Music Monday: Just Be

I am stealing an idea from my blogger friend Jenna and trying out a Music Monday feature. She’s a fiction writer who highlights songs that inspire her creatively, and I’m going to share songs that motivate me to move. Music improves your workouts in several ways, and song tempo is less important than whether you personally find it to be motivational.

My first song choice is something you probably won’t see on a Top Ten Workout Songs list. I teach RPM, and we frequently use trancy, almost soothing music for our speed tracks. The flow and tempo put me in a semi-euphoric state, almost like I am above the effort.

I’m training for a marathon, and my body is constantly reminding me that I am not in the shape I used to be. I was a few miles into my long run recently, feeling irritated with myself and upset with some random life-crap, and this song completely changed my mood. The beginning is the aural equivalent of being submerged in warm water.

The lyrics also remind me to take a break from worrying about what has and what might happen. For many of us, our workouts are one of the few times we get to focus on ourselves. Sometimes results come quickly; more often they don’t. But each step, rep, and class should be celebrated as a choice we made to be good to ourselves. Let’s not forget to enjoy the process.

‘Cause now I know, It’s not so far

To where I go, the hardest part
It’s inside me, I need

To just be

Just be

I’m always interested to hear what you think and what songs motivate you personally.

A Mostly Nice (and slightly naughty) Holiday Season

Ah, the holidays. When sleeves get longer as days get shorter. The hours are crammed with activities and faces are crammed with edible delights. Each year I strive to strike a balance between enjoying what the season has to offer while not throwing healthy habits to the wind. Here’s how I spent the merry month of December.

For the second year, my boyfriend Ross and I competed in the Anthem Holiday Triathlon. It’s a short, beginner-friendly event, and the men and women race separately. It makes for wpid-dsc00657.jpga long morning, but it also provides a rare opportunity for us to cheer each other on and play photographer. It was snowing when we left Flagstaff and raining in Tucson, but overcast and pleasant at the race site.

The swim is a 200-yard serpentine that’s completed twice. This year they started the oldest swimmers first (last year we organized ourselves by swim times), and the pool got congested very quickly. At one point my lane was so clogged that I stood and walked. People were also resting on the walls between laps, so there were a few times I stopped short and changed direction. I hope they change back next year.

It was windy, which made for an interesting bike ride. It was a three-loop course, complete with climbs and descents. I hadn’t ridden my tri bike much lately, so I stayed out of the aero bars when flying downhill and during the narrow and twisty sections of the course. Ross, who is a beast on the bike, stayed in them the whole time. I was passed by three women, and he wasn’t passed at all.  wpid-dsc00700.jpg

The run is a loop, with a short out-and-back part. The first half is a net downhill, which makes it rough toward the end when you’re already tired. Ross had finished his race in 1:05:29, and I figured I’d be about 10 minutes behind him. My time was 1:15:36. It was nice to see his smiling face at the finish line.

We had decided to relax after the race, and booked a Jacuzzi suite. We ended up with three bathtubs: a Jacuzzi tub in the bedroom itself as well as normal tubs in the two bathrooms. Pretty flippin’ fancy.

wpid-dsc00713.jpg

A few days before Christmas, I got a special surprise. As I was getting ready for work, I looked out my back window and did a double-take. The weeds that had overtaken the yard during the rainy season were gone, and several herbs, vegetables, and flowers had been planted. Ross and his parents had come by the day before and transformed my backyard into something beautiful. I can’t wait to prepare meals with food from my own garden. It was by far the best Christmas gift that I’ve ever received.

1779100_10202131611492124_6234113087629119024_n10407428_10202131612612152_1709735528973673114_n

On Christmas Eve, my friends Keith and Shokofeh, who head up the Tucson Runners Project, hosted a hot chocolate run on Mt Lemmon. It was chilly when we arrived, but the combination of sunshine and uphill running warmed us quickly. We did 6.6 miles with a couple of other friends while stopping for a couple of picture breaks. Afterwards, we hung out for a while and enjoyed treats, views, and conversation.

10866825_10152957421167068_2133306559_n 10850535_10152957420802068_37489893_n15501_10203253681085921_5108937100284759748_n

One of my blogger friends, Shannan, tagged me in a cookie recipe challenge. I enjoy cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, but I don’t bake that often. In the spirit of my blog, I wanted to make something fairly healthy. I had made black bean brownies in the past, and wanted to see if I could find a bean-based cookie recipe. Google showed me how to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with garbanzo beans.

Here are the modifications I made to the basic recipe. I used sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter because it’s a little easier to stir and is already slightly sweet. I replaced half of the honey with liquid stevia, and found the cookies to be sweet but not overpoweringly so. I also multiplied everything by 1.5 to use the full can of wpid-2014-12-30-14.07.02.png.pnggarbanzos. The recipe warned against doubling because it could ruin the blender, but my Ninja Prep Pro handled it with ease. The batter was tasty, and with no eggs, I didn’t have to worry about eating it raw. Confession: I have eaten raw batter that contains eggs. Just one of the ways I live on the edge.

The cookies were a little soft after ten minutes, so I baked them for another two. It didn’t change the texture much, and I decided to stop there rather than risk burning them. The outsides had a hint of normal crisp-cookie texture, but the insides were very soft. I prefer a soft cookie, though, so it wasn’t a big deal. They were delicious and not beany at all. The original recipe is gluten free, and can easily be made vegan and/or sugar free. I would definitely make them again.

My holidays weren’t all exercise and bean cookies, though. I did enjoy some cheesecake, brownies, and chocolate treats. The evil geniuses at Trader Joe’s hooked me with their Taste Test of Caramels. Indulgence meets guessing game? You win this time, TJ’s.

It’s been a wonderful holiday season, and I am grateful for all of the friends and family that I got to celebrate with. I am enjoying some time off work, while I catch up on some R & R and much needed housework. Marathon training has also begun.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to seeing what 2015 brings.

A New Chapter

My life has changed. After thirteen years of marriage, I am now living alone. There is a special (triathlete!) man in my life, but he’s a four hour drive away. After a few wonderful years of setting PRs, I have had a slew of injury setbacks. Nothing major, but enough stifle any progress because I’ve dialed down both mileage and intensity. I am trying to accept my new normal while still striving to improve. I have had to take a hard look at myself and what I truly value and believe. Sometimes life cracks your heart open and forces you to confront everything you’d stuffed deeply inside. Overall, I am optimistic about the future, but it’s been a challenging time.

Athletically, this year has been one lackluster race performance after another, with one notable exception: the Phoenix Marathon in March. After narrowly missing the cutoff for the 2014 Boston Marathon, I am happy to say that I was accepted for 2015. While my 3:31:32 fell short of my sub-3:30 goal, I was thrilled with a 7+ minute PR.

10422291_10202037086769065_1906697635223894425_n

Whether in life or running, it’s all about how you handle the obstacles.

During the spring, I chose the Phoenix 10K as my fall “A” race. I had hoped to crush the 44:01 (7:05 pace) PR I had set on a much hillier course in May of last year, but amended my goal to a 7:30 pace. My friend Shokofeh, who had run the 5K earlier that day, offered to pace me. My boyfriend Ross said he’d run the first five miles with us, and then we’d battle it out. During the race, she repeatedly told me I was doing awesome. He told me I looked pretty when I was suffering. I simultaneously loved them for running with me and hated them for cruising along while I struggled. Ross took off after the fifth mile and beat me by over a minute. Ultimately, their presence kept me honest during the second half of the race, and I finished in 46:32 (7:29 pace). It’s definitely harder to push when you know a PR is out of the question, so I was happy that I achieved my goal.

I’m also at a place where I am having to retrain my brain after skipping and cutting many a workout short due to injury. Speedwork and hills aggravated my calf, so I stuck with slow and moderately paced miles. My body is ready to ramp things up again, and my mind does not like it. It becomes habit to hold back, to take that day off… I’ve had a few small victories lately, though: a 27 degree swim here, a 10-miler before work there. I am beginning to remember the high that comes from pushing through when I’d much rather take the easy road. I want the athlete back.

One non-fitness related accomplishment that I am really excited about is that I have started writing short stories again. During my soul-searching time, I thought about what would I most regret if I were to die right now. I kept coming back to that fact that I had never published a work of fiction. Fear had kept me from even trying. I set a goal this year to either submit a story for publication or to a contest. I stumbled upon the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and thought it sounded perfect. Writers were are 48 hours to create a story of 1000 words or less that include an assigned setting and object in a specific genre. Here is what I came up with, if you’re interested. I welcome feedback, positive or negative.

Comedy/Speed Dating/Mousetrap

Mystery/Limousine/Magnet

Sci-Fi/Health Club/Welcome Mat

The contest definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t written any stories in ten years, much less a mystery, sci-fi, or pure comedy. Ultimately, out of over 1000 entrants, I was one of 125 writers that advanced to the third round, but was not one of the 25 who made it to the end. Still, my main goal was to put myself out there and grow as a writer. I’m usually never satisfied with what I write, which is a big reason I have avoided it for so long. And just like exercise, when you get “out of shape,” it’s hard to get going again. Inertia is a powerful force.

Other things vie for my time as well. I want to get back to blogging here at least semi-regularly. I’d like my house to stop looking like I just moved in. I am also determined to put a high priority on my love life. Both my ex-husband and I agree that we got lazy when it came to keeping things special, and I don’t want to fall into that again. So, while I am committed to staying fit, I may decide to pursue PRs with less fervor, and Boston will probably be my last marathon for a long time.

As this year winds down, I am grateful for many things. My slower body is still capable of pounding the pavement. My creative passion has been rekindled. And I get to share many a mile with the person I love.

10172711_10201181011247712_7072586329916491965_n

Of course it’s effin’ hard!

I am training for a marathon using the Hanson’s method, and am running more miles and more frequently than ever before. The program is designed to develop cumulative fatigue, and while the longest runs top off at 16 miles, they are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first. 

I was about five miles into a nine-mile goal pace run one morning when I really wanted to slow down. My mind whined, this is haaaard. All of a sudden, something I had read on a triathlon forum popped into my head: Of course it’s effin’ hard. It’s IRONMAN. While I have never trained for an Ironman (and probably never will), I had a “Well, duh!” moment right there.

Marathon training isn’t supposed to be easy. Running a marathon isn’t easy. Neither is any physical endeavor where you are pushing your body beyond where it wants to go. To a person trying to get in shape after years of sedentary life, running to the end of the street is effin’ hard. No matter how fit you are and how much you might love to exercise, there are days when it’s a struggle just to get out the door.

Anyone who decides to tackle a goal knows from the outset there will be a struggles, but the buoyancy of untested enthusiasm can obscure that fact. Once a person is down in the trenches dealing with the nitty-gritty tasks at hand, however, it’s easy to lose sight of why this crazy thing ever seemed like a good idea. A decision must be made whether or not to press on, sometimes multiple times a day. But while the prize is obtained at the end, the true treasure is often found during the journey.

So, I forged ahead with a bit of a smile on my face and finished the workout strong. I have a few more tough training weeks before taper time, and I plan to carry this mindset to the end. Every effin’ step.

Life is pain

Because the “Hard is what makes great.” quote from A League of Their Own would have been too obvious.

A 30-Day Push

It seems I can’t turn around these days without hearing about some sort of fitness or diet challenge. 90 days, 30 days, planks, squats, shake-drinking, clean-eating, detoxing, boxing… While I am not a fan of quick-fixes or fads, short-term goals like these can help provide focus that translates into long-term habits (I think my next challenge needs to be going for a whole paragraph without using a hyphen!). Still, none of these challenges piqued my interest.

I had seen seen the site http://www.hundredpushups.com before, but I think I would be as challenged mentally as physically to complete it. Honestly, my mind tends to get bored with the exercise before my body gives out. Then I found this push-up challenge. You build to 50 push-ups, but five different variations are involved. That should help with the mental aspect. Plus, the variations are more challenging that the straight-up variety.

I did the first day today, which consisted of one rep of each kind. It went easily except for the diamond push-up; I barely completed the single rep. I will probably need to do kneesies on that one as the challenge progresses. I also conducted a baseline test to see how many straight push-ups I could do before failure (29). It will be interesting to see what that number is at the end of the month. Hello, September. I am prepared to PUSH myself.

Will all of these push-ups make me into a Mean Girl?

As an aside, my friends at http://weshallhavepie.com/ have started their own September Skinny Jeans Challenge. Hop on over to their site if you’d like some ideas on healthy eating (A hyphen-free paragraph! Oh, wait… Crud.).

Do you have any September goals?

How I Survived My Summer Offseason

In some parts of the world, the summer months are ripe with races. In my neck of the desert, where midday temperatures routinely top one hundred degrees, formal racing opportunities dwindle. For others, the downtime comes when the ground is buried under crunchy layers of white stuff. Still, there are plenty of ways for a even the most ardent race-a-holic to stay motivated and well-trained during the inhospitable seasons.

Get Out of Dodge:

Is the weather awful? Go somewhere where it isn’t! Destination races can be a lot of fun. This summer, I cooled off in San Francisco and Flagstaff. Last year I ran a half marathon in Disneyland. Make like a kid and head to a sports camp. I’ve had great times at running camp. Incidentally, my hometown of Tucson is home to several triathlon camps during the winter months. Consider a fitness spa vacation to both sweat and unwind.

Alternative Events:

While there are fewer formal races, I’m fortunate that my city provides a few weekday events during the summer weeks. My favorite is the local aquathlon series (800 yard pool swim, 3 mile run). The swim can get a little crazy, as we circle swim three or four to a lane. Swimmers are assigned lanes based on an a submitted start time, but some estimates are better than others. I know my times vary from week to week. Some days, it’s like bumper boats, and other times things go… just swimmingly. Then it’s pop out of the water, put your shoes on, and run three laps around a park path, weaving through walkers, bikers, and oblivious children. This particular summer was a lot of fun for me, as both my run and swim times improved since last year. I also had some great sprint-to-the-finish battles and even managed to win a few. They are relatively small events, and you get to know some folks pretty well by the end of the summer.

One other thing I like to hit at least once during the summer is an all-comer’s track meet. There are several youth track clubs that participate as well as full-grown folks. I like to do mile time trials occasionally to gauge my fitness, and it’s fun to do them in a competitive setting. If that means getting beaten by an eight year-old, so be it. My mile PR dropped to 6:07 this summer.

1025535_4359914296374_2102485039_o

Now, if your offseason happens during the winter, you might find snowshoe races, cross country skiing, indoor or winter triathlons in your area.

Just do it anyway:

Some folks just decide to suck it up and race. One local running event company hosts a “Run With The Roosters”, which starts at 5:05 AM. I passed on that, but I did take part in an evening 5K and a sprint triathlon. With racing getting more popular these past few years, I have noticed that there are several events to pick from, even during the dog days of summer. If extreme weather is just one more challenge you’d like to take on, there are events like “The Hottest Race on Earth” just for you.

Well, my offseason is rapidly drawing to a close. Starting with an 8-miler on Labor Day, I have eight more races packed in to next two months. I’m eagerly anticipating my times dropping with the temperature.

ROOB Workouts

Some folks pop out of bed with a gleam in their eyes and a spring in their step. Not so me. Some days the roll out of bed (ROOB) is practically literal. Maybe I should attach a ramp to the bed so I don’t hit the floor so hard. Anyhow, due to life’s demands, sometimes AM workouts are the only option. Here are some ways to survive, if not always thrive, in the wee hours.

Injury Risk and Diminished Performance

Your core temperature runs cooler in the morning, which can increase the risk of injury. And then there’s fighting that feeling of grogginess… A longer warm-up can help counteract these factors.

My paces in the morning are slower than they are in the afternoon or evening, and I am not alone. This can be improved somewhat by making morning exercise a habit. If you happen to enjoy racing, it’s good to train in the morning at least occasionally since most events are held early in the day. The effect is much less pronounced when performing a simple and/or less strenuous activity, such as walking.

Fueling and Fat Burn

Will working out in the morning on an empty stomach help me burn more fat? I’ve read the cases both for and against it. Some physique competitors swear by it, saying that being glycogen-depleted (like you are first thing in the morning) leads to greater fat burning. However, recent research says that you won’t be able to exercise as long and/or hard on an empty stomach, which negates the benefit. Total calories burned are more important than whether they come from glycogen or fat stores.

Logistics come into play as well. If you’re already waking up long before you want to, you’ll probably don’t want to sit around waiting for your food to digest before beginning your workout. When deciding what and when to eat, the type of workout affects my decision. In general, if I am doing an shorter, easier workout, I’ll do it on an empty stomach. If it’s an intense interval workout or it’s going to last for more than an hour, I’d rather be fueled so I can perform at a higher level. I am personally a big fan of Choclate Cherry Clif Shots on days when I wake up and head right out the door to workout. They digest quickly and the caffeine helps wake me up. If I have to spend some time traveling to a gym or running route, I’ll have something quick and solid like a Luna bar*.

Getting Your Feet On The Ground

Of course, none of this matters if you stay nestled under the sheets. Here are some ideas for those mornings when it feels like Lilliputians have bound you to your mattress with invisible threads during the night.

Will Gulliver be skipping his long run this morning?

  • Move your alarm clock across the room. The first step out of bed is the hardest.
  • Make plans to meet a friend. No one wants to be the one who bailed.
  • Make a commitment on a site like http://www.stickk.com/, where you will have to pay an amount of your choosing to a self-designated beneficiary if you fail to meet your goals.
  • Register for an event. Having a set date where you will be putting your fitness on the line is great motivation. If you have a rival, even better. Picture her wide awake and getting her sweat on.
  • Think about starting the day with a feeling of accomplishment rather than regret.

While I am still a night owl at heart, I have come to appreciate the cool, freshness in the air that only exists in the morning. Speaking of which, I’d better get to bed. I have an early date with my running shoes tomorrow.

*I am not sponsored by the Clif Bar company, but I am more than willing to be 🙂

vV02-vV02-vVroom

I’ve been doing track workouts for years: quarters, miles, ladders. Simple. Straightforward. Run hard, try to hit the paces, rest, and repeat. Sometimes the distances get mixed and matched, but I haven’t experienced anything revolutionary… (let the voice in your head drop an octave) until now. Recently, my coach introduced me to the V-Run. Basically, the athlete attempts to run every meter of the workout at vV02 max pace, the velocity at which V02 max (maximum volume of oxygen that your muscles can consume per minute) is achieved. Depending on the source, it’s the top, sustained pace that a runner can hold from six to eleven minutes. My coach likes to use racing mile speed, or in my case, what he thinks my mile time should be, which is six minutes (twenty seconds faster than I’ve ever run). At least it’s pretty close to what the McMillan calculator predicts.

Here’s how it works. The runner is assigned a distance (3600 meters for me), chooses a starting interval length (50-1200 meters), attempts to run it at vV02 max pace, and rests a minute before beginning again. If the interval is run too slowly, the next one must be shortened. The rest period doesn’t change, regardless of the distance run.

The benefits of this workout:

  1. The runner spends a great deal of time running at vV02 Max pace, which will help improve V02 max.
  2. It’s self-adjusting. Whether you’re having a great day or an off day, the workout will meet you where you are.
  3. It will put hair on your chest. Ladies, make sure you have extra razors on hand before attempting this workout 🙂

I’ve done the workout twice so far. The first time, I started with a hard 400 and had to drop down to 300s immediately (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/284127673). These hurt just as much, and I started hoping that I would be slow enough to shorten the interval. I ended up completing six before dropping to 200s. The next time out, I was able to run four 400s before having to drop down (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/294115776). Progress! There were some repetitions where I thought that there was no way I had finished in time, but I had. When I finally got to the 200s I was a bit faster than I needed to be, so I think I’ll try 250s the next time. Here’s hoping this translates into a blistering 5K next month.

If you’re a somewhat experienced runner looking for a tough, effective workout that’s a little different, I encourage you to give it a try. For more information on vVO2 max and some additional workout ideas, click here.

A Stroke of Inspiration

Last weekend, I had a swim workout on the calendar and congestion in my nose. My yardage had been low in December and January and my recent times reflected that. Triathlon season starts in a month and a half, so time was ticking. My schedule only allows for two swims a week, so skipping one is a big deal. I did an internet search for “swim with a cold” and found everything from “[the] pool is just one big neti pot!” and “it cleared up my sinuses,” to “skip it and rest” and “[it] can cause a condition called myocarditis.” The voices in my head argued. Don’t be stupid! Don’t be lazy! I finally decided to go, but I’d temper the workout and mix in some drills.

My swim workouts are usually get in, get out, and get on with the day. I like to concentrate on the fitness aspect of swimming, and I hadn’t done drills in months. After the warmup, I alternated 25 yards of fist drill and catch-up drill for a total of 200 yards. When I checked my watch, I was surprised at how fast the split was. Fist drills are always going to be slow, so I knew that the catch-up drill was doing something for me. I thought about it for a few moments. I knew there would be a pause to my stroke, so I had focused on a forceful pull. The extra time had also allowed me to better finish my stroke and so I traveled farther with each effort.

Water is about 800 times denser than air, so swim technique is paramount. I had been sabotaging my own efforts by starting a new stroke before reaping the benefits of the previous one. I continued the workout, swimming my intervals while focusing on pull strength and stroke length. I thought about how rhythmic Sun Yang’s* stroke was. My pace per 100 yards dropped below 1:40, which I hadn’t seen in months. Swimming, like so many things, has technical aspects that must be mastered to achieve proficiency. Like a kid who wants to be able to play piano without learning the scales, I want to just dive in and go without taking the time to develop my skills.

I don’t claim to be any kind of swimming expert. I have other issues with my stroke. My knees bend too much during the kick. I lift my head too far out of the water when I breathe. Swim technique is so involved that it can be overwhelming. I feel for all of the adult-onset swimmers out there! I’m fortunate that three years of high school swimming polished off some of my rough edges. For the near future, I will focus on the lessons learned from the catch-up drill as I continue to build swim fitness. After that, I’ll see what can be done about the other flaws. This experience reminded me that if I am serious about getting better, I can’t neglect the technical aspects. There are no shortcuts across the pool.

Workout data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/271515605  Note: The last 100 was probably 1:33, not 1:39. It said 1:34 when I popped out of the pool, then it took me a few seconds to realize that I hadn’t hit the lap button squarely.

*Sun set the current world record in the 1500 meter freestyle by swimming 14:31.02 at the London Olympics. This video shows him swimming in slow motion. It’s almost hypnotic.