31 December 2009

Race Report #1

Special thanks to blog follower #48: Dick Withrow for sending me the link to this very humorous—and all to close to home—video that someone created on xtranormal.com. If you are a triathlete, or put up with one, you'll really appreciate this. Coincidentally, I hope Dick does not mind me telling everyone that he is the inspirational 68 year old triathlete I was speaking of in my last post.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Perspiration, Inspiration

Inspiration: I went to the Y yesterday for a shoulder workout and a 5 mile run outside, but I did not feel great, and ended up doing 1000 yards in the pool with one of my old piano students, Noah. Noah swam competitively in high school (he is now in his junior year at Cornell University.) It was great picking up a few tips from him in the pool.  I felt like I was coming down with a little something yesterday—scratchy throat, runny nose—and sure enough, this morning I felt terrible. My head was pounding, and unfortunately, I had to scratch my morning run with Vanessa.  I am going to take it easy today and see if I can convalesce quickly enough to start my IM training on time.

Also, while at the Y yesterday, I spoke to a man in the pool that I have seen several times. He is a lifetime runner, and an age group triathlete that has participated in several triathlons, most recently, the Beach 2 Battleship Half. I love talking to senior athletes that are still going at it. Sometimes, you can pick up the most subtle things about training, mental attitude and perseverance from them. Dick is no exception. Talking to him in the pool yesterday, I thought he must have been in his mid-50's, perhaps early 60's. I hardly believed him when he told me he was 68 years old. The dude is in amazing shape. I looked at Noah and said, "this is what I want to look like when I am 68 years old," to which Noah replied "I want to look like him now." It is great inspiration meeting athletes who are well into their 60's, 70's and 80's who are still doing it. I believe it is a testament for keeping active.

Perspiration: It has been great being able to be home the last week with my family. I have been able to spend a lot of time with the kids. I don't know how Alaina does it. At any point throughout the day, someone is either crying, throwing a temper tantrum, or just needing attention. You would never imagine just how important a toothbrush, teddy bear, or slippers could be unless one of our kids mistakingly—or sometimes on purpose—will take, or use their siblings. The girls have the potential to cry in such a way as to threaten every single glass object in our house. I am convinced that dogs in the neighborhood are wallowing in excruciating pain waiting for the high frequency shrills to stop. Alaina and I love the girls, really. I would like to say that that after a while you become immune to the constant loudness and the craziness of five children who are so close together in age. I would like to say that, but I can't.

Whenever I fly solo, I like to do activities with the kids. We will go to the museum (we have a world-class children's museum in town.) People literally come from all over the world to visit. You need days to see all the exhibits, and much of the stuff is hands-on. We will go to the local Y, or sometimes stay home and play outside. During the winter months, it is hard though. Often, the kids get a little cabin fever. We play outside, but we can not be out there for long. It was nine degrees the other day. Nine. When the weather man does the weather, he just ought to give a "low," and the "really low." Nine is not a "high."

Alaina took the kids sledding yesterday. As she was walking back up the hill with Stella, she saw Amalia sliding down the hill on her butt. One of her boots and gloves were missing. Awesome!

29 December 2009

A Decent Recovery and Lego Star Wars

Okay, waking up early this morning to meet Adam (my training parter) at the gym did not happen. Every once in a while—for some suspicious reason unbeknownst to my wife and I—our five alarm clocks, er... children do not wake up before Foghorn Leghorn at the crack of dawn. For those of you who did not grow up in the mid-70's, Foghorn was a cartoon that ran during the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour. We do not know why this happens, but we are usually filled with joy with every minute of sleep past 7:00 a.m. We've found that each minute translates into approximately one minute more of "parental patience" at bedtime. Adam and I finally got to the gym at 8:15 did some quick weight training and then I did a quick speed workout on the treadmill. I wanted to get outside, but it was 9 degrees this morning and too much ice on the ground. I can handle the cold. Ice is treacherous, and I am clumsy enough as it is. Anyway, I did a nice 5K at a 7:40 pace on a 1 degree incline. I could have run faster. I felt pretty food this morning even though I thought I was going to feel tired and have a mediocre run. Must have been the banana the night before! It felt good to have a decent run after that miserable swim workout because of the cramp in my right thigh. I have to admit, it bothered me most of the day thinking about how I had to bag the workout. The silver lining is that I learned something. I really need to remember that I sweat A LOT and that I need to replace those fluids during and immediately after a long hard ride, or I am going to risk cramping again. I have a 8 mile run scheduled on Thursday with Vanessa. Again, Adam and I convinced her to swim a 1000 yards before going out to run (that is the only chance we have of keeping up with her.)

I have some interesting new developments happening this spring. It looks like I might be "training" a group of young, aspiring first time triathletes. They are mostly students of mine at the college who have expressed an interest. I don't know how they would have gotten the idea. I very rarely talk triathlon with anyone. We'll see how long they last when the pressure of exams, papers, social life, and the rest of the banal indulgences of la vie quotidienne come calling them away from training minutes.

Other News: Christmas was great. The boys got a Lego Star Wars game for the wii and a Lego Star Wars model. Alaina asked me why they would put Legos and Star Wars together. Puzzled, I looked at her and asked her if she were serious. "Alaina," I responded, "they are only the two coolest things ever!" Unconvinced, she said, "It must be a boy thing." This may be true. My girls have been dressed up in the princess outfits they received for Christmas almost every hour. Must be a girl thing.

Cavatelli Salad for lunch today: Cavatelli, olive oil, garlic, basil, tomato's, part-skim  mozzarella, balsamic vinegar. Heaven.

27 December 2009

A Banana A Day Keeps the Swim Cramps Away

I had a fifty minute spin workout today followed immediately by a swim workout in the pool that was suppose to be 2900 yards. I do this every Sunday. The yardage varies between 2500-3500 yards. I went hard on the bike and felt great, but when I got to the swim, I started noticing a little bit of fatigue pushing off of the wall. That fatigue  turned into a severe muscle cramp in the middle of my right hamstring that left it frozen stiff and unable to bend. The warning signs were there each time I pushed off the wall. It is amazing how much I learn every workout I have. What I learned this time around was to make sure I get some calories and fluids in my body before starting my workouts. For breakfast—the most important meal of the day—I had a small bowl of Grape Nuts and a cup of coffee. Yikes!  I should really know better, but for some reason I think that I should be able to skimp on my nutrition and get out there and perform well. A friend of mine, a super-duper athlete who wins a lot of regional sprint and olympic distance triathlons asked me if I had a banana this morning. I said no. She said, "You see, just have your banana next time and you'll be fine." Sure, I get it, potassium. I've done an exhausted amount of reading on the relationship between potassium and muscle endurance. There is some evidence to suggest that the relationship is beneficial. However, the amount of potassium you get from one banana does not come close to one serving of orange juice, or a potassium supplement. Then of course, there is GU, Hammer Gels, etc. that have some potassium in them. My only guess is that I did not have enough fuel in the engine again and was not properly hydrated. It is always embarrassing to have to bag a workout midway through, but I do it sometimes because it is just not there. Look, I know what I said last post about finishing. If it were Kona, I would swim with one leg, but it wasn't. So, I will start eating bananas before my workouts again. There was a time when I was eating quite a bit of them. I never had cramps. Coincidence? Perhaps, or is yet another Time Life Mystery of the Unknown? In any event, I did a good amount of swimming (6000 yards) and running (30 miles) this week. Starting to ramp up and the knees feel good. I am looking to prevent any cramping due to dehydration this week.

Oh, and I am looking at purchasing a bike trainer, new or used. Any suggestions? 

26 December 2009

Thought and Updates: Kona and Holidaze

I think part of what "veteran" triathletes—and perhaps I am just projecting here—find so attractive about racing is how our minds adapt to overcome what our bodies tell us should not be possible. I am a much stronger, faster, SMARTER athlete now, than I was a decade ago (not a smarter human being, mind you. I am still incredibly dumb when it comes to human interaction on almost every level and I do not think it would be an understatement to call myself incredibly socially awkward.) I think the most attractive part of racing triathlon is actually the mental toughness and endurance that are needed to train, compete, and somehow find the fortitude to trudge on. There are times for all of us when we could just as easily try to justify one of a hundred reasons to wave the white flag out there on a course, but we keep moving. I believe—and I may be in the minority here—that the most disgraceful act a professional triathletes does is not finishing a race because they do not think they are going to have a top ten finish that day. I am glad Normann Stadler realized what an incredibly disrespectful act that would have been when he did not have it dialed in on the run this year at the Ford Ironman World Championships. He basically acknowledged the fact that it would have been incredibly disrespectful to undermine the history of the sport, the sacrifice and dedication of all the age group athletes that worked tirelessly to even give themselves a chance to race on the Big Island, and the their fellow professional athletes who out there finishing despite of what type of race they are having that day. His attitude was really quite refreshing. Now I know I will have some people say, 'Look, they are professional athletes, if they don't have it dialed in that day, they risk an injury that might keep them out for the rest of the season, a substantial payday, etc.' Fine, point taken. I am pretty sure that Normann Stadler on his worst day could walk the marathon, slowly, and be done hours before me. I would venture to guess that Stadler might even be able to ride a unicycle and still beat me on the bike. I am not sure how comfortable he would be after that, but you get my point here.

Okay, the holidaze are past me now. I consumed enough lamb on Christmas to raise the GNP of New Zealand to unprecedented new heights. I even feel sluggish from just getting together with our families. I love getting together with family, but I get really antsy sitting and eating and drinking for hours straight. It might as well be the gluttony triathlon. Sitting, eating, drinking. Nice! Perhaps you could do it by percentage of weight gained over the course of three hours.

Okay, back in the pool for a nice 3500 yard refresher in the morning, followed by a run.

T- a few days 'till 3 January and the official start of Ironman training. I'm scared. Real scared. WHen I look for comfort from veteran IM'ers, they all say, "Welcome to your new part-time job." Wonderful! I don't have nearly enough to do!

I went out for a 10K with Vanessa after a 1000 yard swim this week. I think she has found new respect for triathletes. She told me it was a lot more difficult running after that swim. No kidding? She qualified for Boston. She is still my hero.

Between the months of May and September I hardly wear shirts when I am not at work. Friends who see race pictures of me often ask me if I own shirts. It's the bloody narcissism.

22 December 2009

Confessions of a Complex Carboholic

I love pasta. I am Italian, so I guess I am suppose to love it. I own it. Alaina thinks I the amount of pasta I consume on a weekly basis is crazy. I mean, honestly, I could eat pasta for lunch and dinner nearly every day. Do I get tired of it? Nope. Growing up in an Italian family with two brothers who had the appetites of large barnyard animals and could consume as much food as an emerging third-world nation, my mother made sure to provide us with as many low cost, high volume food choices as possible. Pasta was the inheritance of a bloodline that assuredly, went back countless generations. I never complained. I loved it then, and probably love it more now. If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, this high complex carbohydrate masterpiece would be just the thing. Alaina said she could eat salad forever. Not sure I could do that, but I digress.

I learned recently that I must look very Italian as well. When I walked into Luca's lunchroom to meet him one day a couple of weeks ago, a kid in another second grade class came up to me and said, "You look Italian." I felt like Arnold Schwarzeneger in Kindergarten Cop when a child out of the blue says "boys have a penis... girls have a vagina." I just kind of looked at him with a gaping mouth and nodded stupidly. Finally, I said, "yes, I am Italian." Good thing too, I am sure he would have not been able to sleep that night. Back to my  love of pasta. I could not have chosen a better combination of fuel and tastiness. Pasta is a complex carbohydratechains of three or more single sugar molecules linked together. Long chains of sugar molecules are called starches and they serve as the storage form of energy in plants. Branched complex carbohydrates called cellulose form the structural components that give plants their shape. Nutritionists say that at least have of our daily caloric intake should come from complex carbohydrates found in  plant foods--which include fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, and legumes. Lately, we have been eating more whole wheat pasta. I like it. It is a little nuttier than it's bleached counterpart, but much better for you in terms of nutritional value and carbohydrate efficiency. 

Endurance athletes in particular benefit from fuel-efficient complex carbohydrates because of the extra calories burned each day. You need to aim for even more total carbohydrates than the suggested 50 percent. You can eat (in fact, may need to eat) more total calories without worrying about weight gain. The average runner training for a half marathon and running 20 to 25 miles a week probably needs a daily caloric intake near 2,500 to maintain muscle glycogen stores. As your mileage climbs beyond that, you need to eat more and more food, not less. In all honesty, this is why a lot of runners run, and why they train for marathons. Their common motto is, "I love to eat."

 Below, I've listed ----- of my favorite ways to enjoy this culinary gem in no particular order:

1) Pesto: Made from fresh basil, olive oil, and the undisputed king of all cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and sometimes (although my wife does not use it in hers, pinenuts.)  Penne with homemade pesto (pronounced 'pay-sto')—do not even approach me with that weak Americanized pronunciation of one of my favorite pasta sauces. Even the Merriam-Webster online dictionary hacks the pronunciation if this wonderfully fresh sauce. pes-(ˌ)tō. How dare they refer to it as 'pest-o!'  I am not sure if it annoys me nearly as much as the "shh" sound everyone makes when referring to bruschetta. \brü-ˈshe-tə, -ˈske-\. Ugh, it's the latter,m 'ske! Moving on, but more about bruschetta later. 

2) Cavatelli with Brocolli: What I am currently eating for lunch as I write this post. People who say they do not have enough time to make meals for lunch or dinner need to get their heads examined. Start to finish: 20 minutes. Boil water. Prepare broccoli in pan with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Cook the cavatelli for 4-6 minutes (it's fresh pasta, so it does not need as long to cook. You'll know it's done when the pasta starts to float to the top.) Drain, and put it in the pan with the broccoli and turn up the heat to medium high. I like getting the pasta a bit crispy on the outside. Salt and pepper to taste. Violà! A finished meal in under 20 minutes.

3) Penne Vodka: Excuse my crassness. This might as well just called 'crack.' If you are looking for a great pre-race, high carb, low-fat meal, then look somewhere else. This uses pork fat in the form of proscuitto, a type of cured ham that is both high in salt and fat. The sauce uses a combination of tomato sauce and cream, giving it a rosy or pink color. Finish it off with some fresh parsly right out of the garden. This is a great post-race "job well-done!" kind of meal. It should be treated like Superman's treatment of the crystals on Krypton: there if you need it, but use sparingly. 

4) Cavatelli Salad: Ah, cavatelli again! This is one of my favorite summer dishes. I love this meal because I can prepare it quickly after a workout. Start to finish: 20 minutes. Bring water to boil. Dice tomato's, mince garlic, cut part skim mozzarella up into little squares, and chop some fresh basil—I like a lot of basil and garlic—I'm Italian, remember. Pour olive oil and minced garlic into the bottom of a large pasta bowl (the amount of both will vary according to the amount of pasta you are cooking.) When the pasta is done, drain it and set it aside. I like to let the pasta cool down a little, but I like to put it in the bowl with the garlic while it is still warm to bring out more of the flavor in the garlic. If you are not worried about keeping vampires away, or would like to get close to your significant other at the end of the night, you may want to use some discretion here. I put in the basil and cheese in at the end so that it does not melt. I do not like it all melty. I am not making Rueben's here. When you are done, sprinkle a little balsamic vinegar over the top of it and share with someone you love. I love the freshness of this dish, especially outside during the summer. I will often refrigerate this right after making it and eat it for lunch the following day. 

Back to bruschetta \brü-ˈske-tə, -ˈske-\. I have such fond memories of this food. When I was a child, my father use to make this for me almost every weekend. He would cut pieces of bread up, cook them in the fireplace on a small grill rack. When both sides got toasty, he would rub garlic on the bread, then finish it off with some virgin olive oil and salt. I loved it. I didn't know why exactly. It seems pretty simple. But it is so delicious. Real, simple food. None of the '"frills:" tomato's, basil, sardines, etc.— albeit yummy—that I witness when I go out to a restaurant. Perhaps that is what I love so much about it. Now, I make it for my kids every so often, and it has become this exotic culinary staple that daddy only makes on special nights. Hysterical! 

One of my all-time favorite meals is pairing bruschetta with a nice glass of chianti accompanied by some olives, and pieces of parmigiano. It should be illegal in several states.

21 December 2009

Strength to Weight Ratio: Does Weight Training Make Me Slower? Pt. Deux

In her article for Ironman.com, Jennifer Hutchison—who has a dossier a mile long that includes being a 9-time Ironman finisher, Board Certified Dietetics, and a USA Triathlon Certified Level 3 Elite Coach—defines strength to weight ratio this way:

"Simply defined, strength to weight ratio is the measure of a person’s strength divided by their body weight. When comparing two individuals who can generate similar amounts of strength, like reaching the top of a bike climb together, the person who has a lower body weight will have a higher strength to weight ratio. If the heavier rider, carrying more body weight (body fat) up the hill, exerts 100per cent effort in the climb, then his leaner counterpart should complete the climb with less effort. The leaner athlete, with the higher strength to weight ratio, will be over the hill and gone in no time when he or she increases their effort to 100 per cent."

I am not quite sure that I understand Ms. Hutchison's relationship of body weight to more fat, and I am not suggesting that she is incorrect, I just need some clarification. Body weight does not necessarily translate to more fat. It could mean that one athlete has more muscle density than the other. Muscle density is 1.06 g/ml and fat density is (about) 0.9 g/ml. Thus, one liter of muscle would weight 1.06 kg and one liter of fat would weight 0.9 kg. In other 
words, muscle is about 18% more dense than fat. Currently, I am 6'2, 180 pounds (81.8 kg.) My training partner Adam is ten to twelve pounds lighter than I am (and about an inch and a half shorter,) but my body fat percentage is still lower than his. What about sport specific training and an athletes cardiovascular fitness/VO2 levels as well? If both athletes have identical body types, one might still have a genetic predisposition to perform better. 

All I know, is that we are ultimately our own best coach. Don't get me wrong, I believe in coaching, for sure! But, I recommend that the individual athlete make an inventory of their performance based on the physiological differences that they encounter as a result of their strength training, and/or sport specific training. This is information that should be vital to your coach in helping them to determine your dietary needs, and strength training routine. 

Here are wifey and me this summer in Maine. This picture was taken about two weeks following the Musselman Half Ironman. I weighed in at 177 pounds race morning—the thinnest I've been since my freshmen year of college. The weeks immediately following the half, I was running the fastest I ever have, setting new PR's consistently. The only downside—if you can call it one—is that I had to eat constantly in order to maintain my weight, or I would have shriveled down. There were times on my rides when I felt that I did not have enough solid food in me to fuel the long rides. Ah, it is great fun learning how to balance it all. I am hoping for a more successful race season in 2010 based on the knowledge of strength and condition I gained this past season. 

20 December 2009

Strength to Weight Ratio: Does Weight Training Make Me Slower? Pt. I

I am pretty lean. I make no apologies for this, nor am I embarrassed to admit—although I often feel like I should be—that my body fat has fluctuated between  approximately 6-12% the last decade. For those of you who missed my post: "14 pounds until the New Year," that may have been the only exception to my lean body fat percentage days. A quick recap: One year, I successfully put on 14 pounds between Thanksgiving recess and New Years. A healthy diet of Guinness, Bailey's and  a second dinner around 11:00 p.m. should do it if you are looking to build up an extra "base" layer this winter. That is one feat that I will be cognizant not to repeat anytime soon. I always thought that my lean muscle mass and strength were a great thing. I thought that until I started training for triathlons. I am physically very strong. Until my mid-30's I was doing four sets of ten repetitions of bench press at 225 pounds (102.3 kg) but usually weighed between 190 and 195 pounds (86.4 kg.) I did this until I reached the self proclaimed "age of diminishing returns." I am learning, however, that those diminishing returns might only be a temporary plateau if you can discover new and inventive ways to mix up your strength training workouts. Some "experts" in the trade refer to this as "muscle confusion," but that is a topic for another post. What I am trying to illuminate is that my strength to weight ratio continues to be very favorable. However, I can not help to wonder if my muscle density is actually making me less buoyant and having to worker harder in the pool. Of course, the silver lining come race day is that I am often sporting a wetsuit on the swim—the great equalizer—making me much more buoyant and reflective in my open water swims versus my pool swims (thus far.)

I recently saw some posts by some top triathlon coaches and elite triathletes about wanting to lose muscle coming into the next race season. I have had several fellow triathletes suggest that I ought to lose some muscle in order to make myself a more efficient swimmer. I have been swimming the last year with the type of religious fervor that would make the most ardent church goers blush. I have made fairly significant gains, but I always feel that with my core strength and favorable strength to weight ratio that I could somehow will my way through the water. Of course, performing well in triathlon is also about cardiovascular endurance, and taking inventories of your physiognomy from one season to the next so that you can make the required changes in form. Curious whether there is any validity to this, I asked a former world class triathlete and triathlon coach Chuckie V whose blog provides  some of the most in-depth, and thought provoking takes on training that I have read thus far. Below is my question and answer from CV regarding muscle density:

TDOF: I have a question about muscle density. I come from a strength training background, and it has been suggested by some that I should consider losing muscle in order to make myself a more efficient swimmer. Any truth to this? I have even seen posts by coaches who talk about losing muscle. Do I back off from the weight training completely? 

CV: "I suppose those suggesting this are doing so for a reason. If you're a muscle-bound guy up top but swim poorly, then those muscles aren't really doing much for you, at least not in the water. This doesn't mean it's necessarily the muscles per se, but likely a stroke mechanic issue or a lack of flexibility, which isn't all that uncommon in bigger triathletes (I assume you're a triathlete). That said, having more muscle mass doesn't always equate to poorer flexibility. The fastest swimmers in the world, those sprinting, are big dudes. Of course, they're swimmers (and likely grew up as such) and are therefore likely more flexible than you.

All said, there probably is some truth that losing muscle mass might help you swim better, but that shouldn't be your focus. Swimming should be. In terms of importance, the weight room is well behind sport-specific training. To be a better swimmer, swim. The muscle mass will pattern itself based on the stress it incurs and, of course, genetic predisposition.

Mark, without seeing you swim or seeing your build I really can't say precisely what to do, but the weight room is only barely related to triathlon performance, and even less so for bigger strength training types. My guess, however, is that you should back off from the weights and work on swimming and flexibility. Plus, carrying around those muscles later in the race can be hard work; it certainly makes your lower half have to work harder than it should."

I have never really thought of myself as some big, muscle-bound guy. More lean and dense. I know that when I had to stop weight training over the summer because of my shoulder dislocation back in March, I felt svelte, like a 17-year old Swedish tennis player. It made me feel a little faster, I have to admit. Maybe there is something to it. I do know that training muscle endurance—especially leg workouts—during a season has been very beneficial for me. Three to four sets at 12-15 repetitions a piece at a light weight kept my legs feeling strong late into my long runs last season (12+ miles.) 

Okay, more soon. Don't set your weights down just yet!

19 December 2009

You Know Your A Triathlete When...

I somehow stumbled on a couple of different blogs and websites over the last couple of weeks that had lists of characteristics and personality traits that define the type of insane human beings that are triathletes. Thanks to everyone out there in cyberspace who helped contribute to the very amusing list. They have brought endless hours of joy to me and my training partners.  I have included my twenty-two favorite:

1. When asked, how old you are you answer 35-39.

2) When asked how long your training was today you answer: three to four

3) Your first thought when you wake up is how high your rest HR is.

4) Nobody believes you when you say 'Never again'.

5) You take part in the corporate challenge to improve your base speed.

6) You go for a 5 km cooldown run after a 5 km race just so that you can
call it a training session.

7) You consider work, regeneration time between training sessions.

8) You seriously consider applying for citizenship in Tonga, Jemen or
Tschad so that you can participate in the Olympic games.

9) Your wife/husband is not worried if you left for your run 2 hours ago.

10) You need a picture for a job application and you only have race

11) That charming "cologne" you wear to work is chlorine

12) You take more showers in a locker room than at home—this totally applies to me

13) 6:30 am is sleeping in—amen!

14) The dog runs and hides when you get the leash!

15) You can't change the oil in your car but you can completely rebuild
your bike in 45 mins

16) You spend more $ on training and racing clothes then work clothes

17) You have trouble keeping lunch under 2000 calories.

18) You feel like you took the day off because all you did was swim 3000

You refer to your “partner”, you don’t mean your significant other but the person you run or bike with three times a week.

20) You failed high school chemistry but you could teach a course on lactic acid.

21) You don’t find the word “Fartlek” in the least bit amusing.

22) You have a $3000 dollar tri bike on top of your $1500 car. 

18 December 2009


This week was brutal, not in terms of training, but some things more close to home. Alaina and I lost a dear friend, Brooke Paquin and her boyfriend, Tristan Hanna in a tragic car accident. Brooke was Alaina's college roommate for three years. The story—I will skip the grim details—was tragic to say the least. Tristan and Brooke had dated for over two years. Tristan had planned on proposing to her this very weekend. Tristan's sister spoke about accompanying him to pick out the ring. Tristan and Brooke had packed up his belongings in his car and were returning from a post he held as a visiting nurse in North Carolina. Anxious to get back home and start a new chapter of their young lives together, it was tragically and suddenly cut short. My thoughts and prayers go out to their families. Being a father, a husband, and a brother, I can not even begin to imagine the grief their families are suffering having to say goodbye in an unexpected and premature way. I only knew Brooke for a short time, but she was important in my wife's life, so she is important to me as well. Our last correspondence was about her coming for a visit to see the kids upon her return from North Carolina.

If if that was not bad enough, after returning home from the funeral, the wife of another close friend told us that her husband was just diagnosed with testicular cancer. He went in for blood work this morning, and by afternoon, his doctor told him that they had to perform surgery today. I drove his wife to the hospital tonight right before going to the gym to get in a swim. I felt guilty, as if I should be doing something more to help my friend. As morbid as it might sound, the age old adage goes, "things happen in threes," and my wife and I can not help feeling anxious waiting for the proverbial "other foot to drop."

When tragedies and life altering events like this occur, it reminds me that training and performing well in triathlon should always take second place to the people we love. It reminds me not to take for granted my relationship with my parents, my siblings, my wife, and my friends. It reminds me that every time I leave my house to go somewhere, I need to hug and kiss every member of my family because I love them and want to continually remind them of that. At the same time, it reminds me to make the most of the gifts that God has given me, and to use time wisely and efficiently when I am spending time away from the people that matter most in my life.

Now go remind someone how much you love them!

16 December 2009

Manuel Calls Me Out

Training: I did an hour muscle endurance/strength workout this afternoon with Adam and went back for a swim this evening around 7:15. I jumped in the water about an hour after a pretty healthy portion of cavatelli and broccoli with some tomatoes with mozzarella (good fat,) basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I swear that I could probably eat that every day for dinner and never get tired of it.  I started swimming a modest warmup:

100 P
100 S
100 K
100 S

Then, I just started swimming with the idea of doing a quick 1000 yards and a 400 yard cool down. About 3/4 of the way through my workout, one of my training partners—Manuel (see Turkey Trot post)—sees me from upstairs in the gym and comes down to talk to me. I got to the wall and he taps me on the head. He is wearing jeans and a shirt.  He said "Hey, I saw you swimming upstairs and I didn't think it was you... you are totally dogging it. You must be tired." He went on, "You got to swim faster than this. I know you are swimming next to slower swimmers, but you have to hustle. Let me see you go and swim another 100." Now, if this is not love, then I do not know what is. I swam my last 400 yards much faster. It is true, I was pretty tired tonight in the pool. But, why swim just to swim? Manuel is right. I've been there too many times before. Sometimes feeling like you are tired makes you start your workout too cautiously, or pace yourself too slow. Pacing yourself slower can sometimes be detrimental. I have noticed that when I am a little tired from a long day, it will result in one of two outcomes:  1) It actually makes me more tired than I am. Psychologically I am spent. That  results to muscle fatigue and having a difficult time finding my wind. 2) I take all that pent up frustration and have a killer training day. After Manuel got in there and told me I was dogging it, I was motivated to swim the rest of my workout fast. Sometimes a little kick in the pants can go a long way.

The Skinny on Fat, Part II: Eat Fat, Get Skinny

A study published in the March 2008 American Journal of of Clinical Nutrition showed that medium-chain fatty acids actually help burn greater fat than long-chain monosaturated fats in olive oil, putting to rest the notion that all saturated fats are bad. The research also indicated that the consumption of medium-chain fatty acids (e.g. coconut oil) will positively affect weight loss and circumference measurements if ingested as part of a weight loss program. Obese participants who supplemented their diets with omega-3 via fish oil have shown promising fat loss in the clinical study. The effects are amplified when combined with exercise. This has to do with the improving the body's mechanism for the use of stored fat as energy. This is all proof that eating fat helps you burn fat.

15 December 2009

The Skinny on Fat, Part I

If I told you that some fats actually burn fat and could increase athletic performance, would you believe me? I know what your thinking. You've been reading the labels of the food that you purchase for years, making sure you were not consuming too much fat—especially saturated fats—which many of us have been led to believe are as lethal as cigarettes and alcohol.

However, the truth is that some types of medium, or short-chain saturated fats that are found in coconut, palm oil, and even butter can actually be beneficial. They have a different absorption mechanism making them perfectly healthy. They are used solely for energy production because they are absorbed directly into the liver instead of taking the cholesterol route. More, they do not directly affect cholesterol levels, and may even aid in athletic performance because of their superior use as energy according to Jill Coleman who wrote the article Fat Science in the Novmber/December 2009
                                                                            issue of OnFitness.

Long-chain saturated fats increase the so called "bad" cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible (sorry bacon and sausages.) I felt guilty for years cooking my "signature" shrimp scampi as I cut a generous portion of butter to be used in the sauce. Look, I have no delusions of my scampi dish passing on a low-fat menu anytime soon, but I am always careful to consider  the proportion of fats to carbohydrates when I am preparing the dish. Another type of fat that should be avoided like the plague are Trans fat or partially hydrogenated oil. Unbeknownst to many consumers, they are widely used in a sleuth of prepackaged foods like chips, crackers, and cookies. The detrimental health effects have recently  spurred a move by the FDA to require food manufacturers to put the trans fat content on food labels. My solution, if I were king for the day—not crazy King George III—would be to eliminate trans fat altogether. Trans fats are modified to remain solid at room temperature increasing their stability and spreadability for use in such products as margarine, shortening, and other vegetable oils. Studies have shown that diets rich in trans fats increase an individuals risk for cardiovascular disease.

Finally, there are unsaturated fats that can be divided further into monosaturated and polyunsaturated  varieties. Foods such as almonds, avocados, olive oil and peanuts contain  monosaturated fats. They effectively lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood making a diet rich in these foods beneficial. Polyunsaturated fats consist of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Since humans do not cannot make these, they can only be obtained through diet. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds and walnuts (and their oils), and oily fish like salmon, herring and sardines. Sunflower, soybean oil, nuts, seeds, some vegetables, as well as meat, poultry and eggs are rich in omega-6s. Both omega 3s and 6s are "vitally important as a structural component of your cells' membranes. The omega 3 fatty acid DHA plays an important role in both vision and optimal neurological function. Research has also shown that DHA is important to the fetal nervous system of pregnant women and an effective anti inflammatory for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Next post: The Skinny on Fat, Part II: Eat Fat, Get Skinny

14 December 2009

Where To Find The Complete Plan

A few of you have asked where you can find the complete Ironman training plan Adam and I are doing. Listen, I am not going to give any of you my super-duper, top secret plan. Go out and find your own plan. I don't want any of you competing against me come 12 September.

Just kidding. You can find it here: http://www.trifuel.com/triathlon/ironman-workouts/

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post: The Skinny on Fat:

The good news: fat equals flavor, and many fats are good for us.

The bad news: Bacon is still not good for you.

12 December 2009

Kite Flying and W.I.N.ning

And another thing... with the money that parents spend on personal training sessions once a week, they could use that dough to purchase a 6-8 week program at their local YMCA for their child. Our children have participated in group swim lessons, floor hockey, football, soccer, baseball, and basketball. It costs a fraction of what a personal trainer would cost. Children get to participate in a group sport, learn swim technique, team dynamics, stretching, all while having a lot of fun with their peers. The rhetoric of the parents on television astounded me, "We don't know how to get our child off the couch." Really? (There I go again with my "Really[s].) Balancing work, training, and a family life is incredibly tricky. I need to be flexible. I recently read an article in Triathlete magazine about one elite athlete's approach to this delicate balancing act. He said he operates with the W.I.N. method: 'What's Important Now.' When he is spending time participating in an activity with his family, that is all that matters. He does not think about his next training session. He said that one day he was on his bike, ready to go out for a long ride when his two young children came out and said "Daddy, don't you want to help us fly our kite?" His heart sank, and of course, he got off his bike and had an awesome time with his kids, and said he never would have traded that bike ride for the smiles on his children's faces that afternoon. Of course, I don't need any convincing. I would MUCH rather be flying kites, playing catch, and having tea parties then doing a 3 hour run. But their is balance, and triathletes have to remember—at least this one does—not to be selfish. My family are the ones who support me and allow me to follow my crazy dream of competing in my first IM.

Running: I have picked up the running this week. I ran three time this week already for a total of 12 miles (patience young grasshopper) and I feel great. Adam and I picked out our 36 week training plan for Ironman. We start our training on 3 January 2010. We are going to try to find some run and swim experts to help us with our form along the way. Mary Eggers, a IM triathlete and coach, suggest video taping your form to improve efficiency and preventing injury. Good advice. That is on the agenda this month. I will keep you updated. Will I ever transform into a decent runner? Hmm, we'll see, but it will not be from lack of trying.

10 December 2009

Personal Trainers for Children, REALLY?

As I was watching the news last night, I was absolutely horrified by a story they ran on a segment called "Kids Watch," about parents hiring personal trainers for children as young as seven. Wait, what? A personal trainer for a seven year old, really? Working parents are shelling out as much as one hundred dollars per hour for a session with a certified personal trainer for their children. Really? I really need to reconsider my career choice. The only problem is that this story left me feeling terrible for these children and wanting to knock some sense into their parents. Really, the parents who were being interviewed kept saying "We really didn't know what to do to get our kid off the couch in front of the t.v." Really? How about telling them to go outside and play. You live in a townhouse and you really don't have a yard? Okay, why not bring them to the park to play? A trip to the park to play for an hour will save you a hundred dollars, and help build a strong bond between you and your child—if said parent can manage to disconnect from their wireless headset, or texting for that time. I can't tell you how many times I bring my children to the park and see their parents making phone call after phone call, or continuously texting as their child is vying desperately for their attention. Look, I get it, we all need space. But as a parent, your shift does not end until the rugrats are fast asleep. Even then, if duty calls, you have to trounce to their room to console them from their bad dream, help them to the bathroom, find their teddy bear, or any other of a thousand unforeseen minor emergencies.

When I was a child, my mother would say "I don't care what you do so long as you do it outside." Boy, was that a dangerous thing to say! Really? You don't care WHAT I do? I get the idea though. When I was a kid, I spent countless hours with the children in my neighborhood playing baseball, football, kick the can, basketball, jai alai, riding bikes, etc. (Okay, I am just kidding about the jai alai thing, but what a cool sport. It looks like it should be included in a Madmax film.) I see a ton of working parents at the Y that I go to. They work hard all day, but still manage to get to the gym for a workout, setting a great example for their children. Their children get to be active while they are there as well through a variety of activities.

Okay, that is my miniature diatribe for the day. Am I off base here? Is it crazy to think that your children should be active throughout the week without the help of a personal trainer? Kids like to play. Get rid of the 'Crack Station,' or whatever else is keeping them or their parents glued to the couch.

More soon, happy training!

08 December 2009

Planning a Plan

I have delayed it long enough. I have to start looking around for plans to attempt my Ironman on 12 September 2010 in Sandusky, Ohio. It feels particularly daunting looking at 4000 yard swims, 4 hour bike rides and 3 hour runs in the dead of winter. It always feels especially nauseating waking up to pitch black arctic winds and three feet of snow over my car to go swimming at 5:15 a.m. Am i going to complain? Only slightly from time to time. But no one wants to hear it, least of which, my wife who puts up with my obsessive craziness because she is the most patient human being on planet Earth.

Ah, but if I don't start training soon, I shall suffer the bitter consequences of being ill-prepared for the Mecca, the gold standard of endurance events: Ironman. My goal this time around is to find a plan that gives me some idea of what I should be doing in terms of nutrition. That was my biggest weakness this season. I trained well and felt confident in the disciplines, but I did not really train with my nutrition, unless I was going out for a long bike ride. I did not exactly dismiss my nutrition entirely, but I just figured I am only doing a few long brick sessions near the end of my training, why use my pricey gels and recovery drinks during low volume workouts. Well, now I've learned that you to practice using nutrition in training to see how your body is going to react at various points in the race.

Speaking of training, I think I now have a fairly firm 2010 race schedule. I will mix in some smaller races—5, 10K's, trail races, etc. but here is the short list:

Cats Half Marathon, April 2010: This is a ridiculously difficult half marathon course. I ran the course this past summer—unofficially—with Adam and Vanessa. We stopped counting hills when we reached number 50. Afterwards, our legs were pretty fatigued and cramped. We looked like cowboys getting off of a steed at the end of the day, but we convalesced with some Ben & Gerry's ice cream afterwards. I would strongly recommend ice cream following this race.

Spring Forward Formula 1: The format for this race is a R2/B10/R1/B10/R2. Last season, I did a "Poor Man's" Version of this race with my training partners. Poor Scott had 3 flat tires. We waited for him to change his tires. We all won our age group.

Keuka Lake Triathlon: This is one of the earliest triathlons of the season on 5 June 2010. I have never personally run this race, but I have heard it is often a brutal temperature change from the swim to the ride. The lake has usually not turned yet, and the air is hot and humid. Mr. Hall said that he did not even know he knew how to backstroke until he did that race. The water was so cold, he did not want to put his face in it. Good times!

Cayuga Lake Triathlon: This is one of the most scenic courses that I have raced. The
ride takes you past several Finger Lakes wineries along Cayuga Lake. If you can resist the urge to stop for a tasting, you will make it to a run turnaround at Taughannock Falls that is nothing short of breathtaking—a 215 foot drop—making it 33 feet taller than Niagra Falls, and one of the largest single-drop waterfalls east of the Rockies (Thanks Wikipedia!) Of course, by that point in the race, you will most likely already be out of breath, but that scenic gorge and that beautiful waterfall will put a smile on your face and keep you motivated to finish strong.

My first attempt at this race was after a 10 hour car ride through the night coming back from Maine. I can not wait to see how I will do on this course with some sleep.

Musselman Half-Iron: The race director, Jeff Henderson puts on an unbelievably well-organized event. The race day nutrition, volunteers, awards, post-race meal(s) were second to none. I met with Jeff Henderson about two months prior to the triathlon to discuss the Arts Triathlon that I put together with some colleagues the same weekend. We had a half hour meeting. Two months later, he saw me race morning and remembered my name. I felt like Norm.

Rev3Cedar Point Ironman: Two words: I'm scared. I am not too proud to admit it. I know Sandusky pretty well having gone to school up there. It is pretty flat, but 140.6 miles is still 140.6 miles.

Crankskins: Finally, thanks to E.J. and the fine folks at crankskins.com for throwing me some love and becoming an official sponsor for my 2010 race season. I shall be sporting some sweet new crankskins on my ride this summer. Pictures and updates to come.

05 December 2009

To Boise and Back: A Premier

As a composer, it is
always great fun doing a "runout" somewhere to hear a performance of your music. If your performance is taking place at a university, it is not uncommon to spend time meeting with composition students, talk a little music, and give some feedback on their compositions. I have even been asked by some music departments to go into the local high schools to put on performances and talk about composing, and my experiences working with choreographers and dance companies. This past week I flew out to Boise for a premier of a new work by the Rothko Piano Trio titled Trio for the Common Man. What made this trip especially great is that I got to work with my friend, violinist Jo Nardolillo, for whom I wrote Suite for Jules for violin and violoncello a couple of years ago. I met Jo while we were enduring a rather tenuous doctoral seminar in post-tonal theory. We were both trying to negotiate the rigors of la vie quotidienne, while working feverishly on trying to finish our degrees.

Me with cellist Brian Hodges on the "Smurf Turf"
My runout to Boise State University was a short, but amazing trip. I flew out Wednesday evening, spent 33.5 hours in Boise (the only reason I know that is because the cellist in the Rothko Trio—Brian Hodges—told me he figured out the math,) and returned back home. The players were not only stellar musicians, but wonderful human beings. It is rare that I can walk into a rehearsal with any ensemble and immediately feel comfortable. It usually take a little period of unpacking each others language and understanding just what you are trying to get out of the music.
The Rothko Trio almost had an intuitive sense of the rhetoric of the piece before I worked with them. I had a great premier performance. I need to rewrite a couple of things after I finish the commission from the Society for New Music.

With the Rothko Trio: Jo Nardolillo,
Brian Hodges, Betsi Hodges
The only negative part of my trip was that I felt really under the weather from the moment I left for Boise, and I was neither motivated, nor had the time for any exercise while I was there. I tried to keep the fluid intake pretty steady throughout the day. It was agonizing to see everyone running and biking along the Boise river on a beautiful, crisp winter day and know that I did not have the energy to take part. Hopefully I can convince them to have me out again. When I left my scores with Boise State faculty composer Wallis Bratt, I told him that I will have to come back to talk about this music. I will keep my fingers crossed!

Next Up: Finish Commission from Society for New Music: A piano concerto with a March 1 deadline!

My workout itinerary: Hit it hard this week and get serious miles in the pool, bike and run.