Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pumping Iron for Ironman

2 blogs in one day! Must be cold and rainy outside......

Of some controversy, I suppose, is the need for lifting weights in triathlon. Personally, I'm all for it, but if you find you're doing just fine without it then by all means spend that time swimming, biking and running. I like to dedicate a little bit of time though during the week for 3 short strength workouts - two functional ones that concentrate more on core strength, functional movement, and balance, and one old school session with dumbbells and machines.

You know, some good old hard core wight lifting, kinda like this.......

Whoa! How did that get in here?!

I've been into lifting since I was in high school, when a girl in P.E. saw me in my tank top and said, "Bruce, your biceps are skinnier than your forearms." That comment broke me, and I hit the gym right after that.

Back in high school, I lifted religiously and loved the little dungeon that was the weight room back then.

Admittedly, the muscle I put on in high school that's still with me might not be all that helpful in triathlon. But I had no idea back then I'd be into this stuff. But there is strength there that I believe is tantamount to cycling strong, and can be useful in swimming and running as well. Now, the lifting I do is meant to augment the swimming, cycling, and running - I'm not trying to add muscle, just use the strength in the muscle I already have, and the movements I stick to are meant to mimic those that I use in triathlon and work the muscles that will be called to service on race day. Just very basic movements that employ the major muscle groups. I also find that a little muscle strength work keeps the injuries at bay.

Here's my Monday lunch time weight routine, which takes less than 45 minutes:

Ab Ripper X routine

Leg Press, 3x20 reps
Leg Extensions, 3x20 reps
Leg Curls, 3x20 reps
Calf Raises (Seated or Standing), 3x20 reps
Pull-Ups (Weight Assisted), 3x20 reps
Lat Pull-Downs, 3x20 reps
Back Extensions, 50 total
Dumbbell Chest Press, 3x20 reps
Dumbbell Flyes, 3x20 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Extensions, 3x20 reps
Single Dumbbell Tricep Extension, 3x20 reps
Dumbbell Bicep Curls, 3x20 reps

Note that I don't go below 20 reps. Again, just trying to build strength not mass. I find that 20 reps gives a good burn and keeps me from lifting too much that can cause muscle to build or possible injury.

Notes on the Above:

- Ab Ripper X: If you haven't tried this great ab workout from P90X, Google it. I love this routine. It hits the abs from all angles and is a quick way to deliver a knockout punch to the core.

- Only four exercises for the legs and glutes, starting with the one that employs the most muscle groups (Leg Press). I scrunch myself way up in the leg press to maximize the range of motion. You can cheat yourself out of a lot of work if you push the seat back.

- Leg Curls are what I believe to be the most important of the lower body exercises. Hamstrings are injury prone for runners, so you need to build them to be strong. You don't see a lot of muscle heads doing leg curls for two reasons: (1), they hurt, and (2), you can't see those muscles and they only care about what they look like. This is why they spend forever on the bench press.

- Calf Raises, again for injury prevention. Any muscle that is prone to injury has got to be strengthened against it.

- 2 lat exercises that both work the lats in a vertical plane, in line with the lever direction of the latissimus dorsi. It's my feeling that this plane mimics the action of swimming more than doing rows, which work the back muscles in a plane perpendicular to the lats.

- Back extensions, critical because the lower lumbar muscles are one of the first to ache on long bike rides. Toughen these muscles up! They also protect the spine which is another reason to strengthen them and guard yourself against back injuries.

- Both chest exercises are done with dumbbells, which incorporate a balance aspect into the lifting process. Leave the bench press with the barbell to the muscle heads that are more concerned with how they look in the mirror.

- Shoulders need to build some swimming strength too, so I hit them with the lateral raises. Sometimes I mix in some front raises just for the sake of it.

- I do the triceps with a single dumbbell so I can hit both triceps at the same time. At this point, I'm running out of time in my lunch workout so I'm trying to get it done without skimping too much on the smaller muscle groups. Those triceps can be key in maintaining good posture in the aero position over the long haul.

- I try to whip through the bicep curls as well. These are lesser muscle groups when it comes to triathlon, and they've already had some work during the lat pull downs and chin ups. But the biceps do play a roll when you're climbing out of the saddle on the bike and controlling your steed while your legs power you up the climb.

Okay, now you know what I know as far as putting a weight session into your weekly training routine. So, come on, pencil neck! Get your butt in the gym!

Great Roads Around the World

Epic run this morning. Not that the pace was anything to brag about or anything. It was really more of a feat just to get out there and do it. The Green Springs Sunday Morning 10 Miler is one of my favorite workouts, and it's only more glorious in the spring to watch the cardinals chase each other and check out the azaleas blooming. But what made this one special wasn't any of that. Only 3 of us showed up, and that was a pretty good sized crowd in itself considering it was drizzling rain, a little bit gusty and coooooooooold (for March).

I squeezed 3 extra miles in early along the canal that flows through ECU next to 10th street. Full of water, it even had rapids in it at the bridge by Elm Street Park. I tried to imagine that I was running through Seattle in that mist with a roaring river alongside me. And that got me to thinking.......about epic trails and roads from the past............(pause for fuzzy scene change and harp music)

The Rockland lighthouse appears out of nowhere as you run towards it in the fog.

This first one's in Rockland, Maine. On a business trip for GW circa 2003, I found some freetime to go for a quick run. I was a newbie to running and not capable of much. But running along the golf course I found a rock jetty going out into the harbor. It was so foggy you couldn't see but about 50 ft. It was eerie running on those big flat slabs of rock in utter silence other than the sound of water slapping up against them. I had no idea how far the jetty went or what was on the other end until, out of the fog, the lighthouse appeared.

In more normal conditions, the lighthouse stands proud over Rockland Harbor.

Another favorite of mine is the seawall that runs around Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. Stanley Park is overrun with runners, so you can't help but feel right at home. It's such a beautiful city and from each point of the run you get a view of a different part of it - from downtown to the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Sea planes take off and land every few minutes from right in the harbor as you meander your way around the island.

Even in early February, the weather is more than comfortable for running in Stanley Park.

Another business trip gave me the opportunity to get in a 15 miler along Newport Beach, CA. I marveled at the expensive homes with patios that opened up right onto the boardwalk.

You have to pay attention to meander through the crowds on the Newport Beach boardwalk.

I had a great run out there, even though I got caught up in a pissing match for running supremacy with a Cali boy as we went shoulder to shoulder exchanging running resumes.

The scenery is unmatched at Newport Beach, fo' sho!

In 2005, I rented a bike and rode the historic White Bird hill climb in Idaho. An engineering marvel for its time, this road meanders over 8 switchbacks as it ascends over the tiny town of White Bird, where the Nez Perce indians opened a can o' whoopass on the white men that came to slaughter their entire tribe just to be big white bullies.

The White Bird hill climb and its 8 switchbacks to the top.

After about a 45 minute ascent to the top, you can take the newer, more direct higway back down to the bottom for a quick loop. Great place to stay south side of White Bird - just look for the people that have their bed on the porch and sleep on it outside!

Almost to the top of the White Bird hill climb with the valley of the Nez Perce below!

Another Idaho favorite is the Airline Trail, just about 2 miles from my parents' house in Garden Valley. I was invited for a 15 mile run with some neighbors just after doing Ironman CDA, and this run was epic. We went 8 miles into the wilderness, and I stuck to my guide like glue as he had his trusty dog, a hunting knife and a pistol with him and plenty of cougar experience. The other guy was way behind - cat food, for all I knew! After 8 miles of nearly hand over knees uphill running, we turned around to beautiful view of Garden Valley and made our way back down.

Up to this point, I had scoffed at the claim that the Airline Trail was steep. Right after this, it was like scaling a roof!

Some of the Airline Trail is groomed for dirt bikes, but much of it is pristine wilderness and somewhat eerie as you feel totally alone and perhaps as if something is watching you!

Plenty of places to make a wrong step on the Airline Trail!

I had some pretty epic bike rides in the 6 Gap and 3 Gap areas around Helen, GA, but Hog Pen Gap always sticks to my mind. It was down the north side of Hog Pen that I had my all time top speed of 63 mph. I also had many a good bonk climbing the south side.

The sign for the top of Hog Pen Gap is always a welcome sign!

When they weren't rioting about Anti-Americanism, the students at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea were quite nice when running on the campus. Just on the other side of the hill I lived on was a back gate to the campus, and running cross-country in high school I had lots of opportunities to explore every mile of it. There was something soothing about the sound of the cicadas in the fall as I cruised under the trees around those historic buildings.

Ivy grows on the walls of the historic architecture at Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea.

While we're talking about Seoul, I would have to include Riverside Park along the Han River that cuts through the city.

The Han River winds its way through the city of Seoul, Korea.

At the time - late 1980's - the park was brand new and the Han River suspected of creating mutant fish in its toxic waters. But as a high schooler, I had it in my head to run my own marathon in a place where signing up for a real one didn't exist. I ran 9 miles from church to home along the park every Sunday to train for my own personal marathon, which I ended up doing in spandex bike shorts with a leather chamois pad that rubbed my balls raw til they were bleeding. But I did it!

The park road was modern and crowded even back when I was running on it in the 1980's.

Last, and probably most nostalgic for me, is Taechon Beach, also in Korea. We spent several summers there relaxing in the sand with friends from school and church. Over Chusok holiday one year while I was in high school, a bunch of fellow cross country runners and I met for an epic run along the road that wound up and over the hill at the beach. I remember flying up and down the winding steps that were cut into the hill, looking for any kind of terrain we could swallow up, too young and feisty to care about being tired.

I didn't have any pictures of the dirt road that I remember running, but the beach was the main attraction back in the day anyway!

There's plenty of time and life in me yet to find more epic trails and roads to explore! I hope the roads you find yourself on are just as inspiring. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Retiring the Booby Box

Preparation for Operation Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2011 The Sufferfest continues to be going swimmingly! And bikingly and runningly for that matter. There’s actually a lot going on this time around that I feel is over and beyond the effort I put into the last 2 Ironmans. I’ll get to some of that in a later post. For this particular blog entry though, I wanted to delve into a little sumpin’ sumpin’ that’s kind of a big step for me but is already paying off big in my training and nutrition for the season.

So, here’s the confession. I drink way, way, way too much wine. I love it. I hate white wine – too sweet. But put a glass o’ red wine in front of me and I’m all over it. And I don’t mean the crap that folks like the Gallo brothers do in those big jugs, or even that horse swizzle that they make in Australia, or any of that damn fur’iner wine from France. $45 a bottle?!?!? Please, brotha! I’m talking the really, really top shelf stuff that you can only buy in the finest cardboard boxes. Slap a nice box o’ Almaden Burgundy on the counter, poke that easy pour spout out the end, and fill ‘er up! And just in the name of classiness, you can go ahead and rip the whole wine bladder out of the box and cram it in the fancy African carry-all with the picture of the topless Zulu chick toting her basket o' corn that my sister got for me once on a safari.

Ahhhhh, my beautiful vixen! Such sweet libations you poured from your Liberian breastesses. Until we meet again.....

I’ve known it wasn’t the most prudent thing to do for someone claiming to be addicted to multisport. But I figure it’s okay to imbibe as long as you put in the mileage to earn those sips. I never put any math to it, but I’d have probably been alright with something along the lines of

{(X hours on the bike) x (Y avg mph)} x 2 = wine earned (in ounces)

No, really.

This was a pretty typical evening recovery scene in the last few triathlon seasons.

Every time I see one of those articles in the triathlon magazines saying it’s okay to have a glass every evening I think, “Well, hell, if one is that good for you imagine what 6 will do for me!” So, how bad can it be? Do you really need a liver for triathlon? Hey, maybe I should look into that as a weight saver….

I should have caught it back when I did my first marathon back in 2006. I had decided at a half iron race just prior that perhaps over indulging in the sauce wasn’t as big a factor as we are typically led to believe. I had wined and dined myself the night before and managed a comfortable 5:22 for the swim, bike, and run, which I was ecstatic about at the time (Admittedly, this would leave me more than just a little disappointed with myself at this point in my multisport journey). So, the night before my first marathon a month later, it seemed perfectly natural to take on a bottle of red in the hot tub. Some 4 hours and 20 minutes of painfully walking and jogging the next day through the marathon taught me otherwise. But I’ve also had plenty of good races and training sessions after drinking enough the night before to swell myself up like a dog tick. I just didn’t want to sacrifice that much.

But, this time it’s different. I wanna know! I really, really wanna know how far I can push myself. I just don’t figure I can keep that up if I’m really going to do everything I’m hoping for in this Ironman. So, even if it really may be a serving of fruit per glass, the path to antioxidant nirvana, or some other barely believable argument to justify that glorious intoxicated stupor…….I’m giving it up. No more wine, beer, or any alcohol. At least until after the Ironman.

Tuesday will be 3 weeks. And I haven’t missed one drop. Neither has Angie. She shelved the Natty Lights alongside my own sacrifice. Ain’t she awesome? It’s been great too. I feel stronger, lighter, and when I wake up in the morning I’m eager to get going with the day and find I have much more motivation.

So, rather than the old familiar glass of wine in my hand that you might have been used to seeing me with, you’ll now see me sipping a cup of green tea, a glass of water, or a lemonade in the late evening. I find that, when I was dehydrating myself with that succulent bloody looking libation, I’m now hydrating much better, aiding the recovery process from the day’s training, and setting myself up for another great day of race preparation.

So, drink one or two or nine or four for Angie and me! And if you want a Fat Tire, please come over……….there are still tons of them in the fridge in the garage!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Simple Minded Triathlete

"Doing anything special this weekend?" my coworker asked me on Friday. Half listening and half engaged in my work I gave my usual response, which truthfully, he should have memorized by now: "Swimming, biking and running."

"Doesn't that ever get boring?"

It was a pretty good question really. I'm sure it sounds horribly unappealing to anyone that isn't fully immersed in this multisport lifestyle. So, why does this arguably boring lifestyle appeal to me? Maybe we're all wired a bit different, so is there something in my head that makes living a good chunk of my life alone in my thoughts whilst swimming, biking, and running just work for me?

I don't wanna get too deep here, but yeah, maybe. I think about how simplistic it is when it's just you and your body pushing yourself to go forward. It just seems so perfect when you can narrow your focus to the feet moving forward, the sound of your breath, checking off how the heart feels, how the lungs feel, are the legs getting tired. It's all internal and nothing outside competes for your attention.

As simple as it is, there are simpler ways to live and often I find them appealing too. Sometimes I wonder if I could have made it as a monk. Giving everything up for a simpler life just sounds inviting! When I was a kid growing up in South Korea, my dad used to take me to a place called Jesus Abbey in the Taebaek Mountains in Kangwondo. It's a Christian community where people visit to engage in prayer or seek peace and solace in the name of the Lord surrounded by those beautiful mountains.

Kimchi pots in the foreground, Jesus Abbey always seemed to have a mystical appearance to it.

As a kid, I had little appreciation for the spiritual aspect of Jesus Abbey. But I'm just as mesmerized now, in my head, as I was then by the natural beauty that surrounded the place, the simple pleasures of exploring nature, the obligatory prayer sessions, a modest meal, and a mat on the ahndal heated floor to sleep on.

The stone buildings were built into the side of the mountain, with a lovely thatched roof.

I'd love to go back some day, and I often drift in thought to the idea of living out a simpler life along the grounds of the Abbey. Or, I could stick with this triathlon thing, which by comparison, seems like a pretty elaborate lifestyle. I guess, like anything else, it's all relative but perhaps if you have a place in your mind where the simplest things seem that they could offer a lifetime of enjoyment........well, maybe that's why you're into this triathlon thing as well.

That, or you like beating people and then rubbing their nose in it. S'good stuff too!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Running in Circles

Track workouts are one of my favorite weekly workouts – often one of the hardest of the week – but many triathletes don’t make use of them and I wonder perhaps if one of the reasons is because some aren’t sure how to put them together. I’m no certified coach, but I listen to what’s out there, I try a lot of stuff, and I do what works for me. It’s a little of trying to be a good student of the sport, paying attention to the science, and going with what “just feels right.”
Track workouts are the best way to gauge your pace because the 400 m loop is a constant.
So, if you want to get on the track but you have questions like what goals to set, how many intervals to do, what speed you should do them at, how long you should rest, etc. give this a try. All you need to figure out is, (1) how far your intervals need to be, and (2) what pace you should run them.
Your track workout is a key running workout, so first place it somewhere in your training week so that it is not right on top of your long run day or any other strenuous workouts. For most, the long run day is on the weekend so Wednesday is a typical track day. The track workout will be similar to a typical swim workout with a warm up, a main set, and a cool down.
If only a college near you had the gumption to actually build a track like this! Think of the possibilities!
Warm Up
You just want to get the leg muscles primed. We typically do a 1.5 mile warm up, or 6 laps around a 400 meter track. This should be at a nice, social pace. If doing this workout with friends, use the warm up to chat and don’t concern yourself with the pace. You should have no problem being a chatterbox during the warm up. Stretch a bit after the warm up.
Main Set
This is the fun part! For most triathlons and short distance running events, your intervals in the main set are going to probably be between 400 meters and 1600 meters. For marathons and iron distance triathlons, you might bring your interval distances as high as 3 miles. This season, I’m following a modified version of a marathon plan designed by the Hanson Brothers. This plan is for an Ironman, and the first half of the 18 week plan has the track workouts designed for increasing speed:
3 mi total intervals (10K pace) – max 1600 m interval
Examples: 6x800 m, 3x1600 m, ladder of 2x400 m, 800 m, 1600 m, 800 m, 2x400 m
Rest Intervals 400 m
The second half of the marathon training plan has track workouts designed to increase strength. For a marathon or Ironman, this makes sense. You’ve used the first part of your build up to get used to speed. Now you build that speed over a prolonged interval:
6 mi total intervals (:10 slower than 10K pace) – min 1600 m interval
Examples: 2x3 mi (1 mi RI), 3x2 mi (800 m RI), 6x1600 m (800 m RI)
(For more about the Hanson plan go to
If your season has shorter distance races in it, you may not need to progress to the strength phase of the workouts as sprint (5K) and international (10K) distance races require more of a speed focus. If this is the case with you, you will want to increase the interval pace to at or below your goal race pace. So, for a 5K, for example, perhaps you would want to try your intervals at 5 to 10 sec faster than 5K pace.
All you need for running intervals on a track is a watch with chrono feature to record your splits and check that your on your target interval pace.
As for the Rest Interval (RI), it’s meant to be active. Instead of standing still resting, you need to jog easily to keep moving. So a 400 m RI would be an easy jog around the track before you start the next interval (about 2:20 or so, but it’ll vary for your particular speed). Every now and then, or again if you’re concentrating on short races, I like to increase the intensity of the workout by substituting the active RI’s for a very short Static Interval. For instance, 6x800 m with SI of :45. This makes the workout much harder as it shortens that recovery period, but it’s a great way to shock the system into handling speed when you’re fatigued!
Tip: One thing regarding the track workout on race week: keep it down to a simple 4x400 m. You don’t want to exhaust your legs going into a race with a hard workout, but you do still need to keep some intensity in that tapering week of your race.
Now, what about pace? How are you supposed to know what your 5K or 10K pace is unless you’ve just completed one and you know for sure you just put everything you had into it? Here’s where a bit of science comes in.
It's called the VDOT method and it isn't an easy test. It refers to the volume of oxygen consumed per minute and you can read about it several books by Jack Daniels. To find your VDOT, go to the track and do a warmup as described above. Then, run 3 miles (12 laps) as fast as you can in which each mile is consistent and record those mile splits. If you run the first mile in 6:00, the second one in 6:10, and the third one in 6:47 you didn’t nail it. Try to keep each mile within 5-10 seconds of each other. This is a really tough workout! It’s just like doing a 5K all out. Remember to cool down after you’ve finished. Take your recorded mile splits and apply it the VDOT calculator at and it will spit out your split times for various distance intervals. Here’s my last VDOT as an example:
In this example, Threshold (T) pace is most equivalent to my 10K pace so my speed intervals in the above workouts would be done at a pace at 6:25.
There are other run calculators on line: Mafftone, McMillan. I have a spreadsheet that compares them all if you'd like to apply it to your particular pace.
In truth, I find that I can do my intervals faster than the prescribed pace as dictated by the above method, and my guess is you will too. But you have to consider what you’re training for and does it make sense to push the pace beyond in these workouts given your goals. In my case, as I’m training for an Ironman, it probably won’t be of any further help to run my 800’s at, say, 5:50 pace rather than the prescribed 6:11. I won’t be using that kind of speed in the marathon leg of the race anyway. The goal is to dip your pace under race pace just the right amount to add speed and strength to your race legs, while still keeping it at a practical percentage of race pace. So, if you’re on the track training for an Ironman with your buddies who are training for a 5k you might have to swallow your pride and watch them drop you. But that’s only because the goals are different. That’s why this sport requires discipline!
Cool Down
Pretty simple here. Your legs just need to detox a bit. They’ve been going pretty hard and you need to let them adjust and also bring your heart rate down. A mile (4 laps) around the track is a sufficient cool down and again, do this at an easy, social jog where you have no problem chatting with friends that are cooling down with you. If it won’t cause problems with other people using the track, I like to turn around and run the track the other way just to even out the legs a little bit.
Now you have all the tools you need to put together a track workout or series of track workouts to prepare you for your goal on race day! Sure, there’re a million other ways to come up with track workouts but now you have a great start! Happy running!