Sunday, December 25, 2011

I rest...and then I play

Something must be said for God’s ability to time events just right. Usually, it makes a lot of sense to me. Yet other times, I wonder just what He was thinking. For instance, this past week my new K-Swiss K-Ona S shoes and Timex Run Trainer GPS and heart rate monitor arrived in the mail. For the last two weeks I’ve needed new running shoes after realizing just how much I’ve worn down all three pairs I’ve rotated through this past year. The new Timex is my motivation to start figuring out my heart rate zones in an attempt to make my training that much more efficient. So why haven’t I tried them out yet? God said it was time for a break. He knows me well enough that it takes something big, something insurmountable, to slow me down for a good while. He made me sick.

In all reality, I figured it was about time to finally be wiped out. A long race season, continuing my hard training efforts with the stress of school and finals makes me wonder how it didn’t happen sooner. Nonetheless, it doesn’t make it any easier knowing others continue to swim, bike and run while I’m sniffling on the couch, consuming calorie after calorie that will never be burned but likely stored right where I least want it. So far, four days have passed and yes, I’m freaking out like an animal that has been caged up for months.

I’ve read taking time off really serves its purpose for all athletes. Really? I wasn’t so sure a couple days ago while attempting to bust out some leg lifts, side crunches, and pushups before I got too dizzy and nauseous. Yesterday it finally hit me as I was walking out to the hot tub in an attempt to warm up and fill some of my time: Whether good or bad, the only things that truly define me are school and training. That’s it. That’s all I do anymore. It wasn’t until I found myself in the middle of Christmas break, sick, unable to do either of those two things, that I didn’t know what else to do.

So after taking my dog for a walk, I sat down in front of the piano. It, too, was one of the few things that consumed much of my childhood and life through high school, especially in preparation for my senior concert. It burned me out, and I abandoned it shortly after high school graduation, leaving my concert pieces to slowly die in my head for the last six years. Now, the more stressed I find myself as a result of school, the more I long to sit at the piano and just…play. It’s funny to think how much I struggled to practice just 30 minutes each day when I was a kid. My mental stamina improved as I started preparing for my senior concert, which required at least two to three hours of practice. Yesterday, I didn’t even realize it when over an hour had passed with me teasing out Chopin, Schubert, and Beethoven’s passages of music from my brain. Having memorized my pieces so well, well enough to perform them in front of hundreds of people without messing up (or at least knowing how to recover when I did), my fingers once again recovered the muscle memory to play line after line even when my brain lagged a few beats behind.

 Now that I think about it, training has grown into a beast of its own, much the same way that piano did. I can remember going on 2-mile jogs to get in shape for the upcoming soccer season and thinking that was enough. I can remember when 20 minute swims in the pool—back and forth, back and forth—all at the same speed left me winded. Today I hardly wince when I think about my average training day—75-minute swim in the morning followed by a 90-minute trainer ride in the evening. Two-mile jogs have transformed into two-hour runs. So what will it take to keep me from burning out like I did with piano six years ago?

God says rest. So I rest. My K-Onas aren’t going anywhere without my two feet inside. My run trainer can wait a few more days before I strap it on my wrist. If God grants me 365 days to abuse my body, I can relinquish five of those to let it heal. Until then, I’ll stick to my low-calorie, broth-based vegetable soup and fruit smoothies in an attempt to keep in some kind of shape during this holiday season. Lord, just please make it only five days…

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just Keep Swimming

Four months ago, swimming above that big blue line on the bottom of the pool felt more like a disciplinary sentence than an enjoyable form of morning exercise. My last triathlon at the end of August served as my starting line for a race designed to improve my swimming technique. It’s been anything but a race.

After a couple of weeks of delving into the YouTube world of swimming videos, I realized I could watch every single one of them and come away with what I SHOULD do, but have no idea of what I was doing. A friend recommended I visit Annie Warner, a professional triathlete who knows a considerable amount about swimming (among other things!), to start my off-season swim training out on a better foot (or should I say a better stroke?)

She tore my stroke apart. I had no idea you enter the water thumb-side down and come out pinky-finger up, a single part of the freestyle stroke that one can break down into about 20 different components! Enter here, bend your wrist, now your elbow, keep it high, fingers down, hit your thigh, push back, now flick your fingers out of the water. That may have seemed possible except that was only one arm. What the heck am I supposed to do with my second arm while I’m thinking my way through the stroke with the other one?!?

If my stroke wasn’t awkward enough, then my breathing was an entirely different animal. Instead of looking up at the ceiling, I was to concentrate on keeping my eyes on the edge of the pool. Perhaps that would have worked if I didn’t suck in water with each breath. To think there is an exact angle my head should be positioned to make breathing more efficient still baffles me, but after four months, I can finally say it’s true. Keeping my mouth close to my armpit really does make breathing easier. Thank goodness for pool water to keep body odor at bay.

During my third lesson with Annie, the almighty flip turns came up. “Would you like to learn?” she asked. I proclaimed I really did want to learn, and looking back, my first few attempts must have looked ridiculous. In fact, if there was one component of my swim I wished she would have videoed for educational purposes, I wish it had been my flip turns. Pure entertainment, I’m sure. Nonetheless, I made it through that first lesson of flip turning with nothing more than completely eroded sinuses and a head full of water. From that day onward, my mornings and well into the rest of my day consisted of constantly blowing pool water out of my nose, much to the dissatisfaction of my classmates in school. In fact, several people who sit near me have come to know when I’ve been in the pool each morning simply by the number of times I blow my nose.

Now that December has arrived, four months have passed and I can confidently say spending 4-5 days in the pool each week has netted me some significant improvements, several of which I list below: 

  • Consistent flip turns that have helped shave seconds off my split times.
  •  Increased speed, demonstrated by cutting nearly 30 seconds off my 100 yard split time.
  •  Stronger upper body strength that has improved the efficiency of my pull.
  •  Increased endurance to make one and a half hour workouts achievable, whereas 30 minutes of swimming used to be my maximum.
  • Keeping up with people I once thought I’d never swim with.

I have many to thank, including Annie Warner; a good friend from school, Kari Budd (a collegiate swimmer); Michael Bergquist, who leads my Master swim group each Sunday; Loran Rogers-Kerrigan (my morning YMCA swim partner); and everyone else I swim with each Sunday that help motivate me to swim a little stronger, a little faster, and with a little more heart.

Tomorrow I have my last lesson with Annie so she can tweak all the bad habits I’ve developed since our last lesson. But first, I have a swim workout to conquer at the Y. Just keep swimming!

A group of us from TriFusion Master Swim each Sunday. Photo by Rene Guerrero.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Race(s) Review: Brazen Racing's Nitro and Quarry Turkey Trots

When the opportunity presents itself to run a turkey trot the morning of Thanksgiving, most of the people I know would gladly run 3 to 6 miles in order to create some kind of calorie deficit to make up for what we athletes call a true "feast." In addition, I find these runs or races allow for conversation and time spent with friends and family in an atmosphere filled with warm bodies, ridiculous costumes, and warm drinks afterward.

For as long as I can remember, the Manito Turkey trot organized by the Bloomsday Road Runners Club served as my turkey trot to spend time running with my dad. We'd drive up to Manito park and wait in our well-heated car until just about 15 minutes before the start because stepping out into the sub-freezing temperatures served as the greatest challenge of the run itself. Once the run began, we warmed up quickly and often ran the 5k course twice through (we're big eaters at our Thanksgiving table).

This year, I had the chance to get away from school and visit family and friends in Oakland, California. the Brazen Racing running club ( put on two great races I had the privilege to compete in with Steve Anderson, another successful triathlete who recently moved to California this past April to work for GU Energy Labs.

Both the Nitro Turkey Trot, comprised of both 5k and 10k courses around Point Pinole in San Pablo, and the Quarry Turkey Trot, including all 5k, 10k, and half marathon courses in Fremont, made up the greater Double Turkey Challenge. Both being competitive people, Steve and I ran both 10k courses of the two races, one of which was held Thanksgiving morning--obviously to make up for what would be consumed later that day--and the following Saturday morning--presumably to make extra certain that what wasn't burned off Thursday and Friday would definitely be taken care of Saturday.

All participants received finisher medals at both races, and if you competed in both, a third medal was handed out on Saturday to link the two race medals together, as shown to the right. I thought it was a clever idea to make running two turkey trots a little more exciting. We both felt incredibly sore after pushing ourselves Thursday morning to top age group finishes. We weren't sure how our placings would compare on Saturday, but somehow we both finished the same way in our age groups at the second race as well. All in all, we each brought home some significant hardware, nearly 3 pounds of extra weight to add to my luggage for the trek home.

There is something to be said for racing in new areas with different competition. Going down to the big sunny state, I was not sure how my performance would stack up to the runners there. Looking back, it hardly mattered. Sure, I placed well given the amount of training I had put in coming off a big race season and having spent about a month enjoying the unstructured off season. Yet I realized spending time with good company and running alongside a fun and competitive person made this running/racing experience so much more enjoyable. (You'll have to ask Steve for his personal account of the races as a whole. I'm not yet convinced he enjoyed them as much as I did.)

A big thanks to Brazen Racing for putting on two great events. I hope to plan future visits to Oakland around events like these, as they make for great opportunities to sightsee and enjoy some California sun. Until then, I've got a Spokane winter to train through...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wild Moose Chase Trail Run 2011

Photos courtesy of Marsha Aguilar-Snow

For those of you who question the sanity and common sense of those who chase moose, let me reassure you the Wild Moose Chase is not quite what you might imagine. Yes, running on the mountain, traversing hilly terrain, and side-stepping rocks and roots is involved. Yet the only moose spotted at the inaugural Wild Moose Chase trail run was by me, the race director. I’m not kidding. I didn’t have the privilege of racing this event, but I did have the opportunity to stand in as race director with two other ladies from my Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Eastern Washington University. And lo and behold, while setting up the 10k course, banking a turn to continue onto the Wild Moose Nordic trail, two bull moose stared at us in my Toyota 4-Runner. Apparently they got my invitation!
            I’ve always been one to run the races, to shoot for that age group award, to relish the satisfaction of a well paced, well raced event. Not this time. When it came time to start raising money to cover some of the travel expenses my class would incur to attend a national educational conference this coming February, they turned to Haley Cooper-Scott and me to organize some kind of a race. We looked at each other with skepticism, shrugged our shoulders, and thought, “Shoot. Why not?” The problem was, neither of us had actually directed a race; we’d always been the ones competing.
            Nonetheless, we each had our own set of contacts to learn what we needed to know to put on a race. It soon transpired that a trail run would attract the greatest number of people given the rising interest in local runners to get off the roads and out onto the trails. Both familiar with Mt. Spokane through our own running and skiing on the Nordic trails, we set that as our location and soon decided upon a name: The Wild Moose Chase Trail Run. 
            With some organization, a lot of planning, and tremendous support from our sponsors, Saturday, September 24th rolled around faster than any of us anticipated. My class was just coming back from a 5-week internship to round out our first year of school, and many of the details had to be worked out without their help. Steve Christensen, the park manager, provided such great support and enthusiasm for our event, and he did much of the course preparation. An avid runner himself, he took the time to create the 25km course that so many racers cursed by the end of the day on Saturday.
            What a rush! The 25km course started out by 9am and the other two races were soon to follow. I don’t think I sat down until the first 5km runners crossed the finish line. It wasn’t until 11 o’clock that I finally had a brief 10 seconds to use the bathroom, and don’t ask how that went down…
            Runners crossed the finish line, proud of the courses they conquered and the scenery they witnessed. As far as I know, racers never wandered off course, and no one suffered from any serious injuries that day. However, I still feel terrible about overlooking the importance of having a couple coolers of ice for those who needed an extra boost to ameliorate any aches or pains incurred along the way. Runners admitted the 25km course that Steve and Haley worked on proved to present quite a challenge to roadrunners and avid trail runners alike. One man commented that it wasn’t quite challenging enough to separate the trail runners from the roadrunners. However, I don’t think we have any plans to make it more difficult next year. We would rather see some PRs!
            The 5km and 10km courses looked much flatter on paper than they did in actuality. I ran both courses the week before the race to ensure race distances were somewhat accurate. I applaud all the 5km runners for finishing a truly hilly, challenging course. It certainly kicked my butt! Avid runners and families with kids all turned out to enjoy the courses, and when I had the chance to watch runners cross the line, I saw only happy faces.
            For those who participated this year, thank you for turning out to support our fundraising effort. We ended up raising over $7,000 to help get us to Chicago, IL next February for the Combined Sections Meeting, an educational weekend for physical therapists and students alike. Next year, we hope to help the upcoming physical therapy students raise money by putting on the race again. We all had so much fun and saw so many areas in need of improvement; we thought we better try it again to see if we can make the event even better. I hope you will consider turning out next year and spread the word to those you think might enjoy a day on the mountain.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Race Review: Valley Girl Triathlon 2011

I jumped into this sport without testing the water first. No training plans, no nutrition guidelines, not even a pair of triathlon shorts to my name. I have a road bike, some clip-on aerobars, and a helmet. Essentially, a high powered engine with no break-in period. Imagine my uncertainty when, for some unknown reason, I thought competing in the elite division of Valley Girl Triathlon sounded like a good idea. I carefully racked my dinky Cannondale alongside all the expensive Orbeas, Cervelos, and QRoos more representative of the triathlon world. It wasn’t until Loran Rogers Kerrigan sauntered up with her cup of coffee in hand, sporting her aviator sunglasses, that my nerves started to calm—slightly. In fact, my introductions to my competitive elite field are what ultimately motivated me to cool it, settle in, and use what training I had to gain back my confidence. 

Still, looking out over the water of Liberty Lake, the same wave of anxiety and anticipation I used to feel in my piano competitions took over my senses. I went back to the days of waiting for my turn to perform outside the closed door, my gloved hands clasped across my chest, rehearsing my music in my head as the music notes raced across my closed eyelids. I was surprised to again see my hands clasped across my chest. This time, I shivered with cold as I waded out into the freaking cold water!

The first wave to go, we six elite ladies stood out in the water, listening to music with a good beat and catchy rhythm. You know, the kind you seek to get pumped up or when you’re feeling especially good. Finally, Phaedra Cote couldn’t stand it.

“Let’s dance!” she suggested.

Dance? Are you kidding me?!? How am I supposed to get in “the zone?”

Dancing was the last thing I thought I’d be doing. I’m not even that much of a dancer. Looking down at the water, I realized I was concealed up to my waist, and all I had to really move were my arms. So, I wiggled a little and called it good.

Off went the gun, and suddenly my racing adrenaline was unleashed.

For me, a swim is a swim is a swim. Until I can refine my stroke and technique—my assignment for this winter and spring—I’ll settle for making it out with two arms and legs intact. If I’m still breathing—a bonus.

Out of the water and onto the bike. All but one bike was gone, so I guess I wasn’t the slowest. Still, I had some competitors to eat up on the pavement. One…two…then three. Only two ladies remained ahead of me as I transitioned from bike to run.

I laugh now thinking about what I must have looked like running my bike back to the rack. Running on tired legs plus shifting sand didn’t make for a smooth jaunt off the bike. While I didn’t watch those of you who finished the Dirty Dash, I probably looked the way you did sloshing through the mud. (Only I came out cleaner.) Thankfully, no videos or pictures have surfaced on YouTube or Facebook to captivate a hungry audience on my experience. And don’t get any ideas for future races…

The run. By far my strongest leg, I overtook one of my two last competitors with the fastest split time I’ve ever run for a mile. Really? After a swim and a bike? And no knee pain. I was really beginning to like this sport, the triathlon! Around the golf course and onward to finish in Pavilion Park. Ahead, all I ever saw of Adrianne Campbell was her backside. My legs churned, my arms pumped to carry me to a second overall finish. I knew Adrianne was there to win, so I felt honored to finish right behind a woman who gave everything she had for first. Next time, though…Next time.

My competitive nature aside, the experience at Valley Girl stands out as one I hope to never forget. The friendships I made and camaraderie I enjoyed with some of the area’s leading lady competitors made me realize I have a lot to gain from competition (I mean participation) in this sport. Racing as an underdog has its perks, but next year I’ll need to demonstrate a little more improvement on the course.

Until then, my Cannondale and I will speed onward and finish the races I set out to race. I’m told it isn’t the bike, but the engine on it, that makes the wheels turn faster. This engine held up well through the seven triathlons that followed to finish out my season. (The finances ran out first.) The year of 2012 awaits, and this engine is primed, oiled, and broken in. Having said that, this engine has ears, too. Any advice, suggestions, or hand-me-downs you can grace me with won’t go unappreciated.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm back...A different me

I found my old blog I started back in December of '09, the one I thought would be fun to keep as I transitioned out of undergraduate school and into the working world. Judging by the number of posts I've documented since then, my life has been anything but exciting.

Since then, however, I've transformed into a completely different person, one bent on staying healthy and fit while attempting to complete a doctorate of physical therapy program through EWU. I made it through the first year and anticipate I'll finish out my last two just like I did the first. It won't be easy, but graduate school isn't supposed to be, either.

To balance the stress I impose on myself through school, I've adopted another form of entertainment some (my family, mostly) would like to suggest is just as stressful, if not crazy. The world of triathlons has kept me incredibly motivated to stay in shape and eager to learn everything there is about true fitness and challenge. I couldn't possibly ignore the benefits I've reaped as a result of training and racing this past season. I've met some funny, motivated, and downright crazy athletes over the past year, and I've enjoyed spending time with every one of them. That, and I lost the nearly 20 pounds I gained my first few months of PT school by training and racing this past year.

Eight triathlons and countless road running races later, I sit here in the middle of September 2011 ready to improve for the 2012 season. I made it through this year, but next year I hope to come out stronger. This training season poses a few challenges I intend to conquer: transform my sloppy swim stroke to an efficient one, learn better training strategies that don't involve killing myself in an attempt to improve, and learning the art of rest. Seriously, these past 6 months I've seen little of it.

Until then, I hope you'll enjoy whatever I deem interesting enough to post. If not, you have my permission to move onto your next blog :)