Archive for Get Moving!

Three Benefits of Running You Probably Haven’t Thought Of

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Running is awesome.

I can sense your scoffing all the way across the internet. “Running is awful,” you might be saying. “No one really likes to run except oddballs and people with disorders.”

I was once like you. I used to think running was too much suffering for some mysterious payoff, that it would hurt my joints and that I couldn’t ever become as good as the hardcore runners I knew, so why try anyway?

As I’ve documented before, the Couch to 5K program was my answer, and within a matter of months I was running ten minute miles with ease.

Yes, it was pretty easy, and took just 30 minutes or so, three times a week. I’ve dropped a bunch of weight and can finally outlast my kids.

And I’m an addict. One of those people I previously scoffed at. I know now what they know: running isn’t just an effective workout, it’s an escape, a challenge, and a way of life. Every time my feet hit the ground I’m stretching my boundaries and becoming a healthier person.

And you can do it, too.

I don’t want to sound like your mother or that one overbearing athletic friend. You know running has myriad health benefits, from improved cardiovascular condition to improved metabolism and yadda yadda yadda.

For whatever reason, those benefits haven’t convinced you to give it a shot. Allow me to offer up a few more. Running has myriad other positives outside of what happens in your heart. These are five secrets commonly known to frequent runners that I didn’t know until I became one:

1. Running is personal time - Whether on a treadmill or going in circles across a local park, running is your time. No kids, bosses, or family bugging you. It’s a great time to enjoy the silence, or some of your favorite music. I prefer podcasts, sometimes on sports topics, sometimes on things I need to learn more about, like science. NPR has a bunch of great ones to listen to.

2. You can inspire people - As long as you’re not an overbearing douchebag about your newfound running abilities, people will be inspired by how you’re able to transform yourself. It’s a great way to make friends, and always serves as interesting conversation starter at parties. Your grandma will think it’s awesome too. Remember: everyone seems to think running is some sort of superhero exercise. Let ‘em think it.

3. Disease Prevention - Running reduces your risk for a variety of cancers: colon, breast, lung, and endometrial. It can even help your vision.

What do you have to lose? The C25K program will ease you into a running habit; your body will do the rest. You may not become like me and find it to be an almost addictive habit, but even just a little bit of pushing yourself can have a wealth of benefits - more than you can even imagine!

No Pain No Gain – How to tell if your workout is working out

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I hated him.  Maybe hated is a strong word.  Loathed?  Detested?  What word do you use to describe how you feel about a man who pushes you to a point that every fiber of your being is screaming for the end and you’re fairly certain death is imminent?  I’d say hate works pretty well.   

“Give me two more suicide runs.”  He said it calmly and without a single pant.  I was convinced he should be panting as heavily as I was if he was going to insist on pushing me over the edge.  I shot him a steely look.  “No pain, no gain.”  He said as he smiled smugly at me.  Yep.  I hated him.  But I ran two more suicide runs anyway. 

I've been athletic in some way most of my life.  Sports all the way from elementary school through college.  So I’m accustomed to the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality...and the onslaught of sore muscles and Tylenol that follow the day after a tough workout.  What I've learned over the years is that you shouldn't feel this way after every workout. 

Pain isn’t an indicator that you’re whipping your body into shape. It’s not necessary to be so sore you can't raise your arms to wash your hair the next day (yes, it has happened).  However, if you’re actually getting results, then your body should be feeling some physiological changes it isn't used to.

Here are some ways to recognize if your workout is working for you:

  1. The "no pain, no gain" myth – This saying is, to put it simply, bull malarkey.  Granted, there are times when you need to put your body through the ringer a little, but it shouldn't be a gauge as to whether or not your workout is doing its job.  Most exercise should not hurt.  If it does, chances are you have an injury. (Of course, if you've never exercised at all you may think everything hurts – or that you’re dying – but that very likely just your body getting used to exercising.  If you feel fine a little while after you're done, the "hurt" didn't damage anything except possibly your ego.)
  2. Soreness – If you’re wondering how sore you should be, keep this in mind – a little soreness is okay, but you shouldn't be so sore that you can barely roll yourself out of the bed the next morning (yes, sadly that has happened too).  If you’re getting too sore, check the ego at the door and back off a little on your next few workouts.  Don't skip them, that will start the cycle over again, just go easier.  Ease your muscles into it so they can recover and then you'll be reenergized and ready to increase the intensity.  Also remember, soreness should decrease as you progresses. The longer you stick with your workout routine, the more used to it your body becomes.
  3. Energy level and appetite – Don’t freak out when you find yourself wanting to eat everything on the menu at Luigi’s when you first start working out.  It won't last long. You are consistently hungry because you've changed your diet and started working out.  It’s possible you will even feel rather tired for a week or two.  It won’t take your body long to adjust and you’ll have more energy than you’ll know what to do with.  Okay, you've probably already got a list waiting of what to do with the energy, so hang in there.
  4. Don’t sweat it – Seriously, how much you sweat is no indication of how well your workout went. Like pain, some people think if they didn't sweat they didn't get anything from their workout. Not necessarily true.  While sweating is healthy and if you never sweat at all then you probably aren't exercising hard enough, you don't always need to be dripping wet when you’re done. An example would be resistance training.  If you’re going light on the weight, you may not necessarily sweat much, but that doesn't mean you aren't getting benefits.  Keep at it.

Keep in mind, everybody is different and there are no set in stone rules about how you should feel all of the time and no two people are going to respond the same physically.  You have to learn how your body reacts, and – don’t get discouraged – it could take some time.  Concentrate on really listening to your body.  And remember, after a break-in period, you should start to feel good and have more energy!  If this isn't the case, ask your trainer – even if you hate him with a passion the first week or so – because isn't feeling better why you’re working out in the first place?

 

Couch Potatoes –Ticking Time Bombs From Doing Nothing

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“Does it kill you to open the door for me once in a while? Or maybe buy flowers and candy? Geez, Dale. You are my husband for crying out loud.” Marcy was furious. She never thought in a million years that the day would come where she'd be fed up with her significant other asking her how she felt or crying along with her during the sad parts of “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

He stepped back, a look of horror painting across his face. The spatula in his hand dropped to the floor, making an earth shattering clang that made him jump.

“And stop always cooking dinner! I could rip my hair out!,” Marcy screamed. “Just once in a while, I'd like to be taken, Dale. I'd like to know I had a MAN FOR A HUSBAND!”

“Your obviously angry dear,” was all he could sputter out. Dale just didn't get it. “What can I do to help?”

Marcy swallowed hard. She took in a few deep breaths, her chest inhaling. Yelling wasn't going to solve anything but it had been building inside her forever.

“I'm sorry, Dale. I should have addressed this sooner rather than later. Its my fault. But today is a new day. So – this is what I want you to do. I want you to tell me I'm acting nuts and ignore me.”

“Wha--?”

“Just do it. Give me your best Al Bundy.” She waved her hands, seemingly egging him on.

“Come on. Ignore me,” she repeated, not realizing he wasn't responding.

Dale didn't say anything. He went back to the stir fry on the stove, whistling as he moved the chicken and vegetables around.

When was the last time you realized you had a HUGE problem you'd been ignoring forever and now it was biting you in the rear end? The first thoughts that race through your mind are “shoulda, coulda, woulda” right?

Are you sitting down as you read this? Well, there's the problem! Being a couch potato (inactive) is not only addictive, its hazardous to your health.

“Come on. How can sitting down be bad for you?” Oh, my good friend. Let me count the ways:

 “I Worked Out Today. I'm Hitting The Three-Seater” - Makes sense, right? You just slammed around the weights or ran a good five miles on the treadmill down at the gym. You deserve a few hours in front of the boob tube. Lets start today by breaking that cycle of thinking. A recent study found that no matter what you did before sitting on the couch for two or more hours that day (exercise or not) the risk of heart attacks nearly doubled. That's just insane. Save the inactivity for when your body needs it i.e. SLEEP.

The Metabolics of Sitting is Nuts – So your heart is an obvious victim of “lounging around” too much. But what else? Researchers in Canada looked at the effects of it in a massive study of 7278 men ages 18-90 years old. Good cholesterol down, blood sugar way up. In fact, scientists now are hypothesizing that sitting down actually triggers the fat cells in the areas your sitting on, changing the way the cells are being multiplied and stored. You can't spot reduce but it seems there might be some truth to spot gaining! 

The D Word – We mentioned sugar. So what naturally comes next when your glucose levels are all out of whack? You guessed it. Diabetes (Type 2). The longer you watch television (btw video games count as watching television) the bigger your risk for developing the condition. Could this be one of the reasons the diabetes levels in America have been on the up and up for a long while now? 

Take back your life starting today, before you realize its too late. Every inch is an inch toward a mile. Are you watching television for two hours a night? Make it an hour. Sitting around is hazardous to your health. Problems become ticking time bombs when you ignore them for too long. Don't believe me? Just ask Marcy. Or Dale...if he's still alive. 

Exercise and The Brain (Part 2 of 3): Destroying Cravings One Session At A Time

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It had been a few months since Fillious's arrival in the kingdom and things had been relatively quiet.  He had been tasked with helping King Ragnyre build some semblance of a respectable army.

He removed his mighty sword from its scathe, swinging it to and fro in a slow manner, getting the group to emulate what he was doing.  Practice sessions were long but Fillious found the more he held them, the more the men actually wanted to learn, to practice.  It was classes held after the days off that they seemed to be unmotivated and slip up.

“What is your name, squire?” Fillious approached a young man he saw clearly struggling with the battle movements of the day. The frazzled student looked up, an obvious terrified expression painted across his muddied face. 

“Hershiel sire.” His voice was mousy and quiet, matching the frame of a farmer's son.

“Well Hershiel, imagine I am a demon knight and I have slain your family in a fit of unbridled evil.  Are you going to swing your sword at me like that?” Fillious raised an eyebrow. The rest of the men paused, staring eagerly at what was about to happen.

“I guess not, sire.”

“Then grip your sword, Hershiel and attack me!” His voice boomed across the courtyard, drawing attention from the townsfolk as well. A gathering started to form, making the young man even more intimidated. Good, thought Fillious. Either he will break down or shape up. This was his moment to no longer be the weakest link.

“Swing at you?”

“By the Gods I will swing first, young man,” Fillious mouthed, a tinge of anger in his voice. They would remember today's lesson well, regardless of how this man reacted, motivation to go home and practice in their cabins instead of playing cards or singing Bard's tales. Fillious gave off a mischievous smile. He knew deep down they would always remember.

Twenty four hours in a day is a long time. Subtract your standard eight or so hours of required sleep and that's still sixteen hours where your mind has to be more powerful than your body, to control the urges that come and go within that time frame. One such urge is eating even though you're not hungry. Eating just to eat. Maybe the game is on and you want to pour a big bowl of chips.  Or your Mom just called to talk about Aunt Jane's new boyfriend and a spoon is making its way into the ice cream tub as your head is pressed against the cordless phone.

We eat out of habit more than anything, which is why exercise is so vitally important to a successful diet. It gives your mind the power to ward off the urges. It gives you back CONTROL of what you put in your body. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Take for example a recent study done by the Brigham Young University. They took 18 women of normal weight and 17 women who were overweight and had both groups work out for 45 minutes in the morning.  They also had the groups NOT work out on other days. The results were telling but not surprising. When either group of ladies worked out in the morning, they had a substantially lower appetite throughout a 24 hour period then on the days they didn't. In other words, who wants to ruin an awesome early morning workout with a late night snack? NOBODY! You are much more likely to fight off the cravings after putting in all that EFFORT in working out.

The same goes for the men out there. Another research group, this one published in the American Journal of Physiology, worked with eleven healthy males. They were tracked on days of 60 minutes of aerobic workouts and some weight training as well.  On the days they worked out, their eating patterns were noticeably smaller then on the days they rested. Same kind of study, same results. You strengthen your mind, training it not to sabotage the wonderful results your accomplishing.

While not fully understood yet by science, there is a clear connection between working out and giving you the mental focus to eat in smaller amounts and eat smarter.  Think of the exercise as the lesson for the day, your body following your mind's lead. After all, who want's to ruin an awesome session with a cheeseburger later on? NO ONE! Confidence is built on success. Your brain knows it and now you do too. Leave us a comment and tell us how you deal with your cravings!

Want more information on how to live a happier, healthier, and more balanced life? Check out Rag Tag ALIVE. Issues are delivered monthly to our Rag Tag Elite members. Not a subscriber? Click here to join!

Your Brain and Exercise (Part 1 of 3): Defeating Stress Epic Style

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“Bow your head now, mighty warrior and prepare to receive your just reward for the incredible valor shown on this day.” The King stood above the kneeling knight, his arms raised up signaling to the crowd in the Great Hall to be silent as the ceremony progressed.

All who were left standing had come to witness the celebration. This man before them had slain the mightiest beast the land had ever seen. And he had done it with conviction and bravery to the likes of which the kingdom had sorely been lacking in for decades. Nary a soul in the place, not even the king himself, knew the man's name. His face was as mysterious as his fateful appearance when they needed it the most.

“I present you, kind sir, with the ancient mythril armor of the ancient ones.” The King turned to the squire at his side and picked up the magnificent chest plate the young boy was holding for him. It bore a resemblance to the heaviest, mightiest steel in all the land yet alas, it weighted mere ounces in his finger tips. “There is not a mortal blade nor known weapon that can pierce this armor. It was the pride of the kingdom and now it is yours.”

The King waived for the warrior to rise and accept the gift. He stood, exposing his almost seven foot frame to the gasp of the crowd. Free flowing brown hair surrounded his ears and almost covered the man's bright blue eyes.

“You have saved us from the stone beast and yet we do not even know your name stranger,” the King looked at him, waiting for an answer.

“My name is Fillious, your excellency. I come from way up north, beyond your borders. As to why I am here, I ask that remain my business, however while I am here, I am in your service.”

It will always pile up. Bad things happen in three's. When it rains , its pours. They are all TRUE. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes. You know it. It doesn't bare repeating. Just hearing the word stress probably sent you back to something that happened today at the office or with the kids and your blood pressure ticked up a bit.

Now, imagine for one second if there was a way to make your skin thicker (I'm talking metaphorically). Envision a day when it wouldn't matter to you as much if your boss tore you up or your spouse was in a foul mood. Can you feel that “plate of armor” slipping over your body to ward off the negative effects of stress?

Well, there is a way to help your mind block the harmful “rays” of stress sunshine. EXERCISE.

The part of your brain that handles anxiety related feeling is called the hippocampus. Scientists in a recent study showed that rats who ran hard before their “cold water” tests weren't anywhere near as bothered by the stress. If they actually exercised before they were dropped in a bucket of ice cold H2O, they were calmer.

If they were dunked in without any pre-physical stimulation, they flailed around like a bunch of wet noodles. The physical activity regulated the hippocampus, keeping its receptors in check, according to brain scans of the rats. In other words, the more you exercise, the better your brain can deal with high intensity situations.

Scientist Peter Salmon of the University of Liverpool did a massive research paper on this one topic and came to this conclusion, “Results of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies are more consistent in indicating that aerobic exercise training has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects and protects against harmful consequences of stress.”

Wouldn't it be nice to have a magic shield or a plate of armor to ward off stress and anxiety? You do. Its called exercise. There are many more reasons to exercise but at least you know while we are exploring all of them here, you won't lose your mind. So “suit up” with those gym shorts and get ready to conquer the world. Leave a comment and let us know how it goes!

Want more information on how to live a happier, healthier, and more balanced life? Check out Rag Tag ALIVE. Issues are delivered monthly to our Rag Tag Elite members. Not a subscriber? Click here to join!

 

 

The Five Best Apps to Help you Get Fit

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Like so many of us, Julie is a tech addict. More than once she’s bumped into a total stranger on the street because she was staring at her phone. She misses her stop on the subway with regularity, and is known to tune out in the middle of conversations because something on that phone has grabbed her attention.

She’s always been the distracted techy type. Spending all night goofing around on the web isn't unusual for her, and it’s stagnant activities like those that had her weight pushing dangerous levels. It’s easy for weight to pile on when sitting at a computer comprises the beginning, middle and end of your day.

However, since she got her first smartphone, she’s lost 35 pounds. She’s still in front of a computer all day, it’s just in her hands now, and it comes with a buncha apps that help her stay on top of what she’s eating and how active she’s being.

Like Julie, your greatest ally in the battle to lose weight and get healthier may just be sitting in your pocket right now: your smartphone.

Odds are you have one, as over 50% of adults in the US have one, and there are over a billion of them worldwide. You know how handy it is, even if you think it’s a pain in the ass sometimes to be connected to the world - and work - 24/7/365.

That smartphone can help you in so many different ways, from exercise tracking apps to calorie counters. Even scientific research has shown that the convenience and flexibility of smartphones help people stay on track better than “offline” methods such as food diaries.

Here’s a list of five free or cheap apps that can help you on your way to weight loss and a healthier life:

  1. MyFitnessPal - Maybe the most popular calorie counter out there, MyFitnessPal has nutritional information on nearly a million foods, including menu items from many restaurants and fast food joints. It also allows you to set goals, and will let you know how many calories you have left each day to meet that goal.
  2. RunKeeper - This app tracks your cardio workouts, from running and cycling to hiking and rowing. Using GPS and information you enter, it’ll tell you how far you’ve gone, how fast you’re going, and even how many calories you’ve burned. Bonus: RunKeeper plugs into many other apps, including MyFitnessPal so you don’t have to worry about entering workouts there. You can also connect to EveryMove, a program that gives you actual rewards for meeting fitness goals.
  3. LoseIt - Similar to MyFitnessPal, LoseIt is a nutrition and weight tracker. Tell it your goals, enter your food, and it’ll tell you what you have left to eat. You can also connect with friends for accountability, as well as connect the app to scales and other apps (such as RunKeeper.)
  4. Fooducate - We blog a lot about eating where you want, but finding healthier options on the menu. Fooducate gives you a wealth of information about a product by scanning a barcode, including healthier alternatives.
  5. Moves - While fitness bracelets that track your activity throughout the day and night are popular, they’re not for everyone. Moves aims to do what those devices do, just without the extra hardware, since you’re already toting around your smartphone everywhere anyway. Moves quietly runs in the background, keeping tabs on your steps, whether walking or running, the places you go, and the calories you burn.

 

Triathlon: I Did It!

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

After a year of training, and pushing myself, before I knew it, the race had arrived. Check that - it’s more like RACE DAY IS HERE! My emotions were running high, and the entire week before I was so adrenalized I couldn’t hardly sleep.

In college, I was constantly told that the best way to deal with finals is to make them irrelevant. They’re made irrelevant by putting in the work during the semester, and triathlons are basically the same. Though the race will likely be the first time you’ve put all three disciplines together, it’ll seem easy because you’re prepared!

If you follow what I’ve outlined in previous posts, on your own timeline, you’ll be good to go.

That being said, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure your race experience is smooth and enjoyable, like a strawberry parfait. Check out these tips:

- Pre-race: HYDRATE! Most races start early (around 8am), and you’ll want to be there at least 90 minutes before to set up your transition area and get your wetsuit on. Drink water the entire time; you’ll need it as you hit the run and your body begins hunting for moisture to replace what you’ve sweated out. And yes, you’ll probably need to urinate early on...which is one of the reasons triathlons start in the water. Hey, EVERYONE does it, so there’s no shame in letting it flow, right?!

- Transition area: Making sure your transition area (or the space you return to in between disciplines to swap out gear/change clothes) is organized properly. Think in progressions: you’ll have you swim gear on to begin, so your biking gear (shoes, shirt, helmet, gloves) needs to be set out where you can easily access it. Underneath/behind the bike gear is your run gear. If your bike jersey/running shorts has pockets, then be sure to place your energy boosters in them, which conveniently leads to...

- Performance Enhancing Stuff: You’re not going to be on steroids like baseball players, but you can have some performance enhancers on hand to help you get through the race. I went to my local outdoor retailer and bought a pack of energy chews and a tube of electrolyte tablets. I gobbled an energy chew before the swim to kick my energy into hyperdrive since I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, then dissolved one of the electrolyte tablets in my water bottle for the biking portion. During the bike, I focused on keeping a moderate pace, while making sure I emptied my electrolyte-fueled water bottle. This hydration is what helped me finish the run in less than 28 minutes, while many of my peers cramped up and started walking.

- Swim tips: As I mentioned, my race was a river triathlon, with a current flowing around six MPH. I merely needed to stay afloat to finish...yet I struggled. My rhythm was thrown off from the outset, as I jostled with the other random limbs trying to get going in the water. I switched between a number of different strokes to get through it, which worked well. For instance, I found the breaststroke useful because I could catch my breath quickly, despite a heavier toll on my upper body. The bottom line: starting lines are chaotic, and swims are generally hard. Learn multiple swimming techniques so you can still finish and not wreck your body for the work to come.

- Bike tips: Before you even get on the bike, you’ll have to get out of your wetsuit. There isn’t much I can offer here, other than wiggling helps. You should wear your bike bib underneath, and have a jersey or shirt ready to go before you climb on. Once on the bike, sustain a moderate pace and drink your water. Don’t get caught up in chasing other bikers, instead focus on your own pace and don’t destroy your legs. You’ll need them for the run. Speaking of...

Before I started running, I ate another energy chew. As I mentioned in a previous post, my legs felt a bit numb from the bike, so my initial pace was slower until I felt comfortable (about 30 seconds.) From that point, I pushed as hard I could, knowing the finish line was coming. Most races will have water stations at each mile point, and I like to slow down, grab a water to drink, then walk about 10 feet. It’s brief, but it helps quite a bit.

That’s it. After all the buildup and months of work, I saw the finish line. I saw my wife and kids cheering me on. I was exhausted and sore, but I’ve never felt better. Everything was totally worth it.

Final tip: keep going! My new goal is to do an Olympic-length triathlon. It’s the same events, obviously, just longer distances. It’s taking me a bit more time, but I have the basics in place. I know how to run, how to bike, and how to swim. Beyond that, I want to make a triathlon a yearly goal.

I’ll get there, but the most important thing is I’ve developed abilities that I can rely on for years to come,without any kind.

And I really, truly think you can do the same.

One final note of encouragement: most triathlons will write your age on your leg, along with your number and which distance you’re running. I’m 32, and was passed by lots of people twice my age and more. I was definitely one of the youngest participants.

I saw old folks, teens, skinny people, obese people, people with limps and even a person without an arm. Anyone can do it, and so can you.

Are you considering pursuing a triathlon or another athletic goal? Let me know in the comments, and best of luck!

Triathlon? Reality Sets In

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

One thing about signing up and paying for an event: it makes things feel very real. It’s no longer just a fantasy or a daydream. It’s a reality, and a bit scary because you never know if you’re ready for it until you’ve done it.

My race was three months away.

It was time to start combining elements of the race in pairs, or “bricks” as they’re known. Besides taking your fitness to a higher level, bricks are important because you learn how your body reacts to different disciplines. You don’t want any surprises on race day!

I set out to do one brick every three weeks, or about four before the race started. Twice I swam a mile in the lap pool, then hopped onto my bike outside. Twice I biked the full 12 miles, then hopped off and ran for three.

The pool-to-bike bricks were pretty doable, so long as I focused on sustaining a comfortable pace in each. I focused on using just my arms in the swim, pulling myself along with them, versus propelling with my legs. With my leg energy saved up, the bike was fairly simple. Any fatigue I felt in my legs was relaxed by coasting along for a few seconds. All in all, it took me a little over an hour to do each brick, which was perfect for a Saturday morning.

The bike-to-run bricks were tough. The first time, again on a Saturday morning, I wasn’t nearly as hydrated as I should’ve been. I hopped off the bike rearing to go, only to have my quadriceps cramp up a quarter mile in. I hobbled around like Red Sanford for a bit until they loosened up, but the lesson was learned: while biking, drink lots of water, and mix some electrolytes in.

Another thing to be aware of: it takes a bit to get your feet under you when you get off the bike. Before I looked like Red Sanford from the cramps, I looked like I was trying to learn how to walk in heels. You want to get running as quickly as you can, but your feet may be a bit numb from the bike, and you can tumble. Use caution.

The second bike-run brick went much better, thanks to more water and a $2 canister of electrolyte tablets. During the ride I made sure to drink the entire contents of my water bottle, because I knew I would need it in the hot sun during the run.

The next weekend a friend with creaky knees invited me to join him in a relay triathlon. He would manage the swim and bike, then let me do the run. It was maybe one of the best things I could’ve done, because it allowed me to linger as the race began, and see how people set up their transition areas. I saw how people moved from the swim to their bikes, how they efficiently slid off their wetsuits and popped on their jerseys. 

The transition area - or the designated space for racers to switch from swim to bike to run - can be a bit complicated. It helps to observe it with your own eyes before your own race, so go and be a spectator at an area tri. Or, check out YouTube.

After the relay experience, I felt ready. Nervous, but ready.

I was three weeks away from the race, so it was time to ease into a more comfortable, sustaining routine. Every other day I tried to do a light run, slow bike or quick swim, just to keep my blood flowing and muscles loose. I wanted to be rested and fresh for race day.

Next, we’ll wrap up this series with race day and what I learned about surviving when the swim doesn’t go as planned. Feel free to share your brick training tips in the comments!

Triathlon? Picking The Race

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

If you’ve been reading along with this series, you know a few things: I’m cheap, I don’t like things that are difficult, and I’ll go out of my way to find the easiest path to accomplish something. So it was that within the course of a year or so I had mastered (this is used rather lightly) the three disciplines of triathlons: swimming, biking and running. I had invested less than a thousand dollars, and kept my workouts down to 30 minutes or so a day.

All of these workouts had served me well. I had lost a good chunk of weight, was in the best cardiovascular shape of my life, and the wiring in my brain had somehow been refreshed, making me a happier person.

In truth, you could pick any of the three elements to focus on, and see similar results.You don’t have to be a triathlete, but it helps a lot to have that goal. A personal preference, but I also like the variety of exercises.

So it was that i arrived at the next step: picking my race.

First, the race. Not all triathlons are the same. There are varying distances and courses. The typical distance of a “sprint” tri are ½ mile swim, 12 mile bike, and 3 mile run, and “olympic” distances are twice that of the sprint. Sprints are suggested for first timers, and that’s the path I went down.

Most offer open water swims in lakes or reservoirs, but there are a few triathlons where the swim is in a river, downstream. If you’re like me, and not a great swimmer, this is the kind of race for you.

If you really want a controlled environment, check your local rec center or gym for an indoor tri. These involve laps in a pool, spins on a stationary bike, and running on a treadmill or indoor track. They’re not much for scenery, but you may prefer the familiarity of the equipment.

Whatever distance, or type of tri, you really can’t go wrong. You’re doing it, and that’s all that matters!

The race I picked was a river triathlon in central Utah with a one-mile swim (downrivers tend to have longer distances since the swim is easier.) They claimed the water typically  flowed 4-6 miles per hour, which meant I would finish in half an hour or less if I could just stay afloat (which was pretty doable in a wetsuit.) Just as well, their bike and run courses were rather flat, and the run was on a golf course (great for the achy joints, versus pavement.)

It couldn’t have been more perfect for a first tri.

Being the cheap fool I am, I even found a coupon for $10 off registration, so my charge was just $65 to enter. Most will cost between $50 and $100, but you do get some swag (like t-shirts, swim caps, energy gels, etc.)

Hit sites like Active.com for lists of events, and try searching for your state + triathlon for more ideas. If you know of other methods, or races you recommend, leave them in the comments!

Triathlon? Swimming

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

Swimming is tons of fun. When I was a kid, growing up in the Northeastern Oklahoma farmlands, we’d take a boat out to the middle of a lake, hop out, and swim for hours. Snakes, turtles, spiky fish, whatever. We had endless energy, and the natural buoyancy of adolescence.

Flash forward to 2012. I’m a grown man and get exhausted in two laps in a pool. My wife, a former lifeguard, describes my swimming style as a “short fistfight with the water, and you always lose.”

Most triathlons take place in open water, and sprint distances are at least half a mile. If I was really going to do this, I needed to get better. I needed lessons.

Remember: I’m cheap. Private swim lessons can cost hundreds of dollars. I’m also prideful, and didn’t want to get into a class with a bunch of five year olds. I knew they’d outswim me anyway.

After digging around online, I found a local rec center offering adult swim lessons. One hour a week, four lessons a month, for $32. Great success!

The lessons were exactly what I needed. The class rebuilt my form as if I were a kid, and once the instructor discovered my triathlon intentions, she showed me the backstroke, side stroke, and other “survival” tactics. She was obviously impressed by my swimming ability.

Regardless, after four lessons, I was able to comfortably swim continuously without stopping. It helped that I had a floaty between my legs to help simulate triathlon conditions, where I knew I would be wearing a wet suit (which is quite buoyant) and trying to avoid using your legs (which is why the floaty is placed between your thighs.)

I signed up for a second month of lessons, and tried to swim for 30-45 minutes at least once between lessons. I quickly got to the point where I could swim a mile or more. I wasn’t fast, but I didn’t care. I could do all three events of the triathlon!*

My next step was to start pairing exercises together, back to back, what triathletes call a “brick.” I also started to scout out races in my area. Much to my own disbelief, I was just about there. I was under 200 pounds for the first time since high school, my confidence was back along with my energy, and my wife and kids could tell the difference.

All it cost me to this point was less than $1000, and about five hours a week.

In my next post, I’ll explain what a river triathlon is and why picked one for my first, as well as how I started putting together bricks.

*-slowly and mediocrely, which was just fine