What Not To Say

Trainers are supposed to make you stronger.  Faster.  More powerful. They're not supposed to bring you down.  There's plenty of other ways and other people who can do that.  I'm not paying them though.  With that in mind, I'm annoyed with my own strength trainer today.  We've trained together for years now and I suppose we have that kind of relationship where perhaps she feels like she can say anything and it'll be OK.

Well, three weeks before an Ironman and it's NOT OK to tell me you don't think I'm cut out for running and that after the race I should stop for a few years.  I don't need to hear that right now!  Yes, I'm sure it's obvious to her that my skeletal structure is placing added stress on my hips.  Perhaps that is why I consistently have tightness in my hip flexors.  But so many other people do too.  That means nothing.  And the last time I checked, my trainer isn't a doctor so she can't say for sure.

Of course, my trainer isn't the first person to tell me it's somewhat of a miracle I can run at all.  My ART therapist told me the same thing earlier this year.  But my ART therapist nurtures me back to health, asks me questions about how I'm feeling, and leaves it at that.  He hasn't made any sweeping statements that would tug at my self-confidence in the dark hours of an Ironman.

Fortunately, I've learned a thing or two about mental training for an Ironman.  I feel very fortunate to have interviewed the top pros in the sport to learn how to prepare mentally for a race and deal with the pain and suffering that an Ironman brings.  Chrissie Wellington taught me how she creates a mental bubble for herself, only allowing in positive energy and comments while shutting out negativity. Today, after my strength workout, I created that bubble for myself.

I just thought I'd never need to use it because of what someone in my inner circle of supposed supporters said to me.

Being a good trainer has as much to do with how you communicate with your client as the kind of routine prescribed.  I've stuck with this person for years, through injuries likely caused from over-exertion, over-use of heavy weights, and over-use of a muscle group.  Still, I've been loyal.  But something as simple as a simple comment made me re-think the relationship today.  I have one more strength training session left at my work gym.

It may well be my last.

I know I have limitations.  I just don't need the people trying to build me up to inadvertently tear me down with a careless statement.

For now, I will do what I do best, use this as fuel.  You don't think I can run?  GOOD.  Then when I crack a 4:20:00 at IM CDA we'll talk some more. I know that's not a record-breaking time, but it would be a PR by a long shot for me and I think I'm just ready to do it.

Maybe this is the best thing that could have happened to me. Because now I'm mad.

And you wouldn't like me very much when I'm angry.

25 days and counting.

PS: Sorry for not writing last night.  I was wrapping up my column with Chris McCormack for Lava Magazine Online. It should be running tomorrow.  Stay tuned for it!

Humble Pie

Boy, was I cocky today. I had one of those "strength/yoga" one-hour sessions on the calendar so I figured I'd saunter into the gym at lunch and knock it out.  Then, I noticed there was a "body-sculpting" workout during the same time frame.  "Why not?" I thought.  I'll just go easy for 30 minutes and not work out too hard.

Plus, how hard could it be?  After all, a few co-workers of mine who are in decidedly less good shape participate in the class and seem to do just fine.

With that, I walked into of my biggest training traps yet.

Once I got the step-up board and two sets of two planks, followed by 15, 8 and 5-pound weights, class was ready to begin.  But not before my colleague, Johnny, wandered over in my direction to warn me that I should "get the light weights" because this class is tough and I should take it easy for my first time in here.

Seriously?  Did you just say that to me?  The guy looks and talks like the character Nigel from The Replacements -- that Keanu Reeves football flick featuring among other quirky characters that tall, lanky Welsh field goal kicker.  Seriously, you're telling me to take it easy?

Now it's on!

And then class started.

Kyla, a bouncy blond whom the term "California Girl" was invented for, kicked things off with a series of squats with weights and using the step-up board.  Three hard-sets with plyometric exercises and weights.  No problem, I though.  A strong opening salvo, but I've been through much worse.

Then, we got into a series of balancing poses with weights on the step-up board, followed by intervals with "burpies", mountain climbers, push-ups and back to the balance-board.  We were 10 minutes in and I was sweating.

By the 15-minute mark, I was gazing at the clock the way Butler looked tonight against UCONN in the second half.  "Is this over with yet?  I didn't sign up for this crap!"

The next 15 minutes whirled by so fast I can't even remember the exercises because they happened so fast. There was lots of bending, holding, pulsing, squatting, jumping, balancing, and more lifting.  I started with the 15-pound weights, dropped to the 8-pound weights, and ultimately finished with the 5's.

We took a water break at the 30-minute mark.  This class was just warming up, but it was time for me to go and change for a work meeting.  I was drenched in sweat, and in desperate need of a shower.  I tried to look nonchalant about cleaning up my gear, but I couldn't wait to get out of the class. Kyla cheerfully said goodbye and thanks for coming on my way out.  I wonder if she was thinking, "Chump!" as I left.

I sure felt like one.  I had underestimated the class and pretty much disrespected everybody in it when I got into the room, and felt exactly the opposite when I left.  One form of fitness doesn't necessarily translate to the other.  And I'm pretty sure I pulled something in my lower back trying to keep up and not look like a sissy.  Except at one point I was being out-lifted by the girl next to me, though she was ripped to be fair!

Lesson learned.  Humble pie eaten.

I can't wait to go back to that class though.  I love a good challenge!

78 days and counting.

An Extra 10%

This morning, once again, I completed a back-to-back workout.  First, I spun easy for about 35 minutes (instead of 45) and then bolted to the pool to cram in another session of 10 x 100s, descending 100s for time and a 500 at T-pace (1:43/100).  I felt much better than Tuesday, when I was still recovering from the Pacific Half Marathon. Lately, I'm noticing I'm cutting roughly 10 minutes short of each scheduled workout. It's mainly because I'm busy and need the extra time to get ready and head to my next destination.  However, in my own subtle way, I think it's my small mini-rebellion against the heavily regimented nature of Ironman training.  Be here.  Do this exercise at this intensity for this amount of time.  Rest on this day.  Do this, don't do that.  Eat this, don't eat that.

It gets old after a while.

So perhaps this is my way of playing hooky while still getting credit for doing the homework.  Is that an oxymoron?

Whatever it is, I'm totally cool with it.  I'm getting the main thrust of the workout done and trying to do my best to keep my body and spirits fresh heading into the stretch run.  My hope is that the extra time off here and there will help me on IM CDA race day.  Maybe that extra 10% of extra overall energy can be the difference between being fresh and over-trained.  Doubtful, but I'm thinking in those terms at the moment.

Then again, on days like today, I didn't do much resting with that extra 10%.  Instead, I FINALLY got a strength training session in with Shannan.  Yoga and lifting have been the main casualties in this especially busy phase.  I'm hopeful in the coming weeks and months that I'll build back up on the strength and stretching to stay strong but limber.  Right now, I'm tight and tired!

I'm very much looking forward to my off-day tomorrow, that's for sure.  And it starts tonight, with Lakers tickets!  It's my first Lakers game of the season, and it couldn't come at a better time -- the biggest game of the season.  We've got to hold off Dallas for second place in the Western Conference.  I cannot wait.

Waking up early to get both main workouts done before work was entirely worth it.

Will try to upload images tomorrow morning before heading to work.  Go Lakers!

82 days and counting.

Where Have I Been?

OK, I'm back from San Francisco, where the weather mostly cooperated and offered some beautiful views.  I went MIA for a couple days at the conference, but I managed to train a bit nonetheless.  I ran on the treadmill at the hotel gym on Wednesday, and yesterday I did some weights training even though I had no workout clothes.

Let me explain.  I looked like that creepy muscle head guy from the 80s, with ripped jeans and a "wife beater" tank top lifting weights.  Except without looking like a muscle head, since, let's face it I'm "lean" to put it affectionately.  A woman came in to workout out on her own and did a double-take.  I was so embarrassed that I explained it was either look like the Un-incredible Hulk or not get my strength training session in. C'mon, what would you do?

Overall, I've been able to balance conference attendance and training pretty well. I even fit in a late afternoon brick yesterday, heading straight to the park after the airport.  It's where I snapped this fun little pic as the sun was setting.

I'm not working out as much as I did at this time last year, but I'm also not tapering for the LA Marathon, nor am I competing at the Desert Tri this weekend in Palm Desert. Most of my team is though.  It's definitely difficult knowing the first triathlon of the season is happening this weekend and I'm not there to partake in the fun.  I was so concerned about getting sick or over-exerting myself.  But, I'm healthy, well-rested...and not at the event.  Hard to say whether I could have competed or if my health is the result of actually balancing my schedule effectively.  My approach is at least helping me focus on the larger goal of Wildflower and IM CDA.

Today, I'm home relaxing, mostly with Steph. She's at a brunch now, which means I'll sneak out to grab a swim.  Honestly, it's really nice to have a relaxing Saturday morning not on the bike or on the run -- literally.

How's your training going, my friendly readers?  How are your race seasons shaping up?  Did the off-season work out well for you?  Any regrets?  Feeling good heading into the new season?  Tell me! I want to know.

Back to the blogging tomorrow.

108 days and counting.

Balancing the Balancing Act

After completing his second Ironman 40-plus minutes faster than his first, my buddy Rusty told me he actually did so by training less.  He didn't push himself quite as hard, tapered longer, and when he simply didn't feel like training, he didn't.  All while self-coaching himself. I thought all this sounded like sacrilege at the time.  But I was a few weeks out from Ironman Arizona, mired in the depths of my final build push.  Train less?  Skip a workout because I didn't feel like it?  No way!

Now, in the beginning stages of the first real build phase in my Ironman Coeur d'Alene training, I'm beginning to see more what he meant.  For starters, I find that I slide around workouts on my Training Peaks schedule the way I move letters around my Words with Friends screen on my iPhone (btw, I'm ironmadman if you're obsessed with the game like me!).  If a workout isn't convenient for me or if I'm just not feeling it for some reason, I move the workout to another day.  I did that tonight with a scheduled strength training session.  I hadn't been home from work and working out before 8 p.m. in several days.  That had to change.  I wanted to sit on the couch and be a bum for 15 minutes watching the Lakers game.

So I did.

I think listening to your body and mind and actually acting on what they're telling you is one of the hardest parts of triathlon training.  It's so easy to get caught up in completing every workout on the schedule.  But sometimes it's just not practical.  It's what you do in those moments that may ultimately define your performance on race day.  I suppose the real balancing act is knowing when it's OK to ease off and when pushing through will lead to a performance increase.

Perhaps that's what coaches are for.

118 days and counting.

Officially Recovered

It didn't occur to me until late this afternoon that I had run three days in a row, each without pain.  Nearly six miles with several climbs on Friday, three miles yesterday following a long pain-free bike ride and today, nearly eight miles of trail running in just shy of 1.5 hours. Yeah, I'd say that marks a recovery or if nothing else, a significant improvement.

Duration: Two months exactly.  About one month longer than I ever expected.  But better late than never!

Now, what contributed to this recovery?  I think it's a number of things that all blended together:

-- Accepting the need for recovery: This was definitely the most difficult part of the process.  I thought I could just leap back from my Ironman after a few weeks and start workout out again for the next event.  Not even close.  Once I realized that, my real recovery began.

-- Listening to my body: I had twinges in my hips, knees and IT bands I wasn't used to, and instead of ignoring the pain I did something about it.  I pulled back on races, consulted my coach, personal trainer and ultimately, my ART therapist.  There's a time to ignore pain (perhaps in a race) and a time to acknowledge it (training, post-race).  I'm very grateful I chose the latter route.

-- Taking time to recover: Once I accepted that I needed a recovery, I decided to let the process run its course.  I'm inpatient, so this step was especially difficult.  But it's necessary because rushing through an injury will likely just make matters worse.

-- Extensive stretching: Instead of workout out, I stretched.  And when I wasn't stretching, I was trying to schedule a yoga class.  While it's nowhere near as fun (for me) as cycling out on the open road, I've felt the differences from stretching and foam rolling more often.  Combined with the ART therapy (below), my body has felt fresher lately.  In addition to stretching though, I got back on a strength training regimen that has helped my muscles replenish themselves.  I've been careful to primarily rely on body weight, cables or light weights and met with my trainer to ensure that all exercises helped alleviate my leg problems, not contribute further to them.

-- Active Release Technique therapy: ART therapy has made a huge difference, in my opinion.  I was skeptical at first but am now a believer.  My hips have experienced the biggest benefits so far from the gripping manipulation techniques, and my IT bands are no longer tight like they were in the weeks immediately following Ironman Arizona.

-- Overhauling my running form: I've used the past few weeks to try and ditch my heel-striking ways once and for all.  The process has been long and slow, and at time frustrating. I'm slower than usual.  My calves have been sore, but the end-result should be more pain-free running and ultimately I should be faster by leaning forward and relying more on forefoot striking.  The key for me has been not to get frustrated, or be intimidated by any upcoming races.  My light racing calendar this year is helping me emotionally accept being slower and the moment and being more diligent about learning to run again.

-- Re-emphasis on nutrition: The holidays added weight to my frame, but not the good kind. More like the chocolate kind.   There's probably more of a connection between my lack of recovery and poor nutrition than I'd care to admit.  But once the New Year rolled around, I took a balanced and healthy diet more seriously.  Do I think nutrition was the primary factor in helping me repair myself?  No.  But I do believe in the "body in, body out" mantra, and it's no coincidence that my recovery took a sharp turn for the better in January compared to December.

Will my recovery last?  Can I finally put Ironman Arizona in the rear-view mirror once and for all?  Time will tell.

But I'm finally ready to focus on on improvement, not recovery.  If you are recovering as well, I hope this primer helps you!

149 days and counting.

Hips and a New Workout Regimen

Before jumping into what amounted to a fairly important two days in my training and tri-writing career, I wanted to share my second "Mind Games" column for Lava Magazine online.  I'm pretty proud of this one, and hope it somehow helps you in your training if you've ever gone through or are going through some tough times right now. If you haven't already, check it out and let me know what ya think or if you've found other methods have helped you overcome disappointment. OK, now to our regularly scheduled blog post.  Apologies for not writing last night -- Steph and I had a wedding-related class and got home late.

So here below is an unedited IM chat my physical trainer, Shannan, shared with me that she had with a grad school professor of hers.  He’s a Ph.D. in biomechanics and doctor of physical therapy.  This conversation occurred after I described to Shannan my ART therapist's analysis of my hip area problems, which were initially diagnosed as psoas-related, then we moved to the hip flexor, and now we've been looking at the gluteus medius.  This of course relates to all the post IM Arizona problems I've been having.

Shannan thought the problem may be something else.  And she's been right about me before.  Shannan's the one who attributed my early IT band troubles in my running career to flat feet and advised I get fitted with orthotics.  I did, and my IT band problems went away. So, Shannan has accurately predicted things in the past.

Here's the IM chat:

Shannan: Hey- I have a case study for you, 90% sure it’s  trochanteric bursitis or G. medius tendonitis; abnormal hip pathology is primary symptom.

Male; mid-30’s; fine-boned; ironman finisher; significant pronator (wears bilateral orthotics); confirmed leg-length discrepancy; palpable abnormality at the greater trochanter.  His ART guy thinks it’s an overactive G.med but unless he strained it there’s no way…I can visually see a mass and I can feel the difference.

Doctor: History of back injury? Lower back problems, glute insufficiencies?  What are his running habits (trail, road, treadmill)?

Shannan: He has spondy, little scoliosis, glutes are pretty insufficient but no L4-S1 acute injuries that I know about; in other words nothing that would prevent building them up.  He does a lot of trail running…

Doctor: I would do a Trendelenburg test to check out his abductor reflexes.

Shannan: Yeah, I’m thinking it’s an abductor weakness (not overworked as the ART therapist suggested), but I stopped the abductor exercises because I don’t want to provoke the inflammation??

Doctor: Right, usually an ultrasound is needed to determine exact etiology; however, bursitis will not cause pain upon resisted abduction, but G. medius will hurt like a mo fo (well, mo fo point tenderness pain).  Keep off the abductor exercises until pain goes away a bit, but you’re correct in diagnosing the abd weakness.  Build up his glutes, too.

Shannan: What about stretching?  Deep tiss massage?

Doctor: Massage is good to deliver blood flow; stretch all he wants, but it’s not going to help if it’s articular.  I suggest he gets those orthotics checked; at the rate he trains he may need a new set every 6 months.  Also, until the condition improves I do not recommend trail running because the uneven surface does not help- both conditions are caused by some type of asymmetry, and trail running is contradictory.  I understand the training demands, but he should run on flat surfaces.  ART is fine, never hurts.  What’s his size?

Shannan: He’s 5’7” and probably around 137-140 this week.  Fine-boned

Doctor: He’ll have a double hip replacement at this rate…

Aside from being mildly annoyed with being called "fine-boned" (what am I, a herring?), the last sentence obviously got my attention.  It's what occupied a good portion of discussion today in my personal training session with Shannan.  Fortunately, she doesn't think I'm on track for such a dreadful fate.  It was the doctor being off-the-cuff and dramatic, in her words.

Instead, after doing some mobility drills and balance tests where I stood on one-leg and resisted pressure using my legs to push outward, Shannan thinks the problem is tendinitis or bursitis in the hip joint that connects the femur.  That would explain the puffiness as it's likely fluid build-up.  The solution, in her opinion, is getting an ultrasound at my MD office and then a shot to reduce the inflammation.

That sounds a LOT better than replacing two bad hips!

To combat the problem, Shannan produced the following workout regimen.  I'll be doing this twice a week for the next few weeks and will let you know how it goes.

153 days and counting.

PS: I have contacted Newton about reviewing a pair of shoes for the blog based on your passionate feedback about how much good they've done some of you. So far, Newton has been amazingly responsive and open.  I'm embarking upon this experiment against the wishes of my coach and ART therapist.  But that's where the potential lies for a great story.  I'm thinking of it as the Newton Challenge.  If they're good for me, they're good for anyone.  Newton's up for the challenge and I'm up for the risk.  I'll use the shoes exactly as intended in the ramp-up period and share what I find at the end.  I'll drop a few snippets here on the blog to give you an idea on how it's going.

Visualizing the Problem

About 1 p.m. today I just couldn't stand being at home doing nothing.  Well, next to nothing, as I had just (finally) completed the single-player campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops.  I stared around the house, thought of the next game I should play (Red Dead Redemption or Mass Effect 2), and promptly decided it was time to brave the rain and knock my workouts off the schedule. Today's regimen called for a 45 minute light run on a soft surface along with an hour strength training session.  Because of the issues I've been having, Coach Gerardo has re-arranged my training schedule to be lighter and to focus more on recovery than pre-marathon build-up.  I think it's a wise choice, probably what I should have done all along.  Especially after my strength training session with Shannon illuminated what seems to be the real problem.  I decided to see Shannon today instead of working out on my own, primarily to ensure I was correct on form and wouldn't further aggravate any niggling injuries.  I brought my iPhone so we could take photos of some of the exercises, and to see if we could spot problems worth pointing out to my ART therapist and Gerardo.

Boy, did we find them.

As you can see, it's clear that my right leg bows outward while the knee cap over-rotates inward.  Further, you can also see in the following images that my right hip is not firing in alignment with my left hip.  My left side is generally stronger than my right, perhaps because the left leg is a full inch longer.

I think the next step is to re-examine my exercises, the weights involved, my training in general and customize a plan to allow me to regain some semblance of better alignment before I resume full-blown Ironman training. I'll admit that I'm a little scared about whether my body can handle the ultra-distance aspect of this sport.  Clearly, IMAZ and the training that led up to it took quite a toll -- far beyond what I expected.  These problems seem to be serious and I don't want to risk long-term damage to my body for short-term glory.  Then again, I don't think we did enough strength training last year or even yoga, so perhaps this is the logical effect of too much cardio and not enough strengthening.  Shannon even indicated she thought my legs looked thinner and that I've lost a lot of balance and strength since we were training together regularly more than a year ago.  Though we laughed about it during some of the exercises, it's still disheartening to hear yet I know she's right.  I can sense it for myself.  I'm not really using weights on some chest exercises, for example, opting for the lightest resistance bands and still having a hard time maintaining balance.

As I've mentioned this week, I'm doing my best to keep my head up and stay strong mentally.  I'm training myself to accept that I have a new challenge -- regaining health, strength and mobility -- and that my real goal needs to remain Ironman Coeur d'Alene. That means the LA Half Marathon, Surf City, Wildflower Long Course, and whatever else comes my way between now and June 26, 2011 are gravy.  One race matters this year, and I need to focus on being physically and mentally prepared for it.

Now that I can visualize the problem, I need to visualize a new journey while redefining what "success" may be.

It's tough to swallow at the moment, but if I've learned one thing from all this training and introspection it's that hurdles or setbacks make the accomplishment sweeter.

Who knows, maybe Ironman Coeur d'Alene will be even more meaningful to me than Ironman Arizona?

For now, I'll just focus on trying to get better and recovered, one day at a time.

183 days and counting.

Just Another Day

Some days, just describing the activity is enough. This is one of those days.

6 a.m.: Swim with Fortius.  Timed 100 dropped to 1:27 on a dare from Coach Gerardo.  Nice breakthrough!  But it also came at the mid-point of the workout instead of at the end.  Still, I'll take it!

8 a.m.: Weight training (legs and core)

9 a.m.: Podiatrist to pick up orthotic inserts.  I've been running on my flat feet for the past week and a half.  My feet and and IT bands have paid the price.  It's a welcome relief to have arches again.

10 a.m.- 6:30 p.m.: Work, which was explosive today.  I can say that almost literally since I work for a videogames developer.

7 p.m.: After driving from Burbank back to Sherman Oaks, Steph and I met up and headed to the Hollywood Bowl to see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the LA Philharmonic performing Gershwin and Bernstein classics.  The pianist stole the show, though I could watch for hours Dudamel mesmerize the orchestra and the audience.  Total command and control with grace, charm and confidence.

11:10 p.m. Returned home after fighting Bowl traffic.  Writing blog. Eyes drooping. Body sagging.  Bed calling.

11:11 p.m.  Good night.  Let's do it again tomorrow.

109 days and counting.

Work-Life Balance

Today is one of those moments where I'm so glad I have work-life balance.  When the two intersect and blend harmoniously, life is so much better.  Of course, I only know this to be true after years of emphasizing (OK, over-emphasizing) the "work" part of the equation.  It's only taken me close to 15 years in the workforce before I found a better balance.  Along with one heck of a company that I've called home for 6.5 years now. I was responsible for helping manage a big news announcement from our company this morning.  Normally, this would mean putting my life on hold (possibly for up to a week in advance) to plan and obsess over every detail myself, along with executing and following up.  Fortunately, I have a great group of teammates and have finally taken to heart that my job is no longer to "do" as much as it is to help plan, manage and motivate.  (That's a hard lesson to learn for a competitive guy like me.)  As a result, I was still able to squeeze two quality workouts in -- one before work at 6 a.m. in the pool, and another at 6 p.m. in the gym with the weights.  In between, my team and I worked hard to stay on top of the news cycle.

The pool workout was pretty grueling.  We had a series of sprints between 50 and 100 yards to establish our T-pace for the workout.  Then, we added a few seconds to it and tried to hit a specific time with little rest over the duration of the sets.  It pretty much rocked me.  At the end of the day, I blasted through five sets of three different exercises, with two sets of 15 reps for each.  I was pretty spent after the lifting and about 10-15 minutes of abs work.

In the end, as I sit here with my head spinning after an exciting and exhausting day, I'm thrilled about how everything turned out.  The announcement was a big success, with a potentially delicate situation that I believe we turned into a positive with our fans and the press.  But I'm just as elated about being able to fit in my training without feeling stressed out about either my work or athletic performance.  Neither suffered.  If I can continue to maintain this kind of mental and physical balance over the long haul, I think it can only enhance my overall quality of life.

Which is good, considering Stephanie insists on me living as long as she plans to!

I'm trying, honey.  I'm trying!

176 days and counting.