Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Long Game

I’m about to admit my great geekiness here so please go easy with me. I’m a big Doctor Who fan, starting with ‘new Who’ in 2005. Earlier exposure to the 70’s (or maybe it was 80s) Doctor Who was a little too out-there for me but now I’m going back to watch from the beginning. This becomes relevant to Compex or Compex becomes relevant to Doctor Who, I promise.

I’ve been using the Compex Sport Elite as much as I can lately. Since last week I have been using the Endurance or Resistance program during the day and Active Recovery during the evening. Which means that I spend a lot of time with the pads on various parts of my body and cables stretching out from those pads. I also have a dog that likes to go outside to sit in the back yard and then come inside and repeat throughout the day. Because I don’t want to have to move while running a Compex program, I don’t start when she’s outside. But sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a program when she gets incredibly whiny about going outside so I’ll get up. Of course, as any of you who have moved while using the Compex know, this can be a bit difficult. For example if I’m doing an Endurance program, every time it goes into a ‘work’ effort I need to stop in the middle of the walk to the door and wait for it to finish and go into a recovery effort before I can take another few steps.

On one of these ‘walks’, I caught sight of myself in the mirror - walking slowly, with cables stretching out of my legs - and immediately thought of The Controller in the Bad Wolf episode of Doctor Who.


Only, I’m not so geeky that I have all of the episodes memorized and before I started looking for a clip or photo of the Controller, I thought that this episode was the one titled ‘The Long Game.’

And now we are at the point where this becomes relevant. Because thinking of the title ‘The Long Game’ made me think about my own Long Game and about how the Compex Sport Elite fits into that Long Game.

I have been reading Magical Running by Bobby McGee and the book contains a very good section outlining the difference between targets and goals. Individual races are targets. The goal is to have a fit, healthy, and happy life (or whatever your goal is). For most, and probably all, of us our training and races are not one time events but are part of an active lifestyle to which we have become committed. For my training and racing goals, I am hoping to stay healthy throughout this year, build my endurance, drop a few pounds ;-), and get ready for an ironman distance race next year. On a personal level, I’d love to balance that with time for family and friends, continuing volunteer activities, and some free time to read philosophy and study languages.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of obstacles in the way of achieving my race goals. I’ve mentioned my health issues before but there have also been issues with work and other commitments getting in the way of my training. While this has been frustrating (I’d rather have gone on a long bike ride or run than having had to start work at 5:30 Saturday morning), I have been trying to reassure myself that not only is no particular race result the determination of my success but I have been outlining the steps I need to take to get me to my actual goal, both athletic and personal. And yes, a new job is moving quite rapidly to the top of that list!

But back to my Long Game and Compex. What I love about my Compex Sport Elite is it’s ability to fit into this plan. Based on the last few years, I know that staying healthy is the key to achieving all of my other goals - both athletic and personal. While much of this is influenced by my allergy management, dealing with those muscle and joint aches and strains is another key element. Having injured my knee one season and my back the next, I know how much those injuries can set back training. In my case, they’ve caused muscle imbalances, weakness, and ongoing pain. But I also know how much I can benefit by building strength to counteract the imbalances and weakness. Some of this is done through swimming, biking and running. However, without the needed supplemental work, I continue to reinforce the weaknesses and imbalances rather than reducing them. Of course, it is difficult to always find the time to do this very necessary supplemental work. It’s especially difficult for us type-A, driven athletes who feel that we can only do our best by increasing our mileage or increasing our speed. I may find it especially difficult - having to use my limited free time in the gym when I could be reading makes me grumpy.

Thankfully, the Compex Sport Elite addresses my problems (and reduces my grumpiness). First, through using the Endurance and Resistance programs I am able to address both my muscle imbalances and my weak areas. For example, the quad programs allow me to target both the inner and outer quad muscle, helping my knees to track straight. The calf program is helping with the ITB pain from my hyper-mobile ankle. The endurance and resistance programs are helping me strengthen my abs, lower back and glutes just as the doctor ordered. Second, the Active Recovery programs are helping me recover from each workout that I do so that I can do another one. This is especially helpful given then limited time that I have right now. In an ideal world, I’d do a hard workout one day and a recovery workout the next. But I don’t live in an ideal world right now. So instead, I use the Active Recovery programs so that I can do hard workouts two days in a row as necessary. The best part: I can do all of this while working or, on some great days, relaxing with a book. As a result, I can stay healthy and, staying healthy, I can continue to move towards my goals. Which means that by next year, I might be able to move to the next inning of my personal Long Game.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fort Ritchie Criterium

Note: I posted this on the Team Compex site on Monday but just posted it here today, so if you already read that posting, there's nothing new here.

First of all, this posting is far longer than it needs to be. Therefore, here’s the brief summary. Wind - bad. Compex Active Recovery - good. Mental toughness - needed. Compex Recovery Plus - very good. Repeating the same actions and expecting a different result - the definition of insanity. Why aren’t there people out there to talk me down from my own stupidity?

Before I go into the details of my most recent race, I’ll give a brief summary of how I’ve been using my Compex Sport Elite over this first week with the unit. I looked at the recommendation on shopcompex.com for triathletes and realized that I wouldn’t be able to do the full suggested schedule each day but decided to try doing the endurance programs during the day and then the active recovery programs in the evening, rotating through all of the body areas and starting my active recovery program each night with whichever body area I had done an endurance program on earlier. By Friday, I’d done endurance on the abs, back, biceps/triceps, traps, and quads and recovery on the back, traps, and quads. Heading into the race, I decided to use the massage programs on my legs on Friday night.

Saturday morning was an early alarm (4:50) so that I could have some waffles and tea and walk the dog before it was time to drive up to Fort Ritchie for the 9:30 race. I hadn’t really checked the distance when I registered for the race so at the time I didn’t realize it was a two hour drive. I guess that explains why so many people weren’t going to the race! Driving up, I ran into some intermittent rain showers but nothing that seemed to scary - and by the time I got to the race site, there was no rain and the roads were dry. I got a little concerned on the drive that I’d somehow missed the race site because it just felt like I was heading uphill, into a forest, in the middle of nowhere. Probably because I was. But eventually I came to a T in the road and a man standing under an archway pointing me to the right for the bike race.

I have to say that the location was really nice, nice old buildings, nice old trees, grassy lawns, a lake. Nice enough that I wouldn’t mine just hanging out there without a race. Headed over to registration where after explaining that I was the same person in both races despite the fact that sometimes BikeReg actually records my license number and sometimes it doesn’t, I was able to leave with my handful of safety pins and my numbers for both races.

Yes, I just said both races. Because even after the dead last debacle of last week, I decided that I was going to do both the Cat 4 race and the open race again this week. I’d emailed one of the MABRA women’s coordinators and she’d encouraged me to try for the experience. I believe she thought I’d get some experience in pack riding to improve my skills. Sadly, she was far too optimistic. To improve my pack riding skills, I need to be able to ride in the pack. But, until I improve my pack riding skills, I can’t stay with the pack long enough to get any real experience in pack riding. Chicken meet egg. Egg, this is chicken. Discuss options and report back.

Race prep was pretty standard. Bike out of car. Borrowed a pump from the nice man next to me as I’d left mine at home so hubby could ride. We talked wheels and he told me about two time-trials his team (ABRT) put on as an option to try my new disk. A time trial sounds like nice preparation and as most of my bike races end up as time trials anyway, I might not do too bad. Plus, I could always throw in a quick run before and afterwards to do a mock duathlon.

Also met the woman parked next to me, MaryEllen, who was doing the same race as I. She was just recovering from bronchitis so this was going to be a first race back for her. While we were talking, I set up my chair and put my Compex on my quad for the pre-warmup program. Just got started when it began to rain again so I put the chair back in the car and myself in the front seat and answered some email, wrapped my ankle, etc. to get myself ready. Finished in time to pre-ride the course when it opened up between races. My legs felt good, not entirely ready but the pre-ride should take it the rest of the way.

Sadly, I quickly discovered that this course was not designed to my strengths. I easily have three key weaknesses on the bike: hills, rough road surfaces, and wind (not to mention other weaknesses such as riding in a pack and potato chips). Guess what this course had? Right out of the start: into the wind, up a slight climb, on a rough road. This was going to be a ‘great’ experience. (disclaimer: I have a feeling that the majority of the people at this race did not consider this a climb, but they aren’t the fat, non-climber I am and to me it was a climb.)

Lined up at the start for the Cat 4 race. Whistle, and a woman in front of me fell over at the start. I was slow enough that it didn’t impact me but she did knock into the woman next to her. (They were both able to take a free lap and the woman who fell won so I’m glad she wasn’t injured.) I tried to get into the pack and not at the back but was definitely having problems. Every time we headed into the wind or up the climb, my quads just didn’t have anything. And despite the fact that I’ve been focusing on glute strengthening exercises, they didn’t seem to want to pick up the slack. In a new low, I only managed to stay with the pack for 8 minutes.

MaryEllen had fallen behind me but she was able to pick up the pace, catch me, and as she came by, she encouraged me to work with her to catch the pack. I tried to get on her wheel but there was nothing there and I just couldn’t do it. As the pack got closer to lapping me, I was encouraged to recover and catch up to ride with them. Thankfully that worked - about 20 minutes in, I was able to get on the back of the pack and while I didn’t make it the rest of the race with them, I did stay for a while and it was nice to have someone to block the wind.

To describe the wind, it was the worst I’ve felt in ages. Barriers were being blown over. I came around one corner at 22 mph, hit the wind and was immediately at 13 mph. For the first time since Rimini, the crosswinds were bad enough that I had moments where I was leaning so hard I had to hop my bike over to get the wheels back under me. For the first time since coming down BigHorn in Wyoming, the wind blew me off my line coming around a corner.

I didn’t finish last but I certainly didn’t feel good at any point. Now I had to decide whether to do the second - Open - race. The Cat 4 race was my worst race ever - I just felt horrible throughout. Finishing the race, I didn’t feel exhausted but I felt like my legs were just weak. And, the wind seemed to be picking up to the point where I didn’t feel very safe on the bike. I was doing some cool down riding first on the course and then around the area and not only was I getting blown around but the sawhorses marking off the course were blowing over. I was fine with coming in last in the Open race but I didn’t want to do the race if I didn’t feel safe or felt I might make others unsafe.

But I also had reasons to do the race. First, I’d just driven two hours and one 45 minute race didn’t seem enough to justify that. Second, I really needed that hard training interval I’d get in a second race. Third, what better way to get better riding in heavy wind then by riding in heavy wind. Fourth, I might actually get some pack riding experience which I really need. (Yes, occasionally I can get delusional.)

I had two hours and didn’t need to decide right away so got myself set to recover between the races. I changed into a dry shirt, put on a sweat shirt, wrapped my legs in a blanket, used the Compex Active Recovery program on my quads and my hamstrings, ate my between race nutrition (a banana, a Trader Joes brown rice marshmallow treat), talked to MaryEllen and another woman about the race, called hubby to let him know I’d survived, checked email, etc. I even took a little nap while doing the hamstring program. But this was a tough time for me mentally. I think if one person had said, ‘hey, don’t do this, it’s stupid,’ I would have packed up my stuff and headed home. But I kept trying to encourage myself to at least start the race, even if I couldn’t finish it.

An hour before the second race, I put my things away, changed numbers on my jersey, ate a Hammer Gel and got on my bike to warm up. I was intimidated by the other women that I saw riding around warming up - they looked so good and so strong. I was scared by the wind. I was not motivated. But, I did notice that the wind didn’t seem as bad as it had earlier. When we got on the course to pre-ride, I noticed that my legs actually felt better than during the first race. Finally decided that I would start the race, not expect to finish, and hope I gained something from the experience.

Got to the start line and the other women were, as always, encouraging and helpful (one even moved my number for me when the official said it couldn’t be seen for the camera - as if I was going to be in a photo finish. He obviously had not seen me race!). Whistle blew and I was off the back. But I felt far better than during the first race - thank you Compex Active Recovery!! The wind was also much lighter and my average speed was much higher. Of course everyone else’s was too.

My strategy became simple. Ride as hard as I can, not get in anyone’s way, and try to get back on the pack when they came by. The ride hard part was easy. I’d just listened to an older podcast interview of Kristin Armstrong, the Olympic Time Trial gold medalist. She stated that her strategy was to ride as hard as she could, then go harder. So that’s what I did. I’d go as hard as I felt I could, then I’d shift up and try to push even harder. Can’t say whether I stayed out of everyone’s way but I did try. As for getting back on a pack - not so successful. One time, a group came by. I increased my speed as high as I could - I was at 26 mph - and I still couldn’t get close enough to the back to stick with them. On the other hand, I felt so much better than the first race and really was proud of myself for trying. And shockingly, the results didn’t have me listed as dead last. I had seen one woman on the side of the course and later heard she was throwing up so my guess is that she might be the one who ended up behind me. Or the officials had it wrong. (Also, I learned that I apparently can push harder as I wasn’t near throwing up. Should this be the goal for my next race?)

Got some water for my recovery drink, texted hubby the ‘I lived’ update, and headed home for some Recovery Plus on the Compex. The big test on that was my Sunday run. I had to finish some work Sunday morning before my run so I first did the Endurance program on my hamstrings and calves. When I finished up my work, hubby and I headed out for an easy run. After the race and two endurance programs, how would my legs hold up? Answer - fabulous. It was as if I hadn’t raced the day before. My biggest challenge was running slow enough to stay with the hubby - he’s recovering from an injury - when my legs felt like running much, much faster.

No racing now until the 23rd. For various reasons, as much as I love American Zofingen, I won’t be heading up for the race next weekend. There’s a training duathlon here on Saturday and I’ll join the half-ironman program I coach for an open-water swim clinic and bike ride on Sunday. I’ve moved on to a resistance week on the Compex - I’ve already done abs and back this morning and am about to do arms. Looking forward to reading about everyone else’s weekend and hoping your races were more successful than mine.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bunny Hop and Happy Compex!

I just had a really tough week so coming home to find my new Compex Sport Elite on my doorstep was a great reward. I immediately opened the box, pulled out my hat and wore it while walking my dog that afternoon. Sadly, I then had to make some client calls and couldn’t test the Compex. But I did skim through the material and looked at all the options for electrode positioning - I can’t wait to try each and every one.

Yesterday I had an allergy attack so slept most of the morning and then had to work all day. Perfect conditions for using Compex, but I wanted to read the manual before using it the first time and I didn’t have time for that. However, I knew that with a race today, I’d have a great opportunity to use my Compex. So first, about the race:

Today, I did the Bunny Hop Criterium. This was only my second road bike race - I’m a Cat 4 - and this event had both a Cat 4 race and a 35+/45+ race starting an hour later. Because my biggest goal event of the year is a half-iron distance duathlon, I decided to register for both races. Each was 45 minutes and how hard can 45 minutes be when you are training for a 56 mile ride, right? Sadly, not right. If I hadn’t registered for the 35+ race before the Cat 4 race, I don’t think I would have afterwards!

The Cat 4 race went pretty well. While I didn’t manage to stay with the lead group, I did manage to find a chase group to ride with. We almost caught up once, but never quite made it. However, it was nice to have a group to ride with and have the opportunity to draft some. Tiring but not unmanageable. Still, I didn’t have high hopes for the second race.

Between the two races, I was talking to another Cat 4 racer about the event and ran into a friend from triathlon. I went over to meet her new puppy and was introduced to a member of her team who was also doing the 35+ race. This turned out to be my salvation in the 35+ race. What I didn’t think about when I registered was the number of Cat 1 women who would be 35+. They went from the whistle and I was immediately outclassed. Worse, on the second turn, I heard a loud metallic scrape. Which sounded a lot like my rim rubbing against the pavement from when I’d blown a tire off a rim last summer. Worried about what it meant, I didn’t want to go too hard until I checked it out. I spun easily through the rest of that lap to the pit, found out everything was fine, but didn’t get a free lap so had to chase the rest of the race. I believe this meant that I rode with the group for about 250 meters out of a 45 minute race.

Thankfully, the woman that I had met before the race was trailing off the back of the pack - this was also her second race. I thought that if I caught her, I could at least help her until I couldn’t ride anymore. I managed to catch her and pull for a while and then she pulled me and we worked together until I couldn’t do it anymore. I haven’t looked at the data yet, but at the end I was only riding about 12 mph up the incline. I can’t even remember how many times I had been lapped. I was last - which I believe is the first time I’ve ever been dead last in a race - but I finished.

I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to using my Compex when I got home! Sadly, one of the key things I missed in reading the instructions is that I needed to charge the Compex before I could use it. So after some food and a nap and some rehydration, I’m now enjoying my first active recovery program and can’t wait to try the next. Just the little I’ve been able to do makes me know that tomorrow is going to be a far better day than if I didn’t have the Compex.