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.