Monday, December 28, 2009

The Taco Bell Diet

Funniest commercial ever (sorry, I cannot embed the link):

According to the commercial eating Taco Bell (yes, Taco Bell!) will now help one lose weight, and not just as a result of diarrhea! Also coming soon is a new cooperative ad campaign from Folger's and Marlboro promoting the slimming benefits of copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes. Of course, the Taco Bell commercial's small print tells a more complete story -- Christine cut her caloric intake to just 1250 cal/day. It shouldn't come as any surprise that a quasi anorexic diet produced weight loss.

Anyhow, my $12 blender finally bit the dust and has been replaced by a much, much more robust model:

This new super-duper blender can even grind meat, so I am going to give making my own breakfast sausage a try by grinding pork loins. My ingredient list will look something like this:
10-lbs ground pork
4-tbsp salt
1 3/4-tsp white pepper
3 1/2-tsp ground sage
2 1/2-tsp ground thyme
2 1/2-tsp nutmeg
2 1/2-tsp ground ginger
1/2-tsp red chili peppers flakes
1/2-cup cold water
I cannot imagine how low the quality of meat in store bought breakfast sausage is, so hopefully making my own sausage is an easy, equally inexpensive alternative.

Another use for the blender is creating a more nutritious alternative to ice cream. I bought some chocolate protein powder a while ago because the store didn't have any vanilla powder, which I typically use in smoothies. (On a side note, I'm hesitant to use too much protein powder and am searching for something else that will give my smoothies the same consistency.) Turn out that I really dislike chocolate protein powder mixed with fruit. So, I created a "chocolate milkshake" with one banana, almond milk, coconut oil, ice, and the aforementioned chocolate protein powder. The result is a close enough ice cream substitute to satisfy cravings.

I also created a veggie smoothie recipe today that includes carrots, celery, broccoli (bet you didn't see that one coming!), a cucumber, an apple (the whole thing, seeds and all, because I was too lazy to cut it up), ice, and dashes of almond milk, OJ, and honey. Not horrible, but far from delicious.

So, if anyone has a better veggie-heavy smoothie recipe, I'd appreciate it. A quick search of the world wide web has shown me several recipes, all of which are a bit too fruit based.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dave Scott

Last week I was invited to a dinner featuring Dave Scott as a guest speaker. For those among my legions of fans that don't know who Dave Scott is, he's kind of the Wayne Gretzky of triathlon. Dave is a very articulate and well-practiced public speaker. He's also surprisingly short, maybe 5'9". At 55, he still looks like an extremely fit 35 year old. He's a great example of the powers of exercise and a good diet over the long run. (Everyone my age still looks pretty good no matter how bad their personal habits may be, but that won't be the case in ten years.) Anyhow, it's now time for my corniest blog entry ever...

After a few insider comments on his six IM Hawaii victories and his two "failed" attempts at ages 40 and 42, Dave talked about four types of fear and how these fears can hold one back. The four types of fear Dave spoke about are the fears of disapproval, the unknown, failure, and success. I didn't fully absorb the details of his speech (as I'm having trouble recalling some of his lessons as I write this), but a fair amount of what Dave talked about had to do with letting go of one's ego.

Personally, I would say the fear of failure affects me the most. That's probably because I believe I've been given so many advantages in life that any time I am not excellent at something, it's merely because I haven't applied myself enough. I can only blame myself whenever I'm less than perfect instead of accepting that one person can not be good at everything. As a result, I probably put too much pressure on myself to succeed. (A related topic that I'll briefly touch on below is whose standards one should use to judge success.)

Triathlon is a funny example of my fear of failure. I didn't get into the sport expecting to be good. Indeed, triathlon initially required that I overcome my fear of failure. For example, I knew when I first went to the pool that I'd barely be able to swim a single length. Nearly drowning trying to swim 25m is a bit humiliating! I also had to overcome my fear of failure when I showed up at my first race, as the less courageous thing to do would have been to make up some excuse and bail on the race. It's funny then that triathlon turned out to reinforce my fear of failure when to my surprise I became pretty decent at the sport.

Believing that one must always succeed can be bad for a few reasons. First, it can prevent one from trying new things. Second, it can cause one to be in what I'll call "competition mode" at all times. To provide an example specific to triathlon, being in competition mode at all times means not allowing a runner to pass even when one is supposed to be doing an easy workout. If every workout becomes a competition, over training is sure to follow and progress will stall.

The fear of failure can be overcome by letting go of one's ego. This doesn't mean that one can't have a big ego, rather that the ego must be tempered. Interestingly, the ego can be tempered by confidence, which I would typically associate with having a big ego. As an example of tempering my ego with confidence, by having confidence in my training plan I can allow another runner to pass me without feeling the urge to re-pass him (or, gasp, her!). Controlling my ego will certainly be necessary now that I've moved to Colorado, where there is a much higher concentration of talented athletes compared to back in Michigan.

One final comment on Dave's discussion of fears and the ego involved being able to set aside pressure and its associated stress. Dave recommends to his athletes that they have a time (a literal time of the day, like 9PM) after which they are no longer allowed to worry. Worrying and stress are just energy drainers without contributing anything positive, so limiting these emotions is beneficial. Also, introducing levity in a stressful situation can have a similar effect. Perhaps I'll watch a funny movie the night before my next big race.

I don't recall Dave touching on this subject specifically, but I think a big part of overcoming the fear of failure is having one's own standards for judging success. Since this is a triathlon blog, I'll stick with a triathlon-related example even though I think having one's own standards for success is more important elsewhere in life. My standards for judging success in triathlon include enjoying training and racing, being the best that I can be, and being healthy. Being the best that I can be requires that I give a full effort. It seems to me that so many people are afraid to give their all, or are afraid to admit that they are giving their all, because to do so would make them susceptible to failure. They likely subconsciously think that if one doesn't try, one cannot fail. However, by changing one's paradigm such that giving one's all is the measure of success, the fear of failure can be overcome because one can control the outcome. I believe giving a full effort is important because that's the only way to find out what one is capable of, which is a very rewarding experience.

Okay, that's enough emotional/spiritual content for one day. Dave mentioned a few other interesting points. First is the importance of body composition for triathlon performance. Dave mentioned that one major difference between the top 10 women at Kona this year and the rest of the pack was a noticeable difference in body composition. Chrissie Wellington, as Dave put it, is like one big vein. She is extremely sinewy. I, on the other hand, am a relative beefcake. My BMI is closer to overweight than underweight. (See exhibit 1.) Hopefully my commitment to a good diet pays off over the next few months and I slim down a bit. My approach is not to try to minimize how much I eat, but rather to eat quality food and only cut back in the few hours before going to sleep. The goal is to go to bed slightly hungry (though not stomach-growling-hungry).

Exhibit 1:

Another comment Dave made was that athletes should take in calories during exercise, as this promotes fat burning. Fasting during exercise just teaches the body to conserve as much energy as possible, which encourages the body not to burn fat. Now, one needn't take in calories during, say, a 30 minute jog. However, once the sessions lengthen, one should eat. I will start using calories on workouts longer than 1h30min, even though I can go a bit longer without.

Now back to my go-to topic as of late, swimming. Many of my competitors swam as kids. These folks have years of swimming six times or more per week, and many of them still probably swim in the range of 20,000m per week while training for triathlon. It is ridiculous for me to think I can be close to them out of the water on just 3 or 4 swims per week, especially when I average 2500m per swim. Actually realizing how much work it's going to take me for my swimming to get to the level I want it to be at is actually calming. I can avoid the need to notice constant improvement by recognizing that improvement is not going to come without lots and lots of hard work. I'll get out what I put in.

Finally, here's my trainer workout for today, purloined from Linsey Corbin:
Hour One - warming up
15 minute warm up (180 watts)
15 minute Single Leg Drill (1 minute left leg, 1 minute right leg, 1 minute both, repeat)
15 minute steady riding (225 watts)
15 minute tempo riding (250+ watts)
Hour Two - big gear, low cadence work
4 x (10 minutes of big ring, low cadence, 5 minute recovery)
I'll go one gear harder after each 10 minute segment, so my cadence lowered throughout the set. #1: 70rpm, #2, 65 rpm, #3 60rpm, #4 55rpm. I'll see how 260 W goes for these efforts.
Hour Three - power hour!
The third hour is a ladder effort of 2x through:
(1 minute easy, 1 minute hard, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy, 3 minutes hard, 4 minutes easy, 4 minutes hard, 5 minutes easy, 5 minutes hard). I'll try to hold 270 W for the hard efforts.

Wow, longest entry ever...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Swimming technique

It may seem odd, but when I first went to masters swim practice I hoped that the instructors would see my stroke and then list off a multitude of things I'm doing totally wrong. I reasoned that if my stroke was flawed I could make some simple technique changes and suddenly I'd be a front of the pack swimmer. While I've received a few tips, the consensus among the instructors seems to be that my technique is not horrible. (As an aside, I was even told to "not change a thing" about my backstroke.) I recognize that instructors may have a laundry list of corrections I need to make and are doling out just one or two tips at a time so as not to overwhelm me, but the tips I have received thus far are minor things.

First, I've been told my right arm is a bit too straight during recovery. This is not too problematic so long as my shoulder is comfortable, but a bent arm can better position my hand for entry. I think I've made good headway over the past two swims toward having a classic bent arm during recovery so that my hand is traveling nearly straight forward upon entering the water.

Second, I've been told that I should roll each should forward a bit during the extension portion of the stroke. By rolling my shoulders forward, each arm's extension will be a bit longer, which in turn will allows for a longer stroke. Making this change is going to take a bit of work, as rolling my shoulders feels like it alters my timing.

In addition, I've also been tweaking a few parts of my stroke on my own accord. I'm trying to align each hand's entry with its respective shoulder so that I can roll my body to a position inline with that shoulder as my recovering hand extends forward.

Further, I'm paying close attention to the vertical location of my hand as I extend it forward under water toward the end of its arm's extension -- I'm trying to avoid letting my hand go above my shoulder (i.e., I'm trying to prevent my hand from being nearer to the surface of the water than my shoulder). I think having my hand vertically inline with or slightly lower than my shoulder may facilitate good leverage when initiating my catch/pull.

A final piece of my stroke that I keep in mind while swimming is having an open armpit during my catch. Having an open armpit allows for a high elbow during the catch. I've also heard that one's wrist should break slightly downward right before (or maybe at the beginning of) the catch, but I can't really feel this so I haven't worked on it.

Since my stroke is adequate, my progress is going to come from hard work in the pool. I've got to avoid becoming discouraged when I don't see immediate improvement. I'm not going to be doing holding sub 1:30 for 100m next week. Instead, I need to expect a gradual reduction in my times over the course of months. Shaving just 1.5 seconds/100m per month for each of the next nine months would add up to drastic improvement. However, 1.5 seconds/100m isn't an extremely noticeable change over the course of four and a half weeks, as 1.5 seconds is about the precision of my timing.

Finally, a tip for anyone working on flexibility: check out the YOGAmazing video podcast (available on iTunes). There are specific episodes for running, swimming, beginners, etc.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another productive week with lots of swimming. Stacey and I went down to Littleton yesterday with the plan of hiking to the top of Goat Mountain. It was a beautiful and sunny December day. On the climb up I got so hot I had to roll up my pants and strip down to just a base layer on top even though we were often hiking through several inches of snow.

A few hundred vertical feet short of the peak Stacey and I came across one of these guys in the trail right in front of us:

We were about 25 feet away from him when we noticed him. After retreating a few hundred feet, I couldn't talk Stacey into climbing any further. Still, a nice little walk that's making itself felt in my quads today.

As a PSA,, my source for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes, now has NBC's broadcast of last year's IM Hawaii. It makes for some good programming during a trainer ride.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trainer ride

Here's a nice trainer workout: Warm up for 15 minutes. Ride at HIM pace or slightly harder for 2 minutes (I tried to ride near 260 W), then ride easy for 1 minute. Repeat that 3 minute cycle twenty times. Cool down for 15 minutes.

My HR would get fairly high, well into the 160s. Still, time goes by pretty quickly since the focus is on completing each 2 minute effort and then enjoying the 1 minute breaks.

I'll play around with the ratio a bit in the future, gradually extending the time spent working (maybe 3 min to 1.5 min easy next time).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Weekly schedule

Off-season? What off-season? Here's a general outline of my current weekly schedule:

Monday - Easy run of 45-60 min in the morning, 90 min masters swim in the evening
Tuesday - Easy swim of 45-60 min in the morning or at lunch, 90-120 trainer ride in the evening with some efforts in the range of 145-150
Wednesday - Same as Monday
Thursday - Long run of 90-105 minutes in the morning, easy swim of 45-60 minutes in the evening
Friday - Same as Tuesday, though typically with an easier trainer ride
Saturday - Long aerobic ride (3:30 to 4 hours) + recovery swim
Sunday - Trainer ride with some efforts + recovery swim or run depending on what I feel like

This schedule is very flexible. Stacey and I try to go for a hike or trail run once a week, so I'll mix up the schedule (typically by dropping a trainer ride) as necessary to fit that in. If I feel especially fatigued, I'll take an off day. Otherwise, I use the holidays as built in recovery periods. With swimming, I've been going every day and taking a day off only when I feel fatigued. Swimming is my focus for the next few months. Lastly, if I don't hit all of the above, it's no big deal - there's plenty of time once January or February rolls around to get more focused for Cali 70.3. Right now I try not to place too much importance on hitting all the sessions so that I can maintain some focus in reserve for closer to my "A" races.