Saturday, May 31, 2008

Coach Troy's fitness empire

In the New York Times Magazine's Play section, Dimity McDowell on spending a week at Troy Jacobson's Arizona triathlon academy (Al, this post is for you!):
Now in its sixth year, the Tucson camp is just one slice of the fitness empire founded by Jacobson, who started training clients at a Gold’s Gym as a high school junior, then created a series of DVDs known as Spinervals, a cycling workout for fanatics who train indoors during the winter. With volumes like “HILLacious!” and “Have Mercy: ‘The Sequel,’ ” his company’s DVDs now number over 50. A handful of the 25 campers came to Tucson solely because they’re Spinervals devotees. “He grunts all winter long in the basement to those things,” said the wife of 38-year-old Jimmy Monopoli, an accountant from Montreal.

Saturday run

10 miles, down to 14th St. along the west side. Unpleasantly humid.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Baby steps

The thing that makes me crazy in life is feeling stuck in a place with no way forward and no means of improvement in sight, so I have taken what I think is a good step re: cycling and signed up for this. Gives me a great bike training weekend two weeks before the NYC tri, although as a constitutional recluse and die-hard non-dancer with a strong predisposition towards motion sickness I am going to have to steel myself for the dinner-and-dance-on-a-boat part...

Boot camp conditioning

Now that's more like it--that's what I call a good, challenging class (in fact quite a lot like M. does in the group fitness classes he used to teach at Bodystrength). It only meets for five sessions, once a week on Friday afternoons for four more weeks after this, and I'll only be able to go to two more of those, but since the grand total cost was $23 I think that is wholly acceptable. We will hope that the administrators of the CU voluntary non-credit physical education program see fit to retain this guy for another set of classes after that...

Friday run

5.5 miles easy

I did not run yesterday due to a combination of existential despair, sore muscles and a tight deadline. The muscles and the deadline could have been worked around, but the moral gloom was difficult to shake...

My favorite sight today in Riverside Park: a handsome and highly athletic-looking dog, not a boxer but in that sort of universe of canines (larger, fawn coat with black markings on a very square and solid-looking head), just bounding over the dog-run fence after a ball, seizing it in his jaws and then flipping himself right back over the fence into the dog run. Those fences are there as a token only, a lot of dogs are well capable of throwing themselves up and over!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday swim

It is a nice way to start the day, I think...

Warmup: 500 free, every fifth lap kick

3 x 200 free (smooth) on 4:15

3 x 100 IM as 1: IM order 2: reverse IM order 3: medley relay order (back, breast, fly, free) (on 2:30)

3 x 50 free descending on 1:00

3 x 100 as 1: back-breast by 50; 2: build free descending by 25s; 3: breast

Cooldown: 50 double-arm back, 100 free easy, 50 choice easy (I did back)

2050 yards

(Resolved: get there earlier and be in the pool right at 8:30, I should be able to swim more like 2400-2500 if I'm in for the whole hour.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday gym

Went to the first meeting of this summer body sculpt class at the Columbia gym. It was a substitute instructor today, not at all bad--but really that class is a bit easy! However it will get me to do some regular stretching, that's beneficial, and I think it fits fairly sensibly into the schedule... also it is absurdly affordable!

(Today it was just as well that it was easy, since there were several muscle groups that were very sore from yesterday's workout! I always do some serious abs work with M., those muscles were all feeling it when I tried to do even pretty easy things today; and we also had some particularly evil side lunge things yesterday, we only did 2 x 12 on each side but they were fairly dramatic in their after-effects...)

(Schedule constraints meant that I'm seeing M. on Tuesday rather than Monday this week and next--after that it should be that we can get it spaced out as M-W. Just for this week and the next two, I'm going to this boot-camp conditioning class on Friday afternoon also, I'm curious to see if it will be any good. Report will follow...)

Wednesday swim

A good solid workout. The CU gym and pool were closed all last week and over the holiday weekend, so I haven't had a good swim since the race last week.

(Holiday pool closures irk me--that is just when one would be more likely to want to swim rather than less!)

(This workout situation is suited to my skill level, only I very foolishly find that I prefer to be the lowest and most aspirational swimmer on a high totem pole rather than being one of the faster, fitter and more knowledgeable swimmers in--to mix a metaphor--a small pond! Question most often heard: "What is IM again?" Which I am not snobbish about, I have only recently learned all this myself, but I liked the way there were some really fast swimmers at masters swim this spring, I will miss that. On the bright side, I was actually able to swim the whole workout, whereas all spring I would work through about 2100 while the faster swimmers were doing at least 3000 or 3500. I also had the lane to myself; it is not going to be crowded.)

Warmup: 100 free, 100 IM (fly drill), 100 free

4 x 100 as 100 IM, 100 fly drill/back by 50, 100 breast/free by 50, 100 IM

2 x (5 x 50): 1 easy with 5 seconds rest, 1 build on 1:00, 3 fast on 1:30 (did an extra 50 build in there somewhere by accident)

5 x 100 pull, breathing every 7, 7, 5, 5, 3 by 100

Cooldown: 50 double-arm back, 2 x (25 underwater, 100 free easy)

2050 yards

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday gym session

A good workout with M. earlier this evening. That makes me feel like I am properly at home again and settling into a routine--it is several weeks now since I had a serious gym-type workout...

I've been pondering the question of training goals for the summer, and I have to say that though I have a few in mind my main goal is not to have any goals!

I have a book to write this summer, and any obsessive week-by-week planning I do should be saved for that....

What I think I like, based on what's worked well for me in the past, is to set up a fairly full weekly routine that I can then tweak or opt out of parts of depending on other schedule stuff. More on that later in the week.

The shape of the season is very clear.

First I'm training for the New York City triathlon (Olympic-distance--hmmm, more appropriate for me to try and race!) on July 20.

The plan:

Keep on biking (and try and do some proper longish rides--that's a 40K bike for the race, say 4 Central Park loops as a rough equivalent, so if I can do 4-5 rides of 4-5 loops then I will be in tolerable frame for it--I must confess, though, that I have ordered a CycleOps trainer of my own from Amazon and am figuring on continuing to do quite a bit of training indoors, outdoor rides will continue to be more for confidence than for conditioning as such, it is just mayhemish in those parks at this time of year!).

Keep on swimming, keep working on stroke. No masters swim at CU over the summer, so I'll do a lap swim class (all this really involves is dedicated pool hours that are not as crowded as the regular ones--it's Monday through Thursday 8:30-9:30am). Make sure I swim three times a week minimum, and snag some coaching from the lap swim supervisor if I can. Splurge on another lesson or two later in the summer, but really I just have to figure out how to lift up my head to sight without letting my legs and hips sink down so deeply into the water!

Start concentrating more on running again: move to 4x from 3x (wouldn't mind adding in a short fifth run also, maybe even just a few treadmill miles, but for June it will just be four), do some bits of speedwork, try and get a bit faster.

Also for June and July, more gym-type working out! Body composition could be greatly improved--I am hoping for what I am now firmly in my head wedded to thinking of as kangaroo-type musculature...

The picture is Wendy's, and if you are feeling in low spirits or visually understimulated you could hardly do better than to click through on that link and look at the photographs she took in Australia in the May (as a sideline from doing some mighty fast swimming!). They are quite extraordinary!

(I have signed up for a couple working-out type classes at the Columbia gym, we will see how they are--it is pretty easy for me to get on a good running schedule on my own, and I've got some structure for the swimming too, but I find it virtually impossible to get myself to go to the gym for a straight-up workout on my own, though I always enjoy it once I'm doing it.)

Once the NYC tri is done, I'll switch over to marathon training. Keep swimming, do a bit of biking, keep up the gym stuff, but move onto a modified version (i.e. more cross-training, but probably not really more actual run miles) of something like this. But I am going to adopt a very casual attitude towards paces and so forth, it will be better for my soul if I just kind of get into the zone with it and then do some races or short speed workouts now and again just to check in on how things are going! I like it best when I get it on autopilot.

(My main fitness goal for the summer, come to think of it, is to try and redress the impossible insomnia situation that's gotten going round here! ARGHHHHHHHHHH!)

"Some kids never learn"

Bicycle safety.

(Clearly we are having random frivolity today rather than active training...)

(My favorite sight in Central Park yesterday was a woman on roller-blades letting her very handsome Weimaraner-type dog pull her up a hill!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Steeped Mickey

It was difficult to know what to get a cat at DisneyWorld. I had two cats to bring home souvenirs for (this is the other one), and it seemed like my lackluster shopping abilities were going to get the better of me and I would come home empty-handed--only Brent would not let me!

So I got these two little stuffed Mickey Mouse keychain things, and I have steeped 'em both in catnip...

It is certainly a wickedly demented little cat toy now it's been suitably spiked!

Here's the action sequence (I will see if I can get a picture of Jose Reyes, the other cat, captured in the act of indulging):

Monday run

5+ miles with training partner S.

Rather warm. Rather high level of effort. It could not be described as enjoyable, but we will hope it was in some sense beneficial....

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday run

8 miles with training partner L.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Humans are not as lucky as monkeys in one way"

Low-status monkeys eat more junk food. John Tierney at the New York Times:
“Essentially, eating high-calorie foods becomes a coping strategy to deal with daily life events for an individual in a difficult social situation,” Dr. Wilson said. “The subordinates don’t get beat up, but they get harassed by high-ranking monkeys. If they’re sitting somewhere and a dominant monkey comes over, they give up their seat and move away. They’re always looking over their shoulders.”

These results seem to jibe with the famous Whitehall study of British civil servants, which found that lower-ranking workers were more obese than higher-status workers. Even though the subordinate workers were neither poor nor lacked health care, their lower status correlated with more health problems.

The new monkey data also jibe with an American study that looked at women’s snacking tendencies. After they worked on puzzles and recorded a speech, the women were tempted with an array of chocolate granola bars, potato chips, rice cakes and pretzels provided by the research team, led by Elissa Epel, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

The women who seemed most stressed by the tasks, as measured by their levels of cortisol, ate more of the sweet, high-fat snacks, the same pattern observed in the subordinate monkeys with high cortisol levels.


I think I can now say that I am a no longer merely aspirational triathlete, though in fact I will have to describe it as swim-bike-walk rather than swim-bike-run--I don't know the exact temperature, but by the time I got off the bike and onto the start of the run course, it was well into the 90s. Sunny exposed course, very little shade, extremely high humidity...

My legs felt great, I really took it easy on the bike and my fueling had been fine up to that point, but even a slow jog was clearly going to send me into total heat overload. So I walked it, a strong brisk walk that was also certainly more psychologically satisfying than the walk-run stagger, making sure to keep on taking lots of ice and water and gatorade and gels. And I felt very cheerful the whole way--aside from the heat, I just haven't done enough bike training yet to be in a position to race something at this distance, and it was enjoyable pretty much throughout and immensely educational and satisfying...

(In particular I have a far clearer idea now about the logistical stuff!)

I will not give a full race report, because to some extent if you've read one race report you've read 'em all! But I will note a couple thoughts about this and that:

1. It was a very well-organized and clearly marked swim, and I now have a much clearer notion of what I need to work on as far as open-water skills go. My time was quite slow, partly for the good reason that I was deliberately taking it at a very, very easy pace and partly for the bad reason that whenever I lift up my head to sight the buoys (and they were very close together and easy to see), my legs and hips just sink down in the water at a very great cost to streamline and body position! This is a very good, very clear thing to work on. About one stroke out of every ten, I would get the right flick of the hips and body rotation, but then something would distract me and I'd be practically upright in the water again as I sighted! I did bilateral breathing for the whole swim, it felt extremely comfortable and it worked especially well in terms of me always having a sense of the buoys, which were on the left-hand side.

2. The bike ride was great. It was certainly by far the most enjoyable bike ride I have ever had in my life. I still felt a bit nervous for the first third or so, but the middle third was lovely--there was a rainstorm, it cooled down a lot, there were a couple challenging-but-not-too-challenging hills, I started to feel a lot more comfortable on the machine itself. I faced yet again the fact that I simply do not live in a location where it is easy for a nervous and timid cyclist to put in time on the road--this was an ideal riding situation for me, almost the whole course had a lane fully blocked off for bikes, and at the back of the pack where I was riding there really is nothing crowded or stressful about it, the bikes are very nicely spaced out. Up until mile 40, I really was feeling excellent--miles 40-50 were good still but I was ready for it to be over--and the last six miles just seemed to take forever, I was very impatient to be off!

3. This is ludicrous--how can I be this nervous a bike-rider and have actually done a triathlon?!?--but my greatest moral triumph of the day was that I actually by mile 40 felt capable of poking around in my bento box to dig out Clif Blox and keeping only one hand on the handlebars while I popped 'em in my mouth! For the first thirty miles I actually just got off my bike to eat, because I knew nutrition was important and I just did not have the confidence to keep the hyper-responsive bicycle going in a non-weaving line while fiddling around...

4. I am so inexperienced and timid a bike-rider that it's going to be a while before I can really race a triathlon. I'm nervous about the bike leg of the New York City Tri in July, because I think that is actually going to be a much more stressful ride--this course was pretty much ideal for me, a very good confidence builder.

(5. If I had known I was going to walk the run course, I would have ridden quite a bit harder!)

These times will not look like anything to be proud of, but they are quite an achievement for me, and I hereby vow that if it is humanly possible, it will be three years from now and I will be able to race a half-iron course with a realistic goal time in the 6:00-6:15 range!

(I am far to the back, but I will get further forward soon I am thinking... my ultimate goal is to come nicely and solidly in the middle!)

109/119 in W35-59 division
Swim time/pace: 49:13 (2:28/100)
T1: 8:49
Bike time/pace: 3:53:28 (14.4mph)
T2: 6:51
'Run' time: 3:19:46 (15:15/mi.)

I am going to write a long blog post sometime soon about how lucky I have been especially in swimming mentors, but the person who I must particularly thank now is Brent. He made this whole trip possible for me, and he has also answered the most lavishly copious and detailed and in many cases absurd body of questions about triathlon that has possibly ever been composed in the whole history of the sport.

No race pictures. (I might buy an official one, though it goes against my practice, because I think it might be good for positive motivation if I could get one of myself looking reasonably competent while riding a bike!) But I do have a nice one (courtesy of Brent again) of the lovely blogger meet-up dinner on Saturday evening.

(L to R: Brent, Diana, Bigun, "Excel Man" (who does not have a blog, because time spent blogging is time not spent training!) and me. A delightful time was had by all.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I had hoped to wait until the link was functional, but I believe that this is probably where you can go to track my progress in the race tomorrow if you have the urge and/or are an Internet addict--try bib #1578 or else just Davidson...

Delightful tri-blogger dinner meet-up just now, about which more anon (with a picture!).

When I checked my bike in to the race area earlier today, I suddenly stopped feeling insanely nervous and started to feel excited--this is just a regular old human endeavour, not a feat of magic! Some good Disney sightseeing, too, round the edges.

On the debit side, I am coming down with a cold--telltale minor sore throat last night, which gave me some extremely anxious hours before I realized that out of a race in which several thousand people are competing, some considerable number of them probably are coming down with colds?

(If my mother is reading this at home, don't worry, it's not a bad one! I am fully functional and will stop racing if that situation changes at any point!)

Swim wave starts at 7:03, so I will hope to finish around 2. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I've been hanging around waiting to post about this until I could also post the link to the athlete tracking function on the Ironman website, in case you have the urge to follow at home, but have now realized that it really won't be up till closer to the time!

So, just to get it off my chest:

I can truthfully say that my only real goal for Florida 70.3 is to finish!

(When I do my first marathon in the fall, I will definitely have a more ambitious time goal, I am still slightly tormenting myself with the notion of a possible sub-4:00 finish though it may well be my ambitious goal comes in more like 4:10...--in a way it's pleasant just taking this race as it comes, time goals make things interesting but also stressful! It is the benefit in this case of being a genuine novice that even finishing will be quite an accomplishment, and if I cannot finish, I will be a good sport about it, it is an ambitious goal and I am going to make a very good stab at achieving it but that does not guarantee me anything...)

Despite lack of time goals, it is useful to have some sense of timeframe, not least because of questions about hydration and nutrition and the psychological issue of gearing up for a race of X duration.

I've got more information now about course and cut-off times and I think that there should be no worries in that direction--if I don't finish, it will be because of hydration issues coming out of heat and humidity and the length of the race, but if I am sensible I should be able to stay hydrated enough to continue functioning reasonably well. The course only really closes around 9 hours (with some more specific details of when you have to be off different parts of the course), and a lot of people are still finishing in the 7-8-hour range and some in the 8-9.

So these aren't precise figures, just ballpark (the bike in particular is terra incognita!), but it seems to me it breaks down like this:

0:45 swim
0:15 T1 and T2 combined
3:40 bike
2:20 run

7:00 total

Swim pacing may be a bit of a challenge--i.e. it might be tempting to get caught up swimming a bit faster, and my experience from running is that it is significantly more difficult to judge perceived effort in the adrenaline-drenched race environment than on a nice quiet training session--but I am concentrating a great deal of mental energy on the notion that I must swim very slowly and smoothly. Not a lot of open-water experience, none in race conditions, so it will be a useful opportunity to start getting used to this mass swim scenario. I'm looking forward to it--my swim conditioning is good, I'll practice some drafting if I can find a pair of feet, but I do not mind a slow time and will swim further to the outside if that makes sense. I'm going to follow Jim's advice and try and swim the first third at least with bilateral breathing, then switch to right-hand-side breathe-every-four when I need a mental boost.

The bike might be slower than 3:40, but probably not a whole lot slower--and of course we can always hold out hope that it might be faster! Somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00, that's what I'm guessing. The bike computer hasn't been working properly, and this of course is the area where I'm considerably undertrained, so really I have no idea...

In a stand-alone half-marathon, on current fitness, I'm definitely capable of sub-2:00 (my fastest time in the fall was 1:54 and change, I did a couple this winter at 1:56 and 1:57, and the one I did recently at training pace was 2:06--ran a bit too hard for the hilly last miles, but was very comfortable and fully aerobic up until about mile 9), but it will be very humid and I don't want to risk not finishing if I've gotten that far. It's a three-loop four-mile course, so I'm thinking if I'm feeling OK I'll try for negative splits. First loop at very slow pace, second loop pick it up a bit if I'm capable. By the time I get to the third loop, I will be utterly knackered and starving and dehydrated, so frankly I will run as fast as I can to make it be over!

Seems like often I accidentally stop my watch and lose track of exact time, so it may be more than I can worry about, but if I know where I am on the clock and it seems like I might be able to squeeze in under seven hours, then obviously I will make the effort. I would think that ultimately I should be able to go sub-6:00 on a not-too-challenging half-ironman course, but I am several years away from that goal, so there is no point worrying about it now.

Projected swim wave start is 6:57, I think, so let us say 7am to 2pm. Think of me on Sunday and send positive thoughts my way! I am very likely to post something short later that afternoon to say whether or not I've finished, with a full report to follow...

Also, though I am a resolute non-snapshotter, I am forced to confess that I do like it when other people have pictures on their blogs, so I promise at least one Disney tourist picture later in the week! Possibly one of me eating an ice-cream in the shape of Mickey Mouse...

Wednesday run

0.6hr. run (zone 2)

Last one with postdoc J., who is moving north next week...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tuesday run-swim

0.5hr very easy run (zone 1/2), 1800 yards swim.

Trying to take it easy this week and have something approximating a taper...

Warmup: 4 x (150 free, 50 back drill for first two and backstroke for second two)

Then 4 x 250 free as follows:

1st drill-swim by 50, 6-3-6
2nd drill-swim by 50, catch-up
3rd drill-swim by 50, left-right-fist
4th swim

Those lessons with J.B. were remarkably beneficial, I am feeling things quite differently--in reality probably I have just introduced some new problems while retaining the old ones in some partially mitigated form, but from the inside I have what is at the very least a happy delusion that there was a dramatic improvement...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday run

1.0hr. run (mid-zone 2)

The sport of stuff

This is what's going in the gear bag (a Tyr transition backpack) I'll ship with the bike. I'll also have a carry-on backpack on the flight, with running shoes, race-day clothing, various stuff I haven't yet sorted out (baggies with salt tablets?) and a few other particularly essential things like my laptop computer...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday swim

Warmup: 400 choice (I did 100 free, 200 back, 100 IM), 200 kick (50 dolphin and 50 whip with board, 100 kick on back), 200 IM drill-swim by 50

2 x

4 x 75 as 25 kick/50 swim (IM order)
4 x 50 variable sprints choice (I did odds free, evens back)
4 x 25 odds drill, evens choice no free (I did first two fly, second two back)

2000 yards total

I am not very happy that I haven't run all week, barring one treadmill mile Monday and one track mile Thursday, but I'm still feeling pretty much under the weather and didn't sort out the right timing to fit in a run today. Common sense acceded mid-swim, and rather than trying for a post-swim run today I will do a nice easy six miles when I get up in the morning.

Saturday bike

Having procrastinated all morning, I finally got out of the house and rode my bike down to Chambers St. and back. Moments of the ride were quite enjoyable, and you could not have had better weather for it, but I feel a most fervent gratitude that I will drop the bike off tomorrow at SBR for TriBike Transport and gain thereby an iron-clad excuse not to ride it again until I pick it up on Friday in Florida...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Solid Thursday workout

I've been feeling kind of under the weather all week. Some combination of allergies, sleeplessness and stress: queasy and headacheish would be too strong, but definitely under the weather. In fact, the best way of describing it is to say that it is very like the sensation of having smoked too large a number of cigarettes!

So I slightly feel like I copped out in tonight's workout, but I think it was for the best...

30 min. gym bike, 1 mile run on gym track, 35 mins. swim

It was partly a test of triathlon garb--I wore one of the 2 new pairs of race shorts I bought recently (v. good), went straight through in same clothes. (Wasn't logistically an option to do in correct order.) For the swim, I did 100 free, 100 IM as warmup, then about 400 drill, then a (very slow!) timed 500 swim (breathing every three), then 100 drill free and 100 swim free. Call it 1200 yards total.

And now I must rush to an evening work obligation...


New Yorker cartoon...

Triathlon in the news

Gina Kolata, at the New York Times.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I took today off--sleep deprivation made even a nice short run seem mildly inadvisable. School stuff is crazy this week!

The strange thing about the fact that I am doing a (huge!) triathlon next week is that it seems to me much of the time almost as fanciful as if I had decided that I was going to take up mind-reading or learn how to use a magic wand properly. I have thrown myself very fully into triathlon training, and it happens that I have a very vivid and strongly developed imagination, but the texture of the thing feels less like an actual realistic plan than like when I used to play an elaborate game of witches with my friends in third grade in the graveyard behind the school. I have never done anything athletic seriously before!

Let us say that I imagine myself very vividly as a triathlete, only I am well aware that it is an act of the imagination, or even a sort of fiction...

I have been thinking a lot recently about what a large and wonderful pool of swimming teachers and mentors I have found over this past year! It is somewhat amazing--I have always been very greedy for learning, and fairly well adapted to finding teachers, but swimming has cast up an embarrassment of riches (I am mentally accumulating the elements of a post-race swim-related post in this regard, I am going to write a long screed of praise).

I am lucky, in my life in general, to have been always a person who could persuade other people that my own plans were worth taking seriously. (Like when I was ten and eleven years old, I was writing a novel, very seriously, which I called "my bestseller"! Parent: "Where's Jenny?" Brother, with no satirical intent: "She's upstairs writing her bestseller.")

I am not sure this is particularly to my credit. On the contrary. It is more simply a matter of having a strong will and, as I mentioned before, a vivid imagination, the ability to project myself into the future and then figure out how to get there from here.

(I still have not written an actual bestseller!)

So my family members, although it is very strange to them that I have undertaken this project which is not at all what one expects of one's strong-willed and self-disciplined and focused but extremely sedentary relation, have certainly been very supportive. They still think I can do whatever I set out to do. And I have all sorts of teachers and coaches and training partners who have been extraordinarily helpful also. But the group whose support makes me feel particularly thankful are my students!

They seem unquestioningly confident that I can do whatever I set out to do--like, really, if I said that I was going to climb Everest next year with no oxygen, they would calmly greet this with the attitude that obviously anything I tried I would accomplish with ease and panache! Which is at once untrue, flattering and deeply confidence-building. Their confidence in me gives me more confidence in myself!

I think I have had conversations about swimming, literally, with at least fifty different Columbia-related people over the last year! There were some good recent ones at the grad-student-sponsored department party, and I whiled away a pleasant hour at a party this winter for candidates for a fellowship whose governing board I'm on with conversations about swimming the Bosphorus (apparently the Byzantinists do it every summer, as a group!) and the amazing pool at the University of Chicago. Talking triathlon is a way of making a connection and also, sometimes, stirring triaspirationality in the other person also, though mostly it just lets me indulge my obsession...

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I am extraordinarily grateful for my students at Columbia. They are quite lovely! Presents are optional, really I am just grateful for them in themselves, but I got a very touching present the other day from a special student for whom I'd written a letter of recommendation to grad school. She mentioned, on her CV, that she was an amateur triathlete, and we had several very enthusiastic conversations along these lines. She came by my office the other day to let me know she's gotten in to the first program she'd applied to, with a lovely note (thanking me, also, for introducing her to the term "Jacobite," which had been the answer to a clue in that day's Times crossword!) and a most thoughtful triathlon-related care package. A picture of whose items follows below, the prompt for this post:

[Ed. "Special student" is a technical term describing a student who is not enrolled in a degree program!]


I interrupt a particularly intractable night of insomnia to note that I think I must take up yoga again. I am not sure it will help with sleep, but I am suddenly convinced it would be of inestimable benefit to my streamline position! That way you stretch your arms up into the air with very straight long body and biceps pressed close to the ears is strongly homologous to the most desirable position for freestyle...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tuesday swim

It was a good one. It was interesting--I concentrated on all the stuff from yesterday, doing as best I could to reproduce that drill sequence instead of doing the couple main sets. I did all the freestyle with bilateral breathing, and strange to say it did not feel that bad. I really notice improvement in a couple areas when I concentrate on a drill set like this.

(It is possibly due to J.B.'s guru-like qualities, but he has kind of persuaded me not just that in general my stroke would be more balanced if I switched to bilateral breathing, but that in particular, even though the race is so soon, I might benefit from doing the first part of the swim breathing this way and then switch over if I'm not feeling comfortable to my usual breathe-every-four-on-the-right. It seems persuasive to me that some advantages of smoothness and rhythm might come from trying it this way. We will see...might be I altogether forget this plan in the heat of the moment?!?)

Warmup: 700 as 4 x (125 free + 50 kick-swim in IM order)

Drill set: roughly the sequence from yesterday, concentrating on body rotation and position in the water. Maybe 500 total.

Then I did an abbreviated version of the first main set: 8 x 75 free, descending by pairs (smooth, harder, faster, fastest, only not really going all out even at the end), on 1:45, 1:45, 1:40, 1:35. Not bad, stroke felt good, very enjoyable and not too slow either (though it was all I could do to keep track of the pace clock, I could not tell you times...).

1800 yards total

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday irk

Decent workout with M., only slightly thwarted by strong Irk Factor for the evening.

I meant to get to the gym early to do a couple treadmill miles (break in new shoes!), but was running slightly late and only had time for one mile as warmup; we were supposed to start at 5:30, but M. was fifteen minutes late due to Evil Irksome No. 1 Train Delay. I got started anyway, but we had to finish right at 6:30 so that I could rush home to shower and change to go to a talk at 7:15.

A talk whose time, it dawned on me, must have been changed without anybody telling me, because I got there to find an empty room....

The first thing I did when I got home was check the e-mail with the announcement. Yep, 7:15. At least I have the (low) moral satisfaction of knowing it was not my mistake--but I have still missed a talk I would have very much liked to go to, and which led me to rearrange the fitness-related part of the early evening in inconvenient ways.

I could have had the extra fifteen minutes, I could have run a couple miles!

I think I am going to have to spend the evening sulking with a trashy novel, some days just do not go one's way...

Drill set

A very good lesson this morning with Jim B. We worked through the same stuff from last week, which gradually came mentally more clear to me! And he had good advice again about the race itself.

(He suggests coming back for one more tuneup lesson in the middle of the summer, do a lot of drill and such in the meantime. This seems to me good...)

So the single biggest thing remains this question of maintaining decent body position. Let head and neck relax, don't jerk head slightly up out of the water when breathing. In a way it's almost easier doing these drills on my habitual non-breathing (left-hand) side, not so many bad habits to break. The hips really fall down in the water when I do this. Really the huge insight I took away from last week's lesson was that it is very easy, as we go along with things in life, to rationalize a bad habit on the grounds that it's psychologically comfortable and therefore worth the cost. The thing last week's lesson showed me is that if the cost of a bad habit is very high, it must be broken...

The drill set that I can take away and work through, all with this goal of having good body position and rotation, turning from the hips (this is the other most important thing, & not what I am good at), keeping head and neck in neutral position when turning to breathe, keeping stroke long in the water.

(Really I have again forgotten the exact sequence, I might be missing one, but it's along these lines...)

Start out finding stable buoyant position vertically in the water, then put arms forward in streamline and start kicking; rotate from hips onto back to breathe. Right, left (with opposite hand at side).

Kick 6 and 6--6 on each side, rotating upwards for a breath (from hips!) and then back down and onto opposite side.

(Keep feeling of front hand being really stretched out. Do one pair of lengths with back arm floating forward underwater, then another pair with above-water recovery.)

Then 6 - 3 - 6, but do it a couple times if the rotation/pull from hips isn't happening right. Focus on body position. Don't jerk head up when breathing!

Then do some 25s of swim, keeping all this in mind: the long reach forward, the turn from the hips both on the recovery part of the stroke, the turn from the hips to come back into the water. Don't lead with arm/shoulder, lead with hips.

Breathe a little earlier in the stroke than seems plausible, especially on left-hand side--this significantly helps with body position.

Avoid tendency to pull up with elbow and rotate too far over--concentrate on having a long 'back' part of the stroke, with hand at the end of the stroke really coming alongside the thigh.

He is very certain that I should switch to bilateral breathing on a regular basis, maybe for all the time. I can see a glimpse of how much it would potentially balance my stroke. I'll do it in these warmup bits over the next week and a half and see how I feel. I thought it might be a bit much to try and switch over so close to race time, but he suggested maybe trying to do it for the first third or so of the swim--I think that is possible, I will see how it goes.

OK, that's enough for now. A lot of things to concentrate on. Swimming is the thinking person's sport! Nothing to do but strive to become better at it, there is a huge amount of room for improvement I must say...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The indoor sequel

2.0hr. stationary bike, zone 1-2...

Oh dear...

I continue to be amazed by my own ability to turn a thoroughly non-epic and on the whole almost completely failed bike ride into an epic internal drama! Today's ride came in two parts, and at the midpoint it was an utter unmitigated failure, but I suppose I will call it in the end a modest draw in the ongoing me vs. bicycle struggle.

I will go and do two hours (if I can get a bike for that long) in the gym later, since the ride was worthless for fitness--I did at most fifteen miles, and all at a very leisurely pace.

1. This thing of walking the bike over to Central Park is just not OK! It attracts an absurd amount of attention, because I am ludicrously kitted out. The bike clothes and bike are bad enough--the Camelbak is the straw that broke the camel's back!!!

2. On my way there, I got in an extended and unwanted conversation (because, basically, it's the hood!) with a fellow in his car. Fellow (ogling): "Was there a 5K in the park today?" JMD: "I don't know--maybe..." Fellow: "Did you run it?" JMD: "No." Begins walking faster to escape unwanted attention... (Two blocks later) "I'm not stalking you, but are you training for something?" JMD (cannot resist): "A triathlon!" Fellow: "Is that hard? Could I do it?" More hasty walking. At light at bottom of 110th and Morningside: "Can I give you my card?" Fortunately at that point I could cross the street in a direction he could not follow...

3. It is an absolutely beautiful day today, and as soon as I changed into my bike shoes and started riding around the Central Park loop I realized this is not a good thing. It was absolute mayhem out there! I was completely back to the land of the death-grip, because the sheer volume and waywardness of folks out there is slightly not to be believed...

4. I particularly noted an Amazonian female triathlete/cyclist-type of the sort I most admire (tall and muscular!) ride by me, quite fast, around 90th St. She was wearing a very noticeable pink sleeveless top.

5. Just north of the 72nd St. transverse, after some already very death-grippish moments, I realized with mild to moderate horror that there was a nasty-looking bike accident to one side--it was the pink-shirted cyclist, lying flat on her back on the ground with about ten people gathered round her and a fellow talking very earnestly on his cellphone to the ambulance dispatcher...

6. After that it was kind of all over for my notionally peaceful park ride! I made it the rest of the way back round the route, but it really is crazy out there on a beautiful Sunday, I do not think I am up for it yet.

7. Two little boys on bikes up at the north end of the park did bring a bicycle-related smile to my face, because they were delightfully showing off to each other how they could ride with no hands--but of course this does not make for a placid cycling environment, they were riding with no hands against the direction of traffic and waywardly path-crossing! Ditto many other children on bikes, roller-bladers, adult cyclists etc.

8. The safety-related reason I felt I had to stop was that really I was clutching the brakes so tightly that my right hand had become almost completely numb. Not to mention my heartrate, though I was barely exerting myself physically, was almost as high as during my run yesterday!

9. So I stopped after the first full loop plus Harlem Hill and took off my bike shoes with a sense of utter defeat. I was afraid I was going to burst into tears! I certainly felt very strongly as if it would not take much to make it actually happen...

10. And then I had the walk of shame with the bicycle back in the direction of home! Typical snippets: "Stay hydrated, mami!" "Nice legs!" (Which, NB, they are not--I do not really think it is edifying to have self-criticism on the internet, I try and avoid it; I will take the balanced view and say that we are all critical of our own figures and hyper-aware of deficiencies that would never attract a second glance if we were thinking about somebody else, but that while other parts may be arguable I have never had nice legs! It is the pure exposure of 'em in bike shorts that attracts the unwanted attention, utterly shaming...)

11. "Why don't you ride that bike the rest of the way home?!?" For whatever reason, I actually sort of got in a conversation with this particular speaker, and I was glad I did, because his words were clearly uttered with curiosity rather than as simple heckling. I half-turned and said, "It is a very long story which I will not inflict upon you!" (Hmmm, it is no wonder that random people I meet treat me as a charming eccentric, really my way of talking is not like what is found in the world, it marks me as a strange creature! It is like when I once said in front of an unwitting camera-man who had no idea what I did for a living "It is my heart's desire to run the marathon!" and he said, in all seriousness, "Are you an English professor? Because I never heard anybody talk like that about wanting to run the marathon!"

12. So this particular fellow was a very nice Dogwalker who quite understood my plight once I did begin to explain. (He had four very handsome dogs on leashes, it makes anyone seem trustworthy and worth talking to!) He said that when he got his road bike, after having ridden a mountain bike for many a year, it took him about six months before he stopped feeling he was going to die. He said that even though he got these "eggbeater" pedals that are super-easy to get in and out of, he would literally be riding down the street thinking I am going to die on this bicycle. He said he would prop himself up at home in his apartment and just practice clipping in and out...

13. The strain of actually having a conversation with a real person had by this time slightly brought me back to myself, and the Dogwalker gave a whole-hearted endorsement of my observation that perhaps I would continue walking over to Riverside Park and go there for a while to practice. We solemnly introduced ourselves and shook hands...

14. Riverside Park was very crowded also, and I thought I did not really have the fortitude for a second stab at the bike shoes, but that the only important thing was to have at least a short ride that would take the edge off bicycle-related panic. So I rode down to where it got impossibly super-crowded, around the boat basin, and then back up to 125th St. and thenceforth back down to 96th St. and up towards home.

15. The dogwalker had another observation which is quite right, and which relates to something Brent observed in a comment about this before but which I am too lazy to re-find--that the way these road bikes are built, one cannot ride on the hoods and also hold onto a brake. I just need to get my head around the fact that either I am riding in a more upright position with hands near but not on brakes or I am riding lower down with better brake access. I will make my hands numb if I hold tightly from that upper position, and then it really isn't safe. I need to practice clipping out when braking in the drops, that is the specific bicycle-related task that can be accomplished this week...

16. The only thing that is going to get this all sorted out is patience and persistence. I think I will be fine for this upcoming race, because the fact is that's a much better cycling environment for me than a very crowded and confusing city park--everybody will be riding reasonably safely and in the same direction (much faster than me!), even though there are cars on the road it is not complicated, I am actually confident it will be all right. But I need to break it down afterwards into a horrible Evil Summer of the Bike.

17. When I first greeted the problem of riding this bike with utter horror, I went and bought another bike, a very cheap one (it was only slightly more expensive than the high-quality lock I bought with it!), which has since been gathering dust in the laundry room in the basement. But once I'm done with this race and have more time post-end-of-semester, I should take it out for rides where I have helmet and bike and sunglasses but am otherwise non-burdened by stuff. And I think I must find a group to ride with also--it is chicken-and-egg, I am not a good enough rider currently to make a plan to ride with a friend, but there are some easy group rides that involve taking a train out to somewhere more rustic, I certainly would have to steel myself for the part involved in riding from the other-end train station to the genuinely rustic part but I am thinking that a lot of this fortitude would be easier to come by if I were surrounded by people who thought I was being slightly silly & figured I would pull myself together pretty quickly if they had brief moral support and then turned a blind eye to panic!

18. That is quite enough bicycle-related listing for the evening! ARGHHHHHHHH! But I will point to a couple articles on a swimming-related site I greatly admire as evidence of the ways that the very accomplished may underrate the work required to get to a place of basic achievement. I have found this site quite inspiring, but both How to swim a mile in six weeks and Flip Turns seem to me grossly over-optimistic in the time frame and amount of practice they lay out. The obstacles to going from no actual swimming and pretty rudimentary swimming skills to swimming a mile over the course of six weeks are more psychological than physiological, I am sure that if you had ever swum laps before on any regular basis that this is a reasonable time-frame, but it definitely took me from January to June last year to get to the place where I first tried to swim a mile--at that point, it was quite easy, but there were countless obstacles to even trying it sooner. And I was swimming four or even five times a week, so that does not even count the "can't make it to the pool regularly" obstacle which is its own affliction. The flip turns piece suggests that doing ten turns after every practice might lead to reliable turns in six weeks. I suppose it depends what one means by reliable, but I would think it takes something more like twelve weeks of doing thirty or forty turns each practice before one would be at all comfortable with it. I have stopped working on turns because I need to concentrate on technique right now, but I will get back to them post-race. They are essential for getting the most out of a pool workout...

19. Even the most adventurous and bold athletes sometimes feel like they are going to die when they ride their bikes!

20. Nothing else to add, but 20 is a nice round number compared to 19...


The problem with New York bike paths. Hmmm, weather looks OK outside, it will be better if I can do my bike ride this afternoon--I will not feel like doing it tomorrow either...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Saturday swim

I had a minor revelation as I finished the warmup and thought about getting started on a long endurance set of the 4 x 500 type. I did enough long and mentally understimulating medium-effort exercise today already! So I did a slightly modified version of the main set.

(Lots of time to think about swimming stuff while swimming, but I will not trot it all out here...)

Warmup: 200 free breathing 2, 3 (by 100); 100 back drill; 200 free breathing 3, 4 (by 100); 100 back; 200 free breathing 4, 5 (by 100)

"Super 500" free - my version modified to go by drill rather than speed, with :40 for each 25 to give lots of rest time: 25-25-50 (drill-drill-swim); 25-75 (drill-swim); 50-50 (drill-swim); 75-25 (drill-swim); 50-25-25 (drill-swim-swim). Mostly catch-up...

10 x 25 (5 fly, 5 back) on :40

2 x 100 IM

10 x 25 (5 breast, 5 free) on :40

2 x 100 free on 2:00

Still ten minutes left, but I decided it was a good time to stop--brunch was a long time ago and slightly tiny, it was time to eat again!

Total: a thoroughly respectable but not excessive 2200 yards

Thunderstorms in the forecast for tomorrow morning. If the weather's really awful during the day, I'll do an indoor bike in the evening and then do the long one outside on Monday, which looks like it might be more clement. This is partly procrastination and partly common sense...

Brooklyn half

Last week I was feeling fairly dreary about it, i.e. locked in on inconvenient/expensive training run because of dogged desire to complete half-marathon Grand Prix series (one in each of the five boroughs), but as soon as training partner L. suggested meeting for brunch afterwards, I perked up. And I am glad I did it--it was an enjoyable run, and it's quite something starting out like that on the Coney Island boardwalk. Very rattly/clanky boards when everyone's pounding along in an ambulant herd!

It will surprise nobody to hear I did not quite make my run-sedately-and-with-HR-155/56 goal. And I do not have good decoupling-type data, I cannot be bothered to really sort it out! But I didn't do too badly.

I ran pretty much as I intended to for the first nine miles or so, in other words, but while the first nine are flat the last four and a bit are pretty markedly hilly, starting as one runs up into Prospect Park and then round the park loop. Hillier than Central Park--L. says it's about half the distance of the CP loop but with same elevation. So holding the right HR would have meant appreciably slowing down, and between the annoyance of well-meaning passersby urging runners to speed up and finish strong and my fairly heartfelt desire at that point to polish the thing off, I just didn't have the fortitude to hew to HR limits--I didn't run hard, but my effort level went up quite a bit as I endeavored to keep a similar pace.

(I don't feel I pushed my legs too hard, nor my aerobic system, so we will just hope I have not done too much too close to the Florida 70.3 race. I think it should be OK.)

(What it most honestly could be described as is about nine miles at suitable longish run pace, it felt fairly easy although because I had no taper my legs were obviously slightly tired to begin with from yesterday's bike & swim, plus four miles hard tempo pace--not inherently hard/speedy, just hard because of hills.)

I also can now recalibrate the device--it gave me 12.89 miles, avg HR 158, avg pace 9:50. Official time: 13.1 miles, 2:06:09, 9:37 pace.

If it had been as flat all the way as on the opening miles, it would have been easier to meet goals--9:30 pace would have been appropriate, I guess, and 10:00 probably could have been done in low 150s. Reasonable enough--there is no point losing sleep over the fact of non-speediness on the one hand or mild lack of self-control on the other!

Mile splits, with avg. HR:

9:24 (153)
9:35 (156)
9:45 (155)
9:16 (156)
9:18 (156)
9:57 (158--walked through aid station to eat gel)
9:33 (157)
9:40 (159)
9:43 (156)
9:51 (160--first hill just before beginning of mile 9)
10:00 (162)
9:32 (163)
9:18 (167)

Three down, two to go (the remaining ones are Queens and Staten Island). And a very good last long training run for 70.3--I haven't done a lot of long runs in the last few months, so it was nice to get in a serious one! Now I'll sharply cut back on run length for the next couple weeks--shorter efforts with brief high-intensity work will be the most appropriate thing.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday swim

Hmmm, today's swim was afflicted (just like Tuesday's) by the familiar twin demons of Lateness and Chattiness! I will hope to swim more yards tomorrow. Technique-wise, though, I would say today's session was fairly mindful. TECHNIQUE and ENDURANCE--those really are the only things that matter right now, plus leading into a nice taper after this weekend...

(In the warmup, I am sorry to say, I was pretty much just wrestling with this new pair of goggles I got a couple weeks ago. I regretfully observe that they are just not going to work, I reverted to my old ones...)

Warmup (seriously trimmed down!): 50 free, 100 IM kick, 50 back, 100 free, 50 breast, 100 IM drill

Then 25 x 50, odd stroke (I did back) and even free:

First 5 as 2 kick, 2 drill, 1 swim
Second 5 as catch-up free
Third 5 as 1 kick, 1 drill, 3 swim
Fourth 5 as swim free (the long-axis feel of the backstroke really benefited my free swim by this point, it was good, I was concentrating on what I was doing)
Last 5 all swim

It is not many yards, but it was good, and I will swim longer tomorrow. I am thinking I should probably do another 5 x 500, I will consult with Coach H.

1700 yards total

Friday bike

I did not go far or fast, but after a slightly horrible initial six minutes or so, the rest was genuinely enjoyable, with stretches that I would call almost exhilarating. Call it an hour and a half of fairly easy riding...

(The part I especially liked involved working very hard while riding into an intense wind on the way back up from Chambers St.! I like the windy blustery kind of riding, where you have to work hard to go not very fast--I still have a psychological obstacle on going fast. It is chilly and overcast and blustery today, a kind of weather I particularly like. I would have gone further, only things just below Chambers on the bike path suddenly got very confusing and detourish and complicated--I am sure there is a way through, but it seemed overly troublesome to dismount and sort out next steps...)

One of the few good things about being so cowardly and such a novice is that pretty much every bike ride I do increases my confidence level by about 50%. Both Tuesday's and today's were really good. Goal for today: get used to the notion that I will leave the apartment in bike shoes and accomplish all necessary locomotion on the bicycle! Also practiced going in and out of the drops--comfortable once I'm in there, but I feel wobbly coming up and down, and I am also not entirely sure I would not tip over if I stopped fairly suddenly while riding in the drops. That is something to practice...

Triaspirational interior monologue, corner of 116th and Riverside, just before getting started:

Oh, I am determined to ride on Riverside Drive down to 96th St., I was feeling fairly calm the other day in the park--it is the easiest possible road to ride on, it is true there are buses and cars parked along the side but there are no right turns, thus no cars doing disconcerting things, it is incredibly safe!--hmmm...--fortitude--OK, let me hop up onto my bike--ARGHHHH, why does the awful seat/crotch of these stupid bike pants snag like that on the seat?!?--oh dear, now I have missed that light--my heart is in my mouth, what if I stop at the light and then my pants catch again when I try and start again?!?--hmmm, maybe I am going to ride along the park walk instead--oh, why, oh why did they pave it with these awful hexagonal-tile cobble-like things?!?--A ROAD BIKE IS NOT DESIGNED FOR RIDING ON BUMPY THINGS!--especially not bumpy things with a steep downhill pitch--arghhh, death grip on brakes again, what am I doing...

But once I got into the park at 96th St. it was all fine. The one thing I do not like about the west side bike path is that it gets very confusing in the middle. There are red lights specifically for bicycles which as a law-abiding and safety-conscious person I am strongly inclined to follow (and it is not really always very easy to see where a car would come from!), only nobody else follows 'em and I certainly got some funny looks from other cyclists and pedestrians when I stopped! Indeed, at one, a construction worker just gave me a comically quizzical look and waved me on through, I felt the need to explain that I was a very timid and cautious cyclist! Hmmmm, a little more experience and I will have a better handle on all of this. It is certainly useful riding along a path that's right next to a highway but separate from it--rationally speaking, it is entirely safe, but it gets you more accustomed to the sound and proximity of serious traffic...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Triathlon in the news

The quest for the perfect bike fit.

(Today was my day off from training, I do not like it!)

Wednesday run

Hmmm, it is possible for once in my life I might actually be too tired to blog--bodes well for notional sleep?

Missed out on biking earlier, it was just not fit-in-able. I was sorry, but I was not remorseful, because it seemed a clear verdict of common sense. Went to run with a friend at 4, only after 10 minutes of waiting I figured I had better set out on my own--tight timing at other end. 5.16 miles (same run I always do, funny how minor .3-.4 comes out differently with local tweaking!), avg HR 155, 9:40 pace.

First couple miles not great (not running-specific awfulness, just general feeling of physical awfulness, allergies and sleeplessness!), only then the usual thing kicked in, v. enjoyable for last couple. I was running pretty hard, the couple miles at the end were rather faster--I cannot say I am feeling particularly fast these days as a runner, I need to do some speedwork in June to remedy that, but I am certainly feeling fairly strong. Like I can run a lot further at the same speed, comfortably, than I used to be able to.

(Secretly in my heart of hearts I believe that if I do everything the same way, I will only remain the same rather than improving, so I am always favorably surprised when steady consistency leads to moderate improvement!)

Furthermore: Decoupling. (Courtesy of Bigun.) I am thinking I should do this run on Saturday at 155 HR and check out my mile splits to see how I am doing on running-specific base-building...