An Initial Workout

I had planned for a bike ride early this morning.  A step in rebuilding after tearing down. I did a bit of research last night and decided to check out part of the Medina River Greenway starting at the Pleasanton Road Trailhead.  A nice easy, meandering ride along the Medina River near the Toyota Tundra plant in south San Antonio.

All the best made plans and aspirations tend to fail at times.  With a restless night, a few trips to the  bathroom and finally being awaken by the cat at 9am, I could feel the bike slip away as my feet hit the floor this morning.  Groggy, tired, and perhaps a bit dehydrated, I really wanted a small breakfast and a good cup of coffee. Then we will re-evaluate.

Re-Evaluating the Best Plans

Upon re-evaluating, the oldest trick in the book became my block.  I waited too late and the heat of the day was upon us.  San Antonio quickly gets warm, shooting up into the 90’s and low 100’s by mid-day.  Today was no different.  It was warm and that is my block. I worry about getting dehydrated, sun-burned, and doing more damage than good. On the plus side, the heat sends the rattlesnakes to their rock covered dens.

Finding My Workout Gear

fitness gear for successWhile I wavered on my plans, after walking by the duffel bag, I was inspired to see what was inside.  I had set the duffel bag out next to the bike because I knew my Cookie Monster Jersey was in it.  Upon leaving Colorado, I threw all of my workout clothes, bike stuff, and other related into my workout duffel.  My initial reaction was the clothes wouldn’t fit.  Good thing I looked!!  I found a pair of shorts I forgot I bought, I found some lovely REI workout shirts that fit, and my package of Under Armor super duper workout boxer briefs.  I had everything I needed for a gym workout!

Well, everything but a heart rate monitor.  My Garmin GPS HR device was nowhere to be found.  I think it ended up in one of my electronics boxes during the move.  Finding it would be difficult.  So, I decided to run the risk of using my Amazon Fit Bip.  When it comes to heart rate monitors, this thing sucks.  It only refreshes once per minute (I know I could change that), and it is highly inaccurate.  Typically when my HR is high, it shows me resting.  Would it work this time?

Let’s Do This!

I got dressed and headed down to the “fitness room” of my apartments.  It is more of a fitness closet than a room, but with three machines (treadmill, recumbent bike, and elliptical) and a weight machine, it is really only big enough for one, maybe two in a pinch.

So, here I am, in my tiny little gym.  You know what happened?  I got excited.  I got inspiration.  My inner kid said, “bring it on!”.

And bring it on we did.  But we played it safe.  We initially started with a goal of one mile on the elliptical.  Then the goal increased to 15min.  My quads were feeling it, my lungs were surprised, and my head was on cloud 9.  The Amazon Bip was useless.  It did not record many “steps” and the heart rate said I was sleeping, not working out.  Using the HR function of the machine, the heart seemed to stay around 170 bpm.  That felt accurate.

After the elliptical, I couldn’t help myself, I had to use the weights machine.  I had visions of my workouts from 10-years ago.  I started with a split squat press.  Morphed into an anti-rotation twist, and then ended with one my most favorite exercise, squat and row.

A Corner Stone Established

OMG…  life is good again.  I did it.  My first official workout of my new journey is in the book.  While total time was only 25 minutes, it is a start.  I remember when 25 minutes would just be a warmup.  But then I cannot compare myself today to the person I became 10-years ago, a triathlete.  I can use those visions for inspiration, but not for personal shame. The reprogramming will go on.

And so the workouts with go on.  An initial workout has been checked off the to do list. This is the foundation for greatness ahead.  Or at least until the “runner’s high” wears off.

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?

A Very Long Swim Workout

Another first.  My first group swim workout.  It kicked my ass, but in an absolutely wonderful way.

The Surprise

Arriving at the pool with the group, I was shocked, the pool was huge!   Up until this point, my swim workouts have been in a 25m pool, so the 50m pool looked pretty scary.  “I am going to swim all the way across that?”  Then it got worse!  Our instructor stated that we would start with 350m warm-up, swimming one length, moving to the next lane, and so on, zigzaging to the opposite end of the pool.  “Woh.. that’s like one swim workout in itself, this is going to be interesting.”

But it wasn’t that bad. I was last into the pool and found the water to be pleasant, but heavily chlorinated. I followed the group as I got into my rhythm, reaching the end of the first 50m quickly and easily.  It was at this point I realized that I was pushing too hard as I really wanted to keep up, but it was unrealistic.  As I started the second 50m, I could see the person in front of my was now nearly a full lap ahead and the first swimmer was starting their last lap.  “Oh well, this will be fun, just do your best and focus on moving,” I thought. I ended up swimming about 2/3 the distance before I cut across to join the group at the end.

Drill What?

Then came the diving drills.  Dive down, touch the bottom, come up, over the lane marker and back down, repeating across the lanes of the pool.  Hmmm…  getting to the bottom of a 10’6″ pool is hard, especially when you are not relaxed and short on breathe.  I never made it to the bottom, but did get across the pool.

Then we started the other drills and much of the instruction were like another to me.  This group was intense, many of them have done long course triathlons such as the Santa Barbara Triathlon.  I felt out of place, but I too want to go long, so I felt like I needed to push hard to stick with this group.  I knew that over time, I too would rise to their level and I would look back on this workout and laugh.

Even though the drills didn’t make much sense, I kept moving as much as possible.  In the end my arms, shoulders, and abs were worn out. Still, I felt awesome.  I came into this not knowing what to expect, was blown away at the level of intensity (given my abilities), but stared the challenge in the face and did my best.

That’s Odd

One thing about the pool was it variable depth. It started at 3’6″ but ended at 10’6″ at the far end of the 50m length.  As you are swimming along the lane, you literally see the tiles below falling away. I couldn’t get used to this sensation, it toyed with my mind as swam back and forth in the lanes.  In fact, this sensation helped me bump up my visualization and mental edge skills to fight the odd sensation.

“Long Distance” Swimming Tips

Since this was my longest swim ever, I learned a few things that can really help out over the long distance.

  1. Relax.  Don’t push hard, don’t panic, don’t forget to breathe. Simply relax and be in the moment.  You will use less oxygen, therefore swim farther.
  2. Swim from the hip.  Many people think that power from the stroke comes from the arms and shoulders, but it does not.  The power should come from the hip and the arm should extend forward from the hip.  The arms are mainly for stabilization.
  3. Be in the moment.  Don’t panic about getting to the finish line or how fast or slow you are swimming.  Know your comfort zone and stay there.  Triathlons are rarely won in the water.  In fact, the more you are in the moment, the less energy you will require.  Use positive visualization skills.
  4. Smile.  When the swimming gets rough, just smile.  The power of the smile will brighten your mood and help you refocus.
  5. Perseverance. Keep going and find a pace you can comfortably maintain.  The brain is trained to make you stop before you physically have to stop.  As much as the muscles hurt, push just a little more.

While this workout kicked my ass, I am looking forward to getting my ass kicked at the next workout.  The more my ass is kicked, the more I grow and the more I become a better swimmer.  Just like my journey from office potato to triathlete was slow, I know it will take time to rise to the level of the long distance triathlete.

The next time you get in the pool, keep the five tips above in mind. Before you know it, you will be swimming longer and faster than ever before.

Building a Triathlon Training Dashboard

A number of posts back, I talked about the creation of a triathlon training dashboard that would help me track my workouts and training status. I viewed the creation of this dashboard as an essential part of my training, after all keeping logs and journals during any fitness journey can provide inspiration and help identify key areas of focus. Keeping track of your workouts, goals, and performance is a very important part of triathlon training.

As an Analyst by day, I understand the importance of tracking metrics that drive success as well as drilling down into the meaning behind them.  Just like when I drill down into Sales to understand a change in pattern, drilling down into my own life and training is just as important to help me do my best at the next triathlon.

The original goal of the dashboard was to summarize all of the different components that drive performance in a triathlon or workout and track them as I worked toward my goals. My thought was to take these key metrics of workout intensity, duration, nutritional intake, and even life components like stress and sleep quality, record them in Excel and have them automatically roll-up into a series of charts.  The training dashboard would then be a combination of nutrition and workouts in a single view that helped me understand how I was tracking toward goals.  And, if I was off pace for goals, a drill down capability to figure out where I was going wrong… was it nutrition?  was it lack of sleep?  what was causing my lack of true performance?

While the dashboard I was building in Excel was always considered to be a work in progress, it never developed much beyond helping me understand:

  1. how much time was spending on training by sport
  2. how my running pace and cycling speed was improving
  3. what my focus was for the week
  4. when my next race occurred

The bulk of my nutrition and workout data was still being analyzed in Training Peaks as Premium subscriber. While the Training Peaks solution offers a great way to summarize and share workouts and nutrition data, it does not do a very good job of putting it all together.  Each area of focus still reside in their respective charts and it is very difficult to correlate a poor diet back to a decrease in performance.

As I continue to develop my personal Excel training dashboard, I must recognize where I have been struggling and why it is not easy to create a brilliant dashboard for triathletes or any other athlete for that matter. Here is why:

  1. Capturing workout intensity is a mathematical formula that is very difficult to capture.  In fact, Training Peaks developed their own proprietary formula that uses a number of data points to calculate a Training Stress Score (TSS) that rates the workout.   The best I have come up with is a factor of time and heart rate.  This is the biggest obstacle.
  2. Capturing life variables such as stress, sleep quality and positive visualization in an objective manner is difficult.  While I can easily record a point score for each variable in Excel and average them in my dashboard, the score I assign is based on a relative feeling against yesterday or the day before.  Since I have never experienced “worst” stress, how do I know what it really is?
  3. Normalizing component scores so they roll up into a single score.  My life metrics, nutritional scoring, and workout intensity scoring are all on scales.  To roll them up, I need to make sure each metric is weighted correctly.

Solving these issues will help me cross some major hurdles and reinvigorate life into my existing dashboard.  I hope to, in the future, automate and possibly market the dashboard to my readers.  I really think that Training Peaks and other solutions have yet to truly deliver on triathlon training analytics, let alone deliver a meaningful triathlon training dashboard.  After all, Training Peaks was built for cyclists, not triathletes.

*Update, 10/24/2011 – After working on various training dashboards in Excel, I decided it was time to share them with the public.  I founded a company called TrainingMetrix, LLC, with the purpose of bringing simple, yet sophisticated training analysis to athletes of all types, include triathletes.  Check out our community for more information.

If you are interested in helping me out with this project and/or interested in testing a beta dashboard, please email me at:  aricrmh ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com.

For more posts on triathlon training dashboard, please click here.

Stay tuned for more exciting things to come!

The Pyramid That Was Meant To Be

This was my second workout back at the gym after a few week hiatus. There was something new in store, but before we get to that, I must mention that this workout was in jeopardy of not happening.

Being just three days before Christmas and my part-time job as a house-sitter, my schedule somewhat unexpectantly conflicted with the workout. I was to meet a client for dinner at the same time I was going to workout. I wasn’t very happy about missing my workout and my client wasn’t very about happy about missing dinner with me. Compromise is usually the best solution, so I moved dinner up half hour and decided I would just have to be a little late to the group workout. In the end, both my client and I were happy.

Arriving about twenty minutes late meant that I didn’t have too much time for a warmup. Instead of 10 minutes on the elliptical, I skipped it altogether and went right into the stretches. Captain Morgans, lunges, squats, march kicks, etc I blew through so I could catch up with the rest of the group.

Then our trainer broke the news… we are doing something a little different, a pyramid workout. While I instantly thought of Egypt and mummified kings, my stomach wanted to churn. Today’s workout was going to be a true test of devotion to bodily punishment:

1) Pushup knee tucks
2) Pullups
3) Step-ups with weight
4) Hanging leg raises
5) squat and press.
6) 1/4 mile sprint on the treadmill

These don’t seem like much, but when performed in pyramid sequence, they are someone’s worst nightmare. The pyramid was 5, 10, 15, 20, 15, 10, 5, with 1/4 mile treadmills in between.

The first five were fine, in fact the first five were downright exhilarating and fun. Even though I can’t do a decent body-weight pull-up for the life of me, I was actually enjoying trying. I even caught myself thinking that this might be easy as I sprinted through the first treadmill sprint… but nothing is easy in the world of athletic performance and fitness.

The next ten were a little more difficult, but I started to really feel the pain at the end of the workout. The shoulders and fore-arms in particular hurt a lot. Going onto the treadmill, I took it a little slower than usual, realizing that a pyramid is not only about speed, but it is also about endurance and my shoulders and fore-arms needed a break.

Starting the circuit of 15, worried me. The push-up knee tucks were excruciating, the pull ups impossible, and the squat and presses made my arms scream with agony. I was feeling every movement and I started to feel nausea coming on. The lack of food in the hours previous to the workout was coming back to bite me (I anticipated eating with the client, but only had a drink as we ended up at a slow service restaurant). Now was the time to focus.

Focus I did. I took a queue from Apolo and closed my eyes, focused on breathing, and feeling my body recover with each breathe. It worked, going onto the treadmill I was starting to feel better. I continued with visualization while on the treadmill, with my eyes shut I felt the pain leave my body with each breathe.

Starting the circuit of 20 though made all the relaxation go out the door. I got through three push up knee tucks before collapsing. I forced myself through two more… I made it to five! It was time to focus on the breathe and getting these done. Before I could start up again, our trainer told me that I should only do a half pyramid, that is stop after the circuit of 20 and the following treadmill sprint. I wasn’t going to argue.

I mustered up enough energy to push out ten more push up knee tucks, using the old saying of mind over body. The last five though, the body pushed back and insisted that body over mind was really the correct saying. It seemed like each time I tried to push up or do a knee tuck, the body simply didn’t respond, if it did, the movement was so minimal and painful that it was hard to tell if I should count that as “one”.

To make a long story short, I took each movement as it came. The hanging legs raises were probably the easiest of the circuit, everything else, including the pull ups were simply painfully difficult.

In fact, I had never been so happy to see a treadmill in my life than after that circuit of 20. The guided swinging of the legs, the spinning of the motor, and the calculated breathe all seemed like heaven to me.

In the end, I was drenched with sweat. I was exhausted, and somewhat upset that I had only made it through a half pyramid. Given my previous hiatus, I have to be content that I simply was there and I did my best. I even got to practice positive visualization during the workout. It really doesn’t get much than this!

Pace Strategy: A Saturday Run Workout Example

Pace strategy during any event, be it a triathlon, basketball game, or speed skating, plays a very large part in the outcome of your event.   Perform at a lower pace and you might be out run by your competitors without the ability to make a come back.  Perform too fast and you may exhaust yourself prematurely.   Finding the balance is where practice and analysis comes in.

My Run Workout

Saturday’s run was an endurance run, meaning slow and steady for a longer distance.  I was a little nervous going into this workout since the longest I had run following the sprained ankle was a 5k (33min).  This workout was expected to last one hour and cover at least 5 miles, hopefully more.   I wasn’t sure if my body was able to go the distance.

Pace, what is that?

I started out like I usually do, letting my body go as I don’t have much reference for pace when starting out.  It always feels like I am running slower than I really am.   And like usual, I was fast. Check out the split times in the chart below:

Let’s take a look at some highlights that you can see in the chart above:

  1. The first half of the run had a more sporadic pace than the second half. In fact, the second mile was more of an interval workout with fast pace for 0.25 mile and then a fast walk.
  2. The third split (2.35), was painfully slow as I was exhausted and walked up a long, shallow hill to Shoreline Park.
  3. In the latter half of the chart (3.35 and above), the more consistent helped moderate the heart rate, which was slowly climbing.
  4. The slowly climbing heart rate in the latter half of the chart, indicates that I was running above my true endurance pace.

One chart, lots to digest.  I think it proves that pace strategy is the largest determinant of success in running.  Had I taken it slower on the first half of the run, the latter would have been a lot easier and I wouldn’t have felt so exhuasted.

Why did it happen?

So why didn’t I take it easy?  Two reasons:

  1. I just started and didn’t have a sense of pace. – Yep, when I first start running, my body wants to go and it feels like I am running slower than I really am.  It takes a mile or two before I can start to moderate my own pace based on feel.  Solution: Run for ten minutes prior as warm-up and use my GPS to measure my pace initially.
  2. I listen to my iPod.  Listening to techno (Scooter’s “Jumping All Over the World”) gets me pumped up and I want to run at the same pace as the music.  It is rather hard to separate the body from the beat.  Solution: Find a slower paced songs for an endurance run.  Something like Podrunner mixes might work.

The next time you go out and run, keep in mind your pace strategy, it’ll save your run.  In fact, it could even save your triathlon.