Thursday, March 14, 2013

Core Crazed

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone use the word 'core' in reference to triathlon I probably wouldn't owe another dime towards my student loans. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but even still it's a term that I hear all the time. "You need to have a strong core in order to be a better order to have a better stroke, better posture, better this, better that." The list goes on and on, and I get it, a strong core drives the exercises in triathlon. But when I first started training I had no idea how you go about getting a strong core or how you would know if it were strong enough. Do I need a six pack? Should I do some thousand sit ups a day? What's the deal?

I may be wrong but I feel like it's easy to default into thinking that having a strong core means you have tight and defined abs. At least that was my logic for a while. And it makes sense, right? If you have defined abs clearly your core is strong. I can't tell you how many sit ups I did when I first started working out that try and obtain this. A word to the wise, this will NOT get you cut, chiseled or a wicked six pack. Save you some Russian twists, you're welcome ;)

A strong core will develop as you workout more. Naturally, the core is being used when doing run, bike and swim workouts, and it will begin to get stronger the more you train. But this is the way I see it. Your main workouts--runs, bike, and swim sets--are like your meals, you need them to sustain yourself. So then 'core' workouts and lifting are like your vitamins, you need them to supplement what you don't get from your meals and they help fuel you so together, with the meals, you grow stronger. As a triathlete though, most of us are already stretched for time between two workouts a day, how does one fit in core/lifting workouts? Well much like any other supplement, it needs to be taken within proportion. Meaning, you should be doing core/lift workouts as you feel necessary, but at least once-twice a week for 20 minutes. Before I hopped into tri training I found pleasure in doing long and heavy lift sets with a workout partner, so I look forward to my lift sessions, 2-3 times a week. And as far as core goes, I'll do it before a bike workout in the middle of the week or after a long run....although some times those runs wear me out and I end up pushing it off.

Ok, so to wrap it up, the last thing to address is, "What are some good core exercises to do if not sit ups?" Right. Well for me I like doing sets and switching it up so I attack all the parts of the body. This week's core set went something like:

3X (5 pull ups, 15 burpees, 15 box jumps, 15 regular squats, 10 one leg squats--5 each leg--, 20 forward lunges--10 each leg--, 15 push ups, 15 tricept dips) Rest 2-3 minutes in between sequence but not between sets!

**If you need to add resistance because this is all too easy for your badass self--use some weights but don't forget, doing this three times through will make you tired

I think it's important to mix it up though, do things that are uncomfortable to you and once you get used to it, change it up. The best way to change your body is to keep it guessing. I have found that writing out my workout, or having on in my head helps. And there are a lot of great resources out there for core exercises. Not to mention Youtube has some great videos that demonstrate almost any and all core moves.

And then at the end of the sets, when you think you can't do any more, that's when I throw in my sit up sequences--

2-3X (20 side-to-side twists with weighted ball, 20 crunches on yoga ball, 20 side crunches (each side) on ball, 20 crunches w/ yoga ball in between feet & bringing up above you while simultaneously reaching hands up to touch the ball (I use a 10lb weight in my hands now to add resistance).

So go out there and get your core on! :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is There a Rosetta Stone to Speak Triathlete?

Confession time. I'm not really as original as I make myself out to be. I have to admit, some of my best blog post ideas stem from the conversations I have with the people around me. The rest of them are usually a result of me doing something stupid but we won't focus on that, this time. So the other day I was talking with one of my good triathlete friends about a swim set. Now I have explained to him, several times, the break down of sets--one length is a 25, one lap is a 50, a 100 is four lengths, and so forth. The hope was that by explaining this he would understand what I mean when I "speak in sets". Well that didn't work out as planned, since the next time we were talking about swim sets he goes, "So how many down and backs is that?" I can't help but laugh, but when I stopped to think about it, this actually happens more often than not.

When one of my non-triathlete friends asks me how my training is going I try and keep it simple. I quite enjoy when someone says, "So are you riding your bike outside in this weather?!" And I reply with, "No, my bike is hooked up to a trainer and I do all my rides inside in aero." There's usually a brief moment of silence and puzzled looks usually begin to form over the person's face before I realize that this person has no idea what a trainer or the aero position are. "Ohhh!" They'll say. "So it's like a stationary bike, huh? And you're like one of those crazy people that lay down on your handle bars?" Actually, I'm a Grade-A badass my friend, because I can ride my bike with no handlebars....since I have aero bars ;)

Now don't get me wrong, triathlon talk was not my first language and I picked up a lot of the lingo from listening to people and reading articles. After a while though it becomes second nature to just drop words like PR, threshold, RI, VO2, or to say things like "Yea I was at about a zone 3 on the last ride," or "I had a major bonk on that last run, and I forgot to bring my honey stinger chews!" The first time I used the word "bonk" around my dad he stopped me mid sentence and said, "Wait, what did you do? How did you hit your head running?" I was confused, I hadn't said anything about hitting my head? It took me a few seconds to realize that he was associating the word bonk with a head injury. Although, I'm clumsy enough that I very well might have hit my head running.

I have to give my family and friends a lot of credit though, they have been pretty open and receptive to trying to speak my language. But I'm not sure if it's funnier to hear them say something ridiculous or get a response like, "I have no idea what you're talking about? What the hell is a PR?" As of now there is no functional Rosetta Stone program to speak triathlete, but I'm sure if you were to go to the pool at 6am, hit up the bike path at 5:45 or wait around at any Starbucks between 7:30-8am you could easily find one, get some practice in and strike up a conversation. Learn the difference between Shimano and SRAM, what type of shoe is best for someone who over-pronates, and you can even crack a joke about the latest line of perfume, O'De Chlorine. But if you get lost in translation just refer back to how hungry or tired you are, this is a safe space for the non-triathlete-linguist to be since any triathlete you actually talk to will always be happy to whine about how hungry or tired he or she is.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Brick in the Block

Training for a triathlon will be demanding, physically, mentally and emotionally. There will be days when you just can't push through a workout; when you hit snooze on your alarm clock because 4am came all too soon. Then there will be those days that you hit a PR, you've gone farther than than the last time, and you begin to see results. Your mind will battle your body, convincing you that you're not going fast enough, or you could have done another set if you really wanted to. It's an uphill battle more often than not. And you will experience fatigue, hunger, pain, irritation, and stress. But it's all worth it in the end, when you look back on everything you put yourself through, it's all worth it.

Along the way, the experiences we have allow for us to screw up majorly! And then learn from that mistake so it doesn't happen again. Last year, when I raced IM Racine 70.3 I bonked on the bike. I was so worried about not taking in enough on the bike that I actually took in too much. My stomach hurt like none other for more miles than I can count early on, and it took every ounce of my mental strength to push through that bike ride. That being said, I also wasn't the best at making all of my scheduled training rides....lesson learned. This time around I'm taking my rides more seriously, and oh what luck, being bike blocked this month ;)

When I opened my training log for this month from Steph her email read, "This is another bike block. You won't like it because it's not much running, but NOW is the time to get some uninterrupted time to work on the bike. Next 4 weeks involves 4 X a week on the bike, you will grow to love it. --Steph"  If ever there was a time I believed love was conditional....

Ok so I've already learned quite a few lessons in the 3ish months I've been training, and one of them is "Listen to the coach lady". Looking through the plan I noticed that Saturdays were Brick workouts. Now I'm going to say that to me, at this moment, I was thrilled! But I feel like part of the reason for this is because it's March, and the first time in months since I've done them. It will probably be a different story in August ;)

In all of the excitement, I ended up falling asleep at 8:30 on Friday night (I'm a rager let me tell you!). But it worked out well enough because by 4:45 I was clipped in and ready to ride. Two and a half hours on the trainer is grueling! And those last 15 minutes felt like an eternity. As soon as my watch hit the 2:30 mark I jumped off the bike and into "T1". I'm such a dork, I set up a "transition" in my bathroom, filled with several layers of clothes and my gym shoes. I can honestly say it is almost harder trying to put layers on when you're sweaty than it is to peel them off.

I had convinced myself this run was going to suck, because everyone knows the first few minutes off the bike and running are hell. But it actually went a lot better than expected. I ran up 55th and to the lake path. Did a wrap around the point, it was snowing a bit and no one was really out. I was soaking in the calm of the morning. Twenty minutes later and I was back inside my toasty, warm apartment. It was just barely 7:30am, I had accomplished all of that all before 8am, damn it feels good to be a gangster!

Definitely worth a nice big cup of coffee before running off to work :)

Fuel Your Fire

A few years back, lets say around 2009, I was the biggest I'd ever been. 5'8 and floating between 195-200lbs. Not good. So I started working out and I changed my food choices. I refuse to say that I went on a diet because to me that implies that you are cutting out certain foods for only an extended time frame. I made the choice to become a vegetarian and as I went on, learned what foods were better for my health. Over time, my tastes actually changed substantially, and I was eating things that previously, I wouldn't touch.

But all of this took time. And once again I find myself redefining my relationship with food. Instead of it being a meal I need to look at it more like carbs we meet again! One adjustment that I did make was to my carb intake. I don't buy bread and a lot of my carb intake was in the form of fruits/veggies, quinoa, and pasta usually on the weekends for long runs. As a vegetarian I can say I do not miss that bloated feeling you get when you consume carbohydrates. I like the "I'm not full but I'm not hungry" place. This all came to bite me in the ass when I bonked out hard core this week and depleted my glycogen levels.

It all happened pretty fast it felt like. It was a Wednesday morning. I woke up at 4:15 and knew I had to be on the bike by 5 but I did not feel energized or motivated. Still I forced my body up, convinced my brain this is a side affect of it being 4am and pushed through it. I was pleased with myself afterward but I dreaded the track run I would have to do later that afternoon. A mile into my warm up and I was still fighting my brain. Sometimes during my run warm ups it takes me a few minutes to get into the groove, but this was no such situation. My mind had quit on me and so I turned off the machine and went home.

I laid in bed for a good 3 hours, just lounging around. So very unlike me, which was when I knew something was up. I started telling my friend, who is an athletic trainer, how I felt tired and without energy. She's like, "Sounds like you might be over-training, go tell your coach." Words I didn't want to hear but knew were the truth I needed. After a quick chat with the coach lady, we decided to pull me back a day; no exercise Thursday or Friday morning and I would have to eat some extra carbs. She suggested whole wheat pasta and sweet potatoes. I'm not gonna lie, I haven't had sweet potatoes since Thanksgiving and whole wheat pasta tastes like card board BUT I went to the store and got my hands on both of these...along with some bagel thins, peanut butter, and nutella :) I figured if I was in need of carbs they didn't all have to be over-the-top healthy :)

So food for fuel and rest for recovery. I slept in Thursday morning and after work went home for a luxurious 3- hour nap. When I said it felt great, it's only because I am limited on alternatives for anything better at this moment :) Oh! I know! How about a new pair of running shoes? Sometimes monotony ensues when you train day-in-day-out, especially with endurance sports. I'm pretty sure that's why I do three of them though, Triathletes are a sports attention-deficit child. To counter this, I try to come up with mini-rewards for myself, a huge Americano will get me through a hard swim set and a new pair of running shoes will pick up my pace. It was getting to be about the time anyways, my knees get extra sensitive when it's time for new shoes, so it's safe to say I felt it coming on.

It's always humorous when I buy new shoes. I've done the "shoe test" at Fleet Feet twice now and out of 6-7 brands of shoes I always end up with the same pair....Nike's. Nothing else I own is Nike, and honestly, I don't think it's the "biggest" brand in endurance sports, BUT they fit me well and they compliment my stride and over-pronation well. The interaction usually goes something like this though: (I walk into the store, my old running shoes in hand and am approached by a sale's associate, lets call him John), John: "Hi, can I help you with something?" Me: "Yes, I need these (holds up old running shoes) in your most recent generation. (I refer to the "new line" as a new generation....I'm not so sure as to why). At this point John will either look at me a little taken back for 3.5 seconds or laugh and say, well alright then, let's grab those for you. And just like that I am all ready to run, so to speak.
By the time I got off work Friday afternoon I was more than ready to run. Ideally I would have liked to run outside, but it had just snowed a few hours before and with my little ice incident a few weeks ago I wasn't about to bruise my bum again. So I turned out a solid 6 miles on the treadmill and then did a wicked legs workout afterward. I had fueled my fire well enough in that day and a half off that it burned like hell when I let it.

P.S. As a rule of thumb, have a beer while cooking healthy food ;)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Weekender

One of the best things about growing up in the 90s was Saturday morning television shows. I used to get up early, plop myself in front of the TV with my bowl of cereal and I was fixated on the screen, nothing would get me off the couch.... except when my dad would scream at me to go clean my room or I wasn't going to swimming. So there was this one show, it wasn't my favorite, but it sticks out in my mind: The Weekenders. I don't really remember too much about the show other than that it was about these kids that would live for the weekend, and the one character, a blonde boy named TJ, would always end every episode saying 'later days'....that was my catch phrase for months to come. Unfortunately, the kids of this generation have been dooped, they won't get to experience the awesomeness of these Saturday morning shows....then again I'm one to talk, since I don't even have a television in my apartment.

So the point of my little flashback was to highlight this idea of being a "weekender". These days I am living for the weekend. I haven't gotten to a point yet were the week days are unbearable but I'd be lying if I said I didn't look forward to the luxury of the extra hours to go at my own pace. I mean, I still find myself getting up at 4-4:30 on Saturday mornings but by 5pm, after work and finishing my workout I'm free to just veg out. And Sundays.....Sundays I don't set an alarm. Buuut I don't usually sleep past 7. One of the benefits of being in the morning-person groove.

Two weekends ago I had a great workout set! Got up nice and early and headed out to the suburbs for a swim that I had missed on Thursday. Now what I am learning through all of this training is that a missed workout, is just that, a missed workout. So typically you should just let it go. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a full sized pool all to myself. And usually when I do a swim set I'm motivated by the thought of a tall, warm cup of coffee afterward :)

The best was yet to come though! After 4 hours at work I went upstairs to the cycling room, which I also had all to myself, only to stumble upon this beast. This was actually the first time I saw this type of spin bike, but an hour and a half on a bike, is an hour and a half. So I plugged in my ipod and hoped for the best. Half way through I was really missing Gwen and my clip in shoes. And actually I came to find that had I switched my workouts, biked before work and swam after, I could have been on my bike and still had the pool to myself. Oh well. I felt almost more accomplished on that bike than anything else.

I ended up staying over at my dad's that night. We digged in to some pizza and tried watching Ted, and maybe I'll be the only person to say this, but it really wasn't that funny. I also passed out halfway through the movie as well. Grandma complex. The next morning I got up early, had some coffee and oatmeal and hit the streets for my 70 minute run. It was a nice change of pace to run around the suburbs instead of the lake path. 9 times out of 10 I would pick the lake path over running around a neighborhood, but monotony sets in now and again and a change in scenery can actually improve my pace sometimes.

When I came home my dad laughed at me for my outfit. I had dressed in all black spandex and a black jacket with black and white Christmas socks to cover my calves. He goes, "You look like a robber, all you need is the mask" and I laughed and told him it brought all new meaning to running like I stole something. 

All-in-all it was a great weekend. But when 9pm hits I start embracing the fact that I have 5 more days to get through before it comes around again. Until then weekend, later days :)