Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Five Rules of Training: Rule 1: Never Compare

I am hardly a definite source of training, racing, nutrition, education, love, relationships (definitely on this one), happiness or pretty much any topic except maybe 90's kids movies and sitcoms (think Boy Meets World, Family Matters, Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, and The Pagemaster to name only a few).

However, I have developed my own rules of training that I hope you can find helpful. These are rules that I have to remind myself every so often to keep me, my ego, and mind in check and prevent them from sabotaging what really matters.
Most things are apples to oranges. I am more of an apple guy

It is hard when training to not do this; it's hard in life too! I am not sure about you, but I have a horrible tendency to look at a workout and beat myself up that my normalized power was less, or I was not going as fast as I did last week or last year. The thing is though that mental commentary and criticism is pointless and does nothing. 

The world changes too quickly to compare yourself to anything in your past because you are not the same person that you were yesterday let alone last workout. There are so many different variables to consider that comparing yourself becomes futile. You may be more tired, the conditions could be worse, your coffee could have been weaker; your work/life/relationship stress could have stressed you out. The list of effects are endless, so forget the comparisons and focus on giving your best on the day for that particular workout; if that workout happens to be worse than one in the past then give what you got. Not every workout is going to be perfect.  

(Note: This is not to say that data is pointless; it is actually quite valuable. What is more important though is not the individual workouts but the overall trends.)    

It is even harder not to do compare yourself when you are training and some jerk completely decked out in an Ironman race kit (note that they do not stitch your place or time on these kits) comes racing by you when you, exhausted after 5 hours of intervals and hill repeats, are finishing up a ride, sputters "You know, just an easy zone 1 recovery ride" in between gasps of air, and then pedals off. After such encounters I usually think "Damn, he is fast; I wish I could be that..." then I catch myself. "I do not know him, nor what he has done today, nor what he has done this week in training, so it is POINTLESS to compare myself.

Then there is social media. When people post their workouts, how much they weigh, how much (or little) they ate, it is near impossible not to look and feel worthless. You may have just come in from an awesome workout where you hit all your goals then see John Shmoe-Pro (God, I hate him; he is such an ass!) did double that!  It makes me feel insignificant.

Once again I have to remind myself that this is just stupid talk. I did not think I or my workout was bad until I saw that post meaning it was my comparison that destroyed my high not the workout being bad itself. How irrational!

Overall, I need to focus on the only person I know for sure: me in this moment. I know where I have been, where I am, and a vague, blurry picture of the future, and thus am the only person who can judge.
Comparisons will not lead me to where I want to go; in fact, with all of their negativity and doubt inducing thought patterns, they might move me further away.

I think Marcus Aurelius says it pretty well:

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.” 
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
As well as Daisaku Ikeda: 

“I cannot say this too strongly: Do not compare [yourself] to others. Be true to who you are, and continue to learn with all your might.” 
― Daisaku Ikeda, Discussions on Youth

#word...but that is just my two watts

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Lenten Discipline

While I may have a lot of Catholic guilt in my psyche, I am not Catholic. I think a lot of Christians and non Christians alike use lent as an excuse to crash diet for forty days without really knowing what it means or why; then, once Lent ends they go back to their old ways. Regardless, I do like following and participating in the season of Lent, the period of 40 days and 40 night leading up to Easter in which Christians usually refrain from a certain worldly pleasure (sex, sugar, alcohol, video games, etc.) to instead refocus on God. 

Collecting dust 
To me as not a believer in God in the traditional sense, it is time to examine what habits in my life are interfering with my life and connecting with my true, centered "self" (you could also call this my "higher power" but what ever floats your boat). It is also a time to prove that I am stronger than my urges. 

The typical disciplines of giving up sweets, caffeine, or meat, were tempting to go to but these things are not hurting my life or performance. I have entered into a heavy training block right now so changing up my diet significantly would hurt my training homeostasis; I can play with my diet in the offseason. Moreover, I do not think I would learn anything from giving any of these up. 

After thinking about  this further and analyzing what bad habits I have, I settled on weighing myself and my food as well as counting calories. This may seem like a piece of cake for some  but for someone who has weighed himself and micromanaged food for years, it was and is a struggle. 

It was especially hard at first. I actually had to cannibalize the batteries for my Quarq to prevent me from cheating. I was so used to plugging in every calorie into a database and managing my macros. After about 3 days though, I began to ease up. I forgot about trying to do the math in my head and instead listened to what my body was craving. I did not have to worry about the bottom line or percentages instead could focus on what my body wanted. I also did not have to worry about recording my slipups on paper. If I had a cookie or two post workout, I did not have to see it glaring back at me in my log after. 

Weighing myself too was tough but once I got used to it,  my mind stopped focusing on the number and instead strictly on my performance. The number on the power meter mattered more than one on the scale. 

I have only had a couple slip ups: one when I had to get my DEXA scan done, once time during my heavy training week when I wanted to see how much water weight I lost during  long ride, and once when I had to track my calories for my nutritionist but besides that I have stepped away from the scales completely. In doing so, I have felt that the scales have tilted in my favor. 

Overall my anxiety is down; I am enjoying myself more; I am listening to my body and what it needs. With just under two weeks to go to Easter I know that I can finish this challenge strong. I am not sure yet whether I will give it up completely but this experiment has been a good thing as I continue to move forward on this journey. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mind Bender

My apologies for not having  posted in quite some time. Life has gotten very hectic since the end of January so I have kept my head down, my nose clean, and focused on work and training. I will discuss many of those changes in later posts when they solidify a bit more but today I want to talk about a change that has been going on since the Fall.

As some of you know my weight has skyrocketed since September. I weighed around 128 then; now I weigh in at 145 lbs! That is HUGE gain, and I have been freaking out. An almost 20 lb gain is a lot in 5 months time. Moreover it is showing in my training: my swim has improved, my FTP has jumped, but unfortunately my run has slowed. I was still able to run a 1:17 half at the beginning of February but it was a greater effort hauling all that weight. Further, my easy pace as become a shuffle. This increase in weight most likely led to my quad and hip flexor strain as well since my body is simply not used to carrying so much.

What is really weird and yet comforting is that it is almost all muscle! I did a DEXA scan last week which is the gold standard for body composition analysis. It came out at 7.8% including organs! My ultra sound measurements confirm these findings and my clothes still fit with the exception of my sleeves on my small cycling jerseys, my tri kit whose legs are too tight now around the quads, and my favorite Amrita bar t shirt, which has now become a muscle shirt.

While these findings are nice to know, I still struggle with this image. I now have more of a triathlete body instead of a runner's body. My quads are more trunk like and my upper body is broader. Gone are the days of pencil arms and a flat chest. It is hard though for me to get used to this. For so long, I have wanted a triathlete's body but now that it is here I am not sure if I like it or not.

A sonogram of my waist. The white line on top is fat

What has helped me calm my mind is looking at the other benefits of having this higher weight:
  • I am sick less often
  • I have higher power on the bike
  • I no longer have the strength of a middle school girl 
  • I look like an athlete
Overall, I have to remind myself that the ideal body is that which will help me achieve my goals and race/train to the fullest and consistently without getting sick and having to take two or three days to fully recover.

As far as my run goes, my body needs to adapt to this higher weight. It is not used to dragging and cooling so much muscle. The speed will return I just have to be patient and start shifting my mind from "anorexic=fast" runner to "let's kick ass" triathlete but that is just my two watts.

Confucius says a lot of things

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bring It On!

"Where were you Gandalf?"
"Looking ahead"
"And what brought you back just in time?"
"Looking behind"

Alright, I just scored some serious nerd points on that "Hobbit" reference, but since today is New Year's day, I think invoking Tolkien and doing exactly what Gandalf does is a good way to start 2014. Thus, like every other blogger and her training partner, I am reflecting back on 2013 and thinking about 2014. Hopefully this post will be a bit different from the rest and you actually find something in here to take away and improve your 2014. If not, hopefully I have not wasted too much of the year for you. You could say that this post is more for my mental benefit than yours, but read on if you wish. You may pick up a few thing to help you with your goals.

"Looking at the world through my rearview
Searching for an answer up high
Or is it all wasted time?" B.o.B "Just a Sign" 

Honestly, 2013 was certainly not wasted and was an interesting year for me to say the least. The best way to describe it would be a "developmental year." Personally, I went through a great deal, none of which I really expected on January 1st 2013. First of all, I had no idea I would move to Arizona or become a teacher. Those two were controlled entirely by fate (or for you Latin and theologians out there, "fortuna"), and I am awfully glad she dealt me a good card. I love my new life in the warm and sunny climate of the South West, and even though the toils are much and fruits few (another geeky Latin reference), life has progressed pretty well.

2013 has also been a developmental year in my triathlon training. I had some good races (Galveston and Syracuse) and load more duds (Knoxville, Quassy, and Vegas). When one changes professions and moves cross country, it is only to be expected that you cannot train as consistently or as well as you would like. With that said, I would say I am fitter than I ever have been. I am up five pounds of muscle while maintaining 5% body fat, increased my FTP by 20 watts, took 20 seconds off my 100m swim interval, and still can do a decent mile. Touch wood I am injury free too. My health score and gut health seem to be good, and my hormones seem to have adjusted well to the new stresses of life and increased training. I think my greatest health achievement of 2013 was finally getting off the juice (i.e. Diet soda) and the white stuff (artificial sweetener). I still have cravings but am looking forward to remaining clean in 2014.

I loved being a member of the Wattie Inc. team and partnering with Amrita Bars in 2013 and thankfully will continue these relationships moving forward into 2014.

"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."
Thomas Jefferson 

2014 also looks to be an interesting developmental year. I am aging up to the 25-29 age group, which will bring a lot of new challenges and competition. Welcome to the big leagues, junior! It looks like 2014 is going to be full of 3:00am swims, post work trainer rides, foam roller dates (the only dates I seem to be able to get these days), all day Saturday adventures, and Sunday Fundays. With the stress of teaching and aging up, I am only doing two races, Eagleman and IM Boulder, which will be my first full Ironman. However, both of these races bring the opportunity for Kona qualification. I know that this is a long long shot, but who knows. If Kim Cardashian can get married to Kanye West, who knows what could happen! To all those doubting demons in my head: "BRING IT ON!"

Health wise, I am going to continue to tweak my diet by increasing my plant consumption and becoming more metabolically efficient. As far as my weight, I will let my training, fitness, and racing dictate that. If I gain weight but am faster, then the number does not matter. What I refuse to do in 2014 is to cut calories that is soooo 2008.

I am also now going to be coaching in 2014. I recently became a certified Beach Body coach. This will be a topic of future posts of course, but as much of a gimmick as Beach Body, P90x 1-3, Insanity, and the like are, I believe that I can through these programs (of course they need some modifications) help triathletes and anyone else who wants to improve their body and fitness. If you are interested let me know, I will be more than happy to talk to you about how it can help you. If not, I will not try to sell it or convince you otherwise. Later on in 2014, I am also going to be launching a regular coaching program for a select few but that is down the road. For now let me leave you with this:

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Health Nut and Triathlete's Guide to the Ins and Outs of 2013 and2014

Every New Years Day, the Washington Post Style section posts an "In/Out" list that examines the trends in 2013 and 2014 to see what is hot and what is not. Since they like to focus on clothing and fashion, there is not much about health, fitness, triathlons, food, or "nerdom" on the list, so most of what they list escapes me. I have no idea what they are talking about the majority of the time.

With that said, I decided to do my own take on this on things I noticed in 2013 and what may or may not continue in 2014. I collected these using the best non-scientific and statistical research out there which is highly unreliable with a large margin of error.  With that said, please feel free to comment on anything I missed or exaggerated:

  • Justin Bieber hit his high (or lowest) point in 2013 and now has recently decided to retire only to be replaced by One Direction. I will not comment on whether this is good or bad, but let me just say I am out of tissues currently in my house. 
  • Built up shoes: despite the push to go minimalist, which started in around 2011 and is not dead yet, the advent of Hoka running shoes shows a swing back to the running shoe companies. Maybe we were "born to run" in shoes afterall. Neither shoe trend is for me but they have gotten popular.
  • Paleo, HFLC, and Ketogenic diets: High carb diets definitely died in 2013 to be replaced with high fat, low carb diets. Atkins seems to have been reincarnated into a triathlete. think this will only continue to gain popularity in 2014. What is needed in 2014 though is some research beyond anecdotes that shows its efficacy or lack there of in elite athletes in particular younger ones. Joe Friel says he is a convert when it comes to health but what about speed.
  • Cleanses: Speaking of diet, I am seeing more and more people do a 30 day cleanse or detox diet. I think I will stick with veggies and the sweet tones of Michael Bolton to cleanse my body and soul.
  • UCAN, Bonk Breaker, Amrita bars, Energy bits and more "natural" fuels: The original Powerbar which had the consistency of laffy taffy but the taste of an awesome chocolate bar has seemed to have died. One redeeming factor of these was that they stuck perfectly to your bike without the need of duct tape. Over the course of this year though Powerbar has released a new natural energy blend product that is part gel, part fruit. In my opinion, this is only a sign of the changing times of people looking for more natural forms of energy. Similarly, companies like Bonk Breaker and Amrita bars are offering great gluten and sometimes grain free products. Generation UCAN also seems to be gaining traction as people turn away from traditional carbs. 
  • Bulletproof coffee: This maybe just a trend but it definitely is a popular in the endurance community. I may drink a cup in 2014 and run through Anacostia or downtown Phoenix just to see if it works better than Kevlar. Honestly, I still like my coffee like I like my woman: tall, strong, and blonde with no need for artificial sweetness
  • "Bio-Hacking:" Along the same lines as the above, more people are looking into nifty shortcuts to improve their health and fitness. Whether its cold thermogenesis, genome sequencing, electro pulse stimulation, or intermittent fasting people are definitely going to extremes to gain every last advantage. I will stick to hard work and sweat  
  • Heart Rate Variability: Even though Phil Maffetone talked about it many years ago in his "Big Book of Endurance," with the advent of apps like Sweetbeat HRV has gained traction. While I definitely see the value of it, I am not sure I am willing to take the plunge and base whether I workout or not solely on a number. To some extent, there is value in pushing through fatigue some days. (Note: repeatedly pushing through fatigue day after day is not smart, which is when I like to use  HRV to prevent chronic stress.) 
  • Tailless aero helmets: the old sperm helmet seems to be dying a slow death as a tailless aero helmet seems to be taking its place.
  • Ultras: whether it is ultra runs (like 26.2 was not enough) or multi day Ironmans, people are going longer and longer (and slower). I am not ready to make the jump till I have maxed out my speed in an Ironman
  • Spartan races, mud runs, color runs, zombie runs i.e. long, adult parades that you pay to get into: These are just not my style, but if they are for you, then enjoy! They seem to be gaining popularity and more races are popping up. Just based on the number of selfies posted on Facebook and Twitter of people at these events, people seem to love them; at least it's something active, fun and constructive.  
  • "God Damn Independents" (If you went to Sewanee you will get that joke): Indies have grown in force and are reproducing like rabbits. Dare I say this has reached epidemic proportions. There are just too many twenty-somethings riding fixed geared bikes of clashing outlandish colors, with odd but perfectly manicured facial hair, Ray Bands frames without the lenses, skinny jeans, and Good Will sweaters pulling up to Starbucks to work on their "thesis"/"book"/ "blog" on Apple computers and listen to indie bands on their beats by Dre head phones. Ooops I just described my life.   
  • Duck Dynasty: never heard of it till the most recent scandal, but apparently it was big so I will include it. Regardless of whether you support what he said or not, you have to give him props for his ability to grow that beard. If only I had that skill. 
Based on what 2013 dished out 2014 looks to be even more interesting.

Did I forget anything? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The weight of weight

I weigh myself daily. Why? I am not exactly sure. I have done so for the past 10 years. I remember when my grandmother passed away, my mother asked me what I would like from her house. I immediately said, "Her scale." You can see a) where and from which genes I got my obsession and b) how obsessed I was from an early age with body image. 

Currently I have a pretty high tech scale that spits out my weight, body fat percentage, hydration, muscle mass, and most likely my horoscope and the odds on the Redskins' game (that last one is easy since they always lose). At this point in my recovery it's a force of habit rather than an actual need. 
It fluctuates more than the stock market 

What is different now from when I was struggling with my ED is that while I still weigh myself, I make sure that the numbers do not affect my mood, actions, or thoughts.  After all, they are just numbers and, in reality, how your body is interacting with gravity on that day.

People, doctors, health care "professionals," and insurance companies obsess about weight and the number on the scale, and for understandable reasons. There is a strong correlation between health and weight, but honestly, one's weight is just one piece of the health jigsaw puzzle. The number leaves a lot out. It does not show body fat percentage, which is a better indicator of health, gut health, mental well being, muscle mass, or, most importantly, psychological peace. 

What I am currently struggling with is what weight is the best for me? While I am heavier now than I have ever been, I am also healthier and happier, which are definitely important. I am not sure though whether I am faster now than I was. Moreover, will I be faster at an even heavier weight? (I have no idea honestly but would love to hear your thoughts)

The best weight is the weight that optimizes your well being both mentally and physically. The same applies to race weight--the weight at which you perform best. If you are too light, you will fade too quickly and if you do finish then you cannot recover as quickly to race again. If you weigh too much (both fat and muscle), though, the extra pounds will slow you down. 

Weight also affects psychological health. If your weight is too low OR too high (interestingly both sides of the bell curve have similar symptoms), you will feel miserable, tired, cranky, etc. 
The number can be approximated by matching it with power to weight ratio numbers and body composition numbers. However, the only way to know your race weight is to experiment with different weights and find the one at which you race the fastest and recover equally well.

All of the numbers though mean NOTHING if you do not have the psyche to back it up. I could be at my "ideal" weight with ideal power numbers and ideal body composition, but if my mind, drive and motivation are not there, then it is meaningless. Those things out weigh any numbers from the scale....but that's just my two watts...

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Jewish Grandma

I think I have either Catholic or Jewish genes somewhere in my genome because I have a huge guilt complex especially when it comes to food and training.

If I eat a food I "should not" indulge in or skip a workout that I know I "should do," then I feel guilty. It does not stop there though. I continue to beat myself up sometimes for hours (maybe even days) after.

"Why the Hell did you eat that, Chris? Now you are going to get fat and slow..."

"You know, Chris. You should have really done that workout. Now you going to get fat and slow..."

Sound familiar? That little Jewish grandmother in my head has quite a critical eye.

I have to admit that my Bubbe is a pretty good inhibitor. Whenever I feel like I should reach for that doughnut in the teachers' lounge or that diet coke, my sweet little Bubbe will say "Now Christopher, you know what that will do your swim times. Oy!" So I remove my hand as if it had been slapped.

Honestly though, I do not like my Bubbe. I feel like food regardless of health should never make you feel guilty. Food is not inherently guilty or virtuous. It is we who assign these labels--labels that are completely subjective and arbitrary. As a side note, foods labeled as guilt free are already guilt free (ironically, it are these food that are labeled that we should be most careful of).

As we head into the Thanksgiving Holiday, I am trying to silence my Bubbe even though she is "family." If I eat something(s) that I know are not the greatest for me then that will be alright. I should not ruminate upon them but rather savor them. If I decide to refrain from eating something it will not be because my Bubbe told me not to or because of guilt but rather because it does not make me feel optimal. And on Thanksgiving, I want to be optimal since that feeling is something to be thankful for...but that's just my two watts.