Monday, May 23, 2011

Ever throw a boomerang?

Only a couple years ago I used to throw a boomerang with some regularity, and I'm happy to report I still have that skill. Saturday I did a some throws at Keystone State Park. I have two boomerangs purchased from more than a decade ago. One has always been harder than the other to throw successfully, but this week I quickly re-learned how to throw them so that both came back to me nearly every time.

Launching a boomerang.
Maybe I should step back a bit and explain how boomerangs actually work. First, you stand in the middle of a large field--these 'rangs fly in a circle with a radius of up to 40 meters (44 yards). Then you figure out the direction from which the wind is blowing. I find that my 'rangs fly better when there is a light breeze rather than a heavy wind or no wind at all. I throw the boomerang exactly 10 degrees to the right of where the wind is blowing. For example, if the wind is from the North, I throw the boomerang toward the NNE. The throw is not the same as a frisbee throw. Instead, it is a over-the-shoulder fling, straight down, as if throwing a hammer. I release the boomerang at the horizon when my arm straightens out, parallel to the ground. The boomerang then slices through the air in a straight line until it is about 40 meters away, and then it banks sharply to the left and travels in a circle around me as I stand watching it. If I've thrown it correctly, it will travel around me for about 270 degrees and then return to near my position where I can catch it before it hovers down to the ground.

Failing to catch a boomerang. That's actually the fun part.
If I've thrown it incorrectly, the boomerang might hit the ground far, far away. Or it might circle a complete 360 degrees over my head and land behind me somewhere. The initial throw is not supposed to be hard; the force is supposed to be generated by a fling of the wrist, but I've never done that well. I end up throwing the boomerang too hard. You might think this would cause the boomerang to travel forward farther than expected, but that's not how it works. A boomerang thown too hard will make the 360 degree circle and then do another partial circle befoere landing on the ground. The problem with a second partial circle is that it may land rather far from my initial throwing position. But you know what? I actually find it fun to run after the thing while it is still in the air. I run and leap and try to catch it in midair. I am completely serious when I say that American football players should integrate boomerang catching into their training. To catch a poorly-thrown boomerang requires a lot of sprint running, jumping with arms over head, and a nimble grab of a spinning object as you land. It's like football, I tell you! I am therefore just a little disappointed that I was pretty good with my throws, because that meant I didn't get the cardiovascular workout I was expecting! Nevertheless, today I have delayed onset muscle soreness in the following areas: flexor carpi ulnaris (lower arm), deltoid (shoulder), external obliques (abdomen), hamstring (upper leg). Feels so good!

Last week I also biked 5 miles, ran 2 miles, and swam 2,400 yards (over two days). I did two gym workouts, too. This is good and I'm feeling good and feeling strong. I do wish I could find the time to do more though!

Monday, May 16, 2011

New cycling jacket

Last week I did my standard 5.0 mile loop around the country club near my home. It's a quick ride that I can fit into a 20-min time slot. It is convenient, and it is still challenging because it features several hills. I have been averaging around 14.4 mph on this route for the last month, and I told myself I would buy a cycling jacket as a reward whenever I reached 15.0 mph. I thought this was a reasonable short-term goal. I figured it might take 3-4 weeks to acheive this goal. However, I averaged 15.1 mph on my very next ride. Oh dear! I guess I need more experience in setting goals, because that was clearly too easy. But I reached the goal, so I must buy the jacket, right?

Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Jacket
Right. So I am now the happy owner of a Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Jacket. Size: Large. Color: screaming yellow. Semi-form fit. The label reads: "Fabric provides superior wind protection and water resistance. Direct-vent panel provides superior ventilation. Reflective elements for low-light visibility. One back Velcro pocket."

I wore this jacket today as I rode the country club loop. I averaged 14.9 mph (see what happens when there is no reward incentive?) with maximum speed of 32.0mph. I rode 5.07 miles in 20:27. The air temperature was 59 degrees F with high humidity and a calm wind. I wore the jacket over top of a compression short-sleeved shirt, and below the waist I wore compression underwear and cycling tights. I was plenty warm. I might have done without the tights and just gone with shorts. Anyway, I am very pleased with the jacket performance. It fits perfectly, with just the right amount of room inside for movement of shoulders and arms. The jacket is made for a person like me with a flat abdomen, so there is no spare fabric there to flap around in the wind. The sleeves are remarkably long compared to most jackets and fit my long arms perfectly. The sleeves have elastic cuffs that keep the sleeves positioned well at the wrists. The rear of the jacket is cut long so that when one is leaning over on the bicycle to race down a hill, there is adequate coverage. The fabric is soft and light. I can tell it has some kind of coating to repel rain, but it is not objectionable in any way. It reminds me of fabric that camping tents are made from. I think this jacket is awesome.

However, I am trained as a scientist and inevitably I will find a few things to improve upon (FYI, that's how science works). So my two criticisms are:
  • The zipper is too small. So far, so good. But my experience with zippers like this one is that it will catch in the fabric. I don't know, though. I just tried playing around with it to see if I could get it to catch, but it won't. Not so far.....
  • The upper arms are too wide in diameter. At a speed of exactly 15 mph, the fabric around my upper arms begins to flap in the wind. It was kind of cool that it would stop flapping below 15mph and start flapping as I exceeded 15 mph, but at the faster speeds I was bothered by the thup-thup-thup sound the fabric made. Obviously, this would increase wind resistance, too. So how much fabric is there? I have the jacket on right now and I can grab a 2-inch flap of material around the upper arm. I'm actually surprised now how little space there is in the arms. Given how much wind-flapping I noticed, I would have thought there was more extra material there then there actually is.
By the way, my upper arms are 12 inches in circumference, so if you've got more meat on your biceps and triceps than I do, you're probably going to avoid the wind-flapping issue. I'm trying to bulk up my arms, shoulders, and chest, so maybe one day the wind-flapping will go away. After I first started weight-lifting in 2008, it took about 16 months for me to grow my biceps from 11 inches to 12 inches, so further growth is possible. I just have to be patient and purposeful about it. If I want to. Some days I couldn't care less about my muscle mass. Other days, I do care. Just yesterday someone was talking to me about their son, "who used to be thin--like you--until he started a weight-lifting program." I was not offended by the comment, but alas, I dislike being the representative case for how "thin people" look. I think this is because "thin" in my mind connotes "weak." Whether or not the "weak"label is true, I don't want to be called that. 

Coincidentally, it is now time for me to do some bench presses. Until next time, workout hard and have fun!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Does mini-golf count?

I ask the question only because that was the sum of my physical activity yesterday. No, I'm not counting mini-golf as a workout. Maybe it would count if I were an obese man with a heart condition. Or an elderly man. But I'm far from either condition. I am above average in health for a 36 year-old. I have very little fat and I could run 3 miles or bike 50 miles or swim 2,000 yards tomorrow if I wanted to---because I have done all those things in the last 6 months. The problem is, I won't want to do any of that tomorrow. It is so hard to push myself to do more than half of those totals.

But let me stop right here with the forlorn regretfulness. I'm in great shape, and in the last 6 months I have acheived things I never thought I would do. I never thought I'd ride 50 miles on my bicycle in a single day. I never thought I'd swim 2,000 yards in an hour. Indeed, when I swam a 1,650 race in January, that was the most I had ever swam in one setting, and I had no idea I could even do that! I never thought I'd run a 5K race. It just wasn't something I ever wanted to do. But three days before the event I woke up and decided I would try.

So let me look ahead six months from now. What do I see? I will have done a sprint triathlon in June. I will have run another 5K. I will have biked another 40 or 50 miles with friends. I will be swimming 1,500 yards routinely, and my coach will probably have built me up to 2,300 yards in a single practice. Or maybe I'll do more than all this. Who knows? The message I should hold on to is that even if I fail to run a mile every morning, and even if I have to slow to 5 mph climbing a hill on my bicycle, over the longer term I will still be acheiving something great. I will even more of an athlete 6 months from now, and my body will be stronger and faster.

The only area that I actually do need to "worry" about is my gym workouts--the ones that include weight lifting, pull-ups, elastic band exercises, and abdominal crunches. I made great progress in this area in 2009, then I slacked off in 2010, and 2011 is even worse in terms of monthly weight-lifting sums. So, modifying the goals I set for myself about 12 days ago, I plan to:

Simply do some weight-lifting four days in each string of seven.  It matters not what I do on any of those days as long as I do something in the weight-lifting category. If I lift 4 days in a row, I can take 3 days off if I want. In fact, I could take 6 days off as long as I lifted during the first 4 days and last 4 days of a two-week period. That's close where I am right now. I lifted on Days #1-#4, then again on Day #10 and Day #12. To meet my new goal, I'll have to lift on Days #13 and #14. The advantage of this goal is that I will be more regular with my lifting compared to any time since early February of this year. Another advantage is that it has enough flexibility that I can do social activities on many evenings and not feel like I missed out on a workout. The most important advantage is that I think I can fulfil this goal, and sometimes exceed it. Just like the running, biking, and swimming, I need some situations where I burst forth into new territory. I want to set a new personal record in lifting frequency or weight. I am pretty sure I this will happen sometime before the end of the month.

But not tonight. My workout tonight was ordinary. I benched 105 pounds in two sets for a total of 17 reps. I did elastic band exercises for my rotator cuff (not quite healed, but close). I did 2 pull-ups. I did 22.5-pound bicep curls in two sets for a total of 23 reps. I did 8-pound lateral raises for 9 reps...and then time ran out and I had to move on to other things. But hey, this counts as a workout. It counts.

Friday, May 6, 2011

11 miles of running, biking, and swimming, plus a softball game and finally some weight-lifting

This entry continues a little series of blog posts describing my struggle to push myself a little further with my cardio and gym workouts. I keep promising that my responsibilities at work are slowing down so I'll have more time for working out, but so far that hasn't happened yet. That really should be true next week, though.

Since my last post, here is what I've done:

Tuesday: Treadmill run for 24 minutes at pace 10:59. Average heart rate = 148bpm and maximum was 178 bpm. No weight-training.

Wednesday: Nothing. A big day at work. Sorry.

Thursday: Swim practice with my coach. He earned his pay by tiring me out. I started with my normal 500-yard freestyle warm up. Then he had me do 6x50s of freestyle drills. For some of these he had me do an 8-kick/3-stroke pattern with finger-tip drag. This was meant to do make me concentrate on my rotations, and the finger-tip drag sets my catch up better so that my hands enter the water in a more natural position. My coach also noticed that when I do the finger-tip drag I am more graceful with the strokes, which probably saves me some energy over the long run. He also directed me to keep my "chest in" when I swim, which I find a little difficult to envision. Nevertheless, his point is that I stretch too far forward as my hands start each stroke, and keeping my chest in will keep my hand entry point in a better position.

When he told me this, I had an eureka moment. I have mentioned previously that I am suffering from a muscle strain in my left shoulder. I go back and forth about what has caused this injury, but it makes perfect sense at this point that stretching my hand too far forward and then initiating the pull stroke could cause injury to the infraspinatus muscle. I know from my physiology textbooks that muscles are most likely to be injured when they are contracting from a stretched position.    

One more observation from my coach regarding my freestyle is that my stroke cycle is completely dependent on my breathing cycle: breathe (right side)--pull (right side)--pull (left side)--repeat. He said that breathing should be disconnected from the arm motions. To break me out of my breathing pattern, he made me breathe on my left side. He actually thought my breaths on that side were shorter and less intrusive to my streamlining than when I breath on the right. OK, so I'll try to do more breathing on the left. Hopefully when I do, I won't swallow as much water as I did on Thursday!

Following the 6x50s of freestyle, my coach had me do a string of timed swims, I did a 100-IM (the Individual Medley consists of butterfly followed by backstroke followed by breaststroke followed by freestyle). Coach G. allowed me 3:30 to do the 100-IM and I was done after 1:30 or so. This gave me two minutes to rest, during which G. raised his eyebrows and congratulated me on swimming the 100-IM faster than the 100-freestyle drills I did last week.

The 100 IM was followed by 2x25s of butterfly (coach: quit doing a flutter kick); followed by another 100-IM; followed by 2x50s of backstroke (coach: make my kicks smaller); followed by another 100-IM; followed by 2x50s breaststroke (coach: tuck knees in more and don't kick so far out to each side. Remember to look at the pool bottom as I kick, and aim my arms for the far side of the pool; this will propel me straight ahead instead of downward). Another 100-IM, and then 2x50s of freestyle. Upon finishing, I was beat and had a headache. I didn't tell Coach G., though.

My day was not finished with the swim. A couple hours later I played a slow-pitch softball game with some other faculty against our graduating senior students. I played left field and caught one fly ball. I also fumbled about three more balls hit my way. At bat, I was 1 for 3 in terms of hits, but I made a good showing. The students would have been impressed with my athleticism if only they were still sober at this point (see beer cans in photo!). Oh, and given that they are 15 years younger than me, they don't realize that the human body doesn't work the same way when you get older.
One of my friends and a bunch of college students look on as the softball game proceeds.

I still did not weight-lifting on Thursday. I ran out of time.

My post is getting long now, so I'll abbreviate my Friday activities. First, I went on a bike ride: 4.8 miles in 20 minutes with an average heart rate of 142 bpm and a maximum of 162bpm. After the bike ride I to lift some weights. I did 2 sets of bench presses @105 pounds for a total of 18 reps. I did rotator cuff exercises. I did 2 sets of pull-ups for a total of 4 reps. I did 6 reps of an upright row using a 80-pound barbell. I did 2 sets of dumbbell shrugs for a total of 40 reps. Lastly, I did two sets of calf raises for a total of 30 reps. Let's go, Scott Cannon. Let's do more!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Re-set Day #6

Yesterday I "rested," or at least I didn't do any workouts. I'm on day #6 after deciding to increase the frequency of my workouts following a 36-day "drought" in my weight-lifting sessions and a 39-day drought in my running. Over the last month I have continued to swim and bike, but not much else. So what did I do today? Oops! Mostly just go for a bike ride...

4.8 mile bike ride around the country club near my home. Actually, the country club isn't that big; I rode around the golf course twice for a total of 4.8 miles. My average speed was 14.6 mph and my maximum speed was 34.1 mph, obviously obtained while going down a steep hill. My average heart rate was 151 bpm and my maximum during the 21:01 activity was 167 bpm. I burned 165 calories according to the bike computer, or 303 calories according to the heart rate monitor. I wish the two gadgets would agree. Out of frustration, I go to a website calculator, which gives me a midline estimate of 251 calories.

I did get the chance to do some lifting, but not everything I had planned. I ran out of time. I did two sets of bench presses @ 105 pounds; for the first set I did 13 reps and I did 7 reps for the second set. My left shoulder is still weak; it is recovering from an injury to my infraspinatus experienced on Re-Set Day #1. It's sooooo ironic and typical that I hurt myself on the first day that I committed to doing more weight-lifting!

I did a limited number of rotator cuff exercises tonight, too.

I am looking forward to a lot more workout time this week, as responsibilities at work have lifted considerably. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

And he rested on Day #5

I decided to rest today, Day #5 after I decided to reinvigorate my fitness plan with more frequent gym workouts. It is important to rest, and let the body repair and rebuild (or just plain build) tissues that I used during the previous 4 days of working out. As I write this, I have midly sore quadriceps, pectoralis, infraspinatus (left side), trapezius, and posterior deltoid (left side) muscles. This delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a good thing because it means I've pushed my muscles harder than usual, and that's the point of working out. The extra pain in the area of my left shoulder is a little more serious, as it is a sharper pain than just DOMS, but it's just a small (and chronic) injury attributable more to swimming than weight-lifting. I' not worried about it. It will heal up soon. So what caused all this muscle sorenes? Well, I've already outlined my activites for Days 1-3 in previous posts. Here is what I did yesterday, on Day #4:

  • Outdoor run, 2.1 miles in 25 minutes (but maybe less; I got sidetracked talking to a neighbor after my run and didn't turn off my fitness watch). The route I take features a fairly big hill at the start. As I started to climb the hill, I thought "uuugh, this is tough." But just a couple minutes later, while still climbing, I had a change in perspective. The climb wasn't that bad. I was doing OK, and I felt this way through mile 2.0. But then, as I neared the point where I could either go home or extend my run for another mile, I decided I was finished and I stopped. I could have gone further. I really could have. But this was my first run in 39 days. I didn't want to push. I promise myself and my readers that I won't go another 39 days before my next run. In fact, I'll do it again in a week or less. 
    Small waterfall at Ohiopyle State Park.

  • Hike, 2 miles or so in an hour. I walked with a friend on a trail in a park along a stream with gushing waterfalls. The trail then climbed a couple hundred feet to a hilltop. We went at a pace fast enough to count as cardiovascular exercise...except for time spent admiring the waterfall. 
  • Bench press, 105 pounds. I did two sets. The first was 12 reps, and the second was 8 reps. Not impressive, really, but it's a good re-start after a workout drought. I have the whole summer ahead of me to add weights. 
  • Rotator cuff elastic band exercises: There are several of these I do for each shoulder. I am still very weak in the external rotation of my left shoulder, but I am definitely stronger compared to just the day before. I clearly injured myself a few days ago with the 2,000-yard swim. The freestyle strokes are not the source of the injury; rather, it is the position I put my arms at the tail end of my flip-turns. It is awkward for me to outstretch my arms "above" my head as I swim underwater. Seriously, I think I have a birth defect in my left shoulder's construction that prevents me from positioning my arm correctly. Maybe this little injury has stretched the necessary ligaments to improve my swimming posture in the future. Hmmm...I'm not sure I believe this, but I can still hope.... 
  • Pull-ups: I did two. Again, I plan to increase this sum considerable as the summer approaches. 
  • Upright row, 80 pounds. I only did two reps of this. My left shoulder didn't feel strong and because it is still healing from who-knows-what (see above), I stopped after two. Hey, 2 is better than none. 
My schedule for this week has to remain in flux, as I'm not sure when the pool is open during exam week (I swim at a college pool). But whatever days I do not swim, I will bike, hike, or run. As for the gym workouts, I will start up again tomorrow for Day #6. More bench presses, elastic band pulls, pull-ups, and biceps curls on on tap for Monday. I'll add an additional exercise each day throughout the week. I 'll rest again after another 4 days.