Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rock Bottom Isn't So Bad

Today I hit rock bottom. There was no head-shaving or escaping from rehab, but pressures from every corner of my life had mounted and I reached that place where you just want to quit everything. In fact, at one point, I wondered if I could even handle the two weeks I'd have to give as notice for my job.

Oddly enough, I didn't want to quit my training. Yeah, yeah, yeah, cute story. But it's true.

By mid-day I lacked motivation to even click my mouse to open an interesting email (it was one about food too). Yet after my afternoon class I didn't have a second thought about running a little over 5 miles. And then after work I did the same thing. I dragged myself to my evening class with what little will remained and then something clicked. The paper over which I had toiled was returned with a better grade than expected. And I realized that all this sluggishness and moping was a big waste of time.

That's the lovely thing about hitting rock bottom. I can't say that I'm magically "cured" or really just better in general, but I'm getting there. Although I'm not quite sure why I'm sharing all of these unnecessary details (all that narcissism from the next generation has made me a sullen teenager).

The most important thing is that I completed my February goal!

As I mentioned yesterday, I need to take a serious running break on Thursday (it's typically my swimming day anyway) before I start on my week-before-my-first-race routine. That's right, St. Malachi is a week from Saturday. I'm going to need to adjust from my regularly schedule running routine next week to get in the proper training and the appropriate rest by Saturday. These mid-day classes have really dorked up my schedule over the past two months (and I cannot wait until May when I can have my lunch hours back).

Orlando. Just because I can.By the middle of tomorrow, however, I would like to establish my March goal so I can get started. So, everyone who said they had ideas: lay them on me!

And I thought it was in order — considering my low state and need to thank Chris again for allowing Neil to take off work for New York — to post another photo of Orlando Bloom. Not because I don't have a picture of Chris again, but because I have this photo of Orlando Bloom.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Little South of Overdoingit

One of the best parts of running a few weeks ago during those frostbite advisory days (I think my nose is still a little raw from the cold; damn Jack Frost!) is how easy it is to run outside now when the temperature blasts into the upper 30s!

Although I spent most of the day feeling wholly dispassionate about a position paper I had to write, I hit the still ice-crusted sidewalks in my neighborhood twice today, leaving two more runs to complete tomorrow. I may have come close to overdoing it, and will take a much needed make-up-for-being-a-dufus day on Thursday (mentally, physically, emotionally).

The runs were about 5 miles a piece. I know, I know, I know I have chided myself recently for stopping at my minimum (I believe they were each around 5.02 and 5.04 miles), but I set out to do two runs today. I'm feeling surprisingly swell. The most difficult part was running with all of my winter clothes on: it may have been in the upper 30s, but I was still dressed for the awful days of winter. Perhaps they're past us now? Plus, only one side of the street had clean sidewalks (and even that side was only 2/3 clear), so I had to run up and down the same path. For five miles in the morning. For five miles in the evening. Yawn.

But March is upon us: what do you think my March goal should be?

I wasn't quite fond of my February goal, but that happens when you're staring at two more five-mile runs on the last day of the month. Why can't this be a leap year? But I will definitely focus on running again (especially with my first race coming up) in March. Perhaps in April I will get some cycling into the mix as well. And, well, swimming is just my treat.

For now, however, I need to get some sleep in the mix. Tomorrow is one of those long, hard days that is sure to cause more emotional stress than necessary (more on that later). And that's why I'm glad I can look forward to my upcoming New York trip (in May) thanks to CHRIS at DATAVANTAGE, (last name omitted) who has released Neil to go with me. I didn't have a photograph of Chris, so I've posted this picture of Orlando Bloom in his place.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More Yoga-Running Benefits

While I was running yesterday, I noticed that my stride has not only improved with my conscious arms movements and leg extensions, but with my better posture as well.

I've had poorer-than-it-should-be posture since I became an uncomfortable teenage girl about fifteen years ago (has it been that long?). And it's been a struggle to be normal ever since. Aside from my being short already, the bad posture weakens my running stride and puts weight on joints that don't need the extra burden.

Yoga, however, has helped strengthen my back and straighten it out. I know, I've mentioned it before! But simply sitting in sukasana or standing in tadasana, your heart opens and you can feel the outer-spiraling movement of your arms. On most weekdays my upper back crunches when I prepare for yoga, releasing all the tension, bad vibes and fatigue built by a workday. It's calming just typing about it.

When I practice yoga at least twice a week, I can feel a difference in my running. Not only do I carry myself better and upright, I'm lighter in my shoes. Rather than slump into my shoes, I float above them.

My yoga recommendation is Vinyasa yoga (Pablo Domene Lee offers a great session via podcast on his Web site) if you can find it at a studio near you. While you're looking, however, perhaps you can look into Tracy's recommendation: Bikram yoga. It's been called "hot yoga" because it's practiced in a room that's heated to 105 degrees. She swears by it. Either one is worth a try.

I'll have get some running-followed-yoga a try tomorrow: I think I'm going to swap out a swimming Tuesday for a running day. It dawned on me today that I should try to make my weekend running day Saturday and then swim on Sunday (if I ever get in that third day!). Running my long distance on Sunday has butted into a regularly scheduled running Monday. It's throwing me all off.

Several people brought it to my attention today that I to mindful to sufficiently rest myself between runs. And that I shouldn't expect to run nine miles everyday (you know me so well)! So, I rested my legs this evening and opted for some light weight training instead.

Swimming has been going well, so I should be able to stand a day off. Too bad I didn't get that extra swimming day in this weekend. But there is always next weekend.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Longest Run Ever. Again.

It must have been around mile four that I left my Negative Nilly behind. She was really holding me down. All I wanted was to run at least five miles, but when I reached five, I wanted to do six and a half; I reached six and a half and I wanted to run eight.

So, I settled the conflict by running 9.06 miles.

I kid you not, over nine miles: it's the longest I've ever run in my entire life (I know I keep saying that, but it's true every time)! It had crossed my mind to run a full 10 miles and count the run as a double on the February goal, but I realized that I might start working toward goals for all the wrong reasons.

But nine miles! It solidified my choice to run the five-mile rach at St. Malachi on March 10.

I had originally set out this icy morning to just get five minimal miles under my belt and out of the way. But I started thinking about the race in less than two weeks. I thought that if I continued to stop at five miles, my body would be ready to stop way too early in a 5-mile race. I hope to prepare my body to race double that distance in the next couple of weeks, to be doubly ready.

When I was a swimmer, my dad always said to me that if I wanted to be an excellent 100-yard butterflyer, I should practice swimming 500-yard butterfly. And when I would swim 100, I would be more than prepared for the feat.

(I never actually followed my dad's advice, but I understood the logic. I may have been too interested back then in rushing home to hang out with Landon and gawk at the evolution of late-90s music videos, like "I Want You" by Savage Garden and the Take That video with Robbie Williams dancing in the rain.)

Blog Of The Day Awards WinnerP.S. Thanks to whomever nominated my blog for a Blog of the Day Award: that's awesome!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

First Race: St. Malachi on March 10

Two miles or five miles? That is the question.

While I didn’t run on Saturday as planned, I did some strength training in the morning and decided on my first road race of the season: St. Malachi on Saturday, March 10 in Cleveland. My step-father ran this race last year and I remember standing on the sidelines feeling left out and lazy.

The race is on the very near west side of Cleveland, at the end of Veterans’ Memorial Bridge. It may be or not quite be Ohio City. But it is down the street from the West Side Market.

Yes, I obsess over bratwurst. But only from the West Side Market. Really!Last year we dropped my step-father off at the start, grabbed some bratwurst and met him at the sideline. I think we’ll just have to make it an annual thing — except, of course, we’ll get the bratwurst after I finish the race.

But the race is offered in two flavors: two miles and five miles. I was kinda hoping for something right down the middle, like a 5K, but no-o! Registration is due in early March, so I’ll have to make this decision this week.

March 10 is only two weeks away, so I really need to hop to it!

This race, however, looks like a killer to me: last year the last quarter-mile or so was up a fairly steep run-up-from-the-river hill. I remember the first guy coming in (had to be around 25 minutes or so — geez!) and everyone just standing around staring at him huffing up that hill. It seemed so anticlimactic. I can only imagine what he was feeling.

That could be me this March!Until Neil jumped in the street and started whooping it up for this guy. The crowd started cheering and by the time the runner approached the finish line the noise had hit a pretty decent rumble. But it died quickly. So, as the next runner approached the final hill, Neil jumped in the street again and yelled, “Second place is sexy! Woohoo!” and got the crowd going again. The steady stream of runners followed and everyone received a warm welcome. And as my step-father passed I’m certain he wished he were someone else (we’re a rather embarrassing bunch of cheerer-oners).

Thankfully, I’ll have people like Neil and my mom on the sidelines to make me wish I were someone else when I approach the finish to my first race.

Thinking about this race makes me want to head out still this evening — even if it is cold and dark. That’s why we have sidewalks!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Looking Toward March and the Spare Swim

Sometimes it just takes that cold week or that lousy day to put a stick in the spokes of the fun bicycle ride that is regular training for me. Last week's weatherly obstacles and this week's mental hurdles have shot my motivation.

I ran a tad over 5 miles after work today, but it's been a struggle lately. Even with these sunny days! I've had trouble getting starting, continuing to run, finding the will to keep running. It's as if I hit seven miles last weekend and it was all down hill from there.

Maybe it was because I clicked off my Nike+ iPod reading after that run before Paula Radcliffe could congratulate me for my greatest distance.

That must be it.

I suppose I'll have to get back to that whole dessert reward scheme. Nothing moves this girl like some torte.

On the bright side of all my negative talk and sluggishness, I am inching toward my once-seemingly-unreachable February goal! So as not to repeat a comparable misjudgment of starting a lofty goal five days into a short month, I'll have to nail down my March goal soon.

What do you think?

Perhaps I can run more miles every time I set out than the time before... that way I won't wallow in my five-mile rut. Or I could commit to at least 3-5 hours of running each week. Maybe three 1-hour runs.

Poolside: I would like to fit in that extra day of swimming this weekend. When I combine swimming and running (in that order) in a single day, I feel great. Running and then swimming, however, doesn't work for me. And I'm so glad the original Mr./Ms. Triathlon agreed.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unconventional Recovery: Double or Nothing

Rumor has it that yesterday was National Have a Poopy Day Day (that’s right, two ‘days’). And if you didn’t celebrate with the rest of us, let’s just say you really missed out.

On today being comparatively better.

Not only did Diana, a lovely woman from my office, find the missing button from my coat (seriously, who ever finds their missing button?), but I had a fairly decent swim and a good run today as well.

I was still feeling a little drained after having my brain and confidence lashed yesterday, so I kept the swimming tough, but brief:

300 yards free
[break to talk running and spinning]
600 yards fly (alternating 200 yards one-arm, 100 yards two-arm)
[no break]
100 yards free

As usual, I’m on one of my kicks: I love the one-arm fly workout. It’s nice to really feel the rhythm of butterfly and the full length of my stroke. Plus, it tires me out big time. So, even if 1,000 is low yardage for me right now, the impact was there. And the fun was too.

Nevertheless, I had guilt and energy powering me through the end of the day (guilt over still having seven – now six – runs remaining by Feb. 22), so I skipped out and had a quick 5.5 miles at the rec. center, which hasn’t been remotely as track-crowded as it used to be. Knock on wood.

But tonight should be more about relaxation and recovery. I’m going to kick back with a cup of earl grey, the latest edition of Tin House and the Cavaliers game in the background. Maybe I'll finally write that short story I've been meaning to get out. Let's hope.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just One of Those Days

Remember that time I wrote about the importance of being hydrated? Yeah, I think I need to go back and read that myself because I didn't follow my own advice today. And I had one of those days. Oh yeah, one of those days.

You'll be so glad to know I finished that godforsaken paper (and now there's another one!), but stayed up late and woke up early to finish it. The work day slugged by so painfully that 11 a.m. felt like 4:30 p.m., and I just wasn't in it today. At all.

But when I ran 6 miles after work I felt great. It was so nice I wanted to run outside, but didn't have enough time to get lost on the hills of Kent. So, I had an even run at the rec. center, hopped in the shower and made it five minutes late to class.

No more than two minutes into sitting down, however, I realized I was so dehydrated that I was on the verge of delirium. The only water I had after the run was the shower and apparently osmosis wasn't working today. It was all I could do to stay focused in class (I fidgeted, I doodled, I fidgeted some more, and I kept going back to when I'll get the next paper done), but there was nothing I could do to prevent making a fool out of myself when called on. Sigh.

So, I sang loudly to Over the Rhine's "Snow Angels" the whole ride home just to stay focused. It's only 10 miles from Kent State to my home, but it was one of those rides you a) shouldn't be making; b) seems to take forever; c) you don't really remember making once you get home. But I walked into my apartment, where Neil immediately poured me a good pint of iced tea, and chugged, chugged, chugged.

A gallon of water, a bowl of Honey Graham Squares and a cherry pie Larabar later: I'm ready for class! Oh, wait.

So, just to remind you (and me) what happens when you're not properly hydrated, I've included the "How Gatorade Saved an Ironman" video. Don't let it happen to you:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Swimming to the Fullest

For the past several weeks I've been working on continuous swims — 30, 40, 45 minutes — and have finally reached the point at which I could probably just keep swimming into that sunset. It was time to mix it up again.

Today I swam:
500 yards free
1,000 yards pseudo IM (fly, back, fly, free)

While I took a slight break between the two sets, it was a little necessary after racing the first 500 yards and then starting that first 250 yards fly. I'll have to admit, however, that it was, for the most part, one-arm fly. But for good reason: follow-through.

Taking advantage of your full stroke improves your swimming stride, tempo and speed more than anything else I know. As I get tired, I know my stroke suffers. Big time. Just look at my blogs about suit burns on my neck and back!

One of my tired body's worst faults: cutting my stroke short. Rather than pulling along the underside of my body and flicking out of the water with a full stroke that ends near my thigh, I'll pull my arm up and out of the water at the waist or hip. That's just lazy. But when I'm tired or just in a zone it takes much concentration to optimize my stroke. So, I did some "drills" today.

I'll be the first to admit that throwing some butterfly into your workout is a good butt-kicker (and who doesn't like one of those once in a while?). Especially at the end. But doing greater distances of one-arm butterfly is one of my favorite swimming workouts of all time.

The motion requires follow through on the arm stroke and reiterates stroke after stroke the feeling of following through. It's like beating something into your head, but prettier.

So, I swam 250 yards one-arm fly, then 250 backstroke. Still reveling in the good feeling of fly and following through, I decided that breastroke was for wimps and another 250 yards fly were in order (if I were actually swimming 500 yards real fly today, then, maybe, I could call people wimps). That second set was tough and I paced myself on a semi-decent freestyle swimmer in the next lane. Wall after wall, I had to convince myself to keep going. Oh, that overwhelming urge to stop!

Despite being exhausted (first time in a long time!), I turned into that last 250 yards freestyle with my follow-through securely ingrained in my motion memory. I was tired, but my stroke was full and fluid. It took far less energy to swim at the same speed than it typically does when I'm tired because I was economical in my form. I didn't waste energy and took advantage of the full length of my stroke.

Moral of the story: Give it a try!

That's all for now. It's the last time I'll say this: off to that media ethics paper. It's due tomorrow evening!

Monday, February 19, 2007

I Want My Sidewalks Back

After several weeks of that weather, things felt so much like spring today that I split work so I could run at home. It may have only been in the upper 30's, but it felt like spring (remind me that I've said this next November when I'm crying).

Except, of course, for that whole four-feet-of-snow-piled-on-the-sidewalks thing. If you paid me $7 billion right now, I wouldn't be able to find the sidewalks for you. I could point you in the right direction, but you'll probably travel faster tunneling through the snow (it's about as tall as I am, no joke) than walking on it.

Running a little over 5 miles through the leftover sludge on the street wasn't much better, especially as cars sped a few inches away and threw more muck at me. I'm really looking forward to the days when my primary challenge is distance rather whether I'll be able to move my arms or not get frostbite on my nose!

I'm going to finish the weight training I began when I came in from my run (I took a break to make dinner: bean sprouts, carrots, shitake mushrooms, broccoli, shrimp and brown rice with hot and sweet peppers in ginger and sesame oil) and then finish that ethics paper and research proposal I've been allowing to distract me (plus that short story, geez!) for far too long.

But before that, I think I'll watch the "Day of Reckoning" one more time (for you, Neil: the conclusion to the Ohio State vs. Florida run-off for Nike Plus). Enjoy:

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday, Lazy Sunday

I know, I know, I know I'll never get anywhere by taking off a perfectly good Sunday when I could have taken a nice run or swim at the rec. center, but I am at least eating raw carrots and broccoli for a snack instead of digging into some leftover chocolate mousse. Not that this is a weight-loss program!

The day simply escaped me as I was working on a short story and my media ethics paper. Once I get through the paper jam that is mid-semester, I should spend less time making excuses and more training. And if someone could tell my neighbors to quiet down, I could get something done around here. Some guys just don't grow up.

I'll have to consider some sort of before- and after-work deal tomorrow... otherwise I'll never be the LeBron James of anything, really. Plus, I'll never complete my running goal for this month (I can't believe it's already Feb. 18; where did my birthday go?).

But for now I'm going to do some weight training while I watch LBJ be the LBJ of the world. I want to be LBJ of the world. Just for one day.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Endurance Training and the Karate Kid

How would I describe my Saturday morning run? Two words: even steven. Whatever that means, I ran a steady 7 miles today in 1:01:14 on the track at the rec. center. It was my longest run this year and the most even run I’ve had yet.

As you can see from the Nike+ graph, I maintained roughly the same speed for all seven miles. And isn’t that a goal of endurance training? I’m miles away from really achieving running nirvana, but I feel like I’ve finally taken a stride in the right direction.

Not only was I able to physically maintain the speed (a fairly decent one at that) over my longest distance, I fended off so many mental distractions like the one-lappers and groany-breathers. At one point, however, I may have sighed me expletive-laden thoughts a little too loudly as one show-off sprinted by. But I don’t think he would have known it was me.

The next best part of the run: I could have kept going. Even at seven miles, my legs were still energized and I felt great. Right around mile two my legs loosened up and I noticed that my breathing was quite regular. As Landon has previously described, it’s like my body has forgotten what it’s like to not be running and my function all normalize around my pace.

So, why did I stop? Most of all, I like making incremental progress. If I ran 10 miles today on an enthusiastic pair of cabin fever legs, I might be disappointed if I don’t reach the same height next time I run. I’m trying to be reasonable with myself. Secondly, I also wanted to show that there is always time to fit your health into the day. I woke up at 8 a.m. this morning, ate breakfast, drove to the rec. center, ran for an hour and made it back home by 10:30 a.m. And had I simply run outside in my ‘hood, I would have been done well before 10 a.m.

For all the nay-sayers you meet, tell them that in the time they take to secretly watch “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives,” they could be fitting in a good workout. There really is no excuse.

Side note: Neil and I were watching The Karate Kid this afternoon and I couldn’t help myself: I had to google Ralph Macchio. Take a moment to remember the movie, the leg sweep, the dojo and, of course, the crane. I was only four years old when the movie was released, but I remember it in all its glory.

So, it might come as a shock to you that Ralph Macchio will be 46 this year. We were shocked and a little heartbroken too. The kid is, in fact, The Karate Man.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Interview with a Marathoner

Giving up my lunch hours for classes this semester has been difficult — I've had to schedule training into spare hours of the day and squeeze what I can into every nook and cranny on Mondays or Wednesdays. So I've grown a little anti-social and self-centered about free lunch hours like Fridays, when I like to make up for the inevitable laziness of the week.

But I had to be a big girl today and go to lunch (I know, woe is me). I went with Elizabeth, who just moved to a new position for which I was on the search committee. What I hadn't known, however, was that she had previously trained for and had run a marathon. We talked about endurance training, especially during work hours, and how important is it (for those of us with waning will power) to have a goal, a target for your training.

What made me more jealous than finding out the Alumni Building has its own shower (how handy would that be for a midday run?) was that Elizabeth became marathon-ready in just a few months. I thought it would take me several years! She said that she had long been a casual runner — 2-3 miles every once in a while was enough — before she pacted with a friend to run a fall marathon a few years ago.

In June of that year she started workouts from a marathon book and followed its instructions through October, when she ran the big 26.2 in Columbus! She stayed committed to her training regiment and ran 5K, 10K, half-marathon races leading up to the big event. Not only did she finish the race comfortably, she did it in good time too.

So, while I didn't get to run a good workout on Friday, at least I talked about one! Developing a support network, I have found, has been just as significant as building my endurance.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Getting in the Swim of Things (a jellyfish story)

What's more difficult than sitting at home watching a winter storm eat your time? For me it was getting back into the pool after a week of not swimming, in addition to three days of all weight training and no aerobic exercise.

Even though I swam around 2,200 yards (2,000-2,200 yards free and the customary 100-yard fly finale), my lungs weren't exactly pleased with the situation. And it was only after 200 yards!

My goggles were leaky, my cap wouldn't stay on and my bathing suit started rubbing raw both sides of my neck and under my arm way earlier than usual. And while it stinks to have irritated eyes (everyone thinks I've either been crying or numbing some other pain) and open sores on my neck (teenage love affair, again), I understand that circumstances in the triathlon — especially in open water — will be less than ideal.

Which brings me to the long-awaited catamaran story...

Nearly 15 years ago I swam in open water for the first time. Sure I grew up 100 yards from Lake Erie and splashed around at Mentor Headlands as a kid, but it didn't constitute real open-water swimming.

When I was 12, my family and I went to the Bahamas over winter break. On what would have been a wind advisory day in the States was just a breeze on Cable Beach. My mom, step-father and I rented a catamaran, asked if it was safe and were sent on our way.

The first half-mile was a little bumpy and around a mile we started hitting our stride. But then our stride got a little faster, and as our pace kicked up with every bruiser wave we hit, my heart rate jumped twice as fast.

My mom and I were lying at the front of the catamaran platform as my step-father sat up steering from the back. The catamaran kept picking up more and more speed as the wind grabbed our sail and wouldn't let go. That feeling that something just wasn't right washed over me just as the catamaran was flipping over.

Next thing I knew I was under the catamaran and searching for my mom who cannot swim. I had seen my step-father go flying off in another direction, but heard him shouting for my mom and knew he was all right. I was diving under the catamaran and searching all around. I thought for certain she was stuck under somewhere thinking she was going to drown.

Then I heard her say, "Hey, I'm up here."

Let me illustrate the flip for you: I was lying on my back and facing the back of the boat. When the catamaran flipped, the front went down and the back came over me. My legs went over my head as I was thrown into the water.

You would suspect that the same would have happened to my mom, who was lying in the same position right next to me. But she somehow ended standing up on the only part of the catamaran that was out of the water, her hair still dry and sunglasses on her face. Talk about unbelievable! To this day no one can explain how she did it. Her water angel must have been on duty that day.
So, the three of us were stranded five miles out into the Caribbean Sea, past where my step-father had flown parasailing the day before and watched sharks swimming. If the same thing had happen after the media coverage of recent shark attacks, I might have just died of fear and never made it to shore. But these were more innocent, less media-saturated times.

What else could we do then but try to make it back to shore? I don't recall the logic behind the decision, but we left my step-father with the flipped vessel as I swam my mom back five miles to shore. I remember being so paranoid about sharks that I jumped every time I would see my own arm stroking through the water at a different angle.

Damn jellyfish!We must have still be a mile or two out when I tried to switch arms for swimming and carrying my mom. But when I moved the entire left side of my body tingled like a thousand needles were poking me. While my mom let me believe that my arm had fallen asleep, we had actually been attacked by jellyfish from shoulder to toe (she's experienced in jellyfish attacks; she realized what had happened and knew that I would have freaked out!). So, I switched arms back to the original position and continued swimming entirely unaware.

Finally we made it within 100 yards of shore when they sent a rescue boat to help us. We drove out to pick up my step-father and left the catamaran towing up to them.

While we all know the best remedy for jellyfish stings, I stuck to the Windex. I was like Toula's dad in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." And that's the story of how I swam five miles (while carrying someone) in open water.

Sorry for the long story, but at least now you know why I'm afraid of open water and hate jellyfish. Running is on the agenda for tomorrow, followed by some major goal catch-up over the weekend and an extra swimming day (despite the recalled memory of the jellyfish).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shivering with Cabin Fever

How nice it is to be wrong: after all of my disbelief in having a real snow day in the adult world, I was proved wrong today. At 6 a.m. my boss called and said the university was closed and that there was no work today. Yippee!

The downside was that there was no makeup swimming or running because the rec. center was closed as well.

My parents and me. Nothing to do with training, although I did convince my dad to tri-train after he retires. He says he'll try to make Kona by 2015 too.I did, however, try to go for a run. After I carefully packed myself into dryer-warmed running tights, fleece-lined pants and about three other layers of clothing, I busted through the door into the winter wonderland. I ran about ten paces down our sidewalk and stopped in my tracks.

There were some paths carved out of the snow, but where it was either pushed aside or left alone, the snow was anywhere from my knees to my hip. And I'm out to be an endurance-tested runner, not a hurdling champion. So, I ran to the end of the sidewalk, swung around and went inside.

Again I stuck to the strength training in the middle of my living room. Thank goodness for free weights, a stability ball and yoga.

The weather forecast looks healthy for tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to getting in the pool over lunch. Is it sad that I'm hoping to work tomorrow just so I can go swimming? You can see what I did today on my other blog, which features adventures with Melville the Snowman, as well as a link to photos from my birthday.

Plans for this weekend: find some races to run! I'd like to run a 5K early and go from there. I'm definitely penciling in the Greater Cleveland Triathlon and the Cleveland Triathlon. We'll see what else falls into place as the warmer seasons approach. If you have any race suggestions, locations or warnings, please send them my way!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Winter Storm Warning

What a bummer: I had to work through lunch today to finish a project, so I didn't go swimming at my normal time. To make up for it, I left work early and cleaned off my work associates' snow-mounded cars in the lot before heading to the rec. center. But when I pulled in the parking lot was empty. The center had closed because of the weather.

At least a bunch of people walked out to cleaned cars!

I'll have to settle for the intense muscular workout I got from driving home this evening. Every time my car slid or another car came careening my way, I could feel every muscle tense up. I'm a fairly calm driver and I don't lose my cool, but I still tighten up at that first feeling of no-control. I'm just grateful to be home and safe.

So, today became an unofficial day of rest, homework and guilt. Part of me wishes for a snow day tomorrow, but the other side of me realizes that I'm not in third grade and we don't get snow days anymore. Besides, I would want the snow day to catch up on things like swimming and running, but the rec. center would be closed and the snow would still be up to my knees. And that's the point at which running becomes an extreme sport rife with the slides, slips, jumps, tricks and broken bones you don't want at my age.

But if classes are canceled tomorrow, I might pull the double shift: swimming in the afternoon, running in the evening.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Strength Training Isn't Just for Lazy Days

Today was a planned day off running, but unfortunately so — I think it finally broke 30 degress outside!

No joke: I walked outside this morning, when it was about 31 degrees, and it felt like that first whiff of spring. Sure it was snowy and wet, but I had gotten so used to the 15-below weather that it was comfortable. Ah, relativity. Albert was onto something there.

I'm about to do some core/weight exercises (not that right before bed is the best time to do that) for my Monday training. While I used to think of these "core" days as my "slacking" days, I've recently noticed the benefits of strengthening my various muscles groups.

Yesterday, for instance, I was finishing up my fourth mile when I noticed my stengthened hamstring muscles helped me kick it through the latter half of my run.

It's typically around this distance that my form starts slumping. My feet drag a little, my arms are going all the wrong ways. But the expert running form advice I've received from people like Daniella and Melissa have helped me shape up my arm and leg movements for greater efficiency and productivity in my stride. For a while.

A month or two ago, I would have kept up the good stride for about 300 meters, but I could feel a distinct difference in my hamstrings yesterday. My stride was fuller and better extended than usual, and I was able to maintain it for the last 1.5 miles. I have also found that the abdominal and back strengthening I have done improves my running posture as well. Oh, how the benefits are endless.

And to think that I thought tri-training was all swimming, running and biking! Pfft.

My next focus will be on heart rate. I've found a number of resources (including some uber-knowledgeable people) to help me understand my HR and why I should care about it when I'm running and biking.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Just an All-Around Good Time

Although I gave myself an advance on the chunk of sweet potato tart with white chocolate ganache, I went to the rec. center this afternoon and deserved it.

Ten five-mile-plus runs remain because I took a 6.5-mile run on the track. Since my timed approach in swimming has been working, I thought I would apply it to my running as well. I set my sites on an hour run and went the farthest of my 2007 season.

Paula Radcliffe, however, couldn't tell you that. My iPod battery died near the end of mile four, so my Nike+ account will never believe me. But that's OK: I'll just have to do it again to get my congratulations from Paula. And I'll make sure my battery is not in the red before I start running next time.

Today's run was more a mental test than a physical one. Because I'm focusing on endurance, I had to ignore all of the people who were running around me: the sprinters, the one-lappers and the ones-who-are-just-fasters. It was hard. I was, however, able to keep a constant pace and feel great throughout the whole run.

Around mile five, a six-foot-five girl came chugging up behind me with heavy feet and rhythmic, hard breathing. One of her strides was equal to 3-4 of mine, but she just seemed to stay clomping in my blind spot. Lap after lap. I did my best to ignore her and maintain my pace... for ten laps! Finally, I made a pit stop for water and she ran another 30 yards and stopped. It was so nice to finally shake her. Geez!

Whenever Neil and I talk about endurance running, we bring up the T. Rowe Price commercial that has the two guys running. You know, the one guy runs at a constant pace while the other guy speeds past him. But down the road, guy #1 continues with his constant pace past hotshot #2 (I like to call him 'Flipper') who is heaving, cramping and stretching at the side of the road.

The message relates to consistent, steady investing that beats its Lipper Averages. So, my motto is that I want to run with steadiness and consistency that beats my Lipper Average! Just call me t-Ro.

My birthday this year was quite possibly the best ever (perhaps second only to the day I was born). For the first time I'm not promising myself to achieve some unreachable goal "by next year." I'm actually doing it now! Hardcore training is nothing to sneeze at! This isn't to say I've somehow pulled off everything I need in life, but that I'm happy with how I'm doing now. Finally! (Although I still have the left-over-from-my-20th-birthday goal of making it into The New Yorker by 28. We'll see in a year!) And I can't help but think my training (and the unending support and advice I receive) contributes to that great feeling. Plus, the Cavs spent the entire weekend kicking butt in my honor.

Not to get too gushy, but training makes me feel motivated in all other areas of my life. So, rather than thinking "gosh, I have no time for anything," I go with "the more I have on my plate, the more I'll get done." It's never been more true. And I even had time to take a nap this evening. That's what birthdays should be made of: happiness, wishes-come-true, super people and luscious naps. Oh, and good desserts too.

More about the weekend's festivities will be posted on my other blog some time this week.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Thank you to everyone for the great birthday wishes. Having super friends (not to be confused with superhero friends; they're not as cool anyway) is the best present ever!

Aside from some core training this morning, I'll just be appreciating my birthday today. I don't know whether it's the awesomest friends, maturity or a new and great sense of purpose, but I'm already birthday-content and it's only 3:30 p.m. That's a first for me. And I like it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

On the Road Again...

Progress. I made my return to progress this morning, completing my first endurance-goal run (5.08 miles) for the month. The overall goal aims at building my endurance, so I would like for future runs to be a little more than 0.08 over the 5-mile mark. But it's a start.

Despite the promise of warmer weather, it's still a little too chilly outside for extended exposure. For me, at least. The blinding sunshine, however, will fool you into believing otherwise. It doesn't do a thing in the way of warmth. In fact, I think I actually felt colder while running today (I dressed the same as recent frigid days, even prepping my clothes in the dryer before I put them on) because I had expected to be better off.

I suppose I'll have to look forward to 20-degree running weather another day.

My whole day won't degenerate into a couchfest, but for now I'm relaxing with an episode of "Extras." I've done my weight training for the day and some core exercises, so I deserve a brief respite before the cerebral calisthenics I have planned for the afternoon.

It is, after all, only 10:30 a.m.

And if I get my work done properly in that realm, I just might jump back in the pool. I'm still trying to get three swimming days into a week.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Time to Catch Up

In light of my day off tomorrow (in recognition of my Saturday birthday), I realized that I've only worked one full week this year. And that was last week. Apparently last week's five whole days broke me and I'm ready for some down time.

I'll have to admit, however, that vacation time for me is a little less lazy than relaxing on the couch watching "You've Got Mail" and sipping tea. That's called a "sick day." Lately my vacation days have become extended training days. I'll wake up early, head to the rec. center and get in 3-4 good hours of training before noon. Whereas many people will sleep until midday, I'm ready to conquer more of the world before lunch!

Tomorrow will provide time for much-needed catch-up: some reading, more homework, story writing and, of course, those 12 five-mile-plus runs I need to squeeze into the month's remaining 19 days.

Although I'm getting a little intimidated that I've overshot on this goal, I think I'll stick with it and see how far I go. No money, no lives are riding on this goal. Just my pride. And that was bound to drop off soon anyway.

I forced a 2,000-yard/30-minute swim into the middle of my work day. It seems people have really enjoyed scheduling meetings immediately after my swim time (don't they know?) these past several weeks, so I find myself sticking to a very strict schedule of 30-45 minutes swimming and 15-20 minutes for getting showered/dressed. At least today it was for a good cause: my surprise birthday celebration, featuring a triple chocolate truffle cake.

When I eat something like a triple chocolate truffle cake, I get people who question my doing so. Many people, it seems, don't think that I should be eating something so rich and delicious when dedicated to something like triathlon training. It's like when people criticize celebrities for bad habits like smoking. Somehow I might corrupt another athlete with my indulgent eating habits. I exercise to remain healthy, not to get healthy.

My argument: I think I have more rights to indulge than someone who has no physical goals whatsoever. I'm not training to lose weight, and eating chocolate (or something equally dreamy) doesn't hinder my ability to train. It's a reward. Restraining yourself from fantastic foods doesn't make you more dedicated. It just makes you hungry.

Now, I'll just go back to having my cookies and tea...

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

That Old Pain Threshold Again

Long, long ago in a pool far, far away, I began swimming.

Rather than taking lessons, I just jumped in and kept swimming toward my dad (who had tricked me into the dive) as he backed up and backed up until I swam 25 yards. The next Monday I was on a summer swim team at Memorial Pool in Euclid, Ohio. Years of early-morning practices, Saturday-morning meets and off-season training followed. And then I turned 17 and I stopped.

A couple years later I thought about swimming in college, so I bought a new suit, dug out the old cap and goggles, and headed to the pool. I swam four whole laps, hurt so badly I wanted to cry and I didn't return until late last year. About 8-9 years later.

Why the Gina history lesson?

On my recent swim post, Jason commented:

It's all about the pain threshold. Anyone who has talked to me about swim-conditioning has heard me say talk about the threshold.

You know that point while you're swimming when your arms are burning, you're breathing too hard and you just kind of want to die? Yeah, we've all been there. The secret: nirvana lies on the other side of that pain.

When you reach that point of exhaustion (assuming, of course, that it's relative exhaustion and nothing serious), don't stop.

At first, push yourself an extra lap past that point. Next time, go two or four. You're going to be tired. But when you push yourself past that threshold you'll eventually reach a state in which your muscles are warmed, your tightness loosens and it's all smooth sailing from there. I feel a similar relaxation after my first mile of running. Like warming up.

If you keep pushing yourself and still have trouble improving, take a look at your stroke. The problem most people close to me have had is breathing. They just can't get it right. Whether they don't understand the positioning, movement or frequency, they just don't do it.

If you're a troubled breather, check out the plentiful breathing resources available on the Web. I won't dole out general breathing advice, but I'm always willing to supply customized feedback. I may not be able to provide expert guidance about the other two legs of the triathlon (yet!), but I have a handle on the swimming gig.

So, that's my advice, Jason! It's probably not what anyone wants to hear (you know, that whole 'wanting to die' thing), but if you keep going, keep pushing, I think you can hit 2,500 yards in a month or two. Maybe less! Just beware of the desire to stop swimming, skip swimming days and slack off. Those are my biggest weaknesses. Next to chocolate.

Jason recently joined the triathlon community. Be sure to welcome him and visit Jason's training blog.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Better Luck in the Pool

It turns out there is something to this cold weather: I went to the pool today around 12:30 and I was the only one there. Not even the lifeguard was around.

For the first half hour I had the pool entirely to myself (the lifeguard came back before I jumped in). I completed about 2,500 yards today during a 45-minute swim. I still can't manage to keep count during these straight swims, but at least I keep going! And you would be proud: I only raced 2-3 people in the pool today. But they asked for it. Totally.

My swimming endurance has really improved over the past two weeks. Although I was previously swimming more yards (there were a few 3,000-yard days) per visit, I was breaking up the distances into various combinations of medlies and kicking laps. It was less out of weak endurance than mental ability. I still have an issue with keeping my mind occupied, but I don't feel the bored-pain that stopped me in the past.

And I firmly believe that if I had more lunchtime to swim, I could go at least 5,000 yards. I hit my pace around 1,000 yards and finish pretty strong; I always wish I could keep going. As I've mentioned in another post, I'd really like to work a third day of swimming into my week. Now, to figure out where to put that day?

My fingers are crossed that tomorrow is as balmy as the weather man promises. Eighteen degrees should be easier than 4 degrees for running outdoors.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Since at First I Did Not Succeed...

I'll just have to try, try, try again.

Despite the neverending list of school closings that are still scrolling across the TV (why don't they just list what will be open tomorrow?), I headed out for my first run of the month. Neither I nor the mercury, however, made it to the big '5.'

I stayed inside all weekend. By this afternoon I was itching with cabin fever, even when I headed out for class around noon and nearly cried at the cold. But by the time I came home (and realized I had to pay the rent), it didn't feel that bad. That bad. So, I bundled up hard core. Running tights, soccer socks, running socks, fleece-lined wind pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, among other things.

What helped most was the "coolmax" shirt I wore over the long-sleeved tee — it's made with that athletic material that wicks moisture away from your body. I think it kept my sweat and moisture within the bottom 2-3 layers of clothes, keeping the top two dry. That's nice!

I actually felt pretty great as I ran, even when I received some more-than-nutty looks from passers-by (mostly people in slow cars and one gaping guy with two dogs on a bathroom break).

What stopped me? My eyes were watering at the cold and the tears were actually freezing on my eyelashes. Although I could wipe it away, the frost began building up a bit much and I took it as a sign from Boreas, the Greek god of flipping cold, to take cover. So, I ran three miles and headed inside.

Unfortunately, that doesn't move me any closer to my goal. After I had a shower, dried off and eaten some soup (mmm, green/white tea + chicken broth and whole wheat dumplings), I regretted stopping and grumbled "I would have been done by now" a few times more than necessary. Sigh. Woulda, shoulda, coulda. Didn't.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Inside Activity: Route Mapping

When a new product enters the market, it dazzles consumers for ten whole minutes before we're asking for more.

My praise for the Nike+iPod has been overwhelming, to say the least, but my mind has been ticking from the first step I took on the initial run. And it's as if they heard me.

If you're holed up today like I am or bored sometime this week, visit Nike Plus, even if you're not a kit owner. Just register to get access to site facilities.

My favorite new tool is the Route Mapper. For those of us who are spatially challenged and have a difficult time gauging any distance whatsoever (everything is 20 minutes away for me, even if it's in a different state), a route mapping tool is useful for measuring a route's distance, as well as planning a future run with a distance in mind.

In the past I have just taken my car around the approximate route I would like to run, but you can't really do that all the time or everywhere. Now that I'm targeting 5+ miles for each of my runs, this measuring tool will help me determine a proper route to run, which will help with those "that was only 2 miles?" moments.

Not everyone will find this tool as useful and fun (I'm an interactivity fanatic; it's part of my job!), but it's worth a look -- if only to idly map out the distance from your house to the bank, the bike shop to the ice cream shop, your work to Taco Tantos. Not that that's what I've been doing for the past three days...

Not Off to a Great Start

It's so sunny and beautiful outside you would think that Mother Nature pulled one over on our ever-accurate meterologists. I woke up early this morning to hit Trader Joe's (stock up for the big game) and then head out for my first 5-mile run.

When I walked out to my car, I was fine. I was packed into a T-shirt, two fleece jackets and a leather coat so I wasn't underestimating the freeze. Once in Woodmere, I rushed from the car to the store (this sounds like the "Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" song) and still no pain. But by the time I finished shopping, loaded the car, returned my cart and ran back, I thought my nose had actually fallen off and taken several of my fingers with it!

As I carried the bags thirty yards to my door, the keys I had clenched in my teeth actually stuck to my top lip. It's freezing cold madness out there!

I'm going to give it a few hours to see if the temperature will exceed TWO at any point (17 below wind chill). I'd really like to get running. The rec. center is an alternative, butI would really like to stick to outdoor running whenever possible. Not only would I like to maintain my ability to run on varying terrain, I'm really just trying to avoid the rec. track and running in that muggy circle while dodging people who don't understand the basic rules of traffic and merging.

So, I'll try to find a way to work on that endurance goal from the warm comfort of my home. We'll see how that works out for me.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

February Goal: Endurance

After much consideration (and a handful of fantastic suggestions and bits of advice), I've decided on my February goal: 12 runs of five miles or more.

While I won't be swearing off any of my favorite things, I will find a reward to lay at the finish line (i.e., fruit napolean, super-chocolate truffle, sweet potato tart with white-chocolate ganache, casata cake, a weekend trip to New York... sorry, daydreaming) since I chomp at motivators so well.

Setting my goal makes me want to head outside and start chipping away, but it's so blustery outside right now I can't tell there is, in fact, an outside (wind-driven white-out). I might consider getting out my old ski goggles for a day like today!

But it's not a fear of running in the cold that has me down. I've warmed to the idea and am getting better at hitting the cold, lonely pavement. For a while I was worried about whether running in the cold and snow was bad for me. Most of it was gossip based: non-runners constantly warned that I should cover my mouth to avoid breathing "that cold air" and some others said I would just plain die. What do they know?

I've had some pretty good conversations about running in the cold with other runners/triathletes via the discussion board. Check out the interesting perspectives on winter-running, mouth covering and cold weather attire I received in this Running in the Cold thread. I'd love to know what others think and experience as well.

February is a short month and I've already lost 2.5 days! I hope that by the end of the month five miles won't be the daunting task it is right now. Endurance here I come!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Friday: Day of Rest

Friday has been my day of rest. I've done some weight training and will get into some yoga later this evening, but have generally relaxed today.

Rather than hitting the rec. center at lunch, I went to the elocal Starbucks, read The New Yorker, completed some homework, wrote part of a story and listened to people being absurd. Talk about relaxation.

It's supposed to be frighteningly cold this weekend (defined by single-digit temperatures like 2 and 6), so I'll likely stay indoors and be relegated to that track again. I would also like to start getting in an extra day of swimming each week (two just doesn't seem to be enough), and I don't have to do that outside! Besides, the hot tub is right next to the pool!

Rock on!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Of Swimming and Basketball

Swimming is a commitment.

When you decide to swim, you commit yourself to jump into a pool of water, to get totally wet and to swim long and fast enough to warm up your bones. If you're out of shape, you have to burn through the inevitable pain threshold and then you commit to whatever your workout is after that. You commit to drying off after you're done and getting dressed and primped for the remainder of your day. And when you swim for the long term, you commit yourself to doing the above on a regular basis.

So, it's easy to give up.

When I was growing up I don't think I ever achieved my full swimming potential because I abhorred swim practice. The last bell of the day would ring and I would often rationalize why I shouldn't go to practice: I had homework, I was hurt or I was tired. Really, I was just lazy. But times have changed.

My key to training: not thinking about it. If I consider whether or not I would like to run in a snowstorm or go swimming in the middle of a cozy day, I probably won't. So, I don't give myself a chance not to go. I just do it. (Thank you, Nike.)

Today I swam for 40 minutes, completing at least 2,800 yards (around 2,700 yards free and then 100 fly at the end). I have a difficult time keeping count, but it's all about the time. When I lose track, I just swim an extra 50 yards from where I left off. And let's just say I swam plenty of extra 50s!

I've come to prefer these non-stop timed swims now. Not only do I get greater yardage in less time, I'm definitely building my endurance (and that's what all this tri-training is all about!). But again, if I give myself the opportunity to rest when I don't need to, to split up yardage when I don't have to, I'll only cut down my production. These past two swims I've swum pretty decent yardage, I've swum pretty hard and been able to finish with ease and speed.

Since I have been swimming non-stop, I've had more time to think about my stroke efficiency in the act. My stroke has the tendency to break down a little half-way through a workout (probably around 1,200 to 1,500 yards) and then pick up at the other end.

The greatest sign of this breakdown is the rubbing rashes that appear on either side of my neck when I'm done. I realized recently that when my stroke wears, I overcompensate with my head motion as I breathe. Then my suit strap rubs against my neck and leaves a burn.

Today, I focused on my stroke accuracy whenever I felt myself getting tired. No bad breathing, no neck rash. What d'ya know? And now my friends can stop accusing me of having a teenage love affair at lunch!

But if you think it's difficult being a triathlete, try being a Cleveland sports fan. Sigh. Now that takes endurance. Oh, my, does it.

More on February goals tomorrow, I promise. The Cavaliers have worn down my will to live and succeed for one night.

Ah, just another season.