Friday, June 29, 2012

Wear Sunscreen!

It was about the size of a pencil eraser, and about the same color pink.  At first I thought it was a little blemish.  I always thought pimples were for teenagers…unfortunately that is completely untrue.  At 29 I was still getting them occasionally, and I assumed this was one.  It was right on my upper cheek, beneath my eye but close enough to my nose to be considered in the t-zone.  Tried to treat it, but it wouldn’t heal.  Hmmm.  I was probably messing with it too much.  Weeks went by.  I tried to leave it alone, but that dang thing just wouldn’t go away.  Before my beloved Grandma passed away last year, we used to talk weekly on the phone.  I happened to mention the little blemish to her and she immediately said something which I still consider some of the best advice I have ever received…”if you have anything on your body that won’t heal, get it checked out right away.”  I was about to turn 30, and hadn’t had a physical since it was required for high school sports (oh yeah, badminton state champs, 1992!).  I also hadn’t been to the doctor for anything since my kids were born.  I was busy.  I was young.  I was healthy.  But something about turning 30 was nagging at me…I really should make an appointment.  Make sure everything is okay, be responsible and such.  But in the back of my mind I still had a teenage feeling of being indestructible.  Nothing could possibly be wrong, so with a certain amount of naivete, and to please my Grandma, I made an appointment with my GP.  Everything was fine…a bit of high cholesterol, but the ratios were good so no problem there.  A little low on iron, too, but nothing a good iron pill couldn’t fix.  The next appointment was for the dermatologist.  Went in, armed with my family history of ailments and personal history of laying outside under the summer sun at 15, with nothing but baby oil on my skin and a spray bottle of water to keep me cool.  My friends at I used to lay out and try to get sunburned.  Both so it would fade into a nice tan, and to keep our skin clear (how little did we know then???).  The dermatologist was interested in the little blemish and did a biopsy.  Don’t worry, he assured me.  Just wait for the results and we will go from there.   5 days later (the clock ticks slowly when you are waiting for any kind of test result) the results came back.  Basal cell carcinoma.  What????  Skin cancer?  Are you kidding me?  I was 29!  The dermatologist assured me that this wasn’t going to take one moment off my long life.  That if you are going to get skin cancer, this is the kind to get.  Treatable, slow-growing.   I was referred to a surgeon and a week later I was in his clinic, getting prepped by a very nice nurse, who kindly responded to each of my chatty, nervous questions.  My face was numbed up pretty good.  I wasn’t going to feel a thing.  The surgeon came in (I noticed he had the whitest skin imaginable...I guess that’s how dermatologists roll).  The procedure was simple.  Cut a big chunk out, look at the margins.   If they are clear, we’re done.  If not, cut some more.  Luckily, it only took one time to get clear margins.  He took a picture with a digital camera and showed me my face, just to give me an idea of how much flesh was missing.  Whoa.  I am not squeamish but it made me very queasy, looking at what amounted in my mind as a gaping hole in my cheek.  He sewed me up and sent me on my way.  I had a big bandage and sort of a black eye for the next few days.  Many weeks after it healed, I went back for some cortisone injections which smoothed out the scar.  Today, I can’t even tell where it was.

What did I learn from that?  1) None of us are indestructible.   Know your family history.  Check your skin monthly.  If you notice anything new, or a mole seems to be changing shape, get it checked out.  If something gets your spidey-sense tingling, listen!  Get anything suspicious checked out.  2) Wear your sunscreen.  Reapply as necessary.  Even in the winter.  I’ve gotten red on a sunny day in February.  Sunscreen is relatively cheap, sweatproof, and plentiful.  No excuses.  Wear it everywhere, and don’t forget the top of your head.  3) Get a mirror, or have your spouse/partner help you check your skin monthly.  Get to know your skin.  See your dermatologist if anything is changing shape, looks funny, doesn’t heal, or if you have any questions.  Better to be safe!  4) Sunscreen on the kids, and check them, too.  Our job as parents is to learn from our mistakes so our children don’t make the same ones.

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Running:  Form and Staying Injury Free

With great power comes great responsibility.  Not much in life can make an athlete feel as powerful as a solid, strong run. I believe running is a gift.  Steve Prefontaine said it best. “To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”  It doesn’t matter how long you run, how fast, how often.  If you have a passion for running, you have the gift.  For most runners, the fear of losing this gift can be great.  Its more than just the endorphins.  A relationship with running in many ways is like a relationship with another person.  There are highs, lows, great joy, and strong feelings.  Once running becomes part of your life, it makes a permanent impact, and you will never want to let go.  Running is there for you for as training, competition, racing.  Running is also there, like a good friend, when you need a mood lift, or to unwind.  Running adds so much joy to life!  You have been given this gift, and there is potential for great power and strength.  Now comes the responsibility.  Runners want to enjoy lifelong careers.  It doesn’t matter if it takes the form of racing and competition, or enjoying the feeling of getting out for a good run.   Remaining injury free is important in order to enjoy a healthy life full of training and running. 

Proper form is key to staying injury free.  There is a lot of information out there regarding form for both new and seasoned runners.   The conventional wisdom used to be for new runners:  go the local running store,  have someone watch you run around, pick a comfortable pair of shoes,  and you’re set.  I would like to see a new conventional wisdom….something  I have learned from both personal experience, research, and talking with other coaches.  The new conventional wisdom:  first to learn to run.  Much has been said recently about the importance of a midfoot/forefoot strike.  I think most of us can agree that a running form closer to what our body does naturally (barefoot) is the healthiest way to run.  Most of us didn’t grow up barefoot, however, so we need some foot protection.  Finding the right shoe can be very complicated!  As a new runner, what to choose?  Who do you trust? What is good form, anyway?  A veteran runner looking to avoid injuries might ask themselves how to make the switch without a training loss.  A runner currently in a heavy stability shoe with a heel strike pattern will likely take more time to transition than a runner in a lighter shoe who already has running form that is closer to ideal.  The runner who needs more time to transition doesn’t want to cut back severely on weekly mileage.  Taking the time to transition properly is worth it.  The off-season is a great time to work on form.  Use cross-training to your advantage.  Stay in cardiovascular shape, and as a bonus become a stronger swimmer and cyclist.  Make a running form video for your coach.  There are many drills runners can do to improve form.  Give your body time to adjust.  Your coach can plan for adding mileage accordingly.  Work with a knowledgeable running store, as well as your coach to find the right shoe for you.  It is important to also wear good shoes when you are not running.  Avoid heels, tight shoes, and flip-flops whenever possible.  A good, lightweight “barefoot” model shoe will help strengthen your feet over time.  If you are a new runner, now is a great time to learn to run with excellent form!  Talk with your coach about the right shoe.  Again, a knowledgeable running store is a great resource as well.  Do the drills your coach suggests.  Take the time to build up mileage at a slow and steady rate.   Proper running form puts less stress on the body, and allows for much more overall efficiency.  Taking the time to learn to run is time well invested.  Give your best to your gift!

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun. 

Monday, June 18, 2012


Off season, pre-season, build, peak, taper, race.  Athletes train and work hard for months, sometimes years to prepare for a race.  Especially an “A” (most important) race.   Most athletes also have “B” and/or “C” races on their calendars.  These are generally considered less significant than the “A” race, and are sometimes used as “back-up” races.  Someone looking for a Boston qualifier, for example, might plan a spring and a fall marathon, in order to have 2 chances to achieve a qualifying time.  This can put less mental stress on the athlete, which can actually have a positive training effect.  “B” and “C” races are also helpful as training races for a longer event.  An early spring sprint tri, as a brush-up for a longer summer triathlon, a half-marathon a few months out from a marathon, for example.  Practicing racing strategy, nutrition, pacing, transitions (in triathlon) are all good ideas before an “A” race.  However, both the coach and the athlete need to make sure there aren’t too many races on the calendar.  Too many hard efforts, too close together, with too little recovery in between can leave the athlete mentally and physically fatigued, which will hinder further gains in training.  It is important in training and racing to make sure there is adequate recovery time between hard efforts.  Adequate recovery time could be weeks (for long distance races) or just  one or two days (after a hard training workout/ effort).  Heart rate (resting, during workouts, and post-workout), rate of perceived exertion of workouts, and mental and physical well-being should monitored and taken into account.  The importance of enough recovery between hard training efforts and races cannot be overemphasized.  When an athlete pushes too hard without giving their body time to heal and adjust to the stresses put on it, they are putting themselves at risk for overtraining, which can lead to injury.  Overtraining  is a serious problem.  Recovery from overtraining/overracing  takes time away from what should be valuable training.   Racing can be just as much mental as it is physical.  An athlete who competes too much is at risk not only of physical injury, but of mental race “burnout.”  Mental burnout feels different for everybody, but generally is a feeling of disinterest in racing, not caring about the outcome, or even can manifest in an over-interest in outcome.  Worrying too much can be a hindrance. 

Athletes work hard to be able to race, and they do it for a variety of reasons.  As training for a longer race (as mentioned above), for competition (relative to themselves, or competitors), for a specific distance or time goal, for a new experience, or just because they find racing to be enjoyable and exciting.  How do you find the balance between racing for PRs, racing for fun, and racing as training?  The athlete and the coach must have a good relationship (feel comfortable communicating) and the athlete must be willing to communicate how they are feeling both mentally and physically.   How many races an athlete can compete in depends on the distance of the race, the physical conditioning of the athlete, and the level of intensity of racing.   A runner may be able to intensely race a 5k once or twice a month, but racing hard (going for a specific time or PR) in a long distance such as a marathon is generally better left to twice a year.   A triathlete might be physically and mentally capable of racing multiple shorter distances throughout the year, but intensely racing full Iron distance is generally best left to once a season (or longer).   Whether or not you are at risk for overracing depends quite a bit on the intensity of the race.  Again, the coach and the athlete need to work together to avoid too many back to back hard efforts without proper rest in between.   Runners and triathletes tend to be a very committed group.  We enjoy training and competition.  Some of us even live for training and competition.  The key is to find balance so racing and training can be a lifelong endeavor.  Work with your closely with your coach.  Keep diligent training logs.  Take a step back and look at your previous race history in regards to injury and mental attitude.  What correlations do you see?  Look at your best races (PRs in particular).  How much were you training and racing?  Taking time to look at the past experience bigger picture will help avoid overracing in the future.  Being honest with yourself and your coach is key.   The goal is to stay healthy and happy so running and triathlon can be a lifelong journey.

Be Healthy.  Train Smart.  Have Fun.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Triathlon Inspiration: what got me started

My inspiration into the sport of triathlon came from my running coach.  After years of using various on-line marathon training programs, I decided to hire a coach to help me get to the next level – to help me over the hurdle of the plateau I had reached.  Coach is a runner and triathlete himself, knowledgeable and a strong athlete in all three disciplines.  I have always done plenty of spin bike as cross-training.  I swam as a kid, and picked it back up as an adult for cross-training , because I knew it would make me a better runner.  Once you learn proper technique (this requires time and patience), swimming is surprisingly fun and great for runners.  As summer approached, my coach suggested a sprint tri, to mix up my training and keep me mentally fresh for fall marathon training. I was game.  But a couple of falls and difficult training bike workouts later, I completely changed my mind.  Triathlon was not for me.  I wasn’t interested in becoming a cyclist.  I was a runner, and swimming was for cross-training purposes only.  I told my coach, who was understanding.  But it didn’t feel right.  It felt strange to type an email to my coach, admitting the bike had gotten the best of me in such a short time and I didn’t want to even try.  That isn’t me.  I believe its important in life to try new things…travel…meet new people…try things that scare you…experience life to the fullest.  Was I really going to let a couple of falls in the driveway when getting used to new pedals and a couple of frustrating rides getting used to shifting gears stop me from trying something new?  Thousands and thousands of people train for and enjoy the sport of triathlon.  They must be onto something.  Why shouldn’t I see what all the fun was about?  I decided that the bike was not going to get the best of me.  The bike wasn’t going to keep me from pursuing something new that seemed like so much fun for so many people. Not to mention that Coach had been right about a lot of things (the effectiveness of heart rate training, Newtons/natural running form, nutrition).  I trusted Coach completely and there a part of me that didn’t want to let him down.   I signed up for the sprint tri.  I was determined to learn how to cycle…how to clip in and out, how to change gears, how to climb hills.  Over time my confidence grew.  I was excited about the sprint tri, but not as nervous as before a marathon.  I knew the tri would be an adventure.  I ended up 3rd in my age group.  It was thrilling hear my name called. I couldn’t wait to tell coach!  That summer I wouldn’t say I loved the bike, but I was getting better and that was enough.  A few months later I did an Olympic distance and won my age group.  It was meaningful to me because I worked so hard to overcome my issues on the bike.  Not to mention the sheer fun of it all!  Seeing competitors at various points along the course, encouraging and getting encouragement from others, crossing the finish line knowing you conquered something that scared you.  I was hooked on that feeling. 

Being part of a team and talking with other athletes kept me motivated all winter.  I worked on my bike throughout the off-season.  There were long days on the trainer and cold days when the roads were dry.  But come springtime, I felt stronger.  Its motivating to see yourself change.  Now that tri season is in full swing, swimming, running, and cycling with others, listening to race reports and talking about training has kept me inspired.  I am glad I tried something new.  I  glad I didn’t give up.  I’m glad I got right back on that bike and kept trying.  I will always be a marathoner at heart, but I know I will stay on the triathlon road.  Its so much fun, a challenge, and there are too many adventures to be had to even consider stopping.

Be Healthy.  Train Smart.  Have Fun. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Confidence: let a strong will be your guide

Racing season is in full swing.  Its time to put yourself to the test, to make the training pay off.  You did the work.  You got up early, you worked out late.  You rode the trainer for hours when there was snow on the ground.  You diligently logged your workouts and studied your splits.  You cleaned up your diet, cut back on alcohol and treats, stayed hydrated, went to bed early.  You have discussed race plans, nutrition, and strategies with your coach.  Now its time to test your limits, to see what your body can do.  But that is only part of the equation.  Its also time to see what your brain can do.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Olympic cyclist, Rebecca Twig.  “You can accomplish so much with a strong will.  Just do your best.  No matter what.  Don’t let negative thoughts creep in.  Don’t talk yourself out of anything.”  Let’s break take a moment to break this down.  1) You can accomplish so much with a strong will.  Look how far you have come in your training!  You and your coach have set a series of realistic, attainable goals.  Each workout and race have made you stronger.  It was your strong will that got you here.  Let your strong will continue to be your guide.  2) Just do your best.  No matter what.  Don’t worry about what anyone else does on race day.  Just stay focused on yourself,  and do the best job you can do.  Stay positive and confidence will be yours.  3) Don’t let negative thoughts creep in.  You cannot afford to worry.   Negative thoughts might pop up here and there.  What if I have a bad race?  What if my nutrition falls apart?  What if (fill in the blank)?  This type of worry saps race day energy.  Do not doubt yourself.  Stop these thoughts as soon as they enter into your head.  Sing a song.  Say a mantra.  Fight hard to keep negativity and race day worry out of your head.  You did the work.  Trust in your training and in yourself.  5) Don’t talk yourself out of anything.  Do not give yourself an “out.”  Yes, there are times when training or race day conditions are not ideal.  You may have to shift your strategies.  If you race and train smart, you will be successful. 

My best and most memorable races happen when I am able to let go of worry and let a strong will be my guide.   Putting aside self-doubt takes practice.  Give it a try during one of your workouts.  If a negative thought starts to creep in, push it aside.   Use a mantra, song lyrics,  or say a word that give you strength.  Think of a memory that makes you happy.  Over time, you will create new mental pathways.  If you practice staying focused and confident, it will become the path your brain will take on race day. 

A good coach will help you set achievable and fulfilling goals, and put you on track with proper training.  A good coach will boost your confidence and mentally prepare you for race day.  Listen, and use the tools your coach has given you.   Let your strong will be your guide. 

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Natural running and the road to becoming a more confident athlete

One year.   It took me one whole year, just thinking about natural running, before I had the confidence to make the switch.  I had been running for years in a heavy stability shoe.  That was the conventional wisdom at the time…go to the running store, get fit, go run.  I have flat feet.  Of course I needed motion-control!  The experts at the store and the shoe companies knew best.  I had to listen.  I ran fairly happily in my stability shoes for years, albeit with the occasional injury here and there.  I knew where to get them cheap on-line (usually last year’s version), because at 350 miles they were “dead.”  I trained and raced, even scoring my first BQ.  But there was always a little voice in the back of my head asking “can we do better?”  I never found an answer until I heard about natural running (from a Newton runner).  It all seemed so perfect and magical…run with good form the way your body was meant to, go faster , recover better, less injuries.  But how could I, with my big, flat feet, run like that?  The shoe companies made big shoes to protect people like me.  I had it in my mind that I was different…not special…not a born runner.  If I wanted to continue I needed special, supportive shoes.   I had it completely wrong. 

After a year of thinking, wondering, contemplating, and “what-if-ing,” I bought my first pair of Newtons.  I read the package directions, looked on-line about form, listened to podcasts on the subject.  I had all the information….it was time to take the plunge.  I ran one mile.  One glorious, life-changing mile.  I knew right away I was onto something with natural running form.  I wondered, how come I am just hearing about this NOW?  I made sense, when I thought about it logically.  Good form is key in all sports.  Why wouldn’t running be one of them?

I still had it in my head that I was not special.  How dare I kick aside my stability shoes?  But as the weeks passed and my mileage increased, so did my confidence.  Six months later I ran a marathon in my Newtons and PR’d by 10 minutes, feeling great the entire time.  Never had I felt so good and so strong.  In a world full of doubts and a head full of “you can’ts,” natural running says “you can.”    
You can run free and strong.  Whether you choose Newtons, Altras, or something else, good form is the road that will take you there.  You can accept new challenges into your life and rise to the occasion.  You can try new things, make new goals, strive to change and grow.  You are special.  There is magic in running and triathlon.  Open yourself to the possibility of “can.”  Cast aside doubts and negative thoughts.  These things are wasted energy.  Envision yourself running farther, taking the first few laps in the pool, getting on the bike with confidence.  Find the joy in the little steps along the way.  Little steps lead to great things.  Go forward with confidence in your heart.  Train, race, and live well!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your secret weapon: why triathlon is great for runners

There comes a time in almost every runner’s life where then they need a break.  Not because they are injured or sick, or they lose the desire to be physically active.  More that they just feel a lack of motivation, maybe a little bored with their routine, slightly “burnt out,” and, well, just “blah.”  There is tremendous joy in running, and when that joy is lacking, it can be difficult mentally.  For a lot of us, training and racing is only part of the equation. Running frees the mind and lessens the stressors of daily life.  When running itself becomes a stress, then we have a problem!  Many years ago, before I started triathlons, I heard some great advice from a trusted source.  It was to try riding the bike for about 10-15 minutes before heading out for a run.  This advice was aimed at runners.  Not to get them into triathlon necessarily, but just as a warm up and to get the legs feeling good.  I tried this at the gym on the spin bike one day, then went out running.  My legs felt fantastic.  And it was more than just because the blood was flowing (compared to runs where I did other types of warm-ups).  There was something about the motion of cycling that was quite complementary to running.  It was only later that I learned about the relationship of cycling cadence to running.   While there is always going to be debate when it comes to training, it is generally accepted that a cadence of 85-95+ RPM mimics an efficient running cadence (90 foot strikes per minute).  It makes sense.  Your body and brain are ready to run. 

We have all heard how great swimming is for runners, as cross-training (the same can be said for the bike).  I’d like to look at it from another angle.  For me, the runner’s high is an endorphin party like no other.  The swim endorphin high is a more peaceful type of euphoria.  I heard it described once as “all is right with the world.”  Learning proper swim technique does take time and practice.  It is important to get a some coaching on proper technique.  If you put in the time, the rewards are great.  In my own marathon training, I have found that a swim the day after a long run is great for recovery.  My body doesn’t do well with short, easy runs the day after a 20-miler.  Body and mind do however, appreciate a swim. 

One day at the gym, just for kicks, I swam for about half an hour, rode the spin bike for 60 minutes, then ran a treadmill 5k.  Something clicked after that.  I “got” why people did this.  There is magic in the trifecta. 

So what does this mean for runners?  Many things.  If allowed, cycling and swimming are great for maintaining cardiovascular strength during injury.  Cycling and swimming as cross-training will improve overall conditioning, leading to stronger running.  But here is something else I have found:  I do not put nearly the pressure on myself in triathlon as I do in marathons.  The first couple years or marathoning,  I found myself with lower PRs.  When I started heart rate training, another PR.  Now its “game on” in my mind, and I am hungry for lower and lower race times.  This can take a toll mentally and physically.  It can be hard for runners to let go and just enjoy.  This is where triathlon comes in.  Give you mind a break.  Loosen up.  Have some fun.  Sign up for a sprint.  You will learn a lot about yourself and I promise you will have a great time.   You don’t have to train like Lance Armstrong or Michael Phelps.  There are no sea monsters in the lake.   Take some time to mix it up, try something new. You will become a stronger runner and gain a mental edge in racing.    If it turns out you love it like I do, there is a whole world of new race opportunites waiting on your doorstep.