Friday, January 28, 2011

It's Official: I'm a Lightweight

Triathlon can do weird things to your body.  Case in point: I can no longer hold my alcohol. 

Back in 2006 and 2007, before I was bitten by the triathlon bug, The Wife and I would go out a couple of times a week and grab some food and a couple of beers.  It was our way to spend time with each other and with our friends.  After all, a beer, a burger, a good game and the company of friends are a fairly satsifying combination.  Then, we discovered the Old Chicago World Beer Tour.  Basically, you drink more of their beer (though, never more than 4 per day), and they give you more free crap.  Every time you hit 110 beers on your tour, you start over again, drink more beer, and earn more crap.  Well, it's not like I needed much encouragement to drink beer, but when you start offering me t-shirts, hats, bottle openers and mini-coolers, you've got yourself a fan for life.

For a short dude - 5'8" (1.73 meters for you metric users) I could put away copious amounts of brew.  An average evening would consist of 4 beers of 22 ounces each (2.6 Liters).  This was not enough to get me drunk, or even buzzed.  My kidneys just flexed their muscles and took care of business.  Though, it wasn't the best for my waistline - I maxed out at just over 210 pounds back in 2008.

Now, let's fast-forward to January, 2011.  I've lost 40-45 pounds.  The Wife and I only go out 1-2 times per month (and split an entree when we do), and make nice, healthy meals at home.  I feel grrrrreat and am looking forward to my 3rd tri season.

We decided on Wednesday to use a gift certificate to Old Chicago to have a good meal and a couple of brews while we watched a Gopher Basketball game.  You know - a good all-American date night.  I had a nice steak, with shrimp and french fries.  It wasn't the healthiest meal, but it was more than enough to absorb a little alcohol.  Over the course of 2 hours, I had a total of 2, 12 ounce beers.  Check that.  I actually had 1.75 beers.  Half-way through beer #2, my stomach began to feel a little oogy.  Realizing that I didn't want to be drunk on a Wednesday, I decided to cut my losses and we headed home.  Don't worry.  The Wife drove.

Yesterday, I woke up and my stomach still had that 'not so fresh' feeling, and my head was a little achy.  A hangover?  After only 1.75 beers?  Seriously?  You have got to be kidding me.  It seems that my body has switched from being an alcohol processing machine to a fat and carbohydrate processing machine.  I guess for now I'll have to be the Diet Coke guy at the bar.  Sigh.  Too bad there's no tour for that.

I suppose that I could try to get back into the swing of things and start drinking more beer to teach my body to be efficient at processing alcohol again.  But, that's a dumb idea.  I'd much rather feel good about getting a PR at the Liberty Triathlon in June than feel good about my latest new beer t-shirt.  That is, unless the t-shirt design is really cool.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's Okay to be a Noob

Things are crazy at the gym right now.  Why?  Well, January and February tend to be the most crowded times of the year.  Part of the crowd is due to the lousy weather.  I don't know a lot of people that want to go for a run when its -20 degrees.  But, most of the crowd is composed of 'Resolutionists'.  You know what I'm talking about.  It's the folks that decided on New Years Day that they were finally going to get in shape this year (and this time, they meant it).

That's cool though.  I'm not going to get mad at someone that is trying to turn things around and get fit.  Good for them.  However, it is kinda funny for those of us who spend a reasonable amount of time in the gym 12 months out of the year.  The noobs (noobs stands for 'newbies', so just relax Mom, it's not a dirty word) tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

Maybe you're one of them.  Maybe you're a noob.  Maybe this is your year to change up your lifestyle and finally drop some weight.   But, maybe you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb.  I don't blame you.  Sticking out from the crowd offends my reserved Midwestern sensibilities. Well, if all you want to do is blend in and 'get your sweat on' then this post is for you.

How NOT to be a Noob at the gym.

Untuck that shirt Gramps
This is mostly directed at you middle-aged men.  Nothing screams 'I'm new here!' like a nice tucked-in cotton t-shirt and shorts pulled up to your armpits.  Save that look for trips to the beach where you can wear that outfit with your black socks and sandals.  Of course, there are a few exceptions.  For example, if you're going into a yoga class, then tuck away.  I don't want to be in the middle of a head-stand only to have my shirt fall and expose my Buddha-belly.

Don't be a filthy pig
I sweat.  I sweat a lot.  It only takes about 10 minutes of running and I look like I just showered in my clothes.  That sweat tends to splash all over the equipment and just plain funk up the place.  Wipe up your filth after your done with the machines.  Most gyms will have some paper towels and disinfectant.  Use them.  Seriously.

Don't forget to stretch
I cannot emphasize this enough.  I've seen folks huffing and puffing their way through a long treadmill workout, only to finish their run, hop off and head straight to the locker room.  Want to know why you have problems walking down stairs the next day?  Well, you're legs are probably a little cranky because they haven't been stretched.  It's best to stretch warm muscles.  For treadmill days, I like to run for about 10 minutes and then stretch for another 10-15 minutes before starting the main workout.  After the workout, a little light stretching is in order - just enough to keep the muscles loose.

Stay Hydrated
Ya gotta keep the fluids flowing.  Sure, if you don't drink any water you'll initially lose quite a few pounds.  Shoot.  You could lose 5-10 pounds during a long run. Don't mistake this for genuine weight loss.  Like I posted a few weeks ago, you aren't actually getting fit.  Congratulations - you're dehydrated.  What's a good barometer to determine if you're dehydrated?  It's all about the pee.  If yours is near-clear to clear, then you're in good shape.  If it looks like beef stock, it's time to up the fluid intake. 

Pace yourself
This goes right along with stretching.  It's cool to start slow.  We all have to start somewhere.  In fact, if your main goal is losing weight, it's actually more beneficial to do a longer workout at a somewhat slower pace than something high-intensity but short.  The same thing goes for weights.  Sure, we all want to impress onlookers by lifting that giant stack of metal plates, but starting at a weight that is beyond your own ability is an invitation for injury, and just plain dangerous.

You're not there to get noticed
I know.  This is a tough one.  But there's a time and a place to draw attention to yourself.  As much as you may think so, grunting and screaming your way through a bench press set like you're passing a kidney stone isn't as cool as it sounds.  Repeatedly flexing your man-boobs in front of the mirror is just plain gross.  This goes for you too ladies.  You're not fooling anyone when you do your makeup BEFORE your workout and proceed to push your ta-tas up to your chin.  Exercise a little subtlety.  If you guys and girls REALLY want to get noticed, then sign up for a 5K or a sprint tri.  Then, you can cross the finish line to loud cheers and wave your arms like an orangutan until they go numb. 

Well, that should get you started.  The best advice I can give a noob is to stick with it.  Remember why you're there.  It's called a workout for a reason.  Get to work.  Find a routine that works for you and keep at it.  Mix things up a little to keep from getting bored and be patient.  You may not be ready for a new wardrobe after only a few weeks, or even a few months, but you'll get there.  Pretty soon, YOU'LL be the one giving the noobs advice.

Oh, and there are only a few days left to vote in my poll.  Get at it. 

Later gators.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Off-Season Pool Workouts - It's Time for Form Drills!

After going almost 3 months without a lot of pool time, I've finally started to get in some decent swim workouts.  The nice thing about the winter season is that it gives you time to iron out some details in the pool.  What does this mean exactly?  Two words: form drills.  The idea is to focus on certain aspects of your swim stroke, then put all the pieces together to build muscle memory so you don't have to consciously think about swimming efficiently.  It just comes naturally.

Here's an example workout:

Warmup: 1000 Yards at a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of around 4/10
I averaged 1:37 per 100 yards.  It's just enough to get my heart rate up and loosen up my arms and back without getting me too tired.

200 Yards - One Arm Drills - Version 1
This drill helps me focus on my body position in the water.  After pushing off of the wall, I roll over to one side and aim my chest at the pool wall.  I stick one arm out and slightly down and relax my neck so that I'm facing straight down.  The only significant propulsion comes from kicking. I concentrate on keeping my spine aligned horizontally and my body relaxed.  Every other component of my stroke builds off of my position in the water.

The first 100 yards of this drill are nice and slow.  I switch arms 2 times per length of the pool.  On the 3rd lap, I switch arms every 10-12 kicks.  The last lap is just a slow, exaggerated version of my normal stroke where I try to integrate the drill into my normal form.

200 Yards - Catch-up Drills
In addition to re-enforcing my body position, this helps me work on my tempo.  It's similar to a standard freestyle stroke, except only one arm moves at a time.  So, my right arm sticks straight ahead while my left arm completes a full stroke.  When the left arm returns to sticking straight ahead, then the right arm takes its turn completing a full stroke. 

By keeping one arm extended, it helps me lengthen my stroke and increase how far I can glide each time I pull.  Again, the first 100 yards are nice and slow with an emphasis on form.  The 3rd lap is somewhat quicker - a transition into lap 4 where I try to integrate the drill into my normal form.

200 Yards - One Arm Drills - Version 2
These drills are all about body rotation.  They're similar to the catch-up drills in that one arm moves at a time, but this time around I do one full length of the pool with one arm and then switch to the other for the return trip.  I breathe off of the side of the active arm.  After 3 laps of this drill, I do the 4th lap to concentrate on integration again.

200 Yards - One Arm Drills - Version 2.5
Yep.  These drills are almost the same as Version 2.  The difference is that this time, the inactive arm is down at my side and I breathe off the inactive side.  In other words, when my right arm is doing the work, I breathe off my left.  This one is harder than it sounds.  It's hard to keep your balance in the water without an arm sticking out in front of you to steady things.  However, you can REALLY get a handle on your body rotation with this drill.

Again - 3 laps of the drill with a 4th to integrate.

200 Yards - Fist Drills
The idea here is to use my entire forearm rather than just my hands.  My stroke is normal, except, instead of swimming with open hands, I ball them into fists.  At first it feels horribly inefficient, but after doing the drill, I get a better 'feel' for the water and can pull myself more easily with just my arms.  After 2 laps of only fists, I do one lap where I alternate between fists and flat hands on every 3rd stroke.  You can really feel the difference when switching.  On the 4th lap, my hands are flat the whole time.  Wow.  I feel like a rocket ship after getting my full propulsion back. 

500 Yards Steady Cooldown
Here's where I put all the elements together.  It's mostly a mental thing.  I try to focus on keeping a perfect form and using all the different skills together - position, balance, tempo, rotation and arm pull. 

This isn't an every day type of workout, but I like to do a variation of my form drills once per week during the off season.  It helps build a good foundation for the more intense workouts that come in the spring and summer.  Once my training plan kicks in, the emphasis will slowly switch from form to speed, tempo and distance workouts. 

Well, that's it.  At least for now.  I'll be back shortly to talk about some treadmill workouts and some more Fun in the Kitchen - this time with a more healthy slant.

Don't forget to vote in the poll from my most recent post.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

I started this blog last April.  So, all things considered, it hasn't been around all that long.  Originally, it was just supposed to be a journal.  You know, something on which I could focus my attention during rest days.  I could blab, and vent and, in general, just scratch my creative itch.  I was pleased with the opportunity to just write.  For several months, life was good.

Then, sometime after the Ironman last September, I discovered the 'Stats' functions on Blogger.  I thought it was pretty darn cool that I could find out how many people visited my blog, which posts they visited, and what countries they were from.  I became somewhat more fixated on the raw number of visitors.  It's a pretty big ego-stroke to see that strangers visited, and re-visited.  So, I tried to make things more interesting.  I started posting more frequently about a wider variety of topics, and even started the semi-regular 'Fun in the Kitchen' posts.  For several months, life was better.

Just a couple weeks ago, my stats started to double.  I was getting more and more visitors, and frankly, I couldn't figure out why.  It all started around Christmas time, right after I posted about some outdoor running and cold weather gear.  I though, 'Hey, that's cool.  People must actually be interested in me.  Sweet!'.  I checked out the Search Keywords that most often sent people to the site.  A majority of the traffic was coming from an image search for 'balaclava'.  'Huh,' I thought, 'That's a little strange'.

So, I did what I probably shouldn't have done and ran my own Google image search for 'balaclava'.  What did I find?  Well, I found I was the #2 image search for 'balaclava'.  Was it for this rather stressed out, yet innocent, post-workout photo of me in my new balaclava?

HECK NO!  Traffic was skyrocketing at my blog because of this weird little photo:

Great.  Perv traffic.  That was not exactly the kind of attention I was aiming for.  Now, I'll kindly remind you that the ONLY reason I posted this photo was to make fun of it.  I mean, honestly, what kind of weather conditions would call for someone to wear a ski-mask while topless?  I suppose, she could be planning to rob the safe at a strip club, or take hostages at a nude beach.  But that's not the point.

So, with that in mind, I'd like to introduce my first official reader poll.  Go ahead.  Click away.  Will the results cause me to drastically alter the content of my site?  Well, probably not.  But it could be fun.  So, tell me.  Why are YOU here.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

General Plans for the Next Month

Well, today's post isn't going to be a point counter-point about reality television, nor will it cover some new recipe with which I've been experimenting.  Nope.  Today will just cover some of my most recent workouts and my short-term plans.  Yeah.  Believe it or not, I've actually managed to do a little training.  I've got some races in mind for this year, but haven't laid down the coin yet for any entry fees, so my training has been a little unfocused.  Shoot.  Up until a couple weeks ago, I really didn't have any kind of strategy.

At this point, I'm toying with the idea of doing a half-Ironman in July as my 'A' race.  Sure, I'll have several other races and events peppered out through the spring and summer, but I'd like my fitness to peak in late July.  I really like the concept of doing a modified version of the 20-week full Ironman training plan that I did last year - tweaking things just a bit to focus more on speed.  I'll have to start that plan in late February or early March, so guess what I'll be up to until then.  Go ahead.  Guess.  Okay, if you said 'losing weight' you'd be right on the money.

Leading up to the Ironman last September, I was weighing in at around 168.  Sure, I'd come a long way from the 210 I was carrying when I started training a couple years ago, but there was still room for improvement.  These days, I'm hovering at around 173.  I'm not sure what caused the weight gain, although I have a feeling it may have something to do with all the cheesecakes I've been making or that little 'sausage wrapped in ham wrapped in bacon' adventure.

The bottom line is that I'd like to drop another 5-15 pounds in the next few months.  I don't need to go too crazy, but it'll take some discipline to get down there in time for race season.

Anyway, until the next training plan kicks in, I'll be upping my volume, but keeping most of my workouts in the aerobic zones. I won't get too deep into the science of it, but strenuous anaerobic exercise - where you're constantly out of breath - doesn't burn fat as well as extended workouts at a lower intensity. 

A perfect example of this type of workout is the 3-hour Spinerval workout I posted about a couple weeks ago.  I ran through this DVD again yesterday evening, and left another nasty sweat puddle on the floor.  Today, I had my first extended swim workout since last September.  It was a series of 500-yard intervals in the pool.  Tomorrow will be a lengthy run. 

So far, increasing the workout time has felt great.  It's nice to get back into a routine.  I didn't realize how much I missed the feeling of fatigued legs and being truly tired at the end of the day.

I'll be back in a day or two to cover some of the diet adjustments I've made to hit my goal.  Don't worry, it's nothing too extreme.

Later dudes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fun in the Kitchen #10 - Beer Bread

The holidays are a great time for good food.  Even better, they're a great time for other people to make you food.  Sure, I did my part by supplying the desserts.  But, my family also had a lot to bring to the table (pun intended).

At my sister's place, we had lefse...
Think of it as Swedish tortillas made from potatoes and served with butter & cinnamon or preserves.  Trust me, it's better than I make it sound.
There was also a big ol' ham and Swedish sausage...

Oh, and don't forget dessert...

But, now that all the celebrating is done, it's time to get back in to the old routine.  This time around, I'll be making beer bread.  It's probably the simplest recipe so far.  Seriously, a trained baboon could make this look good.

Step #1 for making beer bread: cheat.  Yep.  There won't be a laundry list of ingredients this time around.  We'll be working from this bread mix that I received for Christmas - but that you can pick up just about anywhere

The instructions are ridiculously easy too.  See...
The instructions essentially boil down to "Mix + Bake = Bread".
Step #2 for making beer bread: Pick your beer.  Actually, you can pick any carbonated beverage.  Soda or carbonated juices are supposed to work as well, but the box says 'beer bread' so that's what we're going with here.  I picked one of my favorite brews, New Belgium 1554.  It's a smooth dark ale.
1554: Rich and Creamy.  It's a great winter beer.

Step #3: Pour your beer.
You don't have to use an Ironman bottle opener, but it helps add extra 'awesome'.

Step #4:  Add your bread mix and beat the holy heck out of it - but only for 30 seconds.

Step #5: Pour the mix into a greased bread pan and bake it for 50-55 minutes at 375 degrees.

About half-way though baking.
Step #6: Take the pan out of the oven, pop the loaf onto a rack and let 'er cool for about 30 minutes before slicing.
Whoops.  It looks like we had a bit of a blow-out.  I guess the mix couldn't quite handle the awesomeness of my beer.

The Verdict:  It's not bad, and as you can see, it couldn't get much easier to make.  From start to finish, it only takes 90 minutes, and 30 of that is waiting for it to cool.  Considering that the dough only had about 50 minutes to rise, it's not too dense.  It would go well with just butter, or served with olive oil.  You could even serve it at parties as open-faced sandwiches with cheeses or cured meats.

You can definitely pick up some of the beer taste in the bread.  I would recommend using the darkest beer you can find to ensure that the flavor holds over to the final product.  Stay away from anything that's advertised during football games or NASCAR races.

That's it.  You've just made bread.  That wasn't so hard, was it?

My plan for the next few kitchen adventures is to touch on some of my everyday meals.  I'm in full weight-loss mode in an effort to drop another 5-15 pounds before race season starts, and that means making some adjustments for dinner time.  Stay tuned.

Speaking of staying tuned.  Don't forget to 'Like' me on Facebook.  Sure, you may not like me 'in that way,' but it's the best way to get notified every time I churn out something new.  Just click here.  Or here. Or over on the right side of the page. 


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why The Biggest Loser is the Worst Show on TV

Before you get too deep into this, you'll probably want to make sure that you check out yesterday's post first.  In it, I explain why The Wife and I love watching The Biggest Loser.  Thanks to the magic of our DVR, we haven't missed an episode since getting hooked a few years ago.  In a lot of ways, it's the best show on TV.  While that's all fine and good, the show has some problems - serious problems. 

Sure, maybe I overreacted just a little bit.  I don't actually consider The Biggest Loser the absolute worst piece of garbage on the airways.  That distinction is actually a tie between any and every show with the word 'housewives' in the title.

Here's where The Biggest Loser misses the mark:

1.  They're having a Pity Party and everyone's invited.

Most of the contestants on the show didn't get to their heaviest without having a few issues.  For some, it's just a matter of slowly losing control and letting their diet and sedentary lifestyle get out of hand.  For others, the problems are a little more intense. 

Last season, there was a mother whose daughter had started starving herself to keep from becoming like her mother.  There was a young lady whose parents made her feel guilty for her young brother's accidental death when they were children.  A few seasons ago there was even a woman whose husband and three young children were recently killed in a car accident.  My word.  I'd say that being overweight was the least of their worries.

Obviously, these issues will need to be addressed for the contestant to adjust to their new way of living.  The issues aren't the problem.  We all have 'em.  The problem I have with the show is how the viewer is constantly reminded of these struggles.  In-between the workouts and weigh-ins, it's a constant parade of teary-eyed confessionals.  I'm not trying to be callous, but it gets old.  When a 2-hour show gives me an hour of heartbreak and upheaval, I feel like I need to suck down a pint of ice cream just to cope with the emotions.

If the producers really want to help motivate us, they should give us fewer water-works sessions and more time focusing on the 'hows' and 'whys' of weight loss.  Show us how to put together a responsible, attainable diet; give us examples of effective workout plans and stop making us ride an emotional roller coaster.  Oh, and when someone is going through a deeply personal breakthrough, maybe you could, oh I don't know, take the camera out of their face for 5 minutes and let them deal with things.  We'll all understand.  Trust me.

2.  I'm not fooled by your product placement.

Okay.  So, you're a contestant on the show, and you just happen to be sitting around the kitchen with some of your other contestant buddies.  You just happen to be talking about the dilemma of how to carry healthy snacks around town.  Then, one of the handy-dandy trainers just happens to walk around the corner to 'educate' you about the new Ziploc snack bags?  Really?

I know that the network needs to make their money somewhere, but every time I get duped into watching one of these pseudo-commercials thinking that it's part of the actual show I feel my IQ drop 5 points.  If the network wants to bombard me with ads (which they have the right to do) they don't need to be sneaky about it.  Just decorate all of the contestant's workout shirts with logos - like a NASCAR driver.  We'll get the idea.

3. It sets impossible weight-loss expectations.

This is the issue that hits me the hardest.  It set's the bar unreasonably high.  Some of these contestants are consistently losing 10 pounds or more each week.  For the average overweight American trying to get back in shape, the math is not in their favor.  Look:

Fact: One pound of fat contains 3500 calories.  Fact: During the Ironman bike leg, I burned approximately 7,000 calories.  Even if I took 100% of my energy from fat, I still only lost 2 pounds during that effort.  That means that for someone to lose 10 pounds of fat in one week, they would have to bike approximately 550 miles.  I'll even be nice and give them the weekend off.

Now, just to clarify.  I have had single workouts where I finish weighing 5 or more pounds less than when I started.  However, most of that is water weight.  If you plan on losing weight like this, you won't be getting healthy; you'll be getting dehydrated. 

I don't know about you, but even during my heaviest Ironman training, I didn't come close to 550 miles of cycling per week.  Now, imagine an obese viewer of The Biggest Loser who decides to get their act together.  They start to eat healthy and hit the gym hard expecting to see the same magical weight-loss numbers that appear on the show.  But after a month of slaving away, they've only managed to lose a few pounds.  I can imagine that it would be pretty discouraging.

What the show needs to do is place more of an emphasis on educating the viewers on how to develop long-term goals.  Remind us that losing weight is like turning a large ship; you can turn the wheel, but it's going to take a little while for it to complete the turn and face the other direction.  Sure, it's still great to be inspired (and impressed) by some truly amazing results, but for the love of Pete, help the rest of us who don't have access to world-class trainers, nutritionists and facilities. 

Will I keep watching the show?  Absolutely.  Will I encourage others to check it out?  Sure.  It's good entertainment.  However, if you're looking for personal answers to impact your own life, you can do a lot better than trying to derive them from a TV show. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why The Biggest Loser is the Best Show on TV

As I write this, The Wife and I are sacked out in front of the boob tube.  Don't worry, we each did our own workouts earlier today.  What are we watching?  The Biggest Loser.  For those of you who aren't familiar, this is a reality show where 16-22 morbidly obese contestants are whisked away to a fitness ranch and compete to lose the highest percentage of weight.

It's the best show ever.  BEST.  EVER.

Here's why:

1.  The Inspiration Factor

The folks on this show start out big, and I mean BIG.  Most of them have additional health issues such as bad knees or adult-onset diabetes.  Shoot.  Some of them have problems walking up the stairs to step on the scale.  But, over the course of the show, almost all of the contestants experience a dramatic weight loss.  I know we hear it everywhere we go, but obesity is impacting more and more people every year.  This show proves that even folks with hundreds of pounds to lose can still get their acts together and turn their lives around.  If that inspires more of us to change things around and get healthy again, then good on 'em.

2.  The Lifestyle Factor

In the end, it's not about the cash prize that goes to the winner; it's about experiencing a lifestyle change.  On the show, there's a heavy emphasis on the grueling workouts, but they also take time to address diet issues.  Sure, I don't need much encouragement to hit the gym, but it does motivate The Wife and I to think a little harder about how we prepare our meals. Sometimes, even us 'healthy' Americans need a gentle reminder kick in the pants to resist the burgers and pizza to focus on vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.

3.  The Car Crash Factor

I'll be honest.  As much as we watch the show to get inspired, like a car crash on the freeway, we have to slow down to witness the carnage.  People falling on the treadmill, passing out on the stair-stepper, barfing in the corner and having emotional breakdowns in the gym demand our undivided attention.  Later on in each season, group 'alliances' and game-play rear their ugly heads and add to the drama.  We love every minute of it.

We don't watch too many TV shows religiously, but we make it a priority to catch The Biggest Loser every week.  It's the Best Show on TV.

Tomorrow: Why the Biggest Loser is the Worst Show on TV.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hitting the Trainer - How I spent my Winter Vacation

Some days I feel like packing up all my things and moving to Arizona.  Why?  Because between November and March, Old Man Winter seems to get his jollies from kicking the holy heck out of us up here in the Great White North.  But as soon as I finish digging out loading up the car, I remember I'd be leaving my friends, family and steady employment behind.  Bah.  I guess I'll be sticking around after all.

So, if I AM going to stay in this wintry mess, how the heck am I going to keep my training up?  I know that the pool isn't going anywhere, so there really isn't a lot to change with my swim workouts.  For running, once you find a plowed trail, it's basically just a matter of proper attire to keep from freezing off your bits 'n' pieces.  Granted, when the trails are icy or rutted, you really can't do much interval training.  But, I've been making it out at least once a week to get in a longer run.  Once my muscles get warmed up, it's actually kinda nice.

The REAL problem though is with cycling training.  I haven't hit the road for a proper ride for almost two months.  Sure, there are some hard core commuters and cyclo-cross riders around here that just throw on some studded tires and head out into the elements. Us roadies though, we hit the trainer. It's basically a small frame that holds onto your rear wheel and provides resistance.  The good news is that you can use your own bike rather than some bike at the gym that hasn't been disinfected since the Earth was cooling.  The bad news is that you've got to be creative when it comes to the actual workouts.

Here's my current setup:

Note: Those are The Wife's Minnie Mouse Ears, so zip it!
In the past, I would just watch some television while I worked out.  I'd keep it at a moderate pace during the shows, and then hit the gas during the commercials.  Sure, it was kinda-sorta interval training, but it really wasn't as effective as it could have been.  Most workouts were in the 30-60 minute range.  Honestly, without a lot of direction, it was easy to find excuses to stop early.

Then, my uncle Dave gave me this little bad boy for Christmas:
Everyone knows that the best kind of love is 'Tough Love'.

Now, I've done Spinnervals workouts with the Twin Cities Spoke crew before, so my first thought was, "SWEET!  Finally, a Spinnervals DVD of my very own!  Thanks Uncle Dave!".  Then, I took a closer look at the title and saw that at 3 hours, it was almost 3 times as long as any workout I'd done before.  In addition, the difficulty was 9.9/10.  So, my second thought was, "Gulp.  I can't be sure, but I think Uncle Dave may be trying to murder me!" 

Well, as it turns out, this DVD was the perfect choice.  Yesterday, I filled a couple water bottles, cracked open the windows and popped this little guy into the player.  The best thing I can say about the disc is that it breaks up the monotony of what could be a very boring 3 hours and keeps you focused the whole time. 
You've got prompts for the gear to use, how hard to work and total workout time remaining.
Through a series of 10-30 minute intervals, I was instructed to change gears, alter my cadence and occasionally stand up.  At no time was I ever bored.  Now, I did have to pause the workout a couple of times to re-fill my water, grab a snack and use the little boy's room, but by the end, I was nice and tired. 

In fact, I was more tired than after a regular 3-hour ride during the summer.  Why?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.  First, you're pedaling the whole time; there's no resting on the downhills here. Second, Coach Troy does a pretty good job of pushing you to keep going.  Who's Coach Troy?  He's the host of the Spinnervals series.  He looks like this:
Coach Troy
Although, by the time you're on your 10th straight minute-long interval out of the saddle, he starts to look a little like this:
Coach Troy?!?
Yeah, these workouts are tough SOBs.  Sure, it's not the same as going for a real, honest to goodness ride, but at least I can be sure I'm keeping my fitness up so that I've got good legs once the snow melts.  Although, next time I do this workout, it would probably be best to put a towel down first so that I don't have to explain to The Wife why there's a funky puddle of nastiness on the floor.

In other news, I'm starting to pull together my race schedule for next year.  I'm hoping to do a couple familiar favorites and mix in some new experiences to keep things interesting.  I'll keep you posted.

Oh yeah, and before I forget - Thanks Uncle Dave!