Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

Friends and family who have known me for a while know that sleep is not only one of my favorite things to do, but I am also a champion at doing it. I have been known to sleep for 15 hours straight, and could regularly do 11 or 12 a night. I am not only an endurance sleeper, but I can probably get into a good REM sleep faster than just about anyone. I'm a sprinter when it comes to falling asleep. It's one of those things that you don't even have to train for. Go without it for a while and you're even better!

I've fallen asleep in all the usual places, like on the couch watching TV, at movies, during chemistry class, at my desk at work, in meetings, on the beach, in the car, typing on the compiucvxz755555... huh? what just happened? Anyway, I can sleep anytime, anywhere. If only adult naptime was as common in this country as afternoon siestas are in Spain. Now this is a great idea. When you're in Kindergarten, the last thing you want to do in a room full of activities and friends is lie down by yourself and sleep; it's almost a punishment. But as an adult, we don't even get the opportunity, let alone the encouragement to nap... or do we? The latest trend in workplace wellness and productivity seems to be "nap rooms." Lots of companies are putting in break rooms designed for napping and "relaxation." I think this is a fantastic idea, and in my job as a staff health promoter, I think I need to start promoting this.

Spain has, in the last few years, cut down on their mid-day breaks for siestas. Apparently they used to take about 3 hours off in the early afternoon for lunch and a nap, but so many people live so far from work now, that it became impractical to go home for a siesta. Maybe they should incorporate nap rooms?

I've always wondered if "power-napping" was really worth anything. If I lie down for the recommened period of 20-30 minutes, I'll wake up 3 hours later; any earlier, and I don't feel at all refreshed. The latest research now says that after just six minutes (6 minutes!) of napping, you improve memory and learning skills. What happens during sleep, it is believed, is the consolidation of memories and the sorting out of all that your brain has been working so hard on during the wakeful period. It's the time of the day when things get filed away neatly so you can focus on what's really important. More sleep, please!

I have a theory that for each hour of training I do per day, I need an extra hour of sleep. It always seems to work out that way. Therefore, training, eating, and sleeping takes up most of my day during those months leading up to an Ironman. Think about it: I average 2-3 hours of training per day, another 1.5 hours for getting ready to swim/bike/run, 1 hour for showering and basic hygiene (3 showers/day x 20 mins) needed because of my training, I need my standard 9 hours + 2-3 hours (one for each training hour) of sleep, and 3 hours for buying, preparing, and eating all of the food my body requires, which leaves me with 3.5 hours per day of non-training, non-sleep related activities. No wonder work seems to get in the way. I generally try to make up for it on the weekends by taking 3-4 hour naps each day. No, really, I do!

I think it's noteworthy that Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, JFK, and Lance Armstrong were/are nap enthusiasts. Actually, why don't you sleep on that a while. I'm about to.....

Photo by Back in the Pack.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pushing the Limits

Having pain in my hips and hamstrings when I run these days gets me thinking. I just wrote about "not minding that it hurts." But how much pain is too much to bear? When are you doing more harm by continuing to inflict pain on your body? When does tough turn to stupid?

Athletes often get respect for pushing themselves beyond their limits. We saw Julie Moss crawl across the finish line of Ironman in 1982 because her body had shut down to the point where she couldn't even walk. That pretty much solely began the Ironman craze of the present. People wanted to be part of this sport where determination and mental strength were tested right along with the physical limits. Again in 1997, a duel between two women (Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham) ended with a crawl to 4th and 5th place finishes. That same year Chris Legh pushed his body far enough to get him 50 yards from the finish line, but collapsed, unconscious, later having part of his colon removed due to necrosis. In 2003, Tim Deboom was leading the race in the marathon... until he passed a kidney stone. I'm sure there are plenty of examples in all sports of athletes pushing the limits like this.

My pain is nowhere near the levels these athletes endured. Compared to what I imagine passing a kidney stone, breaking a femur, or having a hernia emerge during running would feel like, mine is just a slight discomfort. Am I really doing my body harm? Does the race I'm training for itself (Ironman) do irreversible harm to the body? I don't think anybody knows the answer to that question just yet, since this sport is relatively new. We do know that a half-iron distance race produces the short-term effects of altered cardiac function and minimal cardiac damage. There is a great article on what's becoming one of my favorite sites about willpower overcoming the body's limit. It was decided, ultimately, that "it’s not simply a case that the guy who wants it most will win... eventually, physiology wins the day."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Heart Rate Training

I got my heart rate up pretty high today. I'm not talking about the morning swim workout either, although that did it too. (Side note: I am so proud of my success at getting up at 5 a.m. this morning and making 2 swim workouts in 4 days!) My heart rate jumped up suddenly today, and for a good 5 minutes I think I was pretty close to max. I was bidding on some mountain bike shoes that I found on ebay. The beautiful silver and blue Sidi Blazes are exactly like those that were stolen out of my car back in October. I think the aggravation and monetary loss of the theft would almost be worth it if I got to see someone in this 'hood walking around in these shoes, cleats and all, while wearing the tiny DeSoto zip tri singlet with "Los Locos" sublimated across the back. I wonder if they were proud of their prize of workout clothes, Reef flip flops, and a bunch of mixed CDs for my spin class (Metallica, anyone?), along with these pimpin' Sidis.

But anyway, back to the bidding. Finally finding these shoes at a reasonable discount, never used, with SPD cleats included, I couldn't resist. The only issue was that I was at work when the auction ended, and had to ignore the guy I was helping for a bit (he was busy working on the computer anyway!). I assumed the lone bidder didn't have much experience with only 8 transactions, so I thought I might be able to sneak in last minute and outbid her. With two minutes left, I placed my bid, knowing two minutes is plenty of time for her to realize what was happening and up her offer. Every 10 seconds, I hit refresh. Surely she won't be able to react that fast... refresh.... still nothing... refresh... what if our internet goes down like it is inclined to do every so often???.... refresh....this isn't even my computer--what if the keyboard works differently??.... refresh.... With 1 minute remaining, I could only hold off 3 seconds between refreshing. I think I held my breath the whole last minute, feeling my heart want to beat right out of my chest. As if it were a life or death decision, my eyes were glued to the screen. At last, the seconds ticked down to zero, and the green check remained, telling me I'd won this time, I'm the victor, I am the champion bidder! It IS better when you win it!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Will of Iron

"Certainly it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts." ~T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia)

Thanks to my friend Dave, who wrote an excellent article that included this quote, I had it on repeat in my mind as I ran yesterday. I trudged through a less-than-spectacular long run on a very beautiful but extremely windy day. I had good company and beautiful views throughout Shelby Farms as I winded through the Tour de Wolf, Chickasaw Trail, and 10K cross-country course. From the very first minute my legs were protesting. I'm not sure why they screamed as loudly as they did, since my workouts had included just a 50 mile bike ride and a swim (yes, finally!) on Saturday. It must've been Friday's 8-mile fartlek run with Damie, after which we decided to challenge ourselves to some plyometric jumps. OUCH. I am well aware of the benefits of regularly doing plyometrics, and I really should get my act together and do them more often, but it sure is hard to get motivated to repeat the workout when I'm that sore two days later.

I was determined to get in 2.5 hours of running, hopefully about 18 miles. It was hard not to focus on the pain radiating from my hips and hamstrings. But telling myself that the trick is to not MIND the pain, but instead be comfortable with it, was key. Every time the thought ran through my head, the pain decreased. I felt like it was very appropriate training for my next Ironman. I know it's going to hurt. Of course it's going to hurt. Not everyone can make themselves "not mind" that it hurts for long enough to get through the marathon, though. And that is what makes all the difference!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Death by Chocolate!

In honor of Valentine's Day, and the favorite indulgence of almost everyone, we had a health seminar about chocolate today at work. I'll let you in on some good reasons to eat chocolate today:

· A few squares of dark chocolate each day can reduce risk of death from heart attack by half. Blood platelets clot more slowly after dark chocolate consumption. In addition, cocoa may decrease LDL cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory effects.
· Chocolate may decrease blood pressure and increase insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes, was lower in those who ate dark chocolate versus those who ate white chocolate, which does not contain the same phytochemicals.
· Improvement in arterial blood flow. Blood vessels are able to relax better when chocolate is consumed. This is important for cardiovascular health.
· People with chronic fatigue syndrome report less fatigue after consuming chocolate. The participants in the study gained no weight from chocolate consumption. This may work because of the enhancement of the action of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep.

And then some myths:

Myth 1: Chocolate is high in caffeine. Truth: a 1.4 ounce chocolate bar and an 8 ounce glass of chocolate milk each contain about 6 mg of caffeine, the amount in a cup of decaf coffee. Regular coffee contains 65-135 mg of caffeine.
Myth 2: Chocolate is loaded with saturated fat and is bad for your cholesterol. Truth: Stearic acid, which is the saturated fat found in cocoa, does not raise cholesterol like other saturated fats do. Some studies show that it may raise HDL (good) cholesterol.
Myth 3: Chocolate lacks any nutritional value. Truth: chocolate is a good source of magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc, plus it contains antioxidants called polyphenols that may help decrease risk of coronary heart disease. Other benefits may include lower blood pressure and improved insulin resistance.
Myth 4: Chocolate causes cavities. Truth: milk chocolate’s protein, calcium and phosphate may help protect tooth enamel. The naturally-occurring fat makes the chocolate clear the mouth faster than other candy therefore reducing the time sugar remains in contact with the teeth.
Myth 5: Chocolate causes headaches. Truth: no link between migraines and chocolate was found in a recent University of Pittsburg study.

Eat some chocolate today. Your health depends on it!

That Time of Year

Isn't it always about the middle of February when you've already started back with some training-- running, a little cycling, more swimming-- and you just can't stand one more cold wet day? It still gets dark early, it rains a lot (in Memphis at least), and it's just bone-chilling most of the time. How do you cope? Behold, the treamill. I've made it all the way up to 8 whole miles on the treadmill, although that's really pushing it for me. And I HAVE to do intervals. Who can bear to plod along at the same pace, staring at the same scenery for an hour? It's worse than staring at the same black line at the bottom of the pool. Running seems so much harder on that thing too. Last time I was on the treadmill my intervals were so intense (not that they were fast) that I didn't notice my co-worker who had been on the machine next to me for 20 minutes.
Today, however, is a beautiful day. My plan is to get outside in the warm sunshine for a run this afternoon. I want to enjoy this while it lasts!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Time Dilation?

“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.” -Leonardo Da Vinci

Time seems to fly by just when you want it to stand still. With Damie’s upcoming departure for Corinth, she undoubtedly wanted time to slow down a little. Just a few more days without work and studying, a few more bike rides in the bright winter sunlight, a few more weeknights to stay home with Dave. Surely those last few days went by the fastest. They did for me. Before I knew it, she was heading off to her 5-week home-away-from-home, leaving us to do our Tuesday night track workouts, Bosco’s shooters, early morning swims (ok, not me), and Friday afternoon rides, Damie-less. Why won’t time stand still when you want it to, and let you enjoy it just a little longer?

It makes me think of fartlek runs (and yes, I can relate anything to running). This is the way to make a run go by in warp speed. You do a hard interval for, say, a minute, and then run easy for another 4 minutes or so. While the hard minute seems eternal, the rest period goes much faster. Wait, have I just found a practical example of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity? Hmmm, not quite, since the perspective of the “observer” and the “clock” is the same. But still, there is such a thing as time dilation, which is occurs because “moving clocks tick slower than an observer’s ‘stationary’ clock.” Fascinating! So it IS true. Oh and wait, according to this theory, I’ll look smaller to the observer, too-- even better!

Isn’t time really how our minds perceive it? Remember when you were 5 years old and the trip to Disneyland seemed forever away? It’s fascinating watching a child learn what “tomorrow” or “yesterday” means. I remember my sister Megan, when she was about 3, asking if “tomorrow” was “after we go to sleep and wake up.” I’ve just recently been watching my niece Emily, who is 5, and her thought processes about time. Jenny teaches her time by telling her “when the clock says 8-oh-oh, it’s time for your bath,” or “when the big hand is on the 12….”

Does time ever pass too slowly as an adult? I suppose if it’s something I’m really looking forward to, maybe. But these days (it must be my age), weeks and months pass with a blink of the eye. I rarely feel like I’m wasting time, and I’m NEVER bored. There’s always something to entertain me, something I should be working on, or training for an upcoming race I could be doing. Even when my Sunday afternoon consists of dozing on the couch with a good book in one hand and the TV remote in the other, I don’t feel that time is wasted. I love the quote by T.S. Elliot, “Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time.” This week, I’m living by that line and enjoying all of my time, no matter how quickly or slowly it passes me by.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ahhhhh, massaaahhhge

Have you ever had one of those massages that is so relaxing, you're in a trance-like state-- not asleep, but not totally aware of your surroundings? You drift into another world while the soft music plays, the warm table wraps you up in its pillows of comfort, the massage therapist's hands soothe each tense muscle...

I spent my lunch hour yesterday on the massage table where I cringed, winced, and held my breath as Dan pulled, kneaded, and elbowed my quads and hips into submission. I felt this morning like I'd been run over by a truck, but at the same time like I'd done something really important for my running, biking, and swimming. I have no problem getting myself to sleep, so why do I need to pay someone by the hour to do that for me? Bring on the pain, I say! Make those muslces strong, flexible, and fast!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fears and Doubts

I'm scared of swimming. It's been so long since I've been in the pool that I'm not sure I remember what bilateral breathing is. What started as a nice break at the end of the seaon became four solid months with only THREE swim workouts. My total yardage in four months is what I should be doing in a week!

Putting off joining the Y has now become a fear of getting back into the water. I've always somewhat enjoyed swimming once I finally get there, so initially there was no dread. With two pool memberships ending and the only pool I'm a member of located about 20 miles away from my house, it was at first only a logistical problem. Now all those years of hard work have surely gone right down the drain (at the bottom of the pool, where I'll be sinking to next time), and I'll be getting plenty more "wow, you have a LOT of room for improvement on the swim"s in the upcoming season.

Inspiration! I need inspiration! I got a new swimsuit, lost it, found it; I'll start a new master's program; I'll have new swimming buddies.... will it be enough?? Stay tuned....

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Tale of Last Season

I thought I'd start my new blog with a tale of last season. My last race of 2007 was on the Big Island of Hawaii, doing the big race: Ironman. It treated me better than it has in the past, and has left me with the desire to try, try again. Here's my story:

I traveled to Kona on the Wednesday before the race. The evening before, at work, my car had been broken into and my race top stolen. My bike had been in the car, but chained to the seat (I’ve gotten smarter). I was hoping my bad luck was over, and I would only have good things happen for the race. Wednesday I lugged my 150 pounds of, um, luggage around for so long (it took about 17 hours to get there) that I was STILL sore in the shoulders Saturday. (Mental note: more weight training.) The only benefit of that whole experience was the number of cute guys who felt sympathy for me and helped me out; I particularly liked the ones who spoke not a word of English!

Thursday included a short little run during the annual Underpants Run, where I had a spontaneous photo shoot with Greg Welch (thanks to my friend Christy and her Team Nice Ass underpants!), who posted a picture of me and Christy on I was too shy to strike up a conversation with “the Bachelor” Andy Baldwin; that’s my only regret. I did a couple of swims on the course, but didn’t quite make it out to the floating espresso bar. Too bad that wasn't there during the race!

Thursday night's excitement involved learning just how strong I am. My bike pump got stuck on my valve extender as I was airing up for a tire check. I pulled on it so hard that I actually tore the valve off the tire (mental note: less weight training). Luckily there was a race bike shop located right in my hotel lobby, and for just $150 they gave me peace of mind and a freshly glued new tire. Lesson learned: clinchers for me from now on!

The weather in the days before the race felt nice and cool at 85 compared to what I’d tried to train in all summer, but they say it reaches >100 in the lava fields. I believe it. The wind is an entirely different story. It's hard to describe if you haven't experienced it. Nothing I've ever ridden my bike in really compares to it. I love the wind, I love the wind!

Race morning my excitement finally overcame my nervousness. I was staying 50 yards from the pier (the start, transitions, and finish), so I went down to get marked, came back up to the room to relax and finish my breakfast. I went back down about an hour before the start to meet Christy and hang out by the pool (obviously the place to be-- Macca was there too). I didn’t leave myself much time after zipping up my new speedsuit to get to the starting line, which is about 100m out from the beach (you have to tread water while waiting for the start) but did manage to hang on a kayak for a little bit before we were surprised by the cannon going off a few minutes early. I got a little beat up, a little chafed by the suit, and a little gulp of salt water in the hour and twnty-one minutes it took me to finish the very scenic ocean swim. I wasn’t thrilled with that time after all the work I’ve been doing on my swimming, but it wasn’t my worst there.

I had a quick stop under the fresh water hoses coming into T1. In the tent I changed into my tri shorts and substitute race top (purchased 2 days before), went through the sunscreen sprayers, car wash style, and I was off.

Within 15 miles of the bike, I was aching in the shoulders and back. By 30, both legs were killing me. By the turnaround at Hawi, I had to stop. My feet were numb, but not numb enough to eliminate the pain. The entire backside of both legs had shooting pains that were only relieved by getting off my bike. Did I put my seat on wrong? Forget a bolt or something? I still don't know. So I stood down for a few minutes about 4 different times. Why does this not happen in training!? There was a tailwind for about 5 miles after Hawi that quickly turned to a cross wind (almost knocking me off my bike about 3 times), then back to a headwind for the remainder (yes, the remainder-- like 40 more miles). That was hands down the most painful bike ride I’ve ever done, and I got to spend 6:40 doing it. Again, not my worst time on the course, but I wasn’t excited about it.

T2, on the other hand, was fantastic. Two volunteers immediately came to my service with my bag and an icy towel. Once I’d finished changing I just sat there, towel around the neck. I asked if I could stay, but they urged me on. The 9+ minutes didn’t last nearly long enough.

Sometimes you don’t realize how good you feel until you’ve experienced torturous pain. The run felt so good just because I was not riding my bike anymore. I left transition and got a nice cheer from Christy's mom and boyfriend, Jindy. It's always nice to see people you know after many tough hours in a race. She was just up the road from me, having had a similar swim and slightly better bike and T2. I decided to just start at a pace I could handle and see what happened. If all else failed, GaryIronmanHolmes (he’s done about 27 Ironmans) told me to run 2 mins, walk 1. I actually felt fine running, no need to walk, and there were incredible volunteers at the water stops. One guy at about mile 4 told me with complete sincerity, “I am so proud of you.” Once again, I asked if I could stay there.

At the first turnaround (5 miles) Christy was about 6 minutes ahead. She told me to catch her so we could run together. I was working on it. That kept me motivated. The sun was setting as I went into the energy lab (about miles 16-20), and it was gorgeous. Every few hundred yards there was another photographer lying on the ground getting footage of it. At 18.5 miles, the energy lab turnaround and last one of the day, Christy was 3 minutes ahead. Great, I’d gained 3 minutes in 13 miles. But I was newly motivated again, just seeing and cheering for her. That combined with the fact I only had about 7 miles to go made me pick it up. I believe it was my fastest pace of the day (including much of the bike!). So at 22 miles, I caught her. She’d been running with a disposable camera, so we took pictures of each other. I told her to run with me, but she let me go.

Finally, FINALLY, after a few more miles of running in complete darkness except for the occasional blinding headlights (I almost even ran right into a couple people who weren’t wearing their glowstick necklace), I got back to town. The crowds got bigger and more excited around every corner. Ali’i Drive is an amazing place to run. About 200 yards out there is an arch to run under, then the path becomes carpeted. You run toward the brightest light you’ve ever seen. Fans are going crazy (ok, they don’t know me, they’re not MY fans, but it doesn’t matter). A guy in a wheelchair flies by you at 30 mph. You slap one of the first of 1000 hands stretched out toward you and the force sends you backward 5 feet. You start running forward again, just trying to enjoy the culmination of this whole 11 months of training, but it goes too fast, like it always does. Run: 3:49 Total: 12:06