Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas cheer = how much beer?

For many, 5pm today will represent the carrot that has been dangling in front of you for the past few weeks, months even. That's right, it is time to celebrate Christmas with what may be the jewel in your December crown - a 4 day long weekend! Lots of eating, drinking, being merry and catching up with friends and family (you know, those people that you tend to avoid when knee deep in triathlon training). So the big question - how do you balance all of this celebrating with maintaining your training plan?

From my experience in training to find the holy-grail of balance, that the answer is this... there is rarely such a thing as a perfect balance at this time of the year and you need to pick one and work backwards from there. For me, it's a no-brainer. My family and friends tend to get the tired, distracted, "let me fit one more session in before dinner" version of me during the year. So at Christmas, they get the spritely, attentive and energetic me (ok, so that's not entirely true; while rationally it's a no-brainer anyway, my triathlon-brain does tend to interrupt from time to time and distract me - I tend to block it out by eating another rum ball). Without family and friends, life would become lonely and boring. Unless you're a pro, ease up and relax a little. 

So, if you pick training as the priority, life goes on as normal. Although I would recommend the following:
  1. Put some thought into a few really good excuses as to why you need to train instead of going to the family breakfast. 
  2. Put some top-notch thought into expensive presents to use as negotiating tools. 
  3. Get up super-early so you can be home before the action kicks off. Warning: this may wake up your kids who will be excited about Christmas and will then bug your partner until you get home - thus this strategy may have an adverse affect.

For me, I will plan my training routine around family and friends. For example, this week I have gone into a bit of 'training overload' for 6 days so I can take Sunday off without any worry. All day to hang out with family and play front yard cricket with my niece, nephew and the crew. Other tips and tricks that may work for you:

  1. Enjoy the rest! How often during the year do you say to yourself "I wish I could just have a few days away from it all"? Guess what? You can! A few days of R & R is not going to undo all your hard work. It may even act as a good recovery period for you. 
  2. Stay active - find something that you can do as a family and enjoy the opportunity to do something different. I have done more yoga (my wife loves yoga) over the past 2 weeks than in the entire year! Front yard cricket is always good, or even just a walk together after you've indulged on goodies.
  3. Be sneaky - if you are at the beach tell your family / friends you are going for a splash. Build your open water confidence by running through the waves and swimming out 50 - 100m (count your strokes - about 37-40 is 50m for me). Trend water for a minute or so, then swim back into shore, catching waves on the way. Do this for as many times as you can before you get called on it!
  4. Make the most of having time for quality time. Take the time to notice the face of your kids or family when they open presents, to compliment those who are doing the cooking, to listen and create some memories for when you return to training and they complain ("remember how nice it was at Christmas time when we sung Kylie Minogue songs and I wore the apron with 'kiss me I'm the chef' on it?").
  5. Indulge (not over-indulge). Eat, drink and be merry. Have that pudding, beer, wine, trifle, and other goodies. However, as boring as this sounds I recommend setting some limits. These can be basic, such as "Christmas day is a free day, whatever goes", "no snacking on lollies between meals but everything else is ok" or "6 beers over the break". I suggest this because the human mind tends to develop unhelpful patterns when we are 'being naughty' that lead to what-the-hell behaviours ("I've stuffed up now, 6 beers in, I might as well finish the carton!). 
  6. Pick some quality sessions and plan with your family to fit them in. A few key quality sessions will keep you going over the break. Trust me. Maybe shorter but higher intensity, or focusing more on technique? In the pool, I might do 3 x 300m, 3 x200m and 3 x100m as easy, moderate, hard. With a cool down, this is 2km and about 40 minutes - done. For a run, I might do a negative split - run to a point for 22 minutes, then turn around and try and get home in 18 minutes. Again, 40 minutes of quality work. 
  7. Volunteer to do the last-minute shopping run to one of those 24 hour shopping centres - what better workout than pushing through crowds of people and fighting for the last pair of socks?
Most importantly, stay safe. Be careful on the roads if you are out and about (especially if you are up earlier to fit in with everything else) and be overly cautious. 

Merry Christmas guys and gals, have a run-tastic festive season and keep on smiling. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Race 3 - A new perspective

Race 3 of the QLD Gatorade Series was run and won (by some) on Sunday. It was from a new vantage point for me; the sidelines. I found something tougher than making the decision to rest my calf and not race - standing as a spectator watching what would have been my wave take off! That being said I quickly embraced the opportunity to soak up the day from a new position (see the YouTube video I put together to see what I mean) and I have to say, bravo to everyone involved. From the athletes, to the volunteers, to the officials, everybody was on their 'A-game' with enthusiasm, smiles and support. Even the sun came out to play! It is also worth noting that from registration to numbering, to getting into transition, USM seems to have the blueprint for Raby Bay sorted out. A nice change compared to some of the reports I have heard about the race down in Canberra on the same weekend, which sounds like it was absolute chaos.

From a spectators point of view, Raby Bay seems to tick quite a few boxes. You can see the swim start, get close enough to 'high five' your mates as they run up the swim exit and into transition, then have enough time to scoot across and watch them mount (or attempt to mount) their bike and head out onto the bike course. Also, with a 4 lap ride for the full distance you get ample opportunity to watch everyone spin around the round-a-bout as they come back towards transition and then out again. Again, you can position yourself to see them dismount and run into transition, then yell out some encouragement as they grunt (usually grunt, or groan, sometimes squeezing out a smile!) their way out of T2 and onto the run. A bit of exercise for the spectator to move around to the run course, see everyone come in and out on their first lap, then duck around near the huge inflatable Mizuno shoe and watch them stagger / stumble / sprint across the finish line. So close you can taste the action sometimes! Not that I recommend licking the athletes as they move past. Finally, not only do you get front row seats for all the action, but you also get access to some great deals. On Sunday the Active Stride tent had some shoes at half price, plus all those last minute things that get forgotten (like race belts - I think I have about 5 at home because I would forget to pack them and need to get a new one on the day. Much better than pinning your suit I think!). 

I can't deny that I kept a close eye on the 30-34 year category action. The top guys were lining up (minus one or two) and again while I wanted to be out there I made the most of watching it all unfold from the sidelines. First port of call was the swim exit. Superfish Josh (J.Santacaterina) was no surprise as the first up the ramp and into transition, a place he held onto (just) coming off the bike and onto the run. He had a full minute clear of the 2nd fastest swim, with the rest of the top guys coming out of the water in another 30 - 45 seconds. Interestingly, the top 3 place getters were 5th, 9th and 22nd in the swim leg. This tells me that while a good swim is important, as long as I am within a 2 minutes of the lead I am still in it. It also reinforces that if I can get out of the water with the top couple of guys, the race is mine for the taking. 

Out onto the bike course and I had the opportunity to watch the top guys spin around the round-a-bout 3 times. Both BD (B.Dalrympie, 1st in race 1 and 3rd in race 2) and Ricardo (R.Barbosa, 2nd in race 1 and race 2) made huge gains on the bike, with BD hot on Josh's heals coming out of T2 (transition '2': from bike to run) and Ricardo 31 seconds back. Ryan Emmerson also sizzled the bike course with the 3rd fastest ride of the day (finishing our race in 4th place). Some really solid riding with the top few guys, which shows that is the place to take control of our category at the moment. 

That being said, a blistering run by Paul Jamison (16:57 for the 5km which was 34 seconds faster than the second fastest run split) moved him from well back in the field to 3rd place at the end of the day. A man to watch out for! I've gotta have at least 34 seconds up my sleeve when I jump off my bike, otherwise I am in trouble! BD quickly took control of the run (and race) and was able to hold off for his second victory of the season. Ricardo put in a strong effort to take 2nd, with Paul in 3rd. 

I have to say, Mr Abs himself, BD, looked the goods from start to finish. I was really impressed with the way he seemed to be in control of the day from the get-go, complete with fast transitions and solid performances in all three disciplines. With 2 wins from 3 races, he is the guy to beat at the moment. Maybe not the Alistair Brownlee of our category yet  as he is beatable - but perhaps the Gomez or Kahlefeldt ; ) I am really looking forward to toeing the line with him and the other guys at Robina in January for the club champs. With a bit of rest I'm sure my calf will be ready to rock n' roll. 

Enjoy the break guys and gals, I will put together some ideas soon for attacking the Christmas season and making it work around the puddings and pavlovas. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gatorade Series - Race 3 'Raby Bay'

A great day out at the bay, sunshine and clear skies after a week of rain and storms! The wrap up to come over the next few days. In the meantime, enjoy my 'snap shot' of the race.

Friday, December 9, 2011

To DNS or DNF, that is the question

For almost six seasons now I have immersed myself in the world of triathlons. From losing toenails (both big toe nails at once no less), to infections from the timing chip band rubbing, to being bitten by stingers, there are a minefield of small things you are going to encounter along the way that try to 'dint' your armor. It is part and parcel of the sport – we train to cause a level of stress to the body so that it repairs itself stronger and makes us more efficient. Fitter. Capable of running longer and faster. Looking back though not once can I remember missing a race due to injury. Sure, I’ve had a few niggles and injuries here and there. But I’ve always been able to train around them, pick up more time in the pool when I’ve had a leg injury or more time running if I have had a sore shoulder. Granted, before I go on I want to mention an old proverb that springs to mind. "I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw the man with no feet". I haven't (touch wood) had any serious or debilitating illnesses or injuries along the way, and I am not comparing my sore calf to something more dramatic. I'm glad it's a sore calf and not a torn knee ligament. 

What I am saying is that 2 days out from Raby Bay I feel strange as it looks like I am going to have to make the decision not to race because of an injury. It's disappointing. Like I’ve let myself down and lost before the race has even started. Is it because I know I can still swim and ride? Is it because I’m stubborn and don’t want to admit that bringing a wind trainer on my holidays has been a waste of time? Or maybe I’m thinking that I can still ‘roll the dice’ and on race day my calf might be fine. 

It raises these questions; a) how do you decide when it is better not to toe the line on race morning, and b) what is better anyway next to your name – a ‘Did Not Start’ or ‘Did Not Finish’? Whether you like it or not, unless you are like Arnie and are a hardcore machine under your fleshy exterior, there is a good chance you are going to experience some form of an injury through participating in and training for a triathlon. You can take precautions and do the right things to minimise the risk of this happening, such as stretching, regular massage and taking the time to warm up and cool down properly, but at the end of the day if you are logging long hours in training some cracks may show. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the warning signs early and with a bit of TLC and treatment you’ll be back in no time. So what happens when it is a ‘slight niggle’ that doesn’t stop you from swimming / riding / running but is a definite sign that you’re body needs a break, yet you’ve got a race in a few days that you have spent weeks (sometimes months) preparing for?

From the outside looking in, it might seem like an obvious and easy decision. You’re hurt = don’t race (or train). But your mind can complicate things. Unless you have an obvious injury like a broken leg, parts of your brain thinks that you can still do it. The knight from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ had both legs and both arms cut off and still wanted to fight, so why can’t I! “Tis but a scratch” “It’s just a flesh wound!”

I’ve spoken to many triathletes over the years with varying ideas. Some say start the race, because “what have you got to lose?”. If it hurts during the race – stop. If not, it’s a moot point as you’ve completed what you set out to do and finished the race. People have told me “you’d be amazed at what your body can do when the adrenaline is pumping and you’re out there competing”. Which is true and I would have to agree with. So true that for me I think this is the problem. I know that I am competitive, and that I can do some stupid things to my body. Once, a massage therapist put a heat-pack on my back and rather than tell her that it was too hot, I thought I’d see how long I could last with it on. Smart, right? Not so smart when I end up with a blister on my back from burning my skin that stung for a week. So I know that if I go into the race on Sunday and feel a pull in my calf, maybe I’ll keep going until the race is over rather than stop. It’s not even the race and I’m already thinking, “It’s only 5km after all, over in less than 18 minutes. Surely I can stand the pain for that long”. Chronic injury anyone?

So how do you know when to call it quits for the day and take a DNS? I think it is up to the individual. I’m terrible at making this decision because as I mentioned at the start, I have never decided to NOT start and have never had a DNF (nor made an injury worse). I started the process by putting steps in place to see if it would get better (I hurt my calf last Thursday during a long run): I had not run on it until yesterday (so 7 days off) so I rested it, saw a physio, had a massage, stretched and made sure I am hydrated before exercise. If it was ok yesterday, then I would have raced. But it wasn’t and I stopped as soon as it got sore (difficult thing is I made it through 10 minutes of solid running, thinking “yeah I’m back baby!” and just before I slowed down BANG).

For me, if there is a chance that I could do some serious damage by racing and jeopardise the next month of training then I’ll be a spectator thank-you very much. I have raced with some ‘niggles’ and while sick a number of times. A bit of Nurofen gel rubbed in and off I go. But never with a dead-set injury. I’ve decided that if it is muscular, and it is a sharp pain rather than a dull pain, then that is a good warning sign. So for me, it’s a no-brainer this weekend. I’ll give it a miss. 3 races into the season and I’d hate to blow out my calf and miss 6-8 weeks of TRAINING, let alone racing. Big picture. I am happy… no content … no, I’m accepting of a DNS next to my name. I’ll live to race another day, and it’s not like we are racing for sheep stations. I would rather a DNS than that horrible feeling during the race when I hurt myself more and think “you idiot”. Plus I’d get no sympathy from my wife ; )

Funny though, while I gave my calf a week of no running and today strained it in a short run off the bike and therefore knew deep-down that not racing is the best option, I still saw a physiotherapist this afternoon in the hope he would say I’d be right to race. Needless to say he thinks triathletes are mad. 

For those who don't know who the 'black knight' is... 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life is not just about surviving the storm, it's about learning to dance in the rain

A few weeks ago my wife found a lump in our dog’s mouth. We took her in to the vet and ended up booking her in to have part of the mass removed so that it could be analysed. Two visits later and she has now had a large section of her lower jaw removed after it was discovered that she has a very aggressive bone cancer. What a whirlwind! The time from discovery to final operation spanned less than 2 weeks. It has been a little hard to grasp; she has been a healthy dog for almost 10 years, nothing worse than a mite on her nose in that time. Yet in what seems like a blink of the eye she has gone from a happy, healthy, stick-chasing friend to one who was given 3 – 6 months to live without an operation. The waiting game is now on to see if the operation got ‘clean edges’ on the segment that was removed. In the meantime, she is with us down in Byron recovering in style.
The whole experience has reminded me of a lot of things, such as making the most of each day and the importance of family and support. It has also shown me first hand the power of resilience and having the right attitude.  My dog is getting around with a cone on her head, and she looks like a Simpson’s character from side on. Yet she doesn’t seem perturbed. As the vet told us, dog’s have a wonderful philosophical view of life. For example, he said that the first few times our dog will try to eat (without the lower part of her jaw) it will most likely get messy as she won’t have that part of her mouth to help catch the food. But, she will quite quickly go “huh, all right then” and figure out how to eat without it. He was right. She seemed to figure it all out pretty fast and there was none of that “poor me” hesitation and wallowing. She just got on with it using what she had. I think it’s amazing. Similarly with the cone on her head, I thought she would get frustrated but I think my wife and I have gotten the most frustrated hearing her bump into things with it! My dog on the other hand has just figured out that she needs to lift her head higher so it doesn’t catch on the ground. Job done.
It comes down to your thinking. My dog accepts that ‘it is what it is’ and gets on with her life. Humans on the other hand, we have the power of cognition – good for us right? We can worry about the things we are missing, how much better our life could be, the injustice of it all, rather than accepting things as they are and being resilient. Sure, some of us are great at ‘getting on with it’. You read about guys who have been attacked by sharks who go on to be motivational speakers. Some of us are ok at it, and some of us find it difficult. Wherever you are on this scale, I think it is always beneficial to be reminded of the power of just ‘letting go’ of the worries and what-ifs.    
This accepting mindset has a big place in the world of triathlons. Have you ever caught yourself thinking “it’s raining I can’t run today”, “it’s too cold”, “I haven’t got the most expensive bike so I’m going to be slow” or been at the starting line and thought “I missed three swims this week I’ll be terrible today”, “it’s too hot I can’t race when it’s this hot” or “I forgot that extra gel”. It’s up to you how long you let yourself wallow in these thoughts. Guaranteed though that the person who accepts them and just gets on with their day will have the most enjoyment. For me, I strained my calf in a run last week. Sure, I did my fair share wallowing. I was on a really strong roll in my running training and to have this happen I thought ‘bit the big one’. It meant almost no running in the week before Raby Bay. But you know what? It happens. Rather than sit here and think about how much it is going to negatively impact my race, I can accept it and move on. I can focus on using the extra time from not running as time spent in the pool. I can spend more time stretching and getting the ol’ abadaba’s going, which I tend to neglect.
With less than a week until race 3 at Raby Bay I encourage you to put aside any hang-ups you may have about things not going the way you want. Make the situation work for you, and figure out how to eat with half your mouth missing (you know what I mean). Race 3 has a fun pre-Christmas feel to it. You’ll see people racing with tinfoil on their bikes and Santa hats on the run. Last year it was a scorcher, so remember to start hydrating the day before the race. I will include a couple of sports drinks (such as Endura rehydration – the same as I use on my bike) in with my normal water consumption on Saturday. Research has shown that even a slight decrease in hydration (like a 2% drop) can have a massive impact on your sports performance.
It is worth noting that in race 3 the distances are longer than those in the first two events. This time we are swimming 750m, riding 20km and running 5km. This might mean turning back the dial a little to help you get through to the end. Pace yourself. It may also mean a change in your race nutrition plan. While you may have been able to get through the shorter events on a sports drink, on Sunday it might pay to have a gel in transition to pick up when you head out onto the run course. That little bit of extra kick and energy (many gels such as the Endura range include caffeine as well as carbs) could come in handy out there. Just remember to have water with your gels to help your body digest them quicker (and give you that energy hit quicker). If you have time this week and have not tried gels before, I recommend trying one during a longer run so you can a) practice eating on the move and b) see how your stomach handles it while your heart rate is elevated.
Good luck out there and remember that whatever happens happens, and the sooner you come to terms with that the sooner you can go back to enjoying the moment.
See you out there while I try not to think about the running I haven’t done this week ; )    Acceptance, right? Ha!