Monday, September 29, 2014

That Person Who Motivates You

For me the interesting thing about motivation is that is has to happen so frequently and in so many different ways. There is the daily motivation I need to get routine tasks done, and then there is the large scale motivation that I need to tackle bigger and bigger challenges. Throughout my short life the people and persons that I have been looking up to has consistently changed at least every year. Of course this could be due to the fact that more than anyone I know my tastes and preferences are always changing. Lately I have been inspired/motivated by the experienced members of my local tri-club.

Alright People! Today We Break Out of Our Square Yellow Prisons
Being a great leader and being motivational are often the same thing, if not closely related. However, there is a difference between possessing motivation and being motivated by someone. Often it is the accomplishments and direction of others that lends motivation, whereas becoming self-motivated requires a different set of tools and design. People who self-motivate well often have a realistic plan and a goal, they possess the stamina and resolve required to put that plan into action and the do it consistently. Being motivated by someone else (even temporarily) only requires a sense that what that other person is doing seems like a good idea or is impressive. Both are great. For me I have always taken the inspiration I gain from others and developed personal plans and goals needed to actualize that inspiration. This can take many forms as the nature of what is inspiring about a person can vary dramatically. Generally it is not good enough simply to look to others for motivation, motivation inspired from others has to germinate within you where it greatest rewards are developed by planning out goals, expending controlled effort, and practicing consistency.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Ask any cyclist why going down the hill is easier than climbing up and the answer will surely be related to momentum. In fact there are few instances in any movement sport where momentum is not in someway important. Much of learning to swim is simply creating and allowing for proper body motion so that momentum isn't blocked. Psychologically momentum make an athlete feel like they are 'on a roll' or that their training program just seems to get itself done once they allow 'themselves' to take a step back and flip into auto-pilot. This is a subject that I have blogged about in the past related to combatting the monday blahs. Well it turns out that in sports streaks have a positive reinforcing effect that modifies the emotional investment in the sport activities. Momentum is the difference between showing up feeling 'cold' or 'on fire' to that important event or training session.

Momentum: Not Just Physics!
Momentum is the amount of motion that an object has. Generally endurance athletes want to maintain a consistent momentum throughout the duration of a training block or race. The is important for both efficiency and performance. According to physics the best way to maintain momentum is to have continuous propulsion and minimized drag related to the activity. Similar observations can be made to the psychological frame of reference is shifted yet in a way the principles remain the same. It is very commonly understood that past results can positively or negatively influence future performance. We can remember a few recent tennis matches were one of an equally matched pair of opponents seems to suddenly gain dominance throughout the duration of a match. Goals, touchdowns, and made baskets do change games. Mostly this has to do with how each side thinks and  feels about the potential outcomes of the match, their own abilities, and their opposition. Generally we notice that struggling athletes stop focusing on those mental cues that allow them to perform well and start focusing on other elements (usually their own thoughts and impressions) of the present situation. Premature analysis of past mistakes is a common stumbling block and one that inevitably leads to over thinking or simply trying too hard. Momentum changes are related to how an athlete is thinking and feeling at any given time.

Anyways Attempt to Maintain Your Momentum

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Never Stop Learning (About Triathlon)

One of the great things that I love about having a dynamic hobby like Triathlon is that you can never really stop learning more about yourself and the sport that you love. Although many people don't do extensive researching or self-discovery when entering the sport in general I don't think it takes very long before they have to start. For most people research is what you do into you competition, for many triathletes knowing the field can be an important part of preparation; however, for most of us the real research that is happening is going into what works best for them as individuals day-to-day and over the extended periods of time leading up to a challenging event. This could be related to diet, training, recovery, etc.

This added layer of researching may seem to be just another additional time burden to an already busy schedule but in the end adding research is important in ensuring that you will end with the best possible information available. Understanding completely how you will need to fuel for an event may not be necessary but you will need to have a minimum understanding to avoid very real difficulties. For most (myself included) the research I was doing into myself and into the sport quickly extended beyond Google searches. Ok there were actually lots and lots of Google searches but often what I got in depth of information from Google I lost in direct experience and breadth of knowledge. Spending 30 minutes reading blogs or online articles has become far less rewarding than a similarly lengthy conversation with one of my teammates or coaches.

Funny enough has been my own shift from researching to blogging (something I never thought I would bother with). But, after all what better way to record my own personal project and develop some structure around what I was taking the time to learn? I didn't start writing online just to get followers, I was beginning to see the value in actively reporting what I was researching about triathlon and not just storing it away in my memory. Some of the more interesting results has been receiving feedback from blog readers, the necessity for doing deep research, noticing the popularity of certain post subject, and even better understanding my own interests in particular subject based somewhat on how long and keen I am to finish that latest post (if at all).

Social networks continue to expand in popularity and sophistication. There are thousands of active triathletes online who I have been able to link to and interact with. Do I expect to ever make money spreading social media? Absolutely not but it is a great way to employ my free time between training sets. Also morning blogging has added an element of structure to my mornings and in a fun way to get out of bed and sharpen my mind for a busy workday. Social networks also come with an added benefit in that they are just that: networks. I've always had good support networks and I can only hope that the online ones I am cultivating prove to be just as helpful.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Suffering: Pushing Through

There are any number of different ways an athlete can suffer day-today. Physical pain and suffering is the most obvious, other forms can include but are not limited to: anxiety, general elevated stress, and other so-called affective disorders. Understanding exactly how you are suffering, in what way, and how much can be a lengthy discovery process. It is clear that healthy people suffer and can live normally under significant stress and suffering. Not to mention chronic pain suffers. Suffering can also be seen in the absence of other positive qualities such as energy or enthusiasm. So long as most of your positive personal attributes are not impaired by the day-to-day stresses you experience you can be sure that the stresses are acceptable impairments, even welcome! One of the most common overtraining symptoms that I frequently experience has been mild flu-like symptoms. Ultimately this will get to the point where it is no longer tolerable and I know it is time for some serious rest and recovery! In this way I am able to find a measure of inner peace and not get too upset about possibly getting sick or having to postpone forward progress in training.

Pain: Suffering, Stress, and Possibly Emotional Issues All-in-One!
Being humble also helps to reflect on the fact that I am not invincible and that even though I am embracing the stresses of hardcore training my body is still following all the same rules as everyone else. It's largely been my lack of feelings of invincibility that have prevented me from tackling longer distance triathlons to date (maybe a good thing to date)! In order not to feel completely defeated I have found it is best to give the most out of myself. This is a technique common in losing teams, that being in order to justify feelings of inadequacy they will often turn to 'best efforts' and 'giving it your all' without the part about scoring more goals. In a way that is the difference between the beginning and the end of a training block. At the start when I'm fresh it's all about crushing record times, by the end of the week a few days later I'm just hanging in for survival! It's those times of survival that I know will make the difference, meaning having ways to deal with unexpected or extreme stresses and carrying on.

There has been some research regarding the differences in athletes who are spiritual versus agnostic. I won't get into my own beliefs but it does turn out that athletes who are spiritual possess a transcendental framework. Christians have been documented praying/meditating through some significantly painful experiences (Lion attacks possibly included). There are a number of really great Bible passages I have heard from other athletes (repeating verses like Isaiah 40: verses 28-31 is probably pretty effective overall), in addition to one particularly famous quote from a German philosopher going: "the things which don't kill us make us stronger." So I guess to some degree you can take it either way just so long as making sure that a spiritual approach to suffering is present in your life. I will add that it is my personal view from experience that philosophers tend to be cold and cynical where religious folks tend to the grateful and caring end of the scale. I definitely go out of my way not to get caught up in the whole 'individualistic' trip. In the end like anything else there is really no reason not to borrow the best from both approaches and all available philosophies while staying true to what you are comfortable with.  Mostly pain, suffering, and stress are seen as negatives. With transcendental exploration and understand an athlete can rationalize the pain. In my own experience I have come to identify a sort of ultimate meaning. In fact for the most part I had always already been doing this without fully realizing it! Ideas like: improving over time through practice, tolerating pain for future benefits, and even maintaining a selective diet were all already based on a ultimate view of a desired outcome. With practice and self discovery these hooks, or tokens, become much deeper and more personally meaningful. An example of an ultimate meaning for me has been seeing my activities as part of a continuum of intake and output related to the heartbeat and breaths we take everyday, exercise and suffering being part of the same cycle.

Choose You Must - Or Not

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Adding Fun to Your Workouts

It sounds somewhat strange, especially to someone as fun loving as I am, but it can sometime be very difficult to add elements of fun to a daily workout routine. This is even more true if the task is grueling. Now addressing this subject isn't to say that having fun is the most important element, in fact the original title for this post was 'Adding Passion...' which is a topic of a later post I'm thinking. So what is the difference between fun and passion, well fun is often exciting whereas passion does not have to be. Passionate people can be the opposite of fun by most standards. Obviously I aim to be passionate as well as fun in my triathlon pursuits but whereas I can often be cold and calculation when it comes to devoting my energies (i.e. acting passionately about the subject) adding fun is often the more elusive task.

  • Be With Fun People - This is probably the best way I've added a fun element to my workout routines. Simply hanging out with other people who are fun, even if I may not be in a fun mood, has been a great way of increasing my enjoyment of exercise. It seems to me that there are generally two camps in this regard and a person can easily shift from one into the other, those being: I'm here to be social, or I'm here to train. Both are valid. In fact both may even be necessary. For me I have sessions where I know I'm not going to be getting the most out of the time but I can be sure that it will be engaging and fun. On the other hand I know that if I go out by myself I'm going to crush the workout but probably have less fun doing it. It sort of reminds me of a Friday night analogy: you can either stay up late working on your paper or going out with friends. Doing your paper is not going to be fun but there will be other future rewards for your efforts. On the other hand going out with friends will seem fun at the time but there may be fewer future rewards. Obviously what would be the best would be getting the paper done while going out with friends! Group runs or rides can approach this, but still in my experience most of the actual fun will happen when the training is paused or over.  
  • Add Variety - Variety is the spice of life. Probably enough said. 
  • Smile and Laugh - Psychology has shown that people who are not happy but who force themselve to smile and laugh actually become happier! By acting like how you want to feel you actually begin to feel that way. 
  • Broaden Your Definition of Fun - Maybe today your notion of fun includes hill repeats! I know that this sounds crazy but it would probably work just as well as the point above. If instead of coming to the stop with a grunt/goan/sigh but with a laugh you can probably at least tell yourself that you were having fun the whole way! Besides as with the point above even if you weren't actually having fun at least other people think you were. Give it a try! The psychology behind this is pretty strong. 

Passion and Fun, Not Always Closely Related

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Turtle v. Hare - a Modern Retelling

I recently came across a modern day retelling of the age old fairy tale in an organization behavior class that actually introduces an obstacle onto the racecourse (a wide and fast river) with the finish line just following, in this version the hare rushes through the course but must wait to ride the turtle across the river, in the end both the tortoise and the hare cross the finish line at the same time. It's not clear why the turtle must carry the hare but he does, maybe the hare has better eyesight and can see across the channel I don't know. Aside from doing away with many of the classic notions of competition, what was important for me and also what I found most interesting in the presentation of this updated classic is that this modern retelling breaks from one of the most classic analogies in sport training and psychology (fast and short versus slow and long) and seems to be saying that in order to do well it is best to look for compromises, common ground, and above all to seek balance as a means of achieving objectives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That New Car Smell

It's always amazed me how much I am affected by my surroundings and environment. Take for instance this past week. I recently returned from travel to a location that I have visited frequently before and is home to a large body of both highly competitive and accomplished athletes like myself. Typically working professionals of one kind or another training in one or all of the triathlon disciplines to maintain to stay fit and enjoy the other benefits of an active lifestyle. What was different during this past vacation however was my realization that the concentration of talent in the area I was visiting was not the same as where I currently live and train. For example the Masters Swim club there had well over 50 active members whereas mine currently operate with around 5 or 6. Yes I could be going out of my way to find a more active group but I wasn't exactly driving across town on my vacation either. So what does this mean, it means that I was totally impressed by the other age groupers and was pushing myself harder. I wasn't the best or near best swimmer in the pool for once. The worst of it is that now that I am back from the holiday, which was lovely by the way, I feel like I just test drove the sports car in the lot and am now relegated to my used economy vehicle. Not to diss my current local club but I really cannot compare the two teams. So now I'm in a funk and obviously have a bad attitude to my current situation. Why? Because I am not being completely outdone by my club peers of course!! I had actually enjoyed being forced out of my confidence zone and placed behind some truly great swimmers and athletes. Not having that now isn't the end of my current training goals but it has definitely caused me to pause and refocus my relationship to my current club and where I want to develop to as an athlete.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Resetting Mental Focus

I've written before about the benefits of allowing muscle memory to carry you through a particularly tough start of the week or even as a way of counteracting low levels of motivation. That is all good but what happens when you need to completely reset your mental focus. I'm not necessarily talking about redefining your fitness goals this could be as simple as having to enter a new major phase in your training or following the implementation of rehabilitation or preventative therapy. In my case this has occurred following what is basically my only race of the season. All things left equal I have an entire year until my next triathlon race performance. While it is nice to relax on the other hand I am seeking that motivational hook that will allow me to continue building towards a better result next year. Right now I am relying on muscle memory, meaning that I know how to get up early and make it to the gym for 'x' amounts of whatever training I know I should be putting in. What I need to find today is some needed mental focus before and during my workouts to really carry myself to higher levels of performance as well as being sure that I am having fun and enjoying the process. All three are elements that don't always go together.

Very Productive, Just Not Sure About What

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Big Blue Adventures Lake Tahoe Sprint Triathlon: Race Report

Firstly I love training, I love it more than the races so the amount of work that went into completing this event was far above what would have been required or even expected from your average competitor. But what the heck I had been telling myself: I love the process, and it's Lake Tahoe! Running had definitely been my strength with the swim only coming on in the past few months after my first year in the sport. As far as encouragement goes nothing has been better for me than seeing my timed trials drop and my comfort in the water improve measurably. What was once a glaring weakness had become a hard earned competency for me. Going into the cycling I knew there would be issue having only used a spin trainer. I had put in the work but had not actually been riding a road/tri bike whatsoever. Not only do I not even own one, I prefer spinning indoors so much that it is unlikely that I would have gotten much use out of one anyways. I had time trialed my events and thought I was capable of a 10-11 minute 500m swim, 28-30 minute 10 mile bike, and anywhere from a 13-15 minute run (depending on how I was feeling at that later stage).

At the morning of the race its self I didn't get a chance to talk to many new people which was one of my goals going into this event as mostly the interesting 'guests' where around later in the day on Saturday after I had already completed. As I was with family I didn't really want to hang around that long after the BBQ (which was fantastic). I did say hi to a number of people in my age group and definitely was shaking hands before the swim event with some strangers. If I had wanted I could have gone to the events hosted by Derek Garcia who is a pro I'd never heard of before and Rob Laurie who live in Lake Tahoe with some of the members of Team Tri who were out of the nearby Nevada. That might have been cool if it I needed some last minute advice, maybe for the longer distances: as far as my confidence going into the Sprint I didn't feel that I had any questions or needed much motivation. Some of the areas they were going to cover (all of which would make great blog posts!) included: making a plan, expecting the best - preparing for the worst, proper pacing, nutrition consideration, staying in the moment, embracing pain and triumph. For that day my plan was to have a blast and finish, I had no expectations and was prepared to be cancelled again same as last year, my pace was going to be as fast as possible throughout, nutrition would happen when the race was done, staying in the moment on Sprints is easy because you have to push so hard and burn so fast, and finally for embracing pain I wasn't expecting anything harder than those Tabatas (boo!) I had done in training! All told everything I had control over looked set for a perfect day in Tahoe at the LTT!

Going into the day I knew that it was going to be challenging. Lake Tahoe is renowned for its scenery and within the triathlon world for being the venue of one of the if not the most challenging Ironman events in the world: Ironman Lake Tahoe. The two biggest factors that play against athletes at this location are altitude and weather (specifically the cold temps and early snows). On the other hand these challenges will make for an unforgettable race no matter if you are doing the full Ironman or a LTT Sprint.

Lake Tahoe: the Perfect Location for a Triathlon? Yes.
The Race:
Since this was my first race I wasn't going to be too hard on myself for goals other than completing. I already knew my Time Trial records for the distances and would have been extremely happy to have come in somewhere close to any of them. Since I have no pressure and it was an upcoming Sprint distance I just ate whatever (steak, potatoes, and cob corn) with family and had an enjoyable shared evening with little to no boundaries or other requirements. I didn't even pack my race gear until the morning of knowing that I would be early to rise. I got a fantastic sleep and woke feeling primed to get on the course. There was no stress for getting to the site as I wasn't focused on needing anything other than having a great time! We showed up at 6:30a for the 7:30 start to plenty of parking and a nearly empty transition. I set up my things casually before tripping down to the lake with my parents for some pre-dawn photography. For the rest of the hour I mostly chatted with random people and figured out where the swim exit was. Not a big deal, I would be following the stronger swimmers anyways. I did a 5 minute warm up swim out towards the first PowerBar branded buoy before making it back in time to shiver at the start line with the rest of the competitors.

Early 5am Start Into Transition

Swim 660 yards - 18:24
For me this was not my first swim race having done several indoor Aquathlons during the past winter and I have to admit that despite being confident leading up to the start I was a bit intimidated by the swim course. I had never actually open water swam and the distance was visually further than I imagined doing indoors one 25m lap at a time! Everything I know about swimming has to do with the psychological aspects to throwing yourself into the depths and staying strong. This was not how my swim unfolded. Now every racer has excuses reasons they didn't hit that mark they set for themselves and I am no different. The major reasons my swim was a blow out comes down to: altitude, lack of open water experience, and a bit of sun glare on the water. Basically I had misjudged the doubly compounding effect of attempting an anaerobic activity at altitude. Almost as soon as the swim began I knew that I was in for a tough crawl around the buoys. What was even worse was that the major leg between buoys was a southward direction, I had packed polarized goggles not realizing how important having mirrored lenses would prove to be. I get nauseous breathing to my right for some reason (lack of practice) and was incredibly blinded on every breath by the now risen sun over the Lake Tahoe mountains. For next year the checklist already includes mirrored goggles!! Ultimately my goal swim was out the window and I was happy to stumble to shore dizzy from the effort in just under 19 minutes. Heading up from the stony lake shore it was a good 200 meters up a very steep hill which I sprinted in good time. I wasn't the last from my start out of the water but having recovered quickly I passed my first competitor in a race ever going up the hill into T1.

Just Waiting Around, Not Actually in Photo :-)
T1 Swim to Bike - 2:57
Since is was a chilly morning I had decided to put on full cycling gear over my2XU  trisuit. I know from experience that cycling in the cold is not fun. I had laid out my Giro helmet, sun glasses, and Garneau cycling shorts and a Sugoi top thinking that the insulation would be necessary. Only by the time the swim was over it was probably closer to 15C compared to the 8C before the sunshine. So part of me also didn't want to look too intense in a trisuit at a Sprint so I took the extra minute to layer up as planned. I did give up on my riding glove that were just not going to go easily over my wet hands. Big plus was not being shivering cold. That can wait for another year. Did I mention that the weather in Tahoe can vary significantly? I had no idea how long I would take to transition but 3 minutes does seem a little long. Maybe next year no change of clothing?

Bike 10 miles - 35:18
I had picked up my sweet rental bike from Olympic Cycle in Tahoe the day before and rode all of twenty minutes back to our cabin. Other than this the only cycling I've done was exactly one year ago when I rented a similar bike to do the event that was ultimately cancelled due to poor air quality. Am I comfortable on a road bike? Not really, but I knew I could make it work. Heck, last year I had never ridden a road bike period and I was planning on racing anyways. With cycling you have to have a 'No Fear' attitude anyways. This years bike was a 2013 model so really I just had to keep my head up and trust the engineering. The course itself was fantastic with beautiful redwood and pine canopies opening into gorgeous vistas out onto a sun sparkling Lake Tahoe. It was a one loop route that on the way out seemed to be mostly downhill. I was worried about a tough slog back home but oddly the way back seemed to be even more downhill that I had thought. It also helped that I tagged onto two stronger cyclists and paced myself for the second half. Other than up to transition I was actually passing a few competitors on the bike which was encouraging, on the other hand I did get passed by a few of the stronger age groupers who had later swim starts. Generally I try to find encouragement in the performance of others so I paced for a while off of some of the better racers. I was hoping for a 30 minute bike. It was not long into this leg that I noticed that instead of sweating profusely like I normally do that instead I was simply hyperventilating without very much perspiration at all. Apparently this was the altitude performance regulator I had heard about from other athletes specifically those who came out for Ironman Lake Tahoe last year. This was very annoying, it is one thing to push through sweat and pain, but how do you go hard when you can't efficiently breathe? Not so straightforward actually. Needless to say I could only help but feel that I came into the finish of the bike as fast as my body literally could allow rather than based on how hard I had pushed myself. I suppose that is the best gauge of fitness that there is...

Finally Something I Can Do Well and Not Drown In!

T2 Bike to Run - 1:53
Again for the run I didn't want to look too intense in a trisuit so I stripped my cycling gear and threw on a Sugoi running tanktop a River Valley Health (kudos) headband  plus my Nike Free 3.0s (of course). I chose the 3.0s because they genuinely don't require socks and mine actually fit like a glove without laces. I think my runners helped lower my second transition, plus not having to jump around trying to get into shorts. Most of the triathletes I train with prefer the more tri-specific and supportive brands like Saucony, Asics, or Zoot so wearing Nike was kind of different for the crowd, although I did see one pair of Reeboks, but whatever it was my first Tri. Next time I probably won't care anyways and just rock a trisuit like a lot of the people were doing (but I will also have my Zoots on) ;-). Besides me everyone else looked fantastic!!

Run 2 miles - 16:30
Running always has been my strength stemming from High School when I was on the Cross country team, not only is it a strength but I absolutely love middle-distance running. This 2-miler would not be a middle-distance event so I knew that pushing a little outside of my comfort zone would be required. Again this was another stage where the altitude really caught up with me, I was able to run consistently; however, I definitely noticed when a few short inclines left me gasping for breath. I had donned a headband because normally sweat drips onto my sunglasses but even by the end my band and hair were both basically dry! I passed the aid station with a wave and a 'thank you' secretly hoping that next year they include oxygen tanks along with the Gatorade. I wonder if those portable Boost Oxygen canisters are race legal? Anyways I actually passed loads of people on the run and had a beautiful run through the alpine forests which offered many stunning views of Lake Tahoe. Speaking of aid stations it was a little funny having a Gatorade offering for a 2 mile run. Coming up to the finish line there was a final push up a steep hill before turning the corner and finishing my first triathlon!

So This is What Passing People is Like! :-)
In the end I took 52nd place out of 221 competitors, with the run being my strongest leg coming in 26th for the field. Special thanks to my parents for coming out with me, cheering, and doing the photography. There is absolutely no question that I will be returning next year. Over the coming months I will be focusing on my open water swimming which was my major weakness that day.