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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sea kayaking in Bar Harbor

I had kayaked before, but only on lakes and rivers. So a few days ago when I was on vacation with friends in Bar Harbor, Maine, we decided to go sea kayaking. The tour company left us off at the sand bar, which at low tide, allows people to cross from the town of Bar Harbor over to Bar Island. We put in to the left of the bar on the side opposite of the harbor. Our tour guide had planned for us to travel around the far side of Bar Island, around the next little island called Sheep Porcupine Island, and the across Bar Harbor to the next harbor down the coast, Compass Harbor. I had been to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park before, and I knew Compass Harbor to be a very special place. However, we never got there.

We started under clear skies but we soon entered a blanket of fog behind Bar Island.
The weather was fair in the town, but just off shore we could see moving blankets of fog being pulled over and around the Porcupine Islands. As we approached the far side of Bar Island, the fog enveloped us. We stayed as close to the island as possible so as to avoid colliding with boats that might have been operating in the fog. Plus, there was me (an experienced kayaker) and my four friends (novices) along with another 5 people who represented a mix of kayak skills. A couple folks couldn't keep pace and apparently had trouble steering for the first 2 hours of our 3 hour trip. I can't fault them too much. The kayaks we used were 2-person sea kayaks with a foot-operated rudder system. Having only been in solo kayaks without a rudder, I found the rudder to be highly sensitive. Any pressure from my right or left foot led to a rather drastic change in direction to the right or left, respectively. Steering was also made difficult by the wind. If we travelled too slowly, the wind and waves circumvented the kayak steering system and the craft just aimed into the wind.  I am a strong paddler, so the group did not travel fast enough to satisfy me.

Friends smile tiredly at the end of the adventure.
But back to the fog...given the difficulty that some members of our group were having and the thick fog, the guide shortened the trip considerably by curling around Bar Island and weaving between the anchored small boats within Bar Harbor. We landed at the town pier and took a 25-min break. Then we turned around and headed back the way we had come. The fog had cleared at that point, but it was still a wise decision for us not to have gone all the way to Compass Harbor. All in all, we spent 3 hours on the water and travelled 3.75 miles. The website calorie calculator I use says I burned 1,186 calories but this seems generous given that a lot of the time I was just waiting for people to catch up and not paddling that hard.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First open-water swim

I was with my friends Cathy and Dan and their two kids on vacation in Acadia National Park, and we were looking for an activity that would fill a couple hours in the late afternoon. My friends had done a hike in the morning and were too tired to do another. So finding the beach at Echo Lake sounded like the perfect solution--not too physically taxing and not too long an activity, either. Plus, it was a sunny day and we weren't sure how long the good weather would last. So to the beach!!

Public beach at Echo Lake in Acadia National Park
Echo Lake beach is a natural sand beach at one end of the lake. The sands were deposited there as a glacier melted (a very long time ago). The beach was clean but crowded. After all, there are only two beaches on Mount Desert Island. The water was chilly but not extraordinarily so. Dan and I and the two kids waded very slowly out to a spot where the water was waist high. This was fairly far from the lifeguard station, and there were buoys that indicated the end of the swimming area. Cathy saw us being wimps and decided to run into the water and entirely submerse herself in the 68 or 70-degree water. I followed suite and lowered the rest of my torso, and finally my head, into the water. It wasn't bad once I was completely wet.

Feeling chilly before my swim
Given that Cathy and her daughter and I are swimmers, Cathy suggested we leave the regulated swimming area and swim across a portion of the lake to some rocks we could see in the distance. I was up for an adventure and quickly agreed, even though I had secretly never been swimming in open water before. We took off, with me in the lead. I found doing freestyle (front crawl) was fun because I could see the lake bottom for a ways across the lake. Medium-sized rocks with golden-brown seaweed extended beneath me in every direction. I stopped once in a while to make sure my two companions were still nearby and to make sure I was still swimming toward the rocks we wanted to get to. When I paused with the swimming, Cathy and her daughter did, too. I guess we all wanted to make sure the others were OK. Of course once I determined that everyone was fine, I felt a little embarrassed for stopping in the first place. But by this time the lake bottom was no longer visible and I knew that the water was now too deep to stand in, and we were only halfway to the rock outcrop. What would happen if I needed to stop swimming--a cramp or worse, a pulled muscle? Those thoughts only crossed my mind a few times because I had enough confidence that I was a strong enough swimmer to make our goal. A little bit of danger is fun, isn't it?

The rock outcropping was a group of giant boulders that had fallen off the cliff above us. Surprisingly, the water was still too deep to stand in, so we simply grabbed hold of the rocks and rested without getting out of the water. I really wasn't tired. We spent about 5-6 minutes resting and then Cathy wanted to go back. We took a different route back, this time closer to shore and in water shallow enough where I could see the bottom. I led again, with Cathy's daughter drafting me the whole way. Is drafting really effective? I guess it is, but I can't imagine it is pleasant. Wouldn't all that turbulence that I produced cause bubbles and dirt suspended in the water to swirl around Lauren's head as she swam just two or three feet behind my wildly kicking legs? I have never seen my kick, so maybe it isn't so wild. In fact, Lauren remarked about how well I was rotating with each stroke. Cathy remarked about my speed, and she couldn't believe that only a year ago I was unable to swim.

I congratulate myself on my first open water swim. We covered 0.45 miles in about 30 minutes. That's a great way to start off, and now I know that those triathlons everyone seems to be doing will not be as impossible for me as I thought just a few months ago. I genuinely think I will sign up for one of those within a year. I'll be ready.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pemetic Mountain Hike

None too pleased with the foggy view on top of the mountain!
On my first full day of vacation in Acadia National Park (Maine), I led Cathy and Dan and their two children, ages 8 and 10, on a hike up Pemetic Mountain. The skies were overcast with drizzle, but these friends of mine and their children are a hardy bunch, and a little drizzle wasn't going to stop us. The ascent of the mountain was a short distance but steep. According to, the 0.9 mile ascent rose 869 feet--a 17% grade. This was not especially hard for the adults in the group, but the 8-year old boy had trouble climbing over boulders, many of which were half his height. We kept saying "This hike sure would be more difficult if it were raining harder." Well, that's foreshadowing! The mountain was enveloped in fog so we had none of the spectacular views that I promised (I had climbed this mountain several times before). Still, our spirits weren't dampened, even if our bodies were.

My friend Dan helps his 10-year old daughter climb down a steep rock ledge.
The descent was much harder. We dropped 755 feet in 0.25 mile. No kidding. That's a 57% grade straight down. Well, not straight down, but you get the idea. In rain. With two children. I went first, then the 8-year old. Then their dad (Dan), the 10-year old, and their mom. The trail of course wasn't much of a trail. I was just following blazes painted on the rock face. The 8-year old needed me to hold his hand the entire time, and perhaps two dozen times I needed to lift his 75 pounds up and over ledges and rock crevices (as illustrated in the photo). This provided a great workout for my posterior deltoids! In general, this was excellent for my leg muscles, too. I relied heavily on my boots' traction and they never failed me. The descent was not particularly fun, but this was mainly due to the fact that the 8-year old's life was literally in my hands. I'm not a father myself, but now I see how parenthood can cause fears that other adults don't have. 

Overall, the hike was only 1.6 miles. It took nearly 4 hours to complete.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A little bounce while running

If you have been reading any of my blog, you know that I am not shy about talking about really personal subjects. It's time to move on to some other webpage if you don't want to hear about certain parts of the male anatomy.

I recently bought a pair of UnderArmour running shorts (Men's UA Endurance Knit 9"). I have started to run more often, and I figured a new outfit would keep me motivated. The shorts are lightweight and very comfortable. They feature "a new Dual-Function Heatgear® liner [that] guarantees secure support up front for streamlined mobility and ventilation in back for added temperature regulation." I can attest to the ventilation. When I have these shorts on, I really can't tell that I'm wearing anything! Honestly that is a great feeling. However, the liner does not provide as "secure support up front" as I'd like. I have found that I bounce. Or rather, the two little parts of me between the legs bounce a little too much. Once I've gotten started with  my run, I can ignore this sensation, but it's not something I have experienced before.

Given that I am a novice runner, I am now wondering whether I am doing something wearing or not wearing the right clothes. On the UA website there are reviews for this set of running shorts. One of them states:
"Since i use compression shorts or UA's boxer jock, i have no use for the inner liner and find it a little uncomfortable. but i wouldn't dare use the shorts without underwear or compression since i'm exercising in a public gym."

There is a second review that states:
"I have tried bike shorts which work okay but cannot quite camoflauge an embarassingly tight fit up front. This UA short with the inner leg lining has resolved my problem. They provide comfort have a relaxed fit..."

I'm glad other guys can talk about this anonymously because we'd never talk about it face-to-face. The reviews above seem to disagree on whether the shorts are too revealing of the male anatomy. But otherwise, my running in the shorts without any underwear seems to be the intent of the manufacturer. The lining is supposed to take the place of underwear. The first reviewer isn't comfortable with that, and he wears underwear underneath the shorts. If I did that, it would definitely solve the bouncing problem, but wearing what amounts to two pairs of underwear doesn't sound very comfortable to me. Both reviewers speak of their desire to hide the bulge between the legs. Until recently I have always had great concerns about that, too. I used to avoid wearing sweatpants because my male equipment was apparent underneath. I also avoided wearing bicycle shorts for the same reason. But two things have changed my view of this. First, I wear an athletic cup for every game of softball I play, and my team's uniform includes real baseball pants that fit slimly. So if someone looks at me from the side or front, they can probably tell I'm wearing a cup. It's a pretty normal piece of athletic gear, so there is no embarrassment associated with it. And even without a cup, everyone knows that a man has a penis. So is it really a problem if someone can see evidence of the aforementioned part? I don't see how it is different from women having breasts. Every woman has breasts and it is impossible to hide them. In fact, women probably have to go through a lot more personal struggle growing up because there is so much difference in breast size between women. I guess men differ in genitalia size, but not to the degree that women's breasts do.
Running shorts hint at what's underneath.

The second thing that makes me much less concerned about wearing close-fitting shorts is the fact that elite athletes reveal themselves in this way all the time. Michael Phelps' swimsuit has a bulge in the front. The anatomy of gymnasts at the summer Olympics is very apparent. If you see video of male Olympic sprinters, you can not only see their penis but also how it bounces with every foot fall. And of course, there are all those professional and amateur cyclists who wear cycling shorts.

In conclusion, I don't care too much if my maleness is revealed by my clothes. I just want shorts that limit the bounce as I run. A sports bra for men between the legs?

The end of softball

I think my tenure on my church's fast-pitch softball team has come to an end. After two summer seasons of sitting on the bench more than 70% of the time, I have determined that I'm not getting enough out of it. There are two main reasons for this: (1) I'm not as good as the other players on my team, and (2) the coach's philosophy that only the best available players get playing time. If this were a high school, college, or professional team, then I would agree with the coach's philosophy. However, this is a church league (for Heaven's sake!)...with only three teams. One of us will come in first, someone will come in second, and the other team will come in third. Are we really so prideful that we must come in first place? And all this assumes that if the coach puts me in a game to play right field that I will single-handedly lose the game. With a few exceptions, single players do not win or lose a game in a team sport. I am perturbed, frustrated, and embarrassed. This does not make me think fondly about joining the team for a third year.

I still like softball, though. So what I need to do is find a team/league that is less competitive.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A weekly run?

After my run.
Two data points do not make much of a pattern, but I'm wondering whether two runs over two weeks is the start of something. I've not done much running in the past. In fact, I only started to run after a gym workout in December 2009 with a friend where he and I ran next to each other on adjacent treadmills. I had never been on a treadmill, so he was surprised I could go 20 min without stopping. I was, too.

I used the treadmill once more in December 2009 and 5 more times in January 2010. I used the treadmill 4 times in February, and once in March. I also went for my first-ever run outdoors on March 6, 2010 for 25 minutes. I went running outdoors twice more in April, twice in May, once in June, and once in July. Now I've run once in August and I expect to run another couple times this month. Especially if my next run goes as smoothly as my last one on August 7.

That day was clear and warm but with low humidity. I chose a route close to my house on grounds maintained by a corporate headquarters. The folks who work in that building must work very hard because I never see anyone using the crushed stone path that loops through a meadow with a nice open view. According to, the route I take is 2.3 miles long and it has two short but steep hills (3.1% grade for 0.4 mile and 2.3% grade for 0.7 mile). I've run it about 4 times now and those hills push my heart rate to maximum. But on August 7th I felt good during most of the run. I didn't really feel fatigued during the run, and my only complaint was the cramps I felt in my upper right chest and right calf for approximately 10 minutes. I ignored them the best I could. My run lasted 25 minutes but that included 4 minutes of walking as a pre-run warm up. MapMyRun tells me that I ran at an 11.0 miles/min pace, and the website makes it easy and fun to keep a workout log. It even gives me smiley faces when I exceed my weekly averages.

I had not heard of MapMyRun until recently. A friend of mine used it to map out her own running route as she trains for a marathon. She was disappointed to see that the 5.0 mile route she measured with her car's odometer was only 4.7 miles according to MapMyRun. Without knowing anything about the website I assured her that the odometer was probably more accurate, as the website probably does not account for changes in topography. She insisted that it does, because MapMyRun gives you data on elevation change and hills. However, as I mapped my own route, I noticed that the mileage was calculated using the flat map of the route, and only after you click "save" and a little processing time do the elevation data appear. I am quite certain now that my original hypothesis was correct; the mileage estimate does not account for hills, so a car odometer is going to be more accurate. But do we really need to worry about a 0.3 mile difference?

I wanted to write about my run this week because in a previous post I challenged myself to run more frequently. So I did. And I will.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

July 2010 report

July was the fourth month in a row with below average sums for weight-lifting. I admit to losing interest, but I'm certainly not done with it. In July I worked out on 10 of 31 days, and this really isn't bad now that I think about it, because I took a 10-day vacation in July during which weight-lifting was not possible. So I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Nevertheless, I am not making the progress I would like--it was June 2009 when I last broke a monthly record in gross weight lifted. My last daily record was in May 2010 so on a day-to-day basis I am still in the game. But keeping regular with the lifting is a challenge I am struggling with. Again, this has to do with losing interest in this activity. For what reasons? First, I am always afraid of hurting myself so weight-lifting each night is not something I look forward to. Second, my swimming during the day, and/or my softball at night have made me tired in the evenings when I usually lift weights. For the last couple days my pectoralis muscles have been made sore due to an uptick in weight-lifting activities. This soreness is a good feeling, actually, and it makes me think more positively about what I am doing. If my exercise is making me sore, than I know it is doing something to strengthen my body. The phrase "Good work!" applies in at least two ways.

July 2010 was very good in terms of abdominal crunches. My monthly average was 9 per day, and the last time I exceeded that was January 2010. Cardio duration was well above average at 74 minutes per day. This figure was subsidized by several hikes that I did while on vacation. Given all the hiking I did, which is not an intensely cardiovascular exercise, my exercise intensity was not extraordinary. In fact, the 15.8 intensity rating was exactly the 12-month average.

I gained about 2 pounds during vacation, which I expect to lose fairly quickly now that I'm eating lower-calorie foods and smaller portions for breakfast and lunch. I am beginning to see a trend for a reduction in chest circumference. It is only a 0.3 inch decrease, but it is the first decrease since March 2009.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pushing beyond tired and recharging afterward

I've had a string of good workout days, despite some chronic pain in my trapezious. Monday I swam at midday and did 700 yards of mostly freestyle with a little backstroke. Later in the afternoon I lifted weights with a gross poundage of 4,115 (all sets and reps combined). Both these results represent about 65% of what I have been able to do in the past, so Monday wasn't a banner day by any means. But I'm coming off a 2-week vacation period where I ate too much and did too little exercise. So I was happy with what I did.

Tuesday I swam again and did 850 yards. Again, better, but not really close to my best. But then I went to softball practice and kicked butt. The temperature was in the upper 80s with high humidity and I hit well and in the outfield I fielded just about every ball that came my way. Late in the 2-hour practice when everyone else seemed to be getting lazy, I decided that I would not do that. I was tired and hot, but I wanted to catch more fly balls. It was surprisingly fun to run as fast as I could to the location where the ball was heading and grab it with my glove. I even chased after balls I knew I couldn't get to in time, but I acted like it was a real game and my quickness mattered. I don't think anyone else noticed what I was doing, but I impressed myself with the knowledge that even though I was tired, I still had a lot of physical energy within me.

Today I woke up a bit sore from all that running around, sore from throwing fielded softballs to the cutoff man, and sore in the abdominal region from the swimming I did over the last two days. But I still felt the glow of knowing I had an inner power that doesn't need to quit even when my brain thinks my body is tired. So much athleticism is psychological. There are scientific studies that have shown that the human body can do much more exercise than the brain thinks is possible. We quit before we have to. This protects us from injury, but it can also keep us from improving our physical condition. I think I'm in a bit of a rut because I haven't exceeded any "personal bests" recently. This morning I told myself it was time to get out of the rut; I promised myself that I would expend 100% effort during my swim practice today. I rarely ever tell my coach that I can't do something that he asked for. But I can cheat a little and do just the bare minimum to get by without having him chew me out. I was determined not to cheat today. I would do all swim exercises at 100% effort.

And of course, I did it. He started me off with 200 yards of freestyle to warm up. Then I did 6 x 50s of freestyle with special attention to my stroke lengths. For the first 50 yards, Coach Josh counted 48 strokes. That's terrible! I was better before vacation. So we worked to get me down to a respectable 34 strokes per 50 yards. This work was tiring for two reasons. First, I was out of shape from vacation. Second, stretching the arms, pushing water with each hand past the waist during the pull, and rolling the body from left to right with each stroke--all these burn through a lot of energy. So when Josh then said "let's do five 100s, with every fourth lap at peak speed" I blinked hard and tried not to panic. I honestly didn't think I could do 5 of those sets. After the second set I pushed myself to do a third, all the way thinking about the good feelings I had last night playing softball in an exhausted state. "I can keep going, even if I don't think I can." And so I did.

I was a little nauseous after getting out of the pool, which shows that I was indeed pushing my body to my limit. I was physically exhausted for the rest of the afternoon at work. This evening I ate dinner and took an hour-long nap. Then I got up and did some weight-lifting, watched TV, and then ate a second dinner. After all, over the last two days I burned 1,847 calories. I figured if felt hungry, my body would put the food to good use.

So I end this entry with three well-researched lessons:

  1. Fight back fatigue. This works better if you anticipate it before you become tired, so you finally do become tired you can remind yourself that in the past you have pushed beyond the fatigue without ill effects.
  2. Take a nap. I never feel normal after a strenuous workout until after I have rested. Upon waking from a nap, my feeling of fatigue is gone.
  3. Eat when you are hungry. You need to supply the raw materials your body uses to repair and build muscle, bone, and connective tissues. This is in addition to any fuel you eat following exercise to replenish glycogen stores. As I write this I am even more certain of its importance because I've had bothersome neck and back pain for the last few days (actually since mid July), and it is nearly gone at this point. I think the work I've done yesterday and today has strengthened and repaired those tissues. So that leads me to #4...
  4. Muscle or joint pain not related to a specific trauma is probably going to be helped by being physical. Be careful during an activity, but don't let the pain limit you. Like fatigue, a large component of pain is psychological and can be controlled by will power.
I am not afraid of working hard. Not tonight, anyway. I hope I remember this feeling for a long time to come.
Oh yeah.