Thursday, December 30, 2010

New sandals

A recent Christmas gift was a new pair of sandals for me to wear around the pool, locker room, and shower. I must admit I haven't noticed what other men wear on the pool deck or locker room, but for the last 18 months I've worn a pair of thong sandals I purchased at K-Mart. These sandals, which have the "Olympian" logo on them, have now completely worn out. To write a proper review, I searched the web for sandals made by the Olympian brand and didn't find any such product. This is not too surprising; K-mart and other retailers sometimes make their own product and then pay a brand name manufacturer to slap their brand name on it. The deal lasts for a limited time, and once it expires, it is hard to find evidence that the product was ever made. I've seen this happen with binoculars (random example), and I think this is what happened with these old sandals I have.

The Olympian sandals actually lasted a long time considering the use I gave them. I would wear them 4 times a week as I changed from street clothes into my swimsuit. I'd walk a few steps to the pool deck, take off the sandals, and splash them with chlorinated water every time I'd do a flip turn at the end of a lap. Once done with my workout, I'd put them on, walk a short distance to the locker room showers and wear the sandals in the shower. The sandal's thong (the upper part that wrapped over the top of my foot) is in fine shape, though the original black color has bleached to a splotchy gray. The problem that has developed is the rubber sole has separated in places from the foot pad and now the rubber is breaking off in chunks. I don't imagine all those pool chemicals are good for the adhesive holding the sandals together.

Old Olympian sandals and new Reef sandals.
So now I have a new pair of thong sandals. They are Reef Phantoms; all black. The sole appears to be a layer of foam rather than rubber, and the sole does not curl around the sides of the shoe. This lack of curl may prevent the type of wear I saw with the Olympians. But who knows? I see from the manufacturer's site that the warranty is only 6 months. That's fairly short compared to the 18 months my cheap sandals from K-Mart lasted. The slogan for Reef is "Reef: Ridiculously Comfortable." It's true that these sandals are comfortable, but comfort is a relative term. After all, I'd go barefoot all day long if I thought my feet would stay warm and free of injury. Sandals help a little with the latter but do nothing for the former. I will say that the arch support in the Reef sandals feels really good compared to my old Olympians.

A few questions remain: (1) is there another type of footwear that people wear in the locker room and shower? I think maybe the college swim team that my coach coaches wears nothing at all. I'll have to take a look during the next meet. (2) My Reef sandals came with a variety of little decals. What am I supposed to do with those? I doubt they would stay stuck to my sandals after a few uses. But sure, I'm all for a little splash of color here and there, and I've got this silly consumer-istic desire to show off the brand name products I buy. So I'll stick a decal on my sandals and see what happens.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First ever swim meet

Sunday was a fantastic day. I traveled with friends to a local high school where the Masters Swimming competition was being held. It started at noon but we arrived at 11am so that Dan and I could get some laps in as a warm-up before the races began. I was most uncomfortable doing the circle swimming before the meet. Sharing a swim lane with others adds an extra level of concentration that I'm not used to. Instead of concentrating on good stroke form, pacing, and breathing, I was more worried about hitting the on-coming traffic as well as swimming fast enough to stay ahead of the folks behind me. I found myself scraping past the lane ropes, and when I did my turns I had to be careful not to hit people standing there at the wall. In fact, I don't think I did many turns, and I only did 200 yards for a warm-up. I was fully aware that my teammates would see me swimming for the first time and I wanted to make a good impression. I also didn't want to tire myself out. Two-hundred yards seemed on the low side of reasonable. My coach had suggested I warm up with a 600-yard swim. I was surprised to hear him say that; it seemed a little much.

I was quite relieved when Dan pointed out that the meet officials had opened up a couple lanes for practicing starts. I jumped out of the pool, walked over to one of the lanes, stepped onto the block, delayed for just a second, and jumped in. It was probably one of my best dives to date. Whew! I'm so glad it happened that way because it gave me confidence for the rest of the meet. (In my practices the week before, my diving was pretty lousy). Because it was a "perfect" dive from my perspective, I didn't dare dive again, and instead I grabbed my towel and hung out at the poolside until the meet began and my race was announced.

50-yard Breaststroke
50-yard breaststroke
The pool had 6 lanes and there were more than 60 swimmers signed up for this race. This means the 50-yard breaststroke competition was spilt into 11 different "heats," and placement in a given heat was based on the swimmer's self-reported "seed" times--the expected time it would take to go the 50-yard distance. It's a Masters Swimming Association, so the swimmers come in male and female, all ages and skills levels, and there is even a variety of body shapes. I hate to bring it up because it is not polite, but I'm really surprised that there were some fat swimmers at this meet--maybe 15% of the contestants were visibly overweight. Anyway, I was slated to swim in the 7th heat (7 of 11 means that I was swimming slower than the median, which would be swimmers in the 6th heat). I was in lane 3, though, which means I was expected to have one of the fastest times in the heat. None of this matters because when the swimmers ahead of me in Heat 6 stepped up on the starting blocks, no one was present at Lane 3. The intended swimmer for Heat 6, Lane 3 did not show up. So in that instant I volunteered to swim in Heat 6. I stepped up on the starting block, I got set, and at the blare of the horn I leaped in. I had a good dive and noticed while under the water that the swimmers in the adjacent lanes dove deeper than I did. I don't know what that says about the quality of my dive, but when I surfaced I swam as fast as I could. At the opposite wall I saw that I was well ahead of my competitors, and I rocketed to the finish. I was elated to turn and look at the scoreboard and see that my time was not 0:50 (my seed time), and it wasn't even in the 40s. Instead, I got 0:39.72. I demolished my seed time and beat everyone in my heat...and these were the swimmers of Heat 6 who were supposed to be better than me. It felt so good and I savored that moment so long that Heat 7 almost started with me still in the pool. I was laughing hard and felt fantastic. What a great first race!

50-yard Freestyle
The blur is me at the very start of my dive off the starting block.
I had submitted a seed time of 0:36 for the 50-yard freestyle. This was a compromise between my more typical 40-second performances during practice (without a dive to start and with a non-racing swimsuit) and the 32.7-second and best-ever performance in the pool three days before the swim meet (with a dive and with a racing suit). My result in this competition was 34.15 seconds, and I came in second in my Heat (Heat 7 of 11). Even though I beat my 0:36 seed time and swam my second-fastest performance of my life, I was slightly disappointed. My dive was very shallow and timid, and on the second leg of the race I saw that I was neck-to-neck of two swimmers on my right. I watched as I gained ground and pulled ahead of them, but somehow when I reached the wall I glided in and missed winning my heat. I know that if I had only swam at full speed into the wall that I would have won my Heat. Instead, and for an unknown reason, I slowed down in that last approach. I actually think I thought I had won and was starting to relax before I was done.

One member of my team mentioned that during the race I was swerving left and right with each successive stroke. If I straighten out my stroke, I would be more hydrodynamic and swim faster. This is something I shall work on.

All in all, it was a great day and I look forward with excitement and confidence to the next swim meet. Joining a Masters Swim Team was an excellent idea. I'm so glad I said yes.
Swimming fast in the 50-yard freestyle race

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Am I ready for my first swim meet?

There's a lot going on this week and I don't have a lot of time to work on this post. So, in bullet style:
  • My first swim meet is Sunday. I joined a Masters Swim Team somewhat late in the season, and now my first competition is right around the corner. I plan to swim in the 50-yard freestyle and 50-yard breaststroke competitions. There are dozens of racers at a Masters meet, and since there are only six lanes in a pool, the racers are organized into groups of six people. These are called "heats," and the people in my heat supposedly have similar swim times. I submitted an estimated swim time ("seed") for the 50-yard freestyle as 36 seconds. This is one second more than the 0:35 seconds my coach recommended, and it is three seconds less than my fastest speed to date. Or at least, it was (see below). I submitted a seed time of 50 seconds for the 50-yard breaststroke and this was complete speculation, as I never timed myself. In the time since I submitted my entry form, I have timed myself and I swam 50-yards of breaststroke in 45 seconds. So it looks like I underestimated my speed. Oh well; my fellow competitors will forgive me...and who knows...maybe some of them submitted inaccurate seeds, too. What is interesting is that my fellow racers will be both men and women aged anywhere from 27 to 66. Yes, you read that right. Somewhere there is a 66 year-old man that can swim faster than me (36 year old). I'm surprised by this, but that's only because I'm new to swimming. It turns out there are lots of senior citizens that are fast and powerful swimmers. They don't have Olympic swim times, but they are fast nevertheless! I hope to be one of those later in my life.
  • In the paragraph above I mentioned that I had never swam 50-yards of freestyle faster than 0:36 or even 0:39. Until this week, I was always around 40-45 seconds. To me, that's still fast. But to a college-aged swimmer, that's two times slower than the normal pace. Anyway, those college students are going to see some speed from me very soon, as this week my coach timed my swim at 32.7 seconds. When he told me that, I was delighted. My face probably glowed and I might have even cried if I wasn't so out of breath! It's a great winning feeling to beat your personal best, and not just beat it, but to destroy it. There are two thing that contributed to this fast speed.
    • I dove from the starting block. I don't think I did that the last time I timed myself.
    • I am the owner of a brand new racing swim suit. Before now, I wore board shorts. I'll have to write an entry about wearing the suit for the first time, and I'll post a picture, too. But I'll save that for another day. It's time to go to the pool and practice for my Sunday meet. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

I joined a Masters Swim Team

I've been swimming regularly for 15 months under the direction of a college swim coach. To be clear, I am well beyond college age, but I wanted a coach to help me on a weekly basis, and he was offering lessons. When I started swimming, I had an aversion to putting my face in the water during the freestyle stroke (aka front crawl). I had to rest every 25 yards. I had never swam breastroke, butterfly, or backstroke. So until now, my coach and I have been working on teaching me the basic strokes, turns, and starts. We've been trouble-shooting placement of arms, the strength of my kicks, my streamlining underwater, the pull of water by my hands, the rotation of the body during freestyle and backstroke, and breathing techniques. But now it appears my coach and I will work on me getting faster. I've joined a Masters Swim Team associated with my local YMCA. This was not my coach's idea. I've been thinking about it for many months and I got close to joining a couple months ago. I asked my coach what he thought and he said "we could work on that." This was a supportive and loving statement, but it lacked enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I joined the team this week because a friend encouraged me to do so.

I went to see my friend swim on Sunday at a competition. He swam well, but that wasn't the real reason I went. I wanted to see how competitive his teammates were and what the attitude of folks was. I can easily envision me being on a swim team and then getting really nervous before a meet. That will probably still happen, but my scouting revealed that the people who compete in these competitions are fairly oblivious to the swimmers in the other lanes. People are simply swimming to better themselves and give advice to others. For example, as my friend was swimming a 400-yard medley, one of his teammates was watching him and said "look, he's not even working hard, he can go faster!" and then she proceeded to take a water bottle and spray him with it during the race as he pushed off the pool wall at the 300-yard mark. It was all a joke, and it shows pretty clearly that the competitors don't take this particularly seriously or else that woman would never have taken the risk of playing around with Dan as he swam in his race. So sure, it looks like I might feel comfortable on a team like that. If I don't like it, feel too nervous, or lack the time to go to competitions, then I can always quit the team without any trouble.

We will compete about once a month at various Ys in the region. Given the travelling involved, it will usually require a whole Sunday to be dedicated to competitive swimming. I will have to miss church, and this is disappointing and a large reason why I still have some reservations about joining the team. Will I be a dedicated member? I don't like joining a team, committee, or service organization without being entirely dedicated to it. Anyway, I won't have to do any extra practicing because I am already swimming 4-5 times a week. How will my weekly swim lessons change with my coach? I suspect he's going to ramp up the effort he requires of me, and I'm afraid of that. It takes a lot of mental energy to push myself into the physical range that is required. I don't like the fatigue that sets in afterward.

Speedo racing swimwear jammer
I will worry about my goggles leaking, as that still happens about once every 4 dives. This probably has more to do with my form as a diver than the fit of the goggles, so I must be patient and hope for the best.

I will need to acquire a racing swimsuit before my first competition on December 5th. I just placed an online order with SpeedoUSA for the suit pictured at right. I hope I like it. It will take some getting used to, particularly how revealing it will be of my male anatomy. But as I've mentioned in a previous post on running shorts, I don't plan to be too self-conscious.

My waist is 33 inches in circumference (used to be 34!), so I ordered a 32-inch and a 34-inch and I'll return the one that doesn't fit. I hate to do an online order when there is a locally-owned swim shop in my town. But the local shop lacks the selection I desired, and more importantly, their hours of operation are sporadic and inconvenient. The flip side of the argument is that if I bought from them, I wouldn't have to go to the trouble of buying two suits and returning one.

I briefly thought about buying a true competition suit (a $120 price tag instead of $38), but what would it get me? The fabric of the competition swimwear is meant to glide through the water even better, but I am unlikely to notice this benefit for two reasons: (1) I'm simply not that fast of a swimmer, and (2) with all the body hair I have, the savings of having a more slippery suit will be negligible. Most of the swimmers I saw at the Master's swim team had very little chest hair, but their legs and arms were unshaven, so I assume they were just naturally this way. I'll be one of the hairier specimens, I guess. But I still look good. Besides, everyone will be looking at my new suit!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saying goodbye to the old swimsuit

The seam of my old blue swimsuit tore several months ago, back in the summer when I was swimming both in the indoor pool at my workplace and the outdoor pool next to my home. I was using the blue suit in the indoor pool, and I had acquired a new Speedo swim trunk (like this one) for use outdoors. Needless to say, when outdoors at a public pool I wanted to show off my newest suit; the old blue one was clearly out of style. But the blue one had been with me a long time and there was nothing wrong with it other than being old. I wear most articles of clothing until they wear out. But once the blue suit's seam tore, I stopped wearing it and I now wear the Speedo suit exclusively.

The old swimsuit
I did not throw away the old suit right away. I just couldn't. I bought that suit sometime in the late 1990s and I had seldom worn it until I started swimming regularly in the late summer of 2009. The fact that it was 10 years old is a testament to the fact that I was not a swimmer until recently. And now, because of the daily swims I now complete, the suit finally fell apart. This old, torn suit is now a monument to all the accomplishments I've made in the pool over the last year. I have gone from a complete novice that could not swim with his face in the water, and who could not swim more than 25 yards without needing to rest, to someone who today can swim 650 yards non-stop, with flip-turns in between and a dive (of sorts) to start. I can also swim all four strokes, a feat I never dreamed of 15 months ago. Oh yeah, and I've spent around $2000 for weekly lessons...and it has been so, so worth it. In fact, what I've done while wearing that old blue swimsuit is probably worth four times that amount of money to me in the long run, as regular swimming has given me greater self confidence, greater strength (particularly in the deltoids and obliques), considerable gains in cardiovascular endurance, an interest in cross-training sports like running and cycling, and a high metabolism that burns calories faster than I can consume them.  That blue suit means a lot.

I memorialize it here so that now, four months later, I can finally throw it away. Good bye old friend!
Saying goodbye to an old swimsuit

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feeling ho-hum when work responsibilities limit workout time

I just re-read a previous post in this blog and I am so glad that I did. It is my favorite post, and it is written to encourage me to keep pushing harder. I need to push myself harder during my workouts these days. Thinking back to the workouts I've done in the past week, I don't see any glowing moments, no personal bests. I also think how tired and sore I've been after mediocre workouts. I've gone swimming six days in the last seven, so that's very good. But with the exception of my Wednesday swim lesson, my time in the pool has been about 30 minutes per day, and my total yardage has been 1,000 yards per day. It's been around a 1,000 yards since July, so I'd like to increase that now. I think the amount of time I dedicate to my workouts has declined. This is not due to lack of interest (obviously, since I've swam 6 of 7 days), but my time in the office has restricted my free time. I also do a lot of volunteering at my church and while that's a good thing, I'm really tired of it right now!

Looking at my records from 2009 and 2008, I see that November is a month where work responsibilities go up and the number of workouts drops. In 2008, just a few months after starting my workout log, I recorded a 45% drop in gross weight lifted comapred to the month before. This is mostly due to the fewer number of workout days. In 2009, I also recorded a 45% drop in weight lifted compared to the month before. It's amazing how consistent this pattern is. So, I guess there is nothing new here. I just wish it weren't so.

On a brighter note, I did do some treadmill running on Friday. I ran for 29 minutes and covered about 2.6 or 2.7 miles (includes warm-up and cool-down walking). I maintained an average heart rate of 154 bpm. My maximum heart rate was 180 bpm, so this was a good workout for me. My leg muscles were a little sore for the following two days. I'm pleased with this run because I did it. I'm not really a runner...maybe later!

I have avoided weight lifting yesterday and tonight because my pectoralis is very sore from some chores I did on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Four things learned at swim practice

I had a very productive swim practice today and I want to write down what I learned so I will remember to work on the things my coach taught me. I started off with a 500-yard warm-up. Then we worked on backstroke and breastroke for a total of 1250 yards.

  1. Somehow I lost the body rotation that is desired. I was able to restore it quickly upon my coach's suggestion that I concentrate on making my feet kick toward the pool's side walls rather than toward the pool's floor and ceiling.  And "kick" might be too great of a foot movement here. I think my coach called it a foot paddle.
  2. We worked on coordinating arm motions so that the arm extending behind me parallel to the water surface pauses for an instant before I pull it in to my side. At the same time, that my arm is extended behind me, my other arm should be half way through its rotation out of the water in a position perpendicular to the water. A separate instruction was that the speed of the arms when under the water should be slower than the speed of arms out of the water. But I'm not sure yet how to reconcile these instructions. My coach thought I was making progress here, but it never felt right to me. I will practice it tomorrow.
  3. My coach reminded me how to do turns when doing backstroke. Basically, when I get to the backstroke warning flag extended over the pool, I am supposed to take another couple strokes, then rotate over and do a freestyle stroke to propel me to the wall. Then I do a flip-turn that ends with me on my back rather than on my belly. I did these turns fairly well, though I did have trouble judging when I should do the various steps.

Overall, I'm actually amazed at how many laps of backstroke I did during my hour-long lesson. I am usually tired out after doing two 50-yard laps, but today I did seven 50-yard laps. My quadriceps were killing me!

  1. I did a 50-yard lap and then my coach stopped me and tried to teach me how Olympic swimmers push off from the wall. First, I pushed off in a hands-extended streamlined position rather deep under the water. When I lost the momentum of the push-off then I pulled my hands backwards "similar to the pull of the butterfly stroke." Then I was supposed to bring my hands up in front of my chest and start the breastroke kick to get me across the pool. I was able to do the initial push-off really well, as well as the butterfly-like pull, but then I simply couldn't initiate the breastroke after that. I continued with a butterfly stoke instead. I don't know whether it was because my coach mentioned butterfly, or whether my body just felt like doing the butterfly, but my coach and I laughed about how funny the human brain is and how hard it is to change its behavior once it latches on to something it thinks is right. As the hour lesson came to an end, my coach made an observation that may lead to a rapid improvement in this skill. He said that my butterfly pull was pulling me upward to the surface of the water. If I pull myself forward instead of up, I might get the breastroke kick started more easily. We'll see.

Now I've got to wrap this up so I can go lift weights. I've got upright rows on the schedule for tonight!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pull-ups and Butterfly are a pain in the neck

Contrary to the title of this post, I don't mind pull-ups and I like swimming the butterfly stroke. However, the combination of these this week caused me some significant whiplash-like neck pain. On Tuesday evening I was doing a fairly standard workout at home. My workout started with the bench press (2 sets of 15 reps @ 95 pounds), then I strengthened my rotator cuff with elastic band stretches, I did 15 reps each of three different types of dumbbell flys, I followed that with three sets of 15 biceps curls @17.5 pounds, and ended with two sets of 20 lateral raises @10 pounds. Together, these weightlifting exercises were working the muscles of my shoulders, arms, and chest (deltoid, supraspinatus, pectoralis, biceps), but not the back muscles to any large degree. Only the lateral raises work the trapezius, and the amount of weight I was lifting was small, as suggested by Delavier (2006). I followed the weight-lifting with 47 abdominal crunches and 12 leg lifts to strengthen the core. Lastly, I did two pull-ups on my door-frame pull-up bar.

I have hurt myself on the pull-up bar before, so I try to be careful. The problem with the door-frame model is that it is too low and my feet touch the floor. As a consequence, I must bend my knees as I do the pull-ups. This causes my body to sway forward and backward as I do each pull-up, and this extra motion apparently has the potential to do me harm. I find that doing pull-ups on a bar mounted to the wall at the side of my workplace pool is much easier for me to do (in fact, I can do 6 in a row instead of 3 at home), and I maintain good posture. But Tuesday night I was using the door frame bar at home. As I swung forward gripping the bar, much of my biceps motion was propelling me forward rather than up over the bar, so to reach the bar I had to bend my head backward, and that is when I felt the mild pain of a muscle pull. No big deal; I was finished anyway, but I did pop some ibuprofen and throw on an ice pack to prevent the extra swelling in that region that in the past has caused significant disability (wryneck). I have injured that spot in my neck before. I am fairly sure there is a weakened tendon deep at the back of my neck that attaches some muscle to my cervical vertebrae. I injure it about once a year by doing mundane and normal activities like doing laundry or showering.

I went to bed and woke up almost as good as new. I could still feel a tightness in the area but it did not impact my range of motion. Wednesday is my swim lesson day, so I went to the lesson with a little concern that swimming would cause me pain, but it didn't. At least my freestyle warm-up was fine. Then it came time for my coach and I to work on butterfly. I've been working on this stroke for the last couple months, and I find it great fun...and great work, too.

The butterfly stroke requires the spine and body to generate wave-like undulations that start with a dolphin kick and end with the head thrusting out of the water before surging down under the surface, only to reappear with the next kick. My coach wants me to imagine myself a dolphin, but I tend to think of myself as a small bird bounding through the air. Certainly the name butterfly is NOT the best name for this stroke!

At any rate, after 500 yards of freestyle and 175 yards of butterfly, my neck tendon finally gave out and I had to tell my coach that I was injured and couldn't do any more butterfly. I probably should have left the pool at that point to take more ibuprofen and apply ice, but well, I love swimming so much, and I had only swam for 30 minutes at that point, so we moved on to more freestyle drills totalling another 500 yards.

Needless to say, on Thursday my neck was stiff and I was distracted by the pain all day. Now Friday, I am on the mend and my neck should be fully healed by tomorrow. Until I hurt it again doing something stupid!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mini-triathalon cycling results

photo from
Friday afternoon I participated in a mini-triathalon relay at work. The running, swimming, and biking events are being held on separate days and will be done by different members of each 5-member team. There are something like 11 teams. My role on my team was to cycle on a stationary bike for 5 miles as fast as I could. My time would then be added to the time another teammate swam 400 yards, plus the time another teammate ran for 2 miles. The people at work who organized this were concerned about setting up a cycling course outdoors, as they would have to have closed some roads, and that's not in the budget. So the cycling competition was held on stationary bikes in the company fitness room. I had practiced using the stationary bike before and my time last week was 5 miles in 10:04. My goal this time was to beat the 10-minute mark. Incidentally, to cycle 5 miles in 10 minutes is 30mph, but I have expressed some doubt about the reality of this in a previous blog entry. Anyway, I guess I should report my success now. I did 5 miles in 9 minutes and 48 seconds, just a bit faster than when I had practiced a week before. I was very satisfied with this until a member of an opposing team went 5 miles in 9:32. What?! How could that guy beat me? Well, that's OK. Let me be realistic. My opponent was 13 or 14 years younger than me. Surely in the last 14 years I have lost 16 seconds in cycling ability. The reality of age is so evil, except you know what? I think I could have gone faster. I was breathing hard but not that hard. I doubt my heart was beating at its maximum level. I forgot to wear my heart rate monitor so I don't know for sure. But why didn't I go all-out? I don't think I'm afraid of hurting myself any more, but instead, I was too cautious about how I'd feel after the competition. I know from my swimming workouts that once I spend every calorie of energy that I have, I feel spent and fatigued for the rest of the day, or until I take a nap. It's not a pleasant feeling and it interferes with other aspects of life, so I try NOT to work that hard. When I compete again in a few months I will try to remember to schedule some nap time after the race. Now that I think about it, I know I had extra energy available since after my cycling I hopped on the treadmill and ran for 5 more minutes.

Regardless, I did not let my team down. The third opponent did 5 miles in 12:49 so I know my race time was competitive. I'm surprised how competitive I've become. I want to win. I've got a super-swimmer on my team, and my runner came in fourth (out of 11). We're still in the to speak!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is it running or jogging?

When I was growing up in the 1980s, it was popular for people to go jogging. My dad would jog in the park while mom walked the same circuitous path. People would wear jogging clothes like headbands and really short shorts. Today it seems like these same people go running. I have friends who list "running" as a favorite activity, and there are "running shorts" sold in stores. Why has the terminology changed while the physical activity has not? If I had to describe running and differentiate it from jogging, I'd say that running is faster and is characterized by greater intensity. Jogging sounds like it is more leisurely. People run in races; they do not jog.

Ahhhh, so maybe that's it--if one is training for a race, you go running. If you just run for pleasure and have no desire to be competitive, you go for a jog. There do seem to be lots more people participating in races (5Ks, marathons, triathlons) today than ever before. I wonder if that's really true... Being the scientist that I am, I looked for data on this and I found a good source that would at least tell us the percentage of people involved in running today versus a couple decades ago. However, it would take too much time for me to analyze. So, I'll just leave the question unanswered for now.

Friday, October 22, 2010

1,350 yards

On Wednesdays I have a 60-min training session with Josh, my swim coach. Except that last Wednesday I had too much to do at work and I cancelled my session. I also didn't do any swimming on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday of last week, nor Monday or Tuesday of this week either. Combined, I had not been in the pool for the 8 days prior to my training session and I was hoping this would not be obvious in my performance. It was not obvious. I swam well, and made great progress with my coach. I started off with a 400-yard freestyle warm-up that the coach has me do every session. Then he asked me to do five 100-yard freestyle drills with 20 seconds rest in between. Ours is a 25-yard pool, so it takes 4 laps to make a 100-yard drill. On the fourth lap of every drill, the coach counts my strokes. The aim is for me to concentrate on my form and decrease the stroke count with each drill. The fewer strokes it takes to do a lap, the more efficient the stroke is. With better stroke efficiency, I can swim longer and farther.
At the start of the drill, I said "You know by counting my strokes on the fourth lap, I'm more tired than when I start, so it's harder to keep the stroke count low."
Josh replied, "Yes, that's the point."

This isn't me, but it's someone I know.

"Yes," I agreed, and started swimming. Sometimes Josh just lets me swim, but on this day, he met me at the end of 100 yards and gave me some more instruction, encouraging me to straighten out my body. Apparently I've developed the bad habit of bending at the hips as I reach far in front to start the catch. I improved on my next drill but I was concentrating so hard on this, I stopped at 50 yards instead of 100 yards. It's a little embarrassing to lose count of my laps when the quantity (2) is so small! Realizing my mistake about 15 seconds later, I started up again and swam another 100. Then another 100, and another. The sum at this point was 450 yards, but Josh had lost count and suggested I do one more drill. I paused and said "Oh, I thought I had finished, but I can do another." Josh smiled. This was a genuine, unsolicited smile that showed he was proud of my response. When he works with his college-level swim team, he probably gets a lot of whining and not many people who say "Sure, let me do more than requested of me." Josh's smile gave me the encouragement to go on and do another 100 yards for a total of 550.

After the freestyle drills, we worked on my breaststroke (four 50-yard drills with 10-seconds rest in between each). He was very complimentary and said my feet and legs were producing a great kick. I asked if I was bobbing too far deep into the water after each breath, and he said no. He did suggest I point my arms more at the wall and keep my face looking down. This advice made me go faster due to the better streamlining of that position.

We still had 5-10 minutes left so Josh had me do four 25-yard laps of butterfly. I've been practicing this stroke for six weeks now, so even on my best day I don't quite have the hang of it. And this day I was already tired. I reminded him that I hadn't practiced in a week in an effort to lower his expectations. And then I flew like a butterfly through the water. I don't think I've ever done it so well and fluidly. It wasn't perfect, mind you, but it was my best showing to date. I don't know if Josh would agree with my assessment. But because my expectations were low, it was a great feeling to exceed them with this performance. There is more work to be done with reagards to all my strokes and I can't wait for my next lesson from Josh.

Oh, did I mention that I have never swam 1,350 yards in an hour before? I think my previous record was 1,250 yards. Competitive swimmers do at least twice what I can do, but I keep progressing, improving, exceeding what I think I can do. That's what builds character, raises my confidence, and builds my reputation. So 1,400 won't be too far to go.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New stationary bike experience

As I mentioned yesterday, in about a week I will participate with a team at work in a triathlon competition. It won't be a typical triathlon (I describe it in an earlier post), but it will include cycling (kind of), swimming, and running. I am my team's cyclist. It is my job to ride 5 miles in as short a time as I can. Given that this is a workplace competition, the person running the race didn't want to go to the trouble of organizing a real bike race, so he has designed a competition using stationary bikes in the workplace fitness center. I use the treadmills there, but I've never used those particular stationary bikes. So today was the day to try one out.

I adjusted the seat to "25" (whatever that means), as I am a tall guy. I hopped on and started pedalling. A timer kept track of how long I'd ride (I set it for 20 min), and I used another control to increase the resistance. The girl next to me was zooming away at some crazy pedal cadence; she must have had programmed very little resistance. I don't get the point of what she was doing. She was clearly at the upper limit of leg speed and she was breathing very heavy. Whatever works, I guess. There isn't anything wrong with high pedal cadence, but it just seems extreme. One can attain the same degree of cardiovascular work by increasing the resistance and pedalling slower. Heavy breathing is necessary to improve cardiovascular fitness, so this 20-something female was not doing anything wrong in terms of a workout strategy. However, she has no way to increase her fitness level without increasing the resistance. It is possible that her intent was simply to burn calories and not increase her level of fitness, but one does not have to pedal fast to burn a lot of calories if the resistance is high.

I would have loved to have these stationary bikes give a mph estimate of speed. That way I could have looked over to see whether all her crazy pedalling was actually producing the same speed I was generating. On a road bike, the higher gear will increase resistance and lower pedal cadence, but I still go quite fast. With this stationary bike, the output doesn't show speed. Instead, it shows calories burned, distance, and time elapsed. In my first 10:04 minutes I covered 5.0 miles. I then lowered my pace, and at the end of 20:00 minutes I had gone about 9 miles. Doing the calculation in my head, I was doing 1 mile every 2 minutes, which corresponds to a speed of 30 mph. This seems high to me, as I don't normally go that fast on a road bike unless I'm rocketing down a hill. On flat terrain I usually maintain a speed of 18 mph. Take away wind resistance and give me a lighter bicycle frame and thinner tires and maybe my top cruising speed will increase to 25 mph, but I doubt the distance calculations of the stationary bike are realistic. Maybe that's why they don't give mph on the display panel.

In any case, I feel well prepared for the bicycling portion of the triathlon. I will practice another couple times, and then make my team proud.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back to being a new jock

It's been 10 days since my last post. Sometimes there is a project at work that must take priority over being a new jock. That has been true less and less as my desire to maintain myself at a heightened level of fitness has increased. But alas, I had a super big deadline on Oct 15th that I was working toward, and I worked day and night on it. That is significant, since I do my workouts mostly in the evening. Happily, I met the deadline and took off for the weekend to visit family. So now I'm back and tomorrow must feature a re-start of my workouts. I did, in fact, do some kayaking over the weekend (at Muddy Run Reservoir), and I was able to fit some swimming in early last week, but I feel way off my workout routine, particularly the weight-lifting. So what shall I do tomorrow? Answer: do a full weigh-lifting circuit, grossing at least 4,000 pounds. Also, I hope to bike >10 miles if the weather holds...if not, I will do cycling on the stationary bike.

I need to get the cycling going because I have a "race" coming up. I put the word "race" in quotes because I really will be racing, but the race is on a stationary bike at work. We have a fitness program at work called a mini triathalon, and my team will be going up against about 8 other teams with the goal of walking, running, swimming, and cycling faster than any other team. The cycling part of the competition will be on stationary bikes in the fitness center; each contestant is to go 5 miles on the stationary bike as fast as s/he can. Hopefully, I'll be a fast cyclist. I'll let you know.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Treadmill cleaning

I don't do a lot of running but I'm trying to work more into my routine. It's hard for me to know how much swimming and running and cycling I can or should do each week. First, my work and social calendars are full enough already. Second, I don't want to overwork my body and either get injured or sick. My solution is to swim 5 days a week and bike or run once, usually on a weekend. It's been rainy here for a week, and my posterior deltoid has been hurting, so on Tuesday I elected to go running on a treadmill in lieu of swimming. I hadn't done treadmill running since March but I ran well. I think I prefer the treadmill over actual outdoor running because I maintain a constant pace and it requires a lot less thinking. Once in a while I even appreciate the TV program that is being displayed on the monitors hanging from the ceiling of the fitness center. Tuesday's programming consisted of a documentary on a recent MLB baseball pitcher who broke several records. It was mildly interesting. It was certainly better than the biased cable news channel that is sometimes on. Regardless, I listen to music through the earphones of my MP3 player.

My treadmill workout was 28 minutes (includes warm up and cool down at a fast walking pace) and covered 2.3 miles. At full speed, the treadmill was set at 6.7 mph. My average heart rate was 156 bpm with a maximum of 183 bpm. According to my heart rate monitor I burned 497 calories.

I don't usually sweat enough that it bleeds through my shirt, but Tuesday I least under the arms. I did notice a lot of sweat droplets from my head had sprinkled the treadmill's display panel so it was necessary to give the equipment a good wipe down when I was finished. However, the bottle of cleaner I was using clogged up somehow and wouldn't spray.

Have you noticed that the younger the clientele of a fitness center, the fewer people actually clean up after themselves? That bottle of cleaner had probably been clogged for hours or days before I tried to use it. Knowing that no staff person was nearby, I set to work trying to unclog the thing. I sat on the floor next to the treadmill, unscrewed the nozzle and played around with it for a while before giving up. The thing would generate enough suction to spray air, but it wouldn't pick up the cleaning fluid. So I screwed the nozzle back on, placed it back where I found it, and left. Meanwhile of course, there were people on treadmills and lifting weights all around me. No one said a word. And I bet no one knew what I was doing, because after all, when they were finished with their own workouts, no one would think to look for a disinfectant spray bottle. In fact, it's probably still not working today...three days later. This lack of sanitary habit by others bothers me more because of the lack of courtesy than the risk of someone getting sick from germs picked up in a fitness center. The risk is minute. The lack of courtesy--of concern for others' well-being--that's what I'm complaining about. Of course, my concern only went so far. I did not seek out a staff person when I discovered the faulty bottle. I just left the problem to the next equally irresponsible person.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Positional vertigo

Every once in a while (maybe every other year for the last 8 years) I get positional vertigo. This condition leads to severe room-spinning dizziness when my head is tilted in a certain position; otherwise I maintain normal balance. The condition is caused by calcium deposits in the inner ear, specifically the semicircular canals. The semicircular canals are tubular loops that contain a fluid, and the inside walls of the tubular loops are lined with fine hair cells. The hair cells wash back and forth in a predictable pattern every time a person moves his head. However, when calcium crystallizes in the fluid surrounding the hair cells, the hair cells fail to move in the predicted way and the brain receives contradictory information with regards to the motion (or lack of motion) the person is experiencing. Sorry to go into all this detail, but the condition is extremely disconcerting and sickening and when I experienced it on Sunday morning I was worried that it would keep me from doing workouts of any kind, particularly swimming.

The treatment for positional vertigo is actually very simple. A doctor wrote down these instructions back in 2004 when it first happened to me:
  1. Lay on your back and tilt your head back and to the left for 3 minutes.
  2. Continue to lay on your back with your head turned back, but now turn it to the right. Hold for 3 minutes.
  3. Turn over on your right side and look down at the floor for 3 minutes.
  4. Sit up by bringing your legs over the edge of the bed and lifting your still-turned torso up over your legs.
  5. Don't lay down for at least 4 hours.
  6. Repeat.
Admittedly, these are wacky instructions. But they work because they position the head in a way that uses gravity to pull the calcium crystals through the curves and loops of the semicircular canals so that the crystals are removed from the area containing hair cells. Eventually the crystals re-dissolve in the fluid and the person no longer feels dizzy.

Sunday morning I did the above procedure but continued to feel woozy and spent for the rest of the day. Overnight the dizziness returned, so on Monday morning I again did the procedure. This time it seems to have worked. I was feeling so much better that I went swimming Monday night. Swimming was a risky thing to do because I had to be horizontal and face down during the activity. This could have allowed all the calcium crystals to find their way back into the region where they could wreak havoc. But it didn't happen. I didn't even experience any disorientation during my dives or flip-turns. Hurray!

It wasn't an entirely enjoyable swim though, because it seems that my posterior deltoid was injured last week during a practice session with my coach. We were working on my backstroke and I thought I just overworked the muscle. However, last night the muscle gave me noticeable pain and was weak during a couple laps of breastroke. The pain continued into today, so I didn't swim today. Fingers are crossed for tomorrow, but I bet I won't be in top form when I meet with my coach in the morning.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Commuting by bicycle

One week ago I promised myself that I'd bike to work sometime in the coming week. I had a head cold early in the week so I thought Thursday would be the day. But then it rained, and rained hard. So Friday I had to do it. It was clear and in the low 50s F at 7:30 when I left the house. It only takes 10 minutes to get to work by car, so I figured it wouldn't take more than 20 minutes by bike. But there are two big hills between my home and work, so I thought I needed to allow some extra time for climbing them. In actuality, I didn't need the extra time. It took 12.5 minutes to get to work, a distance of 2.6 miles. The hills were really tame, and I rejoice at that!

It's the hills that have scared me off from commuting by bicycle. Before moving to this hilly region of the U.S., I used to live in a flat riverplain. I biked to work routinely during the warmer months, 5 miles each way. I loved it, and it made me look forward to going to work! But 3 years ago in a new town with lots of hills, I found that I wasn't the cyclist that I thought I was. The hills tired me out. I remember biking to work one day soon after I moved here, and it was a terribly tiring and sweaty experience.

But it's been 3 years since I moved, and 25 months since I started working out regularly. Those two hills between me and work shall challenge me no more. I did not even sweat in the 12.5 minutes it took to get to work (nor on the return leg). Even with the hills, I maintained an average speed of 12.3 mph. I did not breathe hard, and my leg muscles got me through it without any problem. In fact, this experience is really quite underwhelming and strangely, disappointing. This wasn't a challenge at all. It didn't feel like a great achievement. I can't really count biking to work as part of my workout because it is too short and didn't work me very hard. Whereas before I was embarrassed that I couldn't commute by bicycle, I am now embarrassed that I haven't been doing it all along.

I look forward to the next day I can hop on my bike to work. However, the weather for the next week looks unsettled, and the daylight hours are waning--will the sun still be rising early enough for me to ride in the daylight?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I signed up for an abbreviated triathalon at work

Last year my workplace held a weight-loss competition modelled after the "Biggest Loser" TV show. I didn't participate because, frankly, I don't have any weight to lose so I wouldn't have been a competitive member of a team. But this year the office is holding a mini triathalon...kind of. The race is in multi-stages (not all in one day), and not all members of the team have to run, bike, and swim. Each team will have 5 members:
  1. someone who only swims (400 yards);
  2. someone who only runs (2 miles);
  3. someone who only cycles (5 miles);
  4. someone who only walks (2 miles); and
  5. someone who does three of the above four exercises.
The cycling will be on the stationary bicycles in my company's fitness center. The swimming will be in a nearby pool. I assume the walking is put in the mix (making this a quadrathalon, actually) so that people who have a lower cardiovascular fitness level can still participate.

When I heard about this competition I was very excited because it meant I could show off my newly developed swimming skills. As it turns out, though, because the event is held over several days (to be compatible with everyone's varying work schedules), very few people will actually be at the pool to see me swim. Only my team and an opposing team will be there. I wanted a bigger audience. Yes, mostly to show off. But also, I am thinking of joining a Master's Swim Team and this would be a good trial run.

Teams have not been fully formed yet, and it's my job to recruit some members. The first guy I asked happens to have been a competitive swimmer in a past life, so again, instead of showing off to my team, it may well be that he swims faster than me. Well, shit. This won't be the boost to my ego I looked forward to. Nevertheless, the more important thing as the teamwork and the personal improvement that will come by training. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up being my team's cyclist.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chlorine makes life hard on gut bacteria

Hypothesis: Pool water kills intestinal bacteria.

I don't know if that hypothesis is true, but I make the following observations to support it:
  1. Beneficial bacteria normally live in the human gut (large intestine), and these aid in digestive processes.
  2. Chlorine is a chemical that is widely used to kill bacteria (though usually on the outside of the body).
  3. I swallow at least several mouthfulls of pool water every hour that I swim. I don't mean to, but it happens.
  4. I am gassy on days when I swim, generally in the evening and the following morning after a noontime swim.
  5. I am less gassy on days when I don't swim.
  6. Consuming yogurt within a few hours after a swim tends to reduce my bouts of intestinal gas.
  7. Yogurt is well known for containing bacteria that can aid in digestion.

All this makes sense to me, but there are problems with my observations:
  1. I know that gut bactreria aid in the uptake of certain vitamins (B vitamins?) into the intestinal wall and bloodstream. I am thankful for that. But I'm not sure whether there is a link between the absence of gut bacteria and the production of intestinal gas. 
  2. When I swallow pool water (inadvertantly), does the chlorine remain an effective antibacterial agent after it passes through the stomach and smal intestine?
  3. I am only one person. No hypothesis can be supported based purely on the findings of a single research subject. Therefore, if other swimmers are out there, please let me know I'm not the only one who gets gas after swimming.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Delavier's secret

Frederic Devalvier wrote and illustrated a very popular and excellent book entitled "Strength Training Anatomy." I own the second edition (2006). It's a book filled with suggested weight lifting exercises for arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs, buttocks, and abdomen. Each of these body parts is in a different section, and within each section, he's taken each of a dozen or more exercises and illustrated the proper technique as well as described which muscles are used. For example, the bench press is shown on pages 52-53. Pictured is a man lying on a exercise bench with barbell in hand, ready to lift the bar. The illustration is basically a pencil drawing, but it's really well done. The man is wearing shorts but no shirt, and the skin becomes transparent in the chest, shoulder, and arm regions so that you can see the underlying (and very detailed) muscle groups. The muscles that are worked by the bench press exercise are highlighted in red coloration. All are labelled, including pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii (medial head and long head), brachioradialis, latissiums dorsi, and so on. The pectoralis is a large muscle group with multiple attachment sites at the clavicle, sternum, humerus, and abdomen. Not all the muscle fibers in the pectoralis are worked to the same degree during a standard bench press, so Delavier has a separate picture that shows which fibers are mainly used. In this case, it is the midline fibers that originate under the arms and spread out underneath the nipple to the sternum.

I've used his pictures and notes to choose which exercises to do. For example, my anterior deltoid is in fairly good form but I want greater definition in the middle and lower pectoralis. Therefore, I read through his notes on each page and look for the techniques that will work those specific parts of the muscle. Delavier comes through with this statement: "Lowering the bar to the chondrocostal border of the rib cage isolates the lower part of the pectoralis." Therefore, when I do bench presses, I try to bring the bar down to my solar plexus instead of nipples or arm pits (as shown in the photo, reality is a little different from my perception). If done properly, I should eventually build the muscle at the base of the pectoralis, making it stick out more when viewed from the side. I'm a little vain, I guess.

So how did Delavier figure out which muscles are used during each exercise? I think he could have done it by doing an exercise in excess and then waiting a day to determine which muscles were most sore. For instance, two days ago I did a greater number of bench press repetitions than normal (37 reps @ 90 pounds), and I was sore the next day. I was most sore in the pectoralis region just above and to the side of each nipple (sternocostal head, lateral part--away from the sternum). I was also sore just below each clavicle (clavicular head). My soreness indicates that I was indeed doing the bench press with a wide grip, as that position will work the lateral parts of the muscle. However, since I was sore in the clavicular head and not the inferior groove (lower part of pectoralis near where it links to the abdomen), I will need to remember to move the bar at a different angle so that it moves toward the abdomen as it is lowered. Based on my muscle soreness, I'm still lowering the bar to a point above the top of my sternum.
The picture shows exactly where I'm lowering the where near the solar plexus!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Goal: Bicycle to work

After working with my swim coach today I saw he had a bicycle in his office. "Is that yours?" I asked. "Yeah, I brought it in for my assistant coach to ride to work; he doesn't have a car." I said that's great and remarked about how many hills we have in this area. "It's not bad," said the assistant coach (who's name I've forgotten). My coach then reminded me that he's ridden into work before, and his commute is fairly long. "One goal I have is to ride into work sometime," I said. My commute is only 3 or 4 miles but there are a couple hills that I would have to climb. Hills are evil things. I like going fast--in the pool, while running, and on my bike. When I have to shift into low gear to climb a hill on my bike, I'm going under 10 mph and my pedalling rate (what's the name of that?) goes way up. It's embarrassing to be pedaling so hard and not be going anywhere. I also get way out of breath and that's never been a comfortable thing for me, a former asthmatic.

I explained to these two swim coaches that I'd find the hills between my home and my workplace quite a challenge. Then I blew my cover and bragged that I rode 50 miles last Saturday on a flat trail (former railroad bed) nearby. My coach laughed loudly and said "Well then biking to work should be nothing!"

And he's right.

I have to be constantly reminded to stop saying "I can't," and to face potential physical adversities straight on without fear. A year ago I said "I've never been a swimmer," and then I tried. Last month I said "I've never run in a 5K race," and then I did. Last week I said "I've never travelled 50 miles on a bicycle in one day." And then I did. So what a stupid thing to think, that riding up and down a couple hills between my home and work would be some insurmountable task. I can definitely do it. (Come to think of it, I actually have done it. I did it once in 2007 soon after I moved to my current workplace. I guess it was so hard and terrible that I forgot that I ever did it...and of course in 2007 I wasn't as athletic as I am now)

So while the fall weather is still conducive to cycling, I state, here and now, that one day next week I will ride my bike into work. I can do it. And it will feel incredibly awesome to do it. It will be yet another wall to knock down on my way to feeling more and more confident and strong.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Longest best funnest bicycle ride ever

With a title like that you're probably expecting me to describe a month-long excursion across the country. If true, you haven't read this blog's introduction. I'm relatively new to all things physical, so my accomplishments are not going to be so mammoth. Nevertheless, I've got some impressive stats to report. Today's ride:
  • 49.6 miles on a flat, crushed gravel path running alongside a river
  • Duration of exercise: 4 hours and 25 minutes, not including rest stops and a lunch break at the half-way point.
  • Average speed = 11.1 mph
  • Maximum speed = 15 mph
  • Calories burned: 2,127
  • Average heart rate = 119 bpm
  • Maximum heart rate = 135 bpm
As you can see, today's exercise was long but not overly taxing. I barely got my heart rate into the target zone for cardiovascular improvement, and my average speed was leisurely. There are two reasons for this. First, I was riding with 4 other friends who were equally or slightly less physically capable as me. Second, we took it at a leisurely pace to ensure that we didn't become exhausted and be unable to complete the 50-mile distance. If we had to stop for some reason, there was limited access to roads, and no one was around to come pick us up.
My friends at one of 5 stops we made during the 50-mile trip.
I am a little disappointed that I never got my heart rate up, but apart from that I am very proud of myself and my friends. None of us had ever ridden this distance in one day before. In fact, the last time I rode my bike for more than an hour in one day was on July 3, 2010 when I rode for 79 minutes on another flat, gravel path (we have lots of abandoned railroad tracks that get converted to bike paths here). And the next-most recent bike trip exceeding 60 minutes was August 22, 2009 when I rode for 85 minutes. So today's trip is extraordinary at least in the length of activity. I also had a lot of fun, as the five of us bonded pretty well as we carried on conversations on the trail and at lunch.

Our route was a 25-mile ride to the next largest town along the river. Then we ate lunch in a strip mall pizza joint. Then we turned around and rode back to our starting point. At the end of our trip we again ate a meal and then took a walk for about 30 minutes. I truly believe that I could have hopped back on my bike and ridden another 15 miles or more. I had energy to spare, and I was not particularly sore. As I write this I have the following minor ailments:
  • lightly sore latissimus dorsi in lower back (one bends over the handlebars when cycling); I'm actually surprised that my back isn't more sore. My back muscles often complain severely during my rides. I did take a preemptive Tylenol before starting the bike ride, though, so perhaps this helped.
  • very lightly sore external obliques on sides of abdomen
  • sore abductor magnus in the groin area
  • bruised buttocks in the area where I came in contact with the bicycle seat
  • sore tendons above the kneecaps where the quadriceps pull to bend the knee while pedalling. These tendons started to get sore after the first 8 miles, so I expect this symptom to be the most prominent over the next couple days as my body repairs microdamage in the tendons' fibers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Goggle failure

Speedo Vanquisher 2.0

One of my first blog posts was on how I lost my goggles and had to buy a new pair. I had a terrible time figuring out how to adjust the new Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 goggles in a way that would prevent them from leaking during my dives. Pool water would get in my eyes and then my eyes would get irritated. But all these problems have been resolved since July as I found a good length for the head straps and my eyes apparently got used to pool water on the gradually fewer days that they were exposed to it.

But now, after just 3 months, I must report that the goggles have failed me again, as the nose piece pops out of place every time I take the goggles off. The two eye sockets disassociate and then I have to spend a bit of time popping the nose piece back in place. If this happened only once in a while, it would be tolerable, but the plastic nose piece is now worn in a way that keeping the goggles together is hard to do.

My coach suggested I take the goggles back to the store and insist on getting a new replacement pair. But really, all I need is a new nose piece. The goggles came with a variety of sized nose pieces and I actually kept them. So tomorrow I will swim with the second-largest nose piece and see how that works.

Has anyone else had a nose piece wear out? For all I know, this is a common issue that I'll need to get used to.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You look like a swimmer

I look like a swimmer.
"You look like a swimmer," said Josh, my swim coach. After my standard 400-yard warm up, he had me do 50-yard drills of freestyle where we counted strokes. You see, the fewer strokes I need to swim a lap, the more efficient the stroke and the longer or faster I can swim. That's a good goal. I started off with 17 strokes in 25 yards, which is basically at expert level already. But I'm 6'4" tall, so of course I would have a below-average stroke count to begin with. During the next 300 yards I don't think I did any better than 17 strokes per 25 yards, but Josh suggested that I shorten my kick. Instead of moving my legs far apart with each kick, I concentrated on minimizing the leg movements but kicking harder with my feet. This makes the body rotation with each stroke easier to obtain, since the kicking sometimes can work against the body rotation. Apparently I mastered the kicking and I maintained my stroke lengths, and I also practiced breathing on my left side in addition to my right. My flip-turns were pretty good, and I didn't get especially tired. Josh could tell everything was going right and exclaimed that I looked like a real swimmer today. Ever so briefly I took offense, thinking "what have I been doing for the last 13 months?" since I've been training with him for that long. But he didn't mean to suggest that I wasn't swimming well during this time; instead, he meant that my swimming was in top form, comparable to the competitive swimmers he trains. I'll accept the compliment!

OK, so now it's time to lift weights. I've got to do it now or else another day will pass without a bench-press.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

August 2010 summary

August was a great month for me. Even though I had a vacation half way into it, I was able to stay active and at least maintain the average 375-plus calories burned per day that I have achieved for the last 4 months. I also broke both a monthly record and a daily record for exercise intensity. In fact, I broke my daily record twice. On Aug 7 I ran for 25 minutes at an intensity of 61.8 (see sidebar for a definition of exercise intensity). Then on Aug 28 I ran my first 5K race. My running time was 28:25 minutes but I didn't turn my heart monitor off for another few minutes so in total, I burned 530 calories that day during a 33-minute period at an intensity of 64.2. Combining the 2 record-breaking runs, 19 swimming days, 1 bike ride, 4 softball games, 4 hikes or walks, and a day with kayaking, I had a daily exercise intensity average of 26.4, which broke the old record of 25.5 set in June 2010. 

Though I couldn't do any weight-lifting while on vacation,  I still came in with an above-average gross lifting weight of 1,160 pounds per day. The running monthly average for this statistic is 1,101 pounds (n = 24 months).

Wow, I just realized I've been lifting weights for exactly 2 years now. I do not enjoy it as much as I used to but I have recently re-committed myself to lifting more often. If I had more readers of this blog it sure would help, because then I'd feel a little greater push to work toward this goal. So we'll see! As it turns out, I'm writing this blog tonight instead of lifting weights.

So let me mention one more thing that I did well this August and then I'll wrap up. I broke my monthly pull-up record, too. The pool where I swim has recently installed some pull-up bars along the wall next to the pool, so after a swim I often grab the bar and do a couple pull-ups. It is surprising how hard a pull-up used to be. Now I can do two without fatigue. I should do 3 now, shouldn't I? OK, I'll do that the next time. I promise. Now I've got to go do some bench presses, as it has been 6 days since I last did some. On Sept 2, 2010 I did two sets of 15 presses at 90 pounds. Tonight I shall do the same. Here I go!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cycling once in a while

I went cycling this evening. It wasn't a hard ride at all. There is a loop around a golf course that I do occassionally and I do it twice for a total of 4.75 miles or so. I do the two circuits in a very consistent 19.5 minutes. Tonight was no different except perhaps I found it a little more easy than usual. My heart rate did not exceed 165 bpm, I avoided using any bicycle gear below 14 (I have  a 21-speed hybrid bike), and at the end of the two circuits I thought about doing a third. And I should have.

But somehow I've lost my love for cycling...again. As a high schooler and college student I never missed a chance to go riding on neighborhood roads or nearby trails. Then in graduate school I didn't dislike cycling but I just found other things to do. Then during my first job I started it up again, often riding into work (5 miles each way). But now I'm at my second job in a different location where there are lots of hills, and I just hate the hills.

Until this moment I thought I hated hills (at least going up them) because of the leg work involved. But this evening's ride featured hills that used to be a significant challenge to my leg muscles and lungs, but now those same hills are simply inconvenient moments of exertion. Even though it is easier to ride up the hills, I still don't like the experience much. Thus, I now believe that the fun part about cycling is the speed. I like feeling the wind in my face and the wizzing of rotating tires. Going down the hills I reach a speed of more than 30 mph. But going up the hills I slow down to below 10 mph and that's just no fun. This realization that I love speed does not fix my problem, but now I understand myself better. I guess that's what a blog is for...

I have agreed to go on a 50-mile cycling trip in two weeks from now. That is in fact what prompted me to hop on the bike for 20 minutes tonight. I'll need to train a bit longer to prepare myself for the 50 miles, but I'm in good enough shape that this 50-mile distance does not scare me. I'll be with three other friends, and the trail we'll use is an old railroad bed, so it's relatively flat.

Looking at my workout records, I am surprised to see how infrequently I've gone cycling this year compared to last year. In 2010 (so far) I have gone cycling 5 times and used my indoor exercise bike 4 times. By this time last year, in 2009, I had done the same activitites 11 and 19 times, respectively. Of course, it was almost exactly one year ago that I started swimming several days per week, so my swimming workouts have replaced the cycling to a large degree. That's fine. Right now, I like swimming a lot. Maybe I'll go back to liking cycling at a later date. Who knows? I'm in great shape, so I should just do what I find the most long as it still feels a bit like work.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

News briefs

I have lots of small tidbits to share relating to my fitness program.

First, my swim coach and I have been working on the butterfly stroke for two sessions now. Like usual, Josh is giving me lots of positive feedback, but I still feel slow and uncoordinated. I have a great dolphin kick but when I add the power stroke with arms I lose momentum. I feel like I made good progress last week, but I've lost the action patterns that were formed (the brain remembers the way the muscles and limbs move during specific activities and this is why one can usually repeat an action over and over once it is learned the first time). This week it was as if I was starting over with the training. Nevertheless, it's awesome that I'm learning the butterfly for the first time, and I know I'll soon get the hang of it.

Second, I've been doing an average amount of weight lifting over the last few weeks, and each time I do the bench press (2 sets of 15 reps @ 90 pounds) I feel muscle soreness the following day. That's good! I like to figure out the exact part of the pectoralis muscle that is most sore and then I imagine what it would be like if it expanded in size in that particular spot. This is, in fact, what is happening--the muscle is adding fibers in the same region that feels sore--but of course in the end, the addition of a few additional muscle fibers will not be visible after a single workout. I know that, but it's still fun to envision muscle growth.

Third, I have moved forward with the idea that I might join a Master's swim team in a neighboring town. Here's a link to the national organization. I'm not yet committed to joining, but I am closer to making that decision. I called the pool manager at the local YMCA and explained that my swimming speeds do not come close to those of swimmers already on the team (I saw their results posted to the Internet). She replied that some people are very competitive and others are not, implying that there are members of the swim team that don't compete at all. That's a little confusing, but my questions may be cleared up soon. The pool manager said she'd pass my name and phone number on to the swim team captain and he'd get back to me. That was 2 days ago now. I hope he calls soon, because I think I really want to join. The swim meets will be every two weeks between September and March, and I only need to swim in a few to be part of the team. Practices are every Saturday afternoon.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My first 5K race

Beautiful day for a run!
My schedule changed, making it possible for me to join a 5K race in my neighborhood. I decided to participate just two days before the event, so obviously I had no time to train. However, I've been running 2-3 days per month for the last 8 months, and during these running workouts I usually go for 20-30 minutes at a time and cover a distance of 2-3 miles. Five kilometers is about 3.1 miles, so it seemed like a reasonable expectation that with just a little mental push, I could achieve that distance. The theme of this blog and my exercise program for the last two years has been to push myself past the physical limits I think I have. I am stronger and have greater endurance and more inherent potential than I think. So I didn't spend a lot of time deciding to join the race; I knew I had to do it.

The participants were a group of college students and 20-somethings that have cross-country running experience. I don't fit that demographic but I ran the race anyway. There were some 30- and 40-something neighbors of mine that ran, too, and so I wasn't out of place on the route in terms of my age and experience level. But given the experience of the majority of runners, I certainly didn't expect to win. My goal was to finish the race without stopping to walk.

The race route of 5 kilometers was about half on a grass track and half on a crushed stone running trail. There were a few small hills and one very steep one. I did well. The first time I even looked at my watch was 20-minutes into the race. At that time I was feeling tired, and I wanted to know how much of the race lay ahead. Coincidentally, as I looked at my watch I was also passing a painted number "2". Some runners behind me (yes, there were people behind me!) mentioned the "2" as they passed by, and I began to worry. If that was only the 2-km mark then I was in trouble. That would have meant I was less than halfway done with the 5-km race. After a couple of fearful minutes though, I decided that the "2" must be a mile marker, indicating that I was two-thirds done with the race. With that revelation, I knew I'd be able to finish the race.

My time was 28:25, or 9.1 min/mile. This was my first race, ever. I look forward to a few more in the coming year. But I realize that these statistics don't really mean much to anyone not running the same race. The topography and elevation change of the race's route is different from all other race routes, so maybe if the route were more flat, I'd have a faster race time. Likewise, if the weather is hotter or rainy the next 5K I do, then that won't be comparable to this first race, either. Only more race experience will determine whether this inter-route variation is significant. Maybe it is not. Maybe I'll run a 9.1 minute mile in my next race, too, even if the hills are taller or shorter. We'll see.

One last interesting thing about my performance is that I ran at an average of 1 mile per 9.1 minutes (6.6 mph). When I run by myself, tells me that I more often maintain a running speed of 1 mile per 11 minutes, or  5.5 mph. Wow! That's amazing that running with other people leads to such an increase in speed. I never expected to win the event, and I certainly didn't. But that didn't keep me from subconsciously running faster anyway. Weird. Cool. I wonder why....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fatigue after exercise

Today is my second day of swimming following a 10-day hiatus from the pool during my vacation. Earlier in the summer I established a fairly normal pattern of swimming 1,000 yards each day in a 30-min workout. OK, it was often 40 minutes but that's because I rest every 50-100 yards following my initial warm up of 300-400 yards. So now I'm back and trying to return to my previous level, and I did it today. But gosh it exhausted me. This happens a lot, actually, and it is frustrating. Shouldn't my body recover from exercise better than that? I am well aware that 1,000 yards sounds like a lot but it isn't a lot compared to more seasoned swimmers.

Putting my biological training to use, I know that after a swim or other significant exercise, my glucose, creatine phosphate, and glycogen stores are depleted. If no extra glucose is circulating around in the blood, the body then tries to replenish the glycogen stored in assorted organs by manufacturing it from fat and, to some degree, protein. Since I have so little body fat (9%), I fear that sometimes I hydrolyze my proteins following exercise. That's OK as long as I replace the protein with food ingested soon after my exercise is done. And of course I try to eat a meal high in carbohydrates, too, so that I can short-circuit the protein hydrolysis and just replenish glycogen through addition of more glucose. Maybe you are confused at this point, but I know what I mean!

In fact, the whole point of this review of metabolic processes is to say that I do eat following exercise but it doesn't really help with the feeling of fatigue. The only sure way to get rid of it is to take a nap, and that just isn't something I can do while at work.

Hopefully, there is another thing that will help with this, and that is conditioning. If I continue to swim 1,000 yards for a string of days, I would expect that my muscle tissue would become accustomed to it and either burn fuel more efficiently or store more glucose within the fibers. Or at least my body's various enzymes used in metabolizing fat and making new glycogen would increase in number and efficiency. I want to move forward. I was to improve. I want to do more. I wish my body could keep up with my desires.

Fatigue sucks.