Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Schedule, Training Bible online - who knew?

So I've been meaning to post this for two weeks now. Just about two weeks ago, I sat down with my Triathlete's Training Bible (Joe Friel) and went over where I was at. I laid out the grid and began detailing each week. What's nice is that even if I don't get each week totally detailed, as long as I have the big grid I'm okay - I can detail each week a few days before it starts. This also gives me an opportunity to add details as my weeks change/get busy or based on how I'm feeling.

I'm on the home stretch - just about. This is my last hard Build 2 week before my lower-hour Build 2 week and then I begin my 2 weeks of Peak. The one thing I'm slightly concerned about is my bike; this is really due more to the fact that I've been so focused on the run that I've made that my priority. Still, I think if I can squeeze in some quality rides over the next few weeks on the weekends (please, weather gods...PLEASE...), I'll be good to go. Spinning classes keep my legs in shape so it's simply a matter of getting those longer miles outside in the saddle.

Here's the plan:

Week

Date

Race

Type

Hours

1

2/11-2/17


Build 2

12

2

2/18-2/24

UC Davis Sprint

Build 2

12

3

2/25-3/2


Build 2

12

4

3/3-3/9


Peak

7

5

3/10-3/16


Peak

10.5

6

3/17-3/23


Peak

8.5

7

3/24-3/30

Oceanside 70.3

Race

7


As we can see, I said 'nay' on the UC Davis Sprint Tri last weekend due to weather (DANG WEATHER!). That was a real bummer because I really wanted to see where I was at. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Onward.

The other thing that I am SO EXCITED about is that I found Joe Friel's Training Bible Online! He also has a blog that I'm going to link to as well. It's VERY exciting because I really have a lot of respect for what he's written and the work he's done to help those of us who can't afford our own private coach. It's funny that it's called The Triathlete's Training Bible because back when I was living in Berkeley and commuting to work every day on BART, I would carry that thing around with me like it WAS a bible (so that I could read on BART, at lunch, etc.)! The cover and back are so tattered from all of the journeys it's taken with me.

His blog today discusses nutrition. Oh, the bane of my existence. Interestingly enough, he mentions starchy foods:
And to make matters worse, eating a high starch diet upsets the body's acid-base balance which ultimately results in the loss of bone calcium and muscle nitrogen. The only exceptions are potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes which raise body fluid pH levels and help to maintain bone density and muscle mass. This is what makes these particular starches the best possible recovery foods. All other starchy foods (along with dairy, legumes, meats, fish, nuts and eggs) have a tendency to increase acidity forcing the body to react to maintain pH balance by pulling calcium out of the bones and nitrogen out of the muscles (Remer and Manz 1995). Only fruits and vegetables have a net alkaline (acid-lowering) effect on the body's pH level. There is a great deal more that could be discussed on this topic and perhaps I will in a future post. I'd strongly recommend that you read Dr. Loren Cordain's and my book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, for more details on this important topic and more.
Hm. Well, I'd be interested to pick it up. I know my body is just different from a lot of people's. My metabolism is different. My body responds differently to carbs and protein than a lot of others'. I really feel like if I could just understand it a bit more, I might have a better sense of control over my nutrition and I might even be able to perform better.

It's like the past few years, where all I've been saying is "wow, I did better in that race than I expected. What would happen if I actually trained right and followed a plan?" Well I've got that part down. But what would happen if I actually got the nutrition right, too?

What a confusing world. Still, it's like a mystery that's just waiting to be solved, and day by day, month by month, I continue to discover more clues and slowly put them together. It's coming.

Monday, February 25, 2008

UC Davis Sprint Triathlon, 2/24/08 - SKIP!!!!!!

So as of last weekend (2/16), I was entered and paid ($55) up for the UC Davis Sprint Triathlon.

As of last Saturday (2/23), I made the executive decision to see the $55 as a sunk cost (ugh) and forgo the race.

For any non-California residents or non-Bay Area folk reading, we had a huge HUGE storm pass through this weekend. Not just bad rain, but very high winds as well. We aren't talking about a little wimpy storm; this was the kind you just don't want to be stuck in.

While I do consider myself somewhat of a fair-weathered athlete (and I do openly admit it), I was willing to endure the harsh conditions and get my $55 worth. However, I had two major reasons for deciding not to do this race:

1) Oceanside 70.3
and
2) Oceanside 70.3

Doing the race posed two major risks/threats to having a great half-Ironman race in 5 weeks:
  1. In all the wind and rain, I might crash my bike and either mess up my bike or get injured myself. That would NOT be cool.
  2. Given the cold, wet and windy conditions and enduring for 1:30 or so, I would really put myself at risk for getting sick.

If either of those things happened 5 weeks out from this huge race, I would never have forgiven myself. I wasn't willing to risk it for a sprint triathlon.

So, I wimped out and did my long 1:45 run instead. On the treadmill. It was great and I sent my friend David good thoughts.

David sent us his recap of race day. Here's what I missed out on:
it went pretty well given the conditions. It was cold, wet and
windy. A lot of people backed out that morning.

into the wind we were only holding 11-14 mph. felt like climbing a
hill and the rain felt like getting hit with bbs.

I met my goal: stayed on the bike and out of the emergency room!
Wow. Hit with bbs...Mmm...that sounds just great. More details followed:
they picked up a few people in the ambulance yesterday... one had
hypothermia, fell off his bike and just started shaking... one did
not make it from the pool to the bike transition..

Lots of people fell on the bike. One guy was pushing so hard into
the wind that he snapped his crank. he showed up back at the
transition with the crank in his hand after walking 4 miles back in
the rain in bike shoes... ug.

to give you some idea... I was going into the wind pushing hard and
hitting 11mph. On the return, I was hitting 31-32mph practically
coasting... nuts.
So, kids, what's the lesson of the day? ...Follow your gut.

p.s. My long run was awesome. Average HR of 156 and I had an 8:17 pace for hour 1 and an 8:06 pace for the last 45 minutes. Yes!

p.p.s I think some of the gym people thought I was nuts for being on the treadmill as long as I was. I watched the trees outside blowing fiercely and was happy to be right where I was.

Friday, February 22, 2008

1st post from the weekend/week: Awesome ride/run, Improvements, GREAT NEWS and a triathlon this weekend!

I have two posts to write - one is a weekend/week recap, and the other is all about MONDAY - one of the best days of the year so far. I'll write about that later because there are brilliant pictures to append with it (hint: the Fitness Journal/WC Velo crew got on the road early on Monday and rode the 1st stage of the Tour of California 4 hours before the pros did! IT ROCKED!!!).

After I posted last week, I decided to make Friday a rest day. It meant that in the end, I only logged 11 hours last week (should have logged 12), but I think it all worked out well. Saturday Jessica and I rode an easy 80 miles through some of the most gorgeous parts of Sonoma County. We rode out west along Hwy 12 to Forestville, then back-tracked to Graton and from there went north out over Vine Hill to Trenton where we got onto River Road for a bit (going west again) and hooked up to Wohler Rd and finally onto Westside Road. Once on Westside, we basically did the Vineman bike route out to Windsor. Along the way we stopped in Geyserville at a great mini-mart where we refueled on a burrito and a popsicle. It was awesome. From Windsor we came back into Santa Rosa via Old Redwood Hwy, which on a Saturday wasn't too bad. I posted the route below. It really is such an amazing and GORGEOUS ride! I feel so lucky to live here!

The great thing about that ride was that we took it nice and slow and by the end, I felt great.

Sunday I squeezed in a run before heading out for dinner that evening. It was much colder than I expected it would be and I only had on knee-length tights and a running shirt. I could've used a pull-over as well, especially as it drew toward 5:00 p.m. Brrrr. Still, it was a really great run from my house out to Montgomery Drive and up to Summerfield to reach Howarth Park/Spring Lake, where I did a loop of Spring Lake and back home.* It ended up being about 8.5 miles and I ran for just under 1:10 - which put me at an 8:08 pace. The cool thing was that my heart rate average was still around 158, and I felt great. Legs were a little tired from the long ride, but I maintained a strong, steady pace without feeling like I was putting forth too much effort. The end was tough because it was cold and my stomach was somewhat upset from something I had eaten earlier (not sure what it was, but Costco sushi may have been the culprit. Blech.), but it was good to know I could run that well under so much discomfort!

*This amazing picture of Spring Lake was taken earlier this month by a Flickr user, Brian Dean Bollman. He's got a whole set of Spring Lake photos. Great pictures, Brian!

All in all, good stuff.

I also managed to get my training plan set out in front of me for the remaining 6 (now just about 5) weeks before the big race. I've got a couple more weeks of Build 2, then I go into two weeks of Peak phase, with Race week after that. I made a table up for it all, but I have a couple more things to fill in. I'll post it here in a couple of days.

Some other notable things happened this week:

1) I was telling Pat about the possibility of overtraining in regard to the heart rate thing. His response: "Have you considered the idea that maybe you've just really adapted well with your training and that your body is ready to push a higher pace?"

Oh. Well...hmmm...yeah...I suppose that's a possibility. Through Base and Build I, I honestly had just been so focused on not trying to push the pace I thought I was supposed to be running at and just paying attention to my heart rate that I didn't realize how well my body had taken to training the right way. I took my ego and threw it out the window, stepped on that treadmill and set it at a pace of 6.0 (10:00/mile) in the beginning when I would warm up, and my heart rate would be in the 150s. Now even at a 9:30 pace my heart rate doesn't go up past the high 140s. I really focused so hard on staying within myself that I didn't really notice how great all of this running has been for my speed.

So...the only way to get better is to push through that comfort zone. Wednesday I had my hard run scheduled and I decided to see where I'm really at. I warmed up for about 8 minutes, and began to turn up the pace. 9:00/mile...8:40/mile...8:20/mile...8:08/mile...7:52...7:44...7:30. Finally, at a 7:30/mile pace, I settled in to a near-lactate threshold heart rate (upper 160s) and held it there for a good 30 minutes. Cooled down at about an 8:20-8:40/mile pace.

I write about this because I'm genuinely amazed at how far my running has come. Last year (and years before), I'd try to push the pace at what I thought I was 'supposed' to do without regard for my poor heart and a 7:30 pace meant completely anerobic levels in the 180s. Not sustainable.

My big resolve, as I wrote about a couple of months ago, was to work with my main limiter, which was my running. I wanted to train right and I wanted to really make an improvement there. I wrote down those goals and now it really looks like I'm on track to meet them. I love how that works!

2) I began teaching spinning at the Santa Rosa YMCA!! My official start was to be next Monday, but one of the instructors was ill and called me Wednesday to see if I would sub for her on Thursday morning at 6 a.m. I happily accepted and put my class together Wednesday night. It was a small turnout - only about 7 people were there, so my goal now is to get people excited about spinning, talk to other people and boost those numbers. It was a nice group and I'm looking forward to getting to know them.

I had no idea when I did that Embarcadero Y Treasure Island Swim 2 years ago that I would become such a huge fan of the YMCA. It's an amazing community of people and I really support their mission. Those Village People really knew what they were talking about! ;)

3) The GREAT NEWS!

I almost forgot - I was selected to be part of Team Aquaphor again!! The link is to the team page from last year; I don't think they've got this year's website up yet. I'm really excited because I think Aquaphor is an outstanding product (no really, I do), for the general population and especially for cancer patients undergoing radiation and incur some burn to their skin. It's a really soothing product and I totally stand by it. I'd like to do more to represent the team this year, especially since I won't be part of Lombardi this year (I decided to leave due to distance).

So that's the week recap (save for Monday - that requires its own post).

What's on the agenda for the weekend?

Saturday: Easy bike, longish run
Sunday: Sprint Triathlon in Davis, CA!! 750 yd swim (in a pool), 18 mile bike, 4 mile run. Goal: 1:30 and KICK SOME BUTT!!!!

Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tour of California Fever

Lots to say!

Until then, follow the tour LIVE from here:
http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com/docroot/tourtracker2008/AdobeTourTracker.html

Pretty awesome to watch it live like this.

Stay tuned! Go Levi! Go Cozza!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day! Lots to say and reflect on!

I'm a little overdue on my posts. Things have been nuts since I wrote last from Omaha, NE!

To recap:
  • Returned from Omaha
  • Had my last day of work in SF
  • Took 4 days off
  • Spent last weekend enjoying the glorious sunshine in both SF and Sonoma
  • Had my best long run yet (YES!)
  • Had a really hard time cycling the next day (NO!)
  • Used my Sports Basement Gift Certificate
  • Got 12 hrs of training in last week (YES!)
  • Started my new job this week
  • Am now wondering if I'm experiencing the symptoms of overtraining (NO!)

So I'll back up a bit, but not too much because I want to keep this brief. I'm on my lunch break. :)

Last Weekend- Saturday
I'll begin with last weekend. I had an appointment in San Francisco on Saturday morning at 11 a.m., so I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to hit the Presidio for my long run. I found this picture on Flickr from foggydave - he did a really nice job with these photos and really captures the beauty of this place, especially on a nice day!

So I made like this dude in the photo and went for my 1hr40min run. I mapped my route on MapMyRun, which ended up being 11.5 miles and just AWESOME!!!

Here's out it checked out on MapMyRun:

My heart rate stayed in a nice aerobic zone the entire time; for the first hour I managed to keep it right at about 157-158, and the last 40 minutes I picked up my pace just slightly and kept my heart rate at 161-162. I randomly bumped into Christine as I made my way toward the Ferry Building - it was perfect timing because I was about to take a 20-second walk break and looked at a woman and her mother about to cross the Embarcadero and she looked at me and we both said "HI!" She lives in L.A. so I was very happily surprised to see her.

By the time I finished as I approached the YMCA-Presidio, I really felt amazing. I felt like I could have kept going. I didn't know how far I'd run but I just knew that I felt strong, my form was still intact and I had a huge smile on my face. Yes!

After my appointment, I rewarded myself at a pub in the Marina with some crab cakes, an egg and a side salad as well as a Chimay. I needed those carbs!

I made my way to Sports Basement in the Presidio, gift certificate in hand. I couldn't WAIT!! I went right to the running shoes section and had a nice discussion with a couple of salespeople about what shoes I should get. Traditionally I had gone with the Brooks Ariel for the last couple of years because of the strong motion control they have for over-pronators like myself. However, since I got orthotics last year, I no longer need to have strong motion control shoes. The sales guy advised me that I should gradually get down to a neutral shoe, and that before I go all the way down, I should have a light control shoe. I decided that since Brooks had worked so well in terms of how it fit my foot, I would try a Brooks shoe on again. I went for the Brooks Adrenaline.

OH MY LORD!!!! What a difference! The biggest thing that I noticed was how much less...CLUNKY the shoe felt. I suppose all that motion control support means the shoe needs more arch support, therefore more material. All I could think was how much I will FLY with these new shoes. It was like taking the heavy wheels off your bike and putting the sleek, light Zipp wheels on for race day. Beyond that, the shoe fit my foot perfectly. My foot seemed so comfortable and happy - it was almost too easy that I was a bit concerned that I was missing something. The sales guy simply smiled and said "hey - if it fits and feels great - that's what you want."

So, I bought those shoes. I went on to look for some new spinning shoes but they didn't have what I wanted in my size. Skip - I would go to Performance Bike later that afternoon on my way home (they have a store in San Rafael) and find a perfect pair on clearance for $40. Score! Additionally, I stocked up on a couple clothing pieces and that was about it.

Right here I would like to extend a very heartfelt *THANK YOU* to my spinning students who contributed to that gift certificate. YOU BOUGHT ME NEW RUNNING SHOES!!

Last Weekend - Sunday
Sunday I met up with the guys in Sonoma for a 55 mile bike ride. I thought "okay, I'm not sore, this should be AWESOME!" Well...it was awesome scenery. We rode through Sonoma, over to Carneros and through it to Napa, turned around and came back through Carneros back into Sonoma, finished with Lovall Valley Loop (a short climb up to a beautiful little valley) and back up to Brian's. Sun shining, not too cold...brilliant.

Signs of fatigue
Except that my heart rate was staying in the 130s yet I felt like given my exertion, it should've been in the 150s. I kept it in the small ring (have a compact crank on my tri bike) and just tried to keep a nice fast cadence with a higher gear, but even that felt a bit tough. Hm, that run must've really tuckered my hamstrings more than I thought.

Pat and I nearly decided not to do Lovall Valley Loop b/c we were both kind of dead (he's training for the Napa Valley Marathon and ran 22 miles the day before - made my 11.5 look like nothing!). Still, we pressed on, slow as slugs. It hurt. Bad. THIS IS NOT A BIG HILL, PEOPLE!!! Oh, but my god it hurt.

Finally we get onto the home stretch to Brian's house and what does David do? Picks it up to about 22 mph and flies back. I just watched helplessly because there was no way I had anything left to do anything about it. *sigh*

I made it a point to really stretch a lot that night. I spent about 20 minutes getting into my hammies and hips. I knew I had my rest day coming, so that should be good.

Monday
Rest day! YES!!! But right now in Build Phase, that doesn't = day off. Nope, you still work, but light swim and weights. I ended up skipping the weights and just swam Monday evening. I did about 2900 yards, with a 300 warm up and 4x (500 yards with 50 easy and another 1:00 rest) with 200 kick with fins and 200 cool. I was very impressed that my 'easy' 500 still ended up being right on 8:01 (for ALL 4!), which was about a 1:36 pace. THAT was really making me happy. After a great run on Sat, I was so excited about how much my swimming seems to be improving.

Tuesdsay
Easy bike, Hard run today. Went out at 6:30 a.m. to ride the Joe Rodota trail from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol and back. About 17 miles. Really tried to get that HR up to be in 130s and 140s but it just wasn't coming up. Still felt really weak in my hamstrings and even when I was putting out an effort the HR wasn't really coming up. Not that I needed it to come UP (supposed to be easy bike), but the fact is that for me, an easy effort should yield HR in the 130s-low 140s. Yet my legs were WORKING. If I would've backed off the pace/cadence, my HR would've dropped to 110s and that was too low, even for an easy bike. Hm.

Hard run - supposed to get HR into Zone 5a. I did a set where I warmed up for 6 minutes, then would, for 2 minutes, get into a pace where I was in Zone 4 (160s, about 8:40 pace) and then for 2:00 go to a HR Zone of upper 170s-low 180s (~7:49 pace). Repeated that for 35:00 and then did 5:00 cool. The issue was that again, I felt like I was exerting myself and pushing, but the HR didn't want to really jump up past 165 until near the end. My muscles were TIRED but the HR just wasn't wanting to come up. I did get a max of 181 but my average HR for the session was 165. Again, just not totally my style.

Wednesday
So I was supposed to wake up and swim hard today. I felt like C-R-A-P. So I listened to my body and said no. I decided to just get that weight lifting session in on my lunch break and that would be it. Lifting was good and I felt good about it.

Today
And here we are. Hard bike, easy run. I went to 6:00 a.m. spinning at the YMCA with Alex. She's a great instructor and I liked her style. She saved the sprints for the end - GOOD! Still though...I just didn't feel like myself on that bike. My legs felt heavy. Tried to focus on pulling up but my hamstrings were not happy campers. I averaged a 155 HR which is okay, but even for spinning - I often average around 160 or 162 - or AT THE LEAST 158. It's only 45:00 - I really should have my HR up there for that. I just couldn't do it.

I went to the treadmill afterward for an easy 30:00 run. Did 3.25 miles and HR was really low - 148 average or so, even with a 1.5 grade and 9:22 pace. Felt pretty fine there.

What does it all mean?
So I decided to do a little research. There seem to be two forms of overtraining - Sympathetic Overtraining and Parasympathetic Overtraining. But this quote from Slowtwitch.com really hit home:
Most recreational athletes are more used to the notion that an elevated heart rate is the sign of overtraining, specifically during rest, and they’re right in their thinking. Fewer athletes are aware of, or ever experience, a heart that cannot beat fast enough. But professional triathletes are very aware of this phenomenon, especially those who engage in Ironman-style training and racing.

"There are days that I just can't get my HR to the zone I want it to be in," says Ironman and World Champion Karen Smyers.

Wow. Wasn't I just writing that?

"This is a sign of not being recovered, and I reschedule the hard workout planned for that day. If you recognize it early, you can usually recover in a day or two. If you have pushed through it for a long time, you may need a much longer time to pull yourself out of the slump."
Hm. Yeah. So the article is really great and one that I've posted below. I think every triathlete who does long-distance races should read it. Now that I'm really sticking to a plan, and I'm such a numbers geek, I can definitely notice this and I'm glad I caught it now. Most athletes really hate having to listen to their body and respond when it is saying "I AM BEING PUSHED OVER THE EDGE! YOU NEED TO BACK OFF!"

Why mine is responding like this, I'm not sure. I do know that I'm running more than I ever have in my life and also going through some major life changes right now (moving from Berkeley to Santa Rosa, changing jobs - two of life's most stressful events!). I miss my friends to some degree and I'm adjusting to life in Sonoma County. As 'easy' as it all seems to me (I DO LOVE IT), I know it's still stressful, simply for the change that it is.

So...I need to back off a bit. More on how to do it effectively later. Lunch time is up!

And remember: Let all your friends and family know how much you love them - not just today, but EVERY DAY!!

Here's the full article from http://www.slowtwitch.com/mainheadings/coachcorn/overtraining.html

How Much is Too Much?

By Dan Empfield The week of 2-7-00

(www.slowtwitch.com) Our Sport's elite have subjected themselves to physical stresses in ways unequalled by any group of people in human history. How often have these athletes gone over the edge and into the abyss? How do you know when you've done too much? And how do you come back from it? Over the next several days we'll ask that question and do our best to answer it. We've spoken to many of the world's best triathletes. We'll share their experiences, and their words of wisdom for you.

THE PSYCHOTIC YEARS
HEART TIRED
MEASURES
EPILOGUE

------

THE PSYCHOTIC YEARS

The period of 1989 to ’94 were what Paul Huddle calls the Psychotic Years. Huddle saw it all firsthand, both in his own quest to become a top-caliber Ironman racer and in watching his longtime girlfriend Paula Newby-Fraser compete. "My first exposure to somebody who could really take it to the next level was Scott Molina. He redefined training for all of us. He set the tone for what a long-distance racer can be."

Molina’s incredible work habits would be the first of three influences leading many of the top ultra-athletes to a new training and racing level—one that would allow men and women to break eight and nine hours respectively and perhaps go a bit past peak strength and fitness and into deep, endemic exhaustion.

The second such influence was the coming of the "Saxon horde"—the migration of the German snowbirds to San Diego for the winter months. "They took it up another level," Huddle says. "They did amazing amounts of miles. We learned a lot from them." But the Germans just set the tone for what the next few years would be like as far as training was concerned.


What really ushered in the Psychotic Years, what pushed many of these athletes over the edge, was the Ironman World Series. Huddle remembers it this way: "Everyone thought this was great. It was the natural evolution. Kind of like the USTS for Ironman racers. So we all started chasing around the world, doing five Ironmans a year in order to win the title."

Certainly it was big money. Erin Baker won the women’s title the first year and pocketed $50,000 on top of the earnings at each race. JulieAnne White won the title for women in 1992, and although by then the money had dwindled to $20,000 it still was plenty of incentive for a long-distance racer. Scott Tinley and Ray Browning traded the title for several years, with each of them producing stellar performances at races like New Zealand and Canada. Both were usually fried to a crisp by the time Hawaii came around, but Tinley still had enough gas in the tank to push Mark Allen to the limit with a second-place finish in 1991.

On top of the Ironman World Series, new races were popping up. Hard races. Like Zofingen, generally considered by those who race it to be harder than any Ironman. And the Nice triathlon was still on the schedule. It was not at all unusual for an athlete to do Zofingen, then race Nice a month later, then Germany a month after that. In 1992 JulieAnne White (my wife) raced Ironman New Zealand in March, Zofingen in May, then the Marseilles triathlon two weeks later followed by Nice two weeks after that. She raced Ironman Germany in July, Ironman Canada in August and, finally, six weeks later, Hawaii. A similar schedule ensued in 1993.

Newby-Fraser also raced a heavy schedule in 1992, including a three-race triple that seems incomprehensible. Two weeks after the Nice Triathlon, she raced Ironman Japan, followed by—two weeks later—the German Ironman. That’s three ultras and three wins in a four-week span. When asked whether racing such a schedule had any lasting negative effects, Huddle maintains that, "the 1992 schedule was no problem for Paula. It was difficult, but she was fit and she got through it all fine. It was the ’95 season that was difficult. But it wasn’t the Hawaii race and it wasn’t the meltdown at the end of that race. It was the training. She was tired of people taking for granted that she would win Hawaii, that she was expected to win. She wanted to really stick a top men’s time out there, an 8:45 or so. So she did the kind of training a top man would do. She rode the 150-mile rides with Mark Allen, glued to his rear wheel. That was where she went overboard. That’s when she found the point of maximum output, and went past it."

What happens when an athlete goes too far, and how does he or she know when that has happened? Scott Molina has explored this as much as any athlete, both from firsthand experience as a pioneer in doing extraordinary amounts of quality training and racing, and in the self-examination of what that does to a person.

"I do believe there is enough accurate, reliable information out there to give people the necessary tools to decide whether they are doing too much," he says. "In 1987 I went to a clinic in Dallas where Peter Snell worked to be tested for ‘overtraining.’ At the time it was a pretty vague term, but they had some concrete theories already that seem to be holding up today. They tested for hormonal levels—free testosterone, cortisol, and muscle breakdown enzymes—and combined that with resting heart rate and other subjective feelings: tiredness, irritability, etc. And of course I was a mess, which I knew, but didn't know how to correct myself. At the time they suggested a long time off, at least six weeks. This would have been my first break in 13 years, so I was a bit reluctant. But I took their advice and went on to have two good years in ’88 and ’89.

"The thing is, I knew I was in trouble because I was doing a ton of racing and training but couldn't go as fast as I should according to objective measures like track workouts and swim sessions that I've done hundreds of times. And I think most people who nuke themselves know it at the time, but because of their motivation to excel don't allow themselves to stop. And this is where I think triathlon is a bit different than other sports. We do seem to attract a higher percentage of compulsive/addictive types, so a higher percentage of us are likely to nuke ourselves. Only after coaching people for the last five years have I come to realize that many people who seek my advice do so because others have told them to do less, or take time off, but they won't. So they come to me to try and get the ‘secret’ of how I did so much. Some of these folks just go from coach to coach, or doctor to doctor, hoping to find out how they can do and have it all, when the reality is that they can't.

"I do think that some athletes who did get a very early start in endurance training—especially swimmers—seem to be able to cope with more as they reach adulthood. The others that seem to be able to handle more are those who do the highest percentage of their training at the low end of the aerobic scale. It seems it is the really hard stuff that tips the balance very quickly."

HEART TIRED

"The only guys I ever knew who’d get heart-tired were the Germans. Nobody would do the amount of work they did," says longtime American pro Mark Montgomery, probably the first American to train regularly with such early German stars as Jurgen Zack, Wolfgang Dittrich and Jochen Basting. Montgomery was talking about a little-known malady—a type of overtraining in which the heart is unable to beat at a rate high enough to do the work required.

"The Germans would do so much work, their legs were so strong, they were so fit—they were the only ones who could outwork their hearts," Mongomery says. "They’d eventually get to a point where they couldn’t get their heart rates up any more. Whenever that happened they’d train really easy—everything was below 110 beats per minute, and it might take them three weeks before their hearts came back. They would always just keep their work down [until] they recovered."

Most recreational athletes are more used to the notion that an elevated heart rate is the sign of overtraining, specifically during rest, and they’re right in their thinking. Fewer athletes are aware of, or ever experience, a heart that cannot beat fast enough. But professional triathletes are very aware of this phenomenon, especially those who engage in Ironman-style training and racing.

"There are days that I just can't get my HR to the zone I want it to be in," says Ironman and World Champion Karen Smyers. "This is a sign of not being recovered, and I reschedule the hard workout planned for that day. If you recognize it early, you can usually recover in a day or two. If you have pushed through it for a long time, you may need a much longer time to pull yourself out of the slump." Every triathlete who has done the big miles can relate to a time when the heart for some reason won’t beat fast enough under load. What is in question is exactly why this happens and what the physiological mechanism behind it might be.

Dr. Edgar Fenzl is an avid triathlete. He’s also one of the most respected clinical researchers in Germany. He knows all the German athletes and many of the Americans. And he maintains that the heart doesn’t get tired. "The heart is an amazing thing," he says. "You can do anything to your body you want—you can exhaust every muscle you have, you can work yourself even to the point of passing out, but your heart will keep beating."

Fenzl is like every doctor interviewed for this article. There is no basis in theory, nor any reported studies, in which the conclusion can be drawn that the heart gets tired. Yet there is not one top Ironman-distance pro who cannot relate to the experience. That is not to say that Fenzl and the other doctors do not recognize the symptom; they simply believe it is a metabolic or electrophysiological problem. The heart has run out of something. Perhaps there is a deficiency in ATPase or a certain electrolyte.

The problem is also one that is not always noticeable. "You won’t know you’re heart-tired without a heart rate monitor," Montgomery says. "You feel OK, more or less, it’s just that you’re out there doing an amount of work that should have you up to 150 beats, but your heart is only at 125. Your heart rate monitor is the only way you’ll know it."

While triathletes are the most likely to get heart-tired, long-distance cyclists can relate to the experience as well. "I was doing RAAM Relay one year," says Pete Pennsyres, winner of the Race Across America and holder of several long-distance records. "Every day I felt fine, but I had my heart rate monitor on and I found that I couldn’t get my heart rate up to the level sustained the previous day."

Perhaps it is a lack of something needed that creates an environment in which the heart cannot beat at its regular tempo, or perhaps triathletes engage in so much more aerobic work that the heart finally reaches the limit of its incredible endurance. Either way, Scott Tinley sees it this way: "Bottom-line is that we are living lab rats who are working without a net. We [triathletes] are peerless, without precedent and subject to long-term maladies about which nobody knows. The body is an amazing piece of machinery. I am afraid a few of us may have found the limits of long-term endurance training. This is an area that warrants further study. I did quite a bit of research in this area and basically found little if anything specific to LONG-term overtraining.

"You can get away from it for awhile," Tinley says. "Two to four years, depending. But after a while it catches up. The warning signs are subtle, varied, and easily masked by an athlete’s determination. The interest in Ironman distances, and the money and sponsorship, are the carrots that drive those who have the basic tools to be competitive." But Tinley also agrees with Scott Molina that, "It is underlying obsessive/compulsive behavior that fuels the fires. The damage that can be done varies on the individual. Everybody has a breaking point. Mine was the neuro-endocrine system."

Whatever causes the heart to slow during exercise is reversible. Longtime pro Ironman racer and current coach and clinician Ray Browning says that perhaps the heart is protecting itself. "Most athletes are aware that a sign of overtraining is an elevated heart rate at rest, and they project that notion into the belief that it will be elevated during training as well. But that’s untrue. I don’t know the mechanisms behind the dissociation between heart rate and perceived effort, and when I talk about that phenomenon people’s eyes glaze over. But maybe it is the body’s way of protecting itself from damage." Browning wonders whether there is only a finite amount of hard work available to all of us. If so, maybe this is the body’s way of protecting us so that we can live to fight, or play, another day.

Paul Huddle remembers the great Ironman racing days when, after you’ve given your heart and body all the rest it needs, it is able to beat 10 beats faster than in training. Most of us are used to the idea of protecting against a higher than target heart rate. While a low heart rate at rest is quite desirable, the heart’s ability to beat at its normal high rate is a sign of its health as well.

MEASURES

"The best measures of overtraining are still the ones you can perform at home," says Orange County-based physician Herman Falsetti, who has worked with many of the top pro triathletes, runners and cyclists who live in and pass through Southern California. "Irritability, the disinclination to eat, inability to sleep, and high resting heart rate are good indicators that you’ve done too much and need a rest."

But for those who fear they’ve done more damage than a few days off will cure there are other, more quantitative and much more expensive measures. The one most in vogue for the past several years is testing one’s blood cortisol level, specifically the "cortisol response." Cortisol is a corticosteriod naturally produced by the adrenal cortex. When you hear somebody say of a particular athlete, "His adrenals are shot," this term is not meant to apply to the ability to produce epinephrine (adrenaline), which is in any case produced by the adrenal medulla, not the adrenal cortex. Rather, the utterer of such a statement is referring, whether he knows it or not, to the ability of the body to properly produce and regulate cortisol.

A normally functioning person will have a certain amount of cortisol running around in his or her body at any time. During exercise the level goes up. After a brisk one-hour run, your blood cortisol level might be two to three times its resting level. But a severely overtrained person becomes a cortisol "secreter," meaning he is in a constant state of cortisol production that might be double what his normal resting output might be. When such a person exercises, his cortisol level does not go up as it should but stays roughly the same.

Cortisol is responsible for a lot of necessary metabolic functions, only one of which is as a facilitator of gluconeogenesis—a fancy word for what the liver does when it manufactures glucose, the gasoline for your body’s engine, out of proteins and fats. Some believe that a person’s inability to further elevate cortisol levels during exercise is only half the problem; the already-elevated levels at rest are just as problematic. Since it is a catabolic steriod (anabolic=building, catabolic=tearing down), the extra blood cortisol may, over a long period of time, be running around eating up things like muscles and organs. Indeed, one of its "good" catabolic functions during periods of stress is to free amino acids for use. Might a "bad" catabolic function, if one's cortisol levels are perpetually high, be the slow erosion of muscle tissue? There are conflicting opinions as to whether this is one of the negative potential side-effects of elevated blood cortisol.

Mark Sisson, architect of every meaningful drug-testing protocol in the sport of triathlon and president of the supplement company Primal Nutrition, also maintains that cortisol inhibits calcium uptake. He suspects that elevated cortisol production over a period of time is the culprit for some of the bone-density and stress-fracture problems some athletes might suffer. "I think sometimes people take supplements hoping that they will fix a calcium deficiency, but when it’s their overtraining that is causing a calcium uptake problem, that's a problem supplements won’t fix," he says.

Scott Tinley had cortisol response testing performed several years ago at Baylor University. "My cortisol was 13 at rest. I did a treadmill test and at work it went up to 13 and a half." He got tested again at the Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs, and at exercise his cortisol level actually went down. "It was the first time they’d ever seen anything like tha
t!"

Tinley is well-known inside pro triathlon circles as a "trainer." He rides and runs because he loves it, not because it is his job. But he’s cut way down in recent years. He knows he probably ought to just take a year or two totally off, but that’s a sacrifice he’s unwilling to make. So, instead, he’s keeping a careful watch on his work output and is slowly coming out of the hole into which he dug himself during two decades of constant training and several ultradistance races per year.

Some don’t believe the malfunctioning entity is the adrenal gland, but that the problem is in the brain. The adrenal cortex does not act on its own. It secretes cortisol when prompted by adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH. This is generated by the pituitary gland, and some believe that the problem lies solely in the brain, specifically in the hypothalmic-pituitary axis, or HPA. If you hear someone saying the adrenal-response problem may be a neurological—as opposed to a glandular—one, they are referring to the possibility that something went haywire up in the brain and that the problem is therefore further upstream: It's the brain's inability to sufficiently regulate production of ACTH.

Another measure of overtraining is one’s level of testosterone, and athletes who’ve had their cortisol response tested usually will go one further and spring for a testosterone test as well. Testosterone becomes elevated during training in the same way cortisol does, so this test includes a test at rest and again after work. Some of these tests are done on a treadmill or bicycle ergometer and include blood samples taken as often as every 30 seconds.

In an overtrained person testosterone does not become chronically elevated at rest, as does cortisol. Therefore, some think this is one of the harmful aspects of a hyper-overtrained state—the cortisol-testosterone balance is not maintained, and the catabolic effects of cortisol are not counteracted by the anabolic properties of testosterone.

But that’s not the end of it. Some feel that the best measure is one’s level of adrenaline and noradrenaline, and that levels of noradrenaline greater than 300 picograms per millileter after recovery from training suggest a person is overtrained. Another oft-mentioned measure is one’s plasma glutamine levels. Glutamine is the first and most prevalent amino acid seen running around the bloodstream. This is because glutamine is essential for many homeostatic functions—and when the body is placed under stress, glutamine plasma levels rise, accompanied by a corresponding fall during recovery. If the body isn’t allowed to recover sufficiently, glutamine levels never reach normalcy—in other words, the levels stay low. Therefore, it is surmised that lower than normal levels of plasma glutamine could be a good indicator of overtraining.

If you suspect you are overtrained and you’ve tried all the tests above and find them inconclusive, I might suggest further testing of your creatine kinase and serum ferritin. Have your doctor take a look under the hood and poke around your adrenal gland, perhaps through a camera inserted into your belly button. You might also consider having your mitochondria looked at under a microscope. All of this has been done by athletes whose names you’d recognize. But if your performances are sub-par, if you can’t sleep, can’t eat, if you’re irritable or depressed, you are probably overtrained and you don’t need a blood test to tell you. Neither do you need a doctor to tell you the cure.

EPILOGUE

Most of you will never face the prospect of climbing out of a big hole such as those some pro triathletes have dug for themselves. But you might find yourself in transitory periods of overtraining, and when you do it might be because of too much "high quality" work. Roch Frey, coach of Heather Fuhr, Peter Reid, and others, says, " The body can only handle three hard workouts a week, and this is what most single sport athletes do at a maximum. Your internal system does not distinguish between an anaerobic swim, bike or run workout, but knows that the system is being overloaded and stressed regardless of what sport is being performed. Try telling most triathletes to only do one harder swim, bike and run weekly and most will laugh at you, except for a few: Heather and Peter follow this rule most of the time. This is one key to long term training that I think will save triathletes from sickness, and increase their longevity in the sport. Again, this is just my theory. I see so many triathletes hammering EVERY session."

But there are athletes, usually age-groupers, who hammer every session and do very well. These athletes have limitations, though. They are usually unable to race well at anything longer than a short-distance race. They will have more soft tissue injuries through their careers. There will also always be the question of whether they could have been better if they'd occasionally done longer miles.

Those who seem to be in greatest danger of overtraining are those who do embrace the notion of longer mileage for certain periods of time during their season, but do not heed the warnings about too many high heart rate sessions per week.

It seems easy to avoid overtraining by adhering to a few easy ground rules. But that's not much consolation to those who do triathlon at the highest levels and have spilled over into overtraining. Tinley laments: "The very aspects of your personality that lead you into overtraining—and keep you from getting out of it—are those assets which got you to the top in the first place. My drive, discipline and work ethic make me react badly to the idea of disuse and atrophy. That’s the thing that’s tough about trying to be the best. The very things that get you to the top are the things you’ve got to keep an eye on."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tough week in several ways

I can't promise a lot of brevity or clarity in this post. It's been a really tough week and I feel like I have a million things on my mind.

-Frustration
-Sadness
-Anxiety
-Excitement
-Fatigue
-Hope

Hm. I'm not necessarily sure where to start. Last week was very difficult training-wise because I had a trip for work that began on Friday and I got back late Sunday evening. I wasn't able to train at all while in Southern California, so I ended up taking 3 days off. I probably would have felt worse about it except I developed a cold around Thursday that was at its worst over the weekend. So, in some ways, it was okay. I was forced to rest! Still, I was frustrated about being sick, frustrated about not getting to train and anxious about the effects that might have on my fitness gains I had made the previous week.

Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡, right?

Yeah, mostly. I tried to be optimistic about just moving forward and acknowledging that I'm still only in Base 3, that after this week I'll have tons more time to train and get out there. The other thing is that I began to freak out about not getting out there on my bike; then I had to remind myself that it is, in fact, my strongest leg and I'll have the next 8 weeks to get it back - should be no problem, and I'm still spinning, so there's a base element there, and my base rides right now are already around 50 miles. It's just hard because of the emails that have been flying around my cycling group's list about 'rides this weekend' and I'm unable to do anything but read from afar (I arrived in Omaha, NE yesterday and here through Sunday).

Did I mention this post would be a whine fest? I'll take some cheese, please. :)

So that was last week. I think my hours totaled about 5.6 or something. Blah. ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, the running aspect of all this is going beautifully and I am SO EXCITED about that. I don't have any issues with the plantar fasciitis that once threatened to plague me a couple of years ago. Last week I reflected that I haven't had any pain at all, besides the sore quads.

But then this week...I was sitting at my desk at work and noticed that my hips were really kind of hurting. I began to run over things in my mind:
  • Lower back strength? Not a problem. I've got a very strong back between swimming, yoga, strength training...I'm not really concerned there.
  • Over pronation? Took care of that last year with orthotics. Really shouldn't be a problem.
  • Running surface? Nope, been on a treadmill for the most part b/c of weather.

Devon was online at the time and I g-chatted her and asked her about it. "When was the last time you got new shoes? I notice I'll start to get some soreness when my shoes are wearing out," she wrote.

BINGO! I'm almost CERTAIN that's the culprit. While I have dramatically lifted my mileage in the last couple of weeks, I haven't really ever STOPPED running since last season. I do think I could be experiencing some slight inflammation due to the increase (i.e. I'm running about 20-25 miles a week now, vs. the average 4-6 miles/week I was averaging in the off-season), but I really do think it's the shoes. I'm going to try it out and see what happens.

In any case, I'm just excited to be running so much more and feeling good about it.

So the other thing that was really difficult this week was saying goodbye. I had my last Friday evening spinning class a couple of weeks ago, and that was hard in its own way. Only a few regulars attend Friday evening, but they sure are committed. I will DEFINITELY miss them. I'm also bummed about the fact that I worked so hard to really create a reputation that it was a class worth going to after work on a Friday, and it finally seemed to really pay off...in the last couple weeks that I taught it. :-/ OH THE IRONY! When I first started teaching that class there were about 3-5 people every week. Then slowly...more like 6-8. In the last few months it's gone up to about 10-11. My very last Friday there were 18 people - the MOST EVER! Ah well, if that's what I contributed and the numbers hold (at least for winter!), then I'll be very happy.

This week was my last Wednesday morning spinning class. I am NOT a crier and I generally don't enjoy it, but I nearly broke down. There they were, all my regulars and a couple of new faces, all on their bikes by about 6:30, and this was our last ride together. "Well, I've been dreading this day for the last month," I said into the mic. Suddenly, Drew walked up to me (and I'm thinking "what's up, Drew?") and handed an envelope to me saying "We've got a little opening ceremony. We took up a collection and wanted to say thank you for all of the great workouts you've given us."

Speechless. (It was a very generous gift certificate to Sports Basement)

I was so overwhelmed by the kindness and thoughtfulness of this gesture that it was all I could do not to just cry. I HATE SAYING GOODBYE!!!!! This brings me back to why I didn't continue with outdoor education (my first job out of college). I worked so hard to get to know those kids and learn all of their names, only to have them leave a few days later and then do it all over again. It was exhausting - physically and emotionally. One of the many things I learned about myself as a spinning instructor is that I really am a 'relationship person.' I enjoy people so much and I enjoy getting to know them as individuals. I just hate the goodbye part of it.

So anyway, there we all were, and there's me, trying to hold back the overwhelming feeling of emotion and at the same time, do the best job I could to communicate clearly just how MUCH I enjoyed doing this and HOW MUCH they as students inspired me and gave me. Words don't really do it justice, but I think the action of looking forward, on Tuesday nights, to waking up at 4:50 so that I could get on that BART train at 5:37 and be in SF by 6:09 and have plenty of time to settle in and set up...well it's certainly not just because I like teaching spinning. It really had to do with all of the great personalities in that class.

What's amazing is that they really did inspire me in a multitude of ways. Certainly in ways to continue to deliver outstanding spinning classes. I really grew as an instructor, and I think that contributes to the emotion of it all as well. I always had fun designing my classes and thinking about the different goals I would set for them. It's a lot easier to think of goals when you start to get to know people.

Anyway, I could go on but I won't. I think I've communicated my sadness and my attachment well enough! Life goes on, and goodbyes are always part of it. My big challenge to myself is to walk into the doors of the Santa Rosa YMCA with a new attitude, excited and absolutely thrilled to be teaching in a new place. I challenge myself not to have a judgmental attitude, not to compare (Wednesday 6:30 at SF YMCA will always be in a category of their own!), and most of all, to give it time. One of my personality weaknesses is patience, and I often want everything to happen yesterday. So I must remind myself to be patient and TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME!

Then there's the nutrition thing. I haven't really lost any weight, but I'm only putting a half-@$$ed approach to it as well. Cutting back on wine is difficult. Two weeks ago was horrible eating-wise. I thought my increase in training hours explained my newly-found voracious appetite. I mean...HUNGRY...ALL...THE...TIME. It was awful. I just kept thinking about food and how hungry I was! Then last week that kind of went back down and I realized it was PMS. I know, TMI but it's something for me to remember when I get that kind of hunger - it's not that bad in the off-season but when I'm training a lot, those hormones really exacerbate it and I just feel like I'm starving. Still, I try to make good choices. Traveling also makes it difficult to eat right.

Still, at the end of the day, I'm optimistic and know that after Monday (my last day of work), my life will become dramatically different and I will have a lot more time to cook the things I like to cook, eat how I want to eat and train to my heart's desire. Oceanside 70.3, here I come!!!

I'm going to end this post with my fantastic playlist that I put together for our final spin class. I had asked students to make requests, with the caveat that if they didn't like the music, it wasn't my fault! I received requests for "Blue" (Eiffel 65 - an electronica song), "Harder Better Faster Stronger" (Daft Punk), Gipsy Kings, and Patrick said "how about we get these people moving with some disco?"

Hm...disco, electronica and Gipsy Kings...wow. I think it worked out quite well, and we had some awesome hill repeats. It was one of my favorite classes, actually!

5:00

Warm up

Last Dance – Donna Summer

Celebration – Kool & The Gang

5:00

Jumps every 10 beats

Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

5:00

Spin-ups

I’m Comin’ Out - Diana Ross

2:00

Recovery

Ain’t No Mtn High – Marvin Gaye

10:00

(2x5:00)

Seated climb (R:7-8) w/high cad (75+) (2:30), rest (2:30)

Blue – Eiffel 65

One More Time – Daft Punk

6:00

(3:00 work, 3:00 rest)

Seated climb (R:6.5), higher cad (80+)

Rest

Jerk It Out (remix) – Caesars

3:30

Run on a hill/seated climb (R:6.5->6)

Cadence ranges 85-90+

Harder Better Faster Stronger (live) – Daft Punk

3:00

Recovery

I’m Your Boogie Man – KC & the Sunshine Band

5:00

Seated climb with pickups (R:7), Cadence ranges 75<->85

We Are Family (Conways Remix) – Groovestylerz

5:00

Standing climb/running on a hill (R:7.5), Cadence 70<->80+

Macho Man – Village People

2:00

Recovery

Abracadabra – Steve Miller Band

3:00

2x Sprints (R:6.5)

0:30 sprint / 1:00 recovery

Last Night – The Strokes

5:00

Recovery

Hotel California – Gipsy Kings



And...that's it for now...