Monday, December 31, 2012

A year in review

I thought to myself as I crunched up the mountain in my snowshoes this past weekend. Even when you’re up with a large group like the one called “Shoes and Brews,” there exists plenty of time for contemplation and self-assessment. The trees overshadowed us with limbs laden with iced snow. The sky looked dark, shrouded in clouds that had not yet made way for the full moon. Maci stood about 20 yards ahead of me, waiting for me to catch up before she zoomed off down the trail. Just off to the side, Bryan and Jayne’s dog, Otis, enjoyed some time in the snow, plowing through the trail, face down, rear up.
Earlier that day, I’d taken Maci on a run through the neighborhood. Raised a country dog, she didn’t quite understand the need for a leash when she prefers to run several strides ahead of me. While my knee pain has improved over the last month, it reminds me daily that it is far from healed. Knowing the Ironman is “all about the run,” I cannot ignore the twinges of anxiety that rattle me with every footfall. So I run shorter distances, slower paces, and adhere to my exercises to encourage healing…and promote confidence.

I’d also spent my longest time, to date, on the trainer that morning. While my strategy to break up an hour-and-a-half segment of steady effort worked well for my mind, my ass was not as impressed. When the trainer is concerned, bike shorts have nothing on two hours: two hours is two hours is two hours.

I felt incredibly blessed, then, to find myself later that evening with enough energy to drive up the mountain and hike over snow in temperatures that should have encouraged me to dive straight for my bed and seek extra hours of sleep. To think some people cannot even walk a block down the street due to respiratory issues or obesity. To think some people have no desire to care for the body they were given. To think some people have not explored any further than what their nearest shopping center has to offer. I am exceptionally blessed.

For the last month, my parents have entertained themselves after dinner by watching old family movies. I’ve seen these movies time and time again: Ian (my brother) trying to hit a baseball off a T-ball stand, failing miserably as he hits the stand with his bat as hard as he can to make the ball fly in some odd direction, finishing off his swing by spinning around several times before landing on his butt; Dad wearing wild shorts, playing a toy guitar with a green lily pad on his head (not sure whose idea that was), dancing with Ian and me to “Baby beluga;” and finally, setting out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve, Ian practically drooling over the cookies because he wants one so badly. The video cuts to Christmas morning with a tree surrounded by presents everywhere. This year—and about the last 5 Christmases leading up to this one—there were no presents under the tree.

As great as it would have been to find a new iPad, power meter, mountain bike, or down payment on a new home under that Christmas tree, I realized many of my gifts I’ve already received throughout the year: my parents, who provide for me far more than I can even begin to list here; a brother, who acts as my sounding board when I’m upset and laughs with me when I’m not; Maci, the greatest buddy I could have ever asked for; and friends (you know who you are), who have shown me the importance of relationships and graciously welcomed me into their lives.

Finally, I am most thankful for the goals and dreams I have established. To have the potential to do something, to be something…that is what I look forward to most in 2013.

Many of those goals revolve around my training and racing, and I would feel remiss if I did not admit to that. I feel fortunate to have such a healthy 
interest in triathlon and all the benefits it has and continues to bestow upon me. I continue to meet friendly people everyday, and I continue to enjoy the company of people I have met through my training and racing.

To know people support me and what I hope to accomplish means a lot as well. I have some great friends, and I also look forward to working with my sponsors who see potential in me that I’m not sure I’ve completely discovered myself. I must first thank GU Energy Labs, Elements Therapeutic Massage, and Moulton Law Offices for keeping me fueled, healthy, and active this past year. I look forward to working with them in the upcoming year. I also thank Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy for including me on their 2013 team, as well as Johnson Orthodontics for their support as well.

I think to myself about all I there is to accomplish this next year. It seems daunting and slightly unrealistic: internships, training / racing, Ironman, graduation, leadership commitments, finding a job, a house… Yet I looked down at my snowshoes, realizing that just like they serve to make walking on rough snow a little safer—a little easier—so do the people I’m surrounded by and the activities in which I participate make each day what it truly is: a blessing.

To all my friends and family: Thank you. May 2013 be all that you want it to be. I look forward to spending it with you all!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Push, kick, stroke, pull

There exists something incredibly satisfying about a successful swim workout. Though, how might you define "successful?" Does the amount of distance you covered boost your confidence? How about the way your body feels as it slides through the water? Or do you simply feel a sense of accomplishment of having made it to the pool?

Sitting at the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the cold water, eyes squinting at the clock hanging on the far wall, hands working my swim cap into place on top of my head. This is me. Goosebumps start to appear. Before I have second thoughts, I hop in the pool, standing on my toes, as if an extra inch of skin above the water will help make the transition that much easier.

Again, I look out over the pool, watching other people swim away the minutes to their own personal finish. I'm left with the success of just having found a lane, no yardage to my name. I take one last breath, dunk down below the surface, push off the wall, and hope my motivation surmounts the inevitable feeling of, "Make this quick or get me out of here" mentality.

For the last few weeks, my swims have felt "successful." When I look back on why, I think several factors have all contributed.

1) It feels good. Haven't we all had those days where everything sinks, nothing glides, and lungs hurt worse than they should? Sometimes I blame it on the swimsuit (one-piece versus two). Other times, I've come back from a long hiatus, only to discover the pool is not so forgiving when loss of time is concerned.

2) The only reason I swam so far (or pushed myself that hard) was because faster/stronger swimmers helped me to do so. Who wouldn't feel grateful for the extra kick in the butt from those who pull you along and don't take "I'm finished" for an answer? I've had the help and encouragement from people like Jen Polello, Jon Moen, and Kari Budd to help me swim sets of hundreds at paces so fast with rest breaks so short that I wondered just what the heck am I DOING?!?! While emulating Kari's form and relenting to finish out the set have left me exhausted, I wind up recovering and elated when I realize I wiped out a 4000+ yard workout. I will never disregard the power of persuasion, especially when it's Jen encouraging me from one lane over, "Just two more [hundreds]...You have this!" 

3) I'm getting faster...and stronger. I think back to where I floated in the pool at this time last year. I remember I'd made great improvements after receiving great advice and direction from Annie Warner. I'd progressed from swimming a 1:50/100yd pace to swimming a hundred yards consistently in 1:45 minutes. Today? Even after a hard 1:30 trainer ride this morning, I swam consistent 1:25/100yd.

I coast to the wall. Legs kick, arms pull. I stand up out of the water. Hands pull off my goggles. Foggy eyes search for the clock on the wall. Over an hour has passed. A workout finished, a new benchmark achieved. Another "successful" swim to add to the training log.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Three weeks into my physical therapy rehabilitation, I’m still feeling the effects of a long season, felt strongest in my left knee. While I started PT three weeks ago, I laid off the running about a month prior to that. Gale Anderson at Therapeutic Associates has helped introduce me to a few modalities and techniques to address my pain, as well as spur the healing process so that I can get on with my training sooner than later.

The primary focus within the last few weeks has been to attempt to mitigate some of the pain in my anterior, medial knee. I can pinpoint two locations that give me the most trouble: just inferior and medial to the patella (the insertion site of the patellar tendon) and right over the patella itself. In 2004, I had a patellar graft taken from this very site to assist with my ACL repair. It’s very tempting to suggest my patellar tendon pain is the result of a weakened site within my tendon as a result of my graft.
Here is what Gale has helped me with so far:

  1. Astym, a form of soft tissue massage and one of the most well researched forms of soft tissue therapy used.1
  2. Friction massage
  3. Iontophoresis: A modality that uses direct current to force dexamethasone, a corticosteroid that is used widely in the treatment of different inflammatory conditions. It works best on areas more superficial to the skin surface.
  4. Eccentric loading2,3
Much research has focused on the benefits of eccentric loading to help heal tendonopathies in large tendons (i.e. the Achilles and patellar tendons). A study by Jonsson and Alfredson2 aimed to compare the results of painful eccentric quadriceps training on a decline board with painful concentric quadriceps training on a decline board (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. A demonstration of eccentric loading, which occurs
on the downward motion of the exercise.2 
Athletes were randomly assigned to one of the two treatment groups and performed 3 x 15 exercises, 2x/day, 7days/week, for 12 weeks.2 After 12 weeks, it was found that eccentric training on a decline board decreased the pain better than the concentric training.

Unlike the athletes in this study, I have continued my training, but have decreased the intensity considerably. This begs the question, “Was it relative rest that improved the patellar pain of the athletes, or was it truly eccentric loading on the patellar tendon?” I suppose I’ll be able to see if cutting out all speed and tempo work, but continuing to run short most days of the week will prevent good results. I will admit: pain still lingers, but it isn’t nearly as fierce and debilitating as it felt after a hard speed session on the track (duh).

Along with eccentric loading, I’ve also started up on balance exercises. It wasn’t until I started standing for extended periods of time on a DynaDisc that I realized just how weak the intrinsic muscles of my feet and lower legs had become. Some credit should be given to all the small muscles that do a ton of the work to keep us upright. Hence, the incredible importance of good proprioception and neuromuscular control. 

I’ve traded squats and lunges for eccentric activities; leg curls and leg presses for neuromuscular training. If nothing more, I’m learning patience. I’m also feeling thankful for exceptional physical therapy care at Therapeutic Associates via Gale Anderson.


  1. Astym. Accessed 18 December 2012.
  2. Jonnson P, Alfredson H. Superior results with eccentric compared to concentric quadriceps training in patients with jumper’s knee: a prospective randomized study. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39:847-850.
  3. Dimitrios S, Pantelis M, Kalliopi S. Comparing the effects of eccentric training with eccentric training and static stretching exercises in the treatment of patellar tendinopathy: a controlled clinical trial. Clin Rehabil. 2012;26(5):423-430.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A night of Festivus with The Fucking Bike Club

I sat in my car, having just pulled up alongside a vacant lot in a part of Spokane I’ve never cared to explore. I’ve driven by it before, peering over from the freeway as I made my way west. In the dark it looked far sketchier. Yet the couple of elves that rode by on their bikes seemed to alleviate some of the uncertainty I felt swelling in my chest. So I tumbled out of my car, pulled out my brother’s old mountain bike, and made my way toward The Swamp.

A row of bikes decked out in Christmas lights and ribbons lined the wall of the entrance. Dozens of people loitered outside and inside the dimly lit tavern, enjoying beer and laughter as we all waited for the big send-off. I found my company way in the back. Marjie and Paul are old enough to be my parents who have been longtime family friends from church. Two other younger ladies, whom I knew from church, stood alongside them. Craiger Thorsen showed up around 8:30pm, just about as we started for outside to mount our decorated bikes, a wild assortment of two-wheeled transit I couldn’t even begin to describe.

As people prepared their bikes, Craiger and I couldn’t help but point out all the mysterious decorations. Some made sense, like the Christmas lights wrapped around spokes and bike frames. People wore silly Christmas sweaters and elf hats. One man even toted along a trailer-type contraption that held an old music box. Then the crowd began to flow, and we followed on bikes undecorated.

People living in houses along our route actually came out into the cold to cheer us onward. We tootled around the round-about by The Elk a couple of times, mindful of those who weren’t quite as careful about their bike safety skills. Thankfully, we rolled mostly downhill into downtown Spokane, where we took over the streets. The three to four lanes meant for cars on any other day, any other night, any other time, suddenly transformed into a pathway for members of the Fucking Bike Club as we made our way to the undisclosed bar that was to be our final destination.

All I could think was how utterly ridiculous this all felt. On some random night, well past my bedtime, I’m riding an old bike down the middle of the streets in Spokane. We rode around Riverfront Park’s fountain, which served as the halfway point in our 5-mile route. It soon became quite apparent the importance of a well-fitting bike saddle. In just 15 minutes, my who-ha started to complain. Craiger reminded me I’m only allowed to complain after I’ve ridden 65 miles.

Yet just after passing by Sacred Heart and Deaconess Medical Center, we came upon what looked to be an abandoned house. Finally: our ultimate destination. Bikes locked up outside, Craiger and me walked inside, bought some drinks, and headed back outside to surround the small bonfire. We huddled alongside people I would describe as “sketchy,” as I would have never gone out of my way to meet them had it not been for the odd circumstances.

I experienced a number of “firsts” last night with the FBC. Unless encouraged by friends to do it again, I doubt I’ll ever find myself riding my bike down the streets of downtown Spokane in sub-freezing temperatures, on a poorly-fitting bike saddle, past 9 o’clock in the evening. I have to admit: doing it among friends like Marjie, Paul, and Craiger made my number of “firsts” that much more fun. Perhaps I can enjoy a late night and still make it to Master swim the next morning. Nothing like 4100 yards in the cold pool to wake you up after a crazy night.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

No matter what you call it, SIT or HIT hurts

Training for IM CDA is well underway. The two weeks of rest I set aside after Tri Cities marathon came to an abrupt end when I found myself in Matt Silver's exercise lab with two other devoted friends, Jayne and Bryan, to essentially kill myself for numbers that would represent my Lactate Threshold (LT) and VO2Max. The only problem with finding those numbers is that, once obtained, I only want to improve them.

So began the 2-week endeavor of Wingates on the trainer. Matt Silvers proposed a workout progression that he himself has used in the past and found great success with for his IM training. The three of us followed the same protocol that was outlined in the research study by Burgomaster1, which consisted of six sessions of brief, repeated maximal cycling efforts, performed over 14 days with 1–2 days of recovery between training sessions. In case you'd rather not look through the research study, I'll be happy to provide a summary: 

Researchers used 16 subjects (characteristics in Table 1) who were not specifically engaged in training. Half of the subjects underwent the short interval training (SIT), while the other half served as the control group. The main purpose was to determine the effect of SIT performed for 2 weeks on skeletal muscle carbohydrate (CHO) metabolism. Researchers proposed that 2 weeks of SIT would decrease muscle glycogenolysis (conversion of glycogen—the stored form of CHO—to glucose, the form of CHO that is used as a fuel source for energy) and lactate accumulation during exercise, but increase the ability of the body to oxidize CHO during submaximal exercise. 

Table 1. Subject characteristics of 16 participants1

VariableTraining GroupControl Group
Age, yr21±125±1*
Height, cm181±2180±2
Weight, kg78±576±3
O2 peak, l/min3.8±0.23.9±0.2

These lucky subjects performed 30-second, all-out efforts, 3 days/week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) over the course of 14 days. The number of Wingates increased each day from 4 to 7 for the first 5 days (4 minutes of recovery time between each), and the final session consisted of just 4 intervals.

What researchers found (that most interested us, anyway) was that the 2 weeks of SIT increased muscle glycogen content by 50%, thereby decreasing net muscle glycogenolysis. Lactate accumulation during matched-work exercise also decreased, and time trial performance of the subjects in the training group improved by 9.6%. No change was observed in the control group. In other words, SIT increased the training group's LT, which allowed them to work harder and put forth more power without needing to consume as much muscle glycogen for energy. Bingo.

The first day of Wingates didn't feel nearly as bad when we only had four intervals to kick out. Yet by the second week, attempting to pedal my ass off through a total of seven left me feeling as though I should puke. We all survived those two weeks. I have no idea what my LT looks like now. However, the idea that I'm now training more efficiently with a higher foundation makes me feel more prepared to train at a higher intensity through this winter. 

Others have written about their improved results by devoting more time to high intensity, short-interval training. Some argue these kinds of workouts should be reserved for the weeks leading up to a big event, but others (maybe myself included) disagree. Rich Strauss2 wrote a great article on the topic, relying on the motto, "Work is speed entering the body." 

Another great research study by Helgerud et. al3 looked at how high-intensity intervals (HIT) improve VO2Max with running. Participants consisted of 40 healthy, moderately-trained male subjects who were assigned to one of four groups:

1. Long, slow distance, LSD (70% of HRmax)
2. Lactate Threshold, LT (85% of HRmax)
3. 15/15 interval running (15 seconds of running at 90-95% HRmax followed by 15 seconds of active rest at 70% of HRmax)
4. 4 x 4 minutes of interval running (4 minutes of running at 90-95% at HRmax followed by 3 minutes of resting at 70% HRmax)

All four training methods resulted in similar total oxygen consumption, and they were performed 3 days/week for 8 weeks. Researchers found that the high intensity training performed by the 15/15 and 4 x 4 minute groups increased VO2Max significantly (P < 0.001) compared with the LSD and LT groups.3 In addition, researchers observed no significant difference in training response between the 15/15 and the 4 x 4 minute groups. 

Perhaps I'm only reiterating what many already know. Yet reading it for myself and applying it to my own training provides reassurance when I sometimes find it difficult to hop on the trainer or drive over to the track each week. So I SIT and I HIT; IM CDA is now less than 200 days away.


1. Burgomaster KA, Heigenhauser GJF, Gibala MJ. Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance. J Appl Physiol. 2006;100(6):2041-2047.

2. Strauss R. Return on investment series, part 3: the bike. February 15, 2012.

3. Helgerud J, Hoydal K, Wang E, et al. Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2Max more than moderate training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(4):665-671.