Friday, January 28, 2011

Maintaining Balance

This isn’t one of those blog posts, where I ramble on as I often do about how I carefully try not to fall over the edge cliff, or cross the tipping point, and maintain balance in all the areas of my life. Work, take care of kids, and an Ironman, coach and train can sometimes unravel you at the seams and leaving you running in crazy directions. But I’ve been conquering and managing that balance and have made it through 1 month of 2011 feeling under control.

This is about maintaining balance of your musculoskeletal system. The body that allows you to swim bike run, and cross the finish line is pieced together like a puzzle and when all the pieces line up right it works efficiently and move you to do amazing things. When balance is lost and the pieces start to not line up right and joints, tendons, muscles and more start to get irritated, inflamed, weak, tight and then those amazing things you can do start to not feel so good wonderful.

Triathletes spend many hours moving forward, flexed, and using the anterior (front) of their body. Reaching forward to swim, flexing forward into aero bars, or slouching over the bars and lifting / driving legs forward while running. Follow that up with commuting in the car, and sitting hunched over a computer (more seated and flexed postures) and the anterior muscles become tight, flexed, contracted. Sometimes so much so that it becomes difficult to even stand up straight. The muscles on the back side (posterior) are nearly forgotten! They become weak, atrophied, and saggy. (Ok a little exaggeration). But this imbalance can lead to any number of overuse injuries that creep up and suddenly seem to appear from nowhere.

Here are some examples:

Shin Splints (which can ultimately turn into stress fractures): the calves and deep leg musculature obviously get tight from running and even cycling. They can become overdeveloped and tight, while the anterior leg muscles which are small and almost seem non existent in comparison. The tight posterior force and with weak anterior leg can lead to a shearing force causing the pain.

Low Back Pain: Hours in the saddle flexed forward and pedaling the bike can significantly tighten the hip flexors of the anterior hip. As they become tighter they can pull the pelvis forward, placing strain on the low back. If the small trunk musculature and core is weak and can overcome the anterior pull, then back pain can develop.

Knee Pain: When the quads and ITB become tight from miles of pedaling and running without an equal amount of strength from behind (literally), extra force and strain can be loaded to the knees. Restrictions, knots and tightness can easily build up in the quad, and all those hours spent moving forward doesn’t allow much chance for the glutes to work and active which have an important role in stabilization of the trunk. Weakness here can also contribute to extra pounding to the knees.

Shoulder Impingement: leaning for hours on those aero bars following repetitive reaching and forward with a swim stroke can significantly tighten the pec, neck and chest muscles. Without addressing the rhomboids, middle trap, lower trap and posterior shoulder muscles, extra strain can be placed on the front the the shoulder causing irritation and inflammation and a sore shoulder making even simple daily activities like combing hair painful.

All of these together can leave a triathlete with the gorilla posture I’ve talked about before.

When the miles start to add up, maintain some balance in your body.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spirit of a Champion

What goes into the making of a Champion? Having the right genetic profile certainly helps if you want to win Gold at the Olympics, or win the Boston marathon, or race in the Tour De France. But we can all become a Champion of our own dreams. Champion of the local Sprint race, age group champion of a 5k, champion at cyclocross race, or champion of the group ride sprint to the stop sign, or top of Town Hall hill. It certainly takes a championship attitude just to finish an Ironman or your first 1/2 Iroman.

Some characteristics of Champions are:

self motivation

I coach many athletes in pursuit of their dreams... like, qualifying for Boston, or championship events, or finishing a marathon or Ironman. It certainly takes many of the above traits and more to achieve a big dream. After racing and coaching for years, I would also add several characteristics to the list.

Direction:Having a plan, believing in it and sticking it to it will get you to your dream. Bouncing from 1 thing to the next without direction won't get you there. Realize, "your" dream may take a few years to get there, and if you fall short 1 or 2 can't just give up and change focus. Stay on course, stay focused and follow the direction.

Taking Risks:Sometimes you have to do what seems impossible like...swim in the fast lane once a week , sign up for the race that seems like a long shot, invest in a "techie" piece of equipment that may offer some crucial data, or hire a coach who can do the "thinking" for you. Break out of the comfort zone, and take it to the next level, if you want to get to the next level.

Do what you hate:
Usually our weaknesses or limiters are what we aren't superbly great at. It is what is uncomfortable. These are the dreaded workouts, but the ones likely needed the most. Those limiters might just be what are keeping you from your dream. And this is what certainly separates a champion from the average....doing the ugly and dreaded, most uncomfortable pieces of the puzzles. For some, not working out or resting might be what is most awkward. Or, are you leading the race because you swim like a rock star only to be passed early on the run, and does it happen every time? Well its apparent some hard, hurting run sessions that a swimmer might no enjoy is what might hold the ticket. If the only way to get your workouts in during the week, is to get up at the crack of dawn before work and kid obligations when its dark and cold, do you do it? Its not fun, because it is so warm and comfy under the covers, but getting those workouts in during the week might be the key. I personally don't love to swim unless its a masters practice, but that isn't always an option so, I have to do what I hate and that is swim alone sometimes.

Set Demanding Goals:A champion will set goals that are a stretch and then put everything they can into reaching that goal. They might have shorter more attainable goals along the way, but the real goal is the one they are ultimately after. It is specific, and not vague. They understand the process and discipline it takes to get there.

Never Quits:Champions don't quit or give up. If it all falls apart in one practice or race it isn't the end of the dream. A champion will learn from what went wrong, make the necessary changes then move on and go for it again.

Believes:A champion never stops believing in their dream.

Do you have the spirit of a champion?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One word.....

The New Year 2011 is in full swing and how have those new year's resolutions gone? 2.5 weeks in have you kept to your resolution?

I myself did not make any resolutions. However, I did hear on a morning talk show about a different way to think about approaching the new year. Pick 1 word to describe you in 2011. Instead of focusing on cutting out the negative such as I want to lose 20 lb. or 5, or cut out, meat or, sugar , or gluten, or dairy, or all of the above, or coffee, or caffeine, or swear words, or ...._____/ insert your choice of things to "cut out".

Or the opposite: I'm going to exercise more, do yoga more, stretch more, balance check book more, save more ....or ____/insert "something more"

Most of the times it is hard to stick to these changes because it requires action on our part, and, wow, I don't know about you, but I am already maxed with plenty to try and "do", fit in, and schedule. So instead, try to pick 1 word to describe yourself and try to "be" that word and the rest will follow.

I'm all about change and improvements, becoming newer and better, but haven't made a new year's resolution in .......years. (secretly for a brief few moment I considered forgoing coffee. Gasp. A failed resolution for sure) But I have tried the one word approach. And 2 days prior to 1/1/11 came up with my word. I am not sharing it right now, but so far so good. One word is easy to focus on and easy to self correct if you find yourself derailed. The idea is to be that word and the rest will fall into place easily.

I have had to lean on my word a lot lately as I have decided to undertake more than usual this year. With the kids a bit older, and several years of laying pretty low in triathlon, I have the bug to get serious again. Yes...that bug bit me in the bum. So I need my one word to keep me "real" as I try to become a closer version of my former triathlon self from years prior as well as manage all that I currently do, some. Yea, I also decided to increase my hours at Cosport to help fix more of the injured. So as you can see, eliminating coffee is not really an option.

Come August we will see if I still like my one word as much as I do now, or you might find me sprawled out with my bike on the side of the road next to a tall cornfield, screaming at that word. Stay tuned.....

If you had to pick one word, what would it be?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In search of my arms

I've been trying to find my arms and shoulders. After months of cyclocross with lots of biking, some running and NO swimming...I misplaced my arms. Sure I had to hoist my bike up and over barriers during races and sometimes practice but that what about the extent of my upper body training all fall and the late stages of 2010. So my arms disappeared and seem scrawny.

Once cyclcross ended, and I enjoyed a short break, but I have been staring at a 1/2 Ironman in April motivating me to find some arms again so I can swim and not drown. I dug out my goggles and returned to the pool, and yes more than 1 x a week like last year. I also resumed my killer sessions with my awesome trainer Mark Nilles in search of finding some upper body strength again. And in these sessions we sometimes Box. Yes punch the heavy bag, gloves etc. Talk about arm fatigue and a great way to punch out the stress all in one. A few times I even had a training session then went straight to masters afterwards. Not so pretty early on when my arms were MIA.

There are signs of life in my arms though as I was able to reach an all time PR on pull ups doing 21 full body, unassisted pull ups (yes broken in sets, but superset with another upper body workout without rest). I also managed a good chunk of MSM's annual 100 x 100s New Years swim.

So I'll keep after it so my arms don't stay like scrawny sticks poking out of my body like a snowman, so I can swim, not drown and pull myself through the water, so I can stand and climb on my bike and stay steady in aero, and run with power.