Saturday, March 28, 2009

Race, Recovery and Rain

It's a rainy Saturday morning and I am still in my pajamas. My triathlon training plan calls for a rest day. Maybe I am taking the "rest day" thing a bit too far, but cold, grey skies above and puddles below have made the outdoors very unappealing. With nothing urgent on my to-do list, it seems like the perfect morning to curl up with a cup of herbal tea and a good book.

Last Saturday was a different kind of day. The sky was blue, the sun was bright and I had a race. Since it had been many years since my last 5K, I figured it would be a good idea to get one or two small running races under my belt before my first sprint-distance triathlon in June. My training pace has been pretty slow, usually around 11 minutes per mile, so I had no expectations that I would be competitive. I just wanted to see how the distance felt and have a race time I could work to improve upon.

My race results were a pleasant surprise. I finished in 30 minutes and 17 seconds, solidly in the middle of the pack. I was averaging 9:45 minute miles, much faster than my training pace. It really helped me to have other people to pace myself against. (I should start looking for a running partner.)

I felt good throughout the race and had energy to spare at the end. I feel more confident now that by June I will be able to run a 5K, even if it's slower, after swimming and biking.

The timing of the race was good, because it fit in with my plan's last long run before a recovery week. After three weeks of increasing volume, a recovery week gives my body time to rest and assimilate by backing the volume down 25%. I enjoy the beginning of recovery weeks, because after the third week's workouts my muscles are complaining and I am ready for a rest. The end of recovery week gets to be a bit of a drag.

On Fridays I have my long bike rides. Since it's still pretty cold, I have my bike set up on the bike trainer in the house. Riding for an hour or more on the trainer could get pretty boring, but, thanks to Hulu, I've been using my trainer rides to catch up on 24 and Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and the shows make the time go by quickly. This week, due to recovery, my ride was only 35 minutes. Afterward I felt like I hadn't done enough. (Not to mention that the latest episode of 24 was still playing.) I guess that's a sign that recovery week has done it's job and my body is ready to go again.

Tomorrow's scheduled run is the last recovery week workout. Outside, the sky has gotten a bit lighter, although the trees are still dripping after the heavy rains this morning. Perhaps the rain will clear out for my run. If not, I'll just have to go out and splash in the puddles. Today, rest day, I might venture as far as my yoga mat, or perhaps lift - a book.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I can tell I've been slacking on my personal yoga practice when I get jealous of my students. While I can do the poses along with my students, I can't stop thinking when I'm teaching. My mind is always planning ahead, searching for something to say, and keeping track of which hand is my right hand. This morning, while my students were enjoying a juicy forward fold, I was longing to join them in blissful silence.

I've been trying to find balance between family, work, triathlon training and yoga. While juggling these things, my yoga practice is the ball that most often gets dropped. Between teaching and taking a class now and then, I can maintain the physical aspects of the practice. It is the meditative part that I miss out on. My mind needs the break. Even if it's only 5 minutes a day, I need to put all the balls down and let my thoughts still. After a rest, I think clearly and stay calm. It is easier to keep all the balls in the air. Yet, when I'm busy or tired, it's easy to pass up the 5 minutes, and I quickly get out of the habit.

This week is a training recovery week, the perfect time to schedule a meeting with my yoga mat. 5 minutes a day isn't that much, but it can make a big difference.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Not-So-Subtle Message

This weekend I came down with a case of the "blahs". I didn't feel like doing much of anything, and I ignored the housework and the rest of my to-do list. Instead, I sat around watching movies on Netflix and sulking about nothing in particular. There was a time in my life when a weekend like this one would escalate into a full-blown bout of depression. Without knowing what brought on the melancholy, I would focus on whatever was currently going wrong in my life and convince myself it was all falling apart. Before long I'd be curled up in a ball crying my eyes out. My husband would pull out the emergency chocolate stash, and, if that didn't work, resorted to telling jokes with a sock puppet until I smiled. (Since he usually used a sock he'd been wearing, the puppet became known as "Mr. Stinky".)

Mr. Stinky is now retired. Years of yoga and other mind-body work have taught me to look to my body whenever my mood slips. This morning I looked back on the past week and thought about what could have brought on yesterday's grumpiness. With my thoughts separated from my emotional state, I could see what was driving it. Last week, and Friday in particular, I drank many cups of chai tea with sugar. Caffeine and sugar are no-nos for me. I can't have the buzz without the crash, and I was crashing.

Three years ago I gave up caffeine. I'm not one of those people who can drink a latte after dinner and sleep afterward. Coffee makes my hands shake. One cup after noon and I will lay awake at night with my body quivering and my thoughts racing. The next day, after not sleeping, I would need more coffee to stay awake. On the weekend, when I could catch up on sleep, I would skip the coffee and suffer instead with a headache. It was a vicious cycle.

Lately, some caffeine has snuck back into my diet. Many of the bars, gels, and other training "nutrition" items have caffeine. By limiting my caffeine consumption to times when I'm actually training, I seemed to be okay, but last week I started craving coffee. One decaf coffee led to a regular coffee, then I switched to the chai. Friday came and I was drinking chai tea, loaded with sugar, all day. In between I was snacking on candy bars supplied by well-meaning co-worker. A sleepless Friday night, a headache, and a really bad mood were the results.

All that sugar is as bad as the caffeine. Increased adrenaline brought on by the sugar put me in stress mode, even with nothing to be stressed out about. On top of everything else, I downed a couple of bags of potato chips last week. More carbs and lots of fat, without anything that my body really needed. Who can blame my body for rebelling?

In addition to the low mood, I gained two pounds and broke out like a teenager. My body is not subtle. It's not happy with the garbage I put in it, and it's letting me know. To be any less subtle would require an investment in neon.

Instead of having a conversation with Mr. Stinky, I listened to the message my body was sending. Today's only snack was multi-grain tortilla chips. I've been drinking glass after glass of water to flush out all the junk. I took a nap. And, refusing to give in to the melancholy, I smiled.

I've been asking my body to work pretty hard lately. I'd better treat it right.

Now, one more glass of water before bed. This week I will do better, body. I promise.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Last Blast of Winter

Last weekend we went north, searching for the snow that missed New Jersey all winter. We found lots of snow in the Adirondack mountains. I love those mountains. When the first mountain comes into view on our drive up the New York State Thruway, I always feel my breath slow down. I relax. It's like coming home.

Schroon Lake was still frozen, providing nine miles of open space for walking. The dogs loved having room to run, and they did run. And run. And run.

There is nothing better than a two hour romp to burn off excess energy. Afterward the dogs curled up in front of the fire and napped. Some of the people napped, too. It is good to take a break from the usual day-to-day stuff and just slow down.

My daughter and I got to do a few hours of skiing at Gore Mountain, enjoying 45 degree temperatures that kept us warm on the lifts but didn't melt the snow too much. I noticed a big change in my fitness level from last winter. Training has really helped improve my stamina. My leg muscles are stronger and after 4 hours on the slopes I still had energy left. It's nice to see the hard work paying off.

Snowmobiling was the next day's activity. My kids love the snowmobile, and my daughter can drive it now. I'm glad she has the opportunity to practice her driving skills on the trails, since later this year she will be learning to drive a car. (I am really not ready for that.)

There are some great, well-maintained snowmobile trails around Schroon Lake. The local snowmobile club keeps the trails groomed and hosts some fun events, as well as promoting safety. Winters in the Adirondacks are longer than we are used to, so it's nice to know we'll have lots of fun things to do in the snow next winter.

My son really loves to ride on the snowmobile, the faster the better, but he has a long way to go before he can drive. First he has to grow into the helmet!

I kept up my training while we were away, getting in my scheduled long run. I ran faster than my usual pace. There is something about the mountain air that makes my body feel so much better. It's probably the lack of pollution.

We did a bit of house-hunting while we were there. We haven't seen the right house yet, but we have many more to see on our next visit. I also checked out a couple of potential yoga studio sites. With alittle help from the universe, I'll be opening my studio on August 1st. It seems like a long time from now, but with so much to do before we move the time is going to fly by.

Spring is only a week away. The green leaves of the daffodils are visible above the mud and there are buds on the trees. Winter will soon be behind us. The next few months are going to be very busy for us. I'm glad we got one last weekend of winter fun before the craziness starts.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yoga for Your Bones

My favorite yoga students are senior citizens, because most of them truly appreciate what their bodies can do. Many have overcome serious illnesses or injuries and are happy to still be going strong. They know how much of a difference yoga makes in their lives. It is a joy to watch their practices.

I have a number of older women in my adult education class at the community college. One in particular delights me every week. She is 68 years old and has osteopenia, or low bone density, a precursor to osteoporosis.

Because it is an all-level class, I try to do some challenging asanas each week to keep the practice interesting for the younger people. I also like to throw in some core work; a strong core helps all the asanas. My 68-year-old with her thin bones tries every asana, and says "yes" when I ask if they want one more round of core-strengthing exercises. She's told me she knows how important it is to stay strong, and that's why she's gives it her all each week. If she doesn't, her bones will get weaker and she won't be able to run around with her grandchildren.

For most people, bone mineral density is highest when they turn 30. From then on, existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone cells are made, and the bones lose mass. Exercise helps to build bone mass, so people who were active in their youths will have a higher bone density when they hit the 30 year mark, and will therefore have more to spare as they age. For those of us who weren't high school jocks, we can still stimulate bone growth with exercise to prevent or slow osteopenia. Exercises which cause muscle to pull on bone, such as walking, running, cycling and yoga, help the bones to retain, or even rebuild, bone mass.

Many of yoga's asanas are weight bearing and oppose one muscle group against another, which can help reinforce the bones. Yoga has some additional benefits as we age. Yoga promotes balance and coordination, which helps prevent falls which can lead to broken bones. The deep, relaxed breathing reduces tension and toxicity, slowing the overall aging process. And yoga is accessable to everyone, regardless of current fitness level.

If you are suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis, it is important to tell your yoga teacher. Brittle bones can break if forced into very deep twists or folds. Your teacher can help you adjust poses to avoid injury.

No matter how old you are, it's important to stay active. So get out there and walk or run, ride your bike, and, of course, do some yoga. It's for your bones.

Monday, March 2, 2009

One Month in the Pool

Today I missed my scheduled swim workout. It wasn't my fault. It snowed, the entire state panicked (Oh, please, let me go north soon. They have real snowplows there.) and the YMCA was closed. It's really not a big deal. I can swim tomorrow. I'm just sorry I have to wait.

But why am I so anxious to swim? I only started swimming laps one month ago today. During the past four weeks I've had eight sessions in the pool. Could I be totally hooked on swimming already?

Other than the swimming lessons I had when I was a kid, my swimming had been all recreational. Summers were divided between the lake and the ocean, so swimming was necessary if we were going to join in the fun. My brother, sister and I all learned to swim the same way - we fell off the boat and dog paddled until someone grabbed us. After some lessons, we could swim to shore. The only experience I'd had swimming laps in a pool was keeping a high-school friend company while she practiced for life guard training. Lately, swimming has meant a short swim in the lake to cool down on a hot day, followed by an hour or two floating in an inner tube. I started triathlon training knowing I could swim, but now I have to be able to SWIM. No inner tubes allowed on race day.

The first morning I went to the pool I stood at the side for awhile, just watching. All the lanes were full, and everyone looked like they knew what they were doing. I was totally intimidated. I finally chose the outside lane that had stairs going down into it. The stairs came in handy. I hid behind them to give my lane-mate the opportunity to pass me, which he did just about every lap, even when he was using a kickboard.

That first day I swam for twelve minutes. After twelve minutes I could barely lift myself out of the pool. I remembered how to do freestyle. I didn't remember swimming being so hard.

Each workout got better, and I got less sore afterward. I worked my swim time up to 24 minutes, and bounced right out of the pool when I was done. By the end of the month I started looking forward to getting up at 5 a.m. to go to the pool. Last week I even ventured into another lane - one without a place to hide!

I'm happy with what I accomplished in February, which was my first month on my sprint-distance training plan. I feel like becoming a triathlete is within my grasp. In my mind, I am already there. Now my body is catching up, and it feels really good. I know I have more work to do, but I am ready to do it.

I really missed my swim this morning. I can't wait for tomorrow.
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