Tag Archives: triathlon

Muscle Power

I hope all my fellow fathers had a great Father’s Day yesterday! I got to spend part of my Sunday with DD #2, who kept an eye on me while I took a pre-triathlon practice swim in Kent Lake. This Wednesday is the big day!

Open water swimming is different from the pool, all right. When my goggles fogged up I couldn’t see the buoys and wound up zigzagging all over the place. Fortunately I didn’t head butt one, or take out any kids.

Hey, this lake has no lines painted on the bottom!

Hey, this lake has no lines painted on the bottom!

Afterward, we celebrated with Bigalora pizza for dinner. If there’s a Bigalora in your area, find the time to try it. Their pizza is made in the Napoletana style, with a fermented dough (the “biga” part), wood-fired with a thin crispy crust. It’s not cracker-crunchy like I had in Italy, but it’s close. And there’s less sauce and cheese than the standard American pizza, but I think there’s more flavor in them, and the toppings are large enough that you can actually taste them.

Bigalora Pizza - Fathers Day

Saturday was Flag Day, an appropriate day for the Liberty Run, part of the Liberty Festival in Canton. This event became particularly famous in 2012, when a record was set for the most runners dressed as the Statue of Liberty. It’s amazing what can get into the Guinness Book, isn’t it. No such grand statement this year, but still a great turnout, and plenty of colorful costumes.

Liberty Run costumes 1-2

Liberty Run costume - 3

Posing with medal, mug for completing the "Uncle Sam Slam" (5K + 10K), and age group award glass. Ah, sweet swag - isn't that the American Dream?

Posing with medal, mug for completing the “Uncle Sam Slam” (5K + 10K), and age group award glass. Ah, sweet swag – isn’t that the American Dream?

There were two races offered that morning – a 5K and a 10K. You can guess what I chose. (Yep. Both.)

I ran a good strong time in the 5K, and then jogged the 10K, where I got a reminder that “run easy” does not mean “run stupid”. Early in the 10K I stopped to snap a photo, causing the runner behind me to run into me. All I can say is that I wasn’t thinking. From then on I made sure to pull over to the side to take a picture.

Also part of the Liberty Festival was a “muscle car” exhibit, consisting of hot rods dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. All of them were in amazing condition, showing the care and attention their owners have spent on them.

82 years old and still smokin' hot.

82 years old and still smokin’ hot.

Needs no introduction.

Needs no introduction.

At the time I wasn’t looking for an analogy, but I tripped over it anyway. Maybe we don’t have the time, money, or desire to restore and maintain a vintage muscle car, but we all ought to take a strong interest in keeping ourselves running smoothly for a long time. The formula for doing so is simple and straightforward; eat right and exercise regularly. And yet those who track such things say that over one-third of Americans are seriously overweight, which is known to lead to health problems. Why is proper care of oneself so hard for many people to do?

I’m not suggesting that people get off the couch and run an Ironman, like fellow blogger Mario Sanchez did at age 55, or become a two-a-day racing fool like me. But I am suggesting that people at least get off the couch.

I realize with many of my readers I’m preaching to the choir, but if not – what’s holding you back? Find something enjoyable that engages your muscles. Run, bike, climb rocks, swim, play a sport. Or just walk. Your body will thank you for it. And you can enjoy that Bigalora pizza without feeling guilty.

In the Swim? Not so much, yet


My swim class this morning, the first in an eight-week session, didn’t go quite as planned. One hour into the 90-minute workout, both my calves decided they’d had enough and starting cramping. Stretching failed to help, so I hauled myself out of the water, apologized, and headed to the showers.

I mentally ran through the available excuses – tired from Saturday’s run and bike ride, haven’t swum in years, form isn’t up to par yet – but it didn’t make me feel any better. That my body wasn’t at its best didn’t bother me, but rather that I’d quit in the middle of a workout. Both flesh and spirit were unwilling this time, as it were.

I felt better after watching this. (Click to see the video.)

I felt better after watching this. (Click to see the video.)

The nature of the class didn’t help. I don’t like being cold, and I really don’t like being wet and cold. Getting up before dawn on Sunday isn’t on my “A” list, either. So why did I get up before 6 a.m. to make a 7:00 swim class?

Apparently I needed a new challenge.

After years of being afraid I’d be sucked into the triathlon vortex, I succumbed and signed up for the Running Fit T-rex Tri Series – three summer “sprint” triathlons consisting of a half-mile swim, 20K on the bike, and 5K run. Swimming is the part I’ve trained for the least. But hey, I run ultramarathons and have no problems cycling 100 miles or more in a day. How hard could it be to swim a stupid half mile?

Resistance is futile. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Resistance is futile. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

The workout started with a 500 meter warmup (10 trips across the pool and back), followed by some 100 meter sprints and then 500 meters timed. It only took a couple of times across the pool to realize I was in trouble. I was too high in the water above the waist and pulling my head up too much at breathing time, so I was working much harder than I should have. Even so, I improved and was just getting into a smooth rhythm when my calves seized up. (In fairness,, my shoulder began acting up, too, so it was probably just as well I stopped early.)

As a point of reference, the triathlon swim is about 750 meters. But that’s all in open water, and I can currently do only about 100 meters before I have to stop and catch my breath. The solution is to do a lot more swimming. Oh, joy.

I get form tips at the triathlon clinic in February. (Swimming form tips - get your mind out of the gutter, please.)

I get form tips at the triathlon clinic in February. (Swimming form tips – get your mind out of the gutter, please.)

Fueling Around

My first long race of the year – the Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K – is just two weeks away, and I can hardly wait. Not only is it my first-ever spring ultra, it’s in Florida, where I hear the weather is actually above freezing.

What caused these mysterious tracks? Answer at the end of this post.

Winter riddle: What caused these mysterious tracks? Answer at the end of this post.

I’m currently running around 30 miles per week, Saturday’s group run being about half that, with shorter runs and speedwork mixed in. This is actually a bit light; many in our group are running 40-50 miles or more per week training for Boston. But with snow shoveling, Aikido, and my twice-weekly torture sessions added, I think I’m in good shape.

But physical fitness is just part of preparing for a race. There’s also how I plan to eat and drink before, during, and after – what the running world refers to as fueling. And boy, is there a science to it. Food becomes reduced to its constituent elements – protein, fats, and carbohydrates – presented as pills, powders, gels, and bars, while liquid intake is concerned with electrolyte balance and hydration. And, naturally, there are several wonderful companies that have exactly the right products for you to run your next race like Superman.

So good...and so good for you!

So good…and so good for you!

I got some insights at a recent nutrition clinic hosted by the Ann Arbor Triathlon Club. An ultramarathon, like a triathlon, is an endurance event, and the rules for getting the right stuff into your body at the right time are basically the same. So I signed up and drove through a snowstorm to learn all I could. I’ll save the gory details for another time, but here’s some highlights.

  • Don’t try to replace the calories you burn during a race, or even all the water you lose. The human body is designed to operate without food while running, and eating or drinking too much can make you sick. Look to replace no more than 240-280 calories per hour, and drink to your thirst.
  • Don’t overdo the sugar. Glucose is what the body uses for fuel, but the stomach can’t handle too much simple sugars at once. Complex carbs are much easier to handle, and tossing in a little protein helps even more.
  • The first hour after the race is a key time for recovery to begin, so don’t neglect replenishing food and water. I ignored this rule after last year’s 50-miler at Run Woodstock because, well, I wasn’t hungry, and paid the price with a period of nausea and light-headedness. (Salted potatoes and lemonade brought me round.)
Chicago Marathon recovery = cold beer and cold wet towel. Both felt really good!

Chicago Marathon recovery = cold beer and cold wet towel. Both were great!

Just as important as how much to eat and drink is finding out what you can and cannot comfortably consume. So I’ve been experimenting with different foods and amounts during my long training runs. One interesting finding: eating breakfast before the run doesn’t seem to make much difference, as long as I eat properly during it. My marathon nutrition book says a quick bite just before the start can help, and that seems to work okay for me too.

For my two road marathons I subsisted mainly on Gu gels and Gatorade, and by mile 20 I couldn’t stand the sight of either of them. For the trail ultras and long training runs, I’ve had more substantial food with no digestive issues. Bonk Breaker bars and Gu Chomps (not the gels) seem to work particularly well. At 15 degrees it’s challenging to gnaw my way through them, but I get there.

Next up: Florida in March…what will I wear to the race? The short answer is “prepare for anything” but I only have so much space in my luggage.

The culprit - the elusive recyclables bin!

The culprit – the elusive recyclables bin! Yep, the wind was that strong on Saturday.