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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Do People Do Triathlons?

The other day I saw an interesting question posed on the Trifuel website asking people why they do triathlons. The author has some interesting points and addresses the reason why folks take up this sport. Some do it for the pure enjoyment, some for bragging rights, others to improve their fitness, still others participate just so they can tell their friends that they are athletes. Hats off to Ben Greenfield, the author of that posting for being so inquisitive.

I've been doing triathlons since the late 1990s. My first race was the Bass Lake Triathlon, up by (you guessed it) Bass Lake California. It must have been 1997 give or take a year. I don't even know whether that race is still in existence. A buddy and I signed up as dare and met another friend up there. It was cold and misty on the lake to the point that our friend, who is a multiple Ironman finisher, got "lost" in the lake because he could not see the buoys from the thick fog and, as a result, took several wrong turns. I cramped up from the cold rain toward the end of the bike portion then had a v-e-r-y slow run. When I finished, I never felt more alive in my life. I knew that I simply HAD to do that again.

The reason I still do triathlons after 12 or so years had passed and intend to continue doing them as long as I live can be summed up in the short essay I pasted below. I do not know who wrote it or when, but it describes the reasons many of us get excited before each and every starting horn goes off. Also, it is my answer to Mr. Greenfield's question. Here is the essay, reproduced - credit should go to the original author, whoever you are:
“I love to be alive. I love the gift of life. Never have I felt more alive than when my heart is beating, my lungs filling and my muscles pumping with life - in pursuit of a goal. I'm not in it for the T-shirts, or the "Wow, you're a triathlete?" admiration conveyed by the gaping mouth of the spectator.

Each of us has within ourselves the desire to move from spectator to participant in our own lives. A key to becoming a participant in life is to set specific, measurable and worthwhile goals, and then to pursue these goals with all our heart. Committing oneself to a triathlon is a very special way to set these goals, and to love the pursuit.

Deep down inside everyone of us is a place of terror. This is the place where we doubt ourselves, where our self-confidence dwindles and where our dreams are called into question. During a race, and through this magnificent sport, people have to pay a few visits to this place - at mile 17 of the Ironman run or even at the bike-to-run transition of a shorter race. People go to Doubtsville, and then they return. And you know what? They leave this place behind and come back with a golden smile. For with every heartbeat during a triathlon, we pound away acres from that land of fear, anxiety and doubt.

Through triathlons, I have gained a greater capacity to give and to love. I can feel my soul glow a bit brighter, my smile stretch a bit wider, my self-confidence grow a bit stronger and my happiness penetrate a bit deeper.

It's a way to hug life, to participate in life, to search deep inside and to let life flow through you at 168 beats per minute.

There is a spark to the people involved in this sport. Triathletes are here to pursue a dream, to reach deep inside and to discover how we can all break though false limits.”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Post Exercise Recovery and Nutrition

This article addresses recommended nutrition immediately following an exercise session to aid in optimal recovery. Some may have started training for a 5K or a 10K and may even be following the training plans suggested in my 5K training or 10K training posting.

After an exercise session, be it running, swimming, cycling, or weights, we lose various vitamins and minerals through sweat. It is true that eventually we end up reloading most of the nutrients we lost through food and drink. However, to make sure that your body recovers as fast as possible and receives the needed nutrients when it needs them most, it is recommended by sports nutritionists that we eat or drink a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 30-40 minutes after each exercise session. The carb-protein combo is a good rule of thumb for most post-exercise recovery plans. However, low-key (aerobic) training that lasts less than an hour can be replenished by a sports drink containing carbohydrates and sodium. For moderate or high-intensity training sessions of up to and in excess of an hour, a recovery drink containing a mixture of carbohydrate and protein is ideal.

The reason this nutrition recovery plan is a good idea is because during the 30-40 minutes immediately after exercise the body is more capable in absorbing glucose (a carbohydrate-based energy source we consume during exercise) and protein. This means that almost all, if not all, nutrients you ingest during this window will be sucked up by your body immediately and the protein will quickly be transported to thirsty muscles (to minimize soreness and help in building strength) and the carbohydrates (and the glucose) will quickly travel to your liver to replenish it with the glucose that was used up during exercise.

There are many recovery drinks on the market today to help in proper post-exercise recovery. You can try several to suit your taste. As long as you get 15 to 20 grams of protein and about 60-80 grams of carbohydrates it will be a sufficient recovery drink. I know of some athletes who go "old-school" and use a glass of chocolate milk as their recovery drink. This may work for you if you end your workouts close to home where refrigerated milk is accessible. However if you go cycling or running somewhere and your recovery drink has to wait for you for several hours in a backpack that is in a hot car, this may not be a good idea since we all know what happens to milk after it stays in the hot sun for a while. Various sports recovery drinks have worked for me over the years. I also like the fruit or vanilla flavors. So try some out and chose one that you like best.

Several hours following exercise, once your stomach calmed down, a high protein meal with some starch is ideal. One example would be a light meal consisting of chicken breast or fish, with a side of vegetables and some rice or potatoes. Other recovery meals (or snacks) that can be eaten a few hours following exercise include peanut butter and jam bagel (or sandwich), yogurt with granola or fruit, an energy bar, pasta salad with cheese (preferably low fat), or a turkey/chicken sandwich on whole wheat.

Proper recovery is essential to keep our bodies healthy and strong so we can continue with the chosen training regimen for weeks, and in some cases, months at a time. If we recover nutritionally after exercise, our muscles, liver, and other parts of our body will be properly fueled for the next training session. This way, we can attack each session with renewed energy and perhaps with a bit more vigor as a result of past training and effective recovery.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Training for a 10K Run

In a previous post, I provided a training plan to run a 5k to those who are starting to get into a running program. That plan involved a combination of run-walk for specified time periods during an eight week program.

In this article, I am providing information on 10K training programs that can be used by folks who are beginners as well as seasoned runners. Over the years I used a program called FIRST to train for various distances from 10Ks and half marathons to marathons. FIRST stands for Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training. Apparently they did extensive research and concluded that running three times per week can be just as effective than running more often. Whether that is true or not, the three-times-a-week program has always been attractive to me not necessarily because I proved to myself that it works better than other programs I've tried, but mainly because the three-times-a-week thing works well with family, work, and other responsibilities.

I feel it is a great program to follow for those who have a full time job and also want to take on a running program to work toward the goal of finishing a 5K, 10K or longer footrace. The FIRST 10K training program can be found here. This program is based largely on a person's finish time of a 5K run. You can do this either by taking part in a 5K run event, following the 8 week training program in my previous post or, if you have a GPS watch that measures distance (such as Garmin, Polar, Suuntu, etc.) you can run 3.1 miles on your local trail (without lollygagging) and note the time it took you to complete that distance.

The FIRST program's 10K training page refers to certain tables in a book entitled Runner's World Run Less, Run Faster to calculate your training paces. However, you don't need to spend money on purchasing that book simply for that reason (unless you want to get it for the other, very useful, information that is in there), because a great pace calculator is available for free on the RunnersWorld website.

For those who want a more customized 10K training program, RunnersWorld provides great training programs free as well. In case the link does nto work, go to, click on Tools, then on Smart Coach. These programs can be customized based on each person's finish time from a previous 5K or a 10K. Simply enter your finish time in the drop-down box, put in the distance you want to train for (5K to marathon), the miles you currently run per week, and how hard you want to train. Finally, pick a day for your long runs (generally Saturday or Sunday for most people), and enter how many weeks you wish to train and voila! You get a customized training schedule. Click on the above link ("training programs")and check it out.

A 10K can be found almost every city or town throughout the year. The best way to get started is simply to sign up for one that is about three months out. This way, you can get 2-3 months' training done so you feel good crossing the finish line.

As can be seen from the training programs provided in the links here, training for a 10K does not involve a large time investment - heck, most people can train for a 10K in the morning before leaving for work or during lunchtime. Even an after work run help train you and may help blow off some work-related stress before relaxing for the evening.

Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy the process.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recent Event - Boston Marathon

On April 20, 2009, thousands of runners toed the starting line in Hopkinton as they started their 26.2 mile trek to downtown Boston. To runners, running the Boston Marathon is an honor, largely because to be able to run it, one must qualify by completing another marathon at a specific time that is unique to specific age groups and genders.

The qualifying times can be quite challenging and tend to change frequently. The Boston Qualifier standards (also known as BQ Standards) are a source of controversy for some, others simply accept it and try to beat the time for their age group in order to be able to race in Boston by following specific marathon training plans.

For instance, a man who is 35-39 must run a marathon in 3:15 to qualify for Boston. A woman in the same age group must do it in 3:45. As mentioned above, the times tend to change frequently so it does not make sense to replicate the qualifier table here since it will probably be out of date for next year's race anyway.

For detailed coverage of the 2009 Boston Marathon, click here or here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nutrition Basics

We've all probably heard the suggestion that we should eat a balanced diet. For most people, that phrase has the word "diet" in there, and they automatically recoil because to many, dieting is like punishment - something to endure in order to lose weight for an important event, to fit into that suit or dress, or simply to improve their health.

Let's throw out that idea that diet is bad for you by thinking of diet as a combination of what we eat, instead of something restrictive we need to go through. Once we think of diet that way, we can approach learning about basic nutrition without a negative predisposition.
So here we go. This posting will cover the basics of nutrients that our diet consists of. The specific combinations of the nutrients that is recommended depends on each individual's goal. The goal could be simply to lose a few pounds, or for a runner, swimmer, or triathlete, the goal may be to provide their body with enough nutrients to fuel them through training sessions without burning themselves out and without eating the wrong foods that may result in stomach cramps or unneeded weight gain. Here, I will only introduce the basic components. In later postings, we will likely cover specific combinations of nutrients to reach various goals.

First, water is the most basic and obvious nutrient we need. We could not survive long without it. Water helps cool our body by producing sweat, aids in digesting food, carries oxygen and nutrients to cells that need them, and is a significant component of our brain, muscles, organs, and other body parts. Sources of water include the tap or bottled water, juices, milk, and foods such as fruit, soups, vegetables, etc.

The second nutrient are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy during exercise, provide dietary fiber, and help replenish our body's glycogen stores (which is used up during normal activity, including exercise). Sources of carbohydrates include breads, pasta, various grains such as rice, wheat, couscous, etc., fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

The third important nutrient we need is fat. Eating fats has been controversial for many years. I am referring here to the natural unsaturated fats, not the trans fats and other processed fats. Fats provide our bodies with fatty acids that we need, the most widely known of them are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Fat also provides fat-soluble vitamins, and is needed because it is an essential component of certain cell structures. Sources of good fats are from liquid oils (such as olive or canola oil), butter, nuts and seeds (such as almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.), avocados, and fish.

The fourth essential nutrient we need is protein. Protein provides essential amino acids, is needed to maintain and develop muscle tissue, is an important component of many things our bodies produce, including certain enzymes, hormones, and the antibodies we need to produce to fight off bacteria and viruses. There are many other things protein does but for sake of brevity, I won't bore you with the list. Some sources of protein are widely known and include meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, beans, and lentils.

The fifth basic nutrient are vitamins. Vitamins are important because, among other things, they help with producing energy, help with tissue repair and red blood cell formation, and many vitamins (such as vitamin C for example) act as powerful antioxidants. Vitamins also help synthesize protein. Sources of vitamins include fruits and vegetables, lean foods, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Finally, minerals play an important part in our body's functioning. Minerals are also involved in energy production and tissue repair. Minerals help contract our muscles, this way we can use our strength effectively Minerals also help to transport oxygen to needed cells in our bodies. Some sources of minerals include fruits and vegetables, lean foods, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Of course, for us to have a complete grouping of vitamins and minerals without having to spend a fortune at the supermarket, a daily complete multivitamin with minerals can do the trick. The rest of our nutrient intake of water, fats, protein, carbohydrates has to be, for the most part, included in our meals.

Starting to Run - Beginner's 5K Training Plan

I began my road to fitness as a smoker. Yes, a smoker. I picked up the habit as a teenager. Before I knew it, I was bumming smokes off others, then started buying my own packs. Then, after seeing someone die slowly of emphysema, I decided to quit. My thinking was that regardless of how I check out, that was definitely NOT the way I wanted to go.

Quitting was a slow process that took months because I could not quit cold turkey. Also, I did not want to take medication to quit. I had to slowly wean myself off the nicotine, giving up one smoke at a time until I had one or two cigarettes a day. Then I stopped altogether. I have been a recreational cyclist up to that point, riding once or twice a month on the local trail. I increased the frequency of my time on the bike (partly because I was able to breathe better after quitting smoking) until I was racing in some local criteriums. I tried my best but was not that good. I think it was because was just starting out and also because I did not know anything about proper training and how to fuel my body.

I decided to take up running to cross-train. I thought that my cardiovascular system could easily adapt since I was already a cyclist. Wow, was I in for a huge surprise. When I went out for my first run in my neighborhood I had to sit on the curb after a quarter mile to keep from tossing my morning cookies. I quickly realized that I had to start slowly but I was not about to give up. Like many folks who are starting to run, I decided to swallow my pride and look into a 5K training program that was for the "off the couch" beginner. I found one that involved a walk-run combination. It was more walking than running at first, but I quickly saw significant improvements not only in my breathing and speed, but also my weight and well being.
The more I ran the more addicted I became. In time I signed up for a 10K, then a half marathon, then started swimming in the local pool (which is a great way to take a break from running and give the joints a break as well).

The 5K training program I used almost 20 years ago worked well for me. It did not help me win any awards, but it helped change my life from a beer drinking smoker to a runner, cyclist and an amateur triathlete and I would not have it any other way. The program is duplicated below from my notes. The only trick is to start slow, stay consistent and make it a part of your life.

The Beginner's 5K plan:

The program lasts for 8 weeks to gently build your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system. The activities during these eight weeks are based on time. The time suggested should be spent walking and running. The time spent running should be gentle as far as effort goes. During the first few weeks, spend the time running (easy pace) for 2-4 minutes, then walking for 4-5 minutes, then running for another 3-4 minutes, then walking. Repeat this until you completed the allotted time. As the weeks go on, the time spent running will gradually increase and the time spent walking with decrease.

Week 1: (M) 20 mins; (T) off; (W) 20 mins; (Th) off; (F) 20 mins; (S) 20 mins; (Sun) off
Week 2: (M) 20 mins; (T) off; (W) 20 mins; (Th) off; (F) 20 mins; (S) 25 mins; (Sun) off
Week 3: (M) 20 mins; (T) off; (W) 20 mins; (Th) off; (F) 20 mins; (S) 30 mins; (Sun) off
Week 4: (M) 25 mins; (T) off; (W) 25 mins; (Th) off; (F) 25 mins; (S) 30 mins; (Sun) off
Week 5: (M) 25 mins; (T) off; (W) 25 mins; (Th) off; (F) 25 mins; (S) 35 mins; (Sun) off
Week 6: (M) 30 mins; (T) off; (W) 30 mins; (Th) off; (F) 25 mins; (S) 40 mins; (Sun) off
Week 7: (M) 30 mins; (T) off; (W) 30 mins; (Th) off; (F) 30 mins; (S) 45 mins; (Sun) off
Week 8: (M) 30 mins; (T) off; (W) 30 mins; (Th) off; (F) 30 mins; (S) 45 mins; (Sun) off
Remember to start off walking then gradually introduce running. I highly suggest that you buy a good pair of shoes designed for running.

You will likely feel a little sore during the first couple of weeks. You may not have exercised much, and it will take a little while for you to adjust.

If you feel more than general muscle soreness, back off! Don't try to keep running through an injury, or pretty soon you won't be running at all! If you feel pain, rest and use ice. Try to talk to someone with some experience with running injuries, or consult your doctor.

If you have to take a break for injury or family commitments, don't give up! If you miss one or more of the workouts, just pick up where you left off. If you have an extended break because of a vacation, etc., you might want to back up a week or two.

The days of the week listed here are merely suggestions. Run on the days that best suit your schedule but please take a day break between each workout except once a week when there are consecutive days of running reflected on the schedule.

Please provide feedback of your progress. Thank you.