Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two weeks to my first triathlon

It was six months ago that I got back from climbing to the top of Mt Whitney and decided to set "completing a triathlon" as my next fitness goal to continue trimming the pounds and getting in shape.

In just fourteen days from this moment, I should be completing the last mile of my first triathlon, the ICE Breaker Triathlon in Granite Bay, California.

I can't believe I've been training so long for this event, especially so disciplined in the twelve weeks leading up to the tri by following the training program for beginners spec'd out in Joe Friel's Your First Triathlon book.

And it's all been a great training experience up until this last week when I got a really bad case of the flu.

And I mean a bad case of the flu as in:
  • fever and chills and aches for 5 days straight
  • several days of missed work
  • no workouts for a week (luckily an R&R week in the training schedule anyway)
  • had to postpone my first open water swim (and find a new wet suit rental source to do so)
  • as of this morning, I've lost eight pounds body weight in the last eight days
Well, maybe that last point isn't so bad knowing I'll have only 185 pounds to carry on the bike and pound the pavement with. :^)

There was a point during the flu when I didn't event think I'd be able to walk a flight of stairs again, let alone swim, let alone race a triathlon.

Just before the flu, I was feeling really strong, confident knowing I could complete the whole race. I'm able to swim more than a half mile at a stretch, and I've done the race length bike/run brick a couple times already. So it was just a matter of stringing it all together alongside 500 other triathletes.

But today, with a few days recovery under me and just two weeks to go, I'm not as confident about finishing the race with a smile. I've got much to do to get back in pre-flu form, starting with a light workout today.

Truth be told: I know I can finish the race given all the prep I've done so far. Flu be damned.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Interval training to burn fat

Have been enjoying Matt's recent entry into the "my first tri" blogging world (he just did his first brick, congrats!), and he found an interesting workout style, called the "Tabata Intervals." In Matt's words:
Dr. Tabata discovered that fat-burning was more evident in a hard-core workout session for 4 minutes as opposed to an hour of steady-rate cardio. After a quick Google search of Tabata, I discovered that it has become the go-to exercise for weight-loss. Basically, a Tabata Interval can be done with weights or without.
A Tabata Thruster is where you hold two light dumbbells (max 15lbs) at your shoulders, you squat down, rise up and lift the dumbbells over your head. You do as many reps as you can for 20 seconds, break for 10 seconds, and then repeat 7 more times. Apparently this workout absolutely kills people. Here is an extreme example of the Tabata Thrusters, but it will show you how it's done:

Read the rest of Matt's post to find out about cardio-based Tabata Interval workouts. While intervals can help melt the pounds more quickly, it's still the long slow miles than increase my aerobic capacity overall. I think my cardio improvement is what's impressed me most in my ten weeks of training. Of course, now weighing 185 pounds (I lost six pounds this week while suffering the flu) is nothing to laugh at, either. Especially since I started this whole thing last summer weighing in at 220 pounds.

Thanks for digging the interval info up, Matt. Keep up the great work!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

four days no training due to the flu

I thought I'd made it out of the cold/flu season relatively unscathed, but I was wrong. I'm in day four of the five-day flu that's going around, and I can't wait for this to be over. As I posted earlier, no working out while sick, so I'm in a mandatory rest period with less than three weeks to the race.

How did I get here? Last Friday I was feeling fine... good enough, actually to swim 1000 meters in 23 minutes in the pool. If not for needing to come home to help entertain surprise guests, I'd have swum even further. Then Saturday morning, I woke up feeling like I should've eaten a bit more Friday night to be fueled up for my swim lesson and bike ride. I pressed on and made it to the end of the swim lesson, but that's all I could muster.

By Saturday noon, I was aching all over (after-effects of the swim Friday night?) and had a bit of vertigo (chlorine in the sinus cavities from learning to flip-turn?) so I decided to take it easy (hey, there's March Madness on the TV, too!). By Saturday night, I had a fever and chills and aches and coughing... no doubt about it: the flu.

So, no swim+brick workout on Sunday for me. Monday's optional rest day was mandatory and today's been a struggle to stay upright and not infect my co-workers.

If nothing else, the timing's good on this particular outbreak: in Friel's training schedule, this is a week for R&R. I'm just hoping I can recover enough to get back into form by April 13.

The other benefit? I finally broke the weight plateau and dropped to a relatively slim 189 pounds! (The flu's effective, but not recommended for weight loss).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

swim coaching really helps me relax

This past weekend, I had my first session with my swim coach, Tom, and boy was it worth every penny and minute of my day.

Tom emphasizes "body balance" in his teaching technique, and while I'd initially though I'd never make it through an hour-long session, the time wound up passing way too quickly for my liking.

Instead of jumping into the lanes to start swimming, we instead went over to the deep end so Tom could see how my body naturally floated in the water and then he guided me through several drills to help me learn how head position dictates how the rest of my body "hangs" in the water.

After a little while of kicking along with my arms hanging at my sides moving my head up and down in the water to get the positioning just right, Tom had me swim on one side to see how my body reacted when I'd turn my face up to get a breath of air.

I was rewarded the first couple times I tried to breathe with some water in the lungs, but I got the hang of it and learned to relax a lot more in the water and not try to rush my way through the breathing exercise.

Turns out that "relax while you're swimming" was my greatest lesson of the day, and one I've been able to put into practice in my two swims since the lesson. When I've relaxed, I've been able to go farther and faster and easier than ever before.

And I know this is going to be difficult to do during the race, but at least I've learned the lesson early.

Oh, and I did my second brick this past weekend: 55 min biking followed by 20 min running and I felt really good afterwards. No soreness like last time. Progress!

Friday, March 14, 2008

I got my Road ID - save money on yours

Since I'm starting to go longer distances on the bike and on my runs, I've made the jump to getting a Road ID to wear while I'm out and about. Given the fatal accident earlier this week where to bicyclists died out on the road after being hit by a car, I'm a bit more aware of the bad stuff that can happen.

While I've been carrying my driver's license with me when I run and ride in case something should happen, it's really only to help authorities know who I am and begin to track my kin down (it has my old address and no phone# on it).

I got the Road ID instead to quickly and plainly provide my "In Case of Emergency" info should something go wrong out on the road.

My own Road ID is supposed to arrive next week (I got a red wrist interactive one). When I ordered, they gave me a coupon good for $1 off any Road ID order placed by 04/14/2008 and told me to pass it along.

The coupon number is: ThanksThomas357174

To order, simply go to and enter the coupon number or simply click this link.

If you prefer, you can call them at 800-345-6335.

If you do any amount of training out on the road alone or in small groups, do the right thing and carry your ID with you... preferrably one that lets a first responder know how to alert your loved ones like the Road ID.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flexible or no, I still can't reach my toes

I've always been a bit, er, stiff when it comes to the elasticity of my muscles. That's just how I roll.

Yes, I've tried (and enjoyed) yoga, but I just can't seem to get into the whole post-workout stretch thing more than a cursory elongation of my calves, quads and hip flexors as I try to catch my breath again.

So, it was with more than a tinge of relief I read today's fitness article To Stretch or Not to Stretch? The Answer is Elastic where it says, "after dozens of studies and years of debate, no one really knows whether stretching helps, harms, or does anything in particular for performance or injury rates."

Even better:
For the bottom line on stretching, there is an official government review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the March 2004 issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Its conclusion, that the research to date is inadequate to answer most stretching questions, still holds.
Moreover, the article then goes on to cite examples where the less flexible runners are actually the more efficient runners (although there's no causality link, yet).

So, while I still can't touch my toes with my knees straight, at least I won't have the guilt of inflexibility bearing down on my shoulders.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

racing registration and tri club dues

On a tear this evening, finally getting around to doing the registrations I've been meaning to for a little while now. Items completed:
And, to top it all off, my first session with my swim coach is Saturday morning. Ready to learn how to move through the water better with his help, as he focuses on body balance in the water.

Onward and upward!

Monday, March 10, 2008

my first brick workout experience

Yesterday marked five weeks until my first triathlon, and my training schedule called for my first combo workout: a ride then a run.

So, I prepared for the workout by putting my running shorts, socks and shoes in the garage next to my iPod and a bottle of Gatorade®. I wanted to make as quick a transition as possible, so having everything together seemed like a good idea.

The combo was prescribed as 30 minutes in the saddle before getting 10 minutes hoofing it. I decided to add a bit to both, depending on how I felt, just to see how I'm doing. Turns out, I'm doing pretty well, at least in these two events.

When all was said and done, I put in 40 minutes on the bike, covering 20km before pulling into the driveway and dismounting. Within 60 seconds, I'd slipped out of my bike shoes, shirt, helmet and gloves and was putting on my running stuff. Within two minutes (forever, I know), I'd downed half the bottle of Gatorade and was lurching down the road feeling awfully uncoordinated as I tried to find a pace.

It was a really weird feeling, as if I was taking half steps with each pace. The strange feeling came from the fact I couldn't really feel my thighs at all, at least in comparison to the rest of my leg muscles. And my pace seemed really slow, too.

But I pressed on, and after I'd covered a mile, it felt as though I'd settled into a normal run, albeit the run still seemed like I was crawling. When I finally returned home, my Nike+ iPod showed I'd covered 2.2 miles in just over 17 minutes... these were near eight-minute miles I was putting up after the ride! Talk about a confidence-builder.

And while I thought I'd done a good job stretching after the brick, I found out this morning there was a major muscle group I completely missed: the gluteus maxima (maximi?). Yes, my butt muscles ache today, but it's in a good way.

And my multiple Ironman co-worker assures me this too shall pass. whew!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

should you exercise with a cold?

While I'm trying to decide if I'm catching the five-day flu that's making it's round in my network of daily contacts or I'm just suffering from Spring allergies (again), I've been re-reading Joe Friel's book Your First Triathlon. It's Friel's 12-week training schedule I've been following for the last seven weeks (omg, five weeks until the race!).

So, on page 142 of his book he tackles the question "Should you exercise with a cold?" head-on noting that what you do in the six hours following a hard workout (or race) is critical to your overall health.

He reasserts what I posted before, in that your immune system takes a big hit when you expend so much energy exercising so immediately following any workout, it's best to avoid people and public places (kinda hard in a post-race environment, no?) This could explain why, in a study of entrants to the LA Marathon that Friel cites, "runners who completed the marathon were six as likely to be ill the week following the race as those who registered but did not show up."

So, how do you proceed when you're in a situation like mine (feeling the cold/flu coming on)? Friel recommends a "neck check":
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.
And the kicker? Even after the bad part of your flu is over, your performance suffers for a long time, anywhere from a month to three months, depending on how bad your flu was. Ugh

Oh, please let these be allergies.

Friday, March 7, 2008

triathlon training status: no more solo?

I'm coming up on five weeks away from my April 13 ICE Breaker Triathlon, and I'm at the end of my second "R&R" week in my 12-week training program. Time to assess where I'm at.

Weight/body shape: While I've managed to finally drop to 191 pounds, I still feel like I've been losing the same damn three pounds over and over and over again as the scale has been cycling between 192 and 195 (now 191 and 194) for a month. I weigh myself every morning as a check-in, and I so wish I could see a 189 one of these days. I'm definitely on a plateau here and need to push through. On the other hand, while my weight is hovering in the same range of numbers, my body shape has shifted dramatically. Case in point: last weekend, in a hurry to go swim out before making dinner, I grabbed a pair of chinos to change into post-swim. Last Spring, I had to squeeze into these size 36 chinos, and when I put them on after drying off from my swim, they barely hung onto my hips (no belt). Wow. that felt good! Thanks to the swimming and lifting, I'm getting more of a V shape to my torso and my abs are a lot more defined than ever before. My own body image is definitely on the up and up.

Running: I feel really good about my running ability, in that I've got a solid base to work from. I know I'm not fast, but I feel like I've got the endurance now to go and go and go. I've made it past the "I don't like running" phase, and I actually enjoy my time pounding the pavement. (Especially given my Nike+ iPod system). In the next week, I'll cross the 100-mile threshold since using the Nike+ transmitter, and I'm looking forward to hitting that milestone. As I think about my 2008 goals post-triathlon, I'm seriously considering adding Rock-n-Roll San Jose Half Marathon to the list (October 5), especially if I think I'm going to do my first marathon next year when I turn 40.

Bicycling: This has always been my favorite sport of the three, and I truly enjoy my time on the bike. Given my endurance bent, the only thing that holds me back from doing more miles on the bike is the time and the caution going to far as a solo rider. I've got a nice K2 Astral 3.0 hybrid to ride, and while I'd like to upgrade to a street bike, I've told myself to hold off on any equipment upgrades until after I do my first race.

Swimming: Of the three disciplines, this is the one in which I've made the most gains (hard not to, since I started out at ZERO experience). I've learned to enjoy the laps in the pool, and think I've done a pretty good job of teaching myself the basic form and function, I also see that this is the area in which I'll need to get some outside help. I know I can complete the half-mile swim in the race (I'll have at least one open-water swim practice before the race), I just don't want to rag myself out doing so. At this point, I need someone to critique my form and give me tips on how to be more efficient. A friend has given me contact info for a good swim coach, and I now need to schedule the intervention. I've also gotten to know the Masters coach and he's more than happy to have me join the program immediately, but I don't want to over-train on the swimming portion of the tri. Once the tri is over, however, I am going to join the Masters program. Why? Because I was able to finagle a registration to do the 13th Annual Alcatraz Swim on Sept 20. It's a mile-and-a-half open water swim, and the thought of it scares the bejeezus out of me. All the more reason to do it! (Sí, se puede!)

Overall: While I'm enjoying the training, I can also tell I'm beginning to suffer from trying to do it alone. The motivational kick needs to be a bit stronger, so I think it's time to join a club. Poking around the net a bit, I think I've found one already: the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club. While I've missed all the beginning of the year specials, it looks like I can hop in on the New to the Sport (NTTS) activities at any time, and they've got regular weekend workouts nearby.

I'll keep you posted on how the interventions go.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

triathlon training and weight lifting

I was a bit surprised to find an article in the New York Times answering the question Does Weight Lifting Make a Better Athlete? But there it was in the Fitness section last Thursday.

I'd just been digesting an article over on Men's Health about adding speed to your athletic performance (The Easy Way to NFL-Caliber Speed) so I must've been primed to see the link on anyway.

What's this got to do with my triathlon training? Well, for the first four weeks of my program, I'd made sure to actually do the optional strength training sessions (ie, weight room sessions) as prescribed by my program, and then I went to lunch with a colleague who's done a couple triathlons in her day and, to paraphrase, she admonished me for "not taking any days off? you MUST rest!" And so I cut out my Monday (rest day) workout and dropped weights altogether from my regimen as I strove to not wear myself out prematurely.

Now that I've read the Times piece, I'm adding the weights back to my regimen, even though the study sample sizes are small. It just makes sense:

Dr. [Patrick] O’Connor points out that the weight-lifting studies, as is typical in exercise science, are small. And each seems to examine a different regimen, to measure outcome differently and to study different subjects — trained athletes, sedentary people, recreational athletes. It becomes almost impossible to draw conclusions, he said.

That may be one reason why different athletes end up doing different weight-lifting exercises. Chris Martin, a 31-year-old chemical engineer who has an elite racing license from USA Triathlon, the governing body for the sport, works on his entire body. But for his legs, he does exercises like leg extensions using one leg at a time, to correct any muscle imbalances or weaknesses. Mr. Martin, who lives in Lawrenceville, N.J., said he got the idea from coaches and from his own reading.

“Cycling and running are one-leg-at-a-time activities,” he explained. And one-legged exercises “recruit more muscles that help the hips.”

It only makes sense to add weights back in, no? My personal training modification I'll be making is to do my leg extensions one at a time from here on out (I'd been doing both at once before).

On another note, I think I'm just about to break through my weight loss plateau by paying closer attention to what I consume and when I consume it. The proof will come in the next couple days as I see if I am really about to dip below 192 (at last!). I'd better start making progress again if I'm to hit my goal of 180 by end of June. That's three pounds to lose per month!

Monday, March 3, 2008

triathlon volunteering: lessons learned

I was a volunteer at yesterday's Stanford Treeathlon, a relatively short triathlon (500m swim, 20km ride, 5km run), as a way to see, up close and personal, how the triathlon transition stuff works now that I'm just six weeks away from my first triathlon.

Given how much I stood to learn, I wasn't too put out by the request to show up at 5:15am on a Sunday morning. My assignment was to be in the transition area to help with the bike in/bike out duties:
  • security: make sure only competitors were allowed in the transition area
  • bike out: make sure the competitors didn't mount their bikes until they cleared transition
  • bike in: make sure the competitors didn't enter the transition area until they'd run the length of the area and crossed the mat
The weather was clear and crisp: around 47 degrees as I drove in, with at least an hour of cooling down before the sun came up, with a slight breeze out of the southwest.

When I got to the transition area at 5:30am, all that could be seen in the pre-dawn light were rows upon rows of racks for the bikes. There were so many that, if pressed, I couldn't have guessed they'd be full by race time. Yet, slowly but surely, as the dawn began to glow, the expensive bikes began to hang from the racks: Felts, Fujis, Cannondales, Treks, you name it.

By 7am, there must've been over a million dollars worth of bikes in the Transition area. That, and all the shoes, wetsuits, outfits and other accessories, no wonder access was limited.

Athletes were getting marked with their numbers and age/categories by a crew of folks armed with permanent markers: the bib number on both shoulders and then on the left calf both their age and a C for collegiate or A for age bracketer. I was bundled up in many layers and felt bad for these folks having to strip down to get marked.

The first wave of racers took off at 7:30am and within minutes they were running from the swim out and into the transition area. These first wave folks seemed to include the elite racers: all had on their college tri-suits (Cal, Stanford, UCSB, Cal Poly, etc) and they peeled off their wetsuits in front of their expensive bikes (solid wheels, natch) and donned their aero helmets as they ran to end T1. The second wave were the top female athletes and they scampered through to their top end bikes and out of the transition area, too.

Most everyone was peeling off their wet suit as they ran through the Transition area and everyone in the first couple waves stood to pull their legs out of their suits. As far as I could tell, all their shoes were already in their pedals and they simply ran out to where they could mount and then put on their shoes.

The waves of racers coming into T1 seemed to go on for a good hour, and they overlapped the folks coming into T2 (and that's when things got hectic). The bike in folks had to run the length of the transition area to cross their timing mat (and not get an advantage for their equipment placement within the transition area). Since there were only cones marking the lane (no barricades), it meant I had to watch the racers coming in and yell out "ALL THE WAY TO THEN END AND CROSS THE MAT!"

I must've said that 500 times by the end of the day, and while the first couple waves of racers seemed to grouse about it, by the time we got into the middle waves, folks took it well and most even said "thanks!" as they pushed past.

Watching these people run the length of the transition area, I could see a variety of techniques to T2: Some took off shoes and socks at dismount and ran. Some unclipped and ran in their bike shoes on their cleats. Some took off shoes but kept on socks. I couldn't tell which had the best technique, but I imagine those that kept their shoes on will need to replace their cleats sooner than later: you could hear the scraping of plastic on the asphalt as these folks tried to get used to running after the ride.

Much to my surprise, I only had to tell one rider to dismount from her bike after she prematurely hopped on during her T1. Aside from repeating my instructions to the bike-in folks, I did a few other tasks necessitated by the cold cold water: helping a couple riders clip their helmets straps in place, pinning the bib on a racer who couldn't handle his safety pins with numb fingers, keeping the spectators out of the transition area, and hanging out until the last racer made it through at 10am.

Our last racer was quite inspirational: a paraplegic who did the swim, then hand-biked the 20km before getting into his wheelchair and spinning the 5km to the finish. Well worth the wait to the end, and it was good to see everyone milling about give him a big hurrah as he rode past.

I got a chance to talk with some of the triathletes that were volunteering as well, and they all pretty much confirmed what I'm already suspecting: once you train for and race a triathlon, you're hooked.

Can't believe it's just six weeks to go. After helping with yesterday's race, I can't wait for mine to begin.