Sunday, May 29, 2011

Free Swim

When I arrived at Masters swim yesterday, for the first time ever, there was no coach on deck.  The Nationals meet was being set up, so we were left to our own devices.  In other words:  Free Swim!

Now, "Free Swim" might not mean anything to you.  But if you happened to spend any time in your youth at a public pool, you might appreciate those words as much as I do.  Back in the day, Free Swim meant the time was now yours to spash, dunk, dive and manhandle your way around the pool.  It meant Marco Polo matches, underwater tea parties, handstands and pretend gymnastics on the pool floor's balance beam, aka the lane line, and hour after hour of creative dives off the high dive.

Spending the afternoon goofing off at the pool meant freedom for us kids.  In our neighborhood, we got dropped off at the pool in the back of our neighbor's truck.  Car seats, seat belts, wha?  We'd spend from noon to dusk swimming at the pool with nary a parent in sight.  Our afternoon snack consisted of a melty Big Hunk that we'd shove into our mouths and then jump into the pool like we were getting away with something, since no food was allowed on deck.

In our town, the lifeguards knew us by name.  Our tan lines were tattooed on our bronze bodies.  And our feet were tougher than the thickest belt leather.

Morning swim was organized as a team, where we honed our strokes and perfected our starts from the blocks.

But afternoons were all about the fun -- jumping into the refreshing water and getting a reprive from the 100-plus Arizona temperatures.

Which is why still today, some of my favorite smells are potent chlorine and the whiff of a new latex swim cap.  Swimming for me is a pleasure - a rest from the heaviness of the world, a chance to become weightless and glide through one hour of the day.  No pounding the pavement, no endless spin of the cranks, just a solo effort through 50 yards of cool blue.

Masters swim I will always love.  But Free Swim - there's just nothing better.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stretch Armstrong

Stretching is one of those things we all KNOW we should do it, but don't.  But then there is tightness, stress, and finally, injury.  Right?  And what/who's too blame?  Yep.

I asked Judy Stowers, a licensed stretch therapist, to give me her two cents about the benefits of stretching.  Judy stretches athletes for a living and if you've never had her put you through a session, you're missing out.  Here's what Judy had to say:

BENEFITS: It is quite possible that the greatest benefit of stretching is that it FEELS GOOD!!!  Our bodies adapt to stress much easier if the muscles in the body are free from tension.  When the muscles in the body are free from this tension, we eliminate, or greatly reduce, the risks of injury.

Whether in sport or just in our activities of daily living, stretching can help eliminate pain and stiffness in our bodies.  Stretching also greatly increases circulation in the body.  This is important because our bodies need good blood and oxygen flow in order to operate efficiently.

WHEN TO STRETCH:  You will read a variety of opinions on when to stretch.  The best advice I can give you on this is to stretch post-workout.  The exercise itself, running for example, should be its own warm up.  The post-workout stretch is vital to helping the muscles with recovery.

Each time we workout or put stress on our muscles, it creates tiny micro tears in the muscles.  Stretching will help the muscles recover from these tears and also help prevent soreness and injury.  There are certainly cases where stretching before can also be beneficial but by taking the time after your workout, you are applying the greatest benefit to your muscles.  Think of it as preparation for the next workout!

A NOTE ON BREATHING:  Breathing during a session of stretching is vital to the process of lengthening our muscles and reducing the tension found in the muscles.  If you are holding your breath while you are stretching, your body actually holds in the tension, thus eliminating the possibility for the muscle to relax and be lengthened.  Tension will always decrease in the muscles as you breathe out!  The body will not be able to feel relaxed in a stretch while the muscles are under tension.  By breathing through the stretch you are performing, you can physiologically alter the state of the muscle to be in a relaxed and lengthened state.

BEST APPROACH:  Again, you will find a variety of opinions on what is best.  With my training, I have found the best approach to be a contract-relax (C-R) approach.  With this approach, you can incorporate a brief contraction to the muscle, followed by a deeper stretch.  After a very strong contraction, the muscle's resistance to elongation is temporarily reduced, allowing us to stretch deeper than we would otherwise be able to do.  Following a pattern of C-R stretches will allow you to create the maximum amount of flexibility in the body!

There is much to be learned and applied with stretching!  I encourage you to spend some quiet time stretching and really FEEL your muscles lengthen.  If you take just a few minutes a day to stretch, you will feel invigorated and will perform better in your given sports and activities!

For more information about a personal stretching session, contact Judy at  It's better than a massage!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thing I Have Learned This Week

Pristine Canyon Lake, Arizona
In no particular order:

--  Running and cycling with friends will help you go faster and farther than you thought you could on any given day. 

-- Compact cranksets are sweet and make hill climbing easier for these reasons: 

• Higher RPMs can be maintained on steep climbs because of a lower low gear.
• Closer spacing of the gears makes it easer to maintain the optimal cadence as wind gusts and or small changes in elevation cause small speed changes.
• Some maximal speed potential on down hills is lost, but unless you are sustaining speeds of over 33mph on the flats this shouldn't be an issue.

-- Salt Sticks work when you feel your legs cramping.

-- The new Honey Stinger Vanilla Waffles may be better than the original.

-- Support your local bike shop because they support you.

--Open water swimming is much different than pool swimming, and you should go jump in the lake often.

-- Do your long run on the day before your long bike/brick, not visa versa. **Mark Allen was right about this one.

--A good training week will give you confidence.  A bad one just sucks.

--Having a big race on your schedule gives you the motivation to get up before dawn to train.

--Naps are heaven sent.

--If tracking elevation gain on your Garmin is what keeps your pedaling, so be it.

--Exercise gives you endorphins.  And that, Martha Stewart, is a good thing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The List Every Runner Should Memorize

There's a lot of terminology thrown around in the world of endurance training and racing.  And a lot of stuff that goes in one ear and out the other because, frankly, what is the difference between a tempo run and a cruise interval?

I found a concise TRAINING KEY in the Spring 2011 Runner's World.  I'm reprinting it here because I think it is such important information for every runner, which means you, my blogger friends.

LONG RUN:  These should be run at a conversational pace and on trail terrain similar to that of your race. Training specificity during your long run gives you the most bang for your buck.

FAST FINISH AND PROGRESSION RUN:  This is a dress rehearsal.  Test your gear on the trails that you'll be running on race day.  This workout should mimic your long run's steady pace, but in the last five minutes, increase your effort so that you are running faster than 5-K race pace.  Focus on your foot plant and practice weaving around obstacles on the trails without losing momentum.

HILL REPEATS:  An excellent way to strengthen the legs and increase the cardiovascular workload without stressing your joints.  Find a hill with a six to 10 percent grade that you can ascend in 60 to 90 seconds.  Jog back down to recover between reps.  Each hill repeat should be run at an effort equivalent to your mile race pace, which translates to roughly a 5-K race pace.  If you do not have an appropriate hill nearby, use a treadmill, highway overpass, or parking garage.

TEMPO INTERVALS:  Run these at 10-K race pace on an even, flat surface in order to maximize leg turnover.  Recover for four to five minutes between intervals.

CRUISE INTERVALS:  Run these on an even, flat surface as well.  These intervals are shorter and slightly faster than your Tempo Intervals (roughly 8-K pace).  Recovery is 200 meters for 1,000 meter repeats.

STRIDE WORKOUT:  Warm up thoroughly (15 to 30 minutes).  Gradually build your speed as you progress through each stride.  Focus on form and turnover.  These are not all-out sprints.  Cool down for 10 to 20 minutes.

EASY RUNS:  Run at your natural pace.  There is no need to push this workout.  You should run on whatever surface is most convenient for you.

OFF DAYS:  You can use these days as you wish - just no running.  Cross-training (yoga, swimming, biking, rowing) is fine, but be sure to incorporate only very light cross-training as you approach race day.

STRENGTH AND BALANCE TRAINING:  The key is to develop the muscles - particularly your hips, quads, glutes, and ankles - that aren't used enough during road running.  This training also helps cultivate proprioception, or your awareness of your own body relative to its surroundings.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gilbert Has It Going On

I found a little hidden gem in Gilbert, Arizona last weekend.  K and I went for a run on the Gilbert canals and passed the beautiful Riparian Preserve.  What a nice place for a run!

The Preserve is 110 acres of land on the corner of Gilbert and Greenfield Roads.  There are gravel trails that wind their way through the park with marshes and desert landscape.  I think I saw cranes dipping their beaks into the water.  It was so cool!

Next to the Preserve is the eight-mile canal.  One side of the canal is paved, the other is dirt so runners and cyclists can both enjoy the trails through the city.  And every half a mile or so there are rustic bridges that cross the water, adding a quaint charm to the route.
Gilbert is really a great place to go for a run.  If you're looking for something new, give it a try.  Break from your own route and head to a new beautiful part of this great big city.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Better, Faster, Stronger

There's a great article in June 2011's issue of Runner's World that begs the question: does form really matter?  You can find it in it's entirety here.

 Here are the biomechanics of elite runner Ryan Hall's run.  Can you say the same about yours?

"In slow motion he almost appears to bound.  He keeps his upper body still, leaning slightly forward, with his back straight, his arms half dropped, and his palms open.  He lands on his midfoot, not his heel.  Even at 300 frames per second it is hard to tell exactly when he touches down - it is a gradual, fluid motion.  At the same time, his opposite leg extends backward, drifting along behind his body until he pulls it forward and back into service."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ironman St. George AKA Highway To Hell

Iron Ryan headed up to St. George last weekend to see if he could top his previous attempt at the challenging course of Southern Utah, trying to best his previous time of 13:50. 

On Saturday, Ryan exited the swim with an impressive 59:12, comparing the open water thrashing to "running the bulls in Spain, but in the water". He then rocked the bike portion of the race, shaving 40 minutes off his previous time, for a 6:30 bike split.  

I'll pick up his story at the beginning of 26.2...


I started the run with a good pace.  I felt pretty good for the first mile.  The two guys I was running with both said, “wow only 25 more to go” as we reached mile one.  The aid stations had cold water, ice cold sponges, misters, and some even had garden hoses spraying you off as you ran by.  

As the run began, you could start to feel the heat pounding down on your body.  At mile 3 you reach to the top of the mountain and are surrounded by red rocks and black asphalt with added temperature nearing 100, this was not your ideal running conditions.  My feet felt like they were melting.  As the run went on, the pain factor in the body went up.  My feet began to ache from the heat pounding on them.  I felt like someone was chasing me with a blow torch.  As I reached mile 4, I passed Mike as he was heading back down the hill.  I yelled at him and he yelled back.  It was nice to see him out on the course.  

As the day went on, the heat increased and my run slowed to a jog and then a shuffle and eventually a fast walk up some of the steepest parts of the run.  I did not feel bad about my speed walk because people walking were actually going as fast as those who were shuffling up the steep hills.  After one loop (13 miles) I knew the second loop was going to suck even more than the first.  I had never been at a point during a race where the heat sucked so much out me that even walking became difficult.  

I then thought: should I just stop now and save myself from the unknown that might occur during the second loop of the run.  I was spent.  I knew it and my body knew it even more.  Did I go too hard on the bike?  Am I drinking enough? Food?  All these thoughts kept entering my mind.  How was I ever going to make it 13 more miles?  

I looked at my watch and saw that it was around 5:30 PM.  I had been going for ten and a half hours.  I knew I could make the midnight cut off time even if I walked 2 miles an hour.  I was determined to finish at all costs.  I started my job up the road and at mile two I saw my wife, two kids and my mother-in-law.  They were cheering loudly and telling me I could do it.  I am glad they were on the opposite side of the course, because if they were any closer, I would have emotionally lost it.  I held back a few tears, gave them a fist pump in the air and told them to wait for me at the finish line..

After seeing my family, I entered the most difficult part of the run course.  It is about one mile long and is very steep.  I somehow made my way to the top and to the aid station.  I drank as much as I could, ate a few oranges and then began my shuffle down the fiery path.  The aid station I had just left was playing music and they had the song on “highway to hell”.  I thought that song was very fitting for the current situation that I found myself in.  I was now focusing on one foot in front of the other.  About a quarter mile past this aid station, I saw Mike again heading down the road.  I thought to myself, “if he feels anything like I do, then we should just go lie down and die together..” (I can put a little bit of blame on him for getting me into the mess I was in on top of the hill).  

As we got closer to each other I began to tear up and get emotional.  I could see the pain he was feeling by the look on his face.  It was kind of a relief to see his pain because I was feeling pain also.  At the top of the run loop, in the hot sun, I gave Mike a huge hug.  We were both crying as we stopped to embrace each other.  He told me “this is the hardest thing I have ever done and we are going to finish.”  With tears streaming down our faces, I somehow got the words out for him to just wait for me at the finish even if it was midnight, I would not give up.  He gave me a few encouraging words and we parted our ways.. He was down to his final 3-4 miles and I still had 10 more to go. 

That moment out there on the run course was a defining moment for me.  It made me really dig down deep, deeper than I had ever been before.  Thanks Mike, I needed that.  I continued on my journey, one mile after the next with people cheering us on at every aid station, telling us to keep going and not give up, knowing what we were suffering out there in the heat.  I made it to the turn around and knew I only had 6.5 miles to go.  The next three were up hill and every step tested my will power.  I made it to the top and started to see the light at the end.  One step at a time is what I kept telling myself.  I did not put myself through weeks and weeks or training to give up now. No way.  I was in it for the long haul.  

I made it to the final aid station and I stopped to get a drink.  I jokingly asked the girl who gave me the cup of water how I looked because I wanted to look good for the finish.  She laughed and gave me a sponge to wipe the salt away from my lips, eyes and ears.  One mile to go. I looked at my watched and saw that it was at 13:33… My time last year was 13:52.. I thought to myself that I just might get a PR after all the misery I felt out on the course. 

I then took off, nothing was going to stop me now. I ran the last mile at about a 9 min pace. I ran down the shoot and heard the famous words I had been dreaming about all day…”Ryan Stokes, a police officer from Mesa Arizona… YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”  I had made it… 13:42,. A PR by ten minutes.  

After crossing the finish line, puking water all over some nice volunteer's feet, getting my medal and picture, I finally met up with Mike and my family. What a day, what a day. All I can say is that when someone turns the furnace on, it literally sucks every bit of juice out of me. It was the most difficult event I have ever done in my life, but I am glad I did it.

Can't wait to get back in the pool...


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Shot In The Arm

Sometimes it take a little somethin' somethin' to get me motivated to get out there and train.  I'm counting down to Ironman France and those long bikes are like bad dreams lurking in my future!  In my MIND I want to be pro runner Kara Goucher, who ran religiously up until the day she delivered her baby, then ran a marathon a few months later.

In MY REALITY, it takes a little retail therapy to get me up and at 'em in the AM.

So lucky me, wandering past the Garmin booth at the Boston Expo last week, I heard that all-to-familiar whisper from a tricky salesman,"For you, special price!" Answer me this: what girl can walk away from that?  *BTW they can spot me a mile away in Mexico.

I've owned my fair share of HR monitors.  I've used a Polar, then switched to the Garmin 305 and 405, and I find them invaluable for training.  I've had my eye on the 310XT for years now, but didn't want to fork over the cash since I had a perfectly usable 305 charging on my bathroom counter.

But, those discounted prices got my palms all sweaty and the debit card just sort of slipped out of my hands and fell right into the credit card machine.  And now the 310XT is mine!

Let me just tell you how cool this thing is:

1.  After you've set up the device, the minute you walk in from a workout and walk by your computer, the 310XT buzzes and starts downloading your new workout information directly to your computer.  No wires, it's like magic.

2.  You get all kinds of really useful information in the form of graphs, maps, mile splits.  It's so detailed and easy to read, like this:

And, you can upload all this information to Training Peaks.  Bonus.

3.  It's waterproof, which means you can swim with it and get accurate distance measurements for open water swims.  Sweet!

4.  If you have different bikes, you can set up each one under a different name, so you look back on your records and know which bike you were using on a particular day.

I know there is tons more this handy device has to offer.  I am still exploring and learning.  But I am a fan already.  And that might just get me through that next long bike.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Karen's Journey

That's Karen on the right, the tiny runner with the turnover of a  turbine engine.
I didn't physically become a runner until I was 40 years old, but mentally I've been a runner since age 10. That's the year I made a personal goal to someday run the Boston Marathon.

I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was watching a made-for-TV movie about a woman from Boston who was going through a rough patch in her life. 
Joanne Woodward starred in the movie in 1977
She decided to regain control of it by training for and running the Boston Marathon. This was before one had to quality to enter. The story was inspiring for me and running the Boston Marathon was immediately added to my non-written bucket list.

Thirty years later, my friends in the neighborhood were talking about running the St. George Marathon. I was in! We trained, ran and I was hooked. What a rush! I had never felt so liberated. My old dream of Boston soared to the surface of my memory.

It took 5 more years and two more marathons to finally realize my dream, but there I was on April 18th, 2011 in Hopkinton, Mass. with 26,000 runners, among them my handsome husband of 25 year that week. I cried twice that day: Once as I crossed the start line when our friend Mike yelled, "Look around, you're running the Boston Marathon!" And again as a yellow and blue ribboned medal was placed around my neck. 

Boston Marathon: check.

Que lindo es sonar despierto.
How lovely it is to dream while you are awake.

Dreams That Have Come True