Thursday, December 27, 2018

Race Recap: 2018 Cedar Lake Sprint Triathlon #4

After the general misery that was part of my first triathlon of this season, I knew I needed to take my training a little more seriously and focus on working out my weak areas. I upped my bike mileage (though not as much as I would have liked to do) and went for a few practice open water swims with my husband. I signed up for my second sprint triathlon of the season feeling slightly more confident than I had felt a few weeks prior.

Cedar Lake is an absolutely beautiful little gem of a state park in Chester, CT, and was only about a half hour drive from my house. Just like the Lake T triathlon, this one also took place on a Thursday evening. I began to realize that this begets a certain level of competition, as it's infinitely more likely that a serious triathlete (as compared to, say, a first-timer or someone just doing this for fun) is going to show up to a competition in the middle of the week rather than on a weekend. As I parked my car and unloaded the tri-mobile, I was a little less surprised by the number of Team USA and Ironman jerseys present.

I had arrived about 30 minutes early to this race since I had already registered online, and after I had been marked and given my timing chip I began to set up my transition area. Things began to fall apart from there. I checked tire pressure on my bike, and as I did the stem valve on my front tire snapped off and my tire was no longer able to hold any pressure whatsoever. I hadn't brought a spare with me (rookie mistake), and even if I had I didn't have the faintest clue of how to change it out. My husband, who is usually in charge of these sorts of issues, had to work late and would be arriving at the race closer to the finish.

I ran up to the announcer and race directors and explained my plight. They gave me a kind smile and told me they would obtain a spare and fix it for me while I got changed. In the time before I had even left the pavilion, an incredibly generous athlete had offered one of his spare tubes. I thanked him and the volunteers profusely before running off to change. While in the restroom, I heard another announcement overhead "The tube one of our athletes has volunteered doesn't fit our bike in need. Does anyone else have a tube to spare?" I emerged from the restroom dressed and ready, but with my heart in my throat and my stomach somewhere down between my toes. I was faced with the reality that I might not be racing today.

Thankfully, another athlete offered his spare tube and this one fit my wheel. I was ecstatic. The race was on, and I only had about 3 minutes to get in the water before the starting gun went off! I thanked everyone as much as I could and racked my bike before running straight into the water. I was foregoing my wetsuit this race anyways, which was a blessing since I wouldn't have had time to put it on anyways.

Similar to the Lake T race, this one had a small field (about 70 athletes) and used a 2-wave swim start. You guessed it; men and relay teams went first, followed by women about 2 minutes later. I entered the water with 1 minute to spare before the men started. I didn't even have time to get myself psyched out about the open water swim before we were off. In spite of the rocky start to my race, I swam the best I had ever swum. I was calm, strong, and focused, and my sighting skills kept me on laser-straight lines to the buoy and back to shore. Not only did I pass a number of women in the swim -- I managed to pass a few men as well! I came out of the water in the exact middle of the field, taking 11 minutes 29 seconds to swim the 500 yard course. I had worked hard to stay calm and smooth, keeping my form tight without worrying about speed, and I came out of the water on completely fresh legs. I'd finally gotten the hang of how I was supposed to do a triathlon swim.

T1 was fast by my standards, made doubly so since I didn't need to shuck myself out of my wetsuit. The entire transition area was on a sandy beach, and so I found quite a bit of sand accumulating in my bike shoes and bike chain, but I knew there wasn't any way around it. I took off on the bike knowing that there were some major hills on course -- 2 Cat 5 climbs and 1 Cat 4. Those hills turned out to be the great equalizers on the course. Since I had exited T1 right in the middle of the pack, I finally had some solid company on this single-loop bike course! The hills worked well to bunch groups of people off, and I found that I was able to power past athletes I otherwise wouldn't have been able to catch on the flat sections. I made some decisive moves, and generally found that when I passed people they didn't try to stick with me. Except for one athlete -- she and I traded places on course no less than six times throughout the 10 miles of biking. As it was a non-drafting course this became very funny. We would pass and attempt to drop one another, and whoever was passed needed to sit back 10 meters off of the rear wheel of the other athlete until another passing opportunity presented itself. After the first 2 passes, we began to exchange pleasantries and cheer each other on. All good things have to end, though, and she passed me one final time right before the end of the bike course. I let her go, as I was focused on a new trick -- undoing my bike shoes and pedaling with my feet atop them for the last few yards. Though I was passed on the bike, it set me up for a quicker transition as I was able to run in barefoot and change even more quickly into my running shoes.

T2 was another blur, albeit a happy one -- I saw my husband and our dog waiting for us! Sand again accumulated inbetween my toes during the transition, though a handily-placed towel on my bike rack took care of the worst of it. Pre-powdered socks and shoes made a huge difference, and I was flying out of T2 in just over a minute.

My legs were certainly with me that day, and I felt fresh and fast right off the start line. There weren't many people cheering on the course as it's a residential summer-sort of neighborhood with a YMCA camp right down the street. The people who lived nearby, however, certainly showed up to cheer! I got a lot of love for my Red Sox hat (as always), though I warningly told the cheer-er that similar to the race we weren't yet at the halfway point and that one should always be wary of the all-star break. I was offered wine (a couple times), a patio chair, and encouragement from a man yelling through a traffic cone. As always, the run was the strongest portion of my race and I made up plenty of time, laying down one of my fastest 5K times. As the end of the race came bearing down on us, I caught up to a male athlete who seemed to be struggling. I noticed with a bit of a start that he was the very athlete who had lent me a tire for my bike! When I thanked him for giving me the chance to race, he shrugged it off and asked if he could draft off me in the last bit of the run. This was funny, given that he was a good foot taller than I, but I obliged. He dropped me close to the finish line, but considering he had a 2-minute head start for his wave, I didn't chase too hard. This race series doesn't recognize age groups, but if it did I would have placed 2nd in the females 20-29 group; as it was I was the 13th overall female, something I was definitely proud of. I swam straight and calm to put in my best lake swim, I averaged a little over 17 mph on the bike, and I ran an average 8:30/mile pace for the 5K.

Setting off on the start of the run. Believe me, that smile lasted all race!

This was one of those races where everything finally makes sense and comes together, and I had a blast. The volunteers, race officials, and racers themselves were all amazing, and I'll definitely be back for another race.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Race Recap: 2018 Lake Terramuggus Sprint Triathlon #1

What do you normally do after running two mid-distance road races two weeks apart?

If the answer of "follow that up with another race and/or fling yourself headfirst into training for another sport" sounds mildly unreasonable, then I'm not sure if you'll understand who I am as a person.

So, two and a half weeks after the Mystic 10K, I found myself rolling up to my first triathlon of the year. With so much racing happening, my training over the prior six weeks was essentially just one continuous taper. I had no compunctions about placing well in this race, and instead viewed it as a training opportunity where I could test out some new equipment and work on honing in on my transitions.

I generally don't recommend trying anything new on race day, but sometimes there isn't really a way around that. In this case, the item in question was my new wetsuit. Since this race took place in early June, there were no local options where I could practice open water swimming (this is important later).

Winter sales are the best! I obtained this suit for 25% off.

Lake Terramuggus is a beautiful park in Marlborough, CT, and is the perfect place for a triathlon. One of the first things I noticed and appreciated was that the park was easy to get to and there was plenty of parking. I showed up early (nearly an hour and a half early... I was a little over-excited) and nabbed the perfect parking spot. I went up to the pavilion and registered -- day-of registration was only $10 more than online registration, which I felt was more than reasonable.

As I was waiting in line, I realized the numbers being assigned to day-of registrants started at 65 and increased from there. I was filling out my paperwork and overheard the registrar saying "Okay! Mike is number 68. Who's next?"

I knew that my race number would be marked on my arms and calf in permanent marker, and would be there for a few days. I'm not proud, but I took my time filling out my waiver. Someone got ahead of me in line, and I (thankfully) ended up with number 70.

I unpacked my gear from my car (the tri-mobile is lovingly called "Valhalla" -- because it's a Swedish car and fit for vikings) and started setting up in transition. As I began setting up, I said hello to the woman setting up next to me. She nervously confessed it was her first triathlon ever, and she had no one with her at the race (her husband was going to show up later to cheer her on). I complimented her transition set-up, for which she credited having watched a number of YouTube videos.

Together, we walked the transition areas and start/finish lines and made a plan of attack. When we got back to the transition area, I tried to dispense as much wisdom as I could in a short timeframe. Essentially, I tried to think of everything I would have wanted someone to tell me before my first triathlon.

The best I had was "Relax. Your body produces epinephrine in response to any short-term stress, whether it's good or bad stress. It's up to your brain to interpret that as excitement or nervousness. So when I feel those butterflies, I never think about how nervous I am. Instead, I think of how amazingly excited I am, and that changes my whole perception of it."

The other gems I dispensed:

  • "You can never have too much powder" -- as I liberally doused my bike shoes, running shoes, and socks with powder (as my father-in-law once famously said "No powder, you die.")
  • "Make sure you check the size of an item before you buy on Amazon" -- as I showed her my hilariously oversized tube of Chamois Butter
  • "Make sure to adequately hydrate while you're on your bike" -- but don't worry I forgot to abide by this one myself
  • "Don't go out too fast on the swim start" -- and... yeah I forgot to listen to myself on this one too
  • "Have fun and don't forget how awesome you are for being out here!" -- thankfully I mostly remembered this one
The water temperature in Lake T was a beautiful 71 degrees, and I thought about foregoing my wetsuit. However, since I had signed up with the intent of trying out my new wetsuit, I put it on.

There were only about 90 athletes (not entirely surprising considering the race took place on a Thursday evening), and I began to feel a bit nervous in spite of myself when I saw other athletes putting their wetsuits on over their Ironman or Team USA kit. The swim start was divided into waves; the first included men and relay participants and the second wave was just for women.

When the start gun went off, I took off at a furious pace and... promptly ran out of breath. When I popped my head above the surface of the water, I realized I was not only in the lead, I was also about to pass out from hypoxia and pure anxiety. My old fears of drowning and lake zombies resurfaced and I tread water to avoid spiraling into a complete panic. Suddenly, nothing was going right. The collar on my wetsuit felt too tight, I couldn't catch my breath, and my goggles began to fog up. I floated on my back for a minute to calm myself, and proceeded to backstroke my way to the first buoy. I was still on the edge of panic and had a difficult time allowing myself to swim freestyle. I made my way to the second buoy in a jagged pattern, but at least I was still moving forward. The turn towards shore from there was interesting, as my goggles had completely fogged over at this point. I swam well off-course multiple times, and actually swam straight into the legs of the race director before eventually staggering out of the water. It had taken me 13 minutes 40 seconds to swim a quarter of a mile, but I had completed the distance and somehow was not in last place.

My legs were tired the moment I reached my bike, which I knew was due to my incessant kicking while backstroking/panicking my way around the course, but I didn't let that get to me. I took my wetsuit off and cleared T1 in less than 2 minutes.

The bike course was a bit of a struggle at the start, as it immediately climbed a hill before leveling out. My FitBit wouldn't catch a GPS signal, and so I rode based off of perceived exertion rather than actual speed data from my watch. The course was beautiful, tree-lined, and flowing with a few small climbs. Since I had exited the water near the end, it was a lonely ride. I passed a few people and then, because it was a 2-lap course, I found myself being lapped by the athletes in the Team USA jerseys. Triathlon is truly an incredible sport, because those elites and I cheered each other on during those passing moments. There were a few volunteers on course, but no other spectators to speak of. I finished the 11 mile bike course in 41 minutes 48 seconds, unfortunately with my slowest splits to date. Kicking while swimming had caused me to spend my legs long before I truly needed them.

I entered T2 with numerous athletes having already finished the race, and had to dodge traffic from them to rack my bike. Despite that, I completed T2 in less than a minute and a half, and was literally off and running. The hills on the single loop portion of the run course were more significant than on the bike, and I was able to pass a few more people there. Funnily, I watched one woman frantically dive into the woods for a bathroom break, then I passed a portapotty less than 50 feet up the street. I couldn't help but laugh at what her expression must have been once she came out of the woods and saw the bathroom on course! I finished the 5K run course in 29 minutes 22 seconds, which was also my worst time to date. I crossed the finish line with a total time of 1:27:56, putting me in 8th for my age group and 19th for women overall.

I racked my bike, changed into my flipflops, grabbed a water bottle, and headed back to the finish line to wait for my new friend. As she crossed the line, I saw her smile and remembered that even a miserable race for me is an incredible experience and that I should be so thankful for what I am able to accomplish.

Sweaty hugs and huge high fives abounded after that.

"Fe"male -- the original Iron Man and my beautiful finisher's medal


Friday, June 22, 2018

Race Recap: 2018 Mystic 10K

I realize that a few weeks ago when I posted about my race calendar, I had indicated that I would be running the Mystic Half Marathon. We all know the saying about the best laid plans of mice and men, and as such I made the decision to drop from the half marathon distance to the 10K (more on the reason for doing so later).

In the days leading up to Mystic, the weather forecast consistently called for thunderstorms the morning of the race (same thing happened in the lead-up to Providence, funnily enough). I laid out multiple sets of clothing the night before the race, figuring I would be prepared no matter how the weather turned out.

Thankfully, we woke up to a beautiful cool and clear morning. I ended up wearing a long-sleeve shirt and shorts, and was comfortable through the race.

My husband and I arrived early, with plenty of time to pick up my bib and t-shirt -- while waiting in that line, I actually met and caught up with a friend I haven't seen since UConn graduation!

Another friend of mine was running her first 10K ever, and we had agreed to meet up at the start line and run together. I asked how she was feeling, and what pace she would like to be setting -- she said that she would be happy with a 9:00-9:30 minute per mile pace, and so we settled in in front of the 2:00 marathon pace signs.

The race is capped at about 2,000 total entrants and so while the start "corral" was a little packed the crowds opened up quickly once the start gun went off.

Lining up right outside Olde Mistick Village

My friend and I laid out an 8:55 on our first mile, and when I checked in on how she was feeling the response was a smile and a big thumbs up. We locked into that pace and powered through the course, passing plenty of people on the hills (to their easily apparent dismay).

Mystic holds a special place in my heart. Not only is it the site of my first half marathon, it's also the town in which my grandfather lived, and as we passed through the downtown I told my friend about "therapy" at Anthony J's (a code name for getting together with friends and family at the bar on Thursday nights -- a tradition that is still observed, though not as frequently), and was able to point out a few other landmarks.

The highlight of the race is, of course, running across the drawbridge on foot. The bridge is lined on either side by spectators with signs and cowbells, and it's a great boost so early in the race.

After the bridge, the course moved towards the outskirts of town. With Mystic being such a small town, and the small entrant pool, there weren't too many people around. Great news if you want some open space to stretch your legs. Not so great if you are a runner who relies on the presence of other people for motivation.

There were a few rolling hills towards the end of the course, on which my friend and I continued to pass other runners with ease. We rounded the corner towards the finish straight, and I caught my friend's attention. I yelled "Come on!" and pointed to the finish arch, picking up my pace. She laughed and matched me, and we sprinted to the end, finishing in a dead heat. I actually passed two other women on the finish straight by running between them. A review of finish line photos showed their thunderous expressions in a humorous comparison to my idiotic grin.

Lock-step and cruising to the finish line!

I ended up finishing 10th in my age group with a time of 55:53 (a perfect 9:00 pace). I was incredibly proud of my friend, who has since gone on and run another 10K!

Success!

The part that everyone wants to know about is, of course, the medal. And this is, hands down, my favorite medal to date.

 Is there anything better than a penguin wearing a shirt and a sweatband?

And now, onto the reason I dropped down to the 10K...

I was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau, Delta Mu chapter! STT is an international nursing honors society, and I was incredibly honored to have been invited to join. Since I received an associate degree in nursing, I was previously ineligible for induction into STT, so being asked to join while pursuing my master's degree was an even more incredible feeling.


Because the day wasn't busy enough, my husband and I then went to see Avengers: Infinity War in theaters, and we loved it. We are unapologetically nerdy (our dog is named Marvel), so of course we were going to enjoy this film no matter what, but we weren't prepared for just how good it ended up being.


And with all of that accomplished, we were ready to kick off Summer and welcome triathlon training and competitions back into our lives! More on that in my next post, I promise.

What a day!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Race Recap: 2018 Providence Half Marathon

Let me just start by saying "What a weekend!"

I won't get into the details, but it was a 72-hour whirlwind of events. 

On Sunday morning (race day) my husband and I woke up at 5:30 am to get ready. Breakfast for me was a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice (also known as "zumos", a habit we picked up from our time in Valencia, Spain last year), an English muffin with peanut butter, and a mug of coffee. I had laid out everything I needed the night before, so other than making breakfast and filling water bottles, there wasn't too much thought involved in the morning's routine. 

We were in the car and on our way by 6:00 am, and we made it to Providence a little after 7:00 am. I had opted for race-day check-in and was very glad I did (it meant I didn't have to try and manage driving to and from Providence the day before the race). Check-in was smooth and we were on our way to the start line before 7:30, so we got a chance to watch the marathon start. 

I squeezed a quick warm-up in between my trip(s) to the port-a-potty, drank my Generation UCAN, and sipped some Nuun from my water bottle. I was a little nervous, but also felt very ready for the race. 

A few minutes before the start gun, I waded into the start corral and found the 2:00 pacer. He said his plan was to start out fast to build a bit of a buffer (his rationale was that the course got difficult at the end), and then slow down a little bit. 

This sounded like a solid plan to me, and when the start gun went off, we set out at a blazing pace. And then we found out that the pacer's pace watch wasn't tracking our GPS signal. We dialed the pace back a little bit once we passed the first mile marker in 8:45. Oops. 

Miles 2-6 were also held at a steady 9:00 pace, and when I came up to my first water station, I walked while I drank (I tried to run while drinking and ended up with Nuun up my left nostril), and the 2:00 pace group got a bit ahead of me. I kept them in my sights until mile 8, but didn't catch back up. I walked this water station too, and picked the pace back up. I still had the 2:00 pace group in sight, but they were getting on ahead of me and I couldn't quite reel them back in.

There were a series of rolling hills from miles 8-12, and while the climbs were fine, the descents were terrifying. My hamstrings were shaking and I felt that if I tried to run any faster I'd end up rolling down the hills. Another water stop at mile 11 meant I could no longer easily see the 2:00 pace group. I knew I could potentially catch up, but after mile 12 my legs were shaking even on flat ground. I was still running a 9:15-9:20 pace, but I knew that my 2:00 time goal was no longer possible. I didn't have any strength left to push it on the final mile. 

I crossed the finish line in 2:01:53, about 4 minutes faster than my previous (and only other) half marathon finish time. After I crossed the finish line, I met up with my husband (the best cheering squad I could ever have asked for) and we walked around downtown Providence so I could stretch out and cool down. The city is so cool -- plenty of amazing old architecture to look at. 

Standing in front of city hall

Overall, the course was amazing, and while there wasn't a lot of crowd support (only two or three really decent cheering spots -- the rest of the crowds seemed to be people who lived in the area, and were cheering from their front porches), the volunteers were incredible and so supportive. The aid stations were abundant and perfectly placed (about every 2-3 miles), and very well-stocked. Every station had water and Nuun, and there were four or five stations (as I can recall) that had bananas, GU, and Clif Blocks available. As I said earlier, I used Generation UCAN and didn't need any extra nutrition. However, I LOVED that Nuun was available for hydration. It's what I train with, so I was happy with the consistency. 

As far as swag, the medal was incredibly nice. It's a very heavy and well-crafted wedge-shaped medal that fits together with the other medals from the Rhode Races series (not happening this year for me, but it will definitely be a future goal for me to complete the series). The goody bag at registration included a high-quality race-and-gender-specific t-shirt that I'll be wearing as a good luck charm for my upcoming pharmacology final, and a couple fun samples. I didn't partake in the post-race food or beer (I'm not usually hungry after a long run), so I can't speak to the quality of that. 


Love this medal, and the blue/yellow color scheme

The bottom line? I'm a little bummed I didn't meet my time goal, but very happy with my huge PR. I had a great time at the race, and will definitely be either at Providence or another one of Rhode Race's half marathons next year. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Power of Positivity

In news that might be surprising to... no one, actually, keeping a positive mind set can make your work outs easier and more effective. And while it's not always easy to keep positive thoughts on tap, there's one easy and fail-safe way to boost your own performance and help mitigate your fatigue levels.

Are you ready for it?

 Thanks, Buddy

No joke, smiling can reduce your effort while running, potentially by up to a whopping 2.8% when compared with frowning, or 2.2% when neutral (Study: The effects of facial expression and relaxation cues on movement economy, physiological, and perceptual responses during running). If you closely followed Nike's Breaking2 attempt, you might have gotten a few glimpses of Eliud Kipchoge smiling his way to an amazing marathon finish time of 2:00:25.
 
Another way to improve running efficiency (in this case up to approximately 1%) is to hear positivity from others. If you train in a group setting, try working with your training partners to give each other positive feedback (here's the kicker -- it doesn't even have to be true, it just needs to be positive) while running, and you should notice a decrease in effort for the same exertion as you had been running (Study: Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners). 


Seen at the 2013 New York City Marathon (source)

The last (and my favorite) way to improve your own running efficiency is to harness the power of positive thoughts and self-affirmations. While it's easy to get bogged down in the negatives of a normal run or race, you always have the power to control your own thoughts. Next time you catch yourself saying "This is too hard. Why am I doing this?" reframe it in a way so that you are telling yourself, "Wow, this is tough. It's amazing that I'm capable of doing this!" Don't try to fool yourself into thinking something isn't as hard as it really is, take pride in the fact that you are the one out there pushing through it all!
I saw this on Friday morning's 13-mile long run, and I still haven't stopped smiling.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How I (Try to) Make it All Work

With a relatively full work/school schedule, sometimes I even wonder how I'm able to fit in a comparatively full training schedule as well. The key to this is pretty easy: I hold myself accountable for my time. I found that if I'm not careful, I can easily waste two or three hours a day browsing Facebook or playing video games (not that there's anything wrong with either of these activities... in moderation). What I have found that I can do to make use of downtime without letting it take over my day is to set aside strict times for those activities (while stretching, or riding my bike on the trainer).

It takes a lot of mental toughness to do this, but I promise that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Self-control is like a muscle -- the more you use it, the stronger it becomes!

Without sounding too preachy, I'd like to give you an idea of what a "day off" looks like for me. I am lucky (???) enough to work and do clinical in 12 or 13 hour shifts, and so I have more days off than the average 9-5 person. This presents its own sets of challenges. I'm not able to get anything done before or after my shifts (factor in a 45-minute to 1-hour commute each way for each location, and my days on the clock are shot), so my days "off" need to be pretty strictly scheduled. I find that caffeine and snacks help.

For my example of a day "off", I'm going to give you a peek into what yesterday looked like.

8:30: Wake up! Take care of the chickens, let Marvel out, and put the kettle on.

Kimi (buff) and Schumi (barred) enjoy their breakfast

9:00: Eat breakfast with Marvel. I use this time to browse Facebook or play video games if that's what I feel like doing. This is limited to 30 minutes, tops.

9:30: Get dressed, let Marvel out again (untangle him when he gets stuck), and get ready to head to the track for the first work-out of the day.

10:30: Arrive at the track! 800m warm-up, 12x400m intervals with a goal of 1:56, walk a 200m recovery interval between each set, and jog an 800m cool-down. I actually averaged 1:52 for my intervals, and it felt amazing. Gotta love the days when everything feels easy. I usually walk and stretch track-side and eat a snack before getting in my car to head to the grocery store.

Took a few tries to get this footage, but it was worth it to be able to see my improvement in form

12:00: Grocery shopping trip at my favorite local co-op, Fiddleheads. I get all of our produce, dairy, and most of our meat from here. They source things locally as much as they can, and almost everything there is organic. Plus, the people who work there are so friendly, and very knowledgeable (they helped me finally figure out how to buy avocados).

13:00: Back home. Unload groceries, shower, and then prepare lunch. While lunch is cooking, I wash the dishes and do the dishwasher. Multi-tasking is definitely a huge key to fitting everything in to my day.

13:30: School work. I started (and finished) my presentation slides for a differential diagnosis case presentation. Once that was completed, I checked my e-mail (I only check my e-mail once a day, otherwise it's potentially another huge time sink). Once I finished my presentation, I had a cup of tea and another snack.

Grilled cheese with avocado on 12-grain bread = yum

16:00: Change into a new set of workout clothes, and hit the bike trainer. I did a relatively short workout, where I covered 5 miles in a smaller gear, focusing on maintaining a cadence of 85 rpms. This sort of pedal turnover is optimal for triathlon competition, and is associated with better power output for perceived exertion. In any case, I'm learning a lot about bikes and how to actually ride (as in, not mash the pedals), so I used this time to watch educational videos on YouTube (Global Triathlon Network and Global Cycling Network are two of my favorite resources right now).

I am incapable of taking a picture of myself while riding, despite my best efforts

16:30: Cool out, more stretching, and now adding in strengthening exercises. I'm trying to work on my glutes and make sure that they're as strong as possible to help keep my kinetic chain stable while running. In short, I'm strengthening to help prevent injuries. I snuck in another snack while stretching.

Marvel is judging me from his throne

17:30: Change into pajamas, put laundry in the washing machine, and start thinking about dinner. Since it's just me and my husband, I like to cook larger meals that can fulfill multiple meals. Leftovers are king in this household. Thankfully, I made stuffed peppers the night before, so I don't have to cook anything else.

18:00: Time to study and hit the books. Pharmacology is the main focus of this semester, and it's definitely making itself the center of my study plans. At some point I switch the laundry over to the dryer.

20:00: My husband gets home, we warm up food, and eat dinner with Marvel (who has needed to go out multiple times and required significant snuggling through the day -- he would need his own schedule blog post to cover it all). This is time to catch up and be together, which is just as important as anything else I have scheduled for my day.

22:00: Bedtime! The most important part of the day. I've been finding my training performance has been suffering on days where I'm only getting 6 hours of sleep (unsurprisingly), so I'm trying to be more aware of getting enough sleep.

The caveat to all of this, of course, is that everyone has different schedules and responsibilities, and so it is dangerous to generalize. So the one tip I will leave you to work on is what I started off with -- hold yourself accountable for your time, and set hard limits on the time-wasters in your life*


-----
*No, you cannot classify your boss, your children, or your partner as a time-waster. Sorry.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Recovery

One truism I have found about running and training in general is that the harder you work, the harder you need to focus on recovery. This isn't just about putting your feet up and binging Netflix while eating tons of candy and drinking a beer after a long run (probably the worst combination of things you can do). Optimizing your recovery means paying attention to your nutrition, your hydration, and taking care of your hard-working muscles.

Nutrition
Working out for a sustained period of time places your body in a catabolic state; that is to say, your body is breaking down its own stores of fat and muscle to fuel itself. While the act of burning fat is ideal, breaking down your own muscle is less preferred. As well as being used for fuel, muscles also sustain "micro-tears" or microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. This action is necessary for improving fitness and building muscle mass, if addressed properly. There have been a number of studies done questioning whether post-workout protein is necessary. A few studies seem to find that as long as pre-workout protein intake is adequate (at least 20 grams), then post-workout protein doesn't do anything to improve the anabolic state (building and rebuilding damaged muscle). I have trouble eating before workouts, and so I definitely don't fit into that category. As such, I make sure that I consume at least 25 grams of protein within a half hour of finishing my workouts. The recommended range I have found suggests protein intake in the range of 20-40 grams, dependent on lean body mass of the athlete in question.
Carbohydrate intake for recovery is, I have found, a little more controversial. I have adapted a low-sugar diet (I am now at the point in which I do not consume anything with added sugar) and am feeling and performing far better than I ever did as a sugar-fueled athlete. Previous recommendations I had lived by were to consume a meal or beverage with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio post-workout. On further research, I have been finding that glycogen replenishment (your body's stored glucose, present in the liver and muscles) is not necessarily a big focus for post-workout recovery. In fact, what I have seen are data suggesting that glycogen stores can be replenished by consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet, with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates throughout the day.

My favorite recovery drink: use a blender to mix 1 ripe banana, 12 ounces whole milk, 4 tablespoons peanut protein powder, and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder. Delicious, and more than 25 grams of protein.

Hydration
An old recommendation for judging water replacement was to weigh yourself (clothing-free) pre and post workout, and that for every pound of water lost a person would need to consume one liter of water to restore adequate hydration. As an RN, this isn't the best recommendation I have found. Ideally, a person should be drinking adequately throughout their period of exercise, so as to break even with their weight. For me, hydration starts even before I head out the door. I drink at least 16 ounces of fluid before starting my workout, and also monitor the color of my urine (it should be clear to pale yellow) -- I won't start a workout unless I know I am optimally hydrated before I even begin. I have found that using a no-sugar-added sports drink with added electrolytes (I use and swear by Nuun) and drinking when I feel thirsty during my workouts has kept me very well hydrated without making me need to stop for a bathroom break mid-run. After my workout, I again drink as I feel thirsty, and monitor urine color to determine my hydration status. Staying optimally hydrated ensures proper circulation, and will help your body to more quickly and efficiently flush lactic acid (a by-product of muscle breakdown) through. 

Muscle Care
Your legs have worked hard, so you probably think the best way to reward them is to let them rest for the rest of the day, right? Unfortunately, that's probably going to make you even more stiff and sore for the next day. What I've described above falls under the category of "passive recovery" while I prefer the school of thought promoting "active recovery". After a run, I will drop my pace from workout pace to a slow jog to a walk, the entire period of which lasts anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. This promotes circulation through the tired muscles while also allowing my heart rate to slowly return to normal. When I finish my walk, I'll do a short series of slow static stretches, with the emphasis on relaxing. If I need to fit in another run the next day, I will do a 10 minute ice bath. Though my legs always feel amazing after an ice bath, newer data have showed that ice baths can inhibit training gains, and should only really be used in situations in which prompt recovery is more important than long-term gain. As such, I will only use it in back-to-back workouts or after races. Once I've done all that, then I'll put on a pair of compression socks and put my feet up. This combination again promotes circulation through my lower legs and helps to prevent swelling. I try not to sit for too long, and make sure to move around frequently. If time allows, I'll hop on my bike trainer for a few miles at the end of the day to again promote increased circulation through my legs and allow them to stretch out without the stress of weight-bearing exercise.

Hello ice bath, my old friend 🎶
I've come to suffer here again 🎵

This past week, I ran a cumulative total of 23 miles, biked 20 miles, and swam 1750 yards (about 1 mile). For me, triathlon is really comprised of four stages -- swimming, biking, running, and recovering!

I have some exciting news -- I have secured this blog's first interview! Within the next week or two, I will be publishing an interview with a registered dietician and running coach. I talked a little bit about nutrition for recovery in this post, and hope to go into a lot more detail with that soon. If you have any burning nutrition questions, send them to me and I will feature your question in the upcoming interview.

Sources
Aragon, A., & Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Nutrient Timing Revisited. Functional Foods, 65-89. doi:10.1201/b16307-5

Peake, J. M., Roberts, L. A., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I., Krog, S., Aas, S. N., . . . Raastad, T. (2016). The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. The Journal of Physiology,595(3), 695-711. doi:10.1113/jp272881


Shirreffs, S.M., Casa, D.J., & Carter, R. (2007). Fluid needs for training and competition in athletics. Journal of Sports Sciences,25:sup1, S83-S91, doi: 10.1080/02640410701607353

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