30 September 2009

Conversation With a Soprano

Social networking sights may very well turn out to be the downfall of western civilization, but in the meantime, I have been able to keep in contact, or get reacquainted with some long lost friends from a very different time in my life. It is fascinating to see how people's lives have evolved.

Last night, I spoke with a friend of mine from college with whom I am starting to talk to again after nearly 15 years. Among the many things she shared is that she is currently undergoing hormone therapy to prepare for fertility treatment, as her and her husband have tried unsuccessfully for years to try to conceive naturally. I understand what and emotional psychological strain this can put on couples. My wife and I have other friends who have had to try to negotiate this within their marriages. I can not begin to imagine how exhausting it must be to deal with the scores of friends, relatives, co-workers and everyone in between asking you when you are going to start having children, unaware of the issues that you are dealing with in your personal lives. Or worse—knowing—and constantly checking to see how things are going.

She also told me that she has struggled with obesity her entire life and that her problems with her weight stem partly from poor eating habits and a perpetual love/hate relationship with exercise. I could not help to think that the latter defines me at various points throughout the year while I am training. Whenever friends who are overweight talk to me about food and exercise, I am very careful not to offer any advice unless it is clear that they are asking for it. But my friend did ask me if my family follows a specific diet. It is interesting to sit down and think about what types of food we eat.

Let me state the obvious: I am not a nutritionist, or a certified personal trainer, but someone who has spent a majority of their adult life seeking fun new ways to stay fit and expand my culinary palette to include more foods that are not only good for me (because of their antioxidant and nutritional value,) but taste good. I love food. I love eating. I admit it, I am a foodie. I am also very careful not to judge people who have unhealthy relationships with food. Two summers ago, my wife's cousin, a 19-year old college student who had been living with childhood obesity, moved in with us in an attempt to "get fit."

He was now on the verge of adulthood and a becoming a fine candidate for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. What I learned from coaching him was that he had no idea how to eat or get sufficient exercise. My wife and I had to completely reprogram his attitude about food—we performed a virtual lobotomy. When he arrived, he weighed in at 290 pounds. Over three months he took off 72 pounds by following a diet—prescribed by his hosts–and exercising regularly. More than a year out, he has kept off the weight, but still struggles from time to time with his diet and motivation to exercise. I secretly wish that I could somehow make a living teaching people how to live healthier lifestyles and help them lose weight. Training our cousin was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

So here is the family diet:

•H20, and plenty of it. Milk and juice. That is about it. Okay, sure, the grownups (if I can call myself that) imbibe in the the occasional vino and beer. After all, it was Benjamin Franklin who said "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." There is a difference between the size of juice glass we use and the one in which our cousin thought he should be drinking from. The first morning he woke up, he poured himself a gigantic 14-ounce glass of the Sunshine state's golden nectar. When my wife and I pour juice for our children, we water down the juice at a ratio of about 3:1. Juice is good, but it has A LOT of sugar in it and sugar equals calories and empty calories equal fat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children only drink between four and six ounces of juice a day.

• NO processed foods. Zero.

• Healthy snack options for everyone. As many natural foods as possible.

• We eat balanced meals. We have plenty of vegetables for dinner We eat something green every night: peas, asparagus, artichokes, brussel sprouts, and usually have some fruit for dessert—pineapple, pomegranate, strawberries. If we are eating cake or ice cream—it is probably someone's birthday.

• Don't get me wrong—we eat pizza every once in a while, we eat cheeseburgers, we go out for ice cream. We just do not do it with great frequency—partly because of the financial consideration of taking five children out for ice cream.

Again, I am no expert, but I know that our bodies react both positively and negatively to the food we eat. Following my last triathlon of the season, I was on the road a lot running around to rehearsals and performances and I ate poorly. I tried to make sensible choices; fresh subs on whole grain, salads. But there is really no substitute for preparing your own food in your own home. I felt tired—partly because of the running around—but I could feel my body react to eating "fast food" on the run all week and the lack of exercise. My wife seems to remember some literature she read concerning the link between fertility and diet and exercise. I can not help to wonder if my friend's doctor had mentioned this to her as well.

29 September 2009

Penne or Pool

Before leaving work this evening I had to make one of the most difficult choices one is faced with; whether to go home and eat one of my favorite meals—pasta penne vodka—or take my tired body and fatigued mental status to the pool and cast away some demons. If you are like me, the choice is obvious—go home and scarf down a good half pound (I am being modest here—I have been known to inhale a pound on a good day) of pasta al dente. But I did not get to the gym last night and it is still going to be a little while for me before I can run. So, I got my sorry, tired butt to the pool and swam an efficient 1000 yards. I have no idea how long it took me, but I felt like I was motoring tonight. I also swam an efficient 1200 yards on Sunday afternoon. I have been really enjoying my swims these days. I hear a lot of athletes talk about how boring swimming can be, but I rather enjoy it. Perhaps it is because I am still so conscious of my form and I enjoy tweaking little things to make myself go faster. Six months ago it was nearly torture for me to get into the pool.

Update on the knees:
Nine days following the Finger Lakes [Olympic distance] Triathlon and I am still laying off the running. The knees feel better, but the athletic trainer said I ought to lay off the running for at least another week, while I continue to ice my knees and stretch my hamstrings. So far, I have not done neither. I would like to do a 10 mile run for Hospice coming up on 17 October and a 5K run at my local YMCA on 8 October. I am itching to run like crazy, but I do not want to come back to soon or too hard and re-injure myself.

P.S. My wife's penne vodka is ridiculous.

28 September 2009

Flexibility of the Tin Man

I went to my scheduled appointment at our university's athletic training office to confer with the experts—and experts in training—regarding my back of the knee pain. I had no idea the place even existed. After traveling (with an escort) through mazes of dungeon-like concrete corridors and racket-ball courts—that I am convinced no one campus even knows exist—I managed to come across the athletic training office for the first time in eleven years. I am convinced that this place does not really exist, but just shows up under two full moons—appearing for a brief time— and vanishing until the lunar cycle comes full circle again.

Anyway, I was greeted by a senior Physical Therapy major named Katie who seemed really confident and gave me the run down. She asked me a bunch of questions about activities I participate in. I was way too eager to talk triathlon and marathon in great detail and had to remind myself several times that I am not trying to convert someone here, but just trying to get some insight from a qualified professional. Her teacher came by and gave me a look after her assessment as well. Katie was still a little green, but completely on the right track with her assessment. Her teacher (after a little poking around the back of my knee and some stretching exercises) said that there is a tendon that connects to my hamstring right were I am feeling my discomfort. My knee pain is not really related to my knee, but stiffness in my hamstring. My wife reminds me to stretch all the time, but I have been blessed with great big Italian legs (with hamstrings to match) and have the flexibility of the Tin Man. I was no where near 90 degrees when he tried stretching my hamstring—more like 65-75% I had been stretching quite a bit prior to the half-Ironman, but not much since. He recommended more ice, laying off for a few days and stretching, and slowly getting back into the running. Phew! He assured me that had it been an ACL or MCL issue that my knee would have let me know by being swollen the size of a grapefruit the next day.

26 September 2009

Socks and Superstition

Following the marathon, I was pretty sore from say... the waist down. Actually, the hips were okay, but the tendons behind my knees (or at least that is what I was told by some of my colleagues at the university who teach kineseology and anatomy) were pretty tight. Not to mention my calves—which are already freakishly large according to my wife—felt swollen and stiff as well. I started to think about compression socks. Would that aid in recovery? Would race compression socks stave off some of my late race calf cramping? I started reading about both race and recovery compression socks in the usual triathlete and running magazines. Here is what I've learned:

The Theory: During a race, the body tries to pump blood to all of the extremities as equally as it can. However, over time, gravity causes blood to pool in the lower legs and feet often leading to fatigue and leg cramps. The rationale behind the socks are that they increase endurance capacity by enhancing venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump. And there is also the belief that because muscles are kept more compact, balance is improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.

The evidence: According to a study conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, there is no statistically significant differences in heart rate, or maximal oxygen consumption for runners who wore compression socks than those who did not on a treadmill test. However, runners who wore compression socks did have a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise suggesting a speedier recovery rate after a strenuous workout or race.

The Conclusion: Whatever the case, of the 1732 athletes that competed at the 2008 Ironman World Championship in Kona, 417 of them wore compression socks. From what I can tell, more and more athletes are subscribing to compression socks and that should not be taken lightly either.

Unfortunately, compression socks by manufacturers like SLS, Zoot and 2XU are expensive, averaging at around $54 hard earned American dollars. Which begs the question, will the $14 pair of compression socks from my neighborhood Rite Aid work just as well? I do not know if I am going to spend the dough just yet. Prior to running the marathon, I hadn't really had any soreness unless I was coming off of a really long training run (13+ miles.) There are so many other things that I could spend the money. I am starting to put a few more dollars in my piggy bank every week in the hopes that I will one day purchase an "affordable" tri bike.

22 September 2009

Finger Lakes Official Numbers:

Place: 93 Time(With 2-minute penalty:) 2:38:07

Olivieri, Mark Bib# 85 Male 35-39 Place in Sex: 81 Place in Group: 13

Swim Time: 0:29:21 Overall: 84 Place in Sex: 70 Place in Age Group: 14 Pace 01:48

T1:02:27 Overall: 89 Place in Sex: 75 Place in Age: 15

Bike Time: 1:09:16 Overall: 42 Place in Sex: 37 Place in Age:10 Pace 20.5

T2: 02:22 Overall: 159 Place in Sex: 109 Place in Age: 19

Run Time: 0:52:41 139 109 16 Pace: 08:30 Position 2

21 September 2009

A PR at Finger Lakes Triathlon

Waking up to a 38-degree thermometer at 4:30 in the morning was a little nauseating. I threw on a hooded sweatshirt and some sweatpants and put on some coffee and had a bowl of cereal.

I arrived in transition around 6:20 and it was already bustling with activity. I thought for sure I would be one of the first crazy folks down there. I should have known better.

They have not published the splits yet, so I can only guess what my times were. I think I had a PR on the swim though. I looked at my watch running to transition and I had 24 minutes. As I was exiting the water my long-time training partner, Adam Groom was right behind me and gave me a complimentary "nice job Marco!" "Hey—you too," I responded. Turns out, we had been swimming right next to each other almost the whole time.

I passed a lot of people early on the bike who were probably still trying to regain their breath after a "brisk" swim in the barely 50-degree air. I believe the water temperature was about 62-64 degrees. How is that for a little motivation to swim fast? My bike was okay. My legs, knees, and feet were still very fatigued from the marathon the week before. I averaged around 17.8, which I thought was pretty slow for me. I had done that course earlier in the year and averaged near 20. The run was the most worrisome. I had been thinking about it the last 6 miles of the bike. How was I going to feel? When I arrived in transition, I downed a couple of more Hammer Endurolytes with some water and I was on my way to find out. I made it through the first 3 miles without stopping. Half way through the second loop I could feel my knees tightening up and I tried to convince myself that it would pass. I had to walk off the lactic acid, or the residual pain I was feeling from the marathon (which I am convinced is the case.) I finished with a time of 2:36, BUT I looked online today and it appears I received a penalty for mounting my bike incorrectly. Man! That would have been my first top 10 age-group finish. It effectively moved me from 9th to 13th place. That is a major bummer. I do not think I actually did anything wrong, but that is part of racing. If one of the race officials said I did, then I will have to honor that ruling. Still, this race gave me great confidence going into next season. I know I have a 2:26 in me yet. If I can put together my swim yesterday with some improved running (and run penalty free) I know I can do it!

15 September 2009

15 September 2009

Hi Everyone. Still a bit sore for the big run on Sunday, but not terrible. I can now walk without looking like I am nine months pregnant! I am headed to the pool this evening for a cool 1800 yards. That should help those legs. I am bringing my oldest son who will be competing in his first kids triathlon this Sunday—a 50 meter open water swim, 2 mile bike and a quarter mile run. I am more excited to talk him through transition than I am about my own race.

14 September 2009


I ran the Rochester City Marathon yesterday. Well, when I say run, I mean I ran most of it. I walked more than a few miles from mile 18 on, but it was my first marathon and I did not have any idea I was going to actually run it when I woke up in the morning. How is this possible you ask?

Well, about a month ago I received a desperate mass email from this woman looking for a fourth person for their relay team to help with the marathon. Oh, and she also indicated that the registration fee was already paid for. I immediately shot her back an email and said "I'm in!"
Our schedules were so busy that I did not even meet my teammates until minutes before the race start. So, I told myself I am not going to wake up at five in the morning to come out here and run a 10K, I will just run a half. Well, at mile 13 I still felt great and I ran a 1:41 half. I was not pushing it hard, just taking my time. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, if there is the slightest possibility that I might run more, I better lay off. Long story short, I kept going, but I hit the proverbial wall at mile marker 18. I walked a bit, but talked to a lot of really cool people along the way who were in the same boat as me.

The good news: it was an amazingly fun training run for my next marathon: Wineglass Marathon on 4, October 2009 which it looks like I will run with my longtime training partner and friend, Adam Groom.