Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long Run Experiment

CewTwo's recent blog entry prompted me to write about my latest long run experiment. You see, most of my running life I've been a so-called Zen runner. I love to disassociate while running, letting my mind wander freely. I enjoy long slow distance (LSD) runs the most because I can relax and zone out with my thoughts for long periods of time. Speed work requires a lot of focus and effort while shorter runs seem, well, too short.

But swimming has taught me to become mindful of what I'm doing. From the recent swim camp I've realized that the only way I can improve is to focus on my technique and my environment (to avoid collisions, make sure I'm swimming straight, try to develop that elusive feel for the water). And the payoff has been huge, not only in terms of faster swim times but also greater enjoyment.

Could the same happen with my running in Orlando?

Because in truth, I was not looking forward to my LSD this week. I wanted to run all of it outdoors and knew it would be hotter and more humid than Hawaii, quite boring scenery-wise and I'd be one of very few runners out there. Most of all, I didn't feel safe zoning out any more, especially with Dave being out of the country. Last year a guy on a bicycle tried to grab me in broad daylight along a popular bike path, there were two attempted rapes of female runners within a mile of my house (and I don't think they ever caught the guy) and just this week I heard that another female runner had been attacked while running in a very nice Orlando area neighborhood. ARGGGHH!

But there was no one else I knew who could run long on a weekday morning so I headed out alone around 7:30am (sunrise ~7:15am) with no specific route planned but prepared (pepper spray, cell phone, rearview mirror, etc). I'd just run for 3 hours and go wherever I felt safest and coolest. I thought it'd be pretty hard to stay focused for such a long time but actually found it to be very similar to what I was doing in the pool recently and also what I had done while training in the martial arts, which I did for 6 years after some other jerk jumped out of his car naked and started chasing me.

So all throughout my run: How am I breathing? Am I working too hard? Were my neck and shoulders relaxed? What were my arms doing (were they too high, crossing my center line, were my hands clenched)? Is my posture tall? Who or what do I sense coming up ahead, to the side or from behind? What are some good places for someone to hide (the perp in one of the attacks near my house was hiding behind a wall and pulled the victim behind it)? What are my options? Do I look vulnerable? Do I feel strong, strong enough to run like hell or handle things myself if necessary? Am I keeping my cadence up (I count steps for 30 seconds, multiply by 2 and see how close I am to 180)? Am I landing midfoot? Am I watching where I step so I don't roll my ankles? Am I experiencing any aches or pains and if so, what can I do to get rid of them? Do I need to drink fluids or eat a gel? Where should I run to find some shade? Where is my next water stop?

I stayed closely tuned into what I was doing, how I was feeling and what was around me. The results were incredible. I felt like I was in total control of my run the whole time, like an elite runner who ran gracefully in the heat, like an action hero with a heightened sense of awareness and the ability to either avoid trouble or deal with it head on (yeah, maybe I watch too many movies).

And time seemed to go by much faster, even ended up running for 20 minutes longer than I'd planned (3:20). I also have hardly any post-run soreness at all, nothing compared to how I felt after the 3 hour run in Hawaii two weeks ago.

So it appears I've found yet another way to enjoy running. It's not at all like the enjoyment I've had before but rather a feeling of accomplishment that I got the run done despite less than ideal conditions and fears. Don't worry though, these days I have other ways I can zone out :-)

Running time 3:20, ~20-21 miles.
Weather 75-85 degrees, fairly high humidity and low wind.
People count: 7 walking, 4 running, 5 riding bicycles, 2 hanging out, 1 doing push-ups on a bench, 9 construction workers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Swim Camp

Please forgive me for my tardiness in writing this report! I ended up staying in Kona for an extra week so some unexpected condo warranty work could be done (Dave was in Omaha, Nebraska, all last week any way). Then, after we both got home Friday night, we spent a short weekend together before he took off for Poland yesterday.

Now, finally, about that swim camp ...

In short, it was AWESOME!!!

Never have I swam so much over the course of 4 days but also, never have I felt like I'd made so many gains in my swimming in such a short time. Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and her husband Eric are wonderful instructors who really know triathletes, some of the world's best, in fact. Everything they taught me was offered with a "try it and see if it works for you" attitude. And the timing was particularly good for me because I'd been swimming long enough to know what wasn't working for me, but not long enough to have developed bad habits that couldn't be changed.

Karlyn and Endless Pool

And even Karlyn's physique gave me confidence I could swim better, for she was as thin as an elite marathoner (so no more lack of body fat excuses, not that they really apply to me but it seems that many better swimmers have a lot more built-in buoyancy than I do). She also had extra small size feet like me, not huge paddles like Ian Thorpe.

Below are the camp highlights. We had swim sessions in her Endless Pool, at the Kona Aquatic Center and in Kailua Bay, where the Kona Ironman race begins. Karlyn did provide nice notes for us campers but they're copyrighted so I cannot post them online. However, there are several articles on her Aquatic Edge website, an instructional DVD available, and she also gives clinics in various locations if anyone is interested in learning more about her style of swimming.

1. Above water and underwater video sessions -- Cameras don't lie. In true color, I saw myself dropping my elbows often, pulling too far back, "windmilling" my arms, pausing when breathing to my left, tensing up my arms/hands too much during recovery and kicking as if my life depended on it. On the good side, my 10 and 2 o'clock hand entry positions were now resulting in the desired shoulder width apart freestyle stroke so my arms were no longer crossing the center line, not even while breathing (we'd worked on this during a private lesson back in July). I don't think I could have understood what to do to improve without seeing first what I was really doing. It was amazing how distorted my perceptions were!

2. Breathing in a more relaxed manner -- This was huge for me and probably why I often got headaches while swimming for long periods continuously. I discovered I tend to hold my breath and then exhale everything at the last minute before getting another breath. To avoid this, Karlyn suggested that I keep my mouth open underwater and hum or hiss to exhale some air immediately and continuously, but never all of it. She also suggested that I mix up my breathing, take some shallow breaths and deep breaths, and don't only breathe every 3 strokes like I usually do. An article Karlyn wrote about breathing can be found here.

3. Contrast drills -- Throughout the camp, the way I was convinced to make improvements was to try something different and then compare with what I'd been doing before: high elbow catch vs. dropped elbow, short pulls vs. long pulls, straighter arm recovery vs. high elbow recovery, front quadrant swimming vs. windmilling, relaxed breathing vs. forced breathing, pulling with fingers slightly separated vs. tightly squeezed together, keeping shoulders "quiet" (flat but still allowing the hips to rotate) vs. rolling the whole body from side to side. Often the new things felt weird at first but I let faster swim times and/or less effort be the deciding factor. Interestingly, stroke count was not considered at all initially, though I ended up dropping it by a stroke or two with more practice of the new techniques.

4. New drills, strokes and mental training -- Swim freestyle an entire pool length (25 yds) without taking a single breath? Swim 50 yard intervals on 1:10? Swim 4x30 strokes at ascending speed (400, 500, 600 and then 800 psi) in the Endless Pool? Try the backstroke and the butterfly stroke? Say what? Well, I learned and did them all (though the back and fly were pretty ugly) and found out quite a bit about body rhythm, what I could do to make swimming more interesting/challenging and what I could do if I really put my mind to it. I need to start thinking and training more like how a real swimmer does, not someone who's just hoping to survive the swim segment in a tri. And little did I know at the time how useful knowing the butterfly and backstroke might be.

5. Open water strategies -- These are things I practiced knowing I wasn't going to be one of the slowest swimmers for long (-: running in/out of water, dolphining under waves (using elements of the butterfly stroke!), sprinting and then settling into a sustainable swim pace, drafting, rounding corners by dipping one hip more than the other (instead of pulling harder with one arm), sighting while swimming freestyle (keying in on big landmarks instead than small buoys whenever possible), kicking harder to get blood flowing to the legs towards the end of the swim, backstroking a bit to check behind me for waves that might slam me close to shore, and then once I touch the ground telling myself to get up and run (no hesitating or celebrating that I'd made it back to land!). And during our open water swim, I was psyched to discover how much straighter I swam with the new freestyle stroke -- w00t!

6. Increasing swim speed range -- Before the camp, I really had only two freestyle swim speeds, slow and slower. I'd easily get out of breath if I tried to go faster and even swimming slower still seemed to require more effort than it should. But now with a much stronger and simpler stroke (looks like I'm paddling a surfboard) and more relaxed breathing, I can swim faster without necessarily kicking more. To swim slow and easy, the key for me was to focus first on not kicking (which results in hardly kicking) and then just letting my arms barely pull me along. Then I discovered that I could swim faster by simply pulling harder/faster but still not (hardly) kick. OMIGOD, what a difference! It was almost as easy as swimming with a pull buoy!!

Dare I saw that I'm even starting to actually like swimming?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Foto Fartlek

So what else is a Fuel Belt good for carrying besides water bottles? As I found out, an old clunky digital camera!

Indeed, mine fit perfectly in the bottle holster so I could finally do what Susan, Maddy, CewTwo, Petra and NYlisa have all done recently. Share their favorite running route via pictures :-)

The route is an 8-mile out-and-back along the most scenic part of the Kona Marathon course, which is basically the same run course used in the Kona Ironman. It's got a few gentle rollers but to make it more challenging and fun with all the picture taking stops, I decided to make it a fartlek run, an informal speed session. My outbound plan was to run fairly hard to beaches or ocean views along the route, snap some pictures while taking a short break, and repeat until I got to my turnaround point. On the way back, I'd do something similar but taking photos of other interesting things along the route.

This first view of the ocean below is only about 3/4 mile away from our condo so I used getting there as my warm-up (I'll start the speed work from here, I promise). It was already nearly 80 degrees when I headed out at 6:30am. On my way over, I decided I'd start each run segment at a moderate pace and build up speed rather than trying to start out fast and hang on (less injury potential, especially after having to stand still to take pictures). So far, so good ;-)

My next stop was at a small sandy beach about a mile away. I don't know the name of it but it's sandwiched in between a couple condo buildings and fairly easy to miss unless one was looking for a reason to stop and check it out, which I was. Whew! One down.

About 3/4 mile further on down is a wide open bay area that often has folks paddling with oars while standing on a surfboard. I love watching them and took a bit longer break here to get more recovery than last time and more photos. Could have used more zoom or resolution on my camera as well. (Click for a little larger view of this photo as well as any of the multi-picture photos below)

Only maybe a 1/4 mile away is Pahoehoe Beach Park. As you can see, it has a nice grassy area with benches and a short meandering walkway. It also has a drinking fountain and a shower station, as do most of the county beach parks so I don't need to carry a lot of water with me while running. Uh-oh, loose dog, break over.

Another 1/4 mile further is La'aloa Bay Beach Park, also known as White Sands Beach, Magic Sands Beach and Disappearing Sands Beach. Why? Because sometimes it has nice white sands and sometimes it has only black rocks (the sand gets carried away with the ocean). Actually, I have yet to see no sand on this beach. Guess I'll just have to keep checking back.

About a mile away was my turnaround point, Kahalu'u Bay, one of the best snorkeling spots on the island and also one of the best places to learn how to surf. One side of the bay has a natural rock jetty protecting it and making it ideal for snorklers (right photo). The other side has gentle 2-3 foot waves that are great for beginning surfers. Maybe me someday!

On my way back, I thought I'd just stop a handful of times to capture other sights that make this route a favorite but soon found myself stopping nearly every 1/4 mile (there was so much I wanted to share!). To avoid inundating you with photos, I've grouped them into three collections and will just provide a brief description (left to right, top to bottom). I apologize for not knowing the names of everything or if I got something wrong. Corrections are welcome!

Nice painting on a Kahalu'u Bay surf school, a heiau (ancient Hawaiian temple to the gods), a really cool house gate, a refreshing shower and drinking fountain along the road and a cute mailbox creature.

Plumeria blossoms (commonly used in leis), a couple hibiscus flowers (often worn in hair), interesting flowers of a cactus-like plant hanging over a wall, a brilliant flash of wild flowers on some rocks, pretty pink spectators, and a regal ginger plant flower.

Coconuts palms (watch your head!), lush green leaves in a petal formation, a brightly-colored ti plant, a huge fan palm, a royal poinciana tree, and a beautiful monkey pod tree.

There's also couple other notable things I love about this route that I couldn't capture with my camera, unfortunately. The sounds of the waves crashing, the salty smell of the ocean and the sweet fragrance of plumeria blossoms. I'll never get tired of running it!

Total time ~1:20 including all the many breaks.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

My First Peaman

PeamanPeaman biathlons (swim & run) are fun, free training events held several times a year in Kona. I'd heard about them a while ago but never seemed to be in town when one was held. This trip I got lucky!

My swim instructor Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen said it was one of the longer Peaman events, a 3/4-mile swim followed by a 4 mile out-and-back run. The swim was along the Kona Ironmman swim course and the run was along Alii Drive, right past our condo. Couldn't be more convenient.

No entry fees, no applications, no bib numbers. Swimming with fins, masks and/or snorkels are all allowed and the run is optional, or you can choose to do just a 1-mile run, or you can have someone else do the run for you (i.e., relay). In fact, if there isn't an existing division that you fit into, they'll create one. Isn't that cool?

Well, I was still feeling pretty fatigued and sore from the 3 hour run the day before (Saturday) so I decided that I'd wear fins during the swim and play it by ear on the run, maybe skip it altogether. Before I left our condo, I took a couple 8-hour Tylenols. Then I mustered a VERY slow 1.5 mile jog over to the swim start at the pier (easier than driving and trying to find a place to park).

A hundred or so people were there, I'm guessing, many with snorkels and fins :-). Sean "Peaman" Pagett, the organizer, gave event instructions that included a request for everyone to "swim with aloha," namely, please try not to elbow your neighbor (double cool!). Then there was a countdown from 5 and we were off.

I'd lined up in the back and to the side as I usually do in tris, but found myself passing folks because of the fins. I settled in amongst others swimming my pace and was hardly ever touched or bumped (amazing!). I got out to the turnaround sighting on my own but then followed/drafted a guy back in for a while. I finally looked up and then saw he was pretty far left of the course and had to swim extra distance to get back on course. Lesson learned: Check to make sure the person you're drafting is swimming in the right direction!

Once back on the beach, I got a disk with a number. It said 59, which I would later find out meant I was the 59th swimmer out of the water. I put it around my wrist with the attached rubberband and then headed over to where my shoes were and looked for some water to wash all the sand off my feet. Didn't see any and forgot to bring my own - Doh! So I just put my socks on right over the sand and pulled on my shoes (hopefully my feet will forgive me!).

I was still undecided about whether or not to really do the run, though. My legs didn't feel all that bad after the swim but I knew I couldn't/shouldn't run very hard and there were several swimmers just milling around rather than preparing to run (including my fellow swim camper, Judy). I procrastinated a bit more by putting my fins back in my bag (the transition area was not secure) and eating a gel to get the saltwater taste out of my mouth. Finally, I made up my mind to run, dug around my bag for my sunglasses and headed out. How far? TBD.

The run was on sidewalks and on the shoulder of the road if there weren't any sidewalks so we were dodging tourists, other runners just out for a run, and a little cross traffic at times. As I approached the 1/2 mile marker signifying the turnaround for the 1-mile run, I was about to pass the first person who appeared to be doing the event but she turned around unexpectedly. I couldn't bring myself to follow her and kept going. So, it was decided. I'd be doing the full 4 miles after all.

I continued running at a moderate pace and noticed that the sand wasn't really bothering my feet much. I passed a couple other women in the event (telltale signs: wet hair and wearing swimsuits) but a couple guys passed me, too. After the first mile, I began to see a number of folks who were already on the return leg including Bree Wee, one of the best female triathletes on the island (Karlyn introduced me to her at the pool the other day). She looked to be the first place female in this event so I gave her a big cheer -- GO BREE!

At the 2-mile turnaround, there was a water station, to my surprise (I carried a water bottle with me thinking there wouldn't be any), and I set my sights on a young woman wearing a tri outfit like me about 50 yards ahead. I didn't want to push my legs too hard the day after a long run so I reeled her in slooowly. About a mile later, I finally caught her and picked up my pace a bit more as the course flattened out (less than a mile to go!).

When I reached that 1/2-mile marker again, I was feeling great so I let loose for a speedy finish. I passed one more guy on the final stretch along the water and was handed a popsicle stick with the number 50 on it at the pier.

They asked my name (no age), what distances I'd done and whether I'd worn fins when I turned in my disk and stick. There was no mention of race times, and I never saw a clock or heard anyone yelling out finishing times, so I assume the results are just relative placings within the various divisions: Peas, Finned Peas, Split Peas (relay), Pea Wees (kids), etc. Supposedly, the results will be published in the local newspaper. When? Who knows, who cares.

After I'd cooled down, had some snacks and chatted with some folks, I realized that I'd forgotten to stop my watch at the finish (total event time was like 1:20-something by then). Heck, I didn't even hit the lap button to keep track of my run/swim segments for my training log (WHOOPS!). Guess I'll just have to guess.

A sign of too much fun. Thanks, Peaman!

Congrats to all who raced this weekend, especially those at Ironman Wisconsin. I'll post more about the swim camp when I get back home. I actually have one more swim session with Karlyn in her Endless Pool before I leave end of this week.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Aloha from Kona!

Well, thanks to advances in technology, I have high speed internet access here in paradise. For a while now I've had a Sprint mobile broadband card for my laptop but no high speed internet network to connect to in Kona. Now the bubble has been broken and I can blog, read other's blogs, and root for Brent, Rural Girl, IM Able and others doing Ironman Wisconsin this weekend, and also Duane who's doing a sprint tri.

Can you hear my cowbell now?

Of course, the reason I'm back in Kona is not to play on my laptop. I'm here for a 4-day swim camp and also so that some warranty work can be done at our condo. Today was the second day of the camp and my swimming was videotaped both above water and below. It was incredibly useful to see what I was doing, especially under the water where my elbows thought they'd be safe to drop and cost me power, among other things. And with only two people attending this camp and two instructors, there was plenty of attention on moi and plenty of swimming, 2 hours worth. I usually swim for only about an hour and am pooped!

Which is why I probably will do very few other workouts until the swim camp is over on Friday. Yesterday I went out for a run that was supposed to be an easy 6-miler. But shortly after I got started, this guy came up alongside me, started chatting and before I knew it, we were cruising along at about a 7:30-7:40/mile pace, which is like a tempo run pace for me. To avoid overdoing things, I took a bathroom break at a beach park at the halfway point and just threw water on my face so he'd go on ahead and I could run back on my own slower.

Luckily, the first day of swim camp later in the afternoon involved only about an hour of actual swimming while other time was spent on overview and going over the 4 basic strokes. I need to be a lot more careful about expending extra energy outside the camp. That little bit of faster-than-usual running was FUN!