Friday, March 30, 2012


I started to feel it on Tuesday.  Not sore, nothing specific hurt.  But a deep, deep tiredness.  I thought I just wasn't getting enough sleep, so I went to bed early, slept in, and took a nap during the day on Wednesday.  But it wasn't enough, I was still exhausted.  Even the simplest exercise like stretching took intense focus.

And it wasn't just my workouts.  It went deeper than that: my brain felt tired.  I was falling asleep in class, and even following the plot of a TV show seemed too hard a task.  This was over-training.

Joe Friel coined the terms "fitness" and "form."  Fitness is you physical capacity, how strong you are, how fast you are.  But form is how well-rested you are, how much energy you have, the ability to perform at your peak.  I never understood the difference until now.  My fitness is way up- hill workouts are easier, I'm getting faster in the pool, my running form is improving.  But my form is shot.  My whole body is worn out, drained.  Like a sponge that's been wrung out over the kitchen sink, I'm empty.

I have two days left in my training block but I will have to cut it short to start recovering.  I will take three days completely off (that means no exercise at all!) then start my rest week beginning on Monday.  I've broken everything down, now my body just needs time to process the adaptations and rebuild.  It will feel strange to do so little, but it will give me a chance to focus on the other things in my life and clear my head before the next training block.  Sometimes that is what it takes to gain a better perspective: you have to step back and look at things from the outside.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Block 1 Week 2

Here was my training for the week:

Monday: 35 min swim (breathing drills.)

Tuesday: 45 min yoga, 1 min running.

Wednesday: 35 min swim (pulling drills.)

Thursday: 28 minute bike (hill workout.)  Very intense.  Too intense (lungs hurt the rest of the day.)

Friday: 45 min yoga.

Saturday: 20 min swim (practicing flip turns.)  60 min bike ride, easy Zone 1 ride with friends.

Sunday: Rest.

I was really tired at the beginning of the week, I think it was because I got too little rest over the previous weekend.  I also overdid it on the ride on Thursday- the hills were steeper than I thought and I stayed in too high a gear.  This is my first time doing serious hill work on the bike, so I am still figuring out what my limits are and how hard to go.

On the plus side my back is feeling great- my yoga on Friday had some of the deepest bends I've ever done which was really encouraging.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Accepting the challenge

When you immerse yourself in sports science, you learn two things.  One, that everything has it's apex: the perfect way to train, the perfect diet, the perfect race strategy, the perfect body composition.  And two, you learn how far away you are and may always be from that ideal.

Six hours a day might be the best training volume, but most of us have jobs.  A four month training program for your A-priority race may be just the right time to peak, but an unexpected injury might leave you with only 2 months to prep.  Most champion runners have bird-thin bones, but most people are born with a thicker frame.  Does all of this mean that we can't possibly succeed?  If the stars haven't aligned to ensure our success, should we just give up?

No.  To say yes would be to misunderstand what endurance sports are all about.  Endurance sports are about enduring, overcoming obstacles, weaknesses, and limitations.  The fun and the joy and the exhilaration are derived from the challenge, not in spite of it.  Those challenges can be external, like a mountain to climb or a distance to cover.  But they can just as well be internal, parts of ourselves that hold us back.  Mastering one's self may be the greatest challenge of all.

I've always had a low VO2 max.  Even at the end of my fourth season of high-school cross country, repeat thousands were excruciating.  In those workouts I would get passed by almost every guy on the team, even guys that I would normally beat in a 5k.  My lungs just can't process oxygen very quickly.  I had mild asthma when I was younger and it probably stems from that.  To make up for it I train extra hard on lung-building exercises, and rely on my strengths.

I do have some things going for me, a lot in fact.  I'm thin, I have long legs.  And even though I've slandered my lungs, they are very efficient.  (I recall passing someone at the end of a 10k and realizing that I was breathing half as often as they were.  At that point I was grateful that I could go that fast on so little air.)

Imagine if from your birth the doctors knew that you would be the genetically ideal runner.  Perfectly proportioned, VO2 max off the chart, the works.  As a child your parents gradually let you in on your astounding potential, and told you that with the right training you would be the greatest runner of all time.  Your career choice would be a no-brainer, but it wouldn't be terribly exciting or romantic.  Your fate would be sealed before you even started.  Living out your life would be like reading a book to which you already know the end.  When you won your 20th consecutive world title, how satisfying would it really be?

Relish the unknown.  Embrace the obstacles.  Savor the triumph.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I Wish Lauren Was My Friend

There's an excellent article in the latest issue of Running Times called "The Many Faces of Lauren Fleshman."  It draws such an insightful and nuanced portrait of her that after only a couple pages I really felt like I started to understand her as a real person.  She recently moved to Eugene to prepare for the Olympic trials, and her new life in Oregon is both beaming with possibility and tainted by nagging injuries.  It shows that real life is not all good news or complete tragedy, but a web of murky in-betweens.

Lauren herself is really funny-I had been to her blog once before (, and this article prompted me to look it up again.  She is exuberant and passionate, and equally frustrated when things don't go her way.  And her writing is really compelling; you can tell she has a clear voice that stems from knowing exactly who she is.  Here's a sample:

"No matter how good the cut of meat, it will rot if you leave it in the fridge long enough. It’s time to barbecue this bitch. Phoenix is the place where I am going to get back on my feet."

Her posts are infuriatingly far apart, so if you are looking for someone to follow day-to-day it won't really work for that.  But each entry is long and tells a complete, well thought out story from her own life.  It's painfully honest and infinitely sincere which makes it a joy to read.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week In Review

Now that my triathlon training has begun in earnest, I'm going to post a summary of the weeks training each Saturday or Sunday.  Here was this week:

Monday: 40 min. yoga, 35 minutes of swimming (mostly kick drills with fins.)

Tuesday: 28 min. of biking hills, short but very intense.  1 minute running.

Wednesday: nothing, my left Achilles tendon was sore, so I took the day off and iced it.  I would have still swam, but we played inner-tube water polo instead during my swim class (way fun, btw, if you get the chance I highly recommend it.)

Thursday: 30 min yoga, 62 minute bike ride at Zone 3. 1 minute running.

Friday: 30 min. Nike Training Club workout.  Body-weight strength training, very intense.

Saturday: 20 min. yoga, 20 min. light bike ride on a low gear and high cadence.

It was a solid week, a good start to my first serious training block.  Things were really up and down, though, with some weird pains cropping up then disappearing just as quickly.  My left Achilles tendon started hurting on Monday, but ironically not from the new shoes: I walked about ten miles that day with a heavy backpack which just wore out my calf muscle.

Other than that I had the faintest sciatica on my right side that came and went all week; not enough to really hurt, just a tingling sensation, like my leg was starting to fall asleep.  It's happened on and off since the surgery, and it's a sign that I'm pushing my back a little too hard.  I've stepped up my yoga sessions by holding the poses longer, which makes them more about back strength rather than just flexibility.  This should help strengthen it and allow me to do more biking and running.

As you can see my runs were very short, which is deliberate.  The last time I got successfully back into regular running I started the same way, going for only one or two minutes at a time every other day and slowly increasing the duration.  This allows me to gradually adapt the fitness in my feet and legs that I need to run really well, while focusing carefully on my form and making sure to build good habits.  I also have new shoes which I am still feeling out, so all in all I figured I should be as careful as possible.  There are still three months until the race, so I have plenty of time down the road to train.  The important thing is to get it right.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

New Shoes for the Real Triathlete

Today I felt like a real triathlete; I swam, bike, and ran all in one day!  It was in the reverse order, but it's a start.  My day began at 26.2 Running Company in Provo to get some new shoes.  I had been rocking some 80's era, construction-orange Saucony kicks that I found at DI, but it was time to move on.  They're very stiff which makes it hard to feel the nuances of the terrain, and the heel drop made it tricky to land on the mid-foot. I will still keep them because they look totally rad, but for training I wanted something lighter.

Enter my new shoes, the New Balance Minimus MT10!

These were by far the most comfortable pair of shoes I tried on; rather then gripping your feet all around, these only feel like they are strapped on on the top- like a sandal. They are wide in the toe box, but my feet are wide too so it was a good fit. They are a trail shoe, so they have some protection on the soles and good traction.  And boy are they light (7.5 oz!)  I'm excited to try them out on trails and roads and see how they handle.

Later in the afternoon I rode my bike down to Mad Dog Cycles to get it tuned up.  Those guys could not be nicer-today it was really busy but the guy working took my bike to the back and worked on it right there with me, giving me a chance to ride it after each iteration of adjustments.  I had a complete overhaul done a couple weeks ago and in the interim the rear derailleur cable had gotten loose so I couldn't shift into gear eight.  Apparently you have to break in new parts, because the weight of the rider stretches and loosens all of the joints.

On my way home from the bike shop I stopped at the school to go swimming, and I learned something about rest weeks: don't rest TOO much.  I inadvertently did almost no serious workouts this week, and I felt it today in the pool.  My back was hurting on Monday so I skipped my swim class, and when I came to class on Wednesday, we just did some dry-land conditioning then spent the rest of the class playing inner-tube water polo in the diving pool.  (Way fun, by the way, if you ever get the chance I highly recommend it.)  I had a good bike ride last night, but other than my back exercises that was about it for the week.  So I definitely felt rusty today in the pool.  That's alright, though, I will be well-rested to hit the next training block starting Monday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Swimming Basics-Hands

The hands are so important in the front crawl.  Every body part has a place to be, but usually that positioning has to do with keeping that thing out of the way to reduce drag.  The hands and forearms are where the actual thrust comes from, so how you move them through the water really matters.  First, when your arm swings over and is about to enter the water, keep your wrist loose and just place your hand in.  Once your hand is submerged and you start pulling, you need to begin engaging the hand and wrist for the pulling phase of the stroke, but until then keep it relaxed.  This minimizes the drag that your hand produces as it enters the water.

Once you start pulling, keep your fingers together so your hand forms a cup shape.  If your fingers separate, water can pass through and you lose out on a lot of thrust.  Like the end of a canoe paddle, you want your hand to make as large and flat a surface as possible.  When I first started working on that I noticed the tendons on the outside of my wrist getting sore, because my outer two fingers weren't used to pushing so hard against the water.  But that passed quickly as the tissue adapted to the more athletic position.

A word about learning new swim technique: work on one skill at a time.  It can be overwhelming to think about hand position, body roll, pointed toes, kicking from the hips, etc, constantly.  So do drills where you just focus on one element at a time.  With enough repetition, that particular action will get stored in your muscle memory.  Then the next time you get in the water your body will automatically perform the action, and it won't require your constant attention.  The good thing about endurance sports is that they involve a lot of repetition, so you should get plenty of practice.  When you feel that you have that skill down move on to another skill and repeat the process.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is Yoga TOO sexy?

The New York Times ran a funny article last week about yoga and sex scandals, and I thought other people might get a kick out of it.  You can read it here.

It basically says that even though yoga may seem wholesome and spiritual, that it actually started as a sex cult and has strong ties with Tantra.  I always thought drugs and rock n' roll were the pathway to sin, but maybe eastern philosophy is to blame.


The Times also ran an article about competitive yoga; the article isn't as interesting, but there are some cool pictures.  Here is the link.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Losing Weight Is Hard Work!

As I mentioned in an earlier post I'm dropping weight right now to get ready for a triathlon.  It's been going really well, but it has reminded me how slow weight loss is and how patient you have to be.

I was 134.4 about two weeks ago, and yesterday I weighed in at 132.2-which means I am losing about a pound a week.  This is as fast as people recommend losing weight if you want it to be sustainable.  Any faster, and you risk losing muscle along with the fat, which you don't want to do as an athlete.  But even these modest losses require a lot of discipline; I'm watching what I eat very carefully, getting plenty of fruits and vegetables and cutting everything else back during my two mid-day meals.  I'm full after I finish eating, but hunger pains definitely creep in after a couple of hours.

Ads for weight-loss supplements will say you can lose weight without being hungry, but that is impossible.  The only reason your body would burn fat is that it looked for sugar in your system and didn't find any; that feeling is hunger.  You cannot cheat the system.

One reason I can imagine people get discouraged is by how slow it is.  I'm only dropping five or ten pounds, but if you were 50 lbs over-weight, 50 weeks of being hungry is almost an entire year; that would be a daunting task indeed.  Something that helps is having a really good scale, one with increments as small as one-tenth of a pound.  With only one pound increments, you could work hard for several days and not see any change, which could be frustrating enough to make you throw in the towel.  The scale I use is a nice digital one in the school locker room, so when I see those fraction of a pound drops every couple days, I know that I'm on the right track and it encourages me to continue.

Something else you need going into this is a good reason, a clear goal to motivate you when things get hard.  I know that in three months I will be toeing the line of a grueling off-road triathlon; when that day comes, I want to be as light and as strong as I can be.  If weight-loss is one of your goals, think about it carefully and ask yourself if it is really worth it.  There are a lot of bad reasons to want to lose weight, so some honest self-reflection can be helpful.  If you decide that it is worth the sacrifice, then charge ahead knowing that you have the strength to do it.

Swimming Basics-Breathing in the Freestyle

Swimming is unique among the endurance sports because you can only breathe at certain intervals.  In the freestyle, you breathe at the end of each stroke by rotating your head until your mouth is out the water.  The problem is that you are only in that position for a moment and it may feel like you don't have enough time to get in enough air.

One solution is to breathe out slowly while while your head is rotating, then when your mouth finally comes out of the water to begin breathing in.  I used to wait until my head was out of the water to breath out and then in, but that cuts down your already short window.  You can breathe out anytime, but you can only breathe in when your head is out of the water.

Another tip is to try rotating your head to the side and back, like you are moving your chin to your shoulder.  There is a little more space there to breathe, because your body makes a wake in the water and the further back your mouth is the lower the water level.