Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Who Ran 60 Miles This Month?

Oh, right. That would be me.

It occurred to me that making it to 9 p.m. might be easier if I didn't get up and run at 6 a.m. (That was my duh-uh revelation of the day.) So, I caught up on homework earlier this week, took down a delicious chocolate mint Jocalat Larabar and spent the hour between work and class polishing off the final 3 miles in my January goal.

Although there were plenty of students and post-work exercisers present, there weren't any people applauding at the finish line. There was isn't even a slice of chocolate cake (I thought I had that worked out already!). But there was that solid, smooth satisfaction of knowing that I had run farther* this month than I have run in any other month of my life. In fact, I probably ran farther than I did in any given year of my life (except, maybe, for last year). That makes me smile. And while it may not be a supreme distance in the eyes of some runners, it's quite supreme to me.

I'm going to go be fancy and make myself some crepes (I heart crepes). But as I pour, flip and eat, I'll be cooking up a new set of goals for February.

Dashing Through the Snow to the Finish

In a few minutes, I will head to my last meeting of the day (thankfully, it's at Starbucks) and then skip over to the rec. center to top off 60 miles for the month. And then go to a Media Ethics class (it keeps me from lying to you about my training).

Just picture me in one hour sprinting toward the finish line of my first real goal in tri-training (getting up in the morning apparently doesn't count). Sigh. Oh, relief.

It had crossed my mind on a number of occasions — particularly as I was scraping my car some nights before heading home — to give myself a bye, to tell myself 50 or 52 or 57 miles would have to be enough. But not only am I bad at lying (to other people, as well as myself), I realize that there will be no rolling couches at the triathlon, no naps on the roadside and certainly no Rosie Ruiz action on my part. Just pure, hard running.

Off to it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Endurance Begets Endurance. I Hope.

Have I ever mentioned that I fenced when I was in high school? It was a brief stint with the Alcazar Fencing Club in Shaker Heights that was cut short for various adolescent reasons, and it came to mind today as I was running because I could have really used my fencing mask as I ran through the snow.

My eyelashes were veritable lightning rods for chunky snowflakes. It was a scary sight – from within and without. The final resting place for my mascara resembled something out of “A Clockwork Orange” or, more glamorously, a late-90s Usher video. It will be just anothe rnote-to-self about running immediately after work. Plus, the meaning of “running with the wind” has never been so close to my heart.

I’ll crab from time to time about where I live (it’s kind of a homogenous albeit pristine neighborhood), but you can’t knock a perfect 1-mile “track” of a dead-end street. Today I ran it thrice, marking 3 miles remaining in my January goal.

The snow was pretty deep and still falling (you know it’s coming down when your tracks disappear on your next lap), but rather than hindering my stability I think the terrain helped me maintain a good stride. I kept my knees high, kicked my feet back and kept up a speedy pace. My arms, however, were a little more huddled than a track coach might prefer.

Yet in the pool, my arms were moving quite well. It was a bit of a rush swimming today—I had only 30 minutes to swim; I had to get back to work for a meeting. Rather than swimming for yardage, I just swam for 30 minutes straight. I stopped counting at 2,000 yards, so my average 100-yard split was well below 1:30—not great by any means, but it’s a start. As I sped out of the water to shower and dry off in time for a 2:00 p.m., I slid into the office only to find out the meeting had been canceled. (Expletive.)

But what are you gonna do? Shrug.

I was nervous earlier today that I would have lost my swimming edge: it had been a week since I last swam because the flu attacked last Thursday and, well, stupidity attacked over the weekend.

Today’s workout, however, made me want to focus on greater endurance workouts in swimming and running (I should get that whole cycling thing going soon too). My goals for February will be based on longer sessions, like more 30- or 40-minute swims, no less than 5-mile runs. And don’t worry, there’s bound to be a countdown in there somewhere.

Although I should really concentrate on how to work dessert back into the mix: I don’t think I would have run 30 miles faster if I were being chased. By a grizzly bear.

Monday, January 29, 2007

And Then Paula Radcliffe Said...

Word to the need-to-be-wise: don't check before you head outside for an after-work run.

I tiptoed out of work a tad early today so I could squeeze in some miles before month's end (I have class at lunch and couldn't manage to run outside this morning amidst the ice and all eight degrees). Thanks to a weatherbug on Yahoo!, I saw that it was below 20 degrees outside (and "felt like" 7), and I nearly stayed inside with a box of cookies.

Looking at the calendar, however, I knew I had to get hacking away at my remaining 11 miles. I only have until Thursday!

Paula RadcliffeIf you have been with me through the first and second sets of 30 miles this month, you may have noticed how much greater my motivation was when I had a piece of chocolate cake swinging at the finish line. I'll have to arrange something with my friends and a bakery for my first race!

Once I made it into my winter-running clothes (they're improving; Nike and Nordstrom have some great things on sale right now, like running tights and other clothes that are breathable and warm) and pushed myself out the door, I had convinced myself that I would run an easy two miles and come back inside.

It took a while for my fingers to warm up, and then I couldn't feel my toes; my nose froze enough that you could have done that "I've got your nose" trick, and I may have believed you. But once I broke 1.5 miles, I promised myself I would go three, and then four... but I just kept going until I ran 5.08 miles.

And then Paula Radcliffe said, "Congratulations, you've just finished your longest run!" She wasn't lying... in my Nike+ iPod world, that is. In the past, I have broken down my longer runs into shorter distances, especially when outside. But I've built up greater outdoor endurance (and greater fondness for running outside) this month, and I hope this progress continues through thick layers of winter clothes and thin.

Larabar Cherry Pie I'm glad I pushed through my laziness and ran the extra couple of miles this evening. Even though I was suffering from post-work malaise, I pushed through the fog and kicked it into that for-emergency-use-only gear.

It also helped that I had a cherry pie Larabar before I headed out: if you haven't had one, Larabar isn't a power bar; it's a freakin' good bar. The cherry pie variety is made with dates, almonds, unsweetened cherries and what tastes like a pinch of love. I may not be ready to name my firstborn Lara, but it isn't off the table. Check out the Larabar Web site and try to get your hands on some samples. It's natural, pure-yum, good-food energy. If I order a box, I'll share the wealth.

That leaves 6 miles to complete by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday night. Thankfully my procrastinating ways have eased up since I've grown up. So, I'll probably finish around 7 p.m.! Off to yoga.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Yoga and the Latest in Strength Training

There's been enough complaining about being sick, but I'm still recovering in my training. As I'm looking outside, I'm itching to go running, but I have that latent fear of being found in a snow drift four days after I've collapsed in the middle of mile two. But I'm trying to be sensible.

Because of various reasons (OK, I left my rec. center card in my swimming parka at work and I don't have the code to get into my building), I can't go to the rec. center, so I'm left to my at-home resources and the great outdoors. And that really means I'm left to my at-home resources, which include a stability ball, yoga mat and some free weights.

Although I have been formulating my own weight training plan, there is a number of great resources on the Web for finding the best exercises to isolate your muscle groups. Core strengthening and general muscle development are my foci, but I'm also a big fan of yoga for endurance.

That's right: yoga. I get too much flack from people who claim to be athletes and still shun yoga as an exercise. Probably because they're afraid to try it.

As it turns out, you don't have to sweat profusely as you huff-and-puff your way to exhaustion to get a good workout. Vinyasa (flow) yoga, in particular, gives you a workout that will have you wincing the next morning. Not only does it improve your flexibility and stamina in general, you'll find the extra energy and muscles you never knew you had. Plus it's low-impact and easy on your body when done correctly.

If you're interested in trying Vinyasa yoga, check out this podcast by Pablo Domene Lee, who teaches a "power vinyasa" session that will make you hurt so good. This Vinyasa podcast isn't for beginners (especially because it's all audio and you can't see his movements or follow along if you're not familiar with the lingo), so you might want to take a class or try a yoga DVD at home.

If you're near Kent, the rec. center offers great yoga classes, including an inspiring section of Vinyasa taught by a real guru named Rhonda. She knows her stuff. But if you're anywhere else in the world, I'm sure there is a reputable yoga center nearby. Yoga is one of the longest-lasting exercises in the world, so it has to be doing something right.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Running in the Sick

It was such a thrill to be running again that I took off and ran back-to-back sub-8-minute miles (7:00 and 7:30, respectively), but my recovering body wasn't so excited. The rest wasn't pretty. But I did run 4 miles at lunch today, leaving 11 miles to run over the next several days.

I'm optimistic, but I probably won't squeeze it all in on Saturday morning like last time (but, you know, never say never). My lungs are still a little bitter about the flu.

The repercussions of Wednesday, however, continue: my calf is still a little whiny. I'm telepathically cursing that cadet right now. Landon is right. My experience with Poor-passing-skills McGee on the track is just another reason to run outside. The past week's weather, on the other hand, is a reason not to. I have already admitted to being a wimp, so you don't have to remind me. But before I buck up, I'll have to invest in some better winter-running clothes. If it doesn't make a considerable physical difference, it will keep my conscience warm. And what else matters, really?

Off to get some sushi and sashimi and something else to keep me warm.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Down for the Count

Ugh. If you're anything like me, staying inactive while you're sick is as difficult as watching someone else win the Ironman on TV.

When I was in elementary school, I read that it was healthy to exercise when you're sick and beneficial to your immune system to just keeping moving. Nearly 20 years of not resting and continuing with life as usual when in the depths of flu season followed.

Time for some chicken soup.Although I've never been a particularly sick person (bragging rights: I made it from 1998-2003 without being sick once; I don't what has happened since), it would typically take several days for me to get healthy again. And then one day last October, I rested. A co-worker had infected me with the flu (I'm not bitter), so I slept until 2 p.m. and subsisted on green tea and chicken stock for the whole day. By morning I felt just peachy. I hope I can hop back into my training tomorrow morning as well.

If you're torn between resting or training when you're under the weather, check out some resources for making decisions based on how you feel.

Several articles look to the "neck test": if you're illness resides above the neck (head ache, runny nose, throat cough, etc.), mild to moderate exercise may be appropriate for you. But if you're experiencing muscles aches, respiratory problems or stomach pain, you should probably stay home.

But when you decide to exercise sick, keep other people in mind. For instance, if you workout at a gym or rec. center, your germs may prevent some other fitness nut from training too. And that's just not cool. They might be like me and hold it against you. Forever. It might be wise to exercise restraint when you're sick instead. You may be able to get back in the pool or on the track sooner.

So, maybe swimming Thursday should become... swimming Saturday. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Don't Worry: This Blog Has Been Disinfected

It was another early morning at the rec. center, where I ran 3 miles to take my countdown to 15 miles by next Thursday.

And it's been a difficult day. Not only have I ended up with something very flu-like, but I pulled something in my calf avoiding a rude ROTC cadet on the track today. The rules of passing on a track are similar to rules on the road. They also closely resemble rules of common sense. You've heard of it.

So, I'm rounding 2.5 miles when a fresh-running cadet rounds the far-end of the track and passes from the slow, inside lanes. But he didn't just pass, he hopped right in front of me and then slowed down. I had to stumble a few times (I was boxed in on the outside) to avoid tangling feet with him. It only took a few strides to have enough of that, so I sped up and passed the mo' fo.

A lap later, however, he did it again! This time I stumbled hard trying not to tackle him, and then I pulled something. I ran ahead again, but I think you know what happened next. Grrr.

The lesson, kids: don't pass people when you're not running faster. Even if they are female.

Please excuse my bitterness. It's been rough. I'm going to get some rest now with the hope thatI won't have to miss swimming Thursday because of illness!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And When You Think It's All Over... 18 Miles to Go!

Don't you love that feeling when work finally gives you your life back?

Granted, it's nothing permanent (it never is) and the stress will come back eventually (it always does), but I like the relief that comes with finishing a major project and moving on. It's like the last day of school!

And once I finished my major project, I headed straight for the pool! While I've been a little drained (part because of bad sleep, some parts stress and part because of guilt over not running yesterday), I managed to get in 2,200 yards:

500 yards free
500 yards free

Modified 1,100 yard IM in reverse {

350 yards free
250 yards breastroke
250 yards backstroke
250 yards fly


100 yards free

If you're looking for endurance building (a.k.a. pain) and shoulder strengthening in the pool, try swimming 100-200 yards butterfly AT THE END of your workout. I'm a little biased (as a butterflier) but try it: your shoulders will vouch for me. Plus, the next time you swim freestyle, it will be cake!

Tomorrow is another early-morning run day, and I'm hoping for greater success and motivation than last week. At least it's inside. But I still have 18 miles to go and only seven or eight days to do it (I hate waiting until the last minute to finish things)!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Whoa, Baby: It's COLD Outside!

If the New Orleans Saints weren't feeling it today, I certainly was. It was a balmy 20 degrees (F) when I ran 3 miles this morning and that's always a challenge.

My biggest problem isn't a lack of motivation to run; it's my stubbornness about going out in the cold (whether for running, driving, taking out the garabage or finding $1 million in the snow) that keeps me down.

Several years ago I reached an almost Zen-like state in which I found comfort in any situation — whether steaming or cold. But then I got my nerve endings back and I've been a wimp ever since.

There's a lot to learn about running safely in the cold. In fact, I never realized until recently how much my body's core temperature plummets when I winter-run.

Despite how warm I feel when I've hit my stride, I can feel the effects of the cold almost immediately when I stop running. Granted, I typically hit the shower so quickly (more of a hygiene-related/respect-for-fellow-human-beings thing than smart move for body heat) that my near-hypothermic shivers don't last long, but it's better that I never hit that low point period. Right?

"Running in a Winter Wonderland" from Madison Magazine agrees. Check it out to get some great tips for running in the cold, dressing for the cold and staying safe in the cold. I know more than one person who stupidly disrespects the elements in favor of latent, self-inflicted harm... and could use some tips from the experts.

It also includes the classic quote: "Snow especially seems to be a weather condition that rarely deters determined runners. Even when it's ten below, it is not uncommon to see people that are so bundled up, they look less like runners and more like Eskimos in a hurry." And that's just good fun.

This Eskimo is going to hurry off to bed. Eighteen miles to go!

(Peyton, Tony and Lovie just made it to the Super Bowl!)

Making Time... to Thank You


That's the way I would describe the load of responses I've received in the past day about my previous post. I knew that virtually everyone would have a similar work-train-family situation (and if you have that aunt Mildred, we'd really like some hook-up!), but I didn't know "making time to train" would warrant such a response.

I've received so much great feedback that it sent chills down my spine!

Bring up the idea of time management in my office (like everyone else's), and you'll either get a mission statement or enough negative energy your head will spin. And I work in a relatively relaxed university atmosphere!

Rather than looking at my training as another thing I have to squish into my day, I think of it as a treat (so, I like cookies, cake and a good, hard workout!). And I have to say that this is one of the first times that I've ever received collective positive feedback regarding anything of this matter.

I feel encouraged and thank everyone for that. And now I'm going to run a few miles off my countdown!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Making Time to Train

Sure, most of us lack the sponsorships, billion-dollar Internet enterprises and wealthy aunt Mildreds that would enable us to devote our days to training or improving technique. But that isn't an excuse for not making time to train.

Each summer, I like to take two weeks vacation to pretend to be independently wealthy (you know, I do whatever independently wealthy people do while the rest of the world is at work: going to lunch with people I don't typically see, swimming in the middle of the morning, making plans for my superhero secret lair), just to get a taste. But when my real world kicks in, carving out time for training can be difficult — especially if you don't have people who support you.

Regardless of whether you have work, school, kids or some other priorities, there should always be a balancing act you can manage to keep yourself healthy. Even if it can get dizzying at times.

Class began this week (as I previously mentioned), and my regularly scheduled training during lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays has been supplanted by one of the last courses for my master's degree. I can't just cut out two days of training, so I have to balance.

Last week I tried to run in the morning. That's going to get some getting used to: it's cold, it's dark; I'm stiff and just a little bit lazy. Training after work is an option. But if you've ever met me, you'll know that once I'm on the road home, I'm going home!

My key, however, is to prioritize my training. For instance, on Wednesdays I could a) sleep until 7 a.m., casually get ready and go to work by 8 a.m. or b) get up at 6 a.m., get to the rec. center by 6:30, have an hour to train, and 30 minutes to get ready and go to work by 8 a.m. Tough choice?

Granted, that extra hour of sleep can be a major sacrifice. I'll just have to trim some late-night wall-staring to compensate.

But on the running front, I ran a total of nine miles this week, including 3 miles on Friday afternoon. Rather than just running for my entire session, I ran a fast two miles and then rode a stationary bike for several miles until my legs were tired. Then I took off and ran one more mile on tired, wobbly, Bambi legs. It was awesome!

It was difficult at first, but I still managed to clock 7:22 for my mile. I would like to move toward combining the three areas so I understand how my body operates in the tri-environment.

Finally, I swam my longest single-distance for the swimming season on Thursday:

2,000 yards free
400 yard IM

It was strangely crowded at the pool (the beginning-of-the-semester resolutionists: "this semester will be different") on Thursday afternoon, so my time was a little cut short. My intimidating staring failed again. I guess I'll have to learn new techniques. Or just take up lap swimming in the hot tub or the vortex.

Speaking of the vortex, I'll be looking more into open-water swimming soon. I have minimal experience in open water (by choice). But if you would like to hear the story about swimming five miles in the Caribbean on a wind/wave-warning day as I was carrying someone and getting stung by a jellyfish, ask me about it some time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two in the Morning

Props galore to people who can run the morning! Class is now in session and lmy lunch break has been consumed by classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Worry not, however: I won't let a little time issue kick me off the IM track.

I woke up early today and ran 2 miles at the rec. center with all the other early-morning fitness enthusiasts. The students are back (a different breed of resolutionists: "I'll totally stay in shape this semester!"), so the pool, track, machines and parking lot are more packed than they will be in two weeks (max).

But rounding mile-two when I would normally be rolling out of bed was a little exciting and maybe a little more exhausting. Something to get used to. Although seeing those people who run their five miles before work in the morning inspired me to really get over myself and get running. Granted, I only ran two miles, but it's better than nothing.

I may consider a little after-work action (I have an hour and fifteen minutes before my evening class) if my evening activities are less than stellar. Still: 24 miles to go.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Return of 'Flipper'

It may not have been easy to go today, but swimming felt much better this time. I began tightening up around 400 yards, but loosened up pretty quickly to swim 2,800 yards:

1,800 yards free
1,000 yards IM (4 x 200 yards each stroke, 50 yards kick)

I've been slowly extending my no-rest distances, and almost considered swimming the full 2,000 yards in that first set, but I wanted something to work toward. Yeah, that's what it was.

At one point I began to get a little tired, so I picked up my kicking and it was smooth sailing from there. It's incredible what a little kicking can do! But kicking seems to be a problem with many people: some have trouble remembering, others don't do it enough, and even more just do it wrong.

I'm not sure what your feeling is about using flippers for swim training, but I think it's all wrong. Call me a swimming purist. While flippers ("fins") can be useful for increasing your leg strength, improving ankle flexibilty and just swimming faster, most people I see aren't using them for much more than vanity swimming. Case in point: Flipper.

Flipper is a middle-aged hotshot who frequents the Kent State rec. center pool from time to time and uses flippers to pump up his ego. His arms flop limply in the water and he smirks at swimmers as he goes by. I shouldn't be so concerned with someone else, he's the guy who gave flippers a bad name. I can't stand for that.

So, what can I do? Out-swim him, of course (hey I warned you of this problem). There's some thrill in beating a guy who like to intimidate others, but it's also kind of fun to out-swim a decent swimmer while he's wearing flippers and I'm not.

My badge for the 'Flipper Police,' by the way, should be arriving in the mail sometime this week. Just don't be that guy.

But if you would like unbiased information about flipper use, read "Swimming with Flippers" from the Endurance Coach.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A New Day, A New Goal

Why wait until next month when I can pledge a bonus 30 miles for the remainder of January? (Now that's more bang for your blogging buck!)

But before you knew I was headed that way, I crossed off 4 miles today as a beginning to the latter half of the month. Since I had the day off of work, I also put in a 1,500-yard mini swimming workout too:

500 yards free
400 yards IM kick
200 yards free
400 yards IM

I will be swimming tomorrow, so I tried to keep today's training light. Although, I must admit, I hadn't realized how tired my body actually gets when I run. I took the four miles fairly fast today and then headed straight for the pool.

Only 100 yards into the swim, my arms were heavy and I struggled to get past that threshold. In fact, I don't even know that I ever did get past it! Lap after lap, I just kind of struggled.

My training schedule has been consistent for several months, so the idea that I've fallen out of shape isn't right (knock on wood).

A small part of me was a little glad my arms were tired: perhaps I just used them sufficiently during the run, that I had learned to use them effectively, that my stride had improved and I had become that much better in the course of just a few days. Or I needed to stop running like Phoebe Buffay.

Either that or my body was just a sea of lactic acid. (That's just my excuse. I watched an ESPN feature during the 2004 Summer Olympics that mentioned Michael Phelps' abnormally low levels of lactic acid, and now I'm jealous. You can learn, however, why "Lactic Acid May Not Cause Muscle Fatigue" from a report on NPR.)

When I swim tomorrow (I'll rest for the remainder of today), I'll figure out whether it was the running or something far more sinister.

What's up next? Back to the stroke and stride clinic with Part II.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday, Rainy Sunday

Then there was my day of rest. And rest I did. No weights, no running, no crunches, no swimming. Although I did log into my Nike+ account to synch up my recent runs and complete my resolution for the month of January.

I also contributed my 30 miles to the Nike+ celebrity challenges (my miles went to LeBron over Maria and Brutus over that damned Gator). On both accounts I was on the losing side.

For those who asked about my rewarding desserts: I had my Russian tea biscuit; a chocolate island with fudge and vanilla bean anglaise; and various crepes filled with strawberries and bananas, bananas and Nutella, and fresh apricots and raspberry preserves. Not all at the same time. But not too far apart either.

What kind of bike do you ride for a triathlon?

Since I'm still new and casual, I have a red Trek 7300 named LeBron (in honor of a fellow Trek 7300 rider). A friend from school, however, has offered a Nishiki racing bike for my use. I'm completely unfamiliar with my bicycling needs (when I bought my Trek, I walked into Eddy's Bike Shop and said, "I need a bike — a nice bike — that I can ride for fun and use for triathlon training. What do you recommend? Oh, and please don't rip me off.")

Once I check out the Nishiki, I think I will have a better idea about bike differences, but for now I'm relying on Internet resources, like this article from Triathlete Stuff: "What Type of Bike for a Beginner?"

There was a really great article out there somewhere about going to your local bike store and riding the most expensive bike to get a feel for the best equipment (and then returning on a day that salesperson was not working to buy a cheaper bike), but I can't find it. I'll let you know when I do.

Tomorrow is another day off of work, so I will likely try to run and swim. I'll also have to establish my next goal so I can begin working toward it. I should probably start thinking about doing some bicycle training as well.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Finish Line: 30 Miles in January

Landon was correct: I woke up around 8:30 a.m. and listened to the sounds of raindrops tacking the windowsill. It was relaxing for a moment, until I thought about my remaining miles. So, I up and drove to the Kent State rec. center and ran my remaining 7 miles. I'm done!

Today, I ran in three sets to get to seven miles: 5K (3.13 miles), 2 miles and 2 miles. I don't typically run long (for me) distances on back-to-back days, so I was tired today. The first 5K was a little slow, but — with a little encouragement from a Kent State wide receiver and the Will Smith track "Freakin' It" — my first 2-mile set was tiger fast: 8:01 for the first and my personal best 7:00 for the second. We won't talk about the other sets: I finished them and I'll leave it at that.

But now I must start over again. I haven't determined next month's goal(s), but will definitely be thinking about it. 40 miles? 50 miles? We'll also see what will be at stake.

Thanks to everyone for their encouraging words and very close guesses on my finish line. As the winner, Landon will get "Ricki-Ticki-Tavi" on DVD. Your next chance for equally cool prizes will be coming soon.

The Importance of Being Earnestly Hydrated

Finishing up mile seven was harder than I expected. Although I had run fairly well this morning, the last half mile just got slower and slower. And then in the last 400 meters, I had to take a quick pit stop for 15 seconds to collect myself. I was dizzy, disoriented and covered in salt. It doesn't take a genius to determine that I was dehydrated.

I jogged out my last 200 meters, chugged at the drinking fountain and took a break before I got in the car to drive home. Since I broke down my seven miles into three sets, I don't think I realized how dehydrated I was. And had I not stopped when I did, I would have surely collapsed on the track.

Dehydration is dangerous. You've probably seen the Gatorade commercial featuring triathlete Chris Legh's near-fatal collapse only fifty meters from the finish of the 1997 IronMan. He hadn't been able to keep fluids or food down during the race and had become so dehydrated that his organs began to shut down. Legh changed his sports nutrition and hydration with the help of the Gatorade Institute and, last I checked, has been doing all right. Man, makes you want to drink Gatorade (that marketing will get you every time).

Fact is that dehydration frequently catches people off-guard. Be aware of dehydration symptoms and learn how to prevent dehydration while training.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Swimming Strokes and Running Strides, Part I

Focus on Swimming: Head Position

Natalie Coughlin looks forward to winning.When I began swimming in the mid-80s, swimming technicians stressed a high head position in the water, in which the water line hit somewhere between your brow and hairline. We even did drills in which we strained our necks to look far, far ahead of ourselves. But there were plenty of other missteps in the 80s, including, but not limited to, big hair, The Drive, Tiffany albums, and non-hydrodynamic swimming.

More recently, I've heard about techniques that emphasize the opposite, such as total immersion swimming. These approaches require a very low head position and an undulating body movement that reportedly improves your water efficiency. But the critics of this technique are plentiful. What's your opinion?

Michael Phelps looks ahead, but not too far.Last summer I attended a conference in Nashville, where I met a guy named Keawe who works at the Parker School in Kamela, Hawaii, with Matt Biondi. The Matt Biondi. Keawe had competed in the IronMan in Kona a few years earlier. He was a pretty fit guy, but admitted that he sucked at swimming when he first set his sights on the Man. So, he just had Matt Biondi coach him. The Matt Biondi. Keawe said that Biondi was really big into the immersion stroke, so I thought I would give it a try. (Because when Matt Biondi says it's the way to go, you follow his golden word; it's like LBJ telling you how to dunk.)

When I dip my head immersion-style, I feel a little more streamlined, but less controlled. And when my head is too high, my neck hurts and I feel resistance. Thus I have arrived at my own middle point, which is also illustrated in the images of Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin. They probably know something too.

Focus on Running: Where Are Your Arms?

Daniella brought up a great point about running: where are my arms? I've always known that my arms were important to my stride, but I never understood how I could make them work for me. Sometimes I paddle them aggressively through the air to keep my legs kicking; other times they're mere accessories, like my iPod armband.

Carmyn James, U. Hawaii track coach, provided these tips for positioning:
  1. Body Position: Tall posture with head and shoulders high, pelvis tucked.

  2. Arm Position: Shoulders squared and relaxed; elbows flexed at 90 degrees; hands cupped, not clenched.

  3. Arm Movement: Arms swing from shoulder joint, not from elbow joint. Elbows drive backward only, and thumbs drive back past hips. And, as Daniella advised, hands do not cross the midline of the torso.
    Source: "Running form key to success," The Honolulu Advertiser, Dec. 29, 2006
Resolution Update: Seven Miles to GO!

Finally, Big Willie Styles rolled me through 4 miles today, leaving seven to go!

I ran after work and I can't lie: I didn't want to do it at all. Various time-consumers kept me from going to lunch, but I managed to kick some butt anyway: I averaged a personal best 8:07 across four miles. My top miles were three and four, which clocked 7:43 and 7:51, respectively. As you can see from the Nike+ graph, I also ran pretty evenly this time, which was a first.

Can I do seven miles tomorrow? Or will I drag this thing out for all eternity?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fast Times at Kent State's Pool

Just returned from dinner: I survived the dessert course despite all of the dulce du leche, "chocolate islands" and vanilla anglaise floating around the table.

Michael Phelps swims fly.
I wish I had a seven-foot wingspan.
And I was almost as victorious in the pool with a simple 2,200-yard workout, which included my longest single swim all season:

1,200 yards free
400 yards IM kick
600 yards IM

Although I had a little less time than usual, I was able to squeeze in a good number of yards. I would like to extend the distances of my long-yardage swims. While I don't have a physical problem with endurance, I certainly have a mental one. In the same way that I need distraction in running, I need something to occupy my mind in the pool as well. It's just not as easy.

Perhaps I sound a little impatient or attention-deficient, but I'm really just my worst enemy when it comes to physical activity. And the less I can psych myself out, the better. The difficult thing is that Nike/Apple just hasn't made an underwater MP3 player that counts your laps too.

Why You Need Nike+iPod

This isn't an advertisement. But if it were, I would tell you that you need this thing because it's awesome.

If there are similar products out there (I admit that I haven't done my comparison shopping/research), please let me know. I am repeatedly surprised at the things this Nike+iPod thing can do and hope that more people can share in this joy.

After loading my most recent run into my account (unfortunately, I couldn't add my 4.5 miles from the other day), I was able to see my run plotted out on a graph of time and distance. Incredible! If you look at the graph (view graph in greater detail), you can see where I was slowing down and pittering out... until I felt the need to race. It also marks off each mile and your time. For example, I clocked 7:58 for my last mile. Not bad.

Then again, you could just keep track of your mileage and do some division when you get home. But I was never good at that whole math thing.

My goal for now is to do five consecutive runs under 8:30; this total run averaged 8:24. Four more to go; I'm getting there.

We're going to dinner this evening and I'm trying really hard to convince myself that I should not, in fact, run home 11 miles just so I can have some dessert tonight! Worry not, Iron G readers: I will not crumble under the pressure.

The hardest part about this resolution is explaining to people that it's not a crazy diet plan. For the past two weeks I've gotten plenty of "Oh, but you don't need to lose weight" and "But if you eat it for breakfast, it's not dessert." I even faced more peer pressure than a girl on prom night at a recent work party for the Buckeyes. Everyone kept saying that having just a sliver of buckeye cheesecake wouldn't "hurt." And they're right; it wouldn't hurt. It would just completely nullify everything I've done this month. The adversity reminded me how much people don't appreciate others' goals, or how willing those people are to bring others down just to feel better about their own lack of goals and ability.

So, this is just your friendly neighborhood Iron G reminding you to say: F'em.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

POLL: When Will I Finish 30 Miles?

It appears that this countdown thing really works. As I was running a little over 5 miles today, I hit 3.16 miles, according to my properly operating Nike+iPod, and my body felt like stopping. My countdown-focused mind, on the other hand, thought better of it. Eleven miles remaining just sounds better than 12 or 13. And it's two miles closer to cake and cookies and pastries and... well, you get it.

I must admit, however, that I ran the 5 miles in slight increments: 3 miles, 1.5 miles, 0.5 mile. Typically, I run sans break, but I have the same "must race passers-by" bug on the track that I have in the pool. But I have neither the speed nor the endurance I do in the pool. So, I took a break after I overdid it during the first three miles. Then I couldn't stop at a half-mile marker again, so I went the extra half mile after another walking break.

And that's how you run 19 miles in the first 10 days of the month.

POLL: When do you think I will finish January's 30 miles?

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Rule the Pool

As it turns out, I'm not so crazy. Well, as far as swimming is concerned. I talked to a guy named Matt at the pool today (another competitive swimmer of olde) and he admitted to racing everyone within eyeshot at the pool too. In fact, without knowing it, we raced for about 500 yards (my second 500 set below) before we spoke; I won. (Insert high-five here.)

But it was really nice to have someone pushing me like that. While part of me misses the competitive atmosphere of a swim team practice, the rest of me likes being able to stop and go when I please. Plus, I don't have to do "torture tens." That's worth it alone.

What I did do today, however, was swim 3,600 yards (2.05 miles):

500 yards free (warm up)
200 yards IM
500 yards free
100 yards fly kick
1000 yards free
300 yards IM kick
400 yards IM
100 yards fly kick
400 yards IM
100 yards free (cool down)

Good thing I upped the running miles the other day, because it would be a little embarassing to be able to swim further than I run. Although it is close. Sadly, my increase in yardage was more a product of time than some jump in my physical ability. Since I had the day off, I kept going. But it couldn't have taken me more than an hour and a half. I'll try not to get discouraged when my time/yardage is cut down. Maybe I should just swim faster!

One of the things I like about swimming (as well as yoga): I can have a really intense workout, and then I walk out ready to run for miles and miles. People have complained about swimming making them too tired when they're done, but it energizes me. And I like that feeling. Taking a lunch-hour swim twice a week is one of my saving graces at work. I wouldn't be able to take others' stress and drama without the break. It's like my brain gets oxygenated and renewed.

Getting from Here to There

Yesterday was a little jam-packed, so posting about the 4.5 miles I ran was difficult. The run, however, was not. I went back inside to the track at the rec. center, where I tried to use my Nike+iPod to measure my distance... to no avail. After 38 minutes, it read back that I had run 1.05 miles. My heart sank. I tested the chip for a lap, which it read accurately, but I didn't pay attention after that.

Russian tea biscuits from Lucy's Sweet Surrender
Running for the biscuits.

I'll have to look into this problem because it was great to just run without having to count my laps. If I just focus on my stride and "running for just one more song," I can just keep going and going.... and going. And now I just have to go 16 miles until I tear into the Russian tea biscuits waiting in the freezer. Yum!

And now for a moment of inspiration: I've included a photo of the best Russian tea biscuits in the tri-state area (if not the world): biscuits from Lucy's Sweet Surrender in Shaker Heights. I'm eager to find out if the cakes in my freezer pass muster. It looks like I'll have to keep running to find out. Ahh, indulgence. How I'm looking forward to it.

I took today off, knowing I would be up late last night for the BCS Championship. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out the way we had hoped. It was a great season, nevertheless. And the Buckeyes are still number one in the GCS poll. The day off, however, gives me more time to swim. So, I'm to use my time off wisely in the pool.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Keep Those High Hopes

Not only did I complete my first outdoor run of the season this afternoon, I spent that run with my new Nike+iPod kit. Since running outside has never been my forte, I tried to aim high at 2 miles. The transition between track and outdoors has never been easy for me.

Until today.

I ran 4 miles today, weaving in and out of my neighborhood and the one across the street. It's imperative to my running style to remain distracted or occupied with something other than my running. Granted, I have plenty of work to do on my stride, but I'm taking what I can get. I think the new scenery and terrain really helped keep my mind off how long and far I had been running. In fact, I didn't even want to check my iPod for how long I ran. Once it began raining (I'm not that committed just yet), I headed home, confident I had completed at least two miles. As I stopped my iPod workout, the voice read back: distance: 4.06 miles.

It's a lot less like spring today than the past month ( says it feels like 34 degrees), so I was also concerned about how to dress and breathe. The breathing was actually manageable. And the clothes were too: running tights, cropped exercise pants, a t-shirt, and my Old Navy fleece jacket — none of which were the most pleasant smelling things in my wash. So, I would like to look at better gear for cold-weather running. Things that breathe more, stink less.

The holding sock is just a pouch for holding the Nike chip.As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I didn't want to buy a pair of Nike shoes just to have a better relationship with my iPod (although I did consider it). So, I bought the sport kit and fashioned a "holding sock" for the Nike chip:
  • I used a buddy-less sock from my drawer (made one last effort to find its match) and sewed a pouch to hold the chip. The tip of a glove finger would work well too.
  • Then I sewed the pouch to the inside of the tongue on my right shoe.

Not only does it work perfectly with my iPod, I can't feel it at all when I'm running. I also imagine that I would feel it if it were to come lose or fall off. Plus, when the iPod loses a signal from the chip for two minutes, a voice from your iPod will notify you. So, just turn around and run for two minutes and scan the ground. A good sewing job, however, should prevent that from happening.

The holding sock was sewn into the tongue of my shoe.It wasn't much trouble, but I didn't go through all of it because I'm cheap. I like my Asics. I don't think I should be forced to change not only my shoes, but my shoe brand as well. While I understand partnerships and economic opportunity and marketing, I also understand shoe comfort and agony of using the wrong shoe.

One thing Nike+ offers on their Web site (aside from uploading your workouts), is goal setting. This is separate from my 30 miles for the month. While I am still working on building my distance, I really need to improve my speed. As you can see from the workout log at the top, I ran 4 miles in just under 9 minutes. And I would like to think I'm a little faster than that. So, through Nike+, I have set a goal for myself to run my next 5 workouts at 8:30 or less. Then I'll try to improve slowly from there.

And, yes: I would have run another half mile had I known how far I had gone.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Saturday: The Day of Rest

Saturdays have typically been a big running day for me (I like to wake Neil up way too early and head out to the rec. center by 8:30 a.m.), but I really enjoyed the training rest today. I did do some work with weights, but I spent the rest of the day having fun.

Among other things, we went to the West Side Market, where I couldn't pass by a couple of Russian tea biscuits that just couldn't stop staring at me. So, I bought them, wrapped them up really well, and stuck them in the freezer for later this month. I had thought about creating some headgear with a stick, on the end of which I would hang the biscuits, but that might be a little too weird. You think?

It's important to rest, so I'm going to get some restful sleep tonight. I'm synching up my iPod right now with my latest music updates, and hope to get kicking with my Nike+iPod stuff tomorrow (finally!).

Friday, January 5, 2007

Whittling Away at 30

Running a marathon is nothing to sneeze at. Yet while many runners top out at 26.2 miles, some just keep going and going... and then going some more.

These people aren't crazy; they're just ultra. And when you're ultra, you run ultra marathons, which are longer than 26.2 miles — 30-, 50-, 100-mile races. There are also timed events, like 12-hour runs, 24-hour, 48-hour, and even multi-day events.

Ultra-runners are really a different breed — different from me and another one else I'll ever know. Ultra takes a level of discipline and organization I don't think I'll ever touch. And if I had been brought up differently by different people with different values, I would probably try to kill these people. But for now I'll just admire their strength and be content with the 3.5 miles I ran today (and 1 mile I walked).

The month's total: 5.5 miles. At this rate, I should just barely finish mile thirty before midnight on Jan. 30.

If I don't run 30 miles in January, I will not eat dessert until I do.
I'm running 30 miles this month. Make your resolution.

That is, if I hadn't received my Nike+iPod kit today. Apparently I can calibrate the thing to understand my running vs. walking, arrange for a "PowerSong" to play when I need some bounce, get spoken feedback, and set up a variety of workouts.

Good music is necessary for my running. When I bought my iPod last July, I assumed I would play with the thing for a month and then lose it in a closet or the mess of my gym bag (knock on wood). But it has really become my lifeblood when it comes to running.

One of my first tasks when I bought my iPod: create a running playlist. It's at least 50 songs long, mostly popcorn, and today I ran to the following segment (click the song titles to hear samples):

(Special thanks to Neo for his supramusic collection.)

I try to sprint or at least kick it up a little bit in the middle of my runs. It's not only to work on speed, but also to tired myself out and learn to keep on running. I have a feeling that the last leg of the triathlon is not exactly a relaxing trip to the beach. So, it has been some good conditioning.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

And Now for Something Completely... Sassy!

Swimming is one of those "threshold" activities: you hurt so bad for the first several laps. But once you swim past the point at which you want to die, you can just swim forever. Well, at least I can.

Now that's just a little bit sassy: XDSkin corset-back suit from Speedo
Now that's just sassy: the Speedo XDSkin corset-back suit. Want it too?
Today my threshold was 200 yards before I was home free to swim 2,100 yards:

500 yards free
100 yards fly kick
500 yards free
100 yards fly kick
500 yards free
400 IM

What I would like to know is whether that threshold (i.e., number of laps it takes to loosen or warm up) should get larger or smaller. But I guess I experience a similar warm-up in running. The first mile kills; but if you make it through that pain, you can run to exhaustion.

And onto style: right now I'm sporting a Solid Super Pro Speedo Endurance suit in black. It's a quality suit that has held up considerably well over several months of swimming. Growing up, I always had to have a colorful suit, which would unfailingly fade to a pastel mess. (Hint: soak your suit in vinegar.) There are some pretty hip designs out now (like Speedo's Flipturns varieties), but I think I like something that's a little more sassy: Speedo's XDSkin corset-back suit. Unfortunately, I'm tragically cheap right now, so I'll be keeping my eye on that one to be on sale. Sigh.

While I do know what to wear in the pool, I'm not familiar with triathlon gear. I don't know if I could pull off the unitard look, but I'm really interested in learning what other people find most comfortable to wear. In my younger triathloning days — when I was too young to feel weird about running around in a bathing suit — I didn't worry about transitionable clothing. But I'd like to think I could pull off this trio from Speedo: female tank, midster race short and hooded shrug. I don't know if the hood is necessary but it looks pretty awesome.

Fashion, however, is not my main concern. Not even top 10. But it's a nice thing to keep my mind off my aches and pains... and the 28 miles I have left to run before I can have the biscotti waiting for me in the kitchen. Still waiting on the iPod chip!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

January Countdown Begins...

Listen to the soundtrack to Jan. 3 run:
Haughty Melodic by Mike Doughty

Today was Running Wednesday. And while the rec. center was still packed with resolutionists, the track was accessible. I would like to start running outside soon, but we're taking this one step at a time. So, I ran 2 miles and walked 1 mile.

By last August, I had built up to my all-time single-distance running record: seven miles. I was averaging around 10-12 miles each week and working on increasing my speed. But then I went on vacation. Boston was beautiful, but I lost my way (a.k.a. I got lazy) and had to start all over again. It's sad, really. Very, very sad.

The iPod chip should arrive on Friday. I'm psyched. These two miles, of course, count toward the month's 30. Nike+ just doesn't know that yet.

28 miles to go...

My Resolution


Dessert to me is like the Mona Lisa to an art historian — only I don't have the occupational connection or any remote excuse for the obsession. I love fruit desserts, chocolate desserts, simple treats and complex masterpieces. It isn't the sweetness that consumes me, but some intangible feature of dessert that just makes me happy.

And that is why I have given it up.

I haven't jumped on an extreme diet (believe me, giving up desserts would be pretty extreme), but am using sweets as bait this year. They're the proverbial "carrot on a stick": no dessert, I have vowed, until I run 30 miles this month.

I had considered running to work yesterday, running home, and then running back this morning (it's about a 10-mile trip) so I could parttake in my office's first-Wednesday-of-the-month treats. This month's spread features warm apple pie a la mode, popcorn truffles, chocolate biscotti, and cranberry biscotti. But I haven't ticked any miles off my goal. So, I had an apple and a banana, which were courtesouly provided by another conscientious trainee.

For some people 30 miles isn't much, but for me it's a lofty goal. I am starting out realistic. To keep myself on track (and honest), I have invested in a Nike-Apple iPod Sport kit, which will arrive from on Friday. If you're not familiar it's that all-too-well-marketed accelerometer chip you insert into your shoe to measure speed and distance of your runs. To me it's just another way to kick myself in the butt and develop a greater relationship with my iPod and my rocking running playlist. While I don't intend to buy Nike+ shoes for the new equipment, I hope to fashion an attachment for my Asics Gel-Foundation 7.

While I understand the economics behind Apple's partnership with Nike, I'm still not hip to changing my running shoe to make my iPod talk to me. Asics and New Balance should make "secret pocket' shoes that happen to have a slot in the sole of their running shoes that may be the exact size to fit the Apple-Nike chip. So, if my bright idea works, I'll share the details. If not, I'll let you know to which what kind of Nike I have surrendered.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Swimming Tuesday Hampered by Resolutionists

My first Swimming Tuesday was hampered today by 1) a slightly sore shoulder from being overzealous with weights on New Year Monday and 2) resolution swimmers. All due respect to resolution-makers, but, as Jeff G. has aptly observed, getting in shape is more a lifestyle change than a one-year [failed] commitment.

I typically swim at 1 p.m. during lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Kent State rec. center. Experience has shown that the lanes are open at this time (don't ask about the noon episode).

That is, until today.

I tried to look intimidating with my swim cap and Vanquisher goggles. But something tells me that the mostly large white guys swimming lap-for-lap weren't moved. My theory, however, was that since these were resolution swimmers, they wouldn't have too much stamina. I was right. Within ten minutes the pool was mostly clear.

Today's limited and skimpy workout (1400 yards):

500 yard free warm-up
400 yard IM kick (shoulder rest)
400 yard IM swim
100 yard free warm-down

It's still early. I have found it is wise to listen to your aches and pains sometimes, especially as you get older. Two and a half weeks ago I tweaked some muscles in my right back/wing doing weights, but ignored the pain as I warmed up with a 1,000 yard warm-up in the pool. My arm was sore through each and every stroke, but I kept pushing it. Then one lap into the next set, I was pulling into a turn and felt something pull and hint at a tear. I had to do that survival back float just to make it back to the wall. But after a trip to the hot tub, a long shower and some days of rest, I was back at it.

Note: today's shoulder pain was the right side again, but more rotator cuff than wing. It almost feels like a got punched in the arm! But I think I will go with the WebMd diagnosis of muscle strain.

Tomorrow: the Nike-Apple iPod Sport Kit.

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Road to 2015 Begins Here.

Don't call it a resolution (or a comeback, for that matter): today I officially begin my training for the Ironman. My sights are fixed on the 2015 event in Hawaii. Until then, I will be tracking my progress (the running will be interesting at the very least); competing in smaller, more reasonable events; trying to quit and getting back on track; and learning how to get from moderate shape to Ironman. Stay tuned: it is bound to be an exciting time.

Some background:
In July 2005, I made a decision: in 10 years I will compete in the Ironman triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. That's THE Ironman. Distances: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run.

I've been training moderately since then — running most days, swimming at least twice a week, riding my bike in nice weather. But with the new year (and nearly two years gone!), I'm taking it up a few notches. Plus my 27th birthday is quickly approaching and I need a reason to feel more youthful than ever. (My brother pointed out the other day that I will now be "officially in my late twenties." Thirty-year-old bastard.)

Swimming is my strength — I was a pretty good competitive swimmer from the time I was 6 until I was 18. Don't ask what happened after that. Although I was out of the water for over six years, I think I am a better swimmer mechanically now (but I will never get that youthful speed back). Perhaps my mind works better now too. Running, on the other hand, is my weakness. The last time I found running easy was 1989, when I played for the youth boys' league baseball team in Euclid, Ohio. Then puberty hit. And while I've never been a serious biker, I take some pretty good rides, and am looking into riding my bike to work on decent days. Unfortunately, I grew up riding my bike on the sidewalk, so I'm still learning that whole "riding on the street" thing everyone talks about.

So, I'm going to keep track of my workouts, questions, answers, and useful pointers for future Ironwomen and men. And then if I make it, you can too!