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...