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?