Category Archives: training

The Tag-Along

I’ve dubbed myself the Tag-Along, and I am proud to say that I do a good job.

This week, Best Training Buddy (BTB) and I held it down with her training plan and I stuck to her side like glue for nearly all of her shenanigans (except the swims, of course. No thanks, not yet).  Track work? I was up and at ’em at 5am so I could be at the track on time to meet her. Easy ride? Heck yeah, and even sounds more fun than “cheesy ride.” Yesterday, we went out for a 4 hour interval bike-o-rama and a brick run, and although I am not training for anything related to triathlon, I thought it sounded fun and even encouraged her to pick a hilly route. It all sounds fun. Bring it on! Pile on the miles. Who wants to run 10miles at the track, anyway? Well, I DO!

Seriously.

I do.

OK, so what sounds fun about all this? To me, it’s fun to finally again be training with purpose. Right now, my purpose is to be the best training partner that BTB can have, and to build up my strengths. I know what you’re thinking; what’s the purpose when there’s no race on the schedule and no “end” in sight for me? While I really truly do not know what my next triathlon will be or when it will be, I know it will come, and when it does, I will be oh-so-ready. All my training friends have signed up for Ironman Couer d’Alene and I am throwing down as the IronSherpa (which is totally 100% ok with me!). And of course, I could sign up; I even think registration is still open! But I am not going to. I made a decision, and that decision was no. Plus, BTB is doing it, and its her first one, which I think would be super cool if I can tag along for the ride and be there to cheer and hoot and holler.

Is my purpose to be the best tag-along in the universe? Maybe. Of course, my purpose is to become a better athlete, and the way I get there is by finding people whom I can connect with and who I can train well with. I think that being a better athlete takes some serious tag-along-time, and also some serious build time. Being a better athlete takes some serious training relationships, and also some serious inner meditation. I have loads of time to do all of these things, and while it feels like I became a lesser athlete overnight, becoming a stronger athlete isn’t going to happen quite as fast.

So, on with it! Giddy up.

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What gives?

I feel like I have been punched in the face.

I’m not saying that because my face hurts. No, it’s just a metaphor. I didn’t actually get decked, at least as far as I am aware.

The fist came from the photographer friend of mine that was at Kansas 70.3, which I raced stealth-style a few weeks ago. I’m not going to share the photos out of embarrassment because my ego won’t let me show you. I didn’t tell you I was doing Kansas, you see, because I wasn’t sure I was going to be doing it. I signed up before Wildflower in hopes of garnering the Double Whammy- an ITU long course championship slot (WF), and a LasVegas World Champs slot (KS). Obviously, I didn’t get either of these. And thus, you see, I sort of, kind of, well… quit triathlon this year, in a weird roundabout way. After Wildflower, with my piss-poor performance and my frumpy figure transformation from a winter of haphazard training, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. Do I want to dedicate enough time to be good at this again, or do I want to just be complacent for the time being? Can I convince myself to give up at work for the day and go train, or will I perpetually leave work to go home and eat peanut butter from the jar?

It wasn’t a question of whether or not I could dedicate time to train. It was a matter of whether or not I would. See, there’s a big difference. And the peanut butter was quite delicious.

There comes a time, though, when you gotta ask yourself “What gives?”

How did I get to this point? How did I not notice that I had the same behavioral patterns as this guy:

Ok, maybe I wasn’t that extreme. 

But I did have a few scares, after adopting a new friend,

…that I might turn into this lady:

Oofta.

Now I am asking myself: What gives?

In an effort to get back down to “Normal Megan Fitness” level, I’ve made a few changes. This isn’t just weight-related, it’s mental-health related too. And it should be noted that although I did get in some really excellent training over the last six months (thanks to killer training plans from John Hirsch), it’s incredibly hard to realize the level of fitness I may have gained when I’m carrying around an extra 5-10lbs. And, to be completely fair, I am a terrible listener and I didn’t do everything John advised me to do in my build up to Wildflower. Anyway, my body literally changed in what seemed like overnight (although I know it was really more like four months’ worth of peanut-butter-for-dinner). And although I have been very hesitant to count calories and obsess about my weight (this is the first time I’ve kept track of calories since I was 20), I’m happy to say that I feel good about the changes I am implementing. I’m doing this the healthy way, and I am being flexible with the margin.

The changes include:

  • Counting calories using MyFitnessPal: With MFP, I can establish my own calorie limits, and it incorporates exercise as calorie “credits” to make sure I don’t under-eat. Since I don’t have a scale in my house, I am using measurements of my waist and thigh to track my progress. And, since I am having a hard time fitting into my jeans, that will be a good metric as well.
  • Drinking more water: I started making it a goal to drink at least two bottles of water (with Nuun) at work each day, and the new Nuun flavors really help make that happen. I consumed half a tube of Fruit punch in one day…

  • Embrace my new training friends: One thing I get mopey about is not having my Team Mega Tough gal, Margot, to train with on a regular basis. We’d always head out on the weekends for long runs, meet up on Wednesdays after work to run from the gym, and roll out on our road bikes (or trainers) for a few hours in the evenings. She was always Miss Reliable, and I would never say “no” to her, even if I was really looking forward to sleeping in past 7am on a Sunday. Perhaps partially to do with this, I haven’t taken full advantage of is the plethora of people here that I can train with. I think part of it is that I know I won’t be able to find a suitable substitute for her, which is not really the point. I don’t need to replace her, I just need to keep doin’ what I was doin’. So, for the last month or so, I have been trying to make more of an effort to get to the group events, including TrailNet rides (of which I am now a member) and some special St Louis Tri Club events. It was partly because of the St Louis Tri Club that I raced KS 70.3 knowing full well that I wasn’t going to come close to having the race I wanted to have, because they are an encouraging lot. The group literally had over 2 dozen members in Kansas cheering and racing and sherpa’ing, and it was an amazing experience that I’m so glad I didn’t miss. Within this group, I’ve met some people that can really push me to get better and faster, but more importantly, to have fun!

  • Running more: One thing that has drastically changed in my training this year compared to previous years is that I have been running much, much less. I was swimming more yards than I was running. It was weird, but it kind of makes sense for triathlon: since running is my strength, and I needed to work more on my weaknesses like swimming and biking. But, truth be told, running keeps me sane in a way that biking and swimming don’t. Running also makes me strong. Yesterday, I tried doing plank exercises and noticed that my core is a lot weaker than I’ve ever remembered. This may be because I don’t make time to weight train or do any core strengthening sessions, which was something I didn’t really need when I was running more (running just naturally does that for me). But truth be told, I simply missed running. So I am making it a goal to run more.
  • Getting back to the grid: I miss putting pieces the puzzle together, so I have spent the last month or so diving into a pile of endurance training books, in part thanks to discussions I had with Sonja at Wildflower. I got my exercise physio book back from up north, and I dug out my go-to references: Advanced Marathoning (Pfitzinger) and Jack Daniels (the coach, not the booze). As my training compiles over the next few months, I’ll reference back to my handy Excel spreadsheet that lays it all out. And I’m even printing it out now and posting copies of it at my desk and on my white board. Sorry greenies, the trees are goin’ down.
  • Doing what I know: Running is what I know, so naturally, not running made me feel lost and confused. Does that mean that I really quit triathlon? Hell no! I frickin’ love triathlon. It’s so fun, so versatile, and I really think I can be quite good at it if I focus and dedicate enough time. And even though I’ve only been doing triathlons for about 2 years, it’s definitely something I know, and something I can see myself learning even more about in the coming years.
  • Giving a little: I love my job. I think I come home every day and literally say “I frickin LOVE my job.” Granted, I say this to my cats, who don’t give two shits about whether or not I like my job or anything else for that matter. But there really is nothing better than feeling like you are carving out a niche- little by little- while expanding your intellect and absorbing information like a sponge and sharing that information with others. I feel like I am working on stuff that will really make an impact and it’s so rewarding to see how these things can translate into the clinic. Over the last six months, my job has been the major, #1, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho focus of my drive, my energy, my everything. I think that I really needed to do that, to get to the point where I feel comfortable with my projects, where I can now contribute and to connect. Now that I’m into the groove and I am more confident in what I am doing in the lab, I think I can give a little back to myself in the form of time. I can, and I will, make time to train now where I didn’t feel like I could before (even though I really did have the time, I just didn’t go out and embrace it; I would have rather watch movies on Netflix and relax than go for a run at 7pm). And it’s easier to eat right and train when there’s a 5pm-out-the-door policy or an early alarm clock going off. I now reward myself for training with Netflix instead of deciding between the two, and if I get my long run done in the morning, like I did today, I can watch 2 episodes of Glee. It just feels right, finally. It didn’t feel right before.

So where does this leave me? I am crossing my fingers that this isn’t just a wave of motivation that has come and will soon pass. I really want to get better, to be healthier, to be leaner and be faster. I want to focus on the fun, but also look toward the future and build my efforts toward my next race, and my next season. Who knows what races I’ll do in what’s left of 2011; the beautiful thing is that I don’t really have to decide. For now, I can just train and have fun for now, while getting strong and healthy, and will still see the light ahead of me that’s shining brighter every day.

Motivation

I am less than 9 weeks away from my first big race of the 2011 season. NINE weeks. That is not very long. To be technical about it, it’s only 60 days off. Eek. All sorts of thoughts are flooding my brain, and I’d rather not go too deep into them without wanting to crawl under my covers and stay there for the next two months.

Life has been busy, and I knew it would be. It’s not like grad school wasn’t busy, but being a post-doc in a new lab, getting up to speed with different projects and figuring things out, well- it takes its toll. And while I feel like every post I make as of late is a woe-is-me about how being an adult completely sucks (it doesn’t completely suck, by the way), that isn’t the topic of this post. Rather, my focus today is how I am trying to get through the slumps, no matter what they are, and finding that it is easier than it seems.

Slump #1: Sporadicity of weather and life (yes, I know I made that word up)

The craziness of life and the weather go hand in hand. How, you ask? Well, One day, its a gorgeous 65F and sunny, with a small breeze, and I am just itching to get outside. What will I do? Ride my bike? Go for a run? Why not both? No problem finding motivation to get outside on days like that. So I make sure I get what I need to get done before 5pm, I make sure I go to bed early so I can wake up and run or swim before work, and its all good. But when its 30F and sleeting, however… that’s a different story. Why should I get up early when I can just lay in bed a little longer? So I get to work a little later, and then I find that I don’t really want to wait at the bus stop in the pouring rain. Work late? I suggest to myself. Why not get all this work done *now* (at 8pm on a Monday evening) so that if the weather is nice later in the week, you won’t feel bad about leaving before sundown. Except, it doesn’t work like that. Just because I work late one day doesn’t mean I can just take off early later. No, you see, I have a really good habit of getting into a routine, no matter what it is. Which means, it could be good for my work productivity, or it could be good for my triathlon training. No matter what it is though (and its usually only one), once I get on a roll -say, doing histology for my projects –  well, its hard to get out of the groove. And that is not a terrible thing. Being determined is a strength, a great personality trait. But it can sometimes lead to bad lifestyle changes. Like, for example, skipping lunch because I want to get something done, but that something is going to take me 5-6 hrs to do, so I don’t actually eat lunch until 6pm (most others would call that dinner).  Anyway, these choices spiral a little out of control, and I sometimes lose sight of what I am actually trying to do. So, I have to take a step back to regain my focus.

One way I can encourage myself to make sure I find balance in work/life is by having things to look forward to. I joined a masters swim group, and I have made friends that I look forward to seeing each time I go. I bought a CycleOps JetFluid Pro trainer, and its so sleek and quiet and smooth that I want to ride my bike all the time, no matter what its like outside. With the new trainer, I have been doing some really fun indoor sessions, including some Sufferfest videos and some from my coach. I’ve also been tinkering with my bike fit, and I’m rocking a new Adamo saddle which makes me not want to get off my bike fifteen minutes after getting on. All in all, I am just really finding a connection with my bike, and I have my one-bedroom hardwood-floors and brand-new-bike trainer to thank for that.

Slump #2: MIA embarassment

I missed a week of Masters swim at the beginning of February because of my trip to Puerto Rico. That was two Saturdays (one of my favorite Masters days), one distance freestyle, and the other random don’t-think-just-swim-what-coach-says workouts that have been making me stronger and stronger in my weakest sport. Because of the vacation, I didn’t buy a month pass for Masters, which meant I didn’t feel obligated to go and get my money’s worth. As the month wore on, and I had eighteen years’ worth of work to catch up on (that is at least what it felt like once I returned from vacation), I found myself staying at work until late into the evening, going to bed later, and not finding the ignition to get up and get my butt off to swim at 430am. Then, I felt like it was too late. I haven’t swam in two whole weeks! I thought to myself. If I go now, everyone will wonder why I am so slow and why I have been skipping out. So instead of swallowing my pride, sucking it up, and just going back and proclaiming “I am a lazy piece, but I am back because I want to get better”- I just didn’t go. That was lame. So today, I bit it and threw down for a month pass, and since I am going to be on a tighter budget now, I really do have to get my money’s worth.

Slump #3: Wearing the big-girl pants

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of pressure at my new job. To be honest, my boss is amazingly cool, laid back, and seriously smart. But, I think part of the pressure comes from within. I don’t want him to be ashamed for hiring me, to think he made a bad decision. I don’t want to let him down, nor do I want to be a bad reflection of my former boss. I want to be the best at what I do, but – of course – I have the humility to know that I won’t always do a perfect job. The job I have reminds me a lot of endurance sports;  I have such a passion to fully submerse myself into the knowledge, the literature, the research. I want to absorb it all and push the limits and do something amazing. It’s been challenging to both find the time and find the mental partitioning to do that with training, too. But I think that training has always been an integral part of my success as a researcher. It helps me find my center, it keeps me from spiraling out of control down a path. It keeps my brain focused and requires me to allocate time to specific tasks instead of going off on tangents for hours on end down a dead end. And I think I’m finding that groove, the style of structuring my day so that I can do my research and still relieve stress and find strength in endurance training.

So, here’s to getting out of the winter slump, no matter what it is (raises glass of milk).

What slumps have you been dealing with lately?

To be or not to be (coached): Is that the question?

I’ve been chatting with some friends recently, on twitter and in person, about the pros and cons of hiring a coach. For years I’ve been on my own, and I’ve been really psyched about it. I have a fairly solid background in developing and executing the right kind of training, or so at least I think. I also have a graduate degree in exercise science, and my education in physiology (and general interest in the matter) seems to help. Plus, my background in collegiate running has given me an exceptional gift: I was part of the building and assembly of training plans, I learned how to properly prepare for peaks, how to taper right, and how to execute a focused season (or not). And I did this twice a year, for four years in a row. It was like a religion. This, and my history of training marathons over the last few years, has really helped me to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what is just a waste of time. Even still, the question continues to linger about whether or not a coach would help make life a little easier (and me a little faster).

Here’s where I’m coming from:

Collegiate running: I was on a team that was coached by two different coaches (not at the same time, of course) who had completely different theories about running. My first collegiate coach, who I had during my freshman and sophomore seasons, was a Yooper with a strategy to get his athletes fast. Trouble was, sometimes his strategy backfired, resulting in burnouts and out-of-phase peaks. I remember the day I peaked during my sophomore cross-country season. It’s like it was yesterday… out there on Lahti Road doing 800m hill repeats. I was the fastest on the day, and I even grabbed the Lahti Road record! But it was training, and the rest of my season was shit. And we were still two weeks out from the conference meet. Needless to say, I learned that peaking during a late season training session, not at an “A” race, is not that awesome.

My second coach, who came along after our first coach resigned, was more educated in endurance physiology, and he was a fan of Jack Daniels (the PhD, not the whiskey). His training philosophy brought me to a 5K PR, made me a stronger and more efficient runner, and taught me the benefits of going long even if the race was relatively short. He encouraged his athletes to read, to educate themselves on the running and training philosophies, so we could better understand where his 2-a-days and 3.5hr runs were coming from. Terms like “LT” and “VO2Max” made sense long after I took classes on the subject, because who really pays attention in exercise physiology at an engineering school anyway?

Anyway, once I graduated and moved on, I wanted to continue racing (after a brief break sabbatical, that is). From what I had learned from my former (2nd) coach’s training strategies, I developed my own training plans. Each week looked something like this:

  • One long day (Sunday)
  • One threshold day (usually Thursday)
  • 2-3 recovery days (Wed/Fri)
  • a race, max-effort, or general intensity day (Tues or Saturday)

I also used two-a-days, both to get me in shape fast and to boost my aerobic fitness (LT), and before I knew it I was deep into training for my first marathon. I trained through the winter in Montana, but I did it all indoors. I’d hit the treadmill 6 days a week, somedays twice, running anywhere between 30minutes easy to 22miles while watching America’s Next Top Model. Sundays were my long runs, Mondays were almost always full recovery (off), Tuesdays and Thursdays would be a nice hour run in the morning with harder stuff in the afternoon. Wednesday and Fridays were recovery days, and Saturdays were either easy or longer intervals. That was my week, every week, from December to March, treadmill mashing and iPod tuning. Until, of course, I ran 26.2 miles for the first time outside in Napa Valley, California. And I was very satisfied with my finish of 3:22.

From there, it was all in some direction over a hill towards who knows what. I move back to Michigan and got back to training with some of my former teammates. I trained mostly outdoors from then on, but I kept my training schedule roughly the same. I squeezed in a few more marathons while working my butt off at school, and eventually got into a good rhythm. And with that rhythm came more challenges, including my introduction to triathlon. Instead of running every day, I swapped out biking and swimming. The key run workouts (the long run, the track intervals) would stay, but biking would take the place of the recovery and easy days. Swimming- well, that was something I forced myself to do once or twice a week instead of a recovery run or bike. And it rarely was fun (ok, endless relays were pretty fun).

With the planning of my first Ironman distance triathlon, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing key running workouts, so my first training plan as a triathlete actually used a marathon-specific run plan. I based my training on a book by Pete Pfitzinger, which may not have helped my Ironman run but actually helped my post-IM marathon five weeks later (where I ran a marathon PR of 3:19). Anyway, I was a little more knowledgeable after season #1 of triathlon, thanks to trial-and-error, not to mention just having experience under my belt, and my second season in triathlon was more successful. I was more diligent about my training plan; I kept an electronic spreadsheet so I could update it and kept track of weekly training hours. I watched my season progress, and the ups and downs of my weekly hours fluctuate somewhat sinusoidally (thanks to my planned training cycles).

This season, though, I had more doubts about my training than ever. I was racing better, but I was also having a more difficult time planning my training. I know how to handle one sport, but how could I deal with three and still try to do well? I had a hard time answering questions like: When should I do my long runs and rides? When am I supposed to do my hard swim workouts? Do I swim hard on the same day as a hard track workout? Or do I swim hard on my run/bike off day? Or do I bike hard on my run recovery day? These were questions that I couldn’t answer yes or no to unless I just did it, but I was afraid and hesitant that I would make the wrong decision and make my season go south real fast. I also had problems with accountability. One poor decision that I made on my own was my post-A-race recovery; or lack thereof. I basically didn’t do anything for two weeks after Rev3 Full, and the three weeks leading up to my fall marathon were full of sitting around eating candy, drinking bourbon, processing words, and being stressed out. In hindsight, active recovery may have been more beneficial than the “recovery” I was doing- which was more or less just being sedentary.

I don’t even have enough fingers to count the number of times I questioned getting a coach. I asked friends who had coaches, and we talked about their relationships. I talked to friends that didn’t have coaches, and we discussed the pros and cons of hiring someone to tell me what I thought I already knew. I talked to friends that were coaches, and got some great, rewarding feedback there, too.  I feel like I am in a tricky situation, because I know enough about training to know what might be a good idea or a bad idea, and this makes it really difficult to wrap my head around the possibility of having a coach who could have different views and opinions about things than me.

There’s also something so rewarding in designing your own plan, laying down the tracks that can bring you to having a great performance. Knowing that I was able to race fast this season, on my own, by doing the work that I put in- the work that I developed- well, anyway, this idea tends to linger in my mind. Over the past several months, whenever I would consider getting a coach, I’d ask myself: Would a coach help, or would a coach tell me something I didn’t want to hear? And not to mention, can I even afford it?

Now, I understand that not everyone can design their own training plan, let alone stick to it. I definitely didn’t stick to mine like I probably should have. There are weeks in my training plan that are sparsely sprinkled with completed workouts. This season, the only accountability I had was myself, and that was better sometimes than others. But regardless, having a coach is not essential to the triathlete. There, I said it. Now all my friends who are coaches are going to stop talking to me.

But they shouldn’t, because there really does come a point when having a coach is beneficial. For example, beginners rarely know where to even begin, let alone figure out how they are going to fit in training in their already-busy schedule known as The Real World. Because, let’s be honest, who can hire a coach if you don’t have a job?

And even for the “experienced” athlete- there comes a point when someone who thinks they know everything (points at myself) might need some insight. There comes a point when ya gotta say: “OK, do I want to get faster with the help of someone else, or am I OK with rolling the dice?” I sat down and thought about it, I thought really hard. And seriously. I considered all aspects. How much will a coach cost, and how much can I afford? What will they offer me that I don’t already have at my fingertips, including a boyfriend that bikes, a kickass group of cycling buddies, and a running partner that runs the shit out of everything (ok, maybe that’s not what I meant)?

Most importantly, though, and this is the real deal: If I hire a coach, am I confident that I can put aside what I know think I know and trust what this other person tells me as true? Can I say: “Oh, I feel like I should be running for 5 hours if I want to do well in a HIM” and they tell me- “No, you’re flippin’ cheesefried nuts.” That’s the biggest step: getting over what you think you know. Of course, if we look hard enough, we can usually find what we’re looking for. It’s like those people that go to the doctor to get the diagnosis that they want to hear. Sure, some would call them hypochondriacs, but if the fifteenth doctor they see tells them they have a rare disease that no one else has ever heard of and will get them special attention, than its the fifteenth doctor they are going to trust.

Ok, maybe finding the right coach is not really that extreme. But hopefully, you get my point. It’s not just “hearing what you want to hear”, though. It’s also hearing what is right to you. Finding the right coach is finding the right pairing of personalities; it’s finding the person that you can relate with, and the person that is willing to work with you. And when you know, chances are you will really know. And hopefully for your wallet’s sake, that person isn’t Dave Scott at $600/month. Of course, I say that, because I am a measly grad student making $20K a year. I am sure there are triathletes out there that eat $600 for breakfast.

Greater than 14,000 meters

I love the track. I love the controlled environment, the splits, the mindless repetition. I love the feel of smooth surface beneath my feet, the quickness of my cadence, the level ground. I love the bold white finish line and counting down the turns. I am in my element out there.

But for some reason, this season, I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve gone out there a few times, like when 5×600 repeats were on my schedule, but when it came to doing anything longer, I resorted to the trails. Maybe it was because my standby training partner is in her element on the trails. I’m easily convinced to change, especially if it means I have someone to chase after. And its not like change is a bad thing. Running on trails is lower impact and more neurologically challenging than running in circles over and over.

But this week, I knew I needed to find my interval nirvana. And I had a craving for something big, something that would take a lot of determination to get through. I modified my training plan from 5x600s to 10km worth of repeats. Add in the rest intervals, and my total distance racked up to over 14,000meters. 14,300 to be exact. While not the most epic or difficult set of repeats known to (wo)man, it was the biggest set I’ve done all season. And I was reveling in it.

I invited a few friends, and we met at a newly redesigned high school track. Up here, where the tracks get plowed by snow removal trucks starting in March, there is no such thing as a rubberized track. Just a smooth, crackless, even asphalt oval. And I think its absolutely beautiful.

We settled into our 10K paces for the first part of the main set, 5x800s. I was a little fast on the first two, but pulled back on the reins to avoid disaster later. We caught up with each other on the rest interval between (easy jog 400) before taking off as soon as we crossed the start line again. The 800s flew by. I almost wished I had made the workout 10x everything… maybe next time.

The 400s made my mind focus, but I couldn’t keep track of how many we’d done. Run a 400, jog a 200, run a 400, jog a 200, and it took me a while to grasp that odds were on the start line, evens were starting at the 200m mark. But I was focusing in my form, how my feet felt when they hit the ground. Where my knees were, where my hands were. I was focusing on my breathing, and I was focusing on holding back. Don’t chase the boys, I thought, just run your paces.

Louisa spectating after her long run

Regrouping was the best part. The guys would walk until I caught up, and we’d jog until the start line, and then we’d funnel into a line as we took off. It didn’t need guiding, everyone knew what we needed to be doing.

I’d finish the same distance behind the boys each time, comfortable with my pace and trying hard not to kick it in on the windless home stretch. The back stretch was windy, though, and I started sticking with Jesse on the first turn to be protected from the wind.

The 200s breezed by. Run a 200, jog a 100. Less rest, and unintentionally faster paced. I upped the anty, worrying less about my 10K time and focusing more on my ability to stay in control of my form, fast on my feet, and light. My legs wanted to burn it up, but I held back until the last five.

Two and a half hrs and two bottles of Kola/BananaNuun, and I was headed home. That was faster than I thought it would be. I was expecting 3 hours, pain, crying, maybe puking, definitely whining. I heard none of that. I didn’t dole out any of it. It was a piece of cake (ok, maybe not exactly), and my legs weren’t even trashed afterward. I was actually itching for more.

I didn’t do more, of course. I simply went home and made a protein shake. Seven more days of quality. Intensity. Recovery.  Then it’s time to taper for Rev3 Cedar Point.

Endurance athletes are weird

I like to drink pickle juice. Electrolytes... helllloooo!

Upper Peninsula Beer Mile champion of the Universe

Team Mega Tough's van for Ragnar Great River 2009

Steps and a mohawk, ironman steez

ice baths = fun times for endurance athletes

Who's idea was this?

I am having a hard time dealing with the idea that students are back in town. Orientation starts this week. Freshmen are moving into the dorms. Undergrads are partying outside their houses with their music blaring and their drunk friends are squealing until the wee hours of the night, waking up their neighbors (…that would be me). Yeaaah, college!!!

I guess I’ve been there, done that. I think my time in grad school has made me even less tolerant of such behavior, and now I just want people to leave my Keweenaw in peace. Alas, I cannot be granted such wishes, so instead I resort to working so hard that regardless of how loud they party, I’m gonna sleep through it.

Last season, I learned how to train for an Ironman. I knew I could survive it, but my training pushed me to race smart and methodical. This season, I have learned how to train independently. Or I guess, am still learning. I’ve done my first solo century, I’ve traveled to every tri I’ve raced this season alone, and I’m becoming pretty good friends with myself. Maybe this has something to do with my anti-social behavior in regards to the kiddies returning to Tech? I’ll drag out a training partner every once in a while (ok, maybe more often than that), but I think my Long-Course Psyche is building up strong. If nothing else, I’m learning to be more prepared (eg. no one is out there at mile 50 when I bonk, so I better have enough food to keep me going).

I’m making choices now that I never thought I’d make before. And I’m not talking about what kind of chamois cream to smear or what flavor EFS to put in my bottle. I am talking about my lifestyle choices, where I would rather go to bed early to get up and ride my bike than stay up late and drink beer. Not that I don’t do that from time to time, either. I guess another thing I’ve learned in the whole process of becoming an endurance athlete is balance. Recovery. Recovering my body, as well as my mind. And I know one great way of recovering my mind: spending time outdoors in the Keweenaw.

. Wash, rinse, and repeat.”]Luckily, I’m learning that diligence pays off too, at least I hope it will. I’ve been working on my swim with a friend who rocks, and she pushes me to get the workout in instead of sandbagging it because I’m bored. Turns out, having someone else there in the pool makes the swim less boring (dare I say, even fun?!).

And I’m having less of a difficult time getting on the trainer now that I’ve found the show Dexter. Whoever said television rots your brain never experienced an easy recovery ride on the Mag.

And last but not least, I’m starting to enjoy the weekend work days all by my lonesome. Who’s idea was this?

I asked myself that question when I turned right in Lake Linden and headed up the Florida Hill at mile 103 on my long ride yesterday. Four miles to Laurium, four miles of hill. But in all honesty, that hill was easier than the previous twenty miles I spent battling the cross winds off Lake Superior from Gay to Trap Rock Valley. And it was calming, having the entire five foot shoulder to myself, hopping onto M203 and just cruising home. Sure, I had a headwind on the downhill where I should have been hitting 45mph. Sure, I wanted to call Babebraham when I got to McLain. But not because I wanted to get a ride 9 miles from home, but because I’d been out for 8hours and I thought he might be worried.

So who’s idea was this? I know I can’t take credit for the scenery, but I can take responsibility for my choices. And I am really grateful I’ve made this choice.

Lake Superior looks like a cloud from the top of a hill on 5 Mile Point Road

The Big Lake

Perfect roads + little traffic = awesome

Eagle Harbor from my room with a view

My life is like whoa

It’s gonna be a busy week. I will get you some really juicy reads soon, but first, here’s my excuse(s)  for being the opposite of a good blogger.

On my agenda:

  • Get a manuscript to my advisor
  • Cryofreeze and slice tissue for the eight millionth time
  • Histo the shiz out of some more slides
  • Decalcify some bones
  • Drive 11 hours for a wedding
  • Be in my awesome friend’s wedding
  • Make sure that the shirts get here in time for the race I don’t need to worry about this at all, because Core Concepts is supa-awesome!
  • Race packet stuffing
  • Set up a race course that is 70 miles long
  • Make sure athletes get their race packets
  • Attend another wedding
  • Direct a half-iron distance triathlon on Sunday

Good thing its only a medium week for my training… although I’m not sure when I’ll have time for a 120 mile ride between hauling tables, food, and race gear 45miles north of here in about seven separate trips and putting on the inaugural Koop. I’m thinking that packet stuffing might include some sort of assembly trainer ride.

A few words from a former data-junkie

Hello, my name is Megan, and I am a recovering data junkie.

I’ve been clean now for nearly three weeks. My GPS watch has been stowed away in my suitcase since my trip to Florida, and I took the PowerTap SL+ out of my online shopping cart. My heart rate monitor is buried under eight boxes of latex tubes and hydration belts in the bike&run gear. I haven’t opened the 2010_training_log.xls file in at least fourteen days, three hours, and twenty-six minutes. And I am ok with that.

You see, I’ve been a little down and out. I have been feeling slow. Sluggish. Unfit. Whenever I head out for hill repeats, I feel like I left my legs at the bottom. I felt like I was pulling 8s when my minutes per mile were really 9’s. Every time I’d look at the instantaneous pace screen on my Garmin, I wanted to cry. Why was I going so slow and felt like it was so hard?  My energy has been low and, well, I’ve just not been having that much fun. So I unintentionally forgot my Garmin on a run. and then I forgot it again. I just ran by feel. I ran with friends. I asked them to slow down. They complied. I ran an LT with Baberaham and fell off the back. Instead of pouting, I just ran in the rest of the three miles nice-and-easy.

And then I had a race: the Hancock Canal Run. 10miles of slightly rolling hills along the lakeshore. Do I wear the Garmin, or do I leave it behind? I wasn’t sure how fast I could do the ten miles. My previous best time was 1:10:14, and I ran that the first year I did the race (in 2007). I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of even coming close to that.  I didn’t even want to try. I didn’t want to be disappointed, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. Not with the way I’ve been performing in my training. So I left the watch uncharged. Blank. Dead. And I brought along my new Timex watch.

No instantaneous pace. No beeps every mile. I just hit the lap button when I crossed the mile markers, and would hear the beeps of other peoples’ watches as I passed them. Steady, steady, mile after mile, my pace stayed the same, and it was ahead of the pace I needed to match in order to PR.

Don’t worry about that, I told myself. Run by feel.

Does this feel comfortable? I’d ask myself. Yes? Yes! Ok, well, stay steady.

Steady, steady, 6:50 after 6:50. I held the pace through mile 5. Mile 6. Mile 7. Mile 8. I stopped looking at the watch in the last two miles, running by feel and listening to my body. Does it hurt? Ok, now is the time to make it start hurting.

I crossed the line in 1:09:14. Nearly a minute faster than my previous best. Faster than previous years where I was doing focused run training.

Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. I don’t think I am nearly as data-junktified as a lot of other triathletes. But I am learning about the pleasure, and the benefit, of disconnecting. I don’t have a coach, so I don’t need to send anyone my power data. I don’t train with my heart rate monitor because, well, I don’t listen to it anyway. I am excited for the return to the rudimentary lap watch of the 20th century.

Don’t get me wrong, the GPS watch will come out for my long runs and hilly adventures. I like knowing how far I’m going before I need to turn around. Plus, it’s always nice to plot the map afterwards!

P.S.- I also don’t have a blackberry, an iPhone, or any sort of smart accessory. and I don’t really want one. I saw this article posted last Thursday on the competitor site regarding triathlete specific iPhone apps. Really? ROFLCOPTER. Not. that. connected.

What you can learn from a graduate student blogger

Last semester, Dr Michelle Oyen came to visit Michigan Tech to host a seminar and have some collabo-time with our laboratory. I follow her on Twitter (@MichelleOyen), and although I follow a LOT of people on Twitter, I often find her tweet-feed to catch up on what she has to say.

You see, Michelle is pretty dang smart. She knows her stuff, and she’s the expert when it comes to what she does (nanoindentation). She’s also a young scientist, ex-Pat, and currently living (the dream?) teaching and doing research at Cambridge. Along with her comparative insight on British education versus American education, and her active contributions to iMechanica, she often shares some information (academia-related) with which I strongly relate.

Last month, she shared a blog post written by Drew Conway at Zero Intelligence Agents, entitled Ten Reasons Why Grad Students Should Blog. This post really hit home with me, and even though the majority of my blog entries have marginally anything to do with my actual graduate school work, it puts the blogosphere of a graduate student into a brighter light.

This post really got me thinking: what are we (you. me.) doing out here in blogger-land? I struggle with the concept of a blog’s role in self-promotion, but at the same time I feel a strong need to share what I am going through (as an athlete and a graduate student) in order to help others that might be experiencing similar things. Suffice to say, there are few people out there that run marathons and get their PhD in engineering (or are there?), but there are small stories of learning, struggling, and triumphs along the way. But who really cares? Who am I to tell you what I think is important, or what is cool, or what is totally necessary in order to be a successful person in life?

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, readers, but I am not that person. I am not going to tell you exactly what you need to know about life, its struggles and its heartbreaks, and give you play-by-play ways of getting through it. But I’ve learned from other bloggers, readers, friends, and family what I can share that might be helpful if only the tiniest bit.

Maybe you readers out there aren’t grad students. That’s ok. Maybe you could give a hoot about what I did at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference or where I published my last peer-reviewed paper. That’s ok, too. And, really- maybe you don’t want to hear about how my experiment with human recombinant collagen type I immunofluorescence went. I get it!

But maybe, just maybe, one of the readers out there stumbles onto this blog, a reader that is a graduate student, and is going through the same demoralizing, throne-throwing, bucked-off-the-high-horse-every-day tribulations that I am. Perhaps you could provide insight to help me get through my frustrations with circular referencing in Excel, or motivate to set the alarm clock for 1am just one-last-time.

Or maybe you are an undergraduate considering going to graduate school, and you want the MTV True Life story of “I Want to be a Graduate Student.” Hopefully by reading my blog, you’ll come to realize that grad-school life isn’t always work, work, work. That the life of a graduate student ebbs and flows; there are busy times and there are calm times. There are times when you want to scream F.M.L. from the top of the MEEM, and there are times when you are so bored because you have nothing to do that you (mistakingly) ask your advisor if he/she needs any help with anything. [Learn from my mistakes, kids; don’t pull that last one.]

Could it be that you used to be a graduate student? That you remember what its like to go to graduate school but you want to live vicariously throw me one more time? You wonder if things have changed much since you’ve been living the dream. You are curious if professors still require students to call them Doctor So-and-So and if coffee is still the beverage of choice. Are grad students still working ridiculously large hours with ridiculous small pay? [The answer is yes, at least for most of these questions most of the time].

Chances are good that some of you never were graduate students. And you’ve never wanted to be graduate students. You went to college (or maybe you didn’t), but you got a job instead of spending more time, money, and heartbreak on the turbulent sea of advanced education. Maybe you read my blog because I am a runner, not because I am a student. Maybe you wish I would just s.t.f.u. about grad school sometimes, because really, how hard can it be? Someone pays you (usually) to go to school? Seriously? Um, you’ve gotta be kidding. Why don’t you just get a real job and start contributing to society?

OK, hopefully you don’t think that. But if you do, who am I to change your mind? Well, here’s where the self-promotion and self-worth part of being a blogger come in (and collide, if indeed you are a graduate student like me). I want everyone to believe that I make all the right decisions all the time: that I am training perfectly for my upcoming FullRev in Cedar Point, that I am writing flawless manuscripts with excellent data and impeccable statistics, and that I am mentoring the incoming graduate students with the utmost patience and virtue that any advisor would be proud of. Truth is, I am not awesome all the time. I know this. You should know this. One of the biggest and most worthwhile attributes of a graduate student is their own self-loathing.

Hmm… maybe not that extreme. Maybe its more like: One of the most valuable assets of a good graduate student is their ability to admit they are wrong. To tackle the task at hand independently. To not be afraid to make a mistake. As any good graduate student (or any rational person?) will tell you, mistakes are where you learn what you need to know. If you try to do everything perfect every time, you end up failing in a big way. At least that is what I tell myself when I get a paper rejected or an experiment fails.

So what can you learn from this graduate student blogger?

I hope you can take away that I use my blog to reflect, to learn from what I’ve done, and to embrace what goes well. There are a lot of bloggers than only blog about things that go well. That’s awesome. I wish I wasn’t a Negative Nancy as much as I am. But I am what I like to call a “pessimistic optimist”. I sometimes think that things are going to go poorly but in the back of my head (of course) hope that they go well; that way, if it fails, then I don’t look like an idiot, but if it goes well, then I am extra excited. Most of the time, though, I like to shoot for goals that are tangible, rational, doable. But on the edge of what is possible. I like to set the bar higher than I can reach at that time, but make steps in the right direction in order to reach it.

Just like training for a marathon, graduate school requires a lot of diligence, perseverance, and self-realization. You aren’t going to get anywhere with the wrong attitude. Most likely, you’re going to have some pretty awesome highs and some really frustrating lows. But you got to just keep picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and strolling onward.