Tuesday, December 30, 2008

should you exercise with a cold, redux

Last winter, as I was training for my first triathlon, I got a cold and wondered if it was smart to exercise while sick. At first, my web research said no, so I laid off. Then I got sick again and did more research and found evidence that said yes.

Specifically, it was Joe Friel's "neck check" to help decide to train while sick or not:
If you have above-the-neck symptoms, such as a runny nose or scratchy throat, start your workout, but reduce the intensity and duration. you may begin to feel better once you're warmend up, but if not, stop. If the symptoms are below the neck -- such as a sore throat, chest cold, chills, coughing up matter, achy muscles, or a fever -- don't even start. These are often the symptoms of a virus. Exercising will make it worse.
Now, Gina Kolata writes in the the NYTimes Personal Best section that studies have shown that exercise actually helps you down the road to recovery. Based on the results, this winter I'll keep pushing through when feeling ill (within reason).

Back to the proof: the decade-old studies asked two questions, 1) does a cold affect your ability to exercise, and 2) Does exercising when you have a cold affect your symptoms and recovery time?

Regarding one's ability to exercise:

At the start of the study, the investigators tested all of the subjects, assessing their lung functions and exercise capacity. Then a cold virus was dropped into the noses of 45 of the subjects, and all caught head colds. Two days later, when their cold symptoms were at their worst, the subjects exercised by running on treadmills at moderate and intense levels. The researchers reported that having a cold had no effect on either lung function or exercise capacity.

“I was surprised their lung function wasn’t impaired,” Dr. Kaminsky said. “I was surprised their overall exercise performance wasn’t impaired, even though they were reporting feeling fatigued.”

And in response to how exercise affects recovery time:

The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”

So, if you feel a cold coming on, do the neck check and keep going if it's all in your head. As Kolata points out at the end of her article, "too often taking time off because of a cold is the start of falling away from the program entirely."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

vascular surgeon says remove varicose veins

Last July, I went to my primary care physician to ask about the varicose veins that are popping out all over my left calf (seen clearly in this picture to the right). I was concerned they might be affecting my training and leading to the calf cramping earlier than it should (or worse: creating a clot that would break free and do some damage).

My insurance company wouldn't pay for a vascular surgeon back then, but since they've gotten worse, I finally got the referral to Dr. Singh yesterday to have a look-see.

As suspected, he said I have a text-book case of superficial varicose veins where the valves are just continuing to fail further and further down the vein network away from the original injury (behind my knee).

His concern is that during races and hard training, the combination of dehydration and the field of failed valves will be a breeding ground for blood clots, so the best course of action is to remove them.

The best news? It's an out-patient procedure that takes about an hour. Up until the surgery, I can train as normal and within a week of the procedure, I'll be able to be back training at normal intensity.

Details of the procedure to come in a future post (tales of phlebectomy and vein stripping and cauterization, oh my). Next stop: the ultrasound to identify the location of the "last good valve" is on January 9.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Personal goals for 2009

This is what I'll accomplish by the end of the 2009 season:

1. Finish my first Ironman 70.3 (Vineman 70.3)
2. Finish my first marathon in under four hours (Silicon Valley Marathon)
3. Improve my 10K PR to <47 minutes (is now at 51:53) (various)

Now to put together the training program to make it happen.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

prepping for 2009 race season

Although I haven't been blogging it, I've been busy getting ready for the 2009 race season over the last few weeks.

Since my last race, I've accomplished the following:
  • participated in the weekly Silicon Valley Triathlon Club track workouts at De Anza College (Tuesday nights at 6:30 if you'd like to try one) to work on my running speed
  • Joined the USA Triathlon club. I figure I'll make the money back on race entry savings... am already half way there because I...
  • Signed up for two "highlight" triathlons: 2009 Vineman 70.3 and 2009 Wildflower Olympic
  • Worked with my good friend Thom and Neil to come up with a comprehensive list of over 40 potential running races/triathlons/centuries/swims to do in 2009 (we won't do all, just the ones that make sense)
  • Finally got a referral to a vascular surgeon to get the varicose veins in my left calf examined. I found as the season went on, my left calf was the first to cramp and I'm hoping we can do something about it that won't sideline me too long. Appointment is Dec 19. Keep your fingers crossed for me
  • Got my Felt Z35 professionally fitted to me (wow!) AND gotten a serious bug to get a mountain bike so I can take advantage of all the non-paved roads around here for cross-training
Lots more to do. I'm taking it easy with just a couple workouts a week through Christmas and then I'll ratchet things back up again to hit my goals for 2009 (coming in my next post).

The best thing? I'm still having fun with all this, and I really like being in shape like I am.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Screaming deal on Garmin Forerunner 305 thru 12/15

My lovely wife got me a Garmin Forerunner 305 as an early Father's Day present this year, and it is, hands down, my favorite gadget, and it really helped me to measure my progress over the year as I put in the miles and picked up speed.

  • Customizable display
  • Alarms (distance/pace/HR)
  • Great tracking through multiple satellites
  • Quick-release system (sold separately) to use in running/biking bricks or races
  • Motionbased.com interface for online tracking and sharing of workouts (see my free motionbased account)
  • Form factor: it's a little bulky, but you get used to it
  • It's not waterproof so you can't wear it during the swim (doh!)
  • The mac interface isn't so grand, but this should affect you PC owners
Costco's got a deal on them for just $159.99 through December 15. (Back when I got mine, they were retailing for $250).

If you've been holding out on getting one, I highly recommend you get off the fence and go buy your Garmin Forerunner 305 now.

BTW, I have nothing to gain from this promotion other than to know others are enjoying the same cool technology I am.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

2008 Silicon Valley Turkey Trot race report

This past Thursday, it took me 51:55 to finish the 2008 Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in downtown San Jose. (see full race results)

This year's race was a good check-in for me to see how much I'd improved since last year's Turkey Trot which I finished in 1:03:48. You see, last year's race was the first race I signed up for in my quest to do a triathlon (and only my second 10K, the first one being back in 2000). A year ago, I still weighed 200 pounds, down from my high of 222, and my cardio was nowhere near how good it is now.

Flash forward to this year, and I managed to come in 495th of 2,413 runners (last year I didn't crack the top 1,000) and I was 124th in my age group. In fact, I missed posting a PR in the 10K by a measly 12 seconds (back in 2000, when I was but 31 years old, I ran the 10K in 51:42).

I was hoping (against hope?) for a sub-50 minute race, but it wasn't in the cards this year.

I think I went out too hard at the start, as I was on a 7:50 pace for the first two miles and felt good about having banked 20 seconds for the latter part of the race, even with all the traffic to weave through on the course. However, at the halfway mark, I'd slowed to an even 8:00 mile and only got slower from there to finally finish up averaging 8:16/mile (small victory: I never walked!)

I do have to say, the folks who set up the course did a LOUSY job of intermingling the 5K walkers and the 10K runners for the last 1.2 miles of the course. They had us sharing a paved trail, hoping the 5Kers would stay to the right and let us 10Kers run on the left.

Wishful thinking: I had to keep yelling out "5Kers to the RIGHT!" as they spilled over to our side and gummed up our trying to keep up our pace on the run.

But it's all for charity, and so I should be pleased I was able to shave so much time off in a single year. I know I'll never make that kind of year-over-year progress again. But that's not going to stop me from aiming for a sub-45 minute 10K next time.

I've got a year to train for it, and I know I can do it, no matter how the course is laid out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

1st track workout: Silicon Valley Tri Club

At last I was able to get a Tuesday free of work and family obligations to be able to take part in one of the regular Tuesday night track workouts put on by Coach Sherry for the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club (SVTC).

Since the workout is way down at De Anza College and begins at 6:30pm (you're supposed to warm up on your own beforehand), it's not the most convenient workout session to attend for me as I have to drive 20 miles in rush hour traffic to get there.

Despite all that, I made it tonight and given how much fun it was, I'll be sure to make it back again.

The workout itself was posted ahead of time to the SVTC mailing list (as they all are). I was a little nervous to attend because this was my first ever group track workout. Would I be fast enough? Would I stand out in my basic ignorance of all the lingo? (ABCs and IT bands and VDOTs, oh my).

I needn't have worried. I've got a strong enough base fitness that I was able to keep up fine and even enjoyed myself more than I thought I was going to. There were about 30 of us in all, and we split into two groups: the fast folks (not me) and the rest (including me).

Our workout (all running counter-clockwise around the track):
1 x 1600 @ T pace
Rest interval is core circuit #1
1 x 1200 @ T pace
Rest interval is core circuit #2
1 x 800 @ T pace
Rest interval is core circuit #3
1 x 400 @ T pace
Rest interval is core circuit #4
1 x 200 @ T pace
Rest interval is core circuit #5

Slow recovery x 800 (clockwise, to unwind) and stretch to end.
For me, T pace = 7:40 per mile and the core circuits were all variations on a set of situps/crunches, a set of lunges/squats and a set of planks/pushups.

The hour went by really quickly, and unlike when I run around the neighborhood on my own, I got a chance to work on speed AND get a core workout, too.

Even if I can't make the trip down to De Anza College on future Tuesdays, I'll be running the workouts down the street at Sequoia High School. I have a feeling this is how I'm going to bump up my speed on race days.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

San Francisco Triathlon (olympic) race report

I concluded my 2008 race season by competing in the Olympic distance 2008 San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island today.

In all, given the fact that for the last month I've been sick with the cold and flu more than I've been healthy, I'm rather pleased at my 3:11:50 finish time (the picture shows the overall time... I started 30 minutes after the first wave)

My splits (as seen on the full SFTri results list):
  • 1.5km swim: 37:43
  • T1: 4:20
  • 40km bike: 1:23:41
  • T2: 3:24
  • 10km run: 1:02:41 (yes, I walked stretches of it)
And this meant I placed 265 out of 333 men who raced today and 60/71 in my age group M35-39. Definitely not the fastest in the bunch (the winning time was 2:04:49), but I was racing to finish this thing, my longest race yet, not to place.

The skies were overcast this morning, with a fog hanging over the city of San Francisco, but not covering Treasure Island itself. Temperatures were cool (mid 50s?), ideal for spending multiple hours on the course. The sun was trying to peak through the clouds, but without much success.

Thom and I had picked up our race packets the night before, so we were able to go directly to the Transition area to rack our bikes, set up our gear and get marked with our race numbers. The transition area was plenty big enough, and the racks actually were marked with our race numbers, so there wasn't any jockeying to be had for the spots closest to bike in/out (thankfully).

As an aside, I couldn't believe how nervous/anxious/tight I felt before the start of the race today. While I thought I was pretty calm, my stomach was doing flip-flops and I felt tight all over. Very unlike me to get so worked up over a race like that, but then again, this was my first season racing and my longest one yet. I swallowed the butterflies and pressed on.

Then it was down to the waterfront to start the swim. Two waves went off before us, so we were able to see how they swam the triangle course (two laps) and listen to the announcer chide the swimmers for swimming outside the midway markers in addition to the corner markers (you just have to stay outside the corners).

The swim start is a "bobbing" start which means instead of leaping from a platform or running into the water, you just swim out to the designated buoy line and float there until the horn sounds marking the start of your wave. Having learned my lesson from prior triathlons, I made sure I started from the far edge of the wave so there was a minimum of swimming on top of others or getting clobbered by others. The water temperature was a chilly 58 degrees, but with my wet suit and neoprene cap I was actually quite warm and with my open water swim practices at SF Aquatic Park (closer to the Golden Gate) in colder water this felt quite nice.

With only 71 guys in our wave and 1.5km to swim, it actually felt like I was swimming alone for all but a few pinch points rounding the markers. Once I was making my way past the final marker and heading for the steps out to transition, I got a shot of adrenaline with the knowledge my most feared part of the triathlon was almost over!

Once I made the stairs it was time to try to engage my legs again, which was no easy feat. All I can say is thank goodness there were plenty of volunteers on the stairs to help us swimmers out of the water. If not for them, I'd have tumbled backwards into the water as I lost my footing on the second step. But, they pushed me in the right direction and before you knew it, I was trotting through the transition area to my spot to get ready for the bike.

It didn't seem like I spent that much time in transition (but it was 4+ minutes), and then I was running my bike to the mount line before saddling up to set out on the first of six laps around the island. Talking with one of the elite racers the night before, I'd gotten the advice to keep track of laps by tearing off six bits of Power Bar (you know how sticky they are) and affixing them to your handlebars. Then, as you complete a lap, you peel off one of the Power Bar bits and eat it and know how many laps are left.

On each lap, there were 26 corners to navigate (21 of them 90 degree turns and one 180 degree turnaround) which made for quite a technical course. All but a quarter mile of the course was flat, but there was a nasty bit of a hill leading to the turnaround and it seemed to get steeper with each lap completed. Throw in the fact that the condition of the pavement itself wasn't too grand and some of the corners were surprisingly dirty with rocks and sand and you had quite the recipe for a challenging course.

My pace was significantly slower than prior races where I'd easily stayed above 20mph. This time around, I averaged slightly less than 18mph, and I attribute that to the fact I took the corners cautiously given the conditions and didn't do a good job of accelerating out of the corners anyway.

I was more than happy to climb the hill for the last time and then bomb on down to the entrance to the transition area to start the run.

My T2 was a minute faster than T1 and aside from having some troubles transferring my Garmin from the bike to my wrist, it was rather smooth.

I hit the pavement knowing I had three laps of out-and-back flat running along the eastern shore of Treasure Island. Thanks to my training for the half marathon, I actually felt a lot better running than I thought I was going to after the previous two legs of the race.

The first lap went pretty quickly although I could feel my energy plummet as I worked through the second mile. When it came time to do the turnaround closest to the finish, I got confused and almost turned to early. If not for the helpful cry of a spectator saying NO!NO!NO!NO! I'd have failed to know to keep running through the gates by the finish line so as to cross the mat at the turnaround. When I emerged from the gates I gave her a running ovation as thanks for the help.

As I neared mile three, I could feel my calves start to tighten up, so I slowed to a fast walk for a bit and tried to zen my way back to relaxation. I took on quite a bit of endurance drink to try to help the situation. It helped marginally but for the first time ever in a race, I worried that I might cramp up so bad that I couldn't finish.

Nevertheless, I pressed on in my running with a few walking spells and made it to mile five before my quads joined the about-to-cramp party. At that point, the finish wasn't too far away, so I picked a hare in front of me and closed the gap to beat him by six seconds at the line.

I can't recall having been so happy to finish a race as I was today. Yes, the half marathon was an accomplishment, but that was only two hours out on the circuit. I'd just put in three-plus hours at race pace and I could feel it. I had no blisters or anything like that, it was just my leg muscles were so spent and my body was tired.

The apres-finish setup was good with lots of yummy food, plenty of water and Joint Juice and, the best part: free 10-minute massages! While I was on the massage table getting my legs worked over, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

The Tri-California folks put on a great event, well administered and staffed with plenty of volunteers. My only complaint was about the condition of the pavement on the bike ride, but I think that's a bit beyond their realm of responsibility.

  • Accelerate out of the corners on the bike
  • Feed/hydrate consistently throughout the bike and run legs
  • Relax and enjoy the entire experience
And with that, my first triathlon season comes to an end.

If you'd asked me a year ago whether I'd be doing a triathlon in SF Bay in November, let alone an olympic distrance tri, I'd have denied I'd be crazy enough to do such a thing.

I'm glad I was crazy enough to do it. It was a ton of fun and feels like a real milestone in my getting in shape via extreme sports.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another open water swim in SF Bay

This morning I took my brand new BlueSeventy Synergie wetsuit out on its maiden swim in the San Francisco Bay up at Aquatic Park by Fisherman's Wharf.

Even though I am battling a cold, I had to get in the water with the San Francisco International Triathlon at Treasure Island just three weeks away.

My friend Thom and I drove up to the city at 7am, and you could see the marine layer was pretty thick at that hour. No sunny swim for us. When we arrived at Aquatic Park and met up with our third swimmer, Warren, the air temperature was only about 56 degrees F which made changing into our wetsuits on the stairs quite a chilly procedure.

Swimming a loop around the buoy line at Aquatic Park covers .35 miles. The swim distance for the upcoming tri is 1.5km (.96 miles), or just shy of three laps around the buoy line. With the water in the Bay is all of 62 degrees, and my feeling out of sorts anyway, I set out from shore with designs on doing one and a half laps. I just wanted to get accustomed to swimming in my new wetsuit and being out in the chilly water and try to gain a little confidence in my open water swim abilities.

It took about 400 meters for my face to finally numb up enough that it no longer hurt having it in the water. And wouldn't you know that I was actually enjoying myself by that point, too!

Without the walls of the pool to necessitate turns, I was able to really focus on my form. Believe it or not, I found I actually could relax as I swam along, watching my arms pul through the water below me and feeling the crown of my head pierce the water line as I moved along.

Before long, I was finishing up my second lap of the buoys and decided I'd go the full 1.5km before climbing out.

I don't know if it was the new wetsuit or the refined technique or just the pure enjoyment of being in the water looking up at Russian Hill early on a Saturday, but I really had fun out there today. And when I climbed up onto the beach, I still had gas in the tank and know I could've gone for a run or a bike ride if I'd had my equipment with me.

Moreover, I've got all kinds of confidence in my swimming abilities now. Considering it's my weakest leg of the three triathlon disciplines, that's a major accomplishment for me.

I can't wait to finish the racing season out on Treasure Island in three weeks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Split times for my half marathon

At last, the split times have been posted for the San Jose Rock n Roll Half Marathon. Considering they are all PRs for me, I'm glad to be able to claim them again:
  • 5km: 26:16 (8:28 pace)
  • 10km: 52:23 (8:26 pace)
  • 10mi: 1:26:29 (8:39 pace)
  • finish: 1:55:49 (8:51 pace)
A little weird to see I picked up the pace in the second 5km. Not surprising to see I blew up in the last 3 miles. I could definitely feel it in the race.

Looking forward to seeing all these PRs fall in the next year!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

San Jose Rock n Roll half marathon race report

Today was a beautiful day for a half marathon: clear skies, 60 degrees at the gun and no breeze at all in San Jose, CA. By 10am, I'd completed my longest run ever, beaten my goal of two hours by a comfortable margin and had my first ever medal around my neck for finishing a race.

I woke up before my alarm, was out of bed and dressed by 6am in time to gulp down a chocolate Ensure, a banana and half a PowerBar. Since my last few races have all been triathlons, it was nice to only have to walk out the door with my shoes, shorts and shirt and not a big bag of stuff for all the transitions.

I left the house in plenty of time to make it down to park in the HP Pavilion parking lot and walk over to the very crowded starting area in downtown. It was only 53 degrees (F) when I shut off the car, and I almost wished I'd worn my long sleeve shirt. By the end of the race, though, I was plenty glad I'd gone with short sleeves, as I was warm by the time I'd gone 10 miles.

The Elite Racing folks put on a well-organized race, and it was nice to see 10,000 runners out and about early on a Sunday morning in Silicon Valley. The bands every mile or so were a nice touch, but you could only hear a snippet of 40 seconds or so of any given band, so next time around I think I'll be wearing my iPod to help with my pacing.

When I registered for the race, I guessed I'd be able to finish the race in 2:05, and for that I was assigned bib #6089 (corral #6). When I picked up my race packet, though, I knew I'd be faster so I moved up in the pack to corral #4. I'm glad I did so, as there were fewer folks to pass as the race went on. Thanks to the disposable RFID chips we'd each been issued with our bibs, our timing was tracked in real time (and not gun time) from start to the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and finish lines.

After checking my gear bag with 20 minutes to the starting gun, we crowded into our corrals. It was nice to have all the bodies packed around if for no other reason than the warmth of the group. With 2 minutes to go, the gun went off to release the wheel chair racers and When the air horn went off, we began walking towards the start line, and I finally crossed the start line a good 90 seconds after the horn went off and got up to a decent pace by about half a mile into the race.

While I've been getting some good training runs in, I didn't expect to fall into the pack with a sub-eight pace quite so quickly. I was aiming for sub-nine to hit my 2 hour mark, and sub-eight was aggressive, so I had to force myself to slow down a bit for fear of sputtering later on in the race.

As we passed the two-mile mark, I realized I needed to pee. Cripes. Not a gotta-go-now-alarm, but a gotta-go-soon feeling.

Since there were plenty of porta-potties along the route, it wasn't for lack of opportunity to go, but how much time it'd take to go. I figured if I could hold on until the 10K mark, the crowd would be thinned a bit and it wouldn't be too hard to work my way back up. For every minute I spent off course, I was giving up five seconds per mile pace. I decided not to risk it and just keep running.

I crossed the 10K mark in PB time (52:27) and probably should've taken that as a sign I was running too fast. By the time I got to the 10 mile mark at ~1:26, I was well within a sub-two-hour pace and unless I blew up with three miles to go, I was going to make my goal.

Miles 10, 11 and 12 were tough for me, and I wound up walking at the water/Cytomax tables, and my pace slowed to around 9:30+ over the last 3km.

However, I got my adrenaline kick in the last half mile and picked things back up. With just 100m to go, the relief and happiness washed over me. I heard my wife and kids call out to me and new that they were just as happy as I was.

After finishing the race, I rushed through the refueling station in search of a restroom and you could hear my sigh of relief from a mile away.

My first half marathon's in the bag. Next time I'll be sure to empty the bladder before stepping into the corral.

I can't believe I'm going to be doing another half marathon after swimming 1.2 miles and riding another 56 on the bike.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Live Results from San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon

My good friend Matt points out this cool tool where you can follow any race participant's progress in real time:


My bib number is 6089

My first half marathon: how I've trained

By this time tomorrow morning, just twenty four hours from now, I'll be walking around the finish area of the San Jose Rock N Roll Half Marathon as a newly minted half marathoner.

I'm excited to run, and only a little bit nervous about it, if only because I think I've done a good job training for the race by following my six-week plan to about 90% compliance.

I learned over the summer that unless I actually write down on my calendar the exact training session for the day, I'll get lazy and decide not to decide what to do (run? bike? swim? both? all?) and the day will get away from me.

Prior to signing up for the half marathon, the farthest I'd ever run in one go was 7.1 miles. Knowing that my goal for 2009 is to complete a half Ironman (or as the marketers now call it: an Ironman 70.3), I decided to end my 2008 season with a half marathon just to prove to myself I could do the distance. I signed up seven weeks in advance, so that gave me time to plot out my schedule to slowly increase my weekly long runs from 7 miles up to the 12 mile run I completed last Sunday in advance of tomorrow's 13.1 race.

My training routine has been to run four days a week:
  • Tuesday: 4- or 5- mile intervals
  • Thursday: 3-mile intervals
  • Saturday: 4-mile pace runs
  • Sundays: long run, adding one mile to distance each week
My results are that by taking it easy in the training, I stayed relatively injury free. I'm now capable of running my half marathon below the 2:00 mark I'd dreamed of when I started (and I think I might get to 1:50 if all goes well).

As I've built up my base level of fitness (a year ago, I couldn't even do a 10k without having to walk chunks of it), I've now been able to start concentrating on technique, and that's really helped me keep from getting bored out on the road.

And I've learned the power of ice baths to keep the pain down on the day after my long runs, too. Last weekend's 12-miler was a great reminder that I have to make sure to fuel up on Saturday (I ran slow because I hadn't eaten enough day before) and ice down on Sunday (I was sore Monday morning).

So, today I'm taking it easy, watching what I eat and that I eat enough, and already looking ahead to my final event of the season: the olympic-distance SF Triathlon at Treasure Island on November 8.

Come Tuesday, it'll be time to get back in the pool and replace long Sunday runs with open water swims in the Bay.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Registered for the SF Triathlon at Treasure Island

Ok, that does it. I'm officially registered to end my racing season on November 8 by doing an Olympic distance tri (1.5km/40km/10km) on Treasure Island. (See the race details here)

Hard to believe it's just over six weeks away. My first half-marathon is just 10 days away, so then I'll have to turn my training focus back to swimming (and biking) and get a wet suit for the race.

I'm nervous about the swim, yet confident I can finish race. It's just a matter of how long it'll take me to do so.

Anyone else going to be there?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

finish season with an olympic distance tri?

I'm feeling good about my training for the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon next month, but I have to admit the run-run-run training schedule is rather monotonous compared to the multi-disciplinary approach to triathlons. On top of that, I can sense a certain degree of complacency already (overconfidence?) about my being able to finish the distance, so I'm finding my motivation is lagging these days.

I feel like I need a bigger challenge that's closer in than next year's Vineman Ironman 70.3, so I'm seriously considering signing up for the San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island which takes place on November 8.

It's an olympic distance tri (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10k run), so it would be my longest race ever, unless I completely blow up on the half marathon.

I've done all the sport distances in isolation many times, so it'd be a matter of stringing it all together in one long event. Yes, I'd be racing to finish, not to place.

And it seems a more fitting end to this first season of fitness to end with a triathlon instead of a half marathon.

I think I've just talked myself into it... now to double-check I've got the training time before plunking down the $150 reg fee. Will post later to let you know I've done it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Looking ahead to my 2009 events

I can't believe I'm already looking ahead to 2009's competition calendar, but just today I was approached by several folks asking if I'm interested in doing a variety of extreme activities in the new calendar year.

The offers ranged from the Mayors Marathon to the 199 Relay to climbing Mount Shasta or repeating Mt Whitney.

With so much to choose from, I've got to prioritize.

And top of my list is the Vineman Ironman 70.3 which takes place July 19, 2009 (my 12th wedding anniversary, btw, luv ya hun).

Registration opens on November 1, and they'll only take the first 2000 entrants.

I'm so ready to plunk my money down.

And then build the rest of my schedule around preparing for it.

I'm so excited already!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It's all about the running now

At the beginning of 2008, I set a resolution to run 40 miles in the first four weeks of the year. It took some work, but I met the goal. My longest run back then was 4 miles, and even getting to that distance was a challenge.

Now, in just the last half month since my last triathlon, I've run over 40 miles as part of my training for the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon coming up October 5, with my longest, a 9.3 mile run, coming last Sunday as I participated in the Nike+ Human Race 10K.

Over the next month, my training schedule has me putting running four times a week: 5 mile easy runs on Tuesday and Thursday, a pace run on Saturdays and a long run Sundays. This Sunday I'll be doing a 10-mile run and then add a mile to my long runs each week until I top out at half marathon distance the week before the race.

My biggest pleasure? The fact I actually enjoy my long runs and can go for 9+ miles at a sub-8:45 pace without stopping. Folks who know better say that I shouldn't be worried about finishing the half marathon... if I can do the 9-milers, I can complete the race. Now I'm focused on finishing the race in under two hours.

It still astounds me that a year ago I was struggling to be able to make it on a three-mile loop around the neighborhood without walking for stretches at a time. What a difference a year makes!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Canadian race: Loop the Lake 10K results

Earlier this summer I signed up to run a 10K race in British Columbia as part of our road trip vacation to Canada (that's why I've been absent from this blog for a while).

The 13th Annual Loop the Lake 10K was around Lake Invermere in the eastern part of BC, just outside the Kootenay and Banff National Parks.

Since I've been doing more running than anything else over the summer, I thought for sure I'd post a good time on this 10K. After all, it was around a lake, so the course would be nice and flat, right?

Um, no. I was so very wrong to assume that. It wasn't until the night before the race, after I'd picked up my race packet (my bib + a single two-sided piece of paper with instructions) that I saw "It's a hilly course so don't expect any PBs."

So, at 8am on August 9, I lined up at the starting line with 375 Canucks and one other American and ran the course from Windermere to Invermere, up and around Lake Invermere.

Couldn't have asked for more breathtaking views with the Canadian Rockies all around us. The course was well-marked, the crowd congenial and the mosquitoes weren't too thirsty once you got up to speed.

While I was hoping to break 50:00 prior to seeing the course was hilly, I was content to break 54:00 with a final time of 53:42. What with the elevation gain on the course (800 feet) and the fact we were at 2600' altitude to begin with, I think I've rationalized the finish time as well as I can.

While I knew I'd done pretty well in terms of passing more than getting passed, but it wasn't until the final results were published to the web this week that I found out I'd finished in the top 20% of all runners! The fastest came in at 32:49, you can tell it wasn't a competitive field.

Final stats: I was 65th of 377 runners and 8th of 20 men in my age group 30-39.

Moreover, while I was able to add training runs in almost every state we drove through (OR, WA, MT, AB, BC) I can now accurately call myself an "international competitive athlete" but don't confuse that with a "competitive international athlete." I've got a lot of speed to pick up before I can say that.

My Garmin chart is posted below:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pleasanton Tri for Fun #3 race report

My results: I finished the race in 1:10:05, which is a nice improvement over last time.

My breakouts (and comparable from June's race of 1:12:33):
  • Swim: 7:24 (8:08)
  • T1: 2:33 (3:00)
  • bike: 30:27 (31:25)
  • T2: 1:20 (1:40)
  • run: 28:21 (28:20)
So with the exception of the run, I was improved all around! The funny thing is, I've done more running than anything else since the last time I ran the race. I actually think I ran faster this time, but I paused about 30 seconds into the run to stretch out my right calf which was cramping up after the bike. Without that pause, it'd have been improvements across every single area. Woohoo!

My color commentary on the day:
As I prepped my transition area this morning at Tri for Fun #3 under a beautiful pink and orange sunrise out in Pleasanton, CA, I found myself wondering how in the heck did it get to be August 16 already?!

No matter how time had flown, it was still time to race. I'd done my first Tri for Fun in June (race report here) so today's would be a good way to gauge just how much I'd improved in the last 60 days. I can't say I'd spent the whole 60 days prepping for the triathlon. In the meantime, I'd trained for and summited Mt Whitney (14,495'), taken a 2 week road trip vacation and kinda fallen out of a disciplined approach to improving my times.

As always, the race was well-organized with check-in and transition setup going smoothly (for those of us who got there before 6am). The Shadow Cliffs lake level was lower than ever, attributable to how little rain we've gotten this year, but it was still no-wetsuit-needed warm and mostly clear.

According to race organizers, there were 1,000 of us on the course this morning, split out into six waves (competitive, M16-39, M40+, F16-39, F40+ and relays/others) departing at five minute intervals. And just like last time, there was a very congenial attitude amongst the "competitors" with a warm welcome for the hundreds of first-timers doing the race.

I'd been steeling myself for a hot run (yes, even at 8am) but temperatures were quite comfortable even as we hung around cheering for late finishers past 9am.

Changes I'd made since running last race? I resolved not to take the long outside lane in the swim, I'd gotten a one-piece trisuit and I'd purchased a number belt. I also resolved to push harder on the bike and not walk up any of the hills on the run course (a bad habit I'd formed on the last Tri for Fun).

And in doing all the above, I managed to shave 2.5 minutes off my June time, and I'm rather proud of my improving in each area (calf cramping during the run aside) instead of taking out a big chunk in a single discipline. On top of all this, I posted negative splits for the bike and the run, so I think I'm developing good habits there, too.

My competition:
Of the three of us (Thom, Neil and me), I still came in last, but felt more respectable than last time as our times were closer. I also posted the best bike time of us three even though they both have Aero bars and I do not (still haven't installed mine), so just watch out when I get more aerodynamic!

Shadow Cliffs Tri for Fun Maps:
I saw a lot of traffic came to this site after my June race report looking for maps of the course. Good news for those searchers: I wore my Garmin 305 for the bike/run legs this time, so I have the map data as well as some good data to analyze re: heart rate and pace.

The Bike Map
Bike leg goes clockwise around this route with an out-and-back in SE corner

The Run Map (explanation below)

The run leg follows the jeep trails on site and goes in somewhat a clover shape that starts at the green pin, goes by Heron Pond and then cuts SE down around the Arroyo del Valle loop, back by the Heron Pond to do the NW loop and then all the way down to Arroyo del Valle again before heading along the Shadow Cliffs Lake shore to the red pin finish.

Next time?
Unfortunately, I'll be out of town for the Tri for Real race. I'd really like to see how much I could improve on that one over this, but it's not to be. I'll just have to wait for Tri for Fun #1 in 2009 on my way to doing my first half Ironman.

Monday, July 28, 2008

good reason to respect the swim

When I read that a triathlete died in the NY Triathlon during the swim leg, it only cemented the respect I have for being careful when wet in a triathlon.

Now, the NYTimes has published an article examining triathlon swim deaths -- not only the NY Triathlon death, but two more than came this past weekend (making 8 this year so far) and all of them have happened during the swim leg.

I've always joked with my friends that I like the swim leg the least of all the sports in triathlon because "it's the only leg in which I could die trying to finish it."
Any medical problem in the water is more likely to turn fatal than one that arises during a bike ride or a run. “Water is not a forgiving environment,” Dr. [Pamela] Douglas said. “It’s really hard when you’re swimming to sit down and say ‘I’m going to take a breather.’ ”
And it seems I'm not alone in my "respect" for the swim leg:

Many triathletes point to the swim as a triathlon’s most stressful segment. Most swims take place in open, often cold, water with hundreds or even thousands of other swimmers vying for position. “Nothing can prepare a newbie for the start,” said Russ Evenhuis, a triathlete in Olympia, Wash. “It can be like jumping into a washing machine. You will get swum over, kicked, hit and banged into.”

A triathlon’s open-water swim hardly resembles the pools where most triathletes train, said Neil Cook, a New York City based triathlete and coach. “There is no wall 25 yards away, you can’t see the bottom and the 50 to 150 people around you are more than you’ve probably swam with in total during your training,” he said. “Oh, and you are wearing this wetsuit that’s tighter than a girdle and you can’t breathe.” Raise your heart rate and blood pressure under these conditions, he said, and “any weakness you have will become apparent.”

I do know that since my first triathlon earlier this year, I've concentrated on becoming a stronger swimmer, and that's taken the edge off my concerns about the swim. But I think no matter how hard I train, I'll always look forward to T1 more than any other part of the race.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

rock n roll half marathon discount via Twitter

Thinking of running the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in San Jose on October 5?

If you still need to register for the race, you can save $20 by doing two easy things:
  1. register before July 31 deadline when the reg fee goes up by $10
  2. send a request via Twitter to @elite_racing for a $10 off coupon code.
Of course, if you already followed me on Twitter (I'm @itsthomas) you'd know this by now, and if you aren't already following @elite_racing, you're missing out on other race-related goodies.

I just registered for the RnR San Jose today, and it will be my first half marathon, ever. I figure this is as good a race as any to get me on the road to training for my first half Ironman next summer (I've got my eyes on the Vineman in July 2009).

Hope to see you in San Jose in July October!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

training with varicose veins

left calf and varicose veinsA few folks asked what, exactly, these varicose veins look like so here's a picture (right) that I took just an hour ago. The angle is my looking down from above and rotating my heel in so as to get a better shot of the side/back of the calf.

The spot of the initial injury is in the upper right part of the picture, and all the bumps and lumps you see throughout my calf are the result of cascading failures in the valves of my superficial veins.

What I learned from the Family Doctor web site completely gels with what I'm experiencing day in and day out:
All the leg veins have delicate valves inside them, which should allow the blood to flow only upwards (towards the heart), or from the superficial veins to the deep ones through the perforating veins. The valves protect against the head of pressure that would otherwise exist in the veins of the legs on standing. If there were no valves, there would be a pressure in the veins at the ankle equivalent to the height of the column of blood all the way up to the heart. It is this head of pressure that causes symptoms and damage when the valves stop working properly, as they often do in varicose veins. A valve occurs every five to ten centimetres in the main superficial veins of the legs.
It seems as if my calf is a battlefield of failed valves, and the more I think about it, the more this might explain why I've had such trouble with my calf cramping during swimming: there's reduced blood flow to the calf because of the failed valves, and with reduced blood flow, the cramping occurs. Hmmmm, I might be on to something that the insurance company may need to heed.

In any case, I'm now 100 hours into wearing my snazzy (not) knee-high compression sock, and me no like it. Never been a fan of tube socks, so you can imagine how much I'd enjoy having just one of my calves covered all day and night. Yes, I understand it's good for me, but having this thing gripping my calf 23 hours a day is annoying to say the least.

But, it's what the doctor ordered, so I'll keep wearing it. I just don't know if I'm ready to wear it while running/biking/swimming. It's rather a hideously nerdy looking thing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

varicose veins: cosmetic or catastrophic?

As I blogged previously, I had to visit the doctor yesterday to get the varicose veins in my left calf looked at by a professional.

I needed the doc to take a look before I plunked down even more registration fees for the events I want to do later this season (triathlons, half marathons, etc) on the off-chance that I'd be sidelined by a corrective procedure.

Little did I know my insurance would render my concerns moot.

I experienced a moment of sheer joy watching the computer-based records system ask "Are you sure?" when the nurse tried inputting my weight (189 lbs fully clothed), as the last time I'd seen the doc, in April 2007, I weighed a meaty 223 pounds. Yes, I've lost some weight!

Aside from that, however, I have to admit I'm none too pleased at the appointment.

My doc took a look at my left calf and examined it tactilely in comparison to my right calf and confirmed what I suspected: the bulging veins on my left calf are abnormal. But they're abnormal to the point that I heard him tsk as he found the veins all over the back of my calf as well as starting to pop up on the front of my leg.

When I asked if there was anything to be concerned about, he replied he needed to consult his colleagues to see who'd be best at taking the problem from here and left the examination room.

When he returned, he informed me that the next group who should see me are the vascular surgery team, but my (HMO) insurance wouldn't cover their procedure.

Long story short: if I want to take care of the problem, I'll have to pay out of pocket. If I'd rather just manage the problem (keep it from getting worse), it's simply a matter of wearing a compression sock 24 hours per day, indefinitely.


Given the predicament (rather: my refusal to pay out of pocket for corrective surgery), I peppered my doc with questions:

  • If I start training harder to complete a 70.3 race, will I endanger my health? no
  • Do I need be concerned a clot will develop that might be fatal? no
  • Will I find myself collapsing due to these varicose veins while training/racing? no
  • Is there anything I can do to keep this from getting worse? yes: wear compression socks
  • Is there anything I can do to make this better? yes: get surgery
  • What will it take to get my insurance to pay for the procedure? wear compression sock for six months or develop pain in the calf from the veins
So, now I'm wearing the compression sock (20-30 mg Hg) and paying close attention to whether or not I experience pain in the area.

And I'm studying up on varicose veins, too.

We'll see how long it takes before my calf starts to hurt.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

old sports injury drives me to see the doctor

About 20 years ago, I was playing an intramural soccer game at college and got kicked, hard, in my left calf by someone I'll graciously recall as going for the ball I was dribbling.

At the time, I thought I'd simply get a really deep bruise in my calf. Long story short: I actually got a blood clot in my calf from the blunt trauma and had to go on blood thinners and until the clot finally dissolved (quite the painful experience, as I recall).

Within a few weeks though, I'd fully recovered from the injury, and the only way to tell anything had happened was the fact I had a few bulging varicose veins in my calf where the clot had been. The veins were most noticeable when I'd exercise, but they never got any worse.

Flash forward twenty years, and it seems that my increased activity over the last year has aggravated the veins in my calf to the point that there's now a freakishly large field of varicose veins popping out all over my left calf. There's no pain associated with this phenomenon. It's simply aesthetic as far as I know.

But I've had enough people ask about the veins (not to mention my wife and my mom are growing more concerned with each race I run), it's time to see the doctor to get an all clear to continue. Given all the time I spend in the air on travel, plus my triathlon training, no doubt there's some wear and tear going on. Last thing I want to do is fall victim to another clot forming and breaking free.

So, I've got an appointment with my doctor next Monday afternoon to get my calf looked at. I'm hoping he tells me it's just an aesthetic condition and I can keep training as I have been (if not step things up to prepare for a 70.3 half-Ironman next year). If I don't get the all clear, I'll at least know what my course of action to resolve it is.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mt Whitney training hike results: A-OK

Last night, our Mt Whitney summit team (minus one) did an overnight training hike up at Squaw Valley, USA by climbing to the four peaks that ring the Squaw Valley ski area.

I'm happy to report that the team passed the hike with flying colors.

We left the Bay Area at 8pm and arrived to Squaw Valley at midnight. We donned our boots and packs and headlamps and started hiking through the smoky pitch black up to the top of KT-22.

After bagging our first peak at KT-22, we traversed over to the top of Headwall, then across snow fields in Siberia Bowl to Squaw Peak and the Siberia Ridge and finally ended at the marker for Emigrant Pass before walking down the main jeep trail back to the Valley floor over 2700 feet below as the sun was coming up in the East (pictured above).

Why this overnight hike? I'd done the exact same training hike last summer in preparation for my first trip to the top of Mt Whitney. The training hike helped me get over my jitters that I could hike all night long (I can) as well as tested my ability to do the elevation gains and losses during the extended travel. From the sounds of it, the rest of the team appreciated being able to hike overnight, too... it was a first for everyone (and I hope not a last).

The wildfires all over Northern California made it a very hazy/smoky hike, though not to the extent that our lungs were bothered. The weather was surprisingly warm all night, yet we still had several snow fields to hike across on our adventure. In all, the team did a great job of pushing through and gaining the confidence we'll need for our single-day, overnight assault of Mt Whitney on July 11.

Personally, though... WOW, what a difference a year makes! Whereas last year I was near the beginning of my current health kick, as of today, I can say I'm now in great shape. While I struggled last year with some of the ascents at Squaw (especially from KT-22 to Headwall) with a lot of stopping and resting, this year felt like a walk in the park. Thanks to twelve months of endurance training for triathlons, my cardiovascular endurance is 1000 times better, as is my muscular strength, and I'm carry 35 pounds less on my frame than last year on the same hike.

All this has left me positively giddy about the physical progress I've made.

Most importantly, I feel like the trip up Mt Whitney in less than two weeks won't tap me out like it did last time when I bonked in the last couple miles on the return to the cars. Since I'm leading the group this year, I've got to have extra energy in my tanks to handle anything unforeseen.

And if last night's hike is any indication, I've got those reserves in spades. Can't wait to make it to Lone Pine on July 10 and the top of Whitney on July 11 at dawn!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Training for the triathlon swim (humor)

Yes, this video's been around for a while, but this past weekend's triathlon was a good reminder of how different the race is from the training.

I should get my group of friends to help me better prepare like this for the turmoil that is the triathlon swim start:

Thanks, Clif Bar!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tri for Fun Pleasanton race report

Triathlon number two, the Tri for Fun of Pleasanton, CA, is under my belt, and I think I'm hooked. For this race, there were no timing chips distributed, only a clock overhead at the finish line so you can eyeball your time and subtract out your wave start to get the total time.

I managed to finish the 400m swim, 11 mile ride and 3.1 mile run in 1:12:33 which is better than the 1:15 I was aiming for, but I think with a little more work, I can pull it closer to the 1:05 mark by the time the August race rolls around.

I wore my Timex watch to capture the splits plus or minus a second or two and they fell out like this:
  • Swim: 8:08
  • T1: 3:00 (!)
  • bike: 31:25 (avg 21.1 mph)
  • T2: 1:40
  • run: 28:20 (9:40 per mi)
The good: The swim went much better this time than last. I was a lot more comfortable in the water, and had a nice stead stroke throughout even though I took the long way around hanging on the outside of the pack. The bike was definitely my strongest and a big improvement riding my Felt instead of the K2. Happy I averaged over 21mph and with aerobars, I'll go even faster next time. Only two walking episodes on the run and these were on short uphill sections when others were barely moving faster while they were "running" up the hill.

The bad: My T1 time sucked, plain and simple. I didn't even have to wrestle with a wet suit! I do know I spent a good 30 seconds trying to get my tri shirt on, which is something I struggled with in my first race, too. I've got to work on my run pace to get that down (no walking!) and make sure I leave more of me on the race course. I again crossed the finish line (overtaking someone in the last 100 yds) with some energy left in the tank. Better planning will mean I push harder longer and bring my times down.

For next time: Several things I plan to do before the next triathlon on August 16, one of which is already done:
  • swim: work on the open-water swim and sighting techniques
  • T1: I stopped by Sports Basement yesterday and used my 20% off coupon to buy an Orca one-piece tri suit and a race number belt to chop a good 40 seconds off my T1
  • bike: install my aerobars and train with them
  • T2: practice dismounting technique
  • run: work on my increasing pace and continue to increase endurance
Still, I had a great time yesterday and enjoyed the camaraderie of Thom and Neil and the friendly competition between us three (Thom finished ~4 minutes ahead of me and Neil finished 30 seconds ahead). I know we'll push each other in future races, too.

I'm also so very proud of a couple of my triathlete coworkers, Linda and Dimple. Not two weeks after dismounting at the end of the 570+ mile ALC bike ride from SF to LA, Linda showed up in Pleasanton with a strong showing in the race. And Dimple notched another achievement by competing in and completing her first triathlon. I'll find out Monday if Dimple's going to become a repeat racer like Linda and I. In any case it's great to work with folks like these.

Now, it's time to focus on making it to the summit of Mt Whitney on July 11.

Friday, June 20, 2008

preparing for the Tri for Fun - Pleasanton

Tomorrow morning at 7am, I start my second ever triathlon at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park in Pleasanton, CA.

This one's a "Tri for Fun" meaning there's no competition for places or medals or prizes, you're simply competing against yourself to finish as best you can.

Tomorrow's Tri for Fun is the first of a series of three that's held on the third Saturday of each summer month in prep for the "Tri for Real" on September 20 when they'll time the field and award medals for age bracket top finishers, etc. Tomorrow's race is simply a "get out there and do it" and it's not even timed. (I'll be doing my own timing to report back).

And this triathlon's short, too. Only 400m swimming and 11 miles biking and a 3.1 mile run to finish things off. After completing the Ice Breaker Triathlon earlier this year at longer distances for each leg (800m/13mi/4mi), I'm not as concerned about finishing tomorrow's race, mostly because the swim tomorrow is so short and I've been doing the masters workouts that are five times as long the swim tomorrow.

I'm excited to do the race anyway, especially as one of my coworkers will be doing her first-ever triathlon (go, Dimple!) and I'll be racing again with Thom, my good friend who helped me through my first triathlon in April.

Can't wait to blog about the results tomorrow night.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

update: avoiding cramps while swimming

I'm happy to report I've made it through two consecutive Masters swim workouts of 2000m each without getting those debilitating cramps in my calves.


I attribute my success to a couple pointers I'd picked up researching the cramping-while-swimming problem:
  1. Good kick form: when switching to the breast-stroke kick mid-workout, I've concentrated on my form. Unlike before, I've kept my foot locked in place throughout the entire kick stroke. Previously, I'd relaxed the ankle, and I think that was contributing to muscle fatigue.
  2. Biting my upper lip: Really, it works! (for me) This past workout, I could feel one of my toes starting to cramp up, so I bit my upper lip as best I could for the next length of the pool (kinda hard to do that and breathe appropriately) and it worked! I don't know how or why, it just did. Yes, I must've looked like a piranha, but I was a cramp-free piranha.
I hope tomorrow's swim makes it three in a row without cramping.

Oh, and I also learned not to try to bite my upper lip while doing the breaststroke: it simply opens up the nasal passages for a good flushing of the sinuses. You're welcome!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

a new bike and a numb groin

Early Saturday morning, I took my new Felt Z35 out for a 24-mile ride. Now, four days later, I'm still feeling the lingering effects of a numb groin. Not as bad as Saturday afternoon's "can't feel a thing" but definitely not back to normal sensitivity.

Turns out this condition is technically referred to as "perineal symptoms" and there's been a lot of content around it thanks to commercial development of seats designed to relieve pressure on the perineal area.

I'm not yet ready to invest in a new saddle, so I've been looking around at what the Google has to offer in response to "bike perineal symptoms" and trying not to get scared of all the ED mentions alongside the perineal symptoms.

The best advice I've seen so far is an article over on MedicineNet.com about Groin Numbness and Bike Riding where they give the following recommendation on how to prevent perineal symptoms:
    1. Stand up frequently on the pedals to take pressure off the perineum.

    2. Change your position on the saddle while biking. Shift forward and backward when you ride to eliminate pressure on just one part of the perineum.

    3. Experiment with adjusting the angle of your saddle so that it tilts slightly downward.

    4. Wear bike shorts. They have chamois padding in the perineal area that will help relieve pressure.

    5. Adjust the height of your handlebars slightly until you find a comfortable position. Handlebars below the saddle may work well for road or racing bikes, but perhaps not as well for touring or hybrids.

    6. Make sure that your seat post is adjusted to the proper height. Your knee should be just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal cycle.

    7. Limit the number of miles that you pedal. This may not be desirable for all riders, but number of miles per week can be a factor.
I'll give items 1-3 a try next time out and report back on my results.

UPDATE: Great to see The Climb blog over on NYTimes.com tackling this "intimacy numbness" issue today. Great content in the comments so far, especially the link to this Bicycling Magazine story debunking the link between saddle time and ED.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

intrigued by this power meter training thing

Ever since reading Your First Triathlon and following the training plan therein to help me finish my first triathlon, I've been a subscriber to Joe Friel's blog.

Joe's been talking a lot in his blog about using power meters to train better, and what he writes just makes plain sense to me. Today's post on the downside of power training includes this lovely rhyme when talking about trying to maintain speed into a headwind:
A watt is a watt. A mile-per-hour is not.
Until I start going long distances in my races (and have the time for the more involved training), I just can't see putting out that much money for a power meter (yet).

In the meantime, I'm appreciative of the frame through which to view my own training. In my own mind, at least, I think I'm moving from "I hope I finish" to "I hope I go faster."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

new bike first ride and a little crash

I didn't mean to start my first ride on my new carbon Felt Z35 with a crash within sight of my house. It just happened.

Lucky for me, it was a no-speed, can't-get-my-foot-unclipped, oh-crap-I'm-falling-over accident. No scratches to the bike (whew!), but today I've learned I bruised a rib pretty badly in the brief encounter with the asphalt. No other bumps, bruises or scrapes that I can tell.

So, I knew I needed to be careful on the Felt, as I was making a transition from my K2 hybrid bike sit-up bike to a road bike. It's been about 18 years since I last pedaled around on a road bike, not since college when I rode around with the UCSD cycling folks. And in the intervening years, I'd gotten comfortable riding motorcycles and mountain bikes and had generally forgotten what it's like to have so much weight over the handlebars. It was this weight over the bars that was my undoing at the start.

We live on a bit of a hill, and normally that's no problem as it allows me to coast down to the T intersection to start my rides.

Yesterday was different, however, as I was a little unnerved by the gearing and the shifters of my new Felt, and by the time I'd coasted down to the corner, I was in the wrong gear and desperately trying to do something, anything to maintain momentum until, shit here comes the curb, must stop. Whew stopped yet can't yank my foot out of the clip. whump.

My right side hit the ground and I was back upright before I even realized I'd hit the deck (luckily no traffic around to witness my graceless start). All seemed right with the bike (and me) so I pushed off again and there were no other problems.

The rest of the ride was rather dreamy, to be honest. The shifting was solid (thanks Shimano Dura Ace) and I love the way the bike feels underneath me. I was worried that my gearing had changed dramatically and I'd lost a lot of room in the lower gears so I'd suffer on the hills, but that didn't materialize. I wound up passing quite a few folks out on their own rides, and by the time I was screaming down the last big hill on the way home, I was really appreciating the aggressive posture I was forced into by the configuration of the bike.

Yes, my lower back hurt from the new posture on the bike, but I know I'll get used to that in a little while. The aerodynamic trade off is well worth it.

What I'd blocked out of my memory from my previous road bike days was the fact that the saddle on a road bike puts a lot of pressure on a certain nerve bundle right between your legs. So you lose all feeling down there for a good hour after the ride. Numb like someone shot it full of novacaine. I'll have to read up a bit to see if this is normal. If not, I may have to get a new saddle sooner than later.

In any case, I've posted my Garmin stats from the ride below. It shows heart rate v elevation, and you can see the initial blip in the red line from when my heart went pitter-patter thanks to the crash, then it's back to a regular workout (if a little low throughout). In any case, it was my fastest ride yet.

Now, if only my ribs will heal up enough so that it doesn't hurt when I laugh.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

dealing with muscle cramps

My calves and feet cramped up again this past weekend during the Masters swim workout.

It seems I'm not the only one suffering from muscle cramps, though. Joe Friel went into the latest research on why we cramp (mainly: we're not yet in shape. theoretically: dehydration, elecrolyte imbalance, poor biomechanics) and offered suggestions about how to deal with them yesterday over on his Trainingbible blog:
When you feel a cramp coming on there are two ways to deal with it. One is to reduce the intensity and slow down—not a popular option in an important race. Another is to alternately stretch and relax the effected muscle group while continuing to move. This is difficult if not impossible to do in some sports such as running and with certain muscles. Actually there is a third option which some athletes swear by—pinching the upper lip. Strange, but true.
Last Saturday, I managed to complete about 1500m of swimming before my left calf started to cramp up during the kicking part of our workout (about 400m behind the kick board). I tried stretching it out at the end of each length, but then the cramp moved to my foot and even to my big toe.

Heeding the advice I'd read just last week, I relaxed as much as I could and swam through (with) it. Ultimately, I wound up going 2100m, so it's not as if the cramping ended my session as it had before. I think I'm getting close to the source though: it's the kicking, stupid. Until joining Masters, I'd always cheated and barely kicked at all ("saving my legs for the bike/run"), but now the Masters program doesn't let me cheat, and I'm paying for it in the cramping.

Next time, I'll try pinching my upper lip to see if it helps.

Monday, May 26, 2008

biking: my hill climb workout

Thanks to my Garmin Forerunner 305, I'm able to graphically enjoy the results of yesterday's hill climb up Kings Mountain Road in Woodside.

The graphic below shows heart rate v elevation as I climbed from near sea level here at the house to just over 2100 feet up at Skyline Drive.

The first plateau (mile four, at 350 feet) was my cycling through downtown Woodside before starting up the hill. Then it was four miles and 40 minutes of 7% grade to the top before screaming down again.

Seeing my hear rate stayed in the 150s on the climb shows me I likely could have pushed a little harder on the way up, and I'm glad to see the recovery on the ride down put me around 100bpm.

While my legs were definitely fatigued by the time I made it home, I didn't really feel all that sore afterwards (happily).

And this may have been my last training ride on my current bike (a K2 Astral 4.0 hybrid). I've got a chance to pick up a 2007 Felt Z35 road bike at a great price today from a local bike shop. I did a short test ride on it yesterday, and I'm smitten.

Monday, May 19, 2008

my training is unfocused

Thanks to an abnormal work schedule these past two weeks, I'm sorry to realize that my training regimen is more like an aspiration than anything that resembles a plan.

Maybe this is inevitable given the strict training schedule I was on to complete my first triathlon, and I've plateaued. Maybe now that I know I can complete a triathlon, I'm taking my next one (an untimed "Tri for Fun" for granted as I look at the bigger fish to fry this summer: making it up Mt Whitney again (July), doing my first Alcatraz swim (September) and a half marathon (October).

This is not to say I've stopped working out, though. As my Forerunner 305 will attest, I've put in the miles on bike and on foot, including today's hills workout on the bike. And I've swum with the Masters program each week, to boot.

So all's not sedentary. In fact, in the last two weeks, I've gone running here in Redwood City, in Seattle and in Boston. Three cheers for running shoes on biz travel!

I guess it's time to knuckle under and train in earnest for the three events in the next month on my calendar:
  • June 1: Open Water .75 mile swim at Lake Del Valle
  • June 8: Muddy Buddy race in San Jose
  • June 21: Tri for Fun in Pleasanton
If you're going to be at any of these three, let me know! In the meantime, I'll be getting focused.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

loving my Garmin Training Center

I'm still really pleased with the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS fitness computer with heart monitor that my wife got me. And even if all I used was the toy monitor itself, I'd consider it a good deal.

But I've now synced up my Forerunner with the included Garmin Training Center software and boy does this take things up a huge leap in terms of accountability and tracking.

I went on a ~20 mile ride this afternoon on the bike, and after getting home, I plugged in my Forerunner so it could upload the data to my Mac. In addition to automagically plotting out my route on a map, it also rendered a graph that I can choose two variables to plot against each other (pick from heart rate % max heart rate, speed, elevation, pace, cadence and distance) and plot it out over distance or time.

I did the heart rate v elevation over distance and this is what today's workout looked like (click the image for a bigger version):

And this is just the beginning...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

cramping while swimming masters

I made it to my second Masters swim workout yesterday morning and wound up swimming my farthest distance yet (2100m), but still not as far as the rest of the folks in the program.

For the second week in a row, however, I was stymied due to awful cramping in both calves and eventually both feet. I can't say I've had cramps like this before, but wow are they painful. Maybe it's due to dehydration but that feels more than a little ironic given I only get cramps working out while swimming.

So what's up with the cramping?

While I'd have thought the cramps would affect my running, they haven't. I'm able to enjoy a five mile run after an initial half-mile of working through the calf pain, so it's gotta be the swimming.

Several folks at the Masters swim suggested it's because I'm incorporating new kicks into my swim routine (read: breast stroke) and my legs just aren't used to it. I found a discussion forum on the US Masters Swimming site where the issue of cramping is discussed, and user "gjy" speaks to the situation in a way that most makes sense to me:
I am going to further guess that if you continue to do swims in the same conditions you will have fewer and fewer cramps as both your body and muscle gets acclimated to the activity. The best prevention may be just getting used to it. But it doesn't always work that way. Unfortunately, you may have to get a few more cramps to find out either way.
So, I'm just going to have to muscle through this. In any case, I'm happy to see my distances increasing and enjoying the camaraderie of the folks in the slow lane with me :-)

What was this week's swim workout?

Warmup (500m)
  • 300m free
  • 100m non-free
  • 100m kick
Sesson 1 (600m)
  • 200m butterfly (free for me)
  • 2000m free
  • 2000m breast
Session 2 (1000m)
  • 8x25 (free, non-free alternate)
  • 6x50 (free, non-free alternate)
  • 4x75 (free, non-free alternate) <--cramping started here
  • 2x100 (free, non-free alternate)
And the rest of the group added another 1200 meters of session 3 and cool down, but I ended after session 2.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

my newest toy: Garmin Forerunner 305

LeftCoast Mom and the girls gave me an early birthday present this past Sunday: a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS fitness computer with heart monitor (pictured at right, click for details). And when I say early, I mean almost two months early -- my day isn't until the end of June.

But, she (they?) recognize that I've got a lot of training to do between now and then, so they went ahead and gave it to me now. The old Timex Ironman watch/HRM I was using earlier this year up and died, so I've been going without any kind of heart rate monitoring during my training on the run or on the bike save for the thrumming in my ears. If I'm going to get better at my triathlons, I need to be able to pay attention to my training zones, and the 305 is just the ticket.

I couldn't be happier with it, and I've only really used it once, on my trip to Seattle earlier this week. The setup has been a breeze, and I like the UI of the piece.

I stayed in the University District (at the Hotel Deca) and got a tip from the clerk that I should try out the nearby Burke-Gilman trail for my morning jog. I simply ran south on Brooklyn Ave and then cut right on the trail to run over to Fremont. An easy 5 mile out-and-back, so long as you knew which street was Brooklyn Ave on the way back. The GPS mapping function of the Forerunner 305 saved me from over-shooting the turn by displaying precisely which street I'd come down and letting me know it was time to turn left and head back to the hotel.

I have yet to log in to the online tool that Garmin interfaces with (akin to the Nikeplus online tool), but I am looking forward to logging my miles there.

When I get the chance later this week, I'm going to program in an interval training session on the 305 so that it can guide me (through beeps of the unit) through a good workout.

Even more exciting? The next time I'm running a 10k, I can have the 305 sound an alarm any time I drop below a specific pace and/or heart rate.

Looking forward to seeing the results of the new training partner!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

my first masters swim workout

I finally took the next step in my swimming skills development and joined the PCA Masters Swim Team here in Redwood City. I've got my US Masters Swim number and everything. Yup, I'm legit.

My primary motivation for joining the masters program is to increase my swim endurance as I prepare to do the Swim from Alcatraz in September. I know a side benefit of this training will be that I'll do better in the swim portion of my triathlons (lots of room for improvement on that front). And finally, now that I'm getting into longer distances in my workouts, it's just more convenient to do it with the masters than trying to squeeze it in around the masters workout sessions at the pool.

Still, I've never participated in a grow swim workout, so this morning I was a little anxious about getting in the water and revealing my shaky swim skills.

Lucky for me, my swim coach I've been taking lessons from (Tom) was the guest coach for the masters this morning, and my slow-lane companions (Kathleen, Mark and Dorothy) were very kind and patient in helping me make it through.

The swim session was a 75 minute session with the first fifteen minutes a low-key warm up.

Tom called us all to one end of the pool and revealed the first session of our workout: a combination of 25m kick - 100m stroke - 25m kick across four different strokes (butterfly/free, back, breast, free).

Since I don't know butterfly, I did freestyle the first leg.
The second leg taught me I don't know how to do the backstroke as well as I'd hoped (and was a comedy of me bumping into the sides of the lane).
The third and final legs were actually pretty good and before I knew it, I'd already completed 800m of swimming (including the warm up).

Then Tom turned the whiteboard around to reveal the main workout session, a ladder of freestyle distances up and down with a 30 second break in the middle:
  • focus on flipping your hips: 25m, 50m, 75m, 100m, 125m, 150m, 175m, 200m
  • (30 second rest)
  • focus on increasing your hip flip rate: 200m, 150m, 100m, 50m
Cripes... that's 900m even before the "rest" stop, and another 500m after that. Add on the 800m I'd already done, and I was venturing into swimming endurance territory I'd never even dreamed of.

About half way up the ladder, I was struggling, and Tom saw it. He gave me a tip on improving my form (I was crossing over my body on my arm stroke) and when I applied the tip, I could feel the water moving faster around me. Had I been on a solo workout, I would've kept doing the wrong form. This is a nice benefit to the group thing!

In the weeks leading up to my joining the masters, Tom had warned me not to try to do the whole masters workout the first couple times, as they were pretty rugged.

He didn't have to worry. On the last lap of my 175m leg on the way up, both my calves cramped up something awful and I had to get out of the pool to stretch them out.

I took the cramping as as sign I'd done enough for my first time out and called it a day. Still, I'd swum further than ever before in this workout, a total of 1,500 meters.

Glad I took this step, I can tell it's going to do me worlds of good. (I can't wait to get my US Masters Swim membership card in the mail!)

Friday, May 2, 2008

best triathlon training books

I just got a package from Amazon with my latest triathlon training library additions, and I can't wait to dig in and learn how to take my training to the next level.

I feel like I've got a solid fitness base to work from, so now it's a matter of learning how to take it to the next level (especially if I'm going to aim for a half-Ironman by 2010).

So what's new on my reference shelves? These three paperbacks:
Lots to learn, and I'm glad to have the resources on my shelves now.

Monday, April 28, 2008

No more Chipotle meals

I've posted to the right the nutrition of today's Chipotle order (Chicken burrito bol with rice, black beans, tomato salsa, corn salsa, cheese and lettuce).

I'm so very disappointed. I love getting lunch at Chioptle: fresh, tasty ingredients (they even sponsor a bicycle team!) that's served up to order.

I've been sticking to getting chicken burrito bols from Chipotle (cutting out the high-calorie tortilla) when I do go out to eat for lunch. And I thought this was a good thing.

You can futz around with your own order using this handy Chipotle Nutrition Facts Calculator.

I've seriously got to re-think my Chipotle affection altogether.

What gets me is the PDV of the cholesterol (from the chicken) and the SODIUM!!! (from the chicken, and, believe it or not, the salsas). Simply absurd how hight they are.

Grumble, grumble. Another food source drops off the list.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

running, donating blood and biking

I still haven't jumped back into the training regimen full-force, so I decided to do my own thing this weekend and went for a long run Saturday and a long ride today.

Yesterday morning, I went to my favorite run path, Sawyer Camp Trail, at dawn to get a nice long run in. I decided to do a timed run and, an hour after starting, I'd put in 7.5 miles. Wow. I remember when I'd huff and puff (and walk a bit) trying to struggle through a 10K. Now, I feel like if I'd had the time, I could've kept going a lot farther than the distance I did.

I guess, given the fact I raced for almost two hours in my first triathlon, I shouldn't marvel so much at running for an hour straight, but it was still a nice feeling.

When I showed up for my appointment to give blood a little later in the afternoon, my blood pressure was only 90/50 (pulse was 66 which is high for me, it's usually around 56). The nurse was a little surprised, and when I explained I'd just been on a long run, she reluctantly let me go ahead and give. Five minutes after the stick, I'd donated a pint and was sitting at the refreshment table waiting to make sure I was, indeed, feeling ok after the blood loss (I was).

After waiting the mandatory 24 hours of no exercise, I hopped on the bike this afternoon and rode the "VC loop" which is a 21-mile ride that cuts through Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside. It's called the VC loop because it cuts through some of the richest neighborhoods on the peninsula, and the kinds of cars passing me (Ferraris, Maseratis and Benzes, oh my!) definitely lived up to the reputation. Even though I'd put on sunscreen, I still managed to burn my back a little (was wearing my sleeveless triathlon top) in the 91 degree heat.

I was rather tired by the time I got home, but that didn't stop me from taking the girls to the pool, and I have to admit the cool water felt good on my leg muscles. Even now, six hours later, I'm still feeling tight and hope I don't have a night full of muscle cramps ahead of me.

Now that I've got these workouts behind me, I think it's time to hop back on the scheduled workout wagon (at week 5). Only 8 weeks to go to my next triathlon!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

resources for the beginner triathlete

Can't believe I was blind to the BeginnerTriathlete.com web site until just this week. Now I can't get enough of it.

The site's aimed, of course, at the beginner triathlete, and it's chock full of good stuff like
I'm almost embarrassed at how much sleep I lost devouring the content on the site last night.

Tempted to add my own "first race" experience to their collection, but I'll leave it here on the blog (for now).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

what to do after my first triathlon?

So how to keep the training momentum up now that my first triathlon is over?

The answer is to sign up for other physical challenges, so now I've got a summer full of them. If you're going to be at any of these yourself, let me know!
Looks like there's a hole in my schedule in August... depending on how our vacation plans go, I might run a 10K up in Canada mid-August. But maybe I need to find another triathlon to compete in instead?

Regardless, the event that's got me worried and is pushing me to train better is the Alcatraz swim in September.

Starting in May, I'll be joining the PCA Masters swim program to get my swim groove on. Given how much trouble I had with the swim in my triathlon, I can only think this is going to be a good thing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

my first triathlon - split times are in

So, the official results of my first triathlon are in. I've known for a week that I finished the race in 1:55:42, coming in 282nd of 385 racers. That felt pretty good, all things considered. Way above the last one in.

So, here are my splits (and how they rank among the 385 competitors):
  • 1/2 mile swim: 0:16:44 (279)
  • 13 mile bike: 0:55:17 (277)
  • 4 mile run: 0:43:41 (273)
  • Total: 1:55:42 (282)
In looking at the times, I'm assuming the transition times are included in the leg that follows, since by my bike computer, I know it only took me 48 minutes to ride the course, and it took a while to get from the lake to the transition area.

But when I'm stacked up against my age group, I came in 40th of 42. Meh.

I take comfort in the fact that guys from my age group placed 2, 3 and 5 in the overall race, so it's a competitive bracket. If I think it's going to get easier as I get older, I'm sorely mistaken, though. The 40-44 bracket is almost as big as my 35-39 group, and I'd have placed 32nd of 38 in with the same time in the older bracket. (It seems I'm not the only one discovering triathlons are a great way to get and stay in shape.)

At least now I've got my baseline from which to get better, no?

Oh, and I caught the Ford Ironman 70.3 Florida Triathlon on TV this week. Inspirational stuff, and I think I've set my sights on doing something that distance in a couple years :^).