Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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Friday, August 30, 2013

When Life Gives you Lemons...

As important as it is to train and prepare for these races in this little adventure of mine, it is equally important, if not more so, to shed light on the charities for which I am racing. For each of these charities, I have a goal of raising $1,000 before race day (March 30, 2014), and I am committed to achieving that goal. It is my hope that those of you reading this will be touched in some way by one or more of these charities and donate to the fundraiser (all of them are open now).

In addition to actively promoting these fundraisers on this website (you can donate to these causes by clicking here and clicking on the charity you would like to donate to), my family and I have been thinking of ways to further promote the causes. Up until this point (within the last few months), we have had very, very few donations, which has led us to consider if we have gone about this the right way. Asking people to part with some of their hard earned money is by no means a talent of mine, even if it is for a good cause. I have never heard of anyone who has said they have regretted donating their money to those in need. Nor have I heard of anyone going bankrupt doing so. On the contrary, I have found that when I give freely of myself without expecting anything in return, that is when life is most fulfilling and joyous. And it is this joy that has led me to want to share this opportunity with all of you.

In an effort to expand our fundraising reach, my wife Marie came up with a great idea. This coming Sunday we are going old school. We are doing a good ol' fashioned Lemonade Stand to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a charity which raises money for research and treatments of childhood cancer.

We will be on the corner of Camino La Pedriza and Calle Altea in San Clemente. If you would like to stop by and grab a glass of refreshment and inner peace, come on by! If you can't make it, please visit our donation page and make a donation. Every little bit counts, and it is most certainly a cause we can all get behind. It will be absolutely amazing if we can reach our goals before the race in March. Thank you all for your support!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Letting Go

In a recent article I wrote for MindBodyGreen.com, called "6 Signs You're Working Out Too Hard", I talk about the importance of taking rest from training when your body is telling you you're overtraining. Well, that is sound advice when it's presented to the anonymous masses, but what if it's me that's overtrained? Would I be just as willing to take that advice as I am to dish it out? In many respects it's easier said than done.

It gets back to issue of humility, acceptance, and patience - the three values I am attempting to employ strictly as I venture forth on this road to physical, mental, and spiritual fitness. Shelving these values in any aspect of my life puts me at risk of shelving them in other areas of my life as well. Allowing my ego to get in the way of better judgement gives the ego leverage over other areas of life. If I was to tell myself to push through my symptoms of overtraining, what's to stop me from trying to take control of everything else I have no power over? This is where two very powerful words come into play and are extremely useful as a mantra during meditation, prayer or deep breathing. "Let Go."

This seems very trite, but the words can be powerful in changing attitudes and perspective, whether you are letting go of your will to God, the universe, nature, or supernatural power. Letting go means to surrender (which implies humility, patience, and acceptance over the things we have no control over), not to give up (which means to quit).

An earlier version of myself had significant control issues. My insanity led me to believe that I had the power and authority to control people and situations, which of course led to anger, self pity, and depression when things didn't go my way or how I had planned. Learning to let go was a key ingredient to my inner peace.

Letting go is still a daily practice for me, for life situations big and small. I believe that, subconsciously, what prompted me to write the article above was that I was starting to feel some of the symptoms I listed, yet I wasn't taking the right steps to allow my body to recover. Instead I was continuing the intensity of the workouts, and growing more frustrated that my pace was slowing a bit, and was feeling tired and achy. I was practicing Adam's will, not God's.

If you step back and think of how we wish to control certain aspects of our lives, you can begin to see just how crazy it is to do that. Did I actually think that by ignoring the symptoms and powering through an obvious burnout that I would suddenly and magically start feeling better? That's crazy, but it's also a default for a lot of people. I've seen it often that people get burned out and then quit altogether. Instead of "surrendering" their will early on and practicing humility, patience, and acceptance, they "give up" when things don't go their way. This is certainly the insanity I used to live by. And I firmly believe that practicing these three principles can lead people to more joyous, healthful, and fulfilling lives.

Today I'm grateful that I am willing to surrender. I'm grateful that my mantra is "Let Go" because it hasn't failed me, whereas my attempts at control have failed me many times over. I have never been let down by practicing humility, patience, and acceptance.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Locally Grown

I thought it had been a while since I posted anything about our experience with the Tower Garden and our efforts to grow our own fruits and veggies, but then I realized I haven't posted anything about it at all. It seems to happen frequently with me that I intend so much to do something that eventually I assume it already happened. That excuse doesn't get me very far at work or with family. However, before I get into that I have a few brief updates and shameless self promotion to bore you with, so thanks in advance for bearing with me!

First and foremost, I am honored to have had an article posted by MindBodyGreen.com. If you haven't read it already, here is the link. I am truly grateful to have had my article published on a site ripe with talent and expertise. MBG is a great site because it reaches broadly across many aspects of health and wellness, and presents itself in a positive, uplifting, and inspirational fashion. With so much negativity on the internet, it is a welcome oasis, and it is my goal to exude the positive on this site as well. Thanks to all who have read the article and have found this site as a result. Welcome!

Second, I have made a lot of progress on my swimming as of late. Today I woke up at 4:30 am to do an iron distance (2.4 mile) swim. This is the longest distance I have ever swum, and psychologically one of the most significant milestones to surpass (one of the others was swimming in open water). When I first began seriously swimming (not just swimming to get back to my surfboard, or showing off in front of the kids), it was intimidating to think of swimming a few hundred yards, let alone over 4,000. I was frequently out of breath after a few laps. I could not even fathom (unintended pun win!) doing a non-stop 2.4 mile swim. But the power of persistence pays off, and I achieved that today. To get beyond our negative perceptions, and the "I can'ts" running through our heads, we need to break through a number of barriers, physical and mental. For me it was slowly increasing the yardage while swimming through the intimidation. Where once I was standing at the end of a pool intimidated by the idea of swimming 2,000 yards, I can now confidently do more than twice that, and 2,000 now appears easy. Our perception about certain challenges (in this case distance) begin to change as we break through barriers.

One additional note on the swimming. In the beginning I had resigned myself to the fact that I would likely not be able to swim any significant distance at a pace under 2 min/100 meters. After all, I am a "sinker" with a bad shoulder. However, today I completed my swim at an average pace of 1:45/100.

So now to switch gears completely and break all the rules taught to me by my writing teachers (well, I guess I've already done that many times over. Especially with my overuse of parentheses), I'm going to talk about something completely different. Home grown food.

With the idea in mind that we wanted to source our produce locally, we began getting a weekly delivery from a local organic farm (as described in "So THAT's a Parsnip... Do You Eat It?..."). That has been working well, since it is affordable and abundant, but there are some shortcomings. First, we get whatever is given to us. This is okay in theory, but it also turns into a lot of uneaten potatoes and ears of corn in our fridge. Also, sometimes the fruits or veggies go bad before we have a chance to eat them. Therefore, we came to the conclusion we should begin growing some of our own. Besides, you don't get more locally grown than in your own backyard!

The Tower Garden was our first purchase. Essentially, it is a hydroponic system that provides water and nutrients via a pumping system. We set it up and began growing veggies in early June. Here is what it looks like now.

What you can't see is the tower itself as it is covered by a tropical rainforest of monstrous vegetation. We had about a 80% success rate with the seedlings, and have thus far been able to harvest chard, kale, two kinds of lettuce, cucumber, squash, and zucchini. Still yet to bear fruit we have tomatoes, lima beans, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. The produce is delicious and fresh, as we cut it off right when we need it, and it has thus far been plentiful.

A few weeks ago, we increased our production capacity of veggies by building a raised garden bed. The dimensions are 4 ft by 8 ft, and the total cost to install was just around $250. The cost was definitely justifiable, but the undertaking was proven to be most adventurous. We needed a little more than a cubic yard of soil to fill the thing, which put us in a tricky situation. The local supplier of organic soil mixes would not deliver a quantity that small, so we had to pick it up.

There were a few things I underestimated when I thought of left to pick up a cubic yard of soil. First, it the company was located quite a ways up the Ortega Highway, probably about 45 minutes away from home. Second, I didn't realize how much a cubic yard of soil actually is. This was made abundantly clear when the bulldozer dropped the atomic load into the rented U-Haul truck. The F-150 quickly turned into a low rider, and I became terrified that I may become the not-so-proud owner of a broken down U-Haul. Fortunately, the Heavy-Duty did it's duty and made it home.

Finally, I underestimated the amount of time it would actually take unloading the material. It took me a solid two to three hours of digging and dragging to get all the material out of the truck and into the garden bed. Lesson learned, it's always best to outsource this work to the experts. I was grateful that I was able to clean the truck out completely and return it in one piece!

After a couple weeks, we have some growth in the garden bed with room to spare. We have pinto beans, beets, carrots, and kale. We haven't harvested it yet, but it's doing very well, and I'm fairly proud of the results.

While the initial costs of installing the Tower Garden and the garden bed was pretty steep, I believe that within a year, once we have a good rotation of veggies growing in both, we will break even and then begin saving money on produce. Additionally, our veggies will be fresher than anything we have ever purchased at a store, and we will have the satisfaction that we have benefited from our own hard work.

I don't want to sugar coat it, it's important to note that it is not easy to be self sufficient with regard to growing all our own food. On the contrary, it takes a lot of time, energy, and planning. It requires us to plan the seasons so we know what to grow when, it requires that we replace the water and nutrients in the Tower Garden multiple times per week, and that we keep those pesky varmints away. But like anything else, it's mostly a change in behavior.

It's all in the question of what's most important to you? With everything we choose to spend time on in our busy lives, what many of us choose to put at the back of the list is health. Many of us spend little or no time looking at where our food comes from, how it's prepared, or even how long it's been on the shelf (or how it's even able to stay on the shelf that long). When it comes to our health, nothing can be more important than what is going into (and thus what is affecting) our bodies. A little extra work can make a world of difference. Until next time, be in good health!

Friday, August 16, 2013

More Support for Slowing Down

It's been about six months since I began devoting at least 90% of my training to low heart rate, fat burning training. In contrast to how I felt when I was exercising with higher exertion (granted, while also drinking heavily and eating unhealthily), I have more energy now, my form is better, exercise is far more enjoyable, I'm leaner, and I am now much faster.

In case more evidence is needed to support this, I decided to do another MAF (maximum aerobic function) test this past Tuesday. The MAF test is performed by running at your target aerobic heart rate for a few miles on a flat course and recording each mile pace. The result is then compared to previous months.

It has been a few months since I've tested my pace, since I had some injuries from a couple of bike accidents which I thought had slowed me down, and I didn't want to discourage myself. However, yesterday I was pleasantly surprised by the results:

As you can see, at my aerobic heart rate of 142 (the same heart rate I've been sticking to for the last few months), my pace has improved dramatically. I have posted my first miles under 8 minutes ever. Even when I was exercising at high exertion, I was never able to consistently stay below 8 min/mile over multiple miles. Here I have done it through 5, with more in the tank to run farther and faster if necessary. I'll say again, running at this pace is easy because I am doing so at a low heart rate.

The patience and humility from a few months ago have paid off, and I can say with absolute confidence that this type of training is highly effective. I will reemphasize the need for patience. For this to work, it is vital to have patience at the beginning when the pace is painfully slow, and patience throughout the course of training when you hit a variety of plateaus that seem never ending. Eventually, with enough persistence, you will break through the plateaus.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fail Well

I have spent the last couple days at the Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association, listening to speakers such as Colin Powell, Liz Wiseman, and Mark Burnett talk about leadership. The speakers are mainly "exceptions" - those who fulfilled their specific calling despite their own challenges - and the program itself is designed to influence how well we lift each other up. One of the underlying messages this year, in addition to how we can influence and inspire, was failure.

The cynic in me would say that the conference is another program designed to make money and push a spiritual agenda. The cynic in me would also often be the one to fail once and quit.  I no longer look at these influential people with a cynical eye toward the fact that for every one of their success stories there are 999 others which have resulted in failure. Their failures are what have made them the people they are, and it's how they failed that helped them ultimately succeed.

Bob Goff stated yesterday, we are called simply to "Love God. Love people. Do stuff". To have an impact, the "stuff" we do will invariably bring criticism and pain, and the more "stuff" we do, the more we fail. When we fail well, we learn, and we get better.

Failure is not an option. It's a necessity. There is room in God's Will for failure, as long as it is an experience which makes us stronger and pushes us further down The Path. 

I needed to hear their stories this week. I was coming off a new low point after my performance at last Saturday's race (yup, here comes that tiny violin again). I had a lot of physical pain, and a lot of toxic ideas running through my head. I had failed in that race, and failed so bad it hurt. My pride was shot, I felt weak, and critics were quick to jump on my new found vulnerability. I was told that perhaps triathlon was not for me, and that I shouldn't be taking on these risks because I'm not good enough. 

I had failed, and I had two ways to react to this. I could accept the ideas of the critics, or I could learn from failure and continue, knowing that success comes at the end of the race.

Brene Brown, one of the speakers today, quoted Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt.

I am learning a lot about influence and inspiration and the distinction between the two. Influence can be wonderful, when the message is wonderful. But the message can also be toxic. Critics try to influence from their perspective in the cheap seats, but they don't inspire, instead saying things like "I wouldn't do that!"  

To inspire means to encourage action on the part of others to give the best of themselves willingly, enthusiastically, creatively, even through failure. I want to choose to stay in the arena. I hope to inspire more than I influence. 

Of course now I welcome the vocal critic because I know it makes me stronger. I make a list of those that say I can't, and a list that say I can, and both lists will help me succeed. Those who say I can are my support, while those who say I can't I look forward to proving wrong. However, it's the silent critic that I have trouble with. It's what others are saying in my head that tears me down a bit more. As I struggle to reach more people and am met with apathy, I recognize my limitations.

I was beat down a bit, but I got back on the bike this week, albeit a bit aprehensively at first, but more confident as the ride went on. As I peddled, I rode over all my fears and feelings of lack of worth, and my attitude became better. My faith was strengthened because of my action.

As I reflect on Mr. Roosevelt's words, it is clear that we can choose to participate, be vulnerable to failure, and experience triumph, or we can choose safety, inaction, and regret. Are you in the arena or in the cheap seats?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Semper Tri - A Face Full of Asphalt... Again

As I lay on the pavement, fresh off another trip over my handlebars, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed. I couldn't feel much else, as I was numb from my face down to the end of my left arm. I initially masked my embarrassment with anger, as I was prone to do as a previous version of myself, yelling profanities at the universe for wronging me and causing me pain.

The embarrassment and shame came on in an instant. Only moments before I was feeling triumphant, and euphoric as I approached the turn onto Stuart Mesa. I had only a little over four more miles to go on the bike leg of the Semper Tri Triathlon in Camp Pendleton, and I was doing very, very well (I would later learn I was in about 5th place in my age troup). Then, BAM! My race was over.

Leading up to that point, I felt great. I arrived at the Marine Corps base at about 5:30 am, racked up my bike, and made sure I knew where the bike and run exits were (didn't want to make the same mistake twice!). The setting was really fantastic. It was a very large hangar for Hovercraft and other naval vehicles. The large, open expanse of concrete was today interrupted by a set of cones outlining a bike and run course, and a series of tents populated with Marine recruits, eager to practice their medical skills on civilian triathletes (I would be visiting them later).

Down a wide, endless ramp toward the sea, the triathletes set up in transition. Beyond the ramp, a set of what can only be described as concrete sand bags lead to about a hundred yards of sand, and then ocean, which today was breaking at about 3 feet. I donned my wetsuit, and headed out to the water for a brief warm up swim. The water was quite chilly that morning, but I was able to get warm pretty quickly (through movement and other natural means). Then it was out of the water to wait for my wave to start.

I could see far away on the bluffs the multitude of spectators, three of which were my wife and two children. I couldn't see them, so I know they couldn't see me. No matter, the swim would be a quick 500 yards, and then off up the beach toward my bike.

My goal for the swim, as was for much of the rest of the race, was to be more aggressive, as I felt I could have been faster in the swim and bike back in Carlsbad. And that's what I did here. I lined up in the middle of the pack at the swim start and ran into the water (rather than jog) after the gun went off. I was in about the middle of the pack for most of the swim, and was able to pass a couple people on the parallel leg. On the way back in, I was able to sight the chute and swim toward it. Closer in, I saw a wave and was able to body surf in, passing a couple more people.

I ran up the beach, and was clearly winded at this point. It is no easy task getting out of a fast swim and then running up a sandy beach, so I held back a little more to get my heart rate down. Into transition, and I briefly ran past my bike, but caught myself quickly, removed my wetsuit, put on my shoes and helmet, and set out for the bike. At the mounting point, I jumped on and took off.

Swim Time: 11:30 (included the long run up the beach)
Transition Time: 1:20

Again, my goal on the bike was to push a little harder than I had in Carlsbad, and that I did. I immediately and continuously passed other cyclists on the way out toward Stuart Mesa. About a mile in, I had passed a lot of cyclists and the road opened up, so I took advantage and kept my pace high, while taking in Gatorade and Gu to keep my energy high for the run. Once I turned to climb up Las Pulgas, I had reached the next group of cyclists, many of which were in the previous waves, and some of which were faster cyclists in my age group. It was clear now that I was among a more aggressive group of athletes.

One such athlete (I won't mention his name or number), I saw was being very aggressive. While drafting is illegal, he would pull up to the rear wheel of any rider he was going to pass to get the extra speed to swing around them. I was able to pass him and leave him safely behind me, or so I thought. Sure enough, I felt him behind me and swing past me again, only to slow to a lesser pace than I was traveling. Thus I proceeded to pass him again. We played this game all the way up and down Las Pulgas, even though my only intention was to keep a steady pace. I was ahead of him, approaching the turn back on to Stuart Mesa.

As you can see in the video below (toward the very end), we rode into a coned area, which separated the cyclists from auto traffic. A large truck was stopped to the left waiting for direction from the Marine traffic controller. A bit of miscommunication led the driver of the truck to think he was able to go on the left hand side. Unfortunately, that's exactly where I was going. This is where the deja vu kicked in, as I have some experience with cars turning right in front of me. I swerved and avoided the truck, but was a bit spooked as I approached the left turn. A Marine who was supposed to warn the riders of the tight left turn coming up was distracted with the task of trying to stop the truck from proceeding. I approached the turn fast, but also felt I had a good line into the turn. However, I didn't anticipate the same aggressive cyclist would be drafting me into the turn. I felt him on my rear and to the left, as if he was making a move to pass me. Had I kept my line, it was likely, I felt, that he would have caused us both to wreck. The lesser of two evils then was to give up my line, which made making the turn for myself less likely. You can see me briefly straighten my wheel and then hit the brakes, which forced me over my handlebars, face first into an eroded curb.

Given that account, the embarrassment and shame sound like unreasonable responses to a situation like this. Pain? Yes. Anger? Of course. But embarrassment? I was embarrassed because I had been through this before only a couple months prior. Because one of the very purposes of this blog is to show how one can be healthy, happy, in service and injury free. Laying on the pavement in the middle of Camp Pendleton, I felt numb all over. With the extent of the impact, I was certain I had shattered my jaw, broken my collarbone, or worse. Obviously I had failed at the "injury free" part many times over, and my brain was making every effort to let me know this was the case. This is my brain's way of telling me "Wow, Adam. You really screwed up there. This sport really isn't for you. You just need to give it up. Obviously you can't do it."

"I can't", or any variation on the theme, are two words that are often subconsciously conveyed to us at our most vulnerable and lowest points. Often too these words are manifested through the verbalization of acquaintances telling us that it might be best if we give up. There is one common truth, however; that regardless of where any variation of these words come from, they are only as powerful as we make them out to be, and only if we make them stronger than The Will that drives us will they succeed.

I had been fortunate yet again to have not been more seriously injured. Upon reflecting on the indecent and finding ways to be grateful, I recognize that while (as my daughter said) I look like a cheetah attacked me, I walked away. My neck and spine were in good shape, nothing was broken, and I am still able to eat solid foods.

Injuries - Like getting a really fast, aggressive tattoo. Some would say it's an improvement!

One of the things I am most grateful for is my willingness to continue. After my initial bout of self pity, and after I was checked out and cleared by the EMT (after about a half hour in an ambulance), I was ready to jump back on my bike and hobble the rest of the way and finish the race. It has always been my goal to never give up on a race, but unfortunately the on site volunteers wouldn't allow it (and they had my bike on a truck surrounded by Marines). I am glad that at least I had that willingness not to give up, even if my chances at placing highly were gone. Before the race I saw many athletes (some soldiers) with missing limbs, and probably many others with less obvious limitations, and they were going to finish the race. I should never, ever give up just because I am in a little pain, or am doing more poorly than expected.

Pendleton was also a learning experience. I learned that I need a renewed focus on humility. I am training for an Ironman which is an endurance race, not a sprint. There is no reason for me to be pushing as hard as I can in the sprints to place highly when my goal is to do well in an Ironman competition. More so, my goal is to continuously improve myself physically, mentally, and spiritually, which can't be done when my ego is active. When it comes to the bike leg, it is best that I keep a good pace, but let the aggressive riders have their day. I can always pass them on the run!

To close out the race report, it is likely my bike time would have been between 50-52 minutes, and my run likely about 22 minutes (estimating from my experience at Carlsbad). For the record, the guy who forced me off the road finished in 7th in our age group. With the times above, I would have finished in 5th or 6th place in my age group had everything else gone well. Had that happened, perhaps my ego would have been inflated and I wouldn't have been reminded of my need for humility. Maybe it's for the best that I learned a painful lesson and remember this experience in future races, lest my ego get the best of me.