Triathlon Training Update – January 2011

It has been a while since I gave an update on my triathlon training.  Seems like after last year’s Carpinteria Triathlon, I went into hibernation.  For one reason or another, it was simply time to slow down, deal with life and do some regrouping.  So, the winter months were not exactly the most productive in terms of triathlon training.

But, it wasn’t like I spent the winter in bed.  In contrast to last winter where I spent quite a bit of time improving my physical side, this winter I focused more on the mental side.  I spent time reflecting on 2009 and 2010 triathlon seasons, studying “the mental edge” and positive visualization.  I learned a lot about what it meant to perform mentally whether during training or during a race.

Studying the Mental Edge

Two books helped me focus and provided some surprise inspiration.  Two of the books, “Zero Regrets” and “Spirit of the Dancing Warrior” are summarized in my post, Some Inspiration: Apolo and a Warrior.  The third book, Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior, is an interesting tale that parallels the other two.  Simply by being focused, in control, and breathing calmly, one can become a warrior at everything they do.

All three books have made me reconsider my approach to everything, but I am learning that becoming a warrior requires discipline, practice and even more discipline.  However, when I achieve the warrior state whether swimming, biking or running, the results are fantastic.  It is like I am transported to a land where gravity works with me, not against me and every step or stroke is pure bliss.  The hard part is getting to that state, which requires one’s mind to let go of all thoughts, step above any muscle pain and focus on breathing.  It takes practice.

C is for Consistency

Speaking of practice, my physical workouts have been sporadic.  Like I said before, life can be quite busy at times, especially during the holidays and end of year.

Daily workout score with moving average.

As you can see in the chart above, my triathlon training is rather inconsistent.  Each marker represents a workout with the value being a function of time and intensity.  Not only has the frequency of workouts dropped off, but also the intensity, starting in mid-January.  In fact, February has been dismal with more zero intensity days since I was an office potato.

The primary workout each week has been a cross training workout that combines strength with cardio training. The workout starts with intervals on the treadmill, then two circuits of strength and usually ending with more intervals on the bike or elliptical.

Weekends would include a long bike, run, swim or combination of the three.  I also started attending a group swim workout at the local pool, which proved to be highly beneficial.  Not only is it a longer pool, at 50m, but very motivational as swimming with other more competent athletes really makes me push harder.  My swim workouts have gone from 500-600 meters to well over 1 kilometer.

Going Forward

So, what’s next? Keep moving forward.  My first triathlon is the Ventura Triathlon at the end of June.  This gives me plenty of time to build my competitive spirit and get back into shape.  With the goal of completing the olympic course at the Carpinteria Triathlon in September, it is clearly time to come of hibernation and get going.  Bears can spend an entire year in their caves!

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!

How Ankles, Rocks and Dogs Don’t Mix

It was supposed to be the workout of my week:  a 10k trail run with an 1,800 foot elevation gain to the top of Inspiration Point.   While the region was focused on the Santa Barbara International Marathon at the waterfront, I would be running in the foothills, happily avoiding the crowds in my zen like trail running zone.


However, there were some challenges that complicated this run:

  1. The weather was less than ideal.  In fact, the weather had turned cold and with the threat of rain for later in the day.
  2. With the goal of reaching the top and just getting over the flu, I needed to carry extra water and fuel in addition to my poor weather gear.
  3. The complications of 1 & 2 combined, I didn’t have a runner’s pack large enough to carry the extra water, protein bars, rain gear, and extra clothing as this was my first, serious poor weather, long trail run.
  4. My diet from the previous evening was far less than ideal.  Having dinner with friends meant dessert in the form of Trader Joe’s luscious Pumpkin Cheesecake.  Well, that one small piece turned into three.  This meant that my body needed a few days of detox before attempting any aggressive workouts.

With the above points in mind, I should have postponed the trail run, but I didn’t.  I overcame point three by using a small messenger bag that just fit everything, barely.  I would be running with my small runner’s pack and the messenger bag, which I knew would be distracting as there was no way to really keep it from bouncing around against my body while running.

Despite still being slightly sick, dealing with a crappy diet from the evening before, and having the wrong gear, I still convinced myself to go ahead with the trial run.


Arriving at the trail head, there were lots of cars and looming clouds.  Surprisingly, it was quite warm and humid.  Warmer than I had thought.  However, 1,800 feet up the trail was sure to be a lot cooler and wetter!

Time to make final preps. I decided to wear my running pants, but only wear a short sleeve technical shirt.  The long-sleeve I would have in my messenger bag with the additional water and camera.  Turn on the GPS, slap on the hear rate strap, stretch and we are off.

At the top of trail head, I hesitated.  There was a feeling that said this was wrong.  I chocked it up to the angry pumpkin cheesecake from the night before and started down the trail.  As I started running, the messenger bag, being heavier than anticipated, was really flying around and banging against my side.  I stopped to tighten the strap, which helped stabilize it some, but that feeling that this run was not right, wouldn’t go away.  I continued on my way ignoring it.  I don’t think I’ll be sneaking up on anyone with the messenger bouncing around so much.


Just as I got into a rhythm nearing a fork in the trail, it happened. As I approached the fork with the intention of going right, a smallish, tan dog came shooting around the bush from the left fork.  When I first saw it, I thought COYOTE!

“Oh geez, I am going to get eaten!” I lost my concentration as I put my left foot down on an odd shaped rock and felt pain, serious pain from my hip to me toes, through the ankle.  My ankle curled to the inside of my leg and I nearly fell over. As full pressure from the run went onto the horridly curled left ankle, the pain felt like no other I’ve felt in my entire life!

Recovering with the next step and noticing the dog was just a domestic running ahead of its owners, I focused my attention back on the horrendous pain.  Each time I put weight on it, it made me want to cry.  To make matters worse, I had shoot pain from my hip to my toes, which were now tingling.  I immediately thought that I broke my ankle.  But at least I wasn’t eaten by a coyote!


But then I started coming to my senses and taking inventory.  Chances are, if it was actually broken, I wouldn’t be able to put any weight on it at all. Instead I sat down on the nearest rock and contemplated the best course of action:

  1. I wasn’t dying, so there was no need to call 911 and have search and rescue airlift me off the trail.
  2. I was only about half mile from the trail head and walking out now was going to be painful but doable.
  3. Didn’t make any sense to call anyone as they couldn’t do anything.
  4. Perhaps hang out for a while and see what happens.
  5. Above all else, how long was I going to be out of training?

I opted for #2, walking out now.  Every step hurt, the toes tingled as if an electrical probe had been inserted into each, the knee was now sore, and the hip felt a little odd.

Getting back to the car, I removed the shoe and sock.  It really didn’t look bad; slightly swollen, a little pale, and painful to the touch. Carefully, I reapplied the sock and shoe and drove home.


Over the next few hours, the pain diminished and the swelling greatly increased, along with pretty severe bruising.  The tingling in the hip and toes went away and I started to realize that I would be off my feet for a week or two or three.

Over the next few days, with plenty of ice, compression and keeping it elevated, it gradually has been improving.  Now, almost a week after the incident, the swelling has decreased, the bruising has gone down, but the pain has returned. A light run made it hurt even worse, meaning more down time.  A swim and two strength workouts is all I’ve been able to do this week.


Reflecting back, I should have listened to that feeling at the top of the trail head.  Postpone the trail run, get the right runner’s pack and/or wait for better weather, and give myself time to detox after eating so much cheesecake.  Spiritually, something was trying to tell me something that day, but I didn’t listen. Sometimes, triathletes have to completely ignore sensibility and just do it.

However, I think this had made me a stronger athlete.  I not only have a story to tell the grand kids (someday), but I’ve gotten my first major injury under my belt and it has made me respect the trail.  In the end, the fearless triathlete in me prevailed that day and I found out what happens when ankles, rocks and dogs all meet at the same point on a trail.

What To Do When You Are Sick…

Being that I am still recovering from the flu and not able to get out and go full out on a training workout, the triathlete’s heart in me is broken.  I have never gone this long without punishing my body in some way.  My body knows it too, the muscles are restless, the brain is starting to feel depressed, and the cabin fever is making me wish I bought a condo at the beach.

So, while I was sick in bed, miserably thinking about the torturous training that I enjoy so much, I had to do something.  At this point, the inner artist in me spoke up and reminded me of that sketch pad and pencils that my grandmother gave me a while back.

“Hhmmm…. this could be the best thing since the Mona Lisa,” I thought as I turned to a clean page and started thinking about my ideal swim, bike and run.  It wasn’t long before I had the sketch roughed out below.

Colored Pencil on Sketch Paper ~ Copyright 2010 - Aric In Training

While it may not be the Mona Lisa, for this bed ridden triathlete, it was the best thing since cold medicine.  Swimming in a slightly rough water in a cove, biking along the waterfront of a tropical island with water on the right, high mountain peaks on the left, and finally finishing my fantasy event with a trail run, up, up and up to the top of those peaks so that one can relish in their accomplishment.

The wonderful world of triathlon is alive and well in this triathlete.  I may be bed ridden and miserable, but my mind is full of the adventures yet to come!


Running up Jesusita & Swimming in Lightning

Trail running is a heck a lot of fun.  Swimming in the pool, gracefully gliding through the water, is very sublime.  As a triathlete, one of the best parts of my training is the variety of workouts I endure.  In fact, I have such a variety during some weeks that I feel like an athlete with ADD.

Running Up Jesusita

With the Malibu Canyon Trail Run just a week away, it was time to hit the local trails to get some workout time in.   After I hit the first incline however, I suddenly realized that I should have started getting trail running time in more than just a week in advance.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The Jesusita Trail that runs through the San Roque Canyon of the Santa Barbara foothills, is described as a strenuous hike with moderate slope over the seven mile round trip (out and back).  <Jesusita Trail mapping by Trimble> The 2,000 feet gain in climbing altitude, makes this the perfect warm-up for the less strenuous Malibu Canyon Trail Run.

Having never run or hiked Jesusita before, it took me a few drive-by’s to find the trail head.  Located just off San Roque Rd, but hidden by bushes and down an incline, the trail head is not directly visible from the road. I have a feeling this is intentional.

After changing shirts, grabbing my running pack and bottle, I headed down the trail, somewhat leisurely.  But this was trail run practice, so I better get the move on, which was easy to do going downhill.  However, my hesitation wasn’t from lack of enthusiasm, but from unfamiliarity.  With forks in the trail and new scenery, I really didn’t feel comfortable cranking out speed… I really had no idea where I was going or what to expect.

This turned out to be the theme of the run, discovery.  I discovered that the Jesusita is literally an upward slope all the way to the top (duh, it is a hill!) and that my legs quickly reach exhaustion even on the slightest of inclines.  Taking it slow gave me a great opportunity to enjoy the scenery under the low clouds and canopy.

Those low clouds were vital in helping me determine how high I was actually climbing.  It seemed like I run up through a narrow canyon and started up some switchbacks, about a 1.75 miles only to realize that the conditions were much colder and much wetter than I remembered a few moments ago.   Continuing on up the backside of the hill, the tree canopy gave way to a wide vista of cliff and grey fog on the right with a wet, slipper slope on the left.  I had reached the ridgeline at 2.30 miles.  I was on the fence about going back or continuing on due to the conditions (cold/wet, my lack of familiarity with the trail, my fear of heights, and being on the trail alone).

I decided to push on to 2.5 miles, but didn’t make it.  I turned around at 2.45 miles after encountering a very narrow trail, even lower visibility, and an area of rock slides (that made the trail seem even narrower).  Instead of finding the top, I started back, fast.

Going downhill is obviously a lot easier than going up.  You have gravity in your favor and I just come up the same trail so I knew what kind of footing to expect on the way down.  While it took 45 minutes to come up, it took about 22 minutes to go the same distance down.

I was exhausted, yet gratified that I had done it.  I was even more satisfied with the trail run after I got home and uploaded my GPS data and saw that I had climbed 1,400 feet.  Wow…  it sure felt like it, but wow, I was proud!   Can’t wait to do it again… in the sun!

Swimming in Lightning

With all the nasty, Seattle-like weather we’ve been having in Santa Barbara lately really makes it hard to get a good workout in.  Granted trail running is one of those sports where you do it no matter the conditions.    On the opposite end of the spectrum is swimming.  In general, you don’t swim in foul weather.

So, the other evening, with a thunderstorm rolling in from the east and a swim workout highlighted on my training calendar, I headed over to the gym to sneak in a workout.

Arriving at the gym, changing and heading down to the pool, everything seemed great.  The weather was fine, a little chilly perhaps, the aqua aerobics class had just concluded and I had the pool to myself, and the thunderstorm was still a ways off in the distance.

Things started going downhill when I hit the water.  I am used to ocean swimming, so with cold water, I’ve learned to just suck it up and go.  On this evening however, there was something extra in the air that made getting used to the cold water more difficult.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but that instinct said something was up.

Then the chilling, cold breeze that floated over the pool on my third lap sent shivers down my arm and through my spine.  The edge of the storm had arrived.  The peaceful world of the pool was a profoundly calm place to be compared to the chaos that began above the water.  The dark, gnarly, vicious clouds soared overhead like a monster in a scifi movie.

Sucking it up and going back to my peaceful sanctuary of water, I started another set of 100’s.   With the dark clouds masking the low sun, the pool had suddenly become quite dark.  With the pool lights off and my tinted goggles blurring the tiles below, I became infatuated with this new world…  a dark, spooky world of water below a thunderstorm.

Then it got interesting with the first bolt of bright lightning.  Scary at first, the sudden light illuminates the water around you, placing a rather interesting shadow of your body on the bottom of the pool, while I gasp for air in shock of the sudden new but brief swimming conditions.

With one more lap to conclude this 100, I decided to go all out back to the starting end of the pool.  Along the way, the lightning created a disco effect of shadows, blinding light, and darkness.  The randomness was sublime.

Then reality sets in and you remember that your mother always told you to never swim when there was lightning.  With the growing breeze, horrendously evil clouds, and bang of thunder, this evening was not a time to argue with mom.

After 11-minutes and 350m, I had the pleasure of experiencing a world that few others even begin to consider.  Swimming with lightning is not recommended, but boy, oh boy, is it an experience that one will never forget.