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Running and runny noses

Running was never my thing. I always found it long, difficult and frankly, a little boring. I know some people feel the same way about cycling, my personal love in the multi-sport trinity, but I never quite got to that "runners high" you hear so much about to make me fall in love with it.

It's nothing personal against running. It's just a mental block.

And one that I'm working on breaking this week.

I have two weeks to prepare for my first real road race, the Shamrock Run on March 1. I've been involved in other races before, but as a walker who was participating more in support of the charity than in testing my athletic capabilities.

Since I started my triathlon training all of my running workouts have been done inside on a treadmill.

Monday, I took my run outside.

I'd say it was oh so much fun, but the sarcasm wouldn't properly translate over the Internet.

With a flexible schedule, I was able to play the weather and ventured out my front door mid-morning. I had two watches strapped to my wrist (one acting as my heart rate monitor, one acting as my timer), my cold gear Under Armour on and my trusty iPod set to medley of Bangles, Britney and Kelly Clarkson.

My coach told me to run an easy pace, which is actually the only pace I know how to run. Despite my two-watch set up, I don't have any of the fancy gadgets available to tell me what my pace or distance is. I ran for 30 minutes at a pace that felt akin to what I've been doing inside.

Of course, half my run this time was against a headwind and my nose doesn't usually run this much when I'm at the gym.

It wasn't pretty, but as I try to let go of my idea of perfection so too goes my idea of winning style points. I ran for 30 minutes. I didn't stop to walk. I even hit all the traffic signals at the right time.

That's not to say my easy pace was, well, easy. There were times I wanted to stop. My fingers were cold. The wind in my face was unpleasant. And my heart rate was running pretty high.

Still, I got through it. I didn't stop. I didn't collapse. I didn't even need a nap afterward. I even came dangerously close feeling a runner's high, though I think it was more the euphoria of surviving than the work of the endorphins.

Here's the thing: By the time the Shamrock Run comes around, I'll have several outdoor runs under my Under Armour (so to speak). I won't be a seasoned runner by that point, but if I keep the right frame of mind, let go of trying to be perfect and stop comparring myself to others around me, I'll run the best race I can at this particular moment in time.

And that makes the runny noses worth the effort.


Leaving perfection behind

Learning to swim as an adult is difficult. You have all this life experience and baggage and worst-case-scenarios-from-cable-news-networks that you bring with you into the water. Most importantly you bring fear into the water -- something most kids who can't wait to jump into the pool haven't yet developed.

And it doesn't have to be a fear of the water which can hold you back.

For me, it's a fear of failure. More specifically, a fear of not doing something perfect.

Not to sound like a feel good PBS special, but there are plenty of things people avoid trying because they have a streak of perfectionism. The idea is that if I can't do something perfectly, what's the point. I might not always phrase it that way to myself, but that's pretty much what it comes down to.

Then I had that infamous Y-Tri experience.

I had taken swim lessons. I had worked on my technique. And here were a bunch of out-of-shape schmoes who were kicking my butt in the pool. Their form was all wrong. Their legs were sinking in the water. Yet I was the one turning over to float on my back.

I'm not sure exactly what it was about that experience but my swimming has vastly improved since then. Seeing other people succeed while being imperfect while I struggled searching for the perfect form taught me something valuable. I can't quite define it yet, but I know it has to do with letting go of the idea of "perfect."

The less I try to be perfect in the water and the more I just learn, practice, correct and enjoy, the easier I move the length of the pool. And while I had several frustrating water workouts leading up to my first competition, since then each and every swim session has been great. I may aim for the perfect technique but I am no longer a slave to it. I can succeed at the swim in the triathlon without being "perfect" ... and what's perfect for me will not be perfect for someone else.

This week, I'm taking my newfound attitude toward perfection to the streets. In preparation for the Shamrock Run on March 1 my coach increased my running workouts this week and is urging me to get outside to run. Out of the comfort of the treadmill (which includes not only the warmth of the climate-controlled gym but the consistency of the preset mechanical pace) and into the cold and the wind I'll need to give up my idea of a "perfect" run in order to find my pace, my form and my way to the finish line.

Oh, my cramping muscles

Nearly anyone who has participated in a physical activity has suffered from the dreaded and painful muscle cramp.

Suddenly, your calf feels like a tight knot that won't move. Or your hamstring seizes. Or pretty much any muscles decides to contract so tightly you'd like to ball up in the fetal position at that moment.

In an article in yesterday's New York Times doctors and researchers explain that ... they have no idea what causes cramps or how to prevent them.

There are plenty of theories. There's dehydration (drink more water) or low sodium and potassium (drink more Gatorade). There's the muscle-stimulation theory (massage the muscle) and the stretch-the-muscle theory (which debates among itself when is the best time to stretch, before or after exercise).

At the moment, it seems to come down to trial and error. Which isn't exactly great news, since the story also reported that 79 percent of triathletes will suffer from muscle cramps.

Knock on wood, I haven't had to deal with much in the way of debilitating cramps. My calf muscle can get pretty sore at times and massage and sports gels have helped. Still, I stretch at the end of each workout. I make sure to drink water and if I'm in for a long training session will supplement with a sports drink.

Here's hoping I figure out my personal formula for avoiding cramps before race day.

Hawaii: The mothership of all championships

Usually when you mention the word "triathlon" people automatically think of Ironman Hawaii.

That's the most famous triathlon, featured each year on network television. For many triathletes, of all levels, watching the drama of the event against the beautiful backdrop of Hawaii inspired them to get involved with the sport.

NBC is scheduled to showcase the latest Kona event, held this past October. Promos and some pieces can be seen at the Ironman Triathlon page at You Tube while complete information about the event and the Ironman series is available at

For the record, the event in Hawaii is the world championship of Ironman. You have to go through a qualification and lottery process in order to enter the race. The Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim (with a cutoff time of two hours), a 112 mile bike ride (the cutoff time is 10 hours and 30 minutes from the beginning of the race) and a 26.2 mile run. The cutoff is 17 hours, meaning anyone who takes longer than 17 hours is not considered an official Ironman finisher.

Also for the record, I will not be attempting anything with the word "Ironman" in the title.

I am more than content to prepare to race the sprint distances and accepting of the challenge to move up to the intermediate (or Olympic) distances.

But those stories of the athletes from Kona inspire me all the same.

Will orange help me float?

The hope was to have my brand-spanking new swimsuit in time for the indoor triathlon I completed in Rochester earlier this month. But it took a bit longer for my custom suit to land at my door.

Yesterday, it finally did.

You can check it out at Splish Custom where you can also design your own swimsuit. With the swim being my most difficult event, having a new suit with design features which are personally meaningful will hopefully not only inspire me but relieve my anxiety.

Let me briefly explain my suit:

I have "Pienza" written across the front of the suit. Pienza is a city in Tuscan region of Italy. This past fall I took a cycling trip to Italy where, readers may recall, I started to seriously think about this whole triathlon thing. The day we rode to Pienza was our most difficult ride. Recalling the city brings to mind the strength that I have to get through the difficult training.

On the back, I have "Andiamo" written, which means "Let's Go!" in Italian while "Team Mo" is a play on my nickname (Mo -- short for Moritz) which started in college and has stuck in some circles.

I chose the colors because, well, orange and green are pretty unique. Green is my favorite color while the orange is actually connected to Tennessee women's basketball. See, two years ago, I finally taught my boyfriend who Candace Parker was. (For those who don't have significant others whose job it is to cover college basketball, Parker has been a national player of the year in high school and college is arguably one of the best women to ever play the game.)

Since then, whenever we go shopping at an athletic apparel store, he finds items which are orange and white, brings them to me and says, "Here. Candace Parker." So orange has became a defacto color of "Team Mo.

My first use of the suit will be in Sunday's swim workout. Then I'll get to see if orange makes me go faster. Or at least, keep me afloat.

Roger Clemens not the only one with problems

The entire case of major league baseball player Roger Clemens and his did-he-didn't-he use performance enhancing drugs has reached popular cultural standards. I know this because not only did it lead the national nightly news, it also was a top story on Inside Edition, right after discussing former child-actor star Gary Coleman's marriage.

But yesterday there also was news that two professional triathletes and a cyclist are suing a nutritional supplement company claiming one of the products they used contained a banned substance that resulted in failed drug tests, sport suspensions and loss of income. They used the product Endurolyte, designed to reduce cramping in endurance athletes. The product contained trace amounts of a steriod, which was not part of the ingredient list on the package.

The question of dietary supplements isn't just one for elite athletes. Athletes at all levels take supplements -- including things like protein shakes and multi-vitamins. Pretty benign stuff. I myself take a multi-vitamin recommended by my chiropractor and use whey-based protein powder as a way to help increase my protein intake, particularly since I'm a vegetarian.

Granted, my supplemental routine is to make sure I'm getting the right amount of nutrition and not to try an enhance my performance to win medals or prize money. But it's not always about cheating or using a performance enhancing substance. At the basic level, it's about making sure you're doing healthy things for your body, whether you're trying to lose weight, add muscle, make the varsity team or complete an endurance event.

Places to look for information on dietary supplements include the web page on which and the Center for Drug Free Sport.

Very superstitious

When I first started my triathlon training and pondering which would be my first official tri race, my brother asked if I wanted him to jump up and down and shout "What time is it? Game time!" to get me in the mood.

At the time, I laughed.

But now, well, I think there may be something to it.

One of the things I had failed to realize as I began my training was that I was making a transition from being a fitness athlete to a competitive athlete. In fact, I balked at labeling myself a competitive athlete. After all, I wasn't trying to win a race or be a top age-group finisher. My goals were to get to the start line and cross the finish line while doing my personal best.

And yes, that is still my primary goal. But just because my focus is on improving my own times, transitions and techniques doesn't negate the competition factor.

I'm still racing. I'm still trying to win, even if I define winning differently than coming in first place.

So I need to develop a race-day routine. This particular epiphany happened when I was talking with Greg Gardner, a former goalie and current assistant coach for the Niagara men's hockey team. I asked if he had any superstitions while he was playing. No superstitions, he said. Only rituals.

With a superstition, you need something to happen in order to play. The problem is, there is so much you can't control. You may forget your lucky socks. You may end up in a traffic jam on the way to the venue. Your iPod may run out of charge right before that superstitious song comes up in your play list.

A ritual, though, is more akin to a routine. Gardner said for him, it was something that told him it was game day. This wasn't practice or training. It was game time.

This is something I need -- a race day ritual. It doesn't need to be elaborate, but it needs to get me in the frame of mind that this isn't just another day at the pool or the gym. I know, the plethora of people wearing numbers pinned to their clothing and then written in bold, black sharpie on their arms and legs should provide a pretty good tip that I'm at a race.

But I don't want to be concerned with how other people race. I want to be focused on how I race.

I've entered the annual Shamrock Run on March 1. This will be the first time I'm running a road race. It will be a good run test for my coach to see where my pacing and training is at. It also will be a good time for me to get more actual race experience. I have about three weeks to get ready for the run and to come up with some sort of race day ritual to keep me both relaxed and focus and tell that yes, indeed, it is game time.

Rutgers has me thinking pink

Last week while I was researching the national efforts of the "Think Pink" campaign in the women's basketball community, I stumbled across a charity run happening in conjunction with the Women's Final Four in Tampa this spring.

The "Think Pink" campaign is part of an awareness and fundraising effort for the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. Yow, the long time head coach for North Carolina State, is battling breast cancer for the third time and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association has mobilized a national initiative. For the past few weeks, and continuing this week, colleges and high schools across the country will be holding "Think Pink" games in support of the fund's efforts.

While supporting the cause is pretty much a no-brainier for me, something about watching Rutgers almost upend No. 1 Tennessee Monday night while wearing special pink uniforms inspired me to action. Maybe it was the play of the Scarlet Knights, who came back from an 11-point second-half deficit and really should have won the game. Maybe it was the fact that these players and coaches, all-stars in the game of basketball, had reclaimed pink, the symbol of girliness, while excelling at some of the highest levels of athletics.

Either way, by the end of the game I had already emailed my triathlon coach and told her I wanted to participate in the 4Kay run at the Women's Final Four. The 4K run will be held on April 5. That's the Saturday before the national semifinals and with the run scheduled to go off at 8 a.m. and practices and press conferences not likely to start before 11 a.m., I should have plenty time to participate in the run, grab a shower, and get back to the task of covering the women's national championship event.

I can honestly tell you, if they had a "4Kay" run at the Final Four a year ago, I would not have even considered squeezing it into my day. Not even as a walk. Not because I couldn't do it, or wouldn't have wanted to do it.

It's just that I see myself differently now. I'm starting to see myself as an athlete. As someone who competes, even if it's just against my own personal times.

Now, I'll just have to get some pink running shorts and I'll be all set.

Practice like you play

A staple of the language of "coach speak" is the adage to practice like you play.

You will hear coaches and players at all levels repeat this phrase. In the past few weeks, I've heard my fair share of it while covering local college programs.

Why has Niagara hockey gone on a seven-game unbeaten streak at a crucial time in the season? The players attributed part of their success to bringing it in practice every day.

Why did the Canisius women's basketball team struggle this weekend with an overtime loss followed by the worst margin of defeat at home in program history? Head coach Terry Zeh believes a big reason is the lack of effort at daily practice.

Not every single element at practice can be a simulation of a game experience. Nor does bringing intensity and focus mean forgetting that the sport is fun.

But even in my regular spin class, the instructor will tell us that we will get out of the class what we put into it.

While half the battle of training for my first triathlon is just showing up to my workouts, it's also important how I show up. The week before that first indoor triathlon I was petrified of the swim. I was nervous and anxious every time I got in the pool and tried to will myself through the workout. And my lack of confidence overwhelmingly showed up in my first race last week when I struggled to get to the other end of the pool.

This past week, my swim workouts were more enjoyable. I went to the pool eager to learn and improve and figured I had no where to go but up. I was more focused in the water, noticing when I was breaking form and correcting it. I was enjoying the process and becoming more confident with each lap.

And it's an attitude I need to bring to the other disciplines, too. I'm strong on the bike, but that doesn't mean I can just coast through spin class. My runs are getting easier but again, I can't just mindlessly sing along to my iPod on the treadmill. I need to use that time to think of my form, my cadence and being light on my feet.

In the "practice like you play" mentality, not every single drill is a game simulation. Transfered to my training, not every workout is done at race speed. That's not how you improve.

But if I think about practicing like I play, or training like I race, then the time spent in the gym or the pool becomes more effective. For the same amount of time spent training (and this week's goal is 7 hours and 30 minutes) I'll get more bang for buck, so to speak, if I do more than just physically show up.

More lessons in Swimming 101

While I've taken classes to learn the mechanics of how to swim, there still are finer points of the sport I need to learn.

Like what exactly my coach means when she says people in the lane "circle swim."

Yes, all you swimmers out there can giggle at me behind my back, but if you're not brought up in the sport, you don't know all the lingo. Or even how to structure your swim time.

In one of my Internet surfing ventures, I found some great intro articles from United States Masters Swimming. They include such items as pool etiquette (How do you pass a slow swimmer in your lane?) to building a routine (How should I be using fins and kickboards?). Heck there's even a diagram of a circle swim so you can see exactly what it is the swim peeps are talking about.

Why is all this lingo important? For me, it helps in understanding the sport and clarifies what exactly it is my swim coaches are talking about. It makes me more invested in the sport. I feel a sense of ownership when I know some of the lingo and can carry on a basic conversation. I may not know all the technical points, but I can nod my head knowingly and not be completely lost. It's like watching the Tour de France on television and learning enough of the lingo to impress your non-cycling friends.

It makes me feel like more of a swimmer -- at least around non-swimmers.

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