Weekend Update

I picked this title because the post will go live on the weekend, and rather than the detailed work (research, references, links, consolidating data)-intensive posts I’d like to do, I’m going to bring us up to speed on some of our latest developments instead.  Try to picture me behind a news desk in a suit, and I’ll try to bring some Saturday Night Live style snark (no special guests though).

In Sickness…

The whole family seems to have gotten sick with a nasty chest cold.  Anything respiratory is always a problem for the Lightning Kid and we’ve had to visit the hospital, the pediatrician and a kids clinic in the last 2 weeks or so.  It’s taken me out of commission too, as the accepted wisdom is you can exercise with a cold that stays above the neck… and this cough was definitely in my chest.  Besides the conventional wisdom, I also was absolutely wrecked by the early afternoon every day.  Having no exercise for a week was nearly enough to make me think any goal I might have for the year might be a pipe-dream.  I guess I can be a little melodramatic that way.  

Marriage Going Downhill (in the best way!)

As a family, sometimes it feels like we just can’t make it through the winter. We want to be healthy, not sick, we want to play in the snow, not stay inside. There have been few periods of snow coverage and yet, it’s still really, really cold so doing things outside with the kids feels impossible. Still, there are bright spots in the overall winter grey: my wife and I took advantage of a University of Waterloo Alumni Ski Day to go to Osler Bluff in Collingwood. Skiing at a private resort is awesome because there are basically no line-ups, and the other skiers you share the hill with are competently skiing in control. The forecast seemed like it would be perfect, and though it was a little colder than expected we had an awesome day (thanks to the kids’ grandparents who watched them – due to the aforementioned illness and a P.A. day, they weren’t in school/daycare), and I captured much of it on Instagram. You follow me on IG, right?

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

Downhill skiing is one of the things we always did as a couple, even before marriage and kids; it’s a great (and fun) way to reconnect.

Less of me to love…

In some good news, the Doctor’s Diet has gone really well, and I’ve won my first DietBet (I won’t know what the winnings are till it’s all tallied up).  I’m down 13 lbs since the holidays! Reviewing and recapping the Doctor’s Diet (STAT and RESTORE phases) is one of the more work-intensive posts I’m meaning to do, but I want to go down another 7 lbs and maintain from there, so I guess I’ll still have the opportunity to discuss this with you guys.  (For my prior experience with DietBet, see here).

Over a Barrel(man)

I’ve figured out that the Barrelman Half-iron race is for me this year.  I’m even using it as a basis for one of my passwords so that I’ll be reminded of my goal every time I type it in.  Remember when I said I was trying to get more into positive thinking and vision boards and that sort of thing? Well, I grabbed my copy of Gale Bernhardt’s book Training Plans for Multisport Athletes and I’m going to follow the 27 week plan to a Half-Iron.  While formally reviewing the plan is a post for another day, I like it because it includes very regular strength training which I think will not only improve performance and keep me less prone to injury, but also help me keep weight off (which can play into the first two factors, too).  I think I need a long, long plan to take my time getting into Half-Iron shape; I’m 41 years old and will be 42 at the time of the race, so I need to be gentle with myself, and a longer plan with a slow transition leaves a greater margin for error for when things in my life go off the rails.

Getting excited about this sort of thing is nice; I started punching the plan details into a spreadsheet, then I started dressing the spreadsheet up for better visualization and comprehensibility, which is weird for me, because I never bother to format anything to make it more pleasant to look at.  Still, it’s looking good.
In fact, this kind of excitement can lead me to make some rash decisions; I joined a gym! There’s a new L.A. Fitness close to me and they have a very nice pool, daycare, tons of treadmills, a gorgeous spin studio, etc, and they were able to meet me at the monthly budget I wanted to spend (money was the reason I left GoodLife).  A full review will come up… you guessed it, in a future post.  While the on-site gym will still be my go-to for most workouts, it’ll be nice to have access to a pool without being hemmed in by lane-swim times at public pools (to say nothing of the overcrowding).  We’ll see if I rue the day I joined…

Let it Snow(shoe)

And of course, I have to close off by mentioning Albion Hills Conservation Area. We love it for cross-country skiing, and it looks like they’ll be open this weekend for skiing. The last time we were there, I wanted to try getting a quick snowshoe in, and I left them there. Luckily one of the staff located them and put them aside for me to pick up…. I haven’t made it back there yet since we didn’t have snow last weekend. We’ll go up on Sunday; which is the day of the Personal Best Bare Bones Snowshoe Race which I’d been hoping to train for by practising with my snowshoes. The race starts at 9:30, so I don’t know if I’ll participate of if we’ll stick to just skiing… packing up the entire family and ski gear does not enhance my punctuality!

That’s my news (and I am…. OUTTA HERE!) Who’s your favourite Weekend Update host/anchor? I think Seth Meyers/Amy Poehler was the best combo.

Tri-ed It Tuesday: My Experience With Hot Yoga at Infinite Yoga

I’m participating in Lakeshore Runner‘s Tri-ed It Tuesday Link-up.  Head over there to check out other great posts about new experiences!

The cold weather, a somewhat lighter schedule, and the off-season (from triathlon training) made me want to try Hot Yoga either at the end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015.  For some, it is really the ultimate workout (an actual quote I heard at the office).  The heat makes it easier to get deeper into the stretches, and you sweat more, releasing toxins from your body.  I figured I’d be OK as long as I pre-hydrated and kept a water bottle nearby.

Infinite Yoga had a great introductory offer of $25 for a week’s unlimited classes.  I spoke to the director Karla, and she told me about the water they had available (no charge) to fill your bottle that is clean, but room temperature.  She compared drinking ice cold water in hot yoga to throwing water on a cooking grease fire.  I’m glad I listened, as the water felt cool when I drank it in class, and it was refreshing enough.

I managed to fit in 4 classes in the 7 days, all from the Signature Hot Series.  Here are a few notes I took:

  1. Day 1: Evening of Tuesday January 13th – Started off in corpse pose, then moved forward with core warm-up (variations on leg raises) into a fairly standard Yoga flow.  Lots of downward dog.
  2. Day 2: Noon of Thursday January 15th – More challenging.  My shoulder was bothering me, and the instructor did well to get us to engage our lats on many poses as well as stretch the shoulders out with eagle arms in various pose variations.  The instructor was very hands on and had great ways to make me aware of which muscles could and should be engaged on all the movements.  I struggle to keep my palms upward when lying in corpse pose – it doesn’t feel comfortable – but she managed some kind of adjustment that made it so much easier? Who’d have thought that I can’t do “lying down like a dead body” properly.  Still, the discomfort of the heat made it difficult to find the peace and stillness that you want at the meditative part of the end of the lesson.  (Wore a Hoorag as a headband for the first half).
  3. Day 3: Noon of Friday January 16th. I struggled with side planks and had to keep a knee on the ground.  I use the blocks a lot and generally adopt the easiest, most beginner friendly pose variations just to get by.  
  4. Day 4: Noon of Monday January 19th.  Warrior II pose into a side bend.  Many, many Vinyasas (plank to upward dog or cobra, back to downward facing dog), even as a rest/restoration pose.  Shoulders felt very sore, even during simple things like the Warrior II pose.  My legs seemed to hold up better in poses like chair, and the Warrior poses when I’d load my weight onto the front leg, which is odd considering they were tired from cross-country skiing and running on the weekend.

Overall, I came across three different kinds of challenges:

  • New Poses like the inverted (downward) dog, which were unfamiliar and I needed to get used to.
  • Old poses that I had to enter from new positions/angles/situations e.g. Dancers pose starting from being bent over rather than standing.
  • Heat effects on the ability to hold a pose (a question of muscular endurance, or mental endurance?) and breathing. I needed blocks on poses I didn’t think I would. I couldn’t hold poses as long as I expected, and my shoulders or hamstrings would start to quiver well before I thought they should.

That last one sums up Hot Yoga for me. If you went running with a 40 pound backpack on your back, you would burn more calories and get stronger as a runner for the same time spent running, no question. The problem isn’t just that it would be uncomfortable, it’s also that it would be frustrating to not be able to run as fast or as far, due to the fact that you’ve purposely made it harder for yourself. I found every session to be a struggle, and I guess I figured it would get easier. I have to admit not needing blocks on the last day might have been a good sign. Though it was humbling to have to practice Yoga at a level lower than I would expect for myself given prior experience, Yoga is forgiving that way – it isn’t competitive, and it makes it easy to accept whatever circumstances you happen to be in on a given day.

I do think that I put some good strength work into my shoulders and legs that should help them stay injury proof and help with endurance and stability. Fitting Yoga into a triathlon training schedule is advisable, but difficult; at least Hot Yoga gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of time (and sweat!) spent.
I took this picture in stealth mode, I figured photograpy might be frowned upon.

Infinite Yoga is a simple and clean facility. Nothing too fancy in the change-rooms (lockers would have been nice), though there are showers and a filtration machine on the water tap.

The hot room is large and spacious with adjustable lighting, so they can dim for the meditative beginning and ending to each session. The lobby has a warm, welcoming atmosphere that gets you in the right mood for yoga.

Friday Five – Coming Soon

In an effort to keep some momentum in my writing and posting (I’m a little stalled on a Lightning Kid post), I’m going to do a Friday Five post with 5 things that could be their own posts – and probably will be in the future.  Rather than beat myself up about my inability to get a good, quality piece written and published this week, I’m going to give you this, the bastard love-child of a clip show and sneak preview/trailer.

  1. Cross-country skiing.  Finally there’s enough snow for us to do one of our favourite family activities in the winter.  I think the Chariot is coming to the end of its service life; it’s in fine shape – it’s just the boys are getting a little big for it.  I stated in my submission to Pavement Runner’s Best Photos of 2014 that we probably wouldn’t be able to do running races as a family going forward.  It’s a bittersweet thought.

For cross-country skiing, which is more tiring than walking or running, we might have a bit of a reprieve.  Shark Boy can ski, he’s just slower than my wife or I which only makes sense. 

Last weekend he finished a 2 km trail on his own, and we were incredibly proud.  He never lets falling down (which happens when you’re learning or rusty, never mind both) get him down and kept the smile on his face.  He needed some coaching, coaxing, cajoling and cheer-leading to keep moving until the very end, but he did it!  We tried the Lightning Kid in a simple pair of toddler skis (that don’t require special boots) – and he was keen in theory, but hated it once he had to manage them and a pair of poles.  Once we had lunch, Shark Boy was still too worn out to go on his own, and we got a 3.7 km trail done with me pulling – fortunately, the boys kept the peace in the Chariot despite being packed in like sardines.  I had done an extra loop alone (besides pulling the Lightning Kid in the Chariot) while my wife and Shark Boy finished their 2 km, but pulling both boys along was super tiring.  I had to take breaks to let the lactic acid clear from my hamstrings, sometimes even in the middle of an uphill climb (which I dislike doing, as it always feels a little precarious).

The boys’ different stages of development (on skis) puts us at an interesting juncture in our ski days.  We’re going to have to learn to break the days up and split up – divide and conquer as far as teaching them and keeping them entertained, happy and content.  This will be an interesting season.

  1. 5 Peaks Trail Run Series Ambassadorship – I ain’t got one.  I was, however offered one, and though I didn’t like doing it, I had to turn it down as the time commitment was a bit much for me.  I am still happy *to talk up this race series as much as possible*; it’s accessible/beginner-friendly, has great venues, and the little kids’ races make it family friendly on a level that is unmatched by any other race or athletic event I’ve seen.  I’m adding Terra Cotta to my Race Calendar this year, and probably others too.
  2. DietBet – After the holidays, some of my clothes didn’t fit too well.  For pants to be too tight at the waist is one thing, but I had some favourite shirts that were feeling tight.  Something I’ve gathered (besides pounds on my midsection) is that losing excess weight (especially fat) is probably the best/first thing I can do to get faster in my runs and the bike (probably in the water too), never mind the health benefits.  Weight loss was recommended during my *sleep study* too.  My wife and I got a book called The Doctor’s Diet (by Dr. Travis Stork) as a Christmas gift (shout-out to my cousin-in-law Stefan, and a great triathlon series in the Pacific Northwest USA – TriFREAKS).  I know ‘diet’ is a four letter word, and that they don’t work, but we needed a real change, since we weren’t effectively implementing what we know are better nutritional principles.  We’re hoping to use this book’s principles (most of them, anyway) permanently, but for now we’re on a 2 week STAT plan, which is working quite well for me.  I’m taking part in not one, but two DietBets (again)…. and I’m going to win too.  I’ll be reviewing the plan and my experience with it in a future post.
  3. Hot Yoga –  One of my resolutions goals aspirations for the New Year was to try Hot Yoga.  I found a place nearby that has an introductory package of a week’s worth of classes for $25.  I’ll have a complete review of the experience in a future post, but it’s going well overall; here’s the website if you’re looking for Hot Yoga in Mississauga.
  4. Word of the Year – Remember how I mentioned I was doing 2 DietBets? One is being run by Diatta of Femme Fitale Club.  She recently did a post called *Ultimate Tps to Resolve Your Resolutions in 2015… it was the first time I’d seen the word ‘Resolve’ in conjunction with ‘Resolution’.  First point: I am extremely late to the game in terms of setting real goals for 2015.  I have wishes that are starting to turn into ideas, but they have no commitment or plan yet, but mentally I’m starting to gain confidence in myself and my ability to make them happen.  Second point: I don’t generally go in for a lot of the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff a lot of bloggers do, but I am open to trying new things, so I may find myself working on Law of Attraction type journal writing, vision boards, who knows what?  I like the word ‘Resolve’ because it refers to two meanings: 1) the idea of finding a solution to a problem; I’m an engineer by trade and a problem-solver by nature 2.) the concept of determination, endurance or grit, which is the stuff a triathlete is made of.  So, I’m making ‘Resolve’ my word of the year.

Can I get a high-five?

What You Don’t Know About Sleep

Happy New Year! No year-in-review posts, no resolutions/goals posts, just something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, but it’s taken some time to put the whole post together. Read on, if sleep is important to you, especially if you are or know a snorer.

I used to be an insomniac.  Insomnia can take many forms, but for me, it used to be hardest getting to sleep.  When I was a kid, my parents used to try to coach me to think happy thoughts, but little boys’ happy thoughts tend to be fairly exciting, not so much relaxing (I think I can see a pattern with Shark Boy’s night-time routine).  When I was older, I could easily let my mind race.

Nowadays, I don’t really have that problem anymore.  I’m able to think of relaxing thoughts, and frankly, I’m exhausted enough at the end of the average day that I can just drift off – happy thoughts are more like being on a hammock at the beach, for example.  I did learn a lot about good sleep hygiene in the interim though, and I’d consider myself about as big an expert as a layperson without formal training or certification can be.  Some top tips for higher-quality sleep include:

  • Keep the room as dark as possible.  Our body’s hormonal releases are triggered by light, so night lights, street lights shining in from the window, etc. can all interfere with that.  We have opaque black-out blinds in the master bedroom and the Lightning Kid’s room.
  • Similarly, try not to engage in any screen time immediately before bed – TV, computers, or even smartphone screens’ light in your eyes puts your brain in the wrong state for sleeping.  Reading is better, if you use an e-reader, try to find a night-mode where the ‘paper’ is black and the letters are white for less light into your eyes.  I once found a way to do this on my Kobo, but a software upgrade reverted it.
  • In fact, make sure your bed is only used for sleeping (and maybe one other thing).  TV in the bedroom is a definite and obvious no-no, but overall, the idea is to use Pavlovian conditioning to get your mind and body to equate being in that space with sleeping, and nothing else.
  • A hot bath is relaxing and appealing before bed, but if it’s too hot, it can make falling asleep difficult.  I’m a little guilty of this one sometimes.
  • Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with the body’s rhythms, so limit your intake.

Obviously all of these have to be varied according to personal taste, I really only include them here to show that I’ve done my homework when it comes to a good night’s sleep.  

I’ve been a snorer for most of my adult life.  In January of 2014, things got a lot worse, in that it got so loud that my wife and I couldn’t sleep in the same room anymore.  I found an app called Snorelab and downloaded it to my iPad.  I wear a mouth-guard to prevent teeth grinding  (known as bruxism), and the other issue I started having was waking up with a dry mouth.  I mean, incredibly dry.  It felt like I’d spent a week in the Sahara.  So I tried playing with having a glass of water nearby to stay hydrated, running a humidifier in the room, and using a mouth spray to fight the dryness.  I also tracked the effect of my snoring.


I managed to reach “Epic” levels of loudness, and it put me in the top few percent of snorers.  Between that and the dryness of mouth, it was time to book a sleep study.  

I didn’t get an appointment till July of 2014, and when I did, I found the experience to be not too unpleasant.  Yes, I did have to get wired up in weird ways with something like 20 electrode pads all over my body, including my head and face, torso and legs.  While I was lying down, they had to do various calibrations where I had to move (or not move) and breathe (or hold my breath) in various ways.  It also meant having to call for help when I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night to get unhooked from the wires.


It took a few weeks to get the results, but when I sat down with the doctor at the sleep clinic I was diagnosed with a mild obstructive sleep apnea (which gets severe when supine, i.e on my back).  This means my breathing gets disrupted while sleeping, and to fight this, my body wakes itself (not always to the point of consciousness necessarily).  With these arousals (numbering close to 40 in total), there is also (in my case) “mild periodic leg movement disorder”, but more importantly, it reduces the quality of sleep and puts undue strain on my heart while my oxygen levels dip below 90% which is a sort of safety threshold.

  1. The first issue is important, because we all know that sleep is important and we all struggle to get enough in terms of quantity, but if the quality is poor, what’s the point?  Even on nights where I seemed to get plenty of sleep, I’d wake up tired.
  2. I don’t worry about my heart too much since there aren’t too many issues with it from a hereditary perspective and the fact that I get lots of cardio-vascular exercise, but I do think about all the times I read about heart-attacks in marathons and triathlons.  The victims are usually in good shape, long-time endurance athletes, so what happens? The blame is usually put on some undiagnosed heart-defect.  I searched Dr. Larry Creswell’s Athlete’s Heart website and though he has some articles about athlete’s sudden cardiac death, I didn’t find much linking obstructive sleep apnea to these kinds of problems.  Still, it can’t be a good thing to keep on living with it.

I was hoping that the solution could be simple; a mouth guard that would alter the position of my mouth.  I already wear one for the teeth grinding, so no problem!  The solutions presented were:

  1. Surgery.  Very little chance of success.
  2. Mouth guard.  Chance of success was also not high and the cost would be in the thousands of dollars, not covered by the Ontario Health Care.
  3. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.  This has the highest success rate, and the Ontario government covers 75% of the cost.

I didn’t like idea of the machine as I thought it would restrict my freedoms (travel, camping, or even the ability to switch beds spontaneously), but I’d heard from friend (who suffers from a more severe obstructive apnea) that sleeping with one had been life changing and theree was a night and day difference in the quality of sleep he enjoyed.  Between that, the cost and the chance of success I pretty much had to give the CPAP a try.  I was signed up for a free trial for a month (which ended up turning into 6 weeks).

How the machine works is that it increases the air pressure in my airway inflating it a like a balloon a bit, so that the passageway doesn’t collapse and block the travel of air going in and out.  The machine needs to be loaded with distilled water (which humidifies the air going in), and I wear a mask over my nose.  While this is better than something covering my whole face, I still can’t really open my mouth while it’s running or it won’t function properly – and I can’t talk very well as the difference in air pressure affects my ability to get words out – it’s like a mild form of gagging.  Still, it’s comfortable enough when my mouth is closed, and the mask has utterly failed to frighten my children when they’ve seen me wearing it.  I’m actually able to fall asleep wearing it without problems, but I’ve noticed that getting back to sleep once I’ve gotten up due to one of the Lightning Kid’s wake-ups is harder.  It’s really a matter of habit.  I do seem to be better rested when I sleep with the machine, but it’s marginal, not a night-and-day difference.

In October, I went in for another sleep study while using a CPAP machine.  The machine I had trialled was actually an APAP machine; it automatically varies the air pressure during the night, to what is needed, rather than be set to one constant pressure.  The readings from the machine were downloaded to a memory card which I turned in before my second sleep study.  It was found I could get by with a constant pressure.  

For the second study I managed to fall asleep in 9 minutes (it took 13 the first time) and I had 19 awakenings, no breathing interruptions nor did my oxygen saturation sink below 95%.  I should also mention that using the mask eliminates my snoring and only makes a light, white noise that my wife doesn’t seem to mind.