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.