Saturday, January 30, 2010

Equipment Update, Winter Behavior and Irrational Fears

The weather has not cooperated in months, forcing me to do all my rides indoors. Weekly, I've been meeting my goal of four rides, including one long ride. My long trainer ride is up to three hours (yesterday's workout). I also made a final decision on bike saddle two weeks ago. After a few more rides on the three saddles, I realized my anatomy needs a cut-out more than cushiness on my sit-bones -- mainly because my newfound comfort in the aero position doesn't impact my sit-bones as much. The Profile Design Air-Stryke was the obvious choice. To my surprise, it was also the least expensive of the three saddles I tested.

Running, on the other hand, has not been as consistent as I had hoped. My plan for the prep phase of Ironman training was to do regular 10- to 20-minute runs after every bike ride. I have been struggling with lack of motivation to run in (and on) snow and ice at 9 pm in temperatures in the teens and 20s after getting off the bike soaked in sweat. I keep telling myself I have plenty of time to get used to the transition, but I'm disappointed in myself nonetheless. To combat the mental block, I bought new trail shoes. Thanks to the Borders Rewards Perks program, I got a pair of New Balance 840s for under $50. They fit perfectly and have monster treads that give a little grip on snow. Sometimes, I just need to jump-start the desire, and it already got me out the door for two runs of 1:15 this week.

And finally, I'm back in the water, swimming at least three times a week. After almost two months off, I'm concentrating on building strength in the water using a pair of old-style rectangular Speedo paddles. I know I'm getting stronger because my arms have that old familiar soreness.

The last component I have yet to add to my training program is the weights. I still don't know how and where it will fit into my schedule, and I'm fighting an irrational fear of weight rooms. Not the weights themselves, but the self-consciousness I feel when I'm using the equipment: Am I doing it right? Is someone going to yell at me? Are people staring at me? I think it stems from my childhood when my swim coach sent us to a Nautilus facility (when Nautilus was "new"). We were "whipped" into submission by muscle-bound arrogant weight-room Nazis who probably polished the equipment after each person used it. The whole trip there, I would cry in the car knowing my every move was going to be scrutinized by a macho mimbo who had nothing better to do than to wield his attitude over a 14-year-old girl. People don't learn by being punished and forced to do three more sets of reps. It made me hate the weight room.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kurt Kinetic Averts Disaster

Maybe I'm overdramatizing it, but I broke my stationary bike trainer last week. For an obsessive-compulsive endurance triathlete who lives in a northern climate, this is a disaster. I had to miss a bike workout. And I had to replace my trainer -- which could lead to MORE missed bike workouts and unexpected expenditures.

I'll start at the beginning -- the bike trainer itself. I bought it in winter 2001-02 to train for my first Ironman. I had done extensive research about what type of trainer to buy. The "cyclists" said the only acceptable way to train indoors was on rollers. However, upon asking, I found very few of them actually enjoyed cycling on rollers. Many hated it, and some were still not able to get up on the bike without some kind of prop. And NO ONE advised riding rollers for more than an hour at a time. This was NOT good news. I was looking to train for a 112-mile bike ride and I needed to do some epic long rides indoors.

Rollers were out. I started looking at trainers I could mount my bike to. They come in several types: fan, fluid, and magnetic resistance units and computer trainers. (Read's Indoor Bike Trainer Guide.) Computer trainers, such as the Computrainer, are highly recommended by professional and elite triathletes and coaches. Maybe THEY could afford the hefty price tag (over $1000), but I could not. The ballpark price for me was in resistance trainers ($100 - $400). After more research, I settled on a fluid resistance unit made by Kurt Kinetic. The Kurt Kinetic trainer was heralded by users as one of the only fluid resistance units that never leaked. Reviewers also praised it as the quietist of its type (note that loudness was why I choose fluid-resistance over magnetic or fan). And the kicker -- users also said it had the most "roadlike" feel. I bought one. It has been a workhorse for eight years through three bikes. It saved me after my bike vs. car accident when the "roads" no longer beckoned, even in the summer. I've come to love steady-state tempo riding on my trainer with my heart-rate monitor -- guarantee the road will be "flat."

Imagine my surprise two Mondays ago when I noticed a strange vibration and loudness upon beginning to pedal my trainer-mounted bike. I jumped off only to find that the mount for the fluid unit (a weld) had sheared off on one side. End of trainer. Shock, dismay, tears. I screamed for Jim to help, to FIX it. (He always fixes hardware.) He couldn't. I went to Google. Jim went to the phone book. I looked up trainers, prices and places to find them locally. He called welders. In the midst, we both visited the Kurt Kinetic website. (Don't mess with a classic - this was an OLD trainer that was put through weekly 4- to 6-hour rides for EIGHT YEARS.) Jim saw it first. Kurt Kinetic offers a LIFETIME WARRANTEE. Would they honor it? Yes. We had the receipt. We gave them the serial number. No more questions asked. They shipped us a new base unit (which has changed from dark blue to Wake-Me-Up-At-5-a.m. lime-green). All we had to do was ship back the old unit (they even pre-paid shipping). Amazing. In a world where it's difficult to find good customer service, Kurt Kinetic is a shining light.

In the meantime, one of my "cyclist" friends was even willing to lend me his.... um... rollers? NO! His old Kurt Kinetic bike trainer -- the one that I recommended he buy. It's almost like Karma.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Figuring it Out - the Cycling Dilemma

At the end of last season, after my run disaster in Clearwater, I was convinced the run leg of my triathlon needed more work than anything. I crashed and burned on the run in almost every race despite the fact that I considered myself a "runner." When I started doing triathlons after years of marathoning, I was tearing up the run leg. In Olympic-distance triathlons, I often won by making up 4-7 minute deficits off the bike. During those years, I continued to run five or six days a week -- in addition to biking three or four and swimming three. Now that I'm older, busier and more tired, I have had to cut run frequency. Naturally, in evaluating my mistakes last season, I thought this was why my running suffered. So, to force myself to run more, in December I registered for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May as part of my build-up for Ironman Lake Placid.

Then I started reading. According to Joe Friel, author of "The Triathlete's Training Bible" and co-author (with Gordon Byrn) of "Going Long: Training for IM-Distance Triathlons," it's not my running that needs to be fixed. It's my overall biking fitness. Reading this made me think back to what I was doing all those years ago. When I entered the triathlon realm in 2001, my fitness was firmly rooted in running. I was a sub-3:00 marathoner. As a former collegiate swimmer, the swimming would be the easy part -- I just had to find a pool. The missing piece was cycling. I didn't even have a road bike.

I approached cycling as I do everything: all out. I wasn't sure I'd "love" triathlon, so I bought an inexpensive (i.e., under $1000) road bike, fitted it with aero bars, and started riding. I rode as fast as I could, as far as I could (or until it got dark), whenever I could. It basically amounted to three or four times a week. And I rode hills because I live in a hilly area. Thinking back, I rode a LOT more on my non-long-ride days than I do now -- sometimes 2.5 to 3 hours. These days, per week during hard training, I usually do one really long ride (5.5-6.5 hours), one 1.5-2 hour speed/tempo ride, and one (or two) shorter rides (1 hour). Based on everything I've read as of late, this is not enough biking to excel in the bike leg of Ironman (or even half-Ironman). But until now, I always thought I could make up the difference by having a stellar run.

According to those in the know, stellar running abilities carry no weight in the Ironman distance. After a year of less-than-admirable performances, I'm ready to test this theory. Heck, I've already started getting used to four cycling sessions per week during my prep phase. I think I'm even learning to like it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Take on Athletes and Social Media

When it comes to training and racing, I've always been self-motivated, but now in my mid-40s, the flame doesn't burn as bright for all 365 days of the year. I never needed a training group to help with my motivation, and when I did run with a group, it was more about the camaraderie and social activities. After I was hit by a car in 2003, group training ceased altogether for me. There were many reasons, the biggest of which was that the near-death experience made me wake up and smell the coffee (literally, by sleeping in on Saturdays). My OCD running behavior took a vacation, and the group-running habit no longer served a purpose. I was still motivated to run, bike and swim, but not to get up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays and drive 30 minutes to run someone else's workout. Or sprint out of work and drive like a maniac while changing into my running clothes in rush-hour traffic.

For several years, the only time I talked to athletes was at races, and even then, I tended to shy away because I always felt (and still feel) like the poor stepchild riding the beater bike and wearing hand-me-downs. I know my training could use a push from faster athletes now and again and I still find ways to challenge myself as often as possible even though I train mostly alone.

But things are changing in this connected world we live in. Social networks have made my world a smaller and brighter place where I can find people like myself and not feel so alone. For me, social networks Facebook and Twitter are not places to tell everyone what I ate for lunch or where I am at every minute, but they are places where I can share experiences and read other people's stories and feel connected. As an athlete, I am continuously blown away by people who contact me, share with me, or are even interested in what I do. And I love reading about their trials and tribulations. It has re-energized me to work harder in hopes of having my own stories to tell or wisdom to impart as a way to thank them.

Making connections with athletes in social media circles is still new to me, but some of my online resources are the following (this is a personal list, it's NOT comprehensive -- I welcome others' resources in the comments):
Some coaches' and athletes' blogs I follow are on the right and there are many triathlon groups and pages on Facebook, which is still the place I spend most of my time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go Running

Week 29 on my Ironman training schedule is also the first week of January -- in Cleveland, Ohio. Until this week I actually thought we might have a mild winter. But as they say in my business: none such animal!

It's a good thing I'm using my first few weeks of Ironman prep work to increase my number of weekly bike rides because getting out to run in the current weather is extremely frustrating. My workout time is compromised because of the time it takes to drive anywhere in the unrelenting ice and snow this week. And to complicate matters, my husband left town on a business trip, making me responsible for clearing the driveway snow (and it snowed over three inches every day this week).

Then, we've also had unrelenting temperatures in the teens and low 20s which, for me, makes any kind of outdoor exercise -- running, shoveling, making snow angels -- more exhausting. And I worry that it will only get worse with age (extra energy spent keeping warm). But I CAN say that, this year, I've relinquished my membership card to the wimp club by running outside if the temperature is 10 degrees F or above (last year it had to be 20F before I would venture out). And not snowing. Well, it can snow a LITTLE.

But with a nickname like Diaster Magnet, I am well indoctrinated to the hazards of running -- or walking -- on ice and snow. In February 2008, about two weeks after declaring it my triathlon "comeback year," I slipped on ice at work and landed on the lens of my digital SLR. I broke a back rib and sidelined my so-called "comeback" for several months. In the winter of 2009, my neighborhood sidewalks provided a platform for several more falls, complete with bloody gashes (and for the life of me, I still cannot figure out how landing on pavement can cut right through my running tights without any damage to the material). I was limping until spring.

So, why do I insist on running outside when I have a nice indoor track and treadmills at my local recreation center? I don't. But despite outdoor running perils, indoor running can be equally painful. Thus, I present my list of ten things to beware of when winter running, both inside and outside:
  1. slipping on ice that isn't there (patches known as "black ice," these can also occur on non-black pavement)
  2. dropping your iPod while on the treadmill, stopping to pick it up and getting launched off the back onto your butt or into a wall (in effect, paying the "stupid tax" -- embarrassingly, I did it twice during the same workout)
  3. getting pelted by snow -- or ice -- in the eyes (do you know that annoying wet drizzle that you hate to run in? well this is the same thing except it's colder -- and it's in your EYES)
  4. having to get up even earlier to run because your work commute time has more than doubled (this usually lasts for the first month of winter in Cleveland, then everyone either re-learns how to drive in it or just doesn't care anymore)
  5. (corollary to number 4) having to dive into a snow bank because drivers only look out for SNOW when driving in the snow
  6. fighting the gym rules to keep your treadmill for more than a 20-minute workout (for us OCD runners, 20 minutes barely constitutes a warm-up)
  7. being reminded there are leg muscles that control side-to-side motion (also known as the "tennis syndrome," runners are rarely aware these muscles exist)
  8. wearing out one hip joint while running in circles on a track that's too small for matchbox cars to drive comfortably on (and might I mention that my hips also seem to have gotten more ornery with age)
  9. finding protection for your face because wearing those stupid masks makes it impossible to breathe (and, at my age, I can add: learning your skin does NOT bounce back every year)
  10. constantly whacking my knuckles and hands on the treadmill console because it's just NOT natural
Happy winter running everyone, and beware the perils. I've not even begun my swimming this year, but I'm not worried -- I'm getting enough upper body training shoveling snow. Accumulation totals should be up to two feet by tomorrow.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Saddle Wars, Week 1

It's been six days since I brought three bike saddles home to test (read the blog article). Cold and snow has forced me to do all my rides on the trainer -- at the very least, it gives me a consistent riding position for evaluating fit and comfort. I rode each saddle at least once and I am beginning to understand why this process is so hard (finding the right one). I was convinced that the Profile Design Air Stryke would be the saddle I liked least. Despite its well-cushioned wide nose and generous cutout, its width ensured that my sit bones would almost never come in contact with the saddle. The other two saddles -- the Fi'zi:k Arione and the Felt 3.3 -- had a much wider profile in the rear. Like other tri-specific saddles, they were also slightly wider, longer and flatter in the nose region, but neither had a cut out or cushioning like the Air Stryke.

In order to make a fair evaluation, I know I should ride each saddle more than once. Most saddles cause grief on the first ride -- after all, it's a very sensitive area, there's skin and soft tissue and bone -- and that's the WOMEN we're talking about. I can't even imagine what the MEN have to deal with. I decided to start with the saddle that would cause me the most anguish both mentally (because it looks like the perfect tri saddle) and physically (because of my anatomy) - the Air Stryke.

Test ride 1: After about 50 minutes of steady riding with constant adjusting, I was not happy with the Air Stryke -- mostly because of the rear/butt region. The cushioning was nice, but it wasn't nearly as comfortable as it looked. I swapped it for the Felt before I finished my first test ride. Ahhhh, ten minutes on the Felt saddle eased the pain.

Test ride 2: After one hour on the Felt, it was no longer comfortable. I tried to stay mostly in the aero position on this ride. After about 40 minutes, the cushioning on the Felt had become a non-entity. It has a better fit in my sit bone region, but that's useless if the aero position is uncomfortable. In an Ironman, I am in this position for five to six hours.

Test ride 3: After one hour on the Fi'zi:k, I now know what the word "burn" means when used in conjunction with describing saddle pain. For me, this saddle has no endearing qualities -- too bad it looks so nice. The cushioning is about equal to the Felt, and, although it looks flat, I feel there's a slight convex contour that runs longitudinally down the center of the saddle. My crotch was on fire by the time I finished the ride.

Test ride 4: My old saddle was now beckoning to me from the shelf. I resisted and switched back to the Air Stryke. What a difference three rides makes. Now, the Air Stryke is my favorite of the three. The cushioning is just what I need to remain in the aero position for long periods of time, and I've decided that I love having a generous cushioned cutout. What worries me is what will happen on rides when I can't stay in the aero position and my sit bones need a place to... em... sit.

So, should I keep looking? I remembered there are other saddles that resemble the Air Stryke. Maybe their contour is different or they come in a women's-specific version (read: wider rear). I went to Google, again, and researched tri-specific saddles. Based on reviews, I found the following of interest: the Forté T1 Tri Saddle, two from Selle San Marco, the Aspide and the Arrowhead Gelaround (which looks a LOT like my Arami), and the Adamo from Blackwell Research.

I'll ride what I have a few more times to finish my evaluation. I feel I need a few more data points. Currently, the Air Stryke would be my choice, but it's definitely not perfect. At least I have narrowed down features that work for me. Feel free to offer advice - it's always welcome, here or on Twitter (@junglejeanne).

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's 2010 and I Refuse to be the One Who Wondered What Happened

On January 1, 2010, a post on Facebook from Polar Bears International reminded me of an old proverb I once read (and wrote down) from the chalkboard at a science center where I attended special classes:
There are three kinds of people:
  • those who MAKE things happen
  • those who WATCH things happen
  • those who wonder WHAT HAPPENED?
For my whole life, I have longed to be the one who makes things happen. And for the last three years, I've been pushing new web design, new technology, and social media to a marketing department that is still firmly rooted in newspapers and "the big three" TV networks. As a geeky web-developer-turned-web-marketer, I encounter many frustrations with "the way we always do things," and I am continuously told to be patient and focus on change via "baby steps." Baby steps are very painful for a goal-oriented new-technology-driven overachiever. In the past it would have driven me right out the door.

Then I WALK out the door... and survey my workplace. I WORK at a ZOO. This is why I took this job. I am surrounded by the wonders of nature. I am continuously influenced by people who ARE working to make change. They give me faith that the world can be a different place - a place where we respect all living things and the world we share. When I start believing I'm useless, one of those people tells me he/she appreciates what I'm doing. It's inspiration to get up and fight for one more day. It's not hard to find.

A friend and fellow triathlete on Twitter sent me a link to read on New Year's Eve after we had a discussion about "inspiration." It is a blog article from Seth Godin: Seven Years Gone. It gave me hope. Hope that it's ok to respectfully bow out of the gossipy conversations, to put my headphones on instead of listening to "what happened on American Idol last night," or to not go out drinking just to have drinking stories to tell at the office. It may not get me promoted, but in seven years, will that really matter? My job, my passion, is to get our Zoo message to the people (and isn't that what marketing is all about?). And later that day, when I struggle to get my swim, bike, or run in, I'll remind myself that the alternative is to do nothing and watch my life go by.

It's 2010. Find your inspiration. And Happy New Year.