

Back in January I reviewed the DVD, Mastering the 4th Discipline, Triathlon Transitions. I had it in mind to try to learn the "Running Mount" that is taught in the video in a stepwise fashion. I probably put it off a little long, my first race is next weekend. (Ooops!)

I rewatched the DVD and headed out to give it a whirl, with my son Spencer on hand to capture the process and whatever was in store for me.

This was the first outing for the Endurance Films Racing Team ITU suit from Champion System (see EF apparel store here). It is super comfortable, form fitting/aero, but stretchy and non-constricting. I absolutely love it!

Here's the video. I start with my normal "step over" mount which is extra rusty and slow since I hadn't done it since last year and seemed to have no recollection of how to put my foot on the already clipped-in shoe. My dismount is pretty solid and will stay the same. But no one was more surprised than me that I made good progress on the new technique. I confess I skipped the part about doing it with running shoes first.

Things I need to remember: get enough speed, take a deep breath, COMMIT, and GO! Focus on forward momentum first and pedals/shoes only when stable. Seems so simple in theory!

I'm going to continue practicing every day and hope it's on autopilot by race day.

This is a great DVD and I continue to recommend it highly!!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

The aero helmet debate

I'm still riding in the original Bell helmet I bought at Dick's Sporting Goods about three years ago -- just before I got my road bike from Craigslist. The helmet fits great, is very comfy and well vented. With the switch to the Q Roo tri bike last year, I'm clinging to this final artifact that says "recreational rider" and "I'm here to have fun."  Looks like the going price is about $40.

Ever since Nationals last year, I've been intrigued by the supposed benefits of aero helmets. I walked past the old Virginia Tech wind tunnel a thousand times (that sucker was LOUD when it was on) and I can appreciate what the teardrop shape could do. The engineer in me is like heck YEAH aero helmet!

So began the debate - go aero or not?

Don an aero helmet and you might as well put a giant sign on your head that says "I am serious about racing" and paint a target on your back. I am serious, in that I want to do my best, but I have no delusions of racing grandeur either.

A few days ago I was in the local bike shop (the one most aligned with competitive cycling). I stopped in solely to get new tubes with long valve stems (DISlike valve way to get an accurate pressure reading) and next thing I know, we are talking aero helmets. The two shop folks are saying of course you are at a point in racing where you really need/should have an aero helmet. Excellent sales tactic!! Normally this type of approach makes me dig my heels in and respond with a resounding NO, but hear myself say, yeah, OK, sure!

They ordered one (Bell, same brand I have now) for me to try with no obligation to buy. It will come in this week. Will I/would I/should I take the plunge? I acknowledge a helmet is no substitute for good coaching, training, hard work, and nutrition/weight, but if those are in place, does it make sense to squeeze out that last bit of speed in this way?

  • potential time savings - up to 30s on a sprint, a minute on an Olympic (source)
  • the whole "seriousness" factor
  • greatest benefit if you keep your head up and tail down...not sure if I do that. 
  • greatest benefit at higher speeds
  • less venting
  • expensive
My mom will tell you I've always liked accessories -- not in the classic girly sense, but in the sporty sense. I have half a basement of horse stuff to show for it. So there's a precedent for my interest in the uhhh..."peripherals".

Maybe I should go the total opposite direction, and cram my head in this cool kid's helmet (they get all the great designs).
So -- aero or no? What to do, what to do.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The 4 year (and counting) anatomy class

My chiropractor has an uncanny knack for zeroing in on fired-up trigger points that I was blissfully unaware existed. Today I heard "whoa, this scalene!" Owww! Scalene? Thought that was a trapezius muscle? I got home and looked it up, there it is on the side of the neck. Dandy. Add that to the list...

Four years ago, my knowledge of human anatomy was pretty well captured by the song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes."

Along with the athletic lifestyle comes free tuition (and forced enrollment, like it or not) in an ongoing personal anatomy class. One's own issues serve as the textbook. Mine has chapters on: IT band, peroneal tendon, biceps tendon, rotator cuff, fibula, tibialis anterior, psoas, obliques, extensors, abductors, and fibula (oh this is fun...I could go on and on....)  Oh, not to forget the "glute" family of maximum, medius, and minimus!

But my current favorite (and unfortunately a saboteur of this year's Boston run) has to be the Tensor Fasciae Latae. That one just rolls off the tongue and I just feel really smart saying it. I mean honestly, what percentage of the population even KNOWS they have these? Or how to stretch them? Or what they do? Doesn't that sound like something you'd order at Starbucks?

I think I know enough now. Please, no more anatomy lessons.

Feeling like a triathlete again

The past few days I finally started feeling like a real triathlete again.

First brick workout of the season (trainer ride then outdoor run) with bursts of max effort and a threshold section that left me an extra sweaty mess, enough to "mohawk" the hair! That was followed by a short but solid run around the neighborhood, with the hip and glute feeling darn good. Yes, I'm officially "back" as Coach said, and without a moment to spare. The first race is in less than two weeks.

First open water swim and first time in the wetsuit for the season. That initial 100 yards was brisk, even in the wetsuit.

With friend Krista, and my pink flamingos!

Ready, set, GO!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Passing the Torch

The Fitness Challenge at the Weight Club is organized by Kurt Weidner, with whom I strength train, as a way for folks to go after personal goals with the added motivation of a per-rep pledge to benefit the Humane Society of Montgomery County. In 2010, I participated in the inaugural Fitness Challenge (see post here) doing a 1-rep max bench press.

This year I passed the torch to Grant (10). He regularly does pushups in Karate and often breaks into them spontaneously throughout the week so it seemed a good fit. He would go after his personal best set of pushups. Spencer (12) was the official rep counter at the event for two hours. (Fortunately, he did not inherit my horrible counting gene.)

In 2010, our small group raised almost $5000 and this year I am predicting something in the range of double that. We'll see. Donations are still coming in.

Watching the 20 athletes, we were witness to tremendous intensity, focus, dedication, and effort. The participants ranged in age from 10 to 50+, and included 13 men and 7 women.

Crowd support was strong with encouraging shouts for all. We watched clapping pull-ups, 1600+ lb leg press, 315 lb pause squats, 225 lb lunges, 650 lb tire flips, push ups, windshield wipers, thrusters, hang cleans, and leg raises.  See full results and information at

It was a great event, and one that could be modified for nearly any sport and cause. Great job, Grant, and everyone involved!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Remember limits in calculus? I barely do, but I love a math analogy!! I've been pondering the concept of personal limits lately in regard to training. Mainly because I sometimes think I need them...more on that later.

Limits can be detrimental, if they are seen as fixed and constraining, in terms of I can only swim/bike/run this fast or this long. Limits can be protective, keeping us from overtraining. Staying within limits is safer, but with lower risk comes lower reward.

I'm guessing we might each view the idea of limits differently. Do limits enslave and constrain you? Do they motivate and pose a challenge?

I tend not to think about limits which is both good and bad. The upside is I don't head into training and racing seriously wondering whether I can do something. I may have some nervousness (speedwork example) when new, more aggressive paces or intervals are called for, but I figure I'll find a way. I'm not always successful, but I don't go in thinking I won't be. This no-limits thing is probably an asset to racing.

The downside is that like probably a lot of triathletes, I am hard to limit. I continue to struggle with recovery type runs and spins. Now, as I work to build my runs up again after my six week layoff, I am not doing the best job (read: crappy job) of adhering to the gradual ramp-up process carefully laid out for me. I did pretty well for the first two weeks but then this week my excitement got the best of me and I exceeded the limits of what I should have been doing for my "aerobic runs with walk/stretch breaks". Yesterday I ran WAY too fast, closing in on a 10k pace for a 10k distance. It felt amazing, easy, and free. It was two months of pent-up fast running just pouring out. Runners know that indescribable feeling of flow. I could not chose not to contain myself.

It's also asking for trouble -- an invitation for re-injury -- and it would totally be my fault. For the first time in my three years with Coach Jim, I had a run I was ashamed to upload because I knew it was not what I should have been doing, and I was pretty upset with myself. He's working to get me healthy and back on track and I need to be firmly on board and disciplined about it.

We had some discussions this week about him establishing firm "speed limits" vs me just making better decisions. Even as adults, there can still be parts of us stuck at age 12. Oh, and just like a bad kid, I didn't upload that run last night, but waited until today when I knew he'd be on the road traveling to his half IM. I figure by the time he sees it, post race, I'll have already gotten tomorrow's brick done so maybe I can redeem myself a bit with a super conservative run. (yes he reads this blog, uhh...hi Coach Jim!!)

I am reforming starting NOW. Sticking to the plan. Growing up. Making good decisions. Setting my own limits.

Race day? Those limits are going out the window.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So long, Diet Coke and other updates

Confession time: Despite my efforts toward good eating and healthy habits, I've been carrying a one-Diet Coke-a-day habit for a while. I would buy the stuff knowing it was (1) a waste of money (2) bad for me and (3) a resource hog to bottle and ship it. I thought it was my little afternoon pick-me-up, something I "deserved". I'd been thinking about giving it up for a while, but didn't.

Then I returned from Boston and stopped taking it to work and avoided it at home. I haven't had one since and haven't missed it either. Research suggests that the artificial sweeteners actually cause you to crave more sweets and I truly think that is valid in my case. My late afternoon sweet tooth has indeed abated.

My Diet Coke days are over. I just drink water and when I want a change-up I have a LaCroix sparking water (and the occasional beer or wine ;-) My favorite LaCroix (not pictured) is coconut yummmmm.

I rarely get on the scale -- maybe every two months -- but for most of the year I'd been holding steady about 5 lbs up from the number I thought was an optimum race weight. I figured maybe that lower number wasn't all that reasonable. But a quick check-in the other day (and the day after to verify) showed I was squarely, and happily, at race weight. Shocker!

I think it happened because frankly, I've eaten less. As with the Coke thing, there was no decision-making moment, it was more of just a vague effort to avoid extra snacking and let myself get hungry before eating again. Cutting out the Diet Coke and having my appetite stabilize helped. Having the stress of the injury lift, feeling happier, and staying busy all contribute too. Now to just maintain!!

Although things are better on the nutrition front, my sleep patterns are a bit of a mess lately. I've had about 10 days of rough sleep, waking up around 3:30 am then slipping into some otherworldly coma till 5 or so. I'm blaming it on high pollen and age and loading up on melatonin till it passes.

Training-wise all is well. I've been working hard, bringing my best to each workout -- currently about 9 hours a week of swim/bike/run. The run is DEFINITELY returning (yeeHAW!!!) and the challenge is for me to keep my excitement from getting out ahead of my recovery. Coach Jim has had his work cut out for him!  The hip and glute are feeling terrific and it's nice to head out to run without any anxiety anymore. Two-and-a-half weeks till my race season starts. I'm starting to get my game face on.....

Hope everyone is having a great week so far!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tuggle Gap to Groundhog Mountain

I've had some great bike rides lately, but yesterday's was hands-down, the best adventure I've had on a bike ever. I rode 50 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Tuggle Gap to Groundhog Mountain (gotta love the names!). It's a 469 mile scenic byway with land on either side protected by the US Forest Service. I'd been on it just twice by car but that smooth road surface, few entry points, long grades, and beautiful vistas are just made for bikes!

I'd grown weary of my same-old routes and could not find another soul around here to join me on an adventure. I looked up cue sheets for other area routes but was not in the mood to navigate on my own (primarily since I'm horrible at it).

I just wanted some open road to go pedal my butt off without thinking. This was perfect - a straight shot and no way to get lost! I made the 40 minute trek to the closest entry point, not really knowing what I was in for.

The speed limit is 45 MPH and traffic was light (and polite). I started off in a pretty stiff headwind, wearing two layers and arm sleeves, and finished up with calm winds, in just a tank, under a clear blue sky.

I passed through rhododendron-lined stretches, over the signature rock arch underpasses, and made a brief stop at one of the many scenic overlooks as well as the Mabry Mill. Would you believe I only saw two other cyclists on the road, but lots of motorcyclists.

Mabry Mill

I'm still getting used to the deeper wheels in the heavy cross-winds I encountered on the ridge tops. But I am enjoying the new cassette Steve picked out that includes a smaller cog (11 instead of 12 I think). In the past, I would sometimes run out of gears on the descents -- no longer. I topped out at 43 MPH, pedaling for every bit of speed on a particularly delectable stretch of downhill at the end.

This ride, especially the all-out fast parts (!), gave me a gigantic adrenaline rush that lasted all day (and even now). It was pure adventure to me and I never thought of it as training, or triathlon prep, or anything I had to do.

Usually part of me is glad when I near the end of a ride long. But when I saw the Tuggle Gap sign, I let out an audible "awwwww". But I'll be back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, that's for sure.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Signs of the mojo returning

I've been fighting a pretty rough patch the last 6-8 weeks with this hip thing and my mojo took a pretty big hit. Even though I could still bike and swim, the uncertainty of the recovery timeline, the frustration with my own body failure, and a missed goal race landed me squarely in a funk. I trained, hard even, but my usual fight was hedged by fear - of extended injury or reinjury.

I hate being in that mental place. And I hate that as much as I try to contain it, the yuck of it escapes into other parts of life. I couldn't dial up my happy to "11" like I usually can and productivity suffered across the board. That didn't help matters. For me, happiness and productivity are inextricably linked.

This week, I saw signs of the mojo returning. I'd started back with some run/walk and on my 5th run since I started back I had that "thing" happen, that indescribable release, where I started to believe things would be OK.
Mojo Jojo

With that, I hit the accelerator, and accelerated myself right out of "easy aerobic jog" to what I had no business doing on a weakened hip. But it felt spectacular. Maybe even worth the gentle reprimand to stick to the plan and trust in the process.

Now the challenge is to be patient, smart and conservative so I can put this whole matter firmly behind me.

I signed up for my first sprint tri of the season May 5. That's three whole weeks away. I'd call that very patient.

Go get it, Buttercup.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'm a horrible bike mechanic

When I got my first bike in 2009, there were a few weeks there as a newbie where I was diligently going through the motions of inflating my tires... without actually inflating them. I didn't know to unscrew the little top of the Presta valve...duh!

Today I needed help to inflate tires through valve extenders for the first time. It should not be that hard but the darn pump head would just fly off time and time again. What the hard can it be? I figured I was once again missing something obvious.

With growing frustration, I put bike and pump into my car and brought them into our local East Coasters bike shop. Turns out it takes a bit of fiddling, making sure the little nut under the extender is unscrewed, poking something down the extender to be sure, then shoving the pump head on with some force. At least now I understand how it works and what to do. It's just a bit embarrassing since I am a person with multiple degrees in engineering (technically human factors, so more of a blend of engineering and psychology).

I have to confess that I have NO desire to mess with my own bike, to putter, tinker, tweak, experiment, adjust. I feel like no good can come from that. The bike intimidates me. I depend on it working well and have not been willing to put in the time and effort to learn about all the intricacies. I either want to know everything or just enough to get by. Pathetic, yes. But it a time crunched life I've got to pick my battles. I depend on Steve and others to keep my bikes running smoothly.

I can adjust my seat, lube the chain, and now I can inflate ALL my tires. Plus I can clean and wax it and make it shiny for races! That's enough for me.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Boston Trip - Workout side of the house

The silver lining to missing the Boston Marathon this year is that I had a really great re-scheduled trip here with the family. Without this excuse to travel here we would probably not have had a "city trip" on the vacation agenda and it has been a great experience for the kids in particular. We normally default to quiet stay-put beach/river type trips.

Plus I got the lay of the land and feel like I could travel up here solo next year and my navigationally-challenged self would have a clue. The trip details are on the family blog but I like to report on the "workout" side of the house here!

The two travel days include 12 hours on a train and over 1.5 hours in a car so they were a wash (but awesomely fun for this train riding newbie). It would have been so cool to be on the bike trainer on the train!

Even on vacation I seem to wake up at 5 am so that gave me about three hours to fill before the rest of the bums family got up, so it was pretty easy to get in some runs (2) and strength training workouts in the hotel gym (2).  The hotel had nice a dual adjustable pulley machine. With that, some dumbbells, and a resistance band I'd brought, I was set. I kept up my hip/glute rehab work as well.

My "runs" (still taking it verrrry easy with walk/stretch breaks) were both along the Charles River, and one was at sunrise. What a treat! That place is busy all the time with sail boats and skulling boats (or sweep boats?).  The hotel room had a corner with floor to ceiling windows, where I would sit, watching sailboat class (?) with dozens of little identical sailboats going through their maneuvers.

There was some improptu workout fun too. Our room was on the 20th floor and soon after we arrived, Grant and I went looking at drink options in the vending machines, and we took the stairs down to examine the machines on every single floor to confirm they indeed all had identical contents. Then we had the idea to time ourselves going back up (2 minutes). We took the stairs a few more times over the next day, including one expedition that landed us "behind the scenes of the hotel" where we received a polite escort out from behind the front desk ;-) Oops!

On the third day made a pact to take only the stairs. We spotted this sign in the stairwell encouraging stair use, but noticed the few people we encountered on the stairs were hotel employees making phone calls...and we caught one smoking.  It was 4.5 round trips for Grant and 5.5 for me. It was definitely a fun, quirky part of our experience and I love that Grant is game to do weird things like that.

The big draw of Boston for the kids was Harvard and MIT. They have it in their minds they want to go there, and visiting the campuses only got them more excited for college. Regardless of where they go, it was fun to see them already looking forward to college in fourth and sixth grades! We also hit the New England Aquarium, the Science Museum, the MIT Museum, the Apple Store (for Spencer), did the Trolley Tour of Boston, and a short Harbor Tour.

Foodwise we ate well and I was surprised to discover how well I held up on just three meals a day. I had more protein than usual with breakfast to be sure I could last till lunch and it made a big difference. Kurt had suggested this ages ago and I resisted but now I see why it's a good move.

It's been a great getaway, but as always I look forward to the return home and my nice routines!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Great Hip/Glute Work Stoppage of 2012

If I haven't said much about running for the last month, it's because I really haven't been running for the last month. Hence, very little to say.

I had a hip issue brewing in early February, and then me being me, I had to see it through to near wreckage. Then I went through my highly-refined injury process that goes something like this:
  1. panic
  2. despair
  3. investigate symptoms on the internet and get paranoid
  4. buy something (books, Rumble Roller - right, whatever)
  5. rapidly hand out copays to anyone who might be able to figure something out and fix it (immediately if not sooner)
  6. hit the soft tissue work, acupuncture, chiropractor
  7. give 200% to my own physical rehabilitation. 
Oh, I almost forgot, I submitted it to "Ask the Sports Doc" on the Endurance Planet podcast too, and they addressed it here on this episode!

Hey, I'm nothing if not thorough.

I ended up in the too-much-information zone and saw my trusty PT Mike (and Boston Marathoner :-) who is good about bringing things back to simple terms. It needed time, rest, strengthening, and stretching. Time?? He also said he was living vicariously through me and was bummed I wouldn't be running Boston this year (guilt...guilt). Here's a picture of Mike and I in early February when he had loaned me an autographed copy of 26 Miles to Boston signed by Bill Rogers...arghhhhh. I returned it, unread, and requested a re-loan next year.

I started back running this week, with 5 x 4 minutes slowwww on Sunday and 3 x 8 minutes a little less slow today. No pain, but things feel a bit weird, probably because I'm very focused on that area. But it's progress!!

I have my own hunch about what happened. I'd had a super sore right glute for a few weeks, but it was a non-issue on the run, or so I thought. The hip had to provide backup and finally had enough. Then everything hurt, trigger points were everywhere, and it was hard to know exactly what was cause and what was effect. So my own diagnosis of the Great Hip/Glute Work Stoppage is "multiple organ failure of glute and hip" or MOFGH for short.

The acute stuff resolved fast, and I could cycle, swim, and walk with no problem. So the upside is I've done lots of quality bike and swim. The run will just take a bit of patience....but triathletes have LOTS of that. (haha, yeah)

And a little adversity heading into the first tri of the season just leaves me a little hungrier.