My First Triathlon Is Completed

I picked my first triathlon based on several factors – it was only four weeks out when I registered, the day after I bought my bike; it was a pool swim and not open water; and the bike portion was only seven miles. Seemed like a great first tri.

And it was. The 33rd annual Huntsville Sprint Triathlon was a great introduction to the sport. The local club putting it on were friendly, the event was very “newbie” friendly, and the weather was great.

Here’s me sporting my first-ever leg chip.
Spandex makes everyone look so nice

It began with everyone giving their 100 yard swim speed when registering, and then the swim was to be a “criterion” start in the pool. But a lot of people either had no clue what their speed was, or just didn’t care, but you jam two slow people in one lane, and bottlenecks occur. I had read people saying they though open water swims were easier than pool swims, but couldn’t believe them…until now. I know I can swim 400 meters in 9:15-9:30 (slow and steady, that’s me) but could only get out with a 10:45 time.

My T1 was quick, mostly because I was biking in my running shoes. I just didn’t feel like I had enough time to get comfortable on the bike AND comfortable with clipless pedals. But clipless pedals are going on the bike this week. So with running shoes I averaged 17.1mph on a mostly flat course with a bunch of turns in a neighborhood before getting to the main road. I was happy with that.

T2 was quick, and then then run began. It was advertised as “rolling with a challenging cross country and pathway type of elevation gain and loss” but what looked like a long section of sidewalk on the back side was in fact all gravel. So it was a 5k trail run, complete with narrow wooden bridge, really skinny sidewalk next to a main road with traffic, one section with large rocks and badly patched asphalt, and one 20 foot steep grass descent. Oh, and it was a two-lap course, so rinse and repeat all those conditions. But I loved it! (have I mentioned this was my first tri?)

I only ran a 33:26, after going sub-30 my last two 5k races, but between the trail run and this being the last of three events, I am OK with it. Looking on the bright side, I set a PR with plenty of room for improvement!

I’m already signing up for my next sprint tri in early August, the Mountain Lakes Triathlon. It’s a lake swim 300 yards out and back, a 15 mile cycling course billed as mostly flat and fast, and a 5k run on streets and not a trail.


Nothing Much Has Been Happening

Yesterday I finally broke my goal weight loss barrier. I wanted to lose 36 pounds by Christmas, when I started, and I had no idea how achievable that was. Now I’d like to get down about 4 more pounds, and see if I can keep it there. Oh, and work on getting the stomach flat, to match the new look.

I this article yesterday, Burning energy may build up your brain and really liked the part that says “In the study of 876 adults (ages ranged from 69-95), those who burned the most calories had 5 percent more gray matter…If you want to maximize the effect on your brain, these physical activities are something people have to start engaging in earlier in life, in your 50s and 40s”. So I’m not just burning calories, and feeling better. I’m increasing my grey matter. Even better.

Since I finished my first 10k a couple weeks ago, I just been working on stamina in both swimming and running. I have finally gotten my 100 yard average time, for a one hour swim, to drop from a really bad 4:15 to a mostly bad 2:37. Which, if my math is correct, is a 38% improvement since the first of November. Before then, I did not even speak of times.

My running time is now below 10 minutes per mile, but I prefer to call it 7 minutes per kilometer, because it sounds faster. Still plenty of room for improvement!

I don’t really have any plans set for 2013, but already have a couple 5k/10k runs in my area that I I’d like to do. If I think I have progressed to being able to finish a half marathon still standing up, I’ll need to find one that happens before June, because by July it gets bloody hot in Alabama. June would be month ten of my new fitness life, so that’s also good timing.

So here’s to hoping I can keep exercising over the holidays, and keep the weight off as well, and head in to January with no backsliding. Merry Christmas to anyone who happens to see this post!

Swimming Freestyle (and breathing)

As I began my fitness swimming three months ago, I focused on breaststroke because it helped me focus on breathing better than I thought freestyle would. My goal has been to get out of bed every morning and either run or swim for an hour, then go to work. After I had built up my endurance to getting 2000 yards of breaststroke in an hour, I switched to freestyle.

I thought I should just start with bilateral breathing, but this just hasn’t worked for me. I just can’t seem to develop the consistency to get multiple laps – always panting at the end of 50 yards. Then I came across a post by Gary Hall, Sr. about bilateral breathing – A Better Way To Breathe?.

What he says is “Cycling or running at maximal exertion requires between 50 and 60 respirations per minute. If you are swimming anywhere from 800 yards to 2.4 miles, chances are your stroke rate is 50 to 60 strokes per minute. A swimmer taking 60 strokes per minute and breathing to one side on every stroke cycle (1:2 ratio) takes only 30 breaths per minute, far below the body’s chosen rate. If you are an alternate breather, breathing first to one side, holding two strokes, then breathing to the other (1:3 ratio), your respiratory rate is even slower at 20 breaths per minute“. So by trying to start out using bilateral breathing, I was getting only a third of the oxygen my (not yet trained) body wanted.

This week I switched back to a 1:2 ratio breathing on the same side, which with his logic says I’m getting 50% more oxygen, and I did 2000 yards freestyle in my hour. Now I have months and years to actually improve my stroke to look like a swimmer. Oh, and now that I can do multiple laps, I have to learn how to flip turn. Actually, I like the British version “tumble turn” better.

The rest of Gary Hall’s article goes on to describe a more complicated 2:3 breathing pattern that gets you up to 40 breaths per minute, but that skill is for later, for me. Another concept he had was learning to practice breathing on one side all the way down the lane, and the other side coming back. The reason is, in an open water swim, if the wind is blowing waves into you on one side, it might be very useful to know you can breathe on the non-windy side the entire distance.

So now I’m off to run 5k, as I taper for my first 10k next Saturday.

My Running Apps Ecosystem

I’ve been running for just less than three months, but as the name on the blog says, I’m an IT guy who likes gadgets. My gadget is my iPhone, and I have tried close to a dozen iPhone apps, and probably a half-dozen websites.

I had initially settled on RunMeter on my iPhone uploading to the dailymile website due to its mostly uncluttered interface, and the fact that my lap swimming could -gasp- actually be manually entered in yards on dailymile. There are a whole bunch of sites that wanted my laps entered in either miles or metric, and most US pools are in yards.

Dailymile has lasted several months now, but I have decided I want to get a chest strap heart rate monitor (Christmas is just around the corner), and dailymile doesn’t have the ability to let me really see the amount of data that a heart rate monitor can produce. I have spent a lot of time reading extensive product reviews on the DCrainmaker website – thank you so much, Ray. He got me looking at the TrainingPeaks website (I wish the entire site worked on an iPad, but they are still totally Adobe Flash based) because it can track my workouts AND my calorie intake. The DCrainmaker site also helped me decide to get the Wahoo Blue HR monitor which will pair with my iPhone (4s or 5) using the new BlueTooth LE specification instead of an ANT dongle.

On Saturday I ran across an iPhone app I had not looked at before, and after reading the reviews I paid for it. iSmoothRun is in the Apple App Store ($4.99 US) and has just helped me to create my own “running app ecosystem”.

Running App Ecosystem picture

How BRILLIANT is this? iSmoothRun can use either a GPS signal or (because it learns your cadence when it can get GPS) it will also work indoors. It somehow takes your GPS coordinates and adds temperature, wind speed, and humidity to every run. It can upload to eight different websites, plus send an email, plus Twitter and FaceBook. And it tracks your cadence and can coach you on how to learn to use cadence more effectively.

So I am now uploading to dailymile, TrainingPeaks, and Garmin Connect, all at the same time, and can do a side-by-side comparison of my real data (I found out that you do not have to have a Garmin device to creat an account an upload data). This will be fun. Also, since I can upload to the RunKeeper website (which I find really cluttered, and their iPhone app won’t work inside) I do, just so it also downloads back to my Tactio Health app that I wrote about in September.

I ran my weekend long run (10k) using iSmoothRun this morning, hit finish, and my run showed up everywhere. I am impressed. I’m also happy that my 10k time today was 4 minutes faster than last week, but it’s only my second time running this distance, so who knows.

Updated 11/6/12:  One thing I have found so far is that iSmoothrun sends the weather data correctly to dailymile, but this info does not seem to transfer to Garmin Connect or TrainingPeaks.

Also, the more I try to use TrainingPeaks, the more I don’t like it. The Adobe Flash thing makes it both slow and buggy. Trying to track food is so slow it is painful. And then I can’t see it on my iPad anyway. I was hoping to replace manual calorie intake entries in my MyFitnessPal iPhone app, but I don’t see it happening.

Oh Joy, I Get To Start All Over, Learning To Swim Freestyle

When I started swimming two months ago, I wanted to work on my breathing and pace, and the breaststroke seemed like a great way to start. It’s a lot harder to breathe in a mouthful of water during the breaststroke than doing the free. So for two months I’ve worked up to doing 2,000 yards of continuous breaststroke, three mornings a week. I was happy. I was not fast, but my breathing was working for me, and my distance was increasing.

I wanted to start off right on freestyle and stop swimming flat, while forcing myself to breathe bi-laterally. Seemed like a good plan until this morning. New muscles complaining all over again. No stamina. I’ve never done a flip tun in my life (I saw a post somewhere where the Brits call it a tumble turn, which is closer to what I am attempting). I feel like I’m back to square one. But I guess I need a new challenge.

This Is Why I Want To Get Better At Swimming

There is a new article on the Runner’s World website ( that talks about a study by Neurology showing that “people in their 70s with higher levels of physical activity have less brain shrinkage than their sedentary contemporaries”.

For me, less brain shrinkage is always a good thing. But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to run in to my seventies. I do feel a lot more confidant that I will be able to swim in to my seventies, swimming having a much lower impact on the body, overall. That’s why I’m cross-training now between swimming and running – it’s all for my brain!