Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The alarm goes off at 5 am, but usually I am awake well before that time. I don't know if its anticipation for the workout ahead or just gets to be a cycle that isn't broken until these early morning swim workouts stop.

The swims are in the lake near my house, a short 10 minutes or less drive in the early morning hours. The traffic lights are still on the blink cycle when we head to the park, the sun is not yet up, but the sky is beginning to lighten, giving the promise of another day.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and most Fridays a group meets for a swim, and some of us run after. We arrive just before sunup, some slipping into wetsuits, others go without. There is a faster first group and then me, one of the slowest, in a second group. But this year I have Don to swim with me, and not training for anything himself, he has no personal agenda requiring him to stay with the fast guys and gals. My problem isn't that I'm slow, although I am slower than most, its my inability to see in the not quite light. Added to that the size of the lake. The closest place to site to is over 1/2 mile away, and while some of the houses have night lights on that give you something to focus on, by the time the sun is fully up, about 10 minutes into the swim, these lights go out.

The park itself is quite beautiful, the lake a rather large, inland lake, with a public access boat launch, with most of the rest of the lake inhabited by some of the more wealthy citizens in the area, living in homes like these, like the $7.5 million mansion below. Oh yeah, its for real, and maybe you heard about Dr. Stokes who owned the house? Suffice it to say, he's now living off the State of Michigan in a penitentiary somewhere nearby.

This one's for sale, and quite cheap too: $270,000.

Years ago, back when my mom was a kid, Reeds Lake was known for this on the water amusement park-beach area, similar to Coney Island, called Ramona Park back then:

(Photos from historical society pages.) The park, which provided fun and recreation for families for decades, closed down sometime in the 1950s.
The park has been rennovated in recent years, and now has some lovely paths, landscaping, and lots of mature trees. Its the venue of the local triathlon held in September, and many other races in the area throughout the year take place right near here , with some going around the lake, which is about 4.2 miles around.

The benches you see at the end of this path is where we meet. The reasons we swim so early are two-fold: (1) most of us have to get to work and (2) the lake is a "no wake" zone until 7 am, meaning no boats with motors allowed to wake up lake residents I would imagine. That gives us a window of time of about 50 minutes before the boats start lining up to hit the water. Occasionally some do enter the water early, and its astonishing how vulnerable I feel out in the middle of the lake when I hear a motor somewhere nearby.

Another thing about this lake is that there is no public swimming, yet a group of triathletes started this early morning group swim about 3 years ago, and so far no one has said anything to us, although I'm waiting for the day the local cops show up and kick us out for good or write us up.

And, while we start out in the semi-light of the day, by the time we finish it more often than not looks like this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010


I know I mentioned a few months ago the PACE program (Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion) and how I had been experimenting with using this to get in better shape and attempt to burn off the excess pounds that had turned to fat after the IM. A short description of the program means lots of interval training that progressively gets harder and faster. The end result of this is to gain increased strength without even lifting weights, improving body composition by burning fat rather than hanging on to fat through hours and hours of aerobic exercise, and last but not least building lung capacity.

It has been proven that by the time you're 50, you've lost 40% of your breathing capacity. As you age, cells in your lungs start to die off faster than you replace them – causing your lungs to shrink. That's bad news for your strength, stamina and disease-fighting power. Researching this theory and the PACE program has led me to some different ideas of what's healthy in exercise and what is not. From my own perspective, I found out that hours and hours and endless hours of "aerobic" exercise really left me not as healthy or as strong as I was before I took on all these endurance events. What I noticed most was the loss of lung power. It was so obvious. I was finding myself getting slower and slower on my runs, not able to maintain a fast pace on the bike, and while I could swim endlessly--at an aerobic pace of course--I was unable to kick it up a notch or two or three like I attempted to do during masters swim classes. That was almost a total waste of time, since I got no faster in the 3 months of twice a week workouts than I was before I started, and only left me totally frustrated.

Its always easier blaming these problems on getting older, but I found out it was much more. While I was getting older, my body--especially my lungs--were aging faster and faster with the type of exercise that has been recommended for decades now as being the best thing for you. For me, it wasn't.

I realize and understand the importance and need for endurance training--if you are going to be doing endurance events. Otherwise? A complete waste of time, at least according to the new way of thinking about exercise.

I had had a clue about the high intensity interval training as long as 4 years ago, but until I actually backed off on the long endurance stuff for a while and worked at improving my cardiovascular system by practing the PACE method, I did not see the true benefits.

Now, after 3 months, all my workouts have become so much easier. I am not out of breath on group open water swims, nor was I during my recent triathlon; I am finally able to pump harder on the bike to the point where my race pace was over 16 mph, much, much faster than anytime in the past 4 years; and while I am still working on developing a faster run, my mile pace has dropped and I am actually able to sprint at the end of the workouts without the lung bursting fatigue I suffered just 4 months ago. And I believe I have better immunity as well, after being sick on and off all winter with respiratory ailments. My stamina has also improved.

So I believe there is something to not only increasing but maintaining lung power as you age. You have to believe it when you see the athletes who stay fast and competitive within their age groups even into their 50s and 60s and beyond. I don't believe they could stay on top with lungs that were losing power as they aged.

I guess what I'm saying is while endurance events are obviously here to stay which necessitate training for endurance as well, it certainly can be beneficial if you could spend a month or two rebuilding your lung power and then maintaining it with a once a week fast workout or race. I have to wonder how much better we might all do adding in some serious interval work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


All it took was one little sprint tri to get me motivated again. I truly had forgotten how much fun these sprint races can be. Not only fun but they can provide you with a serious workout without having to spend your entire day doing them--a serious workout but where you can still get right back to normal living afterwards.

Saturday it was the Double Time Triathlon, an inaugural event. For some reason, I was totally mistaken as to the format of the race, thinking it was a double triathlon. I have done those before so I didn't think anything of it. Instead, according to others, the “double time” only meant you were supposed to go fast. When I found this out, I wondered if I should be there. I used to be a lot faster, but with all the things that have gotten in my way the last 4 or 5 years, fast went out of my vocabulary and my body.

For the past few months, I have been working on doing faster workouts, but still I have been hesitant to sign up for anything, afraid I would not meet my expectations. This would be my test.

Because I learned I would only be doing a sprint tri and not a nearly full Olympic distance tri, my game plan changed—in a hurry—since I didn’t find out until I was waiting for my swim heat to start it was only a sprint. In truth, I was relieved. The weather was questionable, with the possibility of thunder storms, and it was already hot and muggy, but thankfully heavily overcast. If I only had to do this once, great!

The swim was only 400 yards, so there was no way I would put on a wetsuit for this distance in this temperature, but I had also wondered why so many others had them on. One woman even had swim booties on! The water wasn’t that cold, maybe 70-72, which is mild for Michigan at this time of year considering we had almost a week with nights in the 40s and a lot of heavy rain a couple of times as well. My second thought was: are these people really going to put their wetsuits on for the second loop? Once I realized there was only one loop, I could see why they would wear a wetsuit. I still didn't mind not having one.

The field was small, about 250, and being a sprint that included every type of person and every type of bike you can imagine. We’ve all done them, so you know what I mean. And typically, with these sprint races, the transition was chaotic, and I found it nearly impossible to find a spot for my bike on any rack. Eventually I had to crowd in. Since I wasn't control of when we arrived at the race, I had no control over this as well.

The women were in the 3rd heat, and soon we were entering the water. I hadn’t been in fully to get used to the temperature so used the pre-swim time to test the goggles and get over that initial “take my breath away” feeling. Then, the starting horn went off. I was near the front and hoped no one was going to run me over, but it went fairly smooth almost immediately—for the first 30 seconds anyway. Then, someone grabbled onto my leg, I gave a swift kick, and off came the chip. Dang! Just focus and swim. Nothing you can do now, I told myself.

I noticed I had no panic on this swim. It wasn’t horribly crowded anyway, but that never mattered in the past. If anyone was swimming next to me or even near me, it threw me off completely. Instead, I stayed calm and focused. Even when I pretty much got wedged between a breaststroker and someone doggie paddling, but doing the frog kick. So I had legs on both sides of me kicking and elbows a little too close to my face until I finally managed to pull ahead. After that, it was just trying to keep as straight of a line as possible to the first buoy and then head to the second, and then in. Once I was heading for shore, I was pretty much by myself until all of a sudden some guy—obviously in a relay—came along side of me, and as big and wide open as that swimming area was, he managed to smack me so hard on my hand I felt like I had punched someone with my knuckles. That brought my head out of the water and I yelled at him to get away from me. He apologized but didn’t seem too quick to move away. I did break free from him and then it was smooth sailing to the finish. Without the chip, I have no splits but my watch time said swim time with running through to transition was about 9:23. Okay, not bad, just okay. I did tell the timers when I went over the first mat that I had lost my chip and gave them my number.

I was a little deflated here because I wondered if it would even matter what I did or whether my race would even count without my chip. I decided not to take on a defeatist attitude and just continued to try to do my best.

Transitions are always a time where I am seriously lacking in the ability to hurry. I feel like I am going 100 mph but my transitions are generally in the 3-5 minute range, and that was the same this time. I left transition with my bike and got to the timing mats—again telling them I lost my chip—in 12:55, so about 3.5 minutes. What do I do that takes so long? I like to be organized, but I truly don’t know, but this time my holdup was just not having enough room to move around in. And the humidity, making it impossible to get the feet dry enough to get socks on properly. Oh well. Off I go.

About the same time I was leaving transition, 3 young boys were heading out as well. They should have been in the heat before me, and while they didn’t look like triathletes, there was no way I was going to let them get ahead of me if I could help it. So I cranked it up and passed them like they were standing still. Now if I could only do that to someone who mattered!

The course was described as mostly flat and fast. Let’s hope was all I could think. I was surprised to see my competitiveness start kicking in and my average pace increasing, much faster than I figured it might. By doing this, I was able to pass some people at least, and not just other women. I was a little annoyed at myself that so many women had beat me on the swim, but it could easily have been caused from my slow transition. By the time I reached the first of only 2 “hills” my average speed had reached 17.2 mph. Whoa! For me that is fast. But it felt easy enough. Now if I could just hold on. There wasn’t anyone that close behind me, and I could see I was approaching another woman ahead, so I kept cranking as hard as I possibly could deciding this race was going to be all about the bike for me.

The only other hill was at about 9 miles. It wasn’t much but I underestimated it and found myself getting caught off guard and slowing down considerably. By now, my average speed, while having slowed some, was still considerably faster than I have gone in a long time. But suddenly, another woman passes me, and I find I am unable to respond. I’m cranking as hard as possible yet seeming to stand still. This was in a patch where the pavement was extremely rough, and my tires were not gliding along like they had before. I kept close to her but darn it if she didn’t get a burst of speed every time I got close enough to consider passing. And then I slightly underestimated the finish line. I was thinking as we turned into the side street that that was the finish line, when in fact we still had more than a mile to go. Yikes! I was unclipped and everything.

The other woman was just ahead but the pavement was smooth and flat so I put on a couple of gears and put my head down and cranked until I passed her.

Back at transition, I again told them I lost my chip. I don’t remember what my time was here, maybe about 52 minutes, but I really don’t remember. It was quite a ways to the bike racks from the street where we dismounted, and down a steep hill so again, I’m not sure what my time was in transition, but I’m sure it was slow as usual.

I had packed everything in plastic bags in case it rained so that slowed me some, but the worst was when I discovered my shoes were tied! In double knots! Drat, I totally forgot about putting different laces in and didn't even notice they were still tied from the last time I wore them. Had I just untied them I might have saved at least 30 seconds! Totally out of practice here!

The run out started where the swim in was, so we ran across grass for quite a ways until we got to the street. I was finding it extremely difficult to breathe or catch my breath, having side stiches on both sides, both from the humidity and my hard effort on the bike. So I just slowly, and I mean slowly, jogged for a couple of minutes then picked up the pace for a couple of minutes, then slowed, then fast until I got over this. I never fully got over that but had to keep pushing on.

The whole race took place at a mobile home lake community so the swim was in the lake and the run wound through the park, through people’s yards, back onto pavement, trails, fields, and grass. A true cross country experience. I was doing fairly well with time until I again underestimated what the mileage was until the finish area, not really knowing for sure how long the run was, but also thinking you never know if it’s a true 5k, 3 miles, or something else. Once we reached the grass where the run out started, I assumed, wrongly, that that would be the last sprint to the finish. So I sprinted, pushing myself way out of my comfort zone, only to find out as I neared the bike in chutes that this was not the finish, as it turned out, it was a true 5k, and that we had another mile or so to go! That about killed me so I found myself walking here again to get my breath. That’s when I saw Don watching the race and wandering around, and he said he’d just see me at the finish. Which he completely missed becaused he thought the run was 4 miles.

Once I got my breath, I also discovered my momentum was starting to lag. After pushing myself as hard as I did on the bike and on that stupidly calculated sprint, I was tired! But I have learned a new trick I can do (this may not be your thing so don’t necessarily try it in a race), and that is to sprint hard for 30 seconds, then walk 30. I can keep this up for a mile or two, and I can almost keep the same pace as if I were just running a moderately slow pace, the difference being I keep motivated instead of giving in to fatigue. It keeps me focused too. So I figured it couldn’t hurt my time much. I had already killed it on that sprint, so the thing now was to just hold on to the finish. The last mile was by far the most challenging, as it included an uphill part on trails, then a run through a muddy field, onto another muddy gravel road, to another muddy field, then through that field, before heading back to the gravel road and back to the paved trail to the finish, which also was on grass. On my last sprint to the finish, I wondered again if any of this would count. As I found out, when I entered the finish chute I told them I had lost my chip, gave them my number, and they said they were waiting for me! Yes, I would actually have an actual time. No splits, but what can you do.

Fast forward to awards, and I took 3rd in my AG, actually beating someone. Finish time: 1:34:xx.

I still have some work to do, both on my transitions and getting better control on the run so I can continue to push the pace but hold on longer, even after pushing the pace on the bike.

I firmly believe these shorter sprint workouts are what keeps people fast, and that it is definitely the longer races that slow you down. But I also know that’s how those things work, and if you want to be fast, you have to do more of the shorter races. If you want to go for the glory, there are plenty of long races that fit that category.

Now I can’t wait to do another one!

Monday, June 14, 2010

It suddenly occurred to me (after all these years?) last weekend when we went on a bike outing with a group from my club. Not knowing what to expect, but mainly expecting to be bringing up the rear as usual, I told Don he at least might have some more challenging people to ride with. While there were a few faster people, the majority ended up being leisure or recreational riders; in fact, only half of the attendees even had helmets! So for once, I was not bringing up the rear but managed to ride just slightly behind the lead group. My odometer said 24.4 miles, and it was a challenging as well as beautiful course that took us through a few small suburbs of the Grand Rapids area, an area I have never ridden in, out in dairy farm country, then along the Thornapple River, through a swan sancuary, a beautiful bike path along the river, and even along a highway. And no helmets for these people. Not too smart! But we had a great time after at a cookout and had use of the host's lake, which included swimming and boating.
Afterward, talking with some of the leisure people, it soon occurred to me that this was a whole new concept to them; most had never ridden that far and none did it on a regular basis. Just the idea of regular biking was so foreign to them, one woman even said "well I won't have to do any spinning for a month now!" And she's in good shape otherwise.
When I said, "oh we do this every weekend," people were impressed, but at least they didn't say we were crazy. It occurred to me then that this is what I do on weekends. I don't go to garage sales, camping, flea markets, or the other things people do or don't do on weekends. I do triathlons or running races. This is how I pick most of my friends; this is where most of my social life (other than family) revolves around. My kids and other family members finally realize this. I have been doing this stuff for over 20 years. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that this is who I am. Yet, until just recently, I didn't fully think this way myself.
Yes, I admitted I did triathlons. Yes, I admitted I ran some races. But I never fully admitted that this is my hobby as well as a part of my life.
My fairly new daughter-in-law has had a difficult time understanding this. Last year, while they prepared for their wedding, and while I trained for my IM at the same time (they were a week apart), every weekend I had to spend training long hours. So many weekends she wanted me to do things for/with her and I was not available. Even after the race was over, and I was on vacation, the great part of vacations for me was being able to run/bike/swim every day, or as much as I wanted. When she heard this, she said "but you were on vacation. You were supposed to be relaxing." But I was relaxing, was what I tried to convey to her. She still doesn't get it fully, but she is starting to realize this is what I do; this is who I am.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


After nearly 4 months of doing almost nothing at workon a daily basis, suddenly things are picking up. A trial in the fall is starting its prep work, and while I am glad to get the work, it once again means missing lunches and workouts because things come up at the last minute and you can only juggle so much in a day. So its either back to those early (5:30 am) workouts or taking a chance on missing out on one altogether.

I had hoped to catch up on the last 2 weeks, but it has been a hectic last 2 weeks at work, and while technically I haven't missed too many planned workouts, I have replaced those missed by sprinting up the steps when I need to go to another floor or hitting the track or spin bike for short high intensity workouts.

Despite the craptacular weather we've had (rain, rain, tornadoes, flooding, washing out of trails and roads), I have managed to get at least 3 or 4 quality rides in outside but not much in the way of swimming. My shoulder has been acting up again, and while swimming itself isn't the problem, arm placement is, and of course the extension of my arm during the stroke only aggravates the scapula actually.

So tomorrow hopefully I can still do wordless Wednesday, and hopefully at some point this week I'll catch up on my workouts and other parts of my daily life. In the meantime, I must finish gulping my lunch or forego another one.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010