Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ear Plugs Are Awesome

In preparation for my race in just over a week, I hit the pool to gain confidence that I could swim 0.6 miles (1056 yards) in one shot. My last workout had been an 800 yard swim to get me close to my 1050 yard goal, and with how well that workout went, I thought this one would be a piece of cake. Plus, there was one annoying thing I needed to take care of in preparation for my race.

I found the sloshing of water in my ears became more annoying the longer I swam. As I got through 400 yards I could tolerate it, but as I moved into 600 and 700 yards, it was unbearable. And if it was bad at 600 yards, what about at 1000 yards and with many other swimmers kicking up the water? I just might go insane. So I dusted off the ear plugs that I purchased a few years back and decided to try them out.

My ear plugs look like this. I found it hard to get them in at first, but once in, they felt great. As I swam, the flow of water in and out of my ears was gone. And the pool noise was more subtle, which helped me concentrate on what I was doing (counting to two). When I was done, they hurt a little as they popped out, but I guess that's what you get when you have a water-tight seal.

I'm now an advocate for ear plugs when swimming. I might even use them every time I'm in the pool. Maybe.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Need Rocks in My Pockets

Ever since high school I've usually weighed between 132 and 135 pounds. And ever since high school I've never really liked my body. I inherited my Mom's genes which meant I was doomed to a short torso, but had the benefit of long arms and legs. To put it in perspective, the top of my hip is just a few inches lower than Jeff's, and he's 6'2" while I'm 5'5". My life may have been very different with those few extra inches. A pro volleyball player...an Olympic swimmer...

And back to reality... While I've been unhappy, I never really did anything to make myself happier. My eating habits weren't bad and I exercised some, but I didn't make an effort to improve on how I was treating my body. Until June of this year.

With Kristin's recommendation, I purchased the Vida One software for my Dell Handheld and PC and began recording what I ate. At first this took a bit of time because I'd have to enter all the nutritional information for every item, but as time went on the entering went quicker since the foods were already there to choose from. On June 23rd I started at 137.2 pounds. This was the heaviest I'd ever been and boy did I feel it physically and emotionally.

I set the goal of having my "race weight" as 130.0 pounds. This meant a 7.2 pound loss in just under 11 weeks; a very doable goal. I didn't want to go for anything drastic because (1) I was in training and didn't want to hurt myself and (2) I wanted my weight loss goal to be an added benefit to my training, not a stressor in my life that I obsessed over (and I have those tendencies). So I began tracking everything that hit my stomach.

At first I found I was eating enough to maintain my weight, so I had to start watching my portion sizes and cut 332 calories out each day. Some days I did better than others, but I didn't worry if ate too much one day; I eased up the next. If I saw that I had only 400 calories left for dinner, I tried to plan out a meal with about 400 calories, which one time meant putting away the extra bratwurst and bun and sticking with just one that night.

At first I weighed myself inconsistently. I'd try to remember after I got home from work, but I didn't always make it to the scale. Part way into my goal I read that weighing yourself in the morning provides you with your most accurate weight because you've been fasting all night, so I started doing that. Plus, it worked out well because I would jump on the scale before getting dressed for work. No matter what time, consistency (same time of day) is the important part.

My scale also measures body fat, and the morning is a bad time to take that measurement, so I try to get that number before I grab dinner. I needed to be careful because if my body fat percentage wasn't going down (or worse, was going up), it meant that I was losing muscle and needed to change something immediately. I started out at (an embarrassing) 31% when I started working out last November; when I started here I was down to 27.5%. That value is generally in the acceptable range, but 25% is the start of the ideal range.

As the weeks past I saw my weight come down gradually. On days that I did a hard workout I would allow myself a Chipotle salad without dressing (not every hard workout, of course). About 6 weeks in, the gradual decline leveled off. I kept up with what I was doing and after a week, my weight started going down again.

On Monday I was 130.4 pounds and beginning to realize that I couldn't remember the last time I saw 129 on any scale. At all the doctor's offices in the past several years it's been 130+ pounds (and all women know that those scales add pounds). During high school and college I didn't step on a scale much. I was excited to be on the cusp of breaking new ground. So on Tuesday I weighed... 130.0 pounds. I shook my head when I saw that number; I couldn't have gotten any closer to 129 pounds than what I did that morning. It was a sick joke played on me, so I laughed. I'd have to wait until tomorrow. Or in reality, yesterday.

I finally broke the 129 pound barrier (and was at 25.6% body fat as well). You'd think I was the guy that broke the 4 minute barrier for the one mile. I was absolutely thrilled, and made sure I woke up Jeff when I kissed him good-bye to tell him the good news.

I can definitely tell a difference in how I look. I'm not so soft around the middle anymore. My pants that used to fit tight in the thighs don't fit so tight anymore. In fact, I have one pair of pants that was a little on the loose side before I started, and now they practically fall off. I haven't taken my new body measurements since hitting this new mark, but will do so soon to compare with the measurements I took earlier. Jeff started noticing a change a few weeks ago and made sure to let me know that he noticed. Overall, I feel awesome. I think I'll keep this new body around for a while.

I think my ultimate goal would be to drop 10 more pounds to put me around 120. More importantly though, I want to continue bringing down my body fat percentage. Since muscle weighs more than fat, I may find that I can't get to 120 pounds, but if my body fat percentage is lower than it is today coupled with a lower weight, that's even better. I'll take it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Missing the Mark

And it's official: I've transferred my registration over to the Delaware Diamondman Sprint from the Half Ironman. With the reality of my long term goal (Ironman) fading off into the distance, I reevaluated my short term goal (Half Ironman). As of last night, I was capable of:

- Swimming a mile pool workout (not a continuous mile, but a workout totaling a mile)
- Biking for days (read: doing 56 miles with no trouble)
- Running 5 miles continuously

And this was each event individually. Factor in the sequential nature of the events, and the picture looks very bleak for the run, which would probably turn into a walk. I feel defeated by no one else but myself. I'm defeated, disappointed, and depressed. I could play the what-if game, but it won't get my anywhere. It was my choice not to workout "today" because of "this excuse" or "that excuse". I shifted my workouts to the morning and that helped, but that's only been for the last month or so. And while I can point the finger at work for a couple of weeks, ultimately it was my daily decisions that led me down this path.

Jeff was my first advice-provider last night when I began the dialog of switching over. Kristin was my second advice-provider this morning. I waited to make the final decision until I talked to Kristin, although I had a feeling that she'd be on the same page as Jeff, which is usually the case. She told me that she was wondering when I would come to the realization that I wasn't going to make it. I already knew I had a problem in May. I told her that I appreciated the fact that she didn't say anything until I was ready to hear it.

So, my new race is a 0.6 mile swim, 17.5 mile bike, and a 2 mile run. The swim is longer than my Hagerstown race and is open water, and the run is a mile shorter; I couldn't ask for anything better. I tore through 800 yards in the pool this morning in 22.5 minutes, so I expect I'll be able to tack on the 250 yards that I need without too much issue. I'd like to try and find an Olympic distance Triathlon to finish off my season with, but I'm not going to push it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Moving My Sights

A question came up yesterday as I was talking with someone about my Ironman plans - are you planning on working part time next year?

The question threw me for a loop at that moment (the answer was no), but later in the day it made me start thinking about the time commitment needed to do something like that. I will admit that my training plan has led me to a point that I think I'll finish the Half Ironman, but I won't be anywhere near competitive in my age group. Sure, I could have trained more, but realistically how much more? To the point that my training starts interfering with the really important things in my life like my marriage? Or to the point when my quality of life declines and I'm a miserable person? When is it too much?

It was just the other day that I calculated my estimated race time for the Half: 50 min + 3.75 hours + 60 mins = 5 hours, 35 minutes. Wow. Reality really sunk in then - that's a long time. And I want to double that time? Double the race time, double the training? Or triple the training?

The reason I got back into triathlons late last year was because I was successful with my century training plan. My bike skills and endurance were much better than 2005, and I knew I would do fine with swimming, so that left only one event that I needed to improve on greatly. Easier said than done. And since I always set my sights high, I looked all the way ahead to an Ironman as a goal, but put it two years out instead of just one since I knew one year would be tough.

Jeff came to the same conclusion that I did last night - focus on running a marathon first. I have done few foot races in my life (I think I total two 5Ks in all my life, excluding triathlons), and I'm not going to get any better if I have cycling and swimming (and life!) pulling at me all the time. Next season should be spent on improving my running skills. That doesn't mean I can't do any triathlons or centuries (the cross-training will be great for me). In fact, I don't think I could not do any triathlons next year.

So, I think it's time to put away the Ironman goal for now until some things change. I need to work closer than 45 minutes from work so I'm not wasting 1.5 - 2 hours everyday in the car; that time should be for training. And, I need to start out as a better runner than where I am now. So, I think it'll be a few years before I set my sights on an Ironman again.

*Sigh* Why must I be so realistic and logical?

Running Sweet Spot

I took off for a 5 mile run last Tuesday in some nice weather. I decided to run around the neighborhood to break up the treadmill workouts, and was happy I did. I finally found where my good training zones are:

up to 185 bpm - Comfortable, run "forever" feeling
186-189 bpm - No wheezing, but feeling stressed
190+ bpm - Wheezing and very uncomfortable

What I mean by wheezing is strained breathing. I've been tested for exercise-induced asthma and know that I don't have it, but I sound like a wheezing asthmatic when I push things too far. My endurance is a huge factor because as my endurance increases, my heart rate decreases, so I have less cases of wheezing.

As I get tired, I start to wheeze a few bpms earlier so I have to be more careful where I am in my zones as my run continues. I feel better knowing where I need to be so I can better judge if/when I need to walk to recover.

And for the record, I ran the five miles without stopping (except for one light).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Long Training Session Nutrition

I attending a nutrition discussion at Metro Run & Walk back in June. Rebecca Mohning works with many local athletes to make sure their nutrition is on-par before, during, and after their events. I figured it was a good way to get some free knowledge about what I should be eating and drinking while training and competing.

For the Hagerstown Sprint Triathlon I wasn't thinking much about nutrition. My main concern was my pre-race intake (which I messed up anyway) to make sure I got started off on the right foot. I had a bottle of Propel for the ride, and I popped down part of a Hammer Gel between the bike and run, drinking water on the run. I am much more concerned about my Half Ironman race coming up and for my long training sessions.

For my 40 mile, 3 hour ride last Saturday, my intake was:
- 21 oz Berry Propel
- 21 oz Lemon Propel

for a total of:
- 42 oz water
- 11.6g carbs (38 calories)
- 116mg sodium
- 0mg potassium
- 0g protein

According to the papers from Rebecca, I should have had:
- 54oz water at a minimum
- 66g carbs per hour = 198g carbs (792 calories)
- 300mg sodium per hour = 900mg sodium
- 120mg potassium per liter
- some protein for long training sessions

And I wonder why I had hunger pains towards the end... So, it's obvious that I am not feeding my body enough during long distance training rides. My stomach is very sensitive, so I think I've gotten into a rut of "well, this works so I'll stick to it" without taking some time to review what I'm doing. But now I'm reviewing.

When I was training for the century last year, I started using Perpetuem when my training mileage hit 50 miles or more. My stomach tolerated it just fine since the flavor was very mild. So, I have that to start figuring in since my next ride should be around 50 miles. That'll add the "some protein" needed for longer training sessions.

I can't mix my water any heavy than it is now. My stomach cramps at the thought of sickening sweet full strength Gatorade (I only drink the Frost line, or grab powder and mix it at half strength). So, I'll have to find a different way to get carbs using gels and the (awesome sounding) Clif SHOT Bloks. Since I love gummy bears, I think this is a viable consideration. Plus, it'll give me a distraction while I'm out riding around alone. I'm sure I can spend miles and miles trying to get the pieces of gummy out of my teeth while not using my fingers.

With the additional intake, I'll have to see what remains on the sodium front. I'm not a heavy sweater, so 300mg/hour should be plenty. If I'm still lacking, I'll have to take Endurolytes. And with all the upgrades, my potassium intake will be better, so I'll have to see if I'm still coming in low or if I'm good to go.

So in summary:
- Increase water intake by carrying larger water bottles and/or CamelBak
- Increase caloric intake by increasing nutrition (Clif SHOT Bloks)
- Increase sodium intake by increasing nutrition; add Endurolytes if necessary
- Increase potassium intake by increasing nutrition (Clif SHOT Bloks)
- Continue to use Perpetuem on rides 50+ miles for protein

More More More!!!

Monday, August 04, 2008

One Plus One Plus One

I don't remember now who thought of the idea, but it's definitely a good one and something I'll keep in mind. A triathlon relay is a bit like cheating - yes, you complete all the events, but it's with a fresh person for each leg. Although, it is a great way to get some exercise with your friends and have a good time too. Our team is shaping up something like this:

Swim - Kristin or Me
Bike - Me or Kristin
Run - Jeff or Maria-Giulia

Maybe this will be something I pick to do at the beginning of next season - something to break the triathlon bubble early on (instead of waiting until the end of July like this season). That'll give Maria-Giulia plenty of time to break in her new feet, and for Kristin to continue working on her swimming (and hopefully biking too). Jeff can just go out and run forever, so he's ready to go anytime. How exciting! Having an all girl team would be awesome (sorry Jeff). I mean, how many times have you played soccer, softball, or some other team sport and not had enough women?

First Mile or Three Speeds

My swim workout on Friday was just over a mile (1 mile plus 90 yards). Yippie! My first pool mile! During this workout (as well as my last), I discovered that I finally have the elusive third speed - warm-up pace. I have always had two speeds, training and sprint, but it's the warm-up speed that I've been looking to gain. Now when I warm-up, I'm able to keep my HR low(ish) and relax as I swim. Four strokes per breath the entire way and when I finish, I feel warmed up and not tired. That feels awesome.

An epiphany I had on Friday was the relationship between my flutter kick intensity and my overall endurance in the pool. I discovered that I was likely kicking too hard for an endurance length swim (considered anything over 100m). With those larger muscles engaged, my HR is higher than it should be which is wearing me out quicker than I would like, especially if I expect to swim 1.2 miles in a month. Plus, over the past few workouts I was discovering that my arms weren't as tired as they had been in previous workouts, suggesting that I wasn't pulling enough with my arms (or conversely using my legs too much). With a conscience effort to pull more and kick less, my HR stayed down and my arms were more tired coming out of the pool.

Now all I need is a video camera to help tweek my technique...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Recent Triathlon Deaths Have Experts Searching for Answers "

I'm posting the article here for people (like me) who don't want to register on The NY Time's website.

Published: July 28, 2008

WHEN 60-year-old Donald Morehouse and 52-year-old John Hobgood Jr. died in different triathlon events last weekend, they became at least the seventh and eighth triathletes to die during competition this year. Those deaths came just one week after Esteban Neira, 32, died during the New York City Triathlon.

While this does not imply an epidemic — triathlon deaths remain rare — the deaths do share a puzzling resemblance: Like all of the triathlon deaths recorded by USA Triathlon at its sanctioned events in the last two years, they happened during the swim portion of the event, which also includes biking and running.

It is always striking when an athlete dies during an endurance competition, especially a young or well-conditioned athlete presumed to be at the peak of fitness. When Ryan Shay, a 28-year-old marathon champion, collapsed and died during the Olympic marathon trials last fall, even his closest friends and family were shocked. (Tests later determined his death was brought on by an irregular heartbeat that stemmed from an enlarged and scarred heart.)

But what makes the triathlon deaths more mysterious is that they all occurred during the first part of the race. Deaths during marathons tend to be more evenly distributed over the course of the 26.2 miles, with the largest grouping in the last mile, said Dr. William Roberts, a professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the medical director of the Twin Cities Marathon, who has studied marathon deaths in the United States.

The deaths of Mr. Morehouse (at the Spudman Triathlon in Burley, Idaho, an event not sanctioned by USA Triathlon) and Mr. Hobgood (at the New Jersey State Triathlon) are under investigation by medical authorities, as is Mr. Neira’s. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in triathlons over the last four years, and with just 23 deaths recorded by USA Triathlon since 2004 (not including last weekend’s deaths), the timing could be a statistical anomaly. But this much is clear: 18 of those 23 deaths occurred during the swim portion.

“There have been some striking similarities among recent fatalities,” said Kathy Matejka, the director of event services at USA Triathlon, which does not track the total number of triathlon participants. At least seven of those who died this year, she said, were men with “some measure of experience with the sport.”

Despite these similarities, a precise cause of death remains elusive in many cases. News reports suggest that at least three of this year’s deaths were linked to heart problems, but it is unclear whether those problems were primed to happen imminently or may not have happened until later without the race as a trigger.

No one knows for sure why deaths are more common during the swim portion of triathlons, but researchers have some intriguing theories. Public accounts of this year’s fatalities indicate that the athletes seemed outwardly healthy, and in some cases autopsies turned up no obvious cause of death, such as blocked arteries.

The combination of apparent good health and a negative autopsy suggests a fatality caused by abnormal heart rhythms, said Dr. Pamela Douglas, a Duke University cardiologist who has studied triathletes.

Evidence suggests that swimming may trigger a certain type of cardiac arrhythmia caused by a genetic condition called long QT syndrome, said Dr. Michael Ackerman, a cardiologist and the director of the Windland Smith Rice Sudden Death Genomics Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. About 1 in 2,000 people are born with a heart condition that causes a glitch in the heart’s electrical system, and the most common of these is called long QT syndrome, after the tell-tale interval on an electrocardiogram.

The long QT heart recharges itself sluggishly between beats, and that delay sets up the potential for a skipped beat, Dr. Ackerman said. When the problem strikes, the heart’s electrical system can go haywire, degenerating into a potentially fatal arrhythmia.

Dr. Ackerman’s research team has identified several genetic forms of long QT syndrome, and one of those seems especially bothered by swimming, he said. He’s still not sure why, but sees one clue in a Japanese study several years ago that found that irregular heartbeats occur more commonly during swimming than during the same level of aerobic activity on land.

"It’s not that swimming is horrendously dangerous and running is not,” Dr. Ackerman said. “It’s really a perfect storm that needs to happen.”

“It requires a second hit,” he said, “something to irritate it, and we know that swimming is one of those triggers, but it’s not going to be the absolute trigger.” An expert could detect most cases of long QT syndrome on an electrocardiogram, he said.

Whether a race begins with a swim or a run, Dr. Douglas said, the adrenaline rush at the start could aggravate conditions like long QT syndrome, because adrenaline and its related hormones can make the heart more prone to arrhythmias. Physical exertion won’t create a heart problem where none existed, she said, but it can create problems for people with underlying cardiac disease.

Any medical problem in the water is more likely to turn fatal than one that arises during a bike ride or a run. “Water is not a forgiving environment,” Dr. Douglas said. “It’s really hard when you’re swimming to sit down and say ‘I’m going to take a breather.’ ” Sudden fainting remains the classic warning sign of an underlying arrhythmia problem. “If you faint while running a race and your heart snaps back into sync 10 or 30 seconds later, you wake up,” Dr. Ackerman said. “If it happens in the water, even if your heart regains rhythm 30 seconds later, now you’re underwater.”

Many triathletes point to the swim as a triathlon’s most stressful segment. Most swims take place in open, often cold, water with hundreds or thousands of other swimmers vying for position. “Nothing can prepare a newbie for the start,” said Russ Evenhuis, a triathlete in Olympia, Wash. “It can be like jumping into a washing machine. You will get swum over, kicked, hit and banged into.”

A triathlon’s open-water swim hardly resembles the pools where most triathletes train, said Neil Cook, a New York City based triathlete and coach. “There is no wall 25 yards away, you can’t see the bottom and the 50 to 150 people around you are more than you’ve probably swam with in total during your training,” he said. “Oh, and you are wearing this wetsuit that’s tighter than a girdle and you can’t breathe.” Raise your heart rate and blood pressure under those conditions, he said, and “any weakness you have will become apparent.”

Fabian Quesada, 42, of Brooklyn prepared for the New York City Triathlon by taking part in an open-water training session with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program. “They have trained coaches who tell you what to expect,” he said.

Still, Mr. Quesada had a bout of anxiety his first time swimming in open water. “Even though the wetsuit keeps you buoyant, it’s very restrictive, and you panic because it’s tight,” he said. “You’re out in the open water where you can’t touch the ground. It can be an overwhelming experience.”

Triathlons normally hold meetings to brief participants on safety procedures, some of which are standard practice. For instance, “If you’re in the water and you have a problem, you’re supposed to stop and raise your hand,” said Dr. Doug Hiller, the chief medical officer for the International Triathlon Union, the sport’s worldwide governing body.

Ms. Matejka of USA Triathlon said her organization is committed to safety and will ask its experts to look for lessons in this year’s deaths, but as of yet, the group has no major changes planned.

“Speaking as a 20-plus-year triathlete, I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Andrew Hunt, the medical director for USA Triathlon.

“Do I think open-water swimming is inherently dangerous? No I don’t,” he said. Regarding the number of swim deaths, he said last week: “You can’t just look at the numerator, you have to look at the denominator — my guess is that that number is probably in the six figures. Six out of a hundred thousand isn’t that many.”

But no one really knows what the denominator is, because USA Triathlon does not keep records of how many people participate in its races. While the number of USA Triathlon members has risen from 53,254 in 2004 to 100,674 in 2007, those numbers don’t account for every person who races because nonmembers can buy a one-day license for individual events.

There’s no way to regulate away risk, Dr. Hunt said, and some triathletes say that’s part of the sport’s appeal.

“We want to push the limit of our comfort zone and experience life,” said Joe Bator, 37, of Boston, who has competed in triathlons for three years.

“Sure we want to minimize those risks,” he said. “But when it is time to race and put on that number, we need to be willing to push just a little bit more and get just a little bit more uncomfortable. If we don’t, we will never know what we are capable of achieving.”

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Skipping A Beat

As I was checking out CrossFit (something my boss had mentioned to me that friends of his were doing) the other day (07/31/08), I came across a link from The NY Times that discussed triathlon deaths. I was curious to see what it said, so I clicked and read on. Apparently 18 of the 23 deaths recorded (not including two recent deaths) by USAT since 2004 have occurred during the swim. These weren't inexperienced athletes, but people in good health with at least some experience doing a triathlon. There are theories as to what is happening, and they involve abnormal heart rhythms, a.k.a. cardiac arrhythmia. This got me a little nervous, so I read on.

An aside...Back in the summer of 2001 I started noticing that my heart felt like it was skipping a beat when I was at rest. It would take my breath away, so I would cough and my HR would return to normal. It went on for some time, then I decided it was time to see a doctor. After several tests, the cardiologist determined that I had an sinus arrhythmia and that it was nothing to worry about. I went on my way, and for six years I only had a few mild episodes, but this summer my symptoms returned with full force.

Last month I decided it was a good idea to get a physical amidst all this additional physical exercise I was getting. I mentioned it to my GP so he took an EKG. Everything looked fine except for the sinus arrhythmia that was evident. He requested I get the test result notes from my cardiologist so he could better understand the diagnosis, so I did (I was curious as well because I hadn't done much research when I was first diagnosed).

And back...Reading on in the article I learned that the likely arrhythmia causing these deaths is long QT syndrome. The heart is slow recharging itself which is a good setup for skipping a beat. There was a study performed in Japan that showed swimming causes more irregular heartbeats than the same level of aerobic activity on land. It won't cause problems where none exist, but the adrenalin and associated hormones can aggravate a heart with underlying cardiac dysfunction. And that was my cue to stop being nervous: adrenalin.

As I learned through later research, a sinus arrhythmia can be aggravated by the simple act of breathing. Generally these arrhythmias are benign and cause no issues except for the occasional episode of a skipped or sped up beat. My episodes occur when I'm sitting still - driving in the car, sitting in a meeting, watching television. I've never had an episode while working out, and since it is evident (from all previous tests) that I have no underlying structural problems with my heart that would cause other issues (yet, lets be reasonable), I'm good to go for a while. A Long QT heart is aggravated by exercise and adrenalin, a completely different situation. So while my heart may skip a beat or two while I'm vegetating, I have no worries while I'm pumping out 40 laps in the pool or 100 miles on the road.