Sunday, November 25, 2012


I have been neglecting both this blog and my whole exercise program. I think I was satisfied with my level of fitness and decided not to make exercise as high a priority in my life, but as a result I have done nearly no exercise in the last couple of months. I think other than a quick run with the dogs, I haven't done anything since the Allerton trail run. I even bought a whole set of cold-weather running gear and new running shoes a few weeks ago, but they have been languishing in my closet. Also, disappointingly, I am going to break my streak of running a race every calendar month, since I don't think I can fit in any races in November, seeing as they tend to occur on weekends. Anyway, it's time to re-prioritize and start exercising again.

TL;DR: I've been lazy and it's time to shape back up.

Lenore and I are splitting today, with me watching the kids before nap and her afterwards. I decided to use my free time to go to the pool. Other than my swim classes, I haven't been in the pool in, like, forever and it shows. I swam 4x25m to warm up (the pool was c-c-c-old!), and then did a staircase of intervals: 100, 200, 300, 400, 300, 200, 100. Even the first 100 left me out of breath, and by the time I finished the 200 I felt ready to quit. Somewhere around the middle of the  400, though, I finally found a good rhythm. My arms still felt really tired from disuse, but I was no longer feeling out of breath, and my form was a trifle better.

The good news is that I'm swimming faster: I timed the last 100m and it was 2:24, which is still pretty slow, but faster than what I was doing in the summer. If I can get my fitness back up, I might even be able to swim 100m in 2:00 by the time of my next triathlon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

two runs two weeks ago

[This post was started a week and a bit ago but but never finished...]

Once again my exercise routine has been suffering. The main problem is that I keep failing to get up early enough to work out. I did get up at 5:30 for a few days after getting back from Germany, but that lasted less than a week. But I finally decided not to let that stop me from running.

Sunday [10/7] was my long(est) run (ever!). I wanted to go out for 11 miles, but I figured I'd need at least a water and bathroom stop in the middle. I thought about making a stop at home and just doing two loops, but I was worried that once I got inside, I wouldn't have the motivation to start running again. Instead, I made my stop at a coffee shop, from which I'd have to run at least a couple miles to get home.

The run to the shop was about 7 miles, and it was 7 glorious miles! I think I felt happier during the run than I had in weeks! Just enjoying the cool yet sunny weather, the rhythm and flow of the run, and my music. I recently read a debate in Runner's World about whether running with music is a good idea or not. The pro person cited a few research studies that showed that music is in fact helpful to running; the con person kept talking about how if you don't focus on your breathing and footfalls, you're not really running. You can probably guess which side of the debate I favor.

The only argument against music that does make sense is safety. The article makes a comparison with driving or biking, but it turns out that cyclists (and presumably runners) with headphones hear more ambient noise than car drivers. Of course, cyclists and runners are also much more vulnerable, and it's certainly true that you'd be more aware of the surroundings without music. But it's a judgment call that I feel can be reasonably made either way. My runs are mostly on flat and straight country roads where I can see oncoming cars way before I can hear them, so I keep the music on.

I was hungry and thirsty by the time I got to the coffee shop, so I enjoyed a parfait and a latte. The run home was not quite as pleasant; it's always hard to get started again after you take a break, as the tiredness comes out. To make things worse, my iPhone turned itself off during mile 7. I estimate that I slowed down to about 11:30 min/mile, which I figure is still within a fine range for a long run. Especially my first double-digit run! (I was debating about whether it still counts as a single run despite the stop, but I figured that even with the stop, my average pace was faster than walking speed.)

I wanted to get another run Wednesday morning [10/10], and my plan, as always, was to wake up early and do the run before the kids woke up, but once again I had trouble getting myself out of bed in time. But since my morning was clear of meetings, I decided to just stay later and go for a run after Lenore and the kids went off to school. I wanted to do a 5-mile "race pace" run, with the "race" being a half-marathon. Based on my last 5K (at the triathlon), I calculated that to be a bit under 10 min/mile. It was chilly out so I decided to do about a mile at a slower pace to warm up.

The bulk of the run was a square around country roads, a mile to a side. The first mile at race pace felt tough because I was running into a cold headwind. It was nice not to have a problem with overheating, but the wind was chilling and it took a fair amount of effort to keep my pace. As soon as I turned the corner, my heart rate instantly dropped about 5 bpm, I started feeling much warmer, and running got a lot easier. Pleasant, even—the pace was not exactly easy, but quite comfortable.

All that changed again once I started heading north and into the wind again (which must have been out of the NW). It's funny how a little difference can change your outlook from "this is nice" to "how much longer do I have to run?" Fortunately, in this case, the answer was "not much." My last little bit of the run in the subdivision didn't have much wind, but by that time my legs were starting to feel tired, so my heart rate for that last segment was the highest of the day.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tri the Illini

This weekend I learned whether running a sprint triathlon after three weeks of minimal training and directly following a 21-hour trip home from Europe a good idea. Turns out no...

... it's a great idea! When I got home Saturday night, I was seriously considering not showing up for Tri the Illini the next morning and just eat the loss of the registration fee. I felt exhausted and I could barely stand. I decided to set my alarm clock and see how I was feeling in the morning, and by the time 5:30 rolled around, things were looking much better.

Having done no set up the night before, I had to pack my transition bag, locating all the necessities, pump up my bike tires and install the bike rack on the car. Also shower, have coffee, and eat breakfast. I managed to finish all of this around 6:45 and made the short drive over to the triathlon. It's so nice not having to travel for a race!

The place was abuzz, with triathletes streaming in to register and set up transition. I picked up my bib (#480—a 5-smooth number, must be lucky!) and chip and headed back to transition. One thing I noticed is that there was a greater variety of bikes present. At the Chicago triathlon, it seemed like 90% of all bikes were tri bikes, and almost all of them were at least road bikes. Here, I saw quite a number of hybrids and mountain bikes.

On the way to transition I ran into a student from my class, who was surprised to see me in the race. Turns out this was only his second triathlon, but he had biked 1500 miles over the summer, so he was likely in pretty good shape. He asked me if swimming was my forte, so I had to explain to him that I suck in all three of the sports, but running is where I suck the least.

The Swim

The swim was in the same outdoor pool where I had done all my laps over the summer, so I figured I'd have a home field advantage. The trouble, however, was that the temperature was in the low 40's, so as we all piled out onto the deck in our swimsuits for the pre-race briefing, everyone was freezing. Thankfully, they kept things brief and then they had people come out in groups of 50 while everyone else could wait inside. People were sorted by number, so I had quite a wait to start and made periodic use of the nearby sauna to keep warm.

The course was a 300m snake swim through the pool. They had a time-trial start, with people jumping in every 5 seconds or so, but this obviously didn't do all that much to alleviate traffic. Most of the people were faster swimmers than I, but there was enough people moving slowly that I had to somehow dodge around everyone to make progress. I also started out going too fast and got tired out, so with all of this, I was nowhere near maintaining good form, but I trudged along and made it out of the pool.

Final time: 8:35, or 2:52/100m, though this time includes the run up from the pool to transition area.

T1 was uneventful at 3:26. I'm sure with practice I can shave at least a minute off this time.

The Bike

After the first mile on the bike, I glanced down at my phone and saw that my average speed was over 20mph! Of course, this was due to the course starting on a slight downhill slope and I quickly saw that number drop, but I was still pleased with how fast I was going. I was also passing a number of people! In Chicago, I would pass maybe one person for every 20 who passed me, but here things were looking much better.

One thing that was amazing about this race was the volunteers. Apparently they had a record number of people show up, and they were doing a great job giving directions at every intersection, but also enthusiastically cheering everyone on. It was great to get that energy boost on the bike course, where there are normally few spectators.

The course ended with a short climb up Yankee Ridge, followed by a quick descent to the turnaround point. Of course, this is Illinois, so the steepest it got was around a 3% grade. I had averaged 17.5mph on the out portion, which was great, but I was pretty sure that couldn't last. I was also confused that the out distance was over 7 miles; turns out the bike course was 14.5 miles, rather than the standard 12.5.

The return trip was significantly slower, which I can only attribute to my feeling more tired, since the elevation profile wasn't significantly worse and there didn't seem to be much wind, either. I just kept on trying to pass the occasional person while making sure that I didn't push my legs too much. The final person in my sights was hardest to catch and I was only able to pass her right before the dismount line. Probably pointless from the point of view of race strategy, but it made me feel better.

Final time: 54:28.2, or 15.9mph. I was really hoping to break 16mph on the bike but it was not in the cards.

T2 was slower than it should have been, at 1:14, since I was already wearing my running shoes, so all I had to do was drop off my bike and go. Well, turns out that I needed to drop off my bike and helmet, and I forgot about that last part, nearly starting the run with my helmet on.

The Run

I was hoping to run at least a 10-minute mile, but 9:30 was much better. I was happy to see numbers between 9 and 9:30 on my iPhone. My legs felt a little tired, but not too bad. The worst problem was some side splits that weren't going away. I tried to regulate my breathing, then slowed to a walk for the first aid station, but no luck. Oh well, it was only painful enough to be annoying.

About one mile in, I realized with surprise that I was feeling great other than the splits. I couldn't remember feeling this good during a race! I mean, yes, I had to push myself to maintain a steady effort, but it didn't feel painful and I had plenty of motivation to keep going. I was having a great time, smiling, thanking all the volunteers, and cheering on the people I was passing. I'm always a little unsure about whether doing this is a good idea; part of me worries that if someone's struggling, having someone cheerful pass you might make you feel even worse. But the people who passed me did cheer me on, so I figured it couldn't be that taboo.

I did walk through each aid station, even though I probably could have easily covered the whole distance without stopping at all, but the breaks made me feel refreshed and I kept hoping they would calm my side splits. After the last station, I started gradually picking up the pace, gradually speeding up to about an 8-minute mile, and then kicking it in at the end. I saw Lenore with the twins and my mother at the finish, waved to them, then ran through the timing mats.

I was pretty excited to see my average speed listed at 9:12 on my phone. But turns out it once again underestimated my speed and I actually finished the 3.1 mile run in 27:57, which is a 9-minute mile and a 5K PR!


We hung around for a little bit. Unlike past races, I didn't feel the need to lie down and actually held the twins for a while before having to put them down. We shared a little bit of post-race food, though I couldn't find very much to drink. Eventually we decided to go out for brunch, but encountered a super-long wait at Le Peep and decided to bail for home.

I keep wondering why this race felt so much better. I'm starting to think it must be the cool weather: I know for sure that I massively overheated in the Lytle Park Triathlon, and in Chicago it was still fairly warm, despite the rain. But here the weather was perfect; I've also noticed in my runs done since the race that I can generally run faster and feel better than in the summer. Maybe I should concentrate more of my racing in these cooler months and sit them out in the summer...

Anyway, I'm very happy with the race and the result. I didn't have any real goals, so while the bike was disappointing, it wasn't terrible, and the run more than made up for it.

As far as how to improve... well, the biggest payoff would probably come from getting a better bike. My heavy upright hybrid is just not meant for racing and I think I could easily shave off at least five minutes with a better one. I could probably pick up a one or two "free" minutes in transition with better practice. I am taking swim lessons again, but really, on a course such as this there's not much time to gain or lose in the swim component.

I'm pretty sure I could have pushed a little harder on the run; based on past experience, I probably had at least 5bpm of untapped heart rate reserve. I know I could have pushed harder on the bike, but I don't know how much I would have had to pay for it on the run. I guess I'll have to just try another race some time to find out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I haven't gotten very many workouts in since I finished the triathlon; between recovering, feeling sick, and travel, it's been hard to get back on track.

This week I'm in Germany for a seminar at Dagstuhl. We're pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which makes it hard to get here (I ended up renting a car from Frankfurt and got lost several times on the way), but the remoteness also has its benefits. The geeky folks running the place marked up a 5K running trail and called it n2, so that's where I started.

The trail starts out with a big uphill climb, which puts you nearly 100m higher than the starting point, but offers a very nice view of the countryside. After that, a quick descent followed by another, much shorter ascent. The rest of the time you are running on a ridge before coming back down to the road.

I had to slow way down on the uphills, but managed to make it through without stopping to walk, and with my heart rate just barely cresting above 170 bpm. Strava dutifully informed me that I actually got second place on that climb... out of two! My legs felt pretty tired for the next mile or so, but then I recovered well enough to add short extra out-and-back to my run, where I got to see... German cows! Total distance was 4.2 miles with an average pace of 11:45/minute, which is not bad for that much elevation change.

I got back just in time for daily cake hour and treated myself to two pieces. I'm enjoying being off diet this week but I'm not looking forward to seeing the scale when I get home!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chicago Life Time Tri results

2645/2943 overall
1912/2071 gender
36/38 division (male clydesdale, 0-39, 200-224lbs)

Swim: 45:49 (rank: 2603)
T1: 6:52
Bike: 1:36:52 (15.7mph, rank: 2662)
T2: 5:18
Run: 1:12:03 (11:37/mi, rank: 2438)

Had a great time; more details soon.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I've gotten way behind on my triathlon training. I've been meaning to do a brick workout for some time, but finally made it out Sunday. I decided I should do a 25 mile ride followed by a 10K run, just like in the race. This is probably too long given that I'm supposed to have started tapering, but I haven't been biking a lot so I thought this distance would give me more confidence for the race.

I started out a little slowly and my muscles started complaining. I started getting worried that doing so little biking over the past month has caused me to lose a lot of bike-fitness. After a few miles, I tried pushing the pace a bit and then got into a good rhythm. I think it's partially a case of getting the muscles firing in the right sequence to optimize effort (and partially just warming up).

I kept it at a hard effort until I passed CR 100E, because that was when my Strava segment ended. Turns out I managed to have my second-best time on that ride, so not too bad. I took it a bit easier for the rest of the ride, but still working. At the turn-around, I started feeling much better about the bike portion of the tri. A few miles from home, though, I noticed my energy starting to wane and had to push myself to keep going. Average speed was 15.4mph; once again, not too bad.

I dumped the bike off in the garage and tried to have a speedy "transition," but I think I might have taken as long as 10 minutes. The last few miles I started feeling really hungry, so I decided to go off-diet and wolf down a piece of toast with butter. That hit the spot! I also used the toilet, applied BodyGlide (hate it when I forget this!) and filled up a hand bottle with water. And I was out the door.

The start of the run reminded me of the Lyttle Park Triathlon: it felt like my legs were moving slowly, but I was actually making a decent pace. Bouncing along was doing a little number on my stomach and I was worried I might regret that piece of toast, but after a few minutes things actually settled down. I ran the first mile in about 10m and then stopped to walk for a few steps to simulate walking through water stops. My second mile felt pretty good and I was actually feeling relaxed, but then I looked down on my phone and noticed that my pace was slipping. I tried to push the pace a bit on the third mile, but felt a definite lack of energy reserves and I was feeling like the next walking break couldn't come soon enough. The next mile was harder still, in part because I was getting too warm. It's not that the weather was all that hot, but the sun had come out and I was starting to feel it.

I knew that doing the rest of the run would be a world of pain. I debated with myself about whether to continue to try to make the 10K distance, or stop to avoid pushing myself too hard with only a week before the race. Finally decided to take the easy option and walked home. 10:27 pace for 4.1 miles.

I was pretty disappointed in how the run went; I was hoping I'd be able to maintain at least 10m/mi. Granted, I think I could have pushed myself to go a little faster, but then again, I might have burned out even sooner in that case. I was mostly happy with the bike part, and I think I could have gone even faster... but this was starting fresh, and not after swimming for the better part of an hour.

In the end, I'm hoping that carbs will be my ace in the hold. I've been training (and racing) mostly without any carb intake, and while that has worked mostly fine, I decided that for this race I'd try carb-loading. (Runner's World even had an article recommending this exact strategy.) Hopefully that, plus getting some carbs along the course, will give me that extra energy boost.

Anyway, I'm glad I did this workout. It definitely made me feel better about biking and even transitioning, and, I guess, let me know to expect pain on the run. Also, I think I need to get different tri shorts; I have the Pearl Izumi Select ones, which have this "leg gripper" band at the bottom that is pretty tight. It didn't appear to be a problem last time I wore them, but this time my quads felt sore right at the spot where the band was (maybe my quads have gotten bigger?). Maybe it's time to upgrade to Elite, which don't have this feature.

6 days left!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Speedwork on the treadmill

I had to watch the kids last night so I couldn't make it to the SWRC speedwork session. I opted to do the planned workout on the treadmill instead. (It had been sitting neglected for too long!)

1/2 mile warm-up (5mph / 12:00/mi)
1/4 mile hard (7.3mph / 8:13/mi)
2x1/2 mile hard-ish (7mph / 8:34/mi)
1/4 mile hard (7.3mph / 8:13/mi)
2x1 mile tempo (6.4mph / 9:22/mi)
~1/4 mile cooldown (5mph / 12:00/mi)

Total: 4.19mi, 40:00 min

Lenore said that she came home and it sounded like an elephant was running upstairs. I think at some point we'll need to move the treadmill into the basement to avoid this, but we might need to put carpet down there first.

Boring as it is, I found using the treadmill easier for the intervals than the track, probably because you don't get to set your pace, so you don't end up starting too fast, or worrying how far to push yourself. Hopefully it's good practice to help pace myself for actual road runs.

It also felt good to get a workout in; hadn't done anything since last Friday. Only 10 days left until the Chicago Tri! I still want to get a couple of brick workouts in, but I also want to make sure to take it easy next week to rest up those muscles. I wanted to bike this morning, but ended up waking up too late and the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Shaping up

My training has been very pathetic over the past month or so. I didn't manage to do anything in Spain, then only got two workouts in last week. I think it's just hard to get motivated to go outside during this heat. I was thinking that this week it was time to shape up, but then caught a bit of a cold and was out of commission for a few days.

By Thursday I was feeling better and was actually itching to go out and do something. I was thinking of going out for a longer run late afternoon; I knew some rain was forecast, but I figured that would actually be welcome.  I got about a mile and a half out from home on country roads when I started noticing that the rain clouds off in the distance had lightning flashes. I decided that being the tallest thing within a mile radius would not be so smart, so I cut the run a little short. By the time I got back to the subdivision, lightning flashes were becoming more frequent, so I thought I'd sprint home, but after about a half mile, I had to stop and walk. Made it back inside as the first raindrops were falling. (Which, as I've learned since, was not soon enough to avoid the risk lightning, though I think being surrounded by two-story houses, rather than by soy fields, reduced the risk substantially.)

Don't you love this nice animation from NWS?
Friday morning my plan was to get up early to go for a bike ride, but I couldn't get to sleep until after 2am, so after I got up and fed the dogs, I fell right back into bed until about 10. So instead I took the dogs for a quick jog around the neighborhood. Miso does really well with jogging, but Soba less so. At first, she gets too distracted by sniffing every inch of the ground to keep a good pace, and then, after a mile or so, she just gets too tired (and hot) to continue and starts dragging behind. I keep thinking about going on a run with just Miso, but I know Soba would feel really bad about being left behind.

I also made it to the pool, after a 3 week (!) hiatus. The good news is that I didn't lose too much ability during the break. I completed week 3 day 3 of the 0-to-1650 plan, and while it felt mildly challenging, I think I'm ready to step up to week 4 during my next time out. On the minus side, the pool was fairly congested (at one point, I think there were 5 or 6 people in my lane) and I had to stop for a few seconds to check on traffic at each end of the pool, so I didn't really do the 400m uninterrupted interval. Who would have thought that so many people would have nothing better to do on a Friday night than doing laps in the pool?

Swim set:
400m, 12 breaths rest
200m, 10 breaths rest
4x100m, 8 breaths rest (may have only been 3, I always lose count here)
4x50m, 4 breaths rest

This morning I decided to join the distance run put on by our local running club. The start time was 7am, so I set my alarm for 6. I had trouble falling asleep again so I ended up taking an Ambien, but I think I took it a bit too late, since when 6am rolled around, I was still feeling a bit spacey and it took me about 20 minutes to actually drag myself out of bed. I quickly fed the dogs, made coffee (spilling the drip tray all over the floor in the process), printed out the course map that I then forgot at home, and jumped into the car. Apparently, I wasn't the only one feeling spaced out, since on the way to the start, a woman almost changed lanes into me. That got certainly my heart rate up!

The run was an 8-mile loop, which you would do once if you're training for a half marathon and twice if you're training for the full. In the olympic distance triathlon, I only have to run a 10K (6.2mi), but training longer distances should be helpful since the run will follow the swim and bike. I settled in at the back of the pack and ended up running with two older women who were both talking about their kids moving out of the house. One, whose last kid was just leaving, was 51; the other, who was on her third grandchild, was 44!! It's amazing that you can make such different life choices and end up with your kids out of the house before you even really hit middle age. For comparison, my parents were close to 70 by the time they finally got grandkids.

We started out a little fast, doing 2 sub-10 miles; fortunately, everyone agreed that we needed to slow down a bit. The women had both done marathons in the past but they were supportive of my first attempt at an 8-mile run. We took a couple walking breaks and the 51-year-old started to fall behind a bit because she was feeling too hot. I kept pace with 44-year-old (mostly); the last couple miles were a bit painful, but I did finish, making about an 11-minute pace overall, including the walking breaks.

I felt pretty exhausted by the end; I even allowed myself a little bit of gatorade to replenish my electrolytes, and it probably took me about 10 minutes to feel normal again. The women went out for a few more miles after the break. I now have a newfound respect for half-marathoners; I certainly was in no shape to run an extra 5.1 miles today. Though I think I will try to find a half marathon to run some time in the fall. The women recommended the Chicago Monster Dash in late October—sounds like it could be fun.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catching up

After the 10K on Saturday, I was ahead on the run training, but I still needed to get some biking and swimming in. Sunday, we took the kids to Lake of the Woods for a bit and I decided to bring my bike in the van so that I could go on a ride afterwards. My plan called for 97 minutes of riding, so I decided to head roughly south, a ways past our house, and then double back. The SW corner of our subdivision is at the intersection of county roads 700 E and 1400 N (aka Rising and Windsor), so at every intersection I could tell how many miles away I was.

The day was perfect for riding, not too warm, and with only a light breeze. I biked past the corn and soybean fields, seeing the occasional car, cyclist, and one runner, but for the most part being on my own. I ended up riding past the same place where I had seen the cows on my long run in April, and they were out in full force, but I once again didn't have a chance to get a good picture.

I estimated that I'd need to turn around about 6.5 miles south of my subdivision, but decided to go the full 7 miles to 700 N. I figured I was feeling an occasional light breeze so the return trip would be with the wind, so I should go faster. As soon as I turned around, I realized I was wrong, and I was heading into the wind. And the road started sloping uphill to boot! Granted, the climb was very gradual, and the wind was fairly light, but I had already biked one hour and was feeling tired, both from the ride and from the 10K, so I ended up slowing down quite a bit. I also had finished all my water, so around mile 20, I felt like I was ready to quit, but short of asking Lenore to wake up the kids, pack them into the van, and come to rescue me, there wasn't much of an option other than trudging home. I finally arrived home nearly two hours after having started, thirsty and exhausted.

The good news was that I covered 27 miles, which is longer than the Olympic bike distance. The bad news was that I felt like I could hardly walk, let alone run a 10K. I'm definitely going to need some brick practice in the future!

I decided to skip the last swim of the week, convincing myself that I exceeded the total number of training minutes in my plan anyway. This, of course, ignores the fact that I exceeded it mainly on the run, which is currently my strongest discipline, and was heavily behind on the swim, which is my weakest. But I also think my body really needed the rest.

I got back in the saddle on Tuesday; this time, the wind was from the NE, and since going east means heading into the city, I opted to go north instead. My muscles were tired and it was a little slow going, but I made it to the north end of Rising, where it dead-ends into Bloomington road. From there, you can cut east for a short stretch and continue north on Lindsey Rd., which was surprisingly hilly. I made it to the top of a rise and reached my planned 35-minute turnaround time, so I headed home. The way back was much faster, with the wind at my back. Turns out that I also was losing some non-trivial elevation; I discovered later that my ride out was pretty much uphill the whole way, and ended over 100ft higher than it started! Upon further research, it turned out that I was just shy of reaching the highest point in all of Champaign county. I'll have to investigate more closely next time.

With the speedy return, I was home quickly and had to add an extra mile around the subdivision to make my goal of 64 minutes (actually ended up being 68). This ride felt much easier, in part because it was shorter and in part because I managed correctly to make it harder on the way out than back. Did not see any cows, but did pass some horses and a donkey.

Tuesday night, I wanted to fit in a quick swim, so I dashed off to the ARC right after singing the kids a lullaby. I was in the pool by 8:30, but turns out that when they say that the pool closes at 9, they really kick you out by 8:45, so I only managed to get 400 meters in, doing 100 meter repeats with 12 breaths in between. On the plus side, I didn't have too much trouble with breathing on this set, so I'm hoping I can transition to week 2 of 0 to 1650 soon.

Wednesday was our speed work session. The instructions for the day were 5 repeats of 200 "hard" + 400 "pace" on 2 minutes rest, followed by 5 repeats of 400 "pace" + 200 "hard", with a 4-minute rest between the two sets. The other guidance I was given was that "hard" for me should be 62 seconds per 200m, and "pace" was around 2:40 for the 400. I didn't take this guidance to heart, however, and interpreted "hard" as "all out," and "pace" as "pretty hard." My first 200 was finished in 46 seconds, followed by about 2:00 for the following 400, after which I felt like I was going to die! In retrospect, it was probably a bad sign that I passed a few other runners on the 200 stretch.

I spent the next little while trying to find the right pace, and was getting it pretty close by the end of the first set, settling in at the back of the pack. The second set was easier because you got to rest after the 200m sprint, rather than having to run another 400m. I only got my splits at the 200 and 600 points, but I think I was running the 400's a little faster and the 200's a little slower than target, but at least my total time was close to the mark.
By the way, I love how RunKeeper makes it look like I was running some killer hill repeats by stretching out the scale of the elevation graph here!

Thursday was a rest day. I was pretty tired, though my DOMS seems to have peaked last night/this morning, so maybe I should have done some recovery activity. I did notice that Thursday morning I weighed nearly 3 lbs (!) lighter than Wednesday, despite drinking copious amounts of water.

Today I went swimming. The ambitious plan was to wake up early and get to the pool; in reality, I only managed to wake up early-ish, with not enough time to get in a full workout before the end of the morning pool hours at 7:45 (that is if they even let me stay until 7:45!). I "pivoted" and went into the office early instead, and stopped at the pool on my way home. Simple workout, 4x100 followed by 8x50. (Probably should have stuck to the 6x50 of the 0 to 1650 plan, since I ended up being 2 minutes late coming home.) This time, the 12 breaths of rest after each 100 felt like plenty, so I think I'm ready for week 2.

Plan for the weekend: Sat AM: run with Lenore and twins, Sun AM: long bike ride, Sun PM: swim. Seems doable.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Countryside 10K

This morning we ran the Countryside 10K race. I got up around 6am to get a few things picked up before the babysitter arrived at 7. We left shortly afterwards and I was worried that we'd be late since Google projected a 38-minute driving time. Fortunately, the route was mostly on country roads where you can drive pretty fast, so we arrived about 20 minutes before the race start. Lenore picked up our bibs and "ag swag bags;" they were running out of safety pins but we were able to score one each. Then I queued up for the port-a-potties while Lenore listened to the pre-race announcements.

I emerged from the port-a-potty as they were playing the national anthem; it was kind of disorienting to walk around the crowd standing solemnly with hands on their hearts. The announcer also described how we'd be running around some of the finest farm land "god gave us," and gave a warning that the start of signal would consist of "ready... farm sound ... set ... another farm sound ... go!" I guess it was good he gave that warning because I couldn't hear anything from the start line, so I wouldn't have gotten to experience that bit of "country" flavor!

Anyway, a few people did hear the start signal and they relayed it to the rest of us, so we started racing. Right away, I knew I was in trouble. My legs felt very tired. I wanted to make sure I have a good training week this week, so I ended up swimming Friday night. I also decided to ride my bike to work and back, and even though I tried to take it easy to save my legs, I still used up a fair amount of energy during nearly 20 miles in the saddle. And I don't think I was fully recovered from the speedwork session on Wednesday. So my legs simply did not want to move very fast.

And moving very fast they were. Lenore, once again, just took off ahead, and I took off after her. Shortly, I had to slow down, but my iPhone was still showing me running very fast, 8-something per mile! I started slowing down and started getting passed by more and more people. Eventually, I reached the 1 mile mark, where they had a volunteer calling out times... 8:26, 8:27, 8:28. I was definitely going way too fast!

I slowed down a little bit more. Ahead of me, Lenore was slowing down, too, and in fact I was closing the gap. I thought to myself "Great, maybe we can run together for a bit!" As I caught up to her, I asked her about her ankle (which had been hurting a bit), but this caused her to slow down and fall behind. I had figured that she had decided it was hurting too much and decided to rest, maybe walk back, so I just pressed on. The second mile was over in 9:10, which was at least more reasonable. I figured, if I could keep around that pace, maybe a bit slower, I could reach my goal of beating Lenore's 10K time from the Illinois Marathon.

The third mile was when the real pain began. My body was increasingly insistent on quitting. All I could think of was collapsing into a heap. I also felt like I was the last person in the race; the pack of runners I started with was all ahead of me and there wasn't anyone for quite some distance behind. Rationally, I knew that there must have been runners behind, but emotionally, it still felt demoralizing. I tried to distract myself with singing a song in my head. (I had left my headphones at home because I mistakenly thought that headphones were forbidden on the course.) The only one I could think of was the "green grass grows all around" song from one of our kids' music CDs. "The biggest tree..." step step pant... "that you ever did see..." step step pant...

I finished mile 3 in just under 10 minutes. I picked up a gatorade at the water stop, and walked for a few paces while I drank it.  I thought maybe that the little bit of sugar would pick me up, and indeed, for the next short while, I actually managed to run for a while without feeling miserable. But sugar rushes are, of course, short-lived, and by the end of mile 4, the pain was back. I didn't even bother calculating my split pace (9:55); I no longer was caring about how fast I ran, I just wanted this race to be over!

I did a lot of soul-searching during mile 5. Why was I doing this to myself? Everything in my body was screaming that it's time to stop. I was thinking back of a blog post I read that talked about whether you train so you can race, or you race so that you train. For me, I'm pretty sure I race to train. The race achievements are nice, but the important part is getting fitter and exercising regularly, not getting a PR. So in theory, there'd be nothing wrong with listening to my body and walking the rest of the way. Finally, I convinced myself that this was a good exercise in discipline. I also figured I only needed to make it to the next water stop, where I could walk for a bit as I'm drinking.

Once I was walking, starting to run again was the hardest thing. I ended up walking about 30 seconds, just catching my breath, before starting up again. But eventually, it was one foot in front of the other, repeat, until I was done. I started feeling curious about my time again. My average pace was now 9:38 or so, and I knew I wasn't capable of running much faster than a 10-minute mile anymore, but I still had a shot at making it under an hour. At the five-mile mark, they called out a time of 58 and a few seconds. I quickly calculated: 1.2 miles to go, at 10 minutes per mile... it was going to be close!

I wish I could say that this thought energized me and pushed me to run faster, but I simply felt like I had no reserves left. I started counting down the distance. The finish line felt so close, yet so far away! Finally, with about a half mile to go, I switched to 2-1 breathing (I had been doing 2-2 for most of the race), which allowed me to pick up the pace ever so slightly. Finally, I rounded a corner and saw the race clock at the finish line. 59:04! But it looked like such a long way to go. I lengthened my stride, pumped those arms, and finally crossed the finish line when it read 59:33! That was a minute and a half PR from my last 10K.

They tore off my tag while I gasped uncontrollably, then I made a beeline for the port-a-potty. When I was done, I tried to stand up, and my legs just gave out on me. I guess I had really given it my all. On a second attempt, I successfully made it out of the bathroom. I started downing gatorade and looking for Lenore. I figured that she had either turned back before the 2-mile mark, in which case she should have been there already, or she was run-walking because of her ankle injury, in which case she would probably not be there for quite a while. To my surprise, she came down the finish chute when I was on my 3rd cup of gatorade. Apparently, she had met up with another runner, who had encouraged her to keep running.

Lenore's ankle was pretty sore, so we got an ice pack from the car, and then made our way to the food area. I was feeling close to collapse, so I figured it'd be OK to go off diet and have some carbs. We refueled for a bit, but eventually got too cold, and it was time to go home and relieve our babysitter, so we headed home.


Nikita: 59:34.4, 9/10 in age group (ouch!), 41/51 gender, 75/129 overall
Lenore: 1:02:34.1, 16/27 in age group, 43/78 gender, 86/129 overall

Some final thoughts

Thinking about this race versus the 10K at the Illinois Marathon, they are like night and day. Back then, I started out going fairly slowly, and then negative split things and accelerated towards the end. This race, I started out too fast and then slowed down after the first couple of miles. And even though I finished the race faster today, I think I much prefer the negative split approach: accelerating towards the end feels empowering, whereas slowing down feels pretty demoralizing. After the first quarter mile or so, I did not pass a single person this race... except Lenore.

My other thought is that I treated both this race and the Wildcat race as `B' races that I would run while training for another race (in this case, the Chicago Triathlon), whereas the 10K at the Illinois Marathon was a race that I specifically trained and prepared for. As a result, I ended up doing a bunch of exercise in the week leading up to the race, and some the day right before. But as a result, instead of having a fun race, I felt pretty miserable for large chunks instead. So I think in the future, even if I'm trying to integrate a "fun" race into my normal training schedule, I should make sure that it's during a rest week, or at least has a rest day preceding it.

And my final thought is that, despite how I was feeling, I ran a great race! The first mile might well have been the fastest mile I have ever run, and I improved my PR by 90 seconds. And I very nearly caught up to Lenore's 10K time from the Illinois Marathon!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Training update

I'm starting week 4 of my triathlon training, so I decided to take quick stock of how things have been going. I came up with this graph:

The odd columns represent the planned exercise for the week, and the even ones represent what I've actually done. (Week 4, of course, has just begun.) Blue=swim, red=bike, green=run

Week 1 fell pretty short of the goal; this was due to a combination of traveling to DC (with some crazy travel mishaps), babysitting the twins, and getting sick. Week 2 of training went really well, in fact exceeding the plan for Week 3. (Running a 5K and a 10K helped here!) Week 3 was once again a little short: I didn't work out quite as much as I hoped while at a conference in San Francisco, and then this past weekend was our intense potty training session, plus it was too hot to reasonably bike except for in the morning, plus the pool was closed on the weekend.

Looking at the graphs, it's pretty clear that I don't need to take a recovery week this week, so I'm thinking of skipping week 4 and heading straight into week 5. I'm a little hesitant to advance my training overly quickly, but then again, if I stick to the planned total volume, I will still be doing less exercise this coming week than during week 2. Of course, I do have another 10K planned for the weekend, so I'll probably exceed the run volume again (though I don't expect this one to take an hour and a half!)

The plan for the week is:
Monday: short swim
Tuesday: bike (long or short depending on how early I wake up, with the goal of being back at home by 7am when the kids get up)
Wednesday: medium swim, speedwork session
Thursday: bike (short if Tuesday was long and vice versa)
Friday: long swim
Saturday: 10K!
Sunday: rest

We'll see how things actually turn out. Lenore has to travel to Philadelphia either late this week or early next week, so that might end up shifting some things around. I also should really fit in a strength training session or two somewhere into this schedule; I've only managed to do one total so far.

[Hmm... a thunderstorm is brewing. Hopefully it will be clear by tomorrow morning]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Home "alone", part 2

... and we're back! When we last left our heroes, they just completed a 40-minute jog with the POD. The initial plan for Sunday was to try the bike trailer mode of the POD, but due to an error on my part, Tora's helmet had not yet arrived. The backup plan was to try out a strength workout using the GAIN Fitness app, but that also had to be scrapped when I woke up Sunday morning with a bad case of food poisoning.  So instead I spent the day feeling trying to remain horizontal while feeling miserable.

By Monday I was feeling much better. I also lucked out with our babysitter; she came to watch the twins while I went to work for a prelim exam and was able to stay a bit later, so I got in a quick swim at the pool. I noticed myself making progress; I was able to get through an entire 50m length without feeling terribly winded. I also spent some time doing some measurements: I was taking 90 to 120 seconds per a 50m pool length, and about 75 strokes. So definitely lots of room for improvement!

Tuesday morning the kids went to daycare and I went to the gym. I decided it was time to try out the GAIN Fitness app. It's kind of neat: you give it some goals about what you are aiming to do, such as build muscle or just improve health, how long you want to work out, what area you want to focus on, and what equipment you have available. It then creates a set of exercises for you and guides you through them. For each exercise, you get a picture and some tips; you can also switch among several (roughly) equivalent exercises, based on your preference. It can also upload a report to RunKeeper about your workout.

Overall, I like the ability to design a tailored workout for your particular circumstance (especially as I travel and have to exercise in various hotel gyms). The functionality has a few rough corners; if you look at the report, it seems to follow a template that isn't appropriate for all exercises and it also includes some exercises that I skipped. Also, during the warm-up and cool-down exercises, it assumes that you are able to instantaneously switch between them as it measures out 30-second intervals; I guess with practice, that may be the case. It's not a replacement for a personal trainer, but it seems to provide good guidance for someone like me, who's just beginning some strength training and needs flexibility in the workouts.

Finally, Tuesday afternoon, we went for a bike ride. The kids' helmets had both arrived and I got them adjusted as best I could. (The instructions kept saying things like "put the helmet on your head ...", which would have been much simpler than putting the helmet on a squirmy toddler, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't fit.) Tora for some reason didn't like the helmet too much, though Tavi was pretty happy; I think he just saw it as another cool hat.

I finally wrangled them both into the trailer and into the helmets and we were ready to go.
We went slowly out of the subdivision and then got out onto the country road... where the wind hit. The trailer has a terrible wind profile, so I ended up going very slowly in a low gear. The handling of the bike is also noticeably different; every once in a while, the wind shifts or the slope changes and then the pull from the back changes, sometimes even to a brief push. But we were in no rush, and once again, this training should help me go faster in a race sans trailer.

My plan was to go for about a 50-minute ride, as prescribed by my training schedule, but after about 20 minutes, Tora started crying. I don't know if she was tired, hot, hungry, or just cranky. Unfortunately, there was nothing much I could do other than turn around and bike home, which took another 15 minutes or so. Next time I will try going when it's not as hot out and/or bring something for the kids to drink to see if they tolerate it better.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Today was my first attempt at a trail race, running the Wildcat 10K, put on by Brazen Racing. It fit nicely into my scheduled trip to the Bay area, and my friend Bem had often said great things about Brazen, so I decided to sign up. The main question for me was whether to run a 5K or 10K, since although I can easily run a 10K on flat land, the hilly course here was going to be a challenge. I decided to follow the rule of "when in doubt, pick the more challenging option" and signed up for the 10K.

I ordered breakfast in my hotel to come between 6 and 6:30, figuring this would wake me up in time for the race. After breakfast, I drove to the race location, where I met up with Bem and some of his racing friends, and eventually with Alex and his friend Mark. Bem and Alex were running the half-marathon, while Mark was doing the 10K with me.

Bem explained to me that the key to this type of race is to walk up the hills; the announcer at the start also recommended this approach. Emotionally, it felt kind of disappointing, because being able to run long distances without having to walk feels like one of my biggest accomplishments over the last year, but rationally, it was obviously the right strategy. The race started with a big uphill climb and it was obvious that everyone was walking rather than running, so any bad feelings about walking quickly evaporated.

They were quickly replaced by bad feelings from my legs, which were complaining about having to lug my body up hills for the second day in a row (on Friday, I went on a two-hour bike ride from San Francisco to Sausalito and back). The first mile had about 450ft of climbing (according to RunKeeper); this was definitely not the Midwest! Despite walking, my heart rate stayed in the 160s the whole time.

What goes up must come down and soon there was a descent. I made up a lot of time here by switching to a super-fast cadence and holding on for dear life. Things flattened out a bit and I got to see some cows!

I stopped at the first aid station long enough to drink two cups of water and the continued on my way. My stomach did feel a bit unsettled for a while and I wondered whether eating breakfast and/or having so much water was a mistake. I also felt like my muscles weren't responding very well and I was barely moving, but whenever I'd look down at my iPhone, it showed me running around a ten-minute mile, which I thought was pretty good considering.

By the third mile, I settled into a comfortable rhythm, with a nice 3-2 breathing pattern. The course was fairly flat for a while and I felt much more in my element. By the time I got to the second aid station, I was feeling pretty optimistic about the race: I was halfway done, and my average pace was somewhere around 12 minutes / mile, which I thought pretty respectable given the hills. This line of reasoning had just one flaw. See, I had in my mind this elevation profile for the race:

Careful readers, however, might observe the markings on the x axis and notice that this is the 5K elevation profile. For the 10K, it looked more like this:

So I had finished the easy half, with all of the hard work still ahead. Even though I wasn't feeling super thirsty, I drank a cup of Ultima Replenisher (which actually tasted pretty good; not too sweet, like I feared), which turned out to be a very good idea given what lay in store for me:
I started hiking up the hill and watched that average pace drop to 13 minutes, then to 14 minutes, then to 14 and a half. I kept having the experience of reaching the crest of a hill, settling into an easy trot on the downhill while catching my breath, only to turn and see more climbing ahead! It was kind of demoralizing. The only consolation I had were the gorgeous views of hills (and more cows!):

After an hour, I had only made it through about 4 and a quarter miles, and I felt mentally ready to be done. At one of the final crests, there was a nice bench where you could sit down, take a load off, and take in the views and man, was it ever tempting!

Finally, it was time to start the long descent. By this point in time, my legs just didn't want to move, so I ended up having to go much slower this time. Probably a good idea, too: another runner passed me on a downhill and then ended up falling not too far ahead. (She was OK.) There were a couple of small upticks nestled in the descent, and I ended up nearly crawling up them. Somewhere in my mind I thought that it would be nice to finish within an hour and a half, or end with a sub-14-minute pace, but not enough to do any real sprinting to the finish. It did feel nice when the announcer called my name as I crossed the finish line, but it was even nicer knowing that I was finally done!

I picked up my finisher's medal and saw Mark, who had finished about 8 minutes ahead of me and looked to be holding up much better. Then I started the replenishment cycle. I am off my low-carb diet this week so I got to pig out on all of the tasty post-race treats. I saw Bem finish his half-marathon, looking salty and happy. I did not stick around to see Alex finish since I needed to go check out of my hotel.

Final results: 
1:30:42 (14:10 pace, since the course was 6.4 miles)
11/16 age group, 91/161 overall

Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about this experience. Dragging your body uphill is a pretty different feeling than pushing your pace while racing on flat ground; they both involve fighting through exhaustion, but I think you get a much better endorphin reward with the latter, and the fact that you are moving rather than crawling makes it emotionally more satisfying. Then again, it could be that I'm just not used to going up hills at all and my body is responding in kind. So I'm not ready to write off trail racing yet, but I think next time I'll try to find one with less elevation gain and get more rest ahead of time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Home "alone" (part 1)

Lenore has been in Florida since Friday so I have been home "alone" with the twins (and the dogs). This has put a damper on both my ability to work out and my blogging, but I'm trying to catch up.

I ordered a Baby Jogger POD, which is a combination bike trailer / jogging stroller. It's a little pricey, but I'm hoping this will let Lenore and me to work out together more often, and in theory it should last them a few years. I am a little concerned about the amount of shoulder room, since they're already pretty cozy in there:

(The Chariot Cougar 2 has a bit more shoulder room, but it's even more expensive.)  On Friday, I took the kids out for a quick stroll in the POD, taking the dogs along, too. It seemed to work fine, so on Saturday I went for a 40-minute run... and immediately felt the impact of the extra 70 lbs or so I was pushing along. Even going on a flat surface was a lot harder, perhaps in part because I couldn't swing my arms for counterbalance, and any minimal incline was immediately noticeable. Interestingly, it felt more like a whole-body workout, since pushing the stroller required engaging my arm, back, and core muscles. I ended up feeling pretty exhausted by the end, despite running only about a 11-minute mile. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one who got tuckered out:

I'm actually thinking that this will be good for my triathlon training. My training plan calls for "long" runs starting at 40 minutes and building up to 77 minutes over the course of 3 months, which makes sense aiming at a 10K run, but since I just finished a 10K training plan, a 40-minute session just doesn't feel like that long a run normally, and I could relatively comfortably knock out 77 minutes tomorrow if needed. But with a stroller, it's a whole different story and 40 minutes seems like a good starting point. In the actual race, of course, I'll be running sans stroller, but I will be tired from the swim and the bike, so it should be somewhat similar.

(To be continued—have to go pick up the kids from daycare now)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Swim bike run!

After taking a break last week, this week is week one of triathlon training! My overall plan is borrowed from here, though I think I will be making some adjustments. The overall strategy is: 3x swim, 2x run, and 2x bike per week, increasing overall volume by 10% each week, with a rest week once a month. This needs to be rounded out with 2x per week strength training, for an ambitious total of 9 workouts a week. I actually wrote a python program to try to come up with an optimal schedule, but in retrospect, I might just play things by ear, at least for a couple of weeks to try to figure out how fast I recover from various workouts.

This week will be a bit below par; I spent Monday and Tuesday in DC, and although I had some plans for how to fit a workout or two into that trip, having my arrival delayed by 19 hours due to bad weather in O'Hare threw a wrench into those plans. And tomorrow morning, Lenore goes away on a 5-day vacation in Florida, leaving me to watch the kids, which will limit my exercise options. I did order a Baby Jogger Pod for the twins, which should hopefully allow me to go for a jog and a bike ride while she's gone, but I can't go to the gym or the pool.

Night Swimming

For some reason I thought that swimming is best to do first thing in the morning, and in fact my plan on Tuesday was to go for a swim in DC, but I overslept, compensating for a long night the night before. So instead I went to the ARC pool after putting the kids to bed, and that actually worked out pretty well. The pool was fairly empty, and it was actually kind of fun swimming in the dark.

The swim itself was very frustrating; I felt like I was mostly thrashing in the water. I was having a lot of trouble with breathing and also with maintaining form. The 50m length also took a lot of getting used to; I'd swim swim swim, look ahead, and see that I wasn't even halfway across! Most of the time I couldn't make it across without stopping (the pool is shallow the whole way), or at least taking a few breast strokes to catch my breath. The one time I did make it was pretty exciting.

I went for another swim tonight and I felt like I was making progress. I started out slowly, but after a couple of laps, I was able to make it across the pool without stopping more often than not. I also experimented with breathing every third stroke, and that actually helped quite a bit. Initially I'd only manage about half the pool length before switching to breathing every other stroke, but eventually I managed to do it for a whole length, unless I happened to gulp down some water on an inhale (which definitely happens more often on my left side, since in the past I've tried breathing on the right only).

I'm hoping that this experience will be similar to the Couch-to-5K plan, where initially even a really short jog would feel nearly impossible, but after a few weeks of concerted effort, things became much easier. And I figure worst case, I can always break down and do breast or back stroke in the triathlon.


The Second Wind running club is organizing speedwork sessions on Wednesday nights so I decided to join them. The meeting was at the Urbana High School track, which I believe was my first time running on a track since... probably grade 6 or so. The workout plan was:

2x1600m, 5m rest
2x800m, 3m rest
2x400m, 2m rest

The organizer had helpfully come up with a list of times that we should aim for in each interval, given our last 5K performance. Based on that, my mile was supposed to be between 10:45 (if you use the second half 5K split from the 10K race) and 12:00 (if you use my last actual 5K race).  When we started off our first 1600m interval, I tried to keep up with the people towards the back of the pack. As I finished my first lap, my quarter-mile split was 2:12! I pushed through and made it three more laps, feeling very much like I was going to die, and finished with an 8:55 time. After that, I realized that I best give up on trying to keep up with everyone and slow down in an attempt to survive. My second mile interval was 9:30; it still felt like a very hard pace, but at least I wasn't quite so ready to collapse afterwards. Here were all of my times:

1600: 8:55, 9:30
800: 4:40, 4:35
400: 2:01, 2:01

I was really hoping to get under 2 minutes on that last 400m, but it wasn't in the cards. This left me wondering whether (a) I am capable of running a much faster 5K (my interval times were in line with a 26-27 finish) or (b) I was pushing myself way too hard on these intervals. I'm guessing (b), but next Wednesday they're planning a 5K fun run, so I guess I'll find out.


When I got home Wednesday night, I was barely able to move. I just managed to grab dinner before passing out. When I woke up the this morning, however, I felt OK enough to try a bike ride. I even found the bike shorts I wore on my honeymoon in Norway; fortunately, I was able to fit into them again! I hadn't charged my phone so I wasn't able to get any data about the ride, but my estimate was that I rode about 11.5 miles in 45 minutes. There was hardly any wind and the ride was a comfortable constant effort. The Tifosi sunglasses worked out really well for biking, providing a wide shielded field of vision.


Tomorrow will be a much welcomed day of rest, other than chasing after two twins. This was a pretty intense sequence, and I think I'd like to space things out just a little bit more in future weeks. But I'm getting a lot more confidence that at the end of week 16 I'll be able to complete the triathlon. Wish me luck! 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Back in the saddle

Tuesday was Bike to Work Day in Champaign-Urbana and I decided it was a good opportunity to start my cycling season. Monday night I dusted off my bike (untouched since last summer), pumped up the tires, and located my helmet in the garage (never an easy task), so that everything was set to go Tuesday morning. I left the house just after 7am and headed towards Savoy. It's a little out of the way, but this way I got to avoid the dangerously narrow freeway overpasses.

Very quickly, my muscles started complaining about being used in an unfamiliar way, so I had to use my granny gear when heading up a grade, but for the most part I was having a great time. I stopped by a bike station and picked up a free T-shirt, water bottle, and a sticker, and continued on my way. They did not have the promised coffee, so I was glad I had fueled up at home. I ended up using bike lanes or bike paths for most of the ride, except on campus things get confusing as bike paths are not very well labeled and end abruptly. At one point, I was dumped onto a one-way street facing the wrong way, so I ended up just riding on the sidewalk.

I finally arrived at my office just before 8 and ended up being a couple of minutes late to my (last!) lecture. After the lecture, I walked up the stairs to my office very slowly, as my legs seemed not to have much energy left in them. Somehow, by the end of the summer, I'm going to have to run a 10K after a bike ride 2.5 times as long (not to mention a long swim, too). No problem!

Just after 4pm, a rainstorm started rolling through campus. Lenore emailed me and offered to come rescue me in the minivan, so I checked the weather radar, and it looked like the storm would pass in a short while. Just after I told her not to worry about me, the tornado siren started going off. Everyone in the office filed down to the basement, except for a few students who were standing outside peering at what looked like a funnel cloud in the distance. I think they eventually came to their senses and went inside; I myself tried to watch the storm on our new building webcam, but could only see rain. Lenore emailed me that she was hiding in our basement at home with the dogs and the twins.

Fortunately, the tornado warning expired at 4:45 and the weather cleared up nicely. My ride home ended up being sunny and pleasant for most of the ride, except in the beginning, when my seat was super-wet. The last few miles were biking on mostly open roads into a strong headwind, so my average heart rate for that part was about 10bpm higher than on the outbound trip and I was hot and out of breath when I arrived home. But overall, I think I can declare my commuting experiment a success. The only major downside is that it takes about a half-hour longer than driving, but I think in the summer, I should be able to find the time to do this again.

I've also started dreaming of buying a new bike to replace my 10+ old bottom-of-the-line hybrid. Last summer, I was very close to buying a CAAD10 5 105, but eventually I decided that I couldn't fit it into my budget. It was a good thing, too, since I only made it out bicycling a half-dozen times the whole summer. This summer, I was planning to do a bit of a splurge to get a tenure gift for myself, and a nice road bike may be just the thing. To make sure that I don't end up with something I don't use, I've decided to make my budget equal to the number of minutes I have spent bicycling. I figure this way, by the time I have banked enough minutes for a new bike, I will have established a pretty regular cycling pattern that the money will be well spent. And it might even encourage me to bike to work more often, which is almost certainly a good thing.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

10K @ Illinois Marathon — race report

Great race this morning!

The day began bright and early, with the babysitter arriving at 6 a.m. sharp. The weather was cool and windy, with a 40% chance of rain. I checked the marathon site just in case and they had a message confirming the race was on, but we found some slightly warmer clothes to wear out. We parked our car just as the marathoners and half-marathoners were starting off. We watched the corrals set off one by one while trying to keep warm. But by the time we were getting lined up at the start, it was much warmer. It's amazing how effective a couple thousand people are at generating heat and serving as a wind breaker! We lined up with the 11 min/mile group; I was planning to run at a 10:30 pace and Lenore wasn't really sure, though we were thinking between 11 and 13.

As soon as the race started, Lenore just took off ahead. I decided to keep back to maintain my pace, though I noticed that, feeling the energy for the crowd, I was still running faster than planned. My first mile split was 9:54, but my heart rate was in the 160s, which I figured was most important. I kept looking ahead for Lenore, figuring that she would slow down at some point, but didn't see her anywhere, so I kept running.
Second mile felt great; feeling lots of energy from the crowd, still running faster than expected, for a split of 10:06. There was a small grade at the end of it, which sent my heart rate above 170, so I tried to moderate my pace a little bit.  During the third mile, I was starting to worry that I had gone out too fast; my pace was slowing down a bit and I was noticing having to breathe a little heavier. My heart rate stayed at about 170 the whole mile.

I crossed the 5K mark at 31:20, which was about 30 seconds faster than my last 5K race back in March. I was still worried about the pacing, knowing that there was another 5K to go, but I figured I could start tapping into anaerobic reserves now, and my heart rate stated creeping up into the 170s. After the 4 mile mark, I decided to throw caution to the wind and stop worrying about my heart rate; it shot up to high 170s as I pulled out a 9:42 split. Somewhere towards the end of the fifth mile, I noticed that my average pace was 10:04 and realized that a sub-10-minute pace was within reach. I kicked it up a notch, switching to 2-2 breathing, and then to 2-1 when there was about a mile to go. Around mile 5 is also when I realized that if I had not caught up to Lenore so far, it wasn't likely to happen. I kept thinking that maybe I had passed her without noticing, but that seemed unlikely.

Approaching the stadium, I was definitely having to push myself pretty hard. I remember feeling really disappointed when I saw that we actually had to run a little past the entrance and then turn around, since my body was ready to stop any minute now. I did manage a sprint towards the finish, crossing just after 1:02 on the clock time. And there, holding her finishers medal, was Lenore, waiting for me. She had finished ahead of me by about a minute and a half!

My official chip time was 61:08, or a 9:51 pace. This was way faster than I had planned, and I pulled off one hell of a negative split, with 9:05 for mile 6 and 8:54 for the last little bit. But Lenore's time was even more of a surprise; we were both totally convinced that I would finish significantly before her and I had at one point estimated her finishing time to be around 1 hour 20. Boy, were we ever off!

My results:
Clock Time 1:02:17
Chip Time 1:01:08
Overall Place 705 / 2218 (32%)
Gender Place 379 / 730 (52%)
Division Place 62 / 105 (59%)

Lenore's results:

Clock Time 1:00:41
Chip Time 59:33
Overall Place 595 / 2218 (27%)
Gender Place 250 / 1488 (17%)
Division Place 31 / 201 (15%)

I was pretty excited about beating the 10 min / mile mark, but a little disappointed when I realized that this still puts me in the bottom half of my age group. Lenore, on the other hand, was in the 15th percentile in her division! We were pretty excited about this, until we learned that everyone else we knew running this race was faster than us. We finally settled on thinking that we're probably faster than most of the people we knew who did not run a race this weekend! And we got medals to boot, which the twins loved playing with the whole day.

It's been great training for this race and a lot of fun running it. I have a week off and then it's time to start training for the Chicago triathlon in August! Lenore's not doing that one because she doesn't feel comfortable enough swimming, but she's excited to find another land-based race to kick my ass in!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Taper week

I ended up again skipping my recovery run on Monday. I nearly skipped my last race pace run on Wednesday, too. My plan was to get in an early morning run, but then the dogs woke me up at 5 and I heard the kids crying. I went to check on them and discovered that it was 95 degrees in their room! The space heater we use has this UI bug where you have to set the thermostat temperature each time you turn it on, otherwise it simply ends up on the "max heat" setting by default, and Lenore must have forgotten to do that last night. There was no getting them back to sleep and I failed at waking up Lenore, so I ended up feeding them an early breakfast and watching them until Lenore finally got up, by which point I had to rush out of the house to make my doctor's appointment.

At the end of the day, I was feeling exhausted from being up since 5, plus suffering from either a minor head cold or allergies. But, after taking a break on the couch, I convinced myself that it was probably just allergies, and I was feeling really disappointed about not running at all this week (other than the 10K, of course), so I laced up my shoes and went outside. Once I was actually running, I felt a million times better!

My goal was to run a 3 miles at a 10:30 min/mile pace to practice for the 10K. My splits were 10:15, 10:25, and 10:37, averaging out to 10:26, so pretty close to the mark. My average heart rate was 163 bpm and it actually stayed pretty close to that during the whole run. So I think my target pace is right on target; I figure I'll aim for it for the first 5 miles and then pick things up for the last one, assuming I have any energy left.

I picked up our race packets this afternoon at the fitness expo. From what I saw, the event seems pretty well organized, with lots of signs and volunteers pointing you in the right direction. (Though they did screw up Lenore's shirt size and were unwilling to exchange it.) We'll have to see how much of a zoo it will be on Saturday, with 20,000 people. I also talked to the folks from the Second WInd running club; they seemed very nice. They apparently hold speed work sessions Wednesday nights, so I might try to incorporate that into my triathlon training schedule.

It seems that the allergies turned out to be a head cold after all. I'm hoping that a good night's rest will keep it from taking a turn for the worse, so it's time for some NyQuil and bed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Last long run before the 10K!

I headed out for a last long run this afternoon before the 10K race next weekend. I decided to try running at a "conversational" pace, which is what everyone seems to recommend for long runs, but I've almost always opted to run faster than that. I tried to keep my heart rate in the 150–160 range and not worry too much about the pace. The good thing about this pace is that it's really easy to maintain for long distances and still have energy reserves to tap into if needed. The bad thing is that it's a little boring; I didn't get much of a runner's high at all until around the 5-mile mark and I finally decided to kick things up a notch for the last 3/4 mile just to keep things a bit more interesting. I guess a conversational pace is probably more pleasant when there's someone to have a conversation with.

It's weird comparing this run to one from two weeks ago. The distance was the same, and my average pace was close (11:19 vs. 11:21), but my average heart rate was a full 10 bpm higher two weeks ago, and back then, I was really huffing and puffing towards the end, where today I felt like I could have easily kept going. In fact, I was barely breaking a sweat. Granted, I think I wasn't as well rested then, and was battling a headwind for longer, but it's hard not to think that at least some of the improvement is due to the training program working.

I didn't run far enough to see the cows today, but I did see some newly planted corn.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weather delays

They say that having a running partner helps keep you on schedule and I definitely think that I would have progressed much faster through my C25K training if I had had a partner, rather than taking 6 months to finish a 9-week plan. But yesterday, my experience was just the opposite. I had gotten myself out of bed just before 6am, getting ready to meet up with my old friend Steve for an early morning run, when I got a call from him calling to cancel due to rain. Now, I would have been willing to run rain or shine, but Steve wanted to bail, and who am I to argue with such a seasoned athlete?

Of course, it's easy to think that I was willing to run and get soaked when it's a hypothetical. I could have proven it by going out and braving the rain by myself. More realistically, I should have probably taken advantage of being up early and spent some more time in the pool. What I actually did was go back to sleep for about an hour and put off my final run until the afternoon.  

On the other hand, the run ended up being so great that I have no regrets. The weather improved to low 50's with partial cloud cover—perfect for running! I headed out to do a 4-mile 10K race pace run, but turned left leaving the hotel instead of right, running along 148th avenue. Turns out that this route is much more flat than my run on Wednesday; my total climb was only 139ft, which is not quite Midwest-level, but  pretty close. I also managed to hit my target pace of a 10:45 mile spot on for the last mile split and was only a second/mile off for the 4-mile average! My heart rate stayed in the 160's for most of the run and, most importantly, the whole run felt like a very pleasant level of exertion: hard enough that I enjoyed the run, but not so hard that to do any convincing of myself to keep pushing forward.

In fact, I felt like I could have easily kept going for quite some distance. This makes me think that for the actual 10K race, I can push myself a little harder and aim for a 10:30 pace. The course is also more flat, which should make it easier to keep up a faster pace. I think I'll practice that pace during my run on Wednesday to make sure to get a good feel for it. 6 days left!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Total immersion, lesson 1

I managed to wake up a little earlier today and went to the hotel swimming pool by 7. I wanted to try out the exercises from the Total Immersion book. The book actually mentions a hotel pool as a good place to start the drills, and it was indeed perfect: it's shallow, so you can stop any time, it's short, so you don't need to kick very much to get to the other end of the pool, and most importantly, it was completely empty, so i didn't have to worry about sharing a lane with other people.

The first drill is simply lying on your back, gently kicking, and focusing on proper form. This was pretty easy for me since I used to do a lot of swimming that way as a kid. I learned pretty early on that this was a much more energy efficient way of swimming than having my head out of the water and doing a doggie paddle or a weak breast stroke. Today I focused on floating as horizontally as possible and "pressing the buoy," which TI uses to mean consciously lowering your upper body so that you pivot about the lighter-than-water lungs and raise your lower body up.

The second drill is similar, but you're supposed to turn your body slightly sideways (since most actual swimming is done with the body at an angle). Even though the delta is small, this was significantly harder, since it upsets the balance of the body and my hips and legs kept wanting to sink down.

Unfortunately, just after I started the second drill, I started getting a headache, and then after a couple of more laps, I started feeling increasingly nauseous. I'm not quite sure what caused it; perhaps it was taking my supplements on an empty stomach, or maybe it was when I ran into the pool wall head first (the downside of swimming on your back in a short pool). I decided that throwing up in a pool would be poor form so I decided to stop.

I think I might try to make another stop at the pool before I head home; I like the exercises overall and I think I need more practice before I move on to lesson 2.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Running for the hills

Nothing ever goes according to plan. I once again failed to drag myself out of bed in the morning, using in part the excuse that my legs were still feeling a bit tired. I also figured I would have some time in the late afternoon for a run, after my meetings. But first, I went shopping! I seem to have lost my old swim goggles, plus they never quite formed a good enough seal, so I headed down to SpeedyReedy to try out a few pairs. The sales staff were nice and helpful and I ended up walking out with a Tyr Orion. I also picked up a pair of Tifosi Vogel sunglasses:

Together with my new swimsuit [image redacted], I ended up just slightly over budget for this month, so no new toys or race entries until May!

Back in Bellevue, I was anxious to get in a run before dinner and to test out the sunglasses in action. My plan, if you recall, was to do some speed work intervals, so I cued up the program on RunKeeper and headed out of the hotel parking lot and down a steep downhill descent. It was fun barreling down, trying to keep my foot turnover high, even though I knew I'd have to pay for it later. But the real pain came sooner than that, as my path took me up another steep hill. Just as I made it over the crest, my interval timer chimed in for me to start a "fast" half-mile. I looked at the next hill in front of me, checked my heart rate (still in the 170's) and decided to ignore the intervals and just try to make it through the hilly run. I think I actually did reasonably well for someone whose training has been nearly exclusively in flat prairieland, but I did end up walking for a couple of short stretches.

I love how well both my pace and my heart rate track the elevation in this chart! The vertical scale here is about 230ft; the total climb that RunKeeper recorded was 668 feet. I'm definitely going to try to find a flatter route for Friday's run!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Running past my bedtime

I have sometimes been lazy and skipped the recovery runs during the 10K training, but I figured it was really needed since my legs were pretty sore after Sunday's 7-miler. Nevertheless, the morning run with the dogs didn't happen since I woke up late, feeling lazy, and, as the last straw, my iPhone was out of charge. (I should get this poster framed!) I figured an evening run would work out OK, but I first had to get the twins to bed, finish taxes and take care of a few other chores. Before I knew it, it was after 10pm.

I finally got on the treadmill and set myself up for an easy 12 min/mi pace. My heart rate climbed quickly into the high 140's so I slowed things down to 12:30 and played around with various strides—long steps, quick turnover, and a rolling, nearly walking shuffle. My heart rate was relatively stable but I was sweating like crazy, so I decided to take my shirt off... and slid off the treadmill in the process. I had the safety key clipped to my shorts so the treadmill stopped as designed and I was a little jarred but not hurt. Yet another reminder of why I prefer running outside, but it's not really an option when I'm home alone with the twins.

I made it to 45 minutes, allowing myself to speed up just a tad and go out of my heart rate zone for the last couple of minutes. Was nearly falling over tired at the end, though I expect this was largely due to the late night rather than the exertion of the exercise.

Today is my rest day, which is good because a) my quads are still pretty tired, b) I only managed to get 5 hours of sleep, and c) I'm spending half the day on airplanes on my way to Seattle.  I'm writing this from 37816 feet up in the air, as a matter of fact.  I will be in Seattle until Saturday, my workout plan is:

Wednesday: speed work (following the same plan as last Friday: 4x800 5K pace with 400 rest in between)
Thursday: do some total immersion exercises in the hotel pool
Friday: 3–4 mile run with a friend, if that works out

The time change should make it easier for me to get early morning workouts in before starting the day's business. I just have to find some good routes where the hills won't kill me!