A Significant Detour


I look back at my triathlon experience of ten years ago with great admiration.  All the pain, every cheer, every milestone and every race brought a perspective to life that I would never have thought I would experience as a kid who hated PE class.  But, it didn’t last.

The Great February Illness

In February 2012, I got sick.  I was at my prime and the lowest weight of my adult life, under 200 pounds.   As it turned out triathlon had become an addiction.  The months leading up my sickness, I was desperate for a PR and was trying to keep up with the more “professional” athletes. My body said “no more races.”

And so, began a steady and slow return to life as an obese adult.  The weight came back on over a few years.  I still managed to ride the bike and get some runs in, but I was not seriously training on a regular basis, nor was I working with a trainer.

The Workaholic is Back!

In late 2013, the workaholic returned.  I joined a local company as a sales analytics and operations guru and this role turned out to be far from a 9 to 5 role.  The CEO had an extra special personality and required some baby-sitting, as did the Sales VP.  I remember the day I walked into the office and said “F*ck it!” to self care and working out. It was simply too hard to protect your lunch for a nice ride.  It was difficult to ride in the evenings as you got stuck on deliverables and winter brought darkness at 4:30pm.  With an occasional ride on the weekend, my attempts to stick with an intensive workout schedule went out the door. That was a mistake.

Seattle or Bust

I moved to the greater Seattle area.  I had family in the area and needed a reset. But after AricInTraining - Skagit Classic Map17 years of life in Santa Barbara, CA, moving anywhere else was rough, especially a place with at least 5-months of rain and no sun.  I have to say, Washington state is a gorgeous place to live.  I see why everyone wants to live up there.  But with all of these people, traffic, cost of living, and jobs became more and more of an issue.  Seattle’s I5 is a freeway that going one mile can easily take 30+minutes, on a good day.  Riding the bike was a rare event here, as was hiking and even going for a walk after work.  The best moment is that I did finish the Skagit Spring Classic. The 27 mile ride through some exquisite, but soggy country side was proof I still had it in me. Of course, I didn’t walk for a few days after that.  But as time went on, my remote job drove me into isolation and my diet started seriously south in terms providing nutrients over junk.  After two years, I had to make a change and save my life.  The miserable me left rather quickly for Boulder County, Colorado.

The Gorgeous Front Range

Boulder County, Colorado is a gorgeous place.  It is also in the Front Range of the eastern slope of Rocky Mountains.  Boulder is where Mork and Mindy (Wikipedia) lived. Boulder is also where very serious cyclists can be seen cycling in a blizzard, further proof you can do anything when you are prepared!  What drew me to the area is not only the beauty, but the cycling culture.  Boulder County has hundreds of miles of recreational paths.  From the apartment I was living in Louisville, I could access that network from my door.

AricInTraining with Cookie Monster JerseySo why didn’t I ride? Yes, after two years of Colorado living, I only managed to get a handful of rides in, the longest of which was about 10-miles.  As it turns out, my head was bigger than my muscles.  That 10-mile ride did me in.  My legs screamed, “give us a break”, while my head said, “let’s go 100!” Now, keep in mind, Denver is the mile high city and I was living at 5,360 ft above sea level.  I was not used to the altitude.  I was also not used to the extreme dry air and the pounding sun.  Dehydration is too easy.  I was living in one of the most gorgeous areas of Colorado and found myself stuck in my 400 sq ft community garden plot rather than on the bike.

Horribly Sick

Then came January 2019 and my health went south very quickly.  I returned from a friend’s visit in Santa Fe, New Mexico over the holidays to Louisville and became very sick with severe cough, fever, stomach issues, lack of energy, tight chest, inability to focus, and extreme pain in my left calf.  After a week of not getting better, I went to urgent care.  Well, they were quick to diagnose it as bronchitis and sent me home with an inhaler and some antibiotics.  I got better, better then I didn’t.  The chest tightness wouldn’t go away and neither would the cough.  Life as a coughing zombie was the new normal, which was tragic as I just started my dream job in analytics.   After a second visit to the urgent care, I was diagnosed with asthma, given more inhalers, more allergy meds, and a word of caution to get out of town after an allergy test.  The doctor suggested there might be something in my apartment trying to kill me, including my cat.

Allergy Meets GERD

After following the treatment for a few weeks, I got better.  I was learning about asthma and its triggers and inspecting my apartment for what might be killing me.  What I kept finding was a fine grey dust all over the place, almost like lint when you wiped it up.  Then spring came and I turned off the heater.  Then I started to get much better.  The tightness in the chest and the cough subsided.  Long story short, the allergy test revealed a severe allergy to ragweed and dust mites.  I was also diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea and GERD (severe acid reflux). The first key to understanding what happened became the allergy to dust mites as the sleep test revealed a large amount of dust in the air and the air quality really started coming in to question. The second became my own eating habits with too much coffee, too much refined food, and just too much food.   At this point, I had had enough of Colorado and decided to head for lower altitude and better air.

I ended up in San Antonio, Texas where I am typing this today.  Not the prettiest city, but it does have a lot to offer.  The cyclist isn’t the best, nor are the “bike routes”.  But the people, the food, the accessibility, and the cost of living are easy to handle.

I have eliminated coffee and sugars for the last seven days and am feeling really good. My energy is coming back and my stomach feels more like it should. I am also monitoring the amount of food I eat in one sitting and am learning when to stop.

What’s the Point?

So, what’s the point of all of this?  I wrote a really, really long blog post about my significant detour from the wonderful life of triathlon. If you’ve read this far, I congratulate you.  For me, the point of all of this is to make sense of the last few years as I come to another fork in the road along my journey of life.  It makes me realize that I never gave up.  I may have digressed, I may have had some bad times, I may have been living in an apartment trying to kill me, but I persisted through it all.  I didn’t let the negativity win.  The voices in my head certainly challenged my resolve many times, but at least I pushed through it.  I realize a change in attitude and a return to regular training is in order.  Where it goes from there, we’ll see.  Stay tuned and see where Aric ends up.

 

 

The Next Challenge


Coming off the heels of my February Challenge with mixed results, I am struggling to find another challenge.  I have to say, my diet seems to be a bigger hurdle in my fitness rather than getting the workouts in.   But then, focusing on diet seems rather boring compared to cycling miles, especially when it comes to data visualization.

The Ultimate Challenge

Then, this evening I stumbled upon Outside magazine’s online site.  A headline in particular caught my attention for a couple of reasons.  First, it included a drive I have on my bucket list, a drive I would love to do in a 67 Hurst equipped Pontiac GTO, dark blue. Second, I have been reading a touching book by Bruce Weber called Life is a Wheel. And, third, I am desperate to do something insanely huge with my life to solve this midlife crisis I seem to be in.  You can see where this is going??

The headline was simple, profound, and eye catching.  Whoever wrote it knew what they were doing.  The headline was a simple question: “Why Drive Route 66 When You Can Bike It?

OMG! Its perfect!  The article was announcing the latest adventure documented and mapped by the Adventure Cycling Association.  The 2,493 mile route cover Los Angeles (well, Santa Monica) to Chicago.   I never knew there was a AAA-like Trip Tik for cyclists!!  Sell everything and let’s hit the road!

After spending a fair amount of time looking at the remarkable cross country routes, I am jazzed.  The TransAmerica Trail is very similar to the route Weber covers in his book. It was his story of life, the open road, and the spontaneous experiences combined with the pain of an insane challenge which intrigued me.   To do something similar is a personal accomplishment, something which I can only experience in my own way and own in my own way. The only question is, which do I do first, Route 66 or TransAmerica?

Coming Back to Reality

With my longest ride in over a year being 16.5 miles, suddenly 4,228 miles seems a bit of a stretch. Even the 400 mile average daily ride might push me farther than expected, even if it was all flat.

Coming back to reality and a challenge appropriate for the next two weeks (3.15), the diet challenge is more realistic.  In researching potential products for TrainingMetrix, I came across an article which discusses how to measure food quality.  They do this by assigning a weighting to each of the macro-nutrients, such as fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, etc.  The product is a food score, positive for good, negative is bad.   The staff at TrainingMetrix modified this theory and improved upon it in a product we call the Yum Score. You can test the food you eat by visiting the Yum Score Calculator (TMX has closed) at the corporate website.

But, this post isn’t about shameless self promotion of my company’s products.  Rather it is about my own journey of life, fitness, triathlon and everything in between.  Back to the challenge.  Using the Yum Score, I would like to challenge myself to eating better by maintaining a Yum Score of 4 or greater from 3/3 to 3/15.   This means low saturated, low sugar, and lots of fiber.

Well, I better go eat the last of that chocolate cake tonight.  The challenge begins tomorrow.

Simple Nutrition for Athletes?


Aric In Training Makes a Tri Tuna SandwichIs there such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes?  Is is possible to break nutrition and the need to fuel properly down to one or two rules?

I am a huge fan of K.I.S.S., not the band, but the saying “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  But, the books I’ve read regarding nutrition for athletes, endurance or otherwise, talk a lot about what type of nutrients are needed and when.  Reading these books was a lot like reading  science experiment written by someone who had forgotten what English was, replaced with technical garble.

So, I was overwhelmed with the thought of getting the exact amount of protein for my body at just the right time.  Let’s not forget that I am an overworked Analyst by day and I don’t have much time to spend buying food, cooking, and eating in addition to the job, triathlon training, and rest of life.  As much as I tried to make it work, it was just too complicated for this triathlete.

I even tried the paleo diet for a while and have to say that it made life a lot worse.  While it was simple, the complexity in carrying out the diet while at work and with busy weekends just couldn’t work for me.   The paleo diet eliminated some foods that were okay by some diets and were convenient for busy people like me.

So, is there such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes?  If we strip away the metabolic typing, the protein and carb calculators, and even the calorie counting bank recording calories in versus out, what is left?  In my opinion, there is a lot left that can be considered simple nutrition for athletes.   Let’s take a look, but keep in mind that if you are going to get technical on me, please don’t send me hate mail.

This is what simple nutrition for athletes is in my mind:

  1. Avoid the sweets: Sure you can have a little cake and ice cream at the neighbor’s kids birthday, but don’t have a small amount of sweets more than once a week.
  2. Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are anything that doesn’t resemble its natural counterpart any longer, such as anything made with flour, those frozen chicken nuggets, and anything that comes out of a drive through window.  This is the paleo influence on my simple nutrition for athletes.  Don’t eat white breads, processed sausage, cakes, or pastries.
  3. Eat lean protein:  Protein is what helps build muscles and aids in recovery post-workout.  Having a small amount of protein with every meal and a little before and after workout will help you recover and build muscles.  Eggs, chicken breasts, lean pork, salmon, and buffalo burgers are great choices.
  4. Consume fresh vegetables and fruits: Salads, greens, citrus, and berries are a great source of fiber and provide much needed energy for your workouts.
  5. Cook with the intention of creating leftovers:  Cooking four chicken breasts even though you are only going to eat two gives you two extra to eat during the rest of the week.  Package up some salad mix into tupperware and toss on some cheese and other veggies while making a salad for your weekend lunch.  Consume a salad right after a workout to help recover as well.

So, simple nutrition for athletes broken down to five rules.  It is not all inclusive list, but is a great place to start when getting a handle on what you eat.   You might be surprised just how simple this can be while achieving race weight and feeling great about yourself.  There is such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes after all.

Workout Update – Life’s Obligations


Sunset at Butterfly Beach

It has been quiet around here lately and that means life is in full swing.  So a few quick updates from my realm of the triathlon universe:

  1. Shoulders and neck continue to be sore.  A few weeks back, moving furniture I pulled a muscle in my back and shoulder that is causing discomfort throughout my upper back, neck and arms.   It is gradually getting better, but is still quite bothersome.  Maybe I am just getting old?
  2. Workouts themselves have been light lately as I let my shoulders recover.  I’ve mainly been focusing on Yoga, foam rolling, and stretches, but did get back to the gym for a workout.
  3. Today’s gym workout was pretty cool with a combination of jump rope, squat and press, and push-ups.  The shoulders are a little more sore than they were before, unfortunately.
  4. The Paleo/Primal diet has taken a bit of a back seat lately.  This week bagels and bread seemed to creep back in, as did Oreos (Oh no!).  Focus this next week is to get back to a diet with far less processed foods.
  5. My hope of competing in the Greeley Triathlon in June were dashed as life prevents me from leaving Santa Barbara at that time.  I am feeling a bit bummed about it, but I will find other events to do at more opportune times.
  6. I am continuing my own custom fitness tracking solution that I’ve been calling TrainingMetrix.  Help me out and take a look at the blog or the forums.

While I still struggle to return back down to my racing weight and let my shoulders mend, I keep reflecting back on my awesome 2009 season.  Using 2009 as my inspiration for 2011, that little thing called life keeps reminding me of how complex things can get.  Still, triathlons are awesome and they will always be in my daydreams.

So, what strategies do you use to balance triathlon with the rest of life’s obligations?

The Daylight Savings Time Triathlon Checklist


Daylights Savings Time is a little inconvenient in that we lose an hour, but it marks a great time for triathletes to conduct a reality check. With March marking the start of the triathlon season, this is a great time to run through a checklist and get ready to rumble; taking inventory of your planning and gear.  Preparedness is a huge part of a successful triathlon.

Here a few things to check to make sure your season gets off to a good start. The list is not entirely complete, but it covers the most important concepts to help you be prepared:

  • Planning
    • Have you made a list of your races and ranked them by A, B and C?
    • What are your goals?  How many people know about your goals?
    • Do you have the first few weeks of your training plan scheduled?
    • Is your gym membership renewed?  Have you paid your triathlon club dues?
    • If you are using a coach, have you communicated your races and other needs to them?
  • Swim
    • Check your goggles, are they in decent shape?  The lens too scratched? The strap worn? It might be time to replace them.
    • Do you have a skull cap that fits you well?  Skull caps can wear out and be ill-fitting.  Silicon skull caps tend to last longer than latex and have a more comfortable feel.
    • Does your suit fit?  Whether you are wearing a speedo in a pool or a wetsuit in the ocean, does it fit? Poorly fitting suits that are too large can cause access drag in the water and slow you down.
    • Do you have enough anti-chafing gel for your first triathlon? Now is the time to stock up.
    • A small amount of baby shampoo.  When applied to the inner side of the goggles, it will prevent fogging and not sting the eyes.  (Thanks coach for this tip!)
  • Cycling
    • Is your bike clean?  If it is still sitting in the corner yet to come out of winter hibernation, now is the perfect time to dust it off and get it looking sparkling again.
    • Take the bike for a ride around the block; is everything in working order?  Do the brakes work?  Is there any hesitation in shifting gears?  Make note of anything that is abnormal.
    • Take the bike in for a tune-up.  Whether or not there is anything wrong with the bike from your test ride, take it to a good bike shop and have a tune-up performed.  This will help lube bearings and make any minor adjustments.
    • When you pick up the bike, get fitted.  You would be amazed at how minor adjustments to the fit can make a huge difference in your performance and your body can change since last season.
    • Check you helmet and make sure it hasn’t been damaged or shows signs of rot and that it fits properly.  If the helmet is damaged and needs to be replaced, it will be obvious.  Make sure the fit is snug and the straps are appropriately trimmed.
    • Grab your cycling shoes, shorts, and jersey and make sure they still fit.  Again, loose fitting clothes cause drag, so invest in new ones if need be, especially the shoes.
  • Run
    • Since we just took a look at your bike shoes, check your running shoes next.  Running shoes should be replaced about every 300 miles.  If they show the slightest bit of wear on the bottom, go ahead and buy a new pair, your feet with thank you.
    • Check your running shorts and shirt.  Replace if they don’t fit right or perhaps show off more than many people care to see.
    • Are you a FiveFingers wearer of the barefoot running movement?  Ah, okay, so when was the last time you washed your FiveFingers?  Maybe that is why you are running alone?
    • Adjust the fit of your hat and make sure it is snug but not tight.  Also, wash your hat.
    • Grab your running belt and make sure the zippers work and it is in good shape.  If it needs to be washed, wash it.  If it comes with matching water bottles and you’ve lost one, consider buying a new running belt as the bottles need to fit snugly into their holsters.
    • Do you have a number belt?  If so, make sure it too is in working order.  If not, toss some safety pins into your running belt.  You don’t want to arrive at a race and not have a way of securing your number to your clothing.
  • Nutrition
    • Have you made a nutrition plan? Are you going Paleo?
    • Have you documented your race fueling strategy?  If not, makes notes of how long your events are and what your caloric needs are.  You’ll have to experiment, but start by writing down a preliminary strategy and modify as you train.
    • Is your training/race fuel in your workout bag?  Nothing like leaving the house to start a long run to realize you left your fuel at home.  Always put extra bars in your workout bag.
    • Are you near your race weight?  If not, consider losing a few pounds. Your feet will thank you.
  • Transition
    • Do you have a spare towel?
    • Consider purchasing a helium filled balloon to mark your transition area for the upcoming season.  They can be re-used with a helium refill only costing a few bucks at the store.
    • Have you made your transition area checklist?  I’ll post one in coming weeks.
  • Other Stuff
    • Do you have a foam roller?  If not get one as I recommend foam rolling and stretching every night before you go to bed.
    • Purchase a RoadID.  If anything happens to you during training or a race, this simple strap can give emergency personnel much needed information at a glance.
    • Replace the batteries in your heart rate monitors and GPS devices.  I was on a long bike ride (30 miles) when my GPS’s heart rate strap battery gave out and it sucked.

I hope this list helps.  It is rather comprehensive, but there is no time like the present to give yourself a triathlete reality check and kick off your season right.   Taking a little time now to buy a few new pieces of gear and getting the bike tuned up can save you a major headache and possibly a “DNF” later.

Available at the following link is a triathlon race day equipment checklist to make sure you don’t forget any essential equipment on race day.  <Download our Triathlete_Race_Checklist>

Cheers!

PS If I left anything out, please leave me a comment or send an update to @AricInTraining on Twitter.

The Food Cloud Goes Paleo


The Paleo Diet is the latest and greatest of fads in the realm of diets.  We have gone from Weight Watchers to Atkins to South Beach only to realize that what our ancient ancestors ate is probably what we should be eating too.

After all, homo erectus didn’t have the convenience of grabbing a burger and fries from the local fast food joint while looking for a new cave.  No sir or maam, the diet that the human race survived on is no joke.

So, with all of the hype about eating paleo and reading paleo blogs like Mark’s Daily Apple and Son of Grok, I decided to try the paleo diet.  It was time to cut out the processed foods and consume fresh vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, nuts and good fats with a little luck thrown in.

I expected to do well on the paleo as I did quite well with the No Flour, No Sugar diet in 2009.  It really isn’t that much different, although it is much more strict about what you can eat (no potatoes, no vinegar and no grains).  So what could happen?

Well, I found out just how hard it is to eat paleo consistently.

  1. For me, I need to have each meal prepared ahead of time or else I will settle for something more convenient than paleo.
  2. The somewhat limited food items get boring after a while, so creativity in the kitchen is soon to be expanded.
  3. The diet requires a lot of preparation ahead of time, so squeezing in time in the kitchen is hard with my already packed schedule.
  4. The grouchiness is a little like giving up coffee as the body is adjusting to life without an abundance of refined foods.
My paleo food cloud for the past week

Well the word cloud to the left shows exactly what I have been eating.  While I haven’t been sticking to the diet per se (burritos and mochas aren’t paleo!), I do see the beginnings of ridding processed foods from my diet.  Getting rid of the tortillas and buying a coffee versus a mocha will be the next steps. I’d also like to see more lean proteins in the cloud as it appears that chicken and bacon are the primary meats I’ve eaten.  What is good are the nuts, fruits and vegetables, but those too can use a bit more variety.

What are the initial results of going more paleo?  I feel like I have increased energy and clarity of mind.  My weight has only dropped three pounds, which is within a normal fluctuation so I can’t say I’ve lost weight.  Also, my kitchen is being used more and my stove is happy to see me, if for a limited time on the weekends. My grocery bill has also gone up, but my fast food bill has dropped significantly.  So there are pluses and minuses involved, but overall I think the changes have been positive.

However, Before coming to further conclusion, I’d like to gather more data, both physical and workout data.  Theoretically, the paleo diet will help me improve my fitness performance and if its true, the results should be clear in my triathlon training dashboard.   Only time will show.

Have you tried the paleo diet?  What are your experiences?

The Wonderful World of Recovery


After four days of sickness, two of which are simply a gnarly blur of history, I am feeling human again.  Gone are the dry cough, watery eyes, aching muscles, congestion, and misery. It feels like I have a fresh start on life… again!

Whenever you start recovering from a major illness, you start to really appreciate the small things of life.  Things like,

  • how the sun feels against your dry skin
  • how easy it is to breathe
  • how wonderful it is to let go of the super busy daily routines
  • having energy to go for a walk, run, and move around without pain

Yes, recovery is an incredible thing.  While I feel pretty darn good, I still don’t feel 100%!  I know that while I really want to go out and run a few miles, I know my body still isn’t quite ready for it and that I need to ease back into life’s hustle and bustle.

Adding a bit of stress to my recovery is that fact I am currently on vacation from work.  While I had intended to spend a good part of a week in northern New Mexico, the flu has prevented me from doing so.   My vacation isn’t getting any longer and I have already paid for my airfare.  It’s like the stress of having to go on this trip is deflating my enthusiasm for it.   You ever felt the pressure to go out and have a good time so bad, that you hate the very thought of itself?  hmmm….

Trip or no trip, here are  few things you should do while sick and during the recovery time afterward:

  • Drink lots and lots of water (maybe some Emergn-C too)
  • Take it easy.  You feel like crap because your body needs to rebuild, so let it.
  • Avoid others as much as possible.  The flu and cold are highly contagious diseases, so keep your co-workers and roommates happy by locking yourself in your room.
  • If you need something, ask someone else to go to the store.  Let your roommate get that cold medicine and extra cans of chicken soup for you.
  • Eat lots of chicken soup.  Believe it or not, chicken soup actually helps the body recover: 1) by eating soup your body can use more energy to fight the flu/cold instead of digesting solid food and 2) its liquid and will help keep you hydrated. Nutrition is always important!
  • Take this downtime to think through some things that may have been bothering you.  You might be physically exhausted, but your mind still works fairly well.  When I get sick, I make it a game to think through outlines and approaches to projects and problems I’ve had on my mind lately.  Before you know it, you’ve accomplished a few things while miserably stuck in bed.
  • As you start to feel better, continue to take it easy.  Give yourself a good 48 hours after any illness before doing amount of activity beyond walking (ok, I’ll give you speed walking)
  • Take a day to sort out your house/room/car.  Organizing, clearing the clutter, and cleaning is a great way to allow yourself to be more active while being productive while your body continues to recover.
  • Once fully recovered, take your roommates out for a beer.  If you are anything like me when I get sick (Oscar the Grouch!), you aren’t the most p/c nor do you ask for things in the nicest of ways.  Make it up to them and at the same time, celebrate coming back to life.

I hope no one that reads this ever gets sick.  If you, I hope you find these tips helpful, or at least fun.

For me, its time to figure out the best time to get to New Mexico and start planning that next big trail run of mine…  my inner animal needs to be let out for some trail rippin’ good time!

Cheers!