The Multi-sport Mind: Introduction to Burbathlon

I wanted to make a post about my ‘Burbathon’ idea a multimedia affair, with photographs, video, maybe even maps so that I could really communicate the concept and have it be well-understood enough that other who wanted to give it a try could implement a comparable workout.  Time has been very hard to come by this week, so I think I’ll try and keep it short, with a promise of follow-up posts in the future.

I’ve often said that I seem to have fitness-ADD.  Once I had started running (and liked it), I worked my way up to the half-marathon level, and after having explained that I only did a HALF marathon for the umpteen thousandth time, I worked my way up to the full 42.2km.  While I’m proud of the accomplishment (if not my finishing time), my big problem with the whole experience: TOO MUCH RUNNING.  I love running, but following a marathon training program is about 6 days a week; and to me, it just got monotonous.  You can break some of those running sessions up with cross-training, but what if the cross training, was the sport itself? Enter triathlon, and I’ve never looked back.

Fitness ADD could be renamed to a more politically correct Multi-sport Mind; since I made up both terms, why not?  I guess I’m always wondering what else I could be doing.  Once I was swimming, biking and running, adding strength training to the mix was inevitable.  There is a school of thought that treats strength training as a sub-optimal distraction from triathlon training, but the multi-sport mind simply ignores such opinions.  So, when you add in the occasional strength exercise into a run, you’re starting to get the right idea; I had discussed this over twitter with Andie ‘The Fit Geek’, and she says she does this in what she calls ‘fun runs’.
You see a park bench, a picnic table, a fence, do squats so your butt touches the bench, or decline pushups.

But that’s not all!  I’m also attracted to trail-running for the simple reasons that I like the outdoors and forest environments especially, and trails (being softer) have lower impact which is nice to keep my Achilles tendinitis at bay.  I’m lucky to have the Etobicoke creek near where I live, and part of the trail is very rough and wild (suitable for mountain biking, if only too short, I believe).  So leaping over the bumps and jumps, hopping over logs, or balancing on them adds to the fun.  It’s like ‘Parkour Lite’ – since I’m too old and have too many injuries to try the really crazy stuff.  It’s largely inspired by events like the Spartan Race, Warrior Dash (which I did in July), and the Men’s Health Urbanathlon.

I think I’ve given you some idea as to the general gist of this kind of a workout, and I promise to elaborate in future posts.  Anybody else have fun things that they do while running to work on strength, agility or balance or just to break up the monotony?

Triathlon Training vs. Family or Triathlon Training WITH Family

Disclosure: I didn’t want this post to turn into a shill-fest of promotion, but I did want to give specific examples of things I use and link to them.  All products mentioned in this post were bought and paid for by me or a loved one.  I do not receive any compensation for presenting these.

Family is more important than anything, and certainly more-so than training. Still, you take better care of your family when you take better care of yourself. When you’re able to combine family time with training time, it’s not just good time management – it sets an example to the kids about living an active lifestyle. Some caveats:

  • First of all, I stick to sprint and Olympic distance triathlon; my biggest problem with half- and Iron distance is less about the overall volume of training time , but the uninterrupted stretches of time spent on long rides/runs. It’s simply too much to ask my wife to hold down the fort for that long (besides the time I spend at work). There are those that manage to do Iron distance and claim to balance work and family too (I hope to review David Mills’ “The Distance” soon), but I know what will and won’t work for my family.
  • Second of all, these tips and tricks can’t be *all* of your training regimen. You’ll still have to get out there on your own sometimes.

Endurance Training with Family

My biggest tool in balancing family and training is our Chariot Cougar 2Jogging strollers and bike trailers are popular with active families, but what I love about our Chariot is that it’s designed from the ground up to be modular.  If your bike trailer simply add a kit to become a jogging stroller (or vice-versa), the functionality and your experience (including that of your child) will suffer, in my opinion.

I take my son jogging, and sometimes ride on the bike; I’m lucky in that I have a second bike beyond my racing/tri bike that I use for commuting to work sometimes (another time saver/training tip).  The earliest I’d recommend putting them in one of these things is 6 months, but it depends on their neck strength and your individual judgement as to their safety.

We both wear helmets during the bike (he knows it’s time for fun when I break them out of storage in the basement) and the suspension system on the Chariot is adjustable according to his weight (I need to adjust mine soon, he keeps growing!).  I recommend helmets for biking as you are moving faster than while jogging; it’s the law where I live anyway.  The Chariot is designed to have enough room for the helmet as well as the child’s head, which is important to consider.  Finally, if I did take a spill, the hitch is a ball-joint, meaning the carrier would stay upright, guaranteeing safety.

The jogging kit is a little puzzling at first, since the front wheel actually prevents steering with the wheel locked straight ahead, but I’ve realized that keeping a straight line can actually be challenging when your body is jostling at a run.  Try jogging a regular stroller (preferably without the child in it) and watch it weave all over the road – any lateral motion in your upper body translates through the handle to the stroller.  I just pop the front wheel a few inches off the ground when I need to corner.

In addition to biking and jogging, we use our Chariot cross-country skiing, the benefits of which I’ve mentioned here.  That kit is my favourite, because I was shocked to find that skiing while towing the carrier feels so similar to skiing without it – my technique is the same, it’s just a little harder going uphill and a little faster going downhill.  I skied once with my son in a backpack carrier; it really affected my centre of gravity and made me extremely nervous.  The benefit of a backpack carrier is that the child gets some of your body heat, and it’s easier to monitor their temperature and well-being, so if you do take your child out in colder weather, please bundle them up adequately and take a break to check up on them periodically.

I spoke with a sales rep who takes their kids inline skating (there are kits for hiking, regular walking too), but without a hand-brake (other models have this, or you can install one separately, but it looked too complicated for me), and considering my lack of skill on skates, I’ve opted to leave this out.

Pushing/pulling your child’s extra weight requires extra strength, so I recommend using these workouts as a substitute for heavier workouts like speed or hill training.

I haven’t found a way to include swim training in family time, but I do want to recommend swimming lessons from an early age (ours started at 6 months).  It’s a great bonding experience, and giving kids a positive attitude toward the water is the first step in a) teaching them to swim, which may save their lives at some point and b) having a family that likes spending time near the water – important for triathletes!

Strength Training With Family

There’s a lot of back and forth discussion as to how beneficial strength-training is for endurance athletes (as compared to whether they put that time back into swim/bike/run), but if you’re like me, multi-sport appeals because it is multi-faceted, and you want multi-dimensional fitness, so you try to address things like strength, balance and flexibility when they don’t get addressed through swim/bike/run – so here’s some strength training tips for family-oriented athletes.

Immediately after my son’s birth, I used a book called Buff Dad to get back in shape.  Training at home was crucial, because I needed to be on hand/on call even when the baby was sleeping, so a gym or a run wasn’t a great option.  The workouts in the book can be done with a few dumbbells and a Swiss ball.  Though workouts are advertised as taking 30 minutes, I found them to be closer to 40 or 45 in practice; especially if you want to ensure good technique and stretch afterwards (you do).  Still they were strength circuits, which are quite fashionable these days since they save time, and since they also offer a simultaneous cardio challenge (in addition to the strength work) I found the workouts to be right up my alley as a triathlete.

During his waking hours I try to find ways to get extra exercise; chasing kids is exhausting, but it doesn’t burn as many calories as you might think.  If you’re just that tired, I’ve been advised to try and structure games with ball or other toys that have them running around, and you sitting still, but if you want to keep in shape reverse that structure.

There is a whole school of thought dedicated to natural movement and play-based exercise – so why not turn playtime into exercise?  It probably looks like I’m ‘helicopter parenting’ when I follow my boy up onto playground equipment rather than sit on the sidelines (or they just think I’m crazy) but since being a parent means being judged by strangers all the time anyway, I have nothing to lose but calories.

I have even used my son as a weight during squats, lunges and push-ups (with him on my back), or I will adopt a crab walk position

during horseplay (which comes with the occasional bump or bruise, so this is more of a toddler activity than an infant one) and see if he can ride on my torso.  Turning this into a structured workout isn’t necessarily possible since attention spans are even more limited than my endurance, but I do like to squeeze every ounce of potential exercise out of a given moment.

If you ever find time when the kids are in bed or somehow not underfoot, re-connecting with your partner is important for happy family life too.  If you can’t leave the house to go for a run together, for example, there is the Fit2Touch DVD which demonstrates how to get a workout at home using your partner for assistance/resistance; the physical contact involved build intimacy.  It’s a little sexy, so be sure to do it with your partner, not a sibling/buddy!

Integrating physical activity into the family routine is almost more of a mental exercise than a physical one; you need to flex your creativity and create flexibility in your routine but just as the effort goes beyond the physical, so do the rewards.

UPDATE: Here‘s an article about kids, playgrounds and parental activity.

Wasaga Olympic Triathlon Race Report – My Lucky Day

It feels like the first time…

Due to:

  1. My success at the Orillia Tri when I didn’t feel I’d been adequately trained for it, and
  2. The difficulty of getting my family/cheerleaders up to the race site in time for the Sprint

I opted to move up to the Olympic Distance at Wasaga.  I had done this race twice before (a personal best of 2:52 last year) and been to the venue every year since 2007.  I think it might be my favourite race, and knowing I couldn’t break any personal records freed me to simply enjoy the race for what it was: a nice day out swimming, biking, then running. Not only was I better able to ‘smell the roses’ during the race, because my main focus was merely finishing, it was like being a first timer; a triathlon virgin, if you will.  On to the details:

In spite of a traffic jam going up Highway 400, I was able to get to the race site with plenty of time to get  my transition area, my gear, and myself set up just the way I like it, which goes a long way to keeping pre-race nerves away.

I got into the water, which is quite shallow for a good distance.  Just to get water in the wetsuit and my hair wet (for putting on my swim cap), I had to lie down in a bit of a ‘flop’.  In doing this, I lost my grip on my goggles, and though I noticed immediately, I was not able to find them.  I asked other nearby swimmers if they had seen them: nothing.  I began to get a little panicked and wondered if/how the swim could be done without the goggles – sighting is important at that distance and on that kind of wide open water.  I began to look at other swimmers to see if anyone would dare attempt such a task.  There were plenty with no wet-suit, but none without goggles that I could see.  Though I had spiritually resigned myself to the bad luck I seemed to be having, my eyes continued to scan the water and though I was nowhere close to the spot I had been at when I lost them, with 2 minutes before my wave start, suddenly I found them floating in front of me.  Nearby triathletes must have wondered what the heck I was giggling about, but I was definitely a happy camper and glad to be having a lucky day.

Our horn sounded and off we went. The first bit of the swim course is spent alternately walking, and doing dolphin dives, but the good news is that even when the water is deep enough to force you to swim, you can always see the bottom – good news for those that find open water swimming intimidating because you can’t see the bottom.  In fact, I found a little trick: in a pool you swim straighter because the lane line gives you a visual cue.

Here, the little grooves in the sand bottom can be used similarly when you are swimming parallel to the shoreline, or with some mental reconfiguration, when you are swimming perpendicularly to it.  It… almost works; let’s say it helps.

The last stretch of the swim is back to walking and dolphin dives, but interestingly, the timing company provides you a time it took to get from the water to transition if that interests you.

I always find the bike course to be simpler than they describe, apparently since the first section only uses one side of the street people need a lot of extra reminding of which side of the pylons to ride on, but I’m usually able to follow the leader, so to speak.

While the bike course is comparatively flat, and I always remember it as such, there are some slow climbs that deceive you, making you wonder where your speed went.  I knew the Olympic distance would be a challenge for me this year physically, but I soon realized staying focused on keeping up the right speed would be a mental challenge I hadn’t practised enough either.  Both the bike and run course have a nice mixtures of environments; the bike has some residential streets where you can see the blue water between some houses, some treed lanes and open farmers’ fields.  Be warned though, if you stop and smell the roses here, you may find they smell like manure.

I got to see a wide variety of bikes passing me, which I find heartening: when somebody passes me on a bike that older/cheaper than mine, I know they’re doing it through heart and training/conditioning, not by spending money.  I feel conversely guilty when I pass someone going downhill merely because I can go aero position and they can’t, but I’m not going to go any slower than I can out of a misplaced sense of honour either.

Overall, the bike ride was uneventful – that’s the way I like it, and it means everything was safe for all I observed.

I took my time again in transition #2, because I wanted to ensure my achilles tendon support band was on properly (I also needed a bathroom break – another benefit of the Wasaga course is that there are not only port-a-potties in the transition area, but there’s a public washroom just under a kilometer into the run course).

The first stretch of the run is along the beach road, which means there’s plenty of spectators – not just those that showed up to support the racers, but also some who just wanted some beach time and now have something extra to watch.  As nice as that part is, I always look forward to hitting the boardwalk next, as I find the impacts softer.  The crowds peter out somewhat and I find that’s where participants chat and give each other encouragement the most.  The 5k loop has sections through a wooded park, along Mosley St (the main drag, if you will) and again through some residential lanes.

A couple of kilometres into the run, I experienced another bit of nostalgia: a stitch.  You know, those cramps in your side you get when you don’t breathe properly?  I doubt I’d had one since high school!  Taking walk breaks (especially at the water stations) allowed me to keep the pain at bay.  I finished the first loop at over 30 minutes, but I’m happy to say I picked up enough pace on the second loop to have a negative split.

But here’s the best part: as I’m nearing the finish line, I hear the speakers say:”…the next racer to cross the finish line will win a free wetsuit.”  I couldn’t believe my ears! I scanned ahead and couldn’t see anyone between me and the finish line, so I started hauling it.  You’d think achieving the best time possible is enough to overcome pain and fatigue, but it turns out the lure of free stuff trumps that. Woot!

Not only do I recommend this race to anyone, but also I’d recommend the experience of getting back to the basic joy of racing to finish, not to outperform.

Motivation, Such an Aggravation

I recently participated in a #fitblog chat (check it out! They can be fun) where a question was asked: what is your daily inspiration?

I found answering it a little tough, as I had been recently in a downward spiral with motivation constantly decreasing.  This summer I had resolved to stick to Sprint triathlons; shorter distances would mean less time away from family, enabling me to help with house and home more.  Ideally, what I would be missing in terms of uninterrupted training time I’d be able to make up with more frequent yet shorter sessions.  Well, for a multitude of reasons, that didn’t happen.  What can I say? Real life (family, social, medical commitments) can get in the way; and they should since they really are more important.

So I’m feeling down about myself as I’m not getting in the training times I should, but I’m not completely out of the running.  Conventional wisdom about ways to stay motivated include:

  1. Train in groups/with buddies.  I rarely do this, as I find I need flexibility to be able to train and other people means scheduling appointments (and keeping them!).  When I train by myself, getting a 15-20 minute late start, but would you want to be kept waiting?
  2. Take inspiration from elites/pros/experts.  I follow a ton of triathletes on Twitter, which ought to be a way for me to feel part of a community, but all it did was make me feel inferior.  This person’s already done Umpteen kilometers today, and I’m not even out of pajamas.  Ho-hum.
The problem was that I was focused on performance based goals (achieving a time that was competitive with prior race performances) and the kind of training I “should” be doing: more frequent, more structured.  When that wasn’t happening, I began to worry, and get down on myself.  Fortunately, I have an angel who reminded me that I do this stuff for fun – and that is so important.  Here are my “new” motivation tips:
  1. Have fun.  Whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s fun for you.  This is your free time, you’re not going to spend it on self-torture.
  2. Anything is better than nothing.  Maybe a 7k tempo run is what would be prescribed for this juncture in time – but you can’t.  Not enough time, not enough energy, whatever… but 3k pushing the jogging stroller is still going to put strength in those legs that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

So that’s it: unless you’re overtraining (no danger of that here!), exercise makes you an alchemist: you are turning time into strength.

P.S. If you figure out how to turn fat into time, please contact me… we’re going to be rich!