Thursday, December 11, 2008

Learning to Count

I overheard a couple of co-workers talking about how they were going to start tracking food intake starting in the new year. This got me thinking, the stereotype is that Triathletes are anal about counting calories. Maybe it is true, I can't be sure because I have never straight out asked anyone. I do know that we typically read food labels a lot and care about what is going into our bodies. As for counting calories, have you ever tried it? I have (OK so I just proved that triathletes do count calories) and it is a pain in the rear. Especially for a triathlete who may be eating 4000 calories in a typical day. What this translates to is constant eating and in turn means constant tracking of calories. The longest I ever did it was for a week. That is all I could handle without going crazy trying to find out what was in everything... I just ate five strawberries, is that a full serving? How many ounces was it? What about that sandwich at Jason's Deli, did it have one slice of cheese or two? To much to remember.

So why do we do it? Why is it important to count calories? For a triathlete and for anyone looking to get the best performance out of their body it is essential to make sure you are balancing your diet. Counting calories and keeping track of Carb, Fat, Sodium, Protein, etc. will ensure that you are eating balanced. Balance is important for maximum performance.

Here is what I learned in one week:

1. Eating 3000 calories a day when you need 4000 may satisfy you and keep your hunger from showing up but it may not be giving your body the right amount of the things it needs and performance will suffer after repeat days of this. This is exactly what I found out the last time I tracked my food intake. I was barely getting enough calories per day

2. Humans like to lie to themselves. How long has it been since you made a visit to McDonald's? Are you sure or are you being forgetful because you don't want that guilty feeling? Tracking calories will tell you exactly what you had and when you had it. If you have to write it down you might think twice before eating it too. I know I would stare at the cookie I was about to eat and know that I would have to write it down which would mean that I would have to be reminded of my decision ever day that week. So instead I would put the cookie down and eat some grapes.

3. Changing eating habits, some of which have been around since childhood is a really hard drawn out process.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Shoulder

Most people that know me are aware that for the past year I have been dealing with a shoulder injury. But even then I do not talk about it in depth to most people. So here it is, finally all laid out in writing. The truth, the frustration, the worry and the decision, good and bad.

I will start by saying that this is the first time that I have had to modify my exercise to accommodate an injury for any length of time. Last year I over trained and messed up my calves but within a few week the Physical Therapist had me back to normal. Now I have been dealing with this shoulder for a year now and it is getting really tiring having to manage around the pain.

The Problem:
I have a constant annoying discomfort in my right shoulder. there is some popping and cracking that goes on when I move it. The pain gets even worse after I swim or lift weights, it will stick around for a few days and then become that annoying discomfort again. Doctor says that it is Acromicavicular Arthrosis, or arthritis of the AC Joint, coupled with 2 labrel tears that have developed cysts. The tears are probably due to a dislocated shoulder that I had about 15 years ago and the arthritis is due to overuse (years of swimming and canoe racing).

The History:
I have never had much of a problem with my shoulder. It never effected my swimming or my weight lifting until this past year. I increased my activity in both those areas about 2 years ago and may have gotten overzealous. So all of the sudden I started getting a constant pain and one day I am doing push ups in the gym and my shoulder gives out. From that day I have been unable to fully do push ups. So I saw the doctor and he gave my the diagnosis I mentioned above. He pushed for surgery but I was not convinced because I was perfectly fine the year before how could arthritis just show up with a vengeance? Shouldn't it be a degenerative problem that develops with old age? Apparently not, says the research I have done. I scheduled the surgery anyway but was going to wait until after my season ended in October. It was set, October 5 was the Longhorn 70.3 and October 15 was the surgery. Then I ran into a Physical Therapy (PT) friend of my brothers and he convincingly talked me out of surgery for the time being and told me to see a PT. This is exactly what I did. The doctor was not convinced it would work and even seemed mad at me for not believing him. It's my body right? I can try if I want to.

The Decision:
It is now the end of November and I am done with my 30+ days with the PT. Did it help? Yes and No.

Because of the weakness in the shoulder my muscles were reacting in weird ways which was causing more pain than necessary. The PT fixed this with massage and Advanced Release Technique (miracle technique, it is what got my back on the road when I had calve problems). This put all the muscles back into alignment and worked out any scar tissue. There was immediate improvement in range of motion and strength but the pain was still there, although it was now localized over the AC Joint. You can here the doctor laughing right now!!

After a few sessions, I started on a regimen that included multi planner shoulder exercises, and techniques that were to realign the shoulder. I was even doing some of this at home!

Did I make the right decision? Yes and No. Results are still out.

The Future:
The short of it is that I am mildly disappointed in the results of physical therapy. I was hoping it would be the miracle cure. I say mild disappointment because I did learn a lot about the injury and became very self aware of what causes or does not cause pain. This lets me manage my workouts better and allows me to be in control. The injury is such a fickle thing. I took two weeks off from swimming and only did light weights during that time and still felt some discomfort then over the weekend I was putting together some bar stools and the act of screwing the legs together aggravated my shoulder to the point where I had to ice it. On Monday I was in the pool again (after two weeks off) and everything felt fine. I was able to swim a mile without any aggravation.

After all this I think that I am still leaning towards surgery but now the recovery time would take me into the Tri season (this aggravates me the most). So my plan is to deal with the injury the best I can through the season and probably get a Cortisone shot to hold me over until after the Longhorn 70.3 in 2009 then straight to surgery. Unless something great happens between now and then.

Dealing with injury is hard on any athlete, the first thing that always pops into my head is, how much time and conditioning will I lose? We work so hard to get to the physical condition were in and to give that up means slower times in the next race. There is also the physics law stating that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Meaning that if I sit and rest for a week or more I may not be able to get myself off the couch.

Good decisions or Bad? That will have to be answered later. We'll see where it takes me over the next year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Offseason

Its been a real struggle lately to scale back my workouts for the offseason. Part of me wants to go full out and attack my workouts the same way I do during the season but I know that this level cannot be maintained and makes me prone to injury. The other part of me wants to sleep in every day (I have overslept for two workouts in the last two weeks, something I almost never do). I have some specific goals for next year and I feel that scaling back might diminish my ability so I have to remind myself that in the offseason I can still maintain my endurance but need to focus on strength and speed too.

I am supposed to be rehabbing a shoulder right now and I am a little weary of how much good Physical Therapy will help. If I really do need surgery then will PT do any good? Plus this is the first time I have seen a PT and after a few visits where they worked out the muscles using ART and used ultrasound now I am showing up so that I can do my strengthening exercises. Can't I just do those at home? I am smart enough to do that, why do I have to pay so that someone can watch me? I will stick with the schedule for a couple of weeks and see what they say but before long I am going to have to cut back on the office visits. Its getting expensive!

Another thing that is really hard for me to do is keep good nutritional habits. I slid pretty far the week after Longhorn and I figure a week of indulgence is probably OK but now it is getting hard to stay on track because my training schedule is not as structured either. I need to get back to it soon and besides one of my goals for offseason is to improve my nutrition plan dramatically so next season I can be just as structures as my nutrition as I am with my workouts.

Lots of changes to make so I better put down the Chocolate Bar and get to work...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Longhorn 70.3

I typically do not like to publicly post race reports. Probably because everyone and their brother does them, but I figured that I should do at least the biggest one of the year right?

I went into the HIM with high expectations. I had placed well in most of my races this year and thought that this would be no different. This race decided to knock me down a few notches from my high horse!! Lucky me it did because next year I will be smarter.

So here were my goals: Total time goal =5 hours

  1. Swim- somewhere around 30 minutes.
  2. Bike- under 3 hours and avg. over 18mph.
  3. Run- about 1:50

Here is how actually did: Total time = 5:25:46

  1. Swim- 24:38 (I have heard that the swim course was wrong and ended up being 300M short) This would make sense of my blazing speed in the water.
  2. Bike- 2:52 avg. 19.5mph

  3. Run- 2:01 avg. 9:17/mile

At first glance this is not bad and overall I am pleased with holding myself together but as I said this race humbled me and showed me just how much I still have to learn.

Probably the two notable things to talk about are: (1) I hit the wall at about 40 miles on the bike. I got depressed and started doubting myself. I knew I would hit it sometime but I did not know it would be so demoralizing and I wish I could have staved it off a little longer. (2) That at mile 55 on the bike I hit the last and the biggest hill on the course. As soon as I left the saddle to start up the hill my legs cramped up on me. The only way to keep going was to drop into a real easy gear and sit down. I think I was going about 5 miles an hour at one point. Anyway, I got to the dismount line and as soon as I stood up and jumped off the bike my legs froze again. The only thing I could do was to do a half squat and massage my legs. Finally I was able to get through transition and onto the run. By this time I was in too bad of shape to push it for fear that I would cramp and DNF. I took in as much liquid and electrolyte pills (they gave them out at the aid stations) as I could. After about 3-4 miles I was feeling good but my legs were so beat up from the cramping I could not get them to go any faster. I finished and some would say it was a respectable finish but looking at the numbers I should have been at least 30 minutes faster.

The biggest lesson I learned was to take more fluids on the bike. Including electrolyte pills which I only had four of them in 3 hours on the bike.

The greatest thing to come out of all this is that I cannot wait until my next one. Buffalo Springs 70.3 in June 2009. Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Closing out the year

My racing year is coming to an end. I am counting down the days until the Longhorn Half Ironman which is only 5 days away. After that race I am taking a much deserved and much needed break. Not a sit around on the couch type of break but a no 3 hour training sessions type of break. I think this is a good time to reflect on my year and see if I can pinpoint all the positives and negatives.

To start 0ff I know that I am ready for the season to be done. I can feel my motivation waining. The weather is getting cooler and it is getting harder to get out of the warm cozy bed in the morning. The kids are starting up with all kinds of extra curricular activities that are starting to eat away at my weekends, and my body just feels like it needs a vacation.

So what happened this year that I can call an achievement. Lets start with the fact that this was my first season as a Triathlete and I completed 5 races. That in itself is great but looking further into it my finishes were not typical of a rookie (not that I am bragging). In all of them I finished in the top 50 overall and top 10 in my age group in all except one. I placed 3rd AG in the Austin Triathlon and cut over 13 minutes off my time from my Olympic distance race at CapTexTri earlier in the season. At that same race I set a personal record for the 10K (not just 10k's in triathlons). How about the fact that I learned more about nutrition this year than I ever have in any competitive arena I have been in. I learned exponentially about training techniques and how to optimize training days. I even learned more about bike maintenance than I even wanted to know.

Now for the negative. Its hard to find the bad in this season. I stayed injury free except for the nagging shoulder problem. I did find out that it is Arthritis of my AC Joint and I also have a Labral tear. I have always had problems but this year it has been nagging me constantly because of the increased training. I was going to have surgery but a physical therapist friend talked me out of it until I can spend some time with a PT and see if I can fix it that way. That is it for the bad this season. I just cannot find any thing to complain about. i am sure next year I will be complaining more because I will have this season to compare to.

There are many goals to set and many improvements to make for next season but I am not starting those until after this weekend and the Longhorn HIM. I cannot wait until the race this weekend and I also cannot wait until it is behind me.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Not the typical race report

It has been 4 days since the Austin Tri and I was actually able to get away from work for a few days because of a conference in Dallas. This means that I had a lot of time to think back on my race.

I will begin by saying I met my goal. I wanted to drop 10 minutes of my time from the Cap Tex Tri and I did that with no problem. All three disciplines were PRs. This was a great sign that my training has been paying off. I also finally broke onto the awards podium, placing third in my age group. This is exciting, it gives me just that much more confidence in my training and my talents (however big or small). The two negatives were that my bike leg was only 2 minutes faster than at the Cap Tex Tri and T1 was horrible (about 3:30) I thought that I was faster on the bike but ended up about the same as 3 months ago. Maybe this is good because my run leg was the fastest I have ever done in a race of any kind. If I went out faster on the bike I might have been dead on the run. That is something to play with.

Anyway, the reason that I entitled this entry " Not your typical race report" was because as I thought about the race, I thought about what I think about during a race. Below are my observations.

Swim: During the swim I think about several things. I start out trying to control my breathing and not allowing myself to go out too fast. I don't want to waste any energy trying to beat everyone in the first 500M. A friend of mine told me once, remember that you can't win a triathlon during the swim. My goal is to stay close to the front but winning the swim is not a big deal. After the first 500M or so my thoughts turn to stroke efficiency. I concentrate on a good pull and steady breathing. After that I try to sight in on someone in my wave that is close to me and either pass them or or at least stay close. This has worked out well so far. I always come out of the water in the top 10 of my age group.

Bike: During the bike I try to maximize my average speed without killing my legs too early. I also pick up my race at this stage by sighting someone in front of me, typically about 1/4 mile ahead, and try to pass them before going on to the next person. In the back of my mind all the time though I am always real nervous about getting a penalty for drafting so I try to keep conscious of this rule the entire time on the bike. During the bike I race a lot against others and really try to pass as many people as I can. Something I have not figured out is how to pace myself on the bike so that I don't kill myself on the run. I have a feeling that I am holding back on the bike and my body could take it if I went faster.

Run: The run is a different animal all together. The run for me has two different parts. For the first few miles it is all about finding my legs and passing as many people as possible. Then as I settle into a nice pace my mind wanders. I start thinking about work, or my "honey do" list. Periodically I will check my watch and see if I am on pace for whatever goal I have set for the race. Sometimes I tend to look around and take in the sights. As the race draws to a close ( maybe the last 1-2 miles) I will zero in on my pace and pick up my speed. I will then pick out someone in front of me, usually several hundred yards, and pass them. Then if time allows I will do it again. The final 200 yards is usually an all out sprint.

I don't think that I have figured out how to manage my races yet so that I can develop a winning strategy instead of a survival strategy. I think in the off season I should do a few duathlons and play with managing the run and bike portions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Greatest Olympian Ever!! Really?

There was a posted question to a forum that I frequent that asked the question. "Can you buy elite athlete status"? The provocation behind the question was the fact that Micheal Phelps won 8 golds and broke 7 world records in the Beijing Olympics. Yet he did it while wearing a $1000 LZR swim suit, etc... This prompted the poster to ask about triathletes who are notorious for spending thousands on bikes that will "make them faster". As I read the responses to the question it got me thinking about the comparisons of athletes from 20 years ago and today. Is one better than the other? Are we as athletes spoiled by technology in today's high tech world?

The short answer is yes and no.

Is Phelps better than Spitz? Is Tiger better than Palmer? Check out this comparison:

I first want to start by saying that it is unfair to compare the past athletes with current ones. Especially when you do it by shear number of medals, or passing yards or baskets in a game. Its like saying that everything is more expensive than it was 20 years ago. That is not an entirely true statement. Any economist will tell you that you have to normalize everything first. Is Favre a better passer that Namath? Maybe by shear numbers but football teams today pass a lot more than they did 20 years ago. It is definitely not an easy question to answer.

The link from the Wall Street Journal above does it just right. It shows that the performances of Spitz and Phelps when compared within the context of their time were almost equal. Maybe not in shear speed but in say margin of win over the second place finisher. Sure if you put the 1972 Spitz in the pool with the 2008 Phelps, Phelps would win handily and that gets down to advances in technology and physiology.

How does this tie into the ability to buy elite status as an athlete? You cannot separate technology from training and taking care of your body. There are breakthroughs in all of it from time to time. At times technology makes a big jump forward and everyone eventually has it making us all faster. Then it reaches critical mass and physiology takes a great leap. then we all learn the new training technique and nutrition breakthroughs so it reaches a critical mass, and so on.
I would bet that if you compare all the athletes than raced against Phelps the technology they use, food they eat, and the training plans they are on are all real close. If that is the case then you have to get down to who has more heart, who skipped that one workout and who didn't, who had that McDonald's hamburger one day when they shouldn't have, and most of all who has the most natural talent. Minor differences but important non the less.

If Phelps had a secret technological advance in his suit it would not take long before everyone had it and the playing field would be even again. If Phelps found a new training technique, before long everyone would use it.

Price is subjective and almost irrelevant. If you want to be a pro you know that you have to spend 30+ hours a week training. If you want to be a pro you know you have to have the latest bike technology. Either way if you want to be a pro that badly you are going to find a way to train the same and afford the stuff. The real question is, How dedicated to the dream are you? I know pros that drive a car that costs less than their bike. They are dedicated to their dream.
A pro on a entry level road bike would not last long because everyone else had faster equipment. That same pro also knows that the carbon frame that they ride is not much better than an entry level bike if he or she does not put in the hours or become meticulous about technique.

NO, elite status cannot be bought. There is no equalizer as true as training.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Trilife

Triathlon can be a lonely sport if you let it. I was thinking as I rode alone today that I spend much of my training time working around family and work obligations. This means that matching my schedule to a training partner or trying to meet the schedule of a training group is near impossible. Sure there are running groups, swimming groups and cycling clubs, but how often do I find my training schedule matching with one of them? I am OK with this most of the time. To me, training, especially on the long runs or swims, is like therapy. I can be alone with my thoughts, whether they be about my training or about the bad day that I had at work. It calms me. I can mentally go through my next race, mentally watch myself go through the steps of each discipline, or just pretend that I am on the last stretch of road in Kona and I can see the finish. About the only time that I long for company is on those long rides. You can't socialize when you swim and if you are holding a conversation while you run, are you really running? On the bike though, you could easily spend 3 to 4 hours riding and it is hard to push yourself for that long when you are alone. Sure, this is how it will be in a race, but it is hard to put your self in a race mentality when training, especially for 3+ hours.

And what about the races? They can be lonely too. Typically I get to the transition area before dawn and the gun goes off just as the sun comes up. My family often finds it impossible to come and watch. By the time my wife gets the kids out of bed and out the door, finds parking, and a decent spot to watch the race I am at least halfway done. Then to top it off they see me pass by on the bike or the run for a few seconds. If they are lucky they will catch a glimpse of me for a minute in transition. Sure, it is comforting to hear the cheers of the strangers that have made it to the race, but it is more motivating to see your own friends and family as you pass by.

My friends have all but stopped inviting me out. They know I will just make excuses about having to get up at 5AM for my morning workout. The guys at work look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them it was a 15 mile ride to work this morning or I forgo lunch at the local burger joint to get an extra 30 minutes of running in.

So as triathletes what are we to do? Are we relegated to a hermit life (only if we want it)? There are networks of people; local tri clubs, Internet forums, even dating services specifically for triathletes. Combining our love/obsession for triathlon with our longing to socialize is about the only way to get by these days. We have to make an effort to become involved with a club, volunteer at a local triathlon and meet people and make a concerted effort to spend time with training groups. Eventually we surround ourselves with those like us, those that share our pain (literally sometimes). In my opinion being a triathlete means living a new less travelled path and it may mean that our daily interactions, and friends are forced to change. Sure it is lonely on some days, and I know that my old friends have not abandoned me completely (there is still the off season). Besides, if this does not work out I can always become a couch potato. Then the TV can be my friend.