Friday, February 29, 2008

Laid low!

The lung ailment has laid me low this week, it is awful! I desperately miss training, and I am very tired of feeling sick--but just as of the last hour or so, I feel as though I can vaguely imagine that it might be appropriate to have a short run and/or swim tomorrow, I took some cough syrup and it actually seems to have cleared things up a bit, so that is very good...

I have missed being Triaspirational as well as lower-case triaspirational, so I thought it might be a good evening to post some of those photos from my usual Riverside run--took 'em a couple weeks ago.
The view from Riverside Drive
South along the avenue (at this time of year, it's not so beautiful, but in the summer when it's all leafy and green I feel as I run here--and at several other points on the regular run also--that if I just kind of blur my eyes a little bit and concentrate that it might be like a young-adult fantasy novel where I could actually run straight into another universe...)
The lower park - along the Hudson
New Jersey!
Under construction (here is a description from one of the very first times I went running in the park a year and a half ago, having not really properly run outside for many a year--I ignored the detour sign and found myself in fear of death!)
Pretty nice, eh?!?
The 79th St. Boat Basin
Vaguely Hitchcockian birds
Manmade landscapes... (facing south to the sanitation pier at 59th St.)
I can go no further...
Dog run!

Monday, February 25, 2008


Triaspirational health catastrophe! Lung ailment came on very strong over last few days--must claw my way back to some semblance of health before real exercise resumes. Work trip over next couple days, will try and take a soothing twenty-minute dip in the hotel pool tomorrow evening, that will be about all I'm up for I suspect.

Will hope to return to regular programming on Friday or Saturday, with some rueful thoughts on health, stress and making sensible choices...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sea swim!

The swimming-minded Sherlock-Holmes-type reader who was following along here in January may already have noted the similarity between the swim workout I posted yesterday and these old ones from then--and made the deduction that I am in the Cayman Islands!

(It is probably the wrong era, but I wish someone would write a Golden Era of Crime Fiction-type novel in which the crucial clue hinges on the design of a swim workout--i.e. someone's alibi involves them quoting a swim workout that could not have been designed by the [murder victim/]coach they attribute it to because it bears mental imaginative hallmark of some other swim coach...--the detective would have to have an unexpected knowledge of swimming culture and reveal all in the final chapter...)

The sea swim would be the clincher, though, on the location issue. Obviously I am not at home...

I hoped to make it to the gym for a core workout and a bit of a run this afternoon, but I was stymied by two small blots on an otherwise blissful visit--minor respiratory ailment causing mild lung pain, caused me to think my body is telling me to take it easier than I quite like--and also I am sorry to say that somehow my main bag never made it on the plane! I've got the one with the equipment end of training stuff (running shoes, goggles, bathing cap), but no bathing suit, no clothes (no sports bras, more to the point!), no toiletries...

I did not mean to give in to it, I am always wishfully and unrealistically thinking I am above such things (monastic bliss, no attachment to worldly things), but I did find myself rather tied to the telephone all day trying to sort out where the bag was--provisional early-evening verdict, Mexico?!?--a post-dinner trip to the airport has not really clarified matters!

However I did make the purchase yesterday afternoon (obviously!) of a rather too-small but perfectly wearable emergency replacement bathing suit that will serve as all-purpose athletic undergarment, certainly adequate for spinning if not perhaps for running...

The sea swim this afternoon was utter bliss, how lovely. You are looking down and there are interesting little domestic interactions going on among lovely aquatic creatures! Also I continue to experiment with the swimming check-points of Dr. Rod Havriluk...

(Which reminds me--check out Leah's great post about swimming with dolphins at Sea World.)

Thursday swim

Hmmm, it has not been a very triaspirational couple weeks, but I get the impression from the other triathlon blogs I read that a lot of people find February a very difficult month as far as training goes! I am just going to have to be patient--and now I'm coming down with a mild lung ailment of some sort, so it will be wise to take it a little easier than I might be tempted to...

A good swim last night. Not sure these are the exact details, I was kind of confused at various points as to exactly where we were or what we were doing (and I didn't for instance have a pull buoy, so on those lengths I was just doing swim-no-kick), but it was along these lines.

Warmup: 250 or so

6 x 100 free, 25 kick 25 pull 50 swim

25 fly 50 back 75 breast 100 drill 200 free
100 drill 75 breast 50 back 25 fly

(something like that anyway!)

3 x 100 25 no breath 75 swim

And a bit of swim down, including a couple more lengths of other strokes. Very pleasant indeed...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday swim

And I spent pretty much the whole hour practicing (attempting?) flip turns!

I asked the coach before I got in to warm up whether she might help me with 'em sometime in the next few weeks, and it turned out there was another woman who was also interested, so after the warmup (300 choice--I did 100 free, 100 fly down breast back and 100 back--200 IM drill-swim, 100 kick-swim) we had a rather comical and frolicky stint of trying various things... made me feel like a little kid playing in a swimming pool, in a good way!

(Slight water-up-the-nose problem makes me distinctly nostalgic. I'm serious!)

(At first they got worse, which I find is par for the course with anything one does not know how to do properly--you get a sort of beginner's luck effect on the first few, and then once you really start paying attention they deteriorate--but I persisted, and after about thirty-five minutes did suddenly find there was rather an improvement. Still a ways to go--a long ways! But it is a start.)

(Counterintuitive to come off the wall upside-down and on your back, I'm thinking this is why my body always kind of twists me sideways before I have properly finished turning in the first place!)

But it was coming clear to me last week that I am never going to learn how to do them if I do not, horribly, make myself do them. I was sorry to miss an actual workout this evening, but it seemed like it would be a cop-out to pass up the external encouragement and the good lane company to work on this funny and wretched little skill that I am anxious to learn.

So I am making an evil resolution, which will be moderated by common sense as needed. Resolved: during this semester at CU masters swim, and any time I get a quiet spot in a lane elsewhere, I will always do flip turns on my freestyle warmup lengths, and will start adding turns as I can face them in other freestyle bits.

And it also seems to me that in the weeks when I can go to the Saturday afternoon workout, which is 1.5 hours rather than 1.0 like the weekday ones, I could easily take the last fifteen minutes for working on turns--given the amount of basic technique improvement still to go, and the length of the race I'm training for, I think that the benefits of a 3000-3500-yard workout are more notional than real, I should really just go up to about 2500 and then use the last twenty minutes on something technique-related that I need to practice...

My goal for the next week: calm down!

Monday, February 18, 2008

It's done...

I've e-mailed the files to my editor and I'm about to take the hard copy to the xerox shop.

No negative thoughts to speak of, either. Though I did just spend half an hour wrestling with unwanted page breaks in the table of contents, but decided that the press will be better equipped than I to strip the wretched formatting off the silly little things...

This will still come back to me for a couple more rounds of work, most notably for indexing, but it's substantively finished now. I was first thinking about it a bit more than five years ago, and I started properly researching and writing it in September 2003. Books take a long time to write, I do not know why I continue to be so surprised by this fact!

Monday gym workout

And very nice too...

Pretty tired, I thought I'd better take it cautiously, we just did some lower-key strength-type stuff and a short core bit at the end. Probably only working about 85% of the usual. But it was still a very good workout, I really enjoyed it.

Especially some delightfully evil one-legged squats--3 x 15 on each side, holding a ten-pound dumbbell in the other hand, but the weight is beside the point, it's the balance that's challenging--that really does seem to me an exercise that must be good for cycling...

Book report

Well, I am just now printing out the full and final draft of the book manuscript...

(As per the thoughts of a commenter below, it is strange the extent to which no activity other than book-finishing produces such aches in the muscles, such awful bleariness of the eyes and such an acute sense of general physical malaise! But I am not complaining, I chose to write it, I've got to suck it up when it comes to finishing it...)

I'm not done, not really--I've got to check this version against the marked-up one I just typed in corrections from, for one thing, and I've still got to do the bibliography and front matter. Minimum of six more hours work, I'm guessing, more likely eight. (Hmmm, and a couple dodgy pages where I did too much last-minute rewriting...)

But I will go to bed now, and I will have an hour's workout with M. first thing in the morning, and then I will spend the day finishing up the last bits and have every chance of e-mailing it all out and dropping the original off at the xerox shop by around six.

That would be good.

There is no doubt I have had several spells over the course of the weekend of what Brent, in his Ironman Arizona race report from last spring, memorably calls "quite noticeable negative feelings."

(Good phrase, eh?!? Devastating in its accuracy and understatement--book finishing is like a very long endurance race--the other phrase I sometimes use is "pronounced negative thoughts"!)

I am guessing I will have a couple more brief spells of such things tomorrow, at least one of them related to some kind of unanticipated but horrible printer-related disaster. Fortitude will doubtless be required!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Home stretch?

Must. Finish. Book. Exercise incompatible with book-finishing. ARGHHHHH! Head about to explode...

Meanwhile (no time to read it, looks interesting, Olympic connection): a gunpowder artist.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Propitious esculent

This article leads me to believe I would be justified in adding significantly more potato to the regular menu round here....

No workout this evening after all, must just do a tiny bit more work and then get up super-early for a good long morning stint. Bike tomorrow early evening instead. All is well...

A book a day...

A nice article at the Times about Wings of America, a team and training program for American Indians on reservations all over the country.

Narrowly averted a minor meltdown this morning--I lost some work on a document out of an unfortunate convergence of factors, but mostly my own carelessness and haste. Full of self-reproach, but mostly just for working last night when I was clearly too tired and for not setting up this new computer and evil new incarnation of Word very thoroughly! Wasted too much time trying to recover the lost version, but felt much better once I gave up and just started doing the work over again.

Also, a funny morale lift this afternoon--a brief rendezvous with my old student Wei, whose marathon report I posted some time ago at my other blog (scroll down). He wanted to give me a tape about the Pose Method of running--but he also cheered me up by buying me a slice of pizza and telling me very solemnly, with the equivalent of a wink, that the first semester of his PhD program in history has finally taught him how to read very quickly, in fact a book a day--by skipping most of it and just reading the first sentence of every paragraph!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday swim

A very decent one, nothing earth-shattering but I felt strong in the water and it also made me feel normal for the first time all day, because I am having devastatingly inconvenient insomnia this week. Catch-22: must finish big job and get through other upcoming ordeals (knighthood-type ordeals, not suffering-type ordeals--everything is fine, just very busy!); too stressed out to sleep; working well below capacity!

I really like digging in and working hard, I feel cheerful at the thought of finishing this manuscript this weekend and getting it out by the end of the day Monday, but the way I was feeling yesterday and today due to sleep deprivation was making it fairly impossible to execute the plan at desired intensity levels...

Intersection of Monday deadline, sleep problems and a family obligation Sunday has led me to do some drastic cutting/streamlining of the workout schedule in coming days. Now is the crunch, got to just get through it, no point worrying about shortfall from training plan. (Lack of sleep means body unlikely to absorb anything much in any case.) No bike before swimming today, because I need to do a couple more hours of work this evening and I couldn't spare either the late-afternoon work time or the later-night energy. And--this is a test for me, I must not always be skipping the bike!--I think I have to skip the projected eight-mile run Sunday, alas...

This seems to me best bet for the next five days in terms of meeting various commitments and maximizing work hours:

Saturday evening: 120 mins. bike plus 2-3 miles run off bike, but run only if it is not too late at night

Sunday: off (non-family hours desperately needed for book, cannot spare time for even the nicest run in the world...)

Monday: 8am workout with M. at gym; optional pm bike/run workout, but only if I can email the book manuscript out by 6pm or so, I need to switch over to reading and teaching prep for Tuesday by mid-evening Monday

Tuesday: swim

Wednesday: 4-6 miles daylight run, plus 120 mins. bike, but bike as higher priority

In other words, two real bike workouts plus one extra if I can fit it; one gym workout; one swim; a couple very short runs squeezed in as it seems possible.

All will be possible if I can get some hours of solid sleep tonight. A friend appealingly (glamorizingly, really it is less exciting!) described what I have been doing this winter as "fighting dragons," and with a large grain of salt it is indeed an apt notion. I sort of love the part where I am actually whacking the dragons with my sword. But I am not so keen on the 2am racing-thought situations where I consider for the fifty millionth time which dragons I might want to whack and which want to whack me, what I will do with them once I have whacked them into submission, etc.

Details of tonight's workout as follows...

Warmup: 3 x (100 swim, 50 drill, 100 swim) - I did 100 free, 50 hodgepodge drill stuff (some catchup, some thumbsies with evil salute, some double-arm back), 100 IM for all three

First set: 16 x 25 in sets of 5 plus one extra: choice, build, 12.5 sprint 12.5 easy, build, choice. Did each stroke in IM order over the three, then a final 25 of free.

Second set (which I only got through the first third-and-a-bit of, frustrating, that workout is too long for me to do in an hour, I was not late starting today):

300 smooth free
3 x 100 75 free/25 kick
2 x 50 hard effort free (this was focus of set)
1 x 50 recovery

200 smooth free ...

and then I had to stop because it switched over to regular pool swim and I just needed to go anyway. Would have been 2 x 100 IM, 2 x 50 hard effort stroke, 50 recovery, then 100 smooth free, 100 IM, 2 x 50 hard effort free, 1 x 50 recovery.

So: 2100, not bad. I guess that's what I can swim in an hour, with rest...

I actually did the first 300 pretty hard effort, it is not really to my credit but the fellow on the other side of the lane line started at the same time as me and we were neck and neck the whole time! Enjoyable race-like feeling... maybe it was 5:35 or 5:40? Forgot to look and register time at the end, I was catching my breath! (And a fast open turn really is pretty much the same speed as a flip turn...)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Her coat is called oyster brindle"

Because the Westminster Dog Show is reported in the Times under the heading "Other Sports," we will allow further coverage on a fitness-oriented blog...

Dog hairstyles. Slideshow particularly recommended...

Blissful Thursday run-swim

Quiet day at home of book work, then a really super-enjoyable run and a swim. The swim was perfect, I loved it--the run was good too, very nice afternoon for it, but my legs were a bit tired...

(I was idly thinking that I must have done a good job with last night's bike-run workout--and then I was, like, oh, wait a minute, it is only Thursday and I did run a half-marathon on Sunday, it is not really surprising that my thigh muscles are feeling on the tired side...)

It was a good day to bring my camera with me and take a few shots of most scenic bits along the usual Riverside Park run, and indeed I did exactly that--only I am too ravenously hungry to deal with them now, I will save them for a day when I've got nothing else to post about! These double workouts are a strain on my refrigerator's ability to provide me with suitable things to eat, I think I must go out and find a real dinner somewhere that is not swarming with Valentiners...

Due to camera handling distractions I accidentally stopped my watch halfway through the run: in any case I still have not gotten around to recalibrating distances!

Part 1: 22:56, 2.448 miles, avg HR 143, avg pace 9:22. Part II: 25:06, 2.753 miles, avg HR 150, avg pace 9:05.

I want to start doing my runs faster, I have been pretty tranquil about doing all lowish-HR running but I think it's time to speed up a bit!

Then an absolutely lovely swim. My freestyle felt great, and in fact the backstroke felt very nice too today, I suppose it is the reward for slogging through quite a bit of it on Tuesday with very low morale. Today it was very dancey, it really is out of all the strokes the most like doing a waltz (not that I really know how to do a waltz--but I know how the music goes!)--I was very vividly thinking of my late lamented swimming teacher Doug Stern waltzing around on deck as he tried to get us to imagine the proper rhythm of the freestyle kick...

Warmup: 700 (200 free, 200 drill-swim back/breast by 50, 100 free "4-3-2-1 catchup by 25" [i.e. four strokes on each side on first 25, then three, etc.], 100 drill IM, 50 free, 50 back)

First set: 20 x 25 (1 underwater, 3 swim free) on :40, :35, :30, :25

(Got a bit mixed-up on times on a couple of these, one of the pace clocks wasn't working and it was also a mental challenge to really keep track, but by the last couple I was good... can't yet swim more than half the length underwater, though!)

Second set (it was a 5-4-3-2-1, but I only had time for 5 and 4--it was lovely, though--so the bits I missed [I have stolen the sheet with the workout printed on it, I would not be able to remember this part!] were 3 x 150 kick-drill-swim free, back, breast, 2 x 200 free, 1 x 300 IM, and then one more set of 6 x 75 with a mix of freestyle drill and swim--I would need it to be an hour and a half in order to get through that whole workout...): 5 x 100 free on 2:00, 4 x 125 IM (with the extra 25 coming on each stroke in IM order, i.e. start with 50 fly, 25 back etc. and so forth--don't know what my times were on these...)

So here's the thing that put me in such a super-good mood, I was imagining I would really have to swim the 100s of free on 2:10, a couple weeks ago I was definitely swimming 1:55ish. But I guess I just got mental focus and kind of regained swimming energy and fitness over the last few weeks of regular workouts--I did my first one and it was a definite 1:45, hard work but sustainable, and I did all five properly on 2:00 and came in 1:44-46 on all of 'em.

Oh, I must start practicing those wretched flip turns, the open turn is so slow in comparison, I would be able to take off a number of seconds if I could just do a proper flip turn without oxygen debt and without veering off into the lane line! All right, there's a goal...

So--2200 yards? Very respectable.

Now to refuel...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday bike-run

OK, that was great, I had a really good workout just now...

(I actually felt like I might be able to become a totally competent triathlete...)

(Slept more than adequately though not perhaps enough last night, had a big lunch once I was done with teaching and office hours and then slept again for a couple hours in the afternoon--I'm so knackered by the time I get home on Wednesdays that there is no other option than total crash. A bit groggy when I woke up, but clearly conditions were subsequently right for exercise. Interesting. In my work life I am used to totally disregarding the problem of rest!)

Another round of Spinervals 5.0, that is a great workout. Looking forward to trying one of the longer ones this weekend!

And then I went out and just did two miles only of running. It does not seem to me sensible to do more than that in the winter after dark, too crazy, but it's very easy to go downstairs (hmmm, not really a run-straight-off-the-bike brick, it was probably about ten minutes between getting off the bike and actually starting running, but it's still good) and run along the sidewalk at the edge of the park down to 96th St. and back. I believe the advice about trying to run often off the bike--good mental practice as well as physical, I think. Leg muscles certainly rather odd for first half mile, but good after that (there's a nice downhill that warmed me up properly in mile .5 to 1.0--then of course good going back up the hill for the first half of the second mile!).

I will do some further tweaking of the projected training schedule, this week has been rather illuminating to me as to what will and won't work. On the other hand--implausibly, I do not usually travel that much!--I have three trips in the next four weeks, so it will all be a bit of a mess. Main thing is to stay calm and keep training!

(It was strongly present to me as I did the bike workout this evening that if I do four hours a week of trainer riding plus a couple outdoor rides each week once the weather is better, and make sure that my long ride is a proper one on the hills of Central Park, there is every reason that I will have an enjoyable race in May. I do not have really any experience on the bike, this is a pity, but I am very consistent in my training and that will potentially make up for it. Had a reassuring exchange with one of the other swimmers on Friday where she said that for her first half-iron-distance triathlon she had literally never run more than eight miles, she had had a knee injury that made her limit long runs--that is more daunting, I would say, than figuring I will just have to go rather slowly and steadily on the bike...)

Cycling: 1:25:22 (avg HR 135, max 157)
Running: 20:38 (avg HR 152, max 161), 2 miles

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Taking comfort

where I find it, I will note that this week is the Westminster Dog Show, and there is some very funny coverage at the Times! The Clydesdales of the dog world, as it were (some suspect grammatical usage there--"laying"? "girthiest"?!?). Not triathlon-related, but appealing in any case...

Tuesday swimming

Hmmm, and I am smitten with guilt, I got home too late to do even half an hour on the bike--I spent the first ten minutes of swimming (very wintry mix out there tonight, took twice as long as usual to get over there, so that annoyingly I only had time for a very short warmup!) thinking I should really have stayed at home and done an hour of cycling instead.

(No run either, arghhh, bad time management and organization on my part--hmmm, have just deleted much longer spell of self-reproach, it is not edifying. Will hope to get back on track tomorrow.)

Not a bad swim, but not blissful. Really the good ones for me involve my excessive and restless thinking finally sort of temporarily shutting off and letting me concentrate on the workout, this was not one of those, I was having a sequence of minor and not very interesting insights that would not stop, arghhh! I do not know, either, that I can quite reconstruct the details of what I did, I never quite mentally grasped it in the first place (there was one too few copies for each lane to have one, I was not able to ponder it and let it sink in) and my mind was racing around too much on other questions...

Warmup: 1 x (25 breast 50 back 75 freestyle catchup 100 IM? I am completely making up details, I cannot remember at all--should have been 3 x but as I say I was late... call it 250 of non-wintry mix)

First set (which I did not even have time to finish):

8 x 50 (even free, odd back)
6 x 100 (50 breast, 50 free no kick--took me 2:05, did it on 2:20)
4 x 150 IM drill-stroke by 25

(Corrected--couldn't remember at first--this I think is right though, and the last bit of the set would have been 2 x 200 free, that makes sense now, I am sorry I did not have time to do it though.)

I guess I did 1800 or 2000, something like that. Or maybe there was no something else and it was only 1650. [Ed. No, it was 1850, that's right.] I felt very, very slow.

Pointless insights:

1. I am so tired by the end of the day on Tuesdays this semester that I cannot expect to have a great swim.

2. I need to get there on time, because the bad thing today was that it was a bit more crowded than usual, though we were still able to split lanes, and I ended up splitting with a considerably faster fellow in a middle lane. Obviously bad to get used to any one spot, good to shake it up, but I really like having a nice quiet berth in one of the two slowest lanes, whereas in this spot I was surrounded on all sides by considerably faster swimmers, very bad for my morale...

3. I like the actual backstroke, but I slow down almost to a standstill as I feel around with my hand for the wall, and then it takes me forever to get myself reoriented in the other direction! This must be a target for improvement, even though in substantive respects there are more pressing things to work on (flip turns, breathing, freestyle technique more generally), because it makes my backstroke times also incredibly bad for my morale...

There were others, but that is quite enough, really. In sum: more than tolerable, by the end my backstroke felt pretty decent, but this day has gone on too long already!


Hmmm, I think I can use the blog for better accountability on this slightly intractable cycling stuff...

Skipped last night's projected bike workout for perfectly sensible reasons having to do with work, fueling and tiredness. (I got up at 4:30 to work on my book, I have to face the fact that I do not get a good stint of evening time when I've started so early!) But skipping bike workouts is exactly what I do not need to do---and it's a funny thing, somehow I never quite seem to need to skip a run or a swim for the same sort of reasons!

(Partly it really is that the fact of being able to do it at home makes it get later and later--this should get less problematic once I'm (a) riding outside and (b) more in the swing of things.)

Schedule for today has 30 min. run on gym track and swim at 6, sort of 5:15-7:00-type slot, but I'll see if I can't get home and have a quick half hour on the bike instead of the run. It will depend on how promptly I can extricate myself from the office...

The truth of the matter: next two weeks very busy with work and life. Must just do the best I can fitting in these workouts, and then really properly get down to business as of the beginning of March. February is an excessively short month, I am trying to fit too many things into it!

Monday, February 11, 2008

An aside about running

One reason I know I'm fretting about half-marathon pace and times is that I am (pointlessly; procrastinatorily!) thinking ahead to my first marathon in November.

Like many runners, I obsess about arbitrary times that end with zeroes!

(Hmmm, should convert everything into someone's wayward eighteenth-century or science-fictional decimal time system and shake up those expectations...)

And it is a feasible hybrid of optimism and realism to think that I might be able to go just-sub:4:00 in a flat marathon on a cool day. 3:58, that's the aspirational goal, leaves a bit of wiggle room (because I do not like really having to worry about splits to the second, not enjoyable to me).

But really on current speeds 4:10 or 4:15 might be a more appropriate goal for the first one--this is just a note to myself not to mess up my chance at a really enjoyable and evenly paced first marathon by going for an unrealistic time goal. I think I need to have done a couple half-marathons quite comfortably in the low 1:50s before 4:00 becomes realistic--in fact maybe sub-1:50 would be the more conservative test.

The Grete's Great Gallop half is the one I'll do six weeks or so before the marathon, but that's on a quite hilly course and Philadelphia is very flat, so lowish 1:50s would be fair, I think (sub-1:53:00, maybe, given hill differential?)--MacMillan associates 1:53:48 half-marathon time with 4:00 marathon, but I have the impression a lot of experienced runners find those predictions over-optimistic, especially for beginners doing relatively low mileage.

If I train sensibly and don't get injured, it seems to me still possible that this will be both an appropriate and attainable goal. But I will have to wait and see. Thinking partly prompted by some interesting mulling-over of my times in the NYRR database. (I think this link will work.)

I had an anomalously fast half-marathon in Philadelphia in November that's not represented here, but it's rather striking to me otherwise that though each race seemed to present its own set of issues (for instance, for the October one I had a great taper that left me feeling incredibly lively and well-rested, but it was evilly hot and humid), and the courses are not equal in difficulty, I have a very steady albeit modest improvement on mile pace: 9:10 in August, 9:05 in October, 8:57 in January, 8:54 in February. The last race was by far the easiest of the four, in every respect--flattest course, appropriate weather (barring wind issues!), no illness or exhaustion issues--but clearly I really have become a faster and better distance runner in the last six months.

Re: marathon goals, though, I can see (feel!) that it really does take experience racing at a particular distance before one gets comfortable at that distance...

Monday gym workout

Hmmm, surprisingly blissful gym workout with M.

It is three weeks now since I last worked out properly gym-style (he's been out of town, but in fact I was sick one Monday and then out of town the next so it might have been a problem scheduling anyway), I like it when I do it but I find that when I do not have actual appointments I let it slide. I was afraid I might have lost all my muscles--but I did manage to eke out 3 x 15 pushups with evil kick-backs, among other things... Very enjoyable.

I am stymied schedule-wise, I would like a stint of six or eight weeks where I would do three times a week serious gym workout and eat super-healthily and work on body composition, but it is incompatible with triathlon training right now! And it was incompatible with work and life in December and January which was when I was imagining I might have something like that.

I grudgingly admit that one has to make choices...triathlon is of course more exciting... but I am going to do my damnedest also this spring to see if I can't become a slightly faster runner in spite of the pressing need to make things happen on the bike!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bronx half-marathon

Well, I had a wonderfully enjoyable time, it was a really good run! But I was having to fight the tendency to laugh at myself on the subway ride home, because I really thought around mile 7 or so that it was going to be a super-fast time also, and then it was not such a thing at all!

Hmmm--felt a lot like the Philadelphia one in November (where I surprised myself by running really quite fast, 1:54:14), but the course (here's the PDF map), though I found it quite varied and enjoyable, includes a lot of the sort of out-and-back loop where you first think "Oh, how nice, I am having an easy half-mile running downhill" and then a moment later "Goodness, those people coming back the other way are struggling up this long slow incline!"

I think I went a bit too fast for the first four miles, but the real thing was that it became astonishingly windy as we came onto the Grand Concourse. It may not show up so clearly in my split times, because some of the windiest bits were also downhill bits, but it was clear to me as I was running that I was slowing down even as my heartrate climbed. Several wooden barriers blew over, and there were a few moments when I really felt my legs being blown out from under me! It is curiously enjoyable, in a rugged way, but I suspect not conducive to the fastest possible times...

Hmmm, why is it my impulse to have all these explanations before I give the times?!? I will indulge it, in any case, and have a few more thoughts first:

1. The race two weeks ago just didn't feel good. I was coming down with a cold, and also coming off an exceptionally stressful and tiring work week. This week things really eased up psychologically mid-week and I had quiet Friday and Saturday nights at home, which is what I most like. Very beneficial.

(2. On the other hand, the times are barely different, especially considering hilliness of the first one compared to the second! ARGHHHHH!)

3. The last two months have been very complicated and stressful more generally; I've kept on as reasonable a training schedule as I could, but it's really a triathlon schedule rather than a run-specific schedule. Quite a few weeks where I only ran twice, for instance, though I always had a suitable longish run at the weekend. I should not be surprised that my run times don't get a lot faster. And for this next stretch of training, building bike fitness is actually more important than really increasing run fitness--the fact of the matter is that we have to make choices about priorities...

4. I'll do a couple shorter races in the next couple months (there's a 3-mile one uptown in early March that training partner L. is very enthusiastic about doing, so I'll do five earlier that morning and then race it with her and have a lovely brunch afterwards; and I think I will do the Scotland 10K at the end of March, also with a four-mile warmup first so that I can count it as a long run with some tempo work). And some modest bits of speedwork, and try and get the weekly run mileage a bit higher. But the time to work on running speed will be after the 70.3 in May. The next important race for me after that is the New York Olympic-distance triathlon on July 20, which I would like to do quite fast, so it will make sense to think about how to make the run get faster over June and early July; and then I'll move into marathon training for Philadelphia in November, during which I can continue to work on speed. I know I can get a lot faster still as a runner, I haven't leveled off yet from the beginner improvement curve, but I will have to be patient!

4. Goal for Brooklyn half in late April, which is the next of these Grand Prix ones: 1:54-55 time goal, but more importantly EVEN OR NEGATIVE SPLITS. I will recalibrate my watch properly and start really thinking about this. Doesn't matter so much in a half-marathon, but clearly crucial for successful marathoning...

OK, here are times and splits. It really was a good run, I was working as hard as I could in the last couple miles, but I felt very strong throughout. Distances are slightly off due to calibration issues--obviously really it was 13.1 miles rather than 13.46 as the device claims!

(It is not much faster than my laborious and hard-won time on the hills of Central Park two weeks ago, that's the crazy part! I really felt like I was running so much faster and easier, very deceptive--on the other hand this was really a mentally easy race, whereas that one was something of a test of willpower--interesting--all this is very educational and informative, I find...)

Official NYRR time: 1:56:45 (8:54 pace)

(372/1146 women, and 1628/3261 overall. I think this is very decent--it's a more serious group of runners, I think, who do the Bronx half than the Manhattan half. Seems like I can come in around a third of the way down on the women's results and at about the halfway mark for gender-neutral. Considering I was always the slowest kid in the class on the fifty- and hundred-yard dash, or tediously finishing the wretched wind sprints in a tortoise-like way as everyone else looked on from the end of the basketball court--I stopped doing that stuff as soon as I could, but they make you do it when you're a kid, even when you're miserably bad at it!--it is a victory over years of experience of myself as the worst athlete imaginable. I am definitely on the endurance over the sprint side of things, I do not have twinkly toes, I can actually run quite fast now for short distances but I do not enjoy it and I can only imagine that my muscles have only a tiny handful of fast-twitch strands amidst a large bunch of slow ones...)

(Triathletes are fitter and more accomplished than runners, I will not be able to come up so high in the standings especially in the first ones I do, I am thinking that aiming around the middle of the women's pack will suit me in terms of pacing for those races.)

Actually now I look at the splits they're fairly even, I can see the couple spots where something threw it a bit off....

(Distances are obviously messed up, thus pace counts sound better than they were in reality, that really is why I was surprised by slow time I guess!)

8:43 (156), 8:26 (162), 8:28 (161), 8:35 (163), 8:30 (165), 8:43 (164), 8:42 (164), 8:56 (167--this was where it was getting very windy!), 8:43 (165), 8:30 (168), 9:03 (167--still windy, but also I slowed down for a gel and water, I had thought of trying without but felt I'd been working hard, was getting slightly mentally fuzzy and would probably benefit pace-wise in last three miles even if it cost me 10-15 seconds during consumption--I was hitting lactate pace pretty strongly these last couple miles, had to slow down a few times for mild non-stomach-related queasiness, the gel seems to me in retrospect clearly worth it in terms of energy and mental focus), 8:20 (168), 8:46 (172), plus last half-mile with 177 average HR and lap-end HR of 180 (7:24 pace)...

OK, got to recalibrate, I think as I look at it now that I actually did a surprisingly good job holding a pretty steady pace but that those numbers were leading me astray! I knew they were "faster" than I was really going, but was not mentally capable of calculating the difference on the spot...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Saturday swim

It was a nice one, but I am afraid I did not at all take advantage of it being an hour and a half workout instead of just an hour as on weekdays, I skipped part in the middle and got out early!

Partly it was a sudden accession of prudence--I thought of my race tomorrow and thought perhaps it was not suddenly the day to add on half as much again swimming mileage (though it pained me not to take up the invitation to swim 3600 yards, which would have been the total distance if one could actually squeeze in the whole workout in ninety minutes, not at all a foregone conclusion!). Partly I was just flagging--possibly a bit underfueled, and certainly with tired back muscles from swimming three days in a row.

(The tired muscles are a great satisfaction in their own way, because part of the frustration of being a very beginning swimmer with poor technique is that you're all, like, I have good muscles but I am just flailing around breathlessly wasting a huge amount of energy, while the frail old lady in the next lane over is effortlessly swimming twice as fast as I am with about half the muscles! ARGHHHHH! So I really have been thinking about freestyle technique, as per Dr. Rod Havriluk and the MONA freestyle cues, and it is amazing what a difference it makes--at least in my head... In particular when I really keep my arms bent in the right way and get the body roll, I get a strikingly stronger pull with hands and forearms and really feel it during and afterwards in my lats. This is a nice feeling--the past months I have felt the limiting factor on all swimming-related things to be breathlessness rather than anything really satisfactory in the muscles, as though I couldn't swim fast enough to actually feel anything very noticeable in an actual arm or back muscle because before that happened I would be wheezingly panting for air...--but really those back muscles are quite tired now! Actually it is probably from doing the other strokes also...)

In any case, it was a very nice workout, though I sneakingly feel like a total cop-out for only doing seventy minutes instead of ninety!

Warmup: 800 (200 swim, 200 back, 200 breast/fly drill by 50, 200 choice--I did fly down, breast back, then 50 pull freestyle)

First set:

3 x 50 choice on 1:20 (I did fly, back, breast for each of these, there seemed no reason not to use IM order, I am not especially working on one or another stroke--they all need improvement!)

2 x 50 free on 1:05

3 x 50 choice on 1:20

2 x 50 free on 1:00

3 x 50 choice on 1:20

2 x 50 choice on :55

50 easy swim

Second set:

(In consultation with the coach and thinking of half-marathon tomorrow at 8am, I skipped the 4 x 150 IM, 3 x 25 drill, 4 x 100 free bit the set began with...)

Can't remember intervals for these...

3 x 25 drill (25 catchup, 50 thumbsies drill with evil forehead swipe)

4 x 75 (50 free, 25 breast)

3 x 25 as above

4 x 50 back

3 x 25 as above

4 x 25 free (second half spring)

3 x 50 recovery

There was another set to follow, I think, but discretion was the better part of valor...

That was good, very nice swim, enjoyable--that's 2500, isn't it? It is not surprising I was ready to stop, that is the most I ever usually do, often there's only time for more like 1900 if the hour is shortened at one end or another. Next week's Saturday practice is canceled because of a meet, and the week after I'm out of town, but I will hope to have a really good long swim on March 1...

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday evening musings

My most triathlon-like workout to date. Several minor glitches, but this is probably very triathlon-like also, so it's not bad practice...

Glitch #1: got started a little late insofar as 6pm start time for masters swim is not flexible (but I cannot really complain, I was actually doing a spot of work on my book that was worth polishing off--I just shouldn't leave the workout till the last possible moment!)

Glitch #2: no coach again for the swim workout! And no lifeguard this time, either, so we dithered for more than fifteen minutes before deciding that we are paying quite a bit of money each semester for this swim privilege and that though it is obviously completely against policy to swim without a lifeguard present (much talk of whether our group would get banned from the pool if we did so!), there was one present and one former lifeguard among the swimmers and also one faculty member (namely, me) who would talk us out of trouble if necessary and that we should just get in the pool anyway. Swimming time significantly curtailed, though--almost 6:20 by the time we got in...

Glitch #3 (with further thoughts on triathlon garb below): those triathlon shorts seemed slightly too large on dry land, but once in the pool they came to seem voluminous indeed--not a big problem except during the breaststroke, when they contributed significantly to drag...

I was set on doing all three things in a row, and wearing convenient variants of the same outfit!

So I did one of the thirty-minute spinervals workouts on the bike at home (the first of the three on 23:0 Time Saver, high-cadence work and one-legged drills), then headed out for a run (with fleece on top, plus belt pouch with swim cap and goggles)--time being short, I suddenly realized (as I waited for the light to cross over to Riverside Park) that though it is infinitely more horrible I should just go and use the indoor track at the gym in the interest of being on time for swimming.

Did two miles on the track (device needs recalibrating, but I wasn't counting laps so I can't say if it's running short or long, did an extra lap to be on the safe side), then went and swam--though in fact only with a twenty-minute delay, so in each case there was a bit of a gap between, unfortunately.

32 minutes cycling (avg HR 130, max 151)
19 minutes running (2.075 miles, 9:13 avg pace; avg HR 146, max 154)
42 minutes swimming (avg HR 112, max HR 129)

Interesting to contemplate how differently the HR thing plays out in each sport... of course really I was by far the most breathless during the swim bit!

With no workout and no coach and already having been exercising for close to an hour, I found myself during the swim session with little ingenuity or enthusiasm for an exciting swim workout.

Warmup: 100 swim, 100 IM kick, 100 IM

Main set: 10 x 100, alternating free and IM, with forty seconds rest

Hmmm, the sequence as a whole was actually almost too manageable, I wanted something more intense! But I suppose it is good that I can comfortably do an hour and a half of triathlon-type exercise without really feeling at all overwhelmed (breaks in between, though).

The garb issue is too tedious for me to write about in any detail, and I am much too lazy to link to anything. Suffice it to say that I am about to start experimenting with various stuff for convenience in training but also that I might actually use to race in, except I have a bad habit (because I loathe and despise clothes shopping) of buying things online--and triathlon and swimsuit sizing is very confusing! I've got a bunch of different matching components of this one Tyr suit, and ordered proper triathlon shorts after realizing I would never really be wearing small bikini-type bottoms with a bike pad for either training or racing (though they would certainly be usable on a trainer ride--but really! I did not think it through when I bought those ones last spring...).

Triathlon clothing sizes run small--I'd be a small for Nike or Brooks running pants, but usually a medium on Craft or cycling/triathlon-type shorts--Tyr swim stuff also seems to me to run slightly small. So I ordered a medium--only to get 'em in the mail and find out that though the website did not make it at all clear, it's unisex sizing! Arghh--really rather too big, not sensible for swimming--OK for bike and run, though, if a bit baggy around the hip area...

Meanwhile, if Sherlock Holmes had been reincarnated as an avid reader of triathlon blogs he would be saying right now, "So you've decided to race the Bronx half rather than doing it as a training run?" Reincarnated Watson would be looking dumbfounded, and reincarnated Sherlock would tick off the points on his fingers:

I departed from my training schedule

It's two days before the half-marathon, so I needed to run at least a couple miles

But earlier in the week I stated that I must not skimp on cycling as it is by far the most important area for me to improve fitness in

Schedule said four miles run and one hour swim today, 1.5 hr swim and 60 minutes bike tomorrow, then the half on Sunday morning and the evening off. But I have been longing for speed all week, and yesterday's run confirmed it. It is not, I think, inherently unreasonable to think it's worth trying to run as fast as I can on Sunday--what I would like is a NYRR PR somewhere between my 1:57:XX Central Park best and my 1:54:XX Philadelphia best. We will see--but it seemed clear that I needed to run a couple miles today and I needed not to skip a bike workout altogether, and that this triple workout was the solution.

No real taper, but that's OK, I'm not imagining I'm suddenly going to have a miraculously fast race, I haven't been training properly for that. Tomorrow I'll just swim, then race on Sunday morning and perhaps do a recovery ride on the trainer in the evening--good for the muscles. And M. is back in town, so I have a nice appointment with him Monday morning, only we will have to skip lower-body stuff if I have really raced the day before...

(Oh, there was an amazing fellow on the indoor track doing walking lunges! Now that is an evilly good idea--it is a tenth of a mile--hmmm, wonder how far I could get...)

Some race-type intensity

Novelist and swimmer Robert McCutcheon kindly sent me a copy of his young-adult coming-of-age novel The Starting Block, and I am happy to report that I enjoyed it very much. It will particularly be of interest to triathletes, aspirational or otherwise, because of the absolutely wonderful depiction of teenage swim-team life in suburban Pittsburgh in the late 1960s. It's a tale of three brothers (Chip's the oldest, and a champion swimmer, Billy the middle brother and Teddy the youngest and the book's sometime narrator--sometimes he imagines an italicized third-person narration of his own life in story-book mode), and here's a bit I especially liked:
"Today we're going to do some fifties, then some starts," Ed went on. "That's all. But I want to see some race-type intensity in the sprints, people!"

This was the most enjoyable kind of practice. Ordinarily we swam in circles, an innovation Chip brought back with him from his AAU workouts. The whole team would be in the pool at the same time, with everybody keeping to the right in his lane. It was like driving in rush hour traffic or, alternatively, like living in a horizontal ant farm. But today we would approach the blocks in heats, by age group, beginning with the girls over sixteen. Everyone else would watch and wait their turn.

The proceedings had a certain oblong, sideways, and shimmering character from Ted's vantage point, as he lay on his back and let his head rock to the side. The covey of girls on the starting blocks scattered at the sound of the gun.

Billy's group took the blocks next. He was not as fast a swimmer as Chip, but he was a more earnest swimmer. In fact, he was the most earnest swimmer I had ever seen. In fact, he swam as earnestly as he slept. As Ed barked his "Take your mark," Billy snapped into his crouch. Conserving his blanks, Ed started this heat with his disyllabic "Ho"; when someday in late middle age he retired from the lifeguard's trade he would be qualified to lead wagon trains. The swimmers dropped out of sight as though into another dimension. Foam sprouted from the deck.

From my ground-level view all I could see was Billy's hands, which he looped high in the air with his distinctive straight-arm recovery. I followed them along my low concrete horizon like a pair of diving birds. Billy had never gotten the hang of the classic elbows-high style that Chip had. He had a funny hitch in his freestyle. He breathed every stroke even in a sprint, jerking his head up as though for the last gulp of air in the atmosphere. A single kick followed. Rhythm was not in Billy's vocabulary. You wouldn't think he could swim butterfly, but he rocked his way through the water like a sidecar on a railroad track, up and down, kick and pull. He was just big and strong; he gathered bushels of water with each stroke, and he was tough to beat in either free or fly over a short distance.
Sort of the perfect novel for me, eh?!? Thanks for sending, Robert...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Preternaturally calming Thursday run-swim

Well, the mood swings round here this week will probably make me seem like an utter lunatic, but I am feeling extremely calm and well-disposed towards the world this evening, after 2 hours of fairly strenuous exercise. Triathlon training is extremely beneficial for my mental health!

(Obviously it must not be taken to extremes, it is potentially addictive like any number of other things, moderation is good--but there is no doubt that about two hours of pretty hard exercise is really the best possible thing to induce calmness. I cannot remember the exact words, but I had a funny conversation with M. once--I must have been telling him about what I'd been doing exercise-wise over the previous couple days--and he said, more with admiration than with disapproval, "You don't just get tired, you tire yourself out!" And it is true, and it is not ideal, but that's just the way I am made, I have to work with it...)

(It was strongly my feeling after my first half-marathon that two hours is the perfect amount of time to run, but that two hours is not nearly long enough for a really satisfying race! Thus the sense of 70.3 as perfect combination of things...)

So first I had a really nice run. I went over to the NYRR to pick up my race number for Sunday, and it made for a rather more varied and interesting route than I usually bother with--south on Riverside Drive and east along 106th St. and then into Central Park, then along the bridle trail round the south end of the reservoir and past Engineers Gate to the Road Runners building on E. 89th St., and then back up and around the bridle trail again and over to Riverside Park at 96th and up through the park just as it was getting dark. Very nice, and with some good speeding-up type bits when I hit a stretch of terrain that seemed appropriate; my legs felt very springy and well-rested through not having run since Sunday...

(I am kind of looking forward to soon switching to some slightly faster training, I have really only been running fairly slowly these past months, I am ready to speed it up!)

5.8 miles, average HR 149, average pace 9:40

I got back here around 5:40 and then hied myself over to the gym for masters swim. Hmmm, very enjoyable doing 'em consecutively like that. I wasn't in the pool until 6:10, I had to drop off the check and enrollment forms for the swim thing which I have had no moment to do and it kind of took forever, but it was a great workout, I loved it! Very straightforward, but incredibly beneficial. Kept mental focus the whole time, so that was good too, definitely part of the appeal/challenge of doing them next to each other.

I am feeling very strong in the water on freestyle in a way that makes me want to write a thank-you e-mail to Dr. Rod Havriluk (but I will restrain myself!). I am pretty slow, but it is OK because I am a beginner, and I really feel as though I am already improving because of it being a well-thought-out and consistent series of workouts that are not at a prohibitively early hour of the morning and at which I can actually swim with appropriate rest intervals!

I was about to peel the workout sheet off the tombstoneish kickboard at the end of the lane (you know how they do it--dip the sheet in the water and slap it onto the kickboard like wallpaper, then prop it up on the starting block, it is a funny little thing!), but the coach kindly gave me a dry copy, so in this case I can say exactly what I did, and with pretty much the intervals too:

Warmup: 2 x 150 (100 swim, 25 kick, 25 build)

2 x 200 (150 free, 50 back; 150 free, 50 breast) on 4:30

2 x 25 build free on :45

3 x 100 solid free on 2:10 (I swim it in 1:55, then I need rest--slowest interval suggested was 1:50, but that is just for more experienced swimmers than I, I cannot be full of self-criticism for this!)

2 x 25 fast! on :50

1 x 50 smooth good form on 1:20

2 x 25 build stroke on :45 (I did fly, breast--only my breast is all one speed, I cannot do it any faster!)

2 x 100 IM (takes me about 2:15, I did it on 2:30)

4 x 25 stroke fast!! on :60 (I did all four strokes, suggested interval of :50 but seemed clear the spirit of it was to take a bit more rest than that given how slowly I swim them...)

1 x 50 smooth good form on 1:20

2 x 25 build free on :45

1 x 100 solid free (I guess it was 2:10 again...)

6 x 25 fast!!! on :50

1 x 50 smooth good form

So as you can see, this was lovely: very sensible, very straightforward, totally to the point... and I got through the whole workout, too! I was excited... 1900, not huge but not bad, quality more important than quantity.

I will swim tomorrow and Saturday also, so this is good...

Thoughts on training schedule

The first few weeks of the semester always include a lot of extras, there's no doubt, but I do also see more clearly what will and won't work in the training schedule I posted the other day.

Once I get through the rest of that schedule, I'll post an updated version (of workouts actually completed) and the plan for the next stretch of time. For now, though, a better version of the shape of the training week, though it's not worth bothering with a fancy update....

(Bike stuff in the meantime will mostly still be trainer rides. It's better for fitness, though it doesn't let me work on road confidence and bike handling. Will see how this goes and try and have a mix once weather's sorted out and I've built some base cycling fitness. What I think I will try and do is have the Sunday long ones in the quite early morning in Central Park, it is definitely not going to happen between now and the May race that I become happy about the notion of riding by myself up Riverside Drive and over the GW Bridge to New Jersey!--but this is why it seems important to fit in a real fitness-building trainer ride on Monday evenings also...)

Mon. am: 1 hr. gym workout plus 2-3 treadmill miles; pm: 90-120 min. bike

Tues. pm: 20-30 min. run on gym indoor track, 1 hr. swim

Wed. pm: 90-120 min. bike plus a couple miles possible outdoor run off bike

Thurs. pm: 6 miles run, 1 hr. swim

Fri. pm: 30-60 min. bike, 1 hr. swim (if tired, skip one or other)

Sat.: am: 8-12 mi. run; pm: 1.5 hour swim

Sun.: long bike

This is more realistic based on which points of the week I can now predict myself to be reliably knackered at, as it were, as well as what I now see to be the most pressing training obligations (i.e. bike > run).

My teaching week falls heavily on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Thursday morning I need to sleep in, collect my thoughts and do laundry, not a run! I will leave the run for afternoon, and if it ends up getting put off till last daylight hours and coming shortly before the 6pm swim, well, it's a good brick-type workout to do them near-consecutively or with only half an hour between...

This schedule includes "options": of the short Mon.-Wed. runs, really I would only ever do two of the three, but I can decide each week which one is the least convenient that week and cut it accordingly. "Real" runs always on Thursday afternoons and Saturdays, but other ones either indoors or at any rate short and joined on to something else and skippable as needed (once the weather's warmer, I can do a short outdoors run in conjunction with gym appointment, but in a way it's just psychologically as well as logistically easier to do it all at the gym). I can also always switch off long bike and long run between Saturday and Sunday, and skip either bike or swim (or both, if I feel the need for a proper rest day) on Fridays.

I like it when things are really well-thought-through and simple to execute. It is a pity about the regular female bathing suit that one might wear for training in the pool that it can't also be worn under clothes for a run or bike workout (too uncomfortable, plus inadequate for sports-bra control purposes!), so on Tuesdays I think I will just have to start experimenting with triathlon top-and-bottom stuff that can be worn for running with a shirt on top and then just stripped-down-to for the swim, because multiple changes of clothing make workouts more off-putting and less likely to happen...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Grind it out"

Well, I am in utter bliss right now--I am in love with Spinervals, very good stuff...

Had another stab at 5.0 - Mental Toughness (90 mins). Seriously examined the gears on the back beforehand, and am about 99% sure it's 12-27. I'm a bit heavy-handed with that right-hand shifter, I was sometimes in too easy a gear because I'd jumped through a couple without realizing, must take it less ham-fistedly I think! But I get the idea...

(Coach Troy is most fetching--he is so reassuring and unglamorous, I like it!)

I am not able to work as hard as those people in the video, but I think I did a respectable job, I will get better once I do it for longer. It was dawning on me gradually as I was riding along that really I must spend as much time as possible on the bike in these coming months. I'm kind of OK on the run and swim, if tomorrow morning someone told me "you have to swim 1.2 miles and then run a half-marathon right now" I would be full of enthusiasm, there sort of would be nothing I like more, I would be confident that I could do it very comfortably (except for the being-kicked-in-the-head part, I am not really used to that, but there is not really a very good way for me to practice except trust that having two younger brothers who were both considerably larger than me from the time we were about five was probably good preparation!).

Not true about the bike--must do everything I can to ensure I enjoy that race to the maximum. In other words, do lots of fitness workouts with Spinervals, because the places I will be able to ride outside are full of other cyclists and pedestrians and wayward dogs and small children and it will be not always the case that I can get a good workout outside. No skimping on bike-riding, even if it means sometimes skipping something else that I love (namely SWIMMING).

I did not do a short run afterwards, because it is after ten at night and did not seem sensible. Will run six in the afternoon tomorrow (in fact will use it to run over to the New York Road Runners on E. 89th St.--hmmmm, as always I regret the east-side location, very inconvenient for me by public transportation--and pick up my number for Sunday's Bronx half) and then swim for an hour at six...

Hmmm, really the best thing is that this was just a super-enjoyable workout--but the other best thing is that as I crouched down next to the gears beforehand to try to work out what was going on there, I found my glasses!

They were sitting on the floor next to the back wheel, I now vaguely remember digging them out on Saturday as I tried to see if the tiny markings on the gears were useful numbers (they were not, and in any case I am shortsighted, I do not need glasses for close-up things). I was in a real state about having lost them, and spent an hour I did not have on Sunday chasing around looking for them before giving up in despair because I had to go catch a train.

(I do have another pair with the same prescription, chosen by me fairly recently and thus presumably entirely tolerable, only I do not feel they are as appropriate for work purposes--they were chosen on the basis of safety and sport wear as they have plastic frames and lenses.)

This is very good--a bonus!

Now I am going to go and (as Coach Troy suggests) "take in some calories"...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tuesday swimming

Hmmm, bleak mood beyond even swimming's powers of reclamation...

No coach, but someone wrote a workout on the board anyway.

Warmup: 200 swim, 200 pull, 300 kick (dolphin-flutter-whip by 50)

5 x 200 swim (even free, odd IM)

4 x 100 (50 kick, 25 drill, 25 swim) in IM order

No gym bike: by 5:25, next available slots not until 6:30. Either will have to do it at home or not at all.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A resolution

Hmmm, how to put this without being needlessly and inappropriately self-revelatory...

(On second thoughts, I don't know that there's any way around it, sorry!)

Ironically I was speaking on Friday afternoon on the theme of how to finish dissertation chapters and dissertations. Ironically, because I had a Jan. 31 deadline that I have been in full awareness this last few weeks of impendingly missing!

I did miss it, and I did predictably go into instantaneous tailspin when my editor e-mailed this afternoon to ask where it was and remind me that the due date was substantively related to the goal of getting the book out in time for my field's annual conference in December.

Tailspin of guilt and self-reproach and general agitation!

However on thinking about it I had a great revelation.

I do not believe in complaining about things that are my own responsibility and that come fairly directly as a consequence of decisions I've made. I signed the book contract, I have made subsequent commitments on deadlines and I have also made judgments about what to prioritize that entailed missing deadlines.

If I am grown-up enough to make responsible decisions that nonetheless entail missing deadlines, I need to become grown-up enough to deal with the stress I experience in the wake of a missed deadline.

This is important...

I hereby make a commitment to myself that I will send that book out by Monday, Feb. 18 if it is humanly possible. By hook or by crook!

But I also make a more important commitment to staying reasonably calm, whatever happens with the book-finishing schedule (and with other similar matters--with life in general, not just this month or next month but for the foreseeable future!). Because it is not good for anybody when I am in a state, and it happens too often for what are in the end non-consequential things!

Muddling through will be good enough...

Blissful Sunday run

Pure bliss! Just one of those ones where you feel it's very, very precious that you can even have such a thing, I really enjoyed almost every minute of it...

(I don't like running on the underpass bike path, it makes me feel rushed and indeed I do end up running faster for that part, it is not actually at all dangerous as the cyclists know perfectly well that they share that stretch with pedestrians, but that's the one bit I don't like...)

8 lovely miles, easy... (Sunny, forty degrees, perfect running weather.)

Fortunately yesterday I realized that there's a race this morning in Central Park and that insofar as running's purpose is to augment mental health as well as physical fitness it would be sheer madness for me to think that the training benefit of the hills could possibly outweigh the full horror of having to navigate teeming masses of humanity...

So I did a straight-up west side run, down to 34th St. and back (I was tempted to add on a couple miles and go down all the way to 14th St., but it was not sensible). Very nice! The Riverside Park bit that I usually do is lovely, but the stretch down past the sanitation pier and onto the bike path is very appealing also. It does not have bucolic charms, the path runs right alongside the West Side Highway, but on the other hand the allure of the postindustrial urban waterfront landscape is very strong. (In fact really maybe that's more my kind of scene than landscaped park in any case?!?)

8.12 miles, average HR 147, average pace 10:00
10:11 (143), 10:21 (147), 10:08 (147), 9:56 (145), 9:48 (145), 9:43 (150), 9:40 (150), 9:37 (149)

Hmmmm, in the slightly lower-than-usual HR I see the benefits of two reasonable nights of sleep and a lighter than usual week of exercise. (Monday off for illness, Wednesday for tiredness, and M.'s out of town this week and next because of a death in the family, so no gym workout(s); all I have had since the half-marathon a week ago was three one-hour swims, one six-mile run and 90 minutes biking--light, frankly!).

I felt super-energetic, strong and with springy legs and very enthusiastic--only starving! I was sort of ravenously hungry by the third mile, which is very unusual. I am going to reread the excellent nutrition chapter in Gale Bernhardt's triathlon book, I can see that adding in the biking (which is longer in duration than the other stuff) is going to need some adjustment on food. It seemed like I did eat a big dinner last night afterwards, but clearly it either should have been bigger or else I then need to get up early and eat more breakfast pre-run--it was not that I was underfueled, I had eaten adequate breakfast for fueling purposes, but really I should not be feeling hungry like that, it is most distracting!

Tomorrow's off for logistical reasons, but expect some further thoughts on swimming Tuesday evening...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Steep learning curve!

Well, there were a few moments where I thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew--all within the first twenty minutes--but I am very happy to report a high level of satisfaction with Spinervals 5.0 - Mental Toughness (90 minutes)...

The first bit was rocky only because I am pig ignorant of everything to do with bicycles! Oh dear--might as well play it up a bit for comic relief...--but I am barely exaggerating if I reproduce my interior monologue as something like this:

Hmmmm . . . big and small chainring--but really I have three--but R. was full of scorn and horror and told me I have to get a front thing with just two because only babies have the small one and I am strong anyway--so probably they just mean the middle and the big . . . but how do I know which is the 15 and which the 18 on the back?!? . . .

I had to hop off the bike a few times and consult the internet, source of essential cluefulness! I had sort of conceptually familiarized myself with the system at one point, and also practically, but the practical and the conceptual were in two quite different universes that made me realize that Coach Troy Jacobson's terminology was quite opaque to me--I had to go back to fundamentals....

This link has been bookmarked on my computer for a long time so I went and read it again and realized it did not at all have the relevant information. This one gave me a better sense of the meaning of the numbers which made them make more all-round sense to me also. This one alarmed me because it is for a more advanced student of the bicycle than I can yet claim to be!

This one was extraordinarily helpful and really the one I should have read before I got on the bike this evening, namely relevant paragraphs as follows (it's an article at by Hazen Kent preparing the novice for Spinervals!):

You also have a “cluster” of rings or cogs attached to the rear wheel (see pic below). This cluster is known as your rear cassette (or for older bikes, a rear freewheel). Most of you will have a 9 speed cassette on you back wheel which means the cassette is made up of 9 cogs (some of you may still have a 7 speed freewheel or an 8 speed freewheel/cassette, which means you will have either 7 or 8 cogs on the back cluster). On each of the cogs, there are teeth that act as guides for the bike chain with the number of teeth marked on each cog. Troy will refer to these during the workout by the number of teeth on each cog. For example, he may say, “ok, shift up to your big chainring in the front and your 15 on the back” And what he means is, you are in your big chain ring up front and your 15 tooth cog on the back. It will be up to you know your set up in the back. Your back cluster may be a 12 – 25 meaning you have nine rings ranging from the smallest - a 12 toothed cog, to the largest - a 25 toothed cog. And typically the cogs would be 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25. Again, each number represents the number teeth on each cog. See picture…

Useful, eh?!? (Imagine me each time sort of getting back on the bike and then realizing there is something else I do not know! I vaguely knew all that, but vaguely is not really good enough when you have to find the 15!)

So the thing is, how do I know what the cassette is on my bike?!? I pored over the actual gears for a few minutes during one of these brief investigative intervals and I cannot see any numbers on the gears--I am thinking I am going to have to actually count the cogs, as farfetched as that sounds, is that really possible?!?--the cassette is this but I do not see how one tells which of the three gear sets it is! ARGHHHHH!

So all of these interruptions were actually fairly edifying, even realizing what one does not know is quite useful, by this point the DVD is about at the twenty minute mark and I figure that I have learned enough for the evening and had better just dig in and do the workout. And I did, and it was great!

(In the middle part he starts you off on the largest ring at the back and moves you steadily into harder gears, so though I still cannot really tell you exactly which is which at least I know I had the right idea, and on Wednesday before I do this workout again I am going to sit down and count the cogs and really shift up and down through all the gears and make mental notes as to what is what and where everything is.)

I think I was only at about 80% of effort of the really hardworking people on the DVD (but there is one lady who does not look like she's doing a very good job with the workout!), I was still kind of figuring things out and I didn't want to go totally crazy. On the other hand, I am quite optimistic that I will soon have reasonable bike-specific fitness levels. There is a point in the middle where Coach Troy Jacobson tells you to get off the bike and hold two 90-second squats with rest between, and that is exactly the sort of thing I do with M. all the time, it's burning by the end but entirely tolerable, really I have pretty strong legs; and I quite often run or swim for ninety minutes, I have a good endurance base. So it is not absurd to think that fairly quickly I will be able to do a really decent job with a workout like this.

(Actual road skills are another story, and there are all the mechanical questions to contemplate also, but I will take it one piece at a time.)

Certainly by the end I was sweaty, pleasantly tired, ravenously hungry and in an extremely good mood, so I think we will count it a full-on success...

Monastic training!

Not at all triathlon-related, but Evan Osnos has an interesting piece in this week's New Yorker about Chinese Olympic boxing gold hopeful Zou Shiming. Some paragraphs from the middle on the preparations in Beijing and the culture of athletics in China:
Today, as China transforms itself for the Olympics, Beijing is determined to broadcast a picture of prosperity. It is overhauling parts of the city that hadn’t changed much since the thirteenth century, razing miles of one-story brick alleys that Mongol conquerors designed to uniform widths of twelve or twenty-four paces. It is building a new world of vertical apartment complexes, with foreign names like the Greenwich and the Upper East Side. Underground, a web of subway lines has more than doubled in length in barely six years. Olympic guests will step through an airport terminal that will be the largest in the world. The torch relay will include 21,888 runners, more than any previous Olympics, and a stop at the peak of Mt. Everest. In this atmosphere, any feat of preparation seems plausible. One Chinese pork supplier vowed to produce specially pampered pigs, to insure that hormone-fed meat would not cause athletes to fail doping tests. Only after Chinese citizens began wondering about their own pork did a Beijing Olympic Committee spokesperson issue a “Clarification on Olympic Pig-Related Reports,” denouncing the pork story as an “exaggerated falsehood.”

In the Games proper, China hopes to win more gold than ever before. At the founding of the People’s Republic, in 1949, no Chinese athlete had ever stood on an Olympic podium; by the close of the 2004 Summer Games, in Athens, China trailed only the United States, thirty-two to thirty-six, in that year’s gold medals. Chinese sports officials scrutinize, dissect, and forecast the medal race with an intensity that lends it the air of science—convinced that sufficient analysis will eventually engineer away the frailty of a diver in midair or a fighter in the ring. In 2000, Chinese officials launched the 119 Project, a campaign to win more gold medals in the Summer Games’ most competitive events—a list that by China’s calculation totalled a hundred and nineteen medals.

In Athens, China’s gold reflected its focus on producing an √©lite cadre of championship-level performers. Most Olympic delegations return home with more bronzes and silvers than golds. China achieved the opposite: for the most part, its athletes went to the top or they went nowhere. China now cultivates sports that it never cared about before, events that (like boxing) increase a medal count because they include various weight classes or categories. Sports officials groom champions in canoe-kayak and doubles tennis. Chinese athletes and coaches have also begun to defy their long-held belief that they can never best larger, taller Western competitors. And doing so is particularly glorious, as the sprinter Liu Xiang indicated after he won a gold medal in the hundred-and-ten-metre hurdles in Athens. “I believe I achieved a modest miracle for the yellow-skinned Chinese people and the Asian people,” he said afterward.

The √©lite athletes who bear the responsibility for realizing the country’s ambitions live in privileged isolation. Their talents are treated as public goods, but while they are practicing they live in secluded sports complexes, where they eat, sleep, and train under coaches’ instructions. If national-team members have endorsements, they are required to share the money with their team staff and the state. When the Olympic diving champion Guo Jingjing was criticized, two years ago, for having too many “commercial activities,” she appeared on state television to apologize. “I belong to the country,” she said. As a boxer, Zou is even more cloistered, because his sport sanctifies monastic training. At times, coaches confiscate his cell phones to eliminate distractions.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday swim

It was not blissful like yesterday's, but in a way it was almost better, because more rational--the mental connections were clicking into place like crazy...

1. I was in the mood to put in practice Dr. Rod Havriluk's cues--the arched back, the feet close to the surface, the arm bent at a right angle when it's directly beneath the torso and especially the smooth and strong transition to the push part of the stroke--and it was excellent, there was some drill work written into the sets also and for most of practice I felt really strong and powerful in the water, it was great.

2. Interval training! It is the first time I really properly have done a workout with rest for ages, and I suddenly really felt that it was going to sink in to my body in a different way--Wendy will be laughing and rolling her eyes, because we have emailed about this about fifty million times, rationally I know rest is important and part of my frustration at morning workouts has been swimming with people faster than me who do not take any rest, so that I am both working too hard and not getting at all the right rest between. But today on the set of 25s I really, really felt it, and it was quite amazing. (Mentally primed for it, I expect, by reading about the FIRST marathon training program the other day and contemplating whether it would be worth trying.) OK, my swimming is going to get a lot better.

(3. A series of conversations, including one today with the coach, has more or less persuaded me that for the May race swimming speed scarcely matters--an incremental improvement in speed that I have to fight for will hardly make any difference to my total race time, it's just the way the swim plays out at the half-iron distance as opposed to bike and run. Everybody reading this will already thought of this, but :10 or :15 difference per 100 still is barely three minutes benefit--lots of other easier ways to get three minutes. But that does not stop me from feeling that it is rather my heart's desire to get to be a better and faster swimmer, so I am going to still keep swimming as much as possible and try and get especially just very strong and comfortable in the water, so that aside from questions of people hitting me in the head because of it being a triathlon open-water swim, this not really being what swimming in the pool will help me with, it really will in any case benefit me to feel very positive about doing the first segment of the race with high comfort levels and relatively low effort.)

Too many hours ago now, I cannot remember the intervals as they were assigned and as I did them. We got started late, so I only did around 1900, not as long as yesterday. But I really, really enjoyed it. Lane to myself again, it really let me concentrate on the important stuff.

Warmup: 200 (100 swim, 50 drill, 50 kick), 3 x 200 (150 swim, 50 back)

Set #1: 24 x 25 stroke (coach said concentrate on two strokes only, so as to get benefit of moving through sequence, so I did 3 free and 3 fly for each, it was super-enjoyable!), 6 underwater on :50, 6 kick on :50, 6 drill on :45, 6 swim on :40 (times were something like this anyway I think)

Set #2 (only did part, would have been 4 x and then another couple small sets also, but we only had about 53 minutes altogether): 2 x 250 as 250 catchup-swim-catchup-swim-catchup by 50s, 250 finger-drag drill then swim by 125s.

Slightly evil, but I took it very steadily and it is of course highly beneficial for the wretched stroke...

I already feel the mental and physical benefits (possibly I am deluding myself, but the sensation is strong!) of having had a week with three highly suitable swim workouts with a coherent rationale. I love it...