Monday, February 28, 2011

Routine! Yay!

I'm a creature of routine.  Last year, I worked off a 20-week training plan to prep for the Ironman.  Was it the optimal plan for me?  I don't know.  But, it did give me some structure.  Some people have the motivation to train on their own, without anyone telling them what to do.  But I benefit more when I have someone telling me what to do, even if it is just a sheet printed off from an on-line training plan.

Even after the Ironman, I found myself getting into a steady workout routine.  Monday was Pilates, Tuesday was cycling on the trainer, Wednesday was a long swim, Thursday was a long run, Saturday was (and still is) spinning with the Twin Cities Spoke and Sunday was a hodgepodge of whatever floated my boat that day.  I've also been peppering in some good 1/2 hour workouts over lunch - one of the bonuses of working across the street from my gym.  In the end, I've been averaging around 8-10 hours per week.  Through the winter, this routine was good.  But after a while, being in a routine started to turn into being in a rut.  That's why I'm looking forward to next Monday.

Since the Ironman won't be happening this year, my first 'A' race will be the Chisago 1/2 Ironman in July.  Believe it or not, that's only 21 weeks away.  Since I'm a cheapo, I'll be doing the same free training program from Beginner Triathlete that I did last year.  So, my 20-week plan will start on March 6.  Routine!  Yay!

Now, I know what you're wondering.  Why would he do an Ironman plan when his longest tri is only half that distance?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.  The first is my 2nd 'A' race of the year - the Twin Cities Marathon.  I don't want to skimp on my running in May, June and July.  I figure that the Full Ironman plan should give me the running volume I need to be prepared for the marathon.  That way, I can taper off the swimming and cycling a bit in August and September.

The second reason I'm going with the longer plan is that, well, I just plain ol' like to train.  I love looking forward to a 80-100 mile bike ride over the weekend, or a good brick session out at Baker Park.  So, as long as The Wife will let me, I'll keep doing it. (Thanks Hon!)

What's on tap this week?  Well, I made it back to pilates again after a couple weeks off.  It felt so good that I'll probably try to incorporate it into my summer training schedule.  It may not be every week, but I'll try to fit it in from time to time.  I'll hit the foam roller to iron out a few minor cramping issues in my calves and booty.  Note to self: Beware of plyometric squat-thrusts.  But mostly, I'm just going to take it easy and enjoy a rest week before I get serious.  Granted, my 'serious' still isn't all that serious compared to other people's 'serious'.  Seriously.  You know what I mean. 

Later Kids!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good Massages vs. Bad Massages

In my last post, I talked about how The Wife and spent Valentine's Day.  We decided to treat ourselves to a couples massage.  Now, because we were able to spend the day together, we had a great time.  The massage experience on the other hand, for lack of a better word, sucked. 

I've had several massages over the last few years.  They've either been couples massages to celebrate an anniversary, or as a post-race reward.  But I have never had one as bad as Monday afternoon.  In fact, it was so bad that we decided to get another couples massage on Friday at a different location just wash the Monday debacle out of our brains.  Ordinarily, we wouldn't choose to spend the money on this.  We're not rich.  There are more important things we're saving for and treats like this only come a handful of times each year.  Most of the time, I'm happy with using a foam roller to work out the kinks.  But, it was important to The Wife (and thus, important to me).

So, Friday evening we headed over to a different Spa.  This time we chose Sanctuary Salonspa.  It was a FAR superior experience.  We left relaxed and refreshed and not at all remorseful that we chose to spend a little of our hard-earned cash.  That got me thinking.  What made this massage so much better than the one earlier in the week?  Why was Spa X (not their real name, but my Mama always said, "If you can't say anything nice, zip it") a waste of money, and Sanctuary Salonspa transcendent?  Let's take a look. 

Scheduling & Customer Service
Your first step for getting a massage is arranging an appointment.  It's also where you'll decide the type of massage you'll get (relaxation, deep tissue, stone, etc.) how much your session will cost and possibly make a partial payment

Spa X
This is where our frustration started.  When The Wife called to arrange the appointment, she told there was a Valentine's Day special of X dollars for a couples massage.  When we settled our bill after the appointment, we were told that their 'special' was actually X dollars PER PERSON.  Now, I don't know about you, but when I'm told a price for a couples massage, I expect that price to cover both people.  This was like shopping for shoes only to find out that the store charges per shoe.  Was Spa X outright deceptive?  Eh, maybe.  Could they have been more transparent about their billing?  Absolutely.

Sanctuary Salonspa
There were no issues here.  We knew what to expect going in and what our bill would be at the end of the day..  The Wife arranged for a deep tissue massage for me and a relaxing Swedish massage for herself.  

The Meet-and-Greet
People get massages for all sorts of different reasons.  Your masseuse should review these reasons with you prior to your session.  They should ask you if special attention should be paid to any specific muscle groups and determine what kind of pressure you are comfortable with. 

For me, I want to know that the session is functional.  Sure, I want it to be relaxing, but I also want to have some kinks and knots worked out.  Loose muscles will help prevent injury and facilitate healing.  Loose back and shoulder muscles will even help me stay in the aero position longer and more comfortably.

Spa X
There was no meet and greet the first time around.  We were directed into our room by the receptionist, where we disrobed and waited under the blankets on our massage tables.  The masseuses came in, told us their names, and got to work.

Sanctuary Salonspa
After heading into separate locker rooms and changing into robes and sandals, The Wife and I sat down for a moment with our masseuses for a moment to talk about our sessions.  My masseuse, April, would focus on my traps (neck and shoulder), lats (outer-middle back), quads and calves.  My pressure would be a 7 or 8 out of 10.  In essence, she would be firm enough to work out the knots, but wouldn't beat the holy heck out of me until I was a quivering lump of goo. 

The Atmosphere
This shouldn't be too complicated. Everything about the spa's setup should be soothing, from the music, to the staff, to the decor.  I don't want to be distracted or taken out of the moment during my session. 

Spa X
Spa X also does manicures and pedicures.  They had a TV on in the main customer area running soap operas with the volume turned up to 11.  Needless to say, it wasn't what I was looking for.

Sanctuary Salonspa
The spa area was separated from the main customer area and from the hair styling and manicure/pedicure areas.  It was nice and peaceful; just the way I like it.

The Massage
Here is where the rubber meets the road.  We were paying good money for this.

Spa X
The massage at Spa X was nondescript.  Sure, they worked my shoulders, back, legs and arms, but didn't actually press down hard enough to make a difference.  I didn't feel like any progress was made.  I felt the same coming out of the massage as I did going in.  In fact, the only thing I can specifically remember about the experience was the 'smack-smack-smack' coming from my masseuse as she chewed her gum.

Sanctuary Salonspa
I knew quickly that this massage was going to have an impact.  We found a nice thick knot over my right shoulder blade.  April worked for several minutes on just this area, digging in deep to loosen up the knot.  I won't lie.  There were times when it hurt like a sonuvabitch, but she just told me to focus on my breathing, which helped me deal with the pain.  My legs were in pretty decent shape - no major knots there.  Although, I did find out that my quads are wicked ticklish. 

In the end, we had a much more rewarding experience at Sanctuary Salonspa.  Sure, it cost a few extra bucks compared to some of the budget places around town, but the extra money was worth it - especially for The Wife and I that only indulge ourselves a couple times per year. Now, this may sound like a commercial for Sanctuary Salonspa, but I'm not being paid to kiss their butts.  Shoot. I'm trying to save for a new bike.  I may not be back in a spa again for years.  Though, I've had massages at several different places, both good and bad.  In my experience, these folks rate right near the top.


So, if you're in the market for a massage.  I would recommend the following:

1.  Ask around.  The best place to start is with a referral.  

2.  Do your research.  Internet reviews are a good place to start, but to really ensure you're not going to get hosed, you should make the appointment in person.  Ask for a tour and check to see if everything meets your needs. 

3.  Keep the communication lines open.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Also, make sure you are clear about your needs and expectations. 

4.  Tips - as in gratuity.  This is a service industry after all.  Be generous - more so if they do an excellent job. Don't be a grinch.

I'm glad that The Wife and I had a chance to have a 'redo' on our spa date.  Could I have settled for a few minutes with the foam roller?  I suppose so.  But that's not really the point.  Sometimes we need to treat ourselves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Feel Pretty

My mood has greatly improved since last week.  Two great things have happened in the past two days.  Number one, the local temperatures broke freezing for the first time since, well, I can't even remember when.  Second, I got to spend Valentines Day with The Wife.

Let's start with yesterday.  We were blessed with a high in the mid 40s.  The sky was this strange blue color, rather than the gray that we've all grown accustom to around here.  With all the complaining I've been doing about the weather lately, I didn't want to be a hypocrite and let the day go to waste. 

I had already done long treadmill run the previous Thursday, so instead of trying to kick my own butt again I decided to just 'run casually' and enjoy the afternoon.  The local sidewalks were a bit of a minefield.  With all the melting snow, you had to look twice at every puddle and make a judgment call as to whether it was shallow enough to run through, narrow enough to jump over or imposing enough to avoid altogether.  I only ended up with soggy toes a couple of times, so all was good. 

Once I made it down to Medicine Lake, I found that the park trails were in great shape.  It was refreshing to run on actual asphalt and concrete rather than snow and ice.  It was also promising to see that my pace hasn't taken too much of a hit since last fall.  I was hitting 9:10 to 9:15 per mile, which for a casual run is pretty OK.   Shoot.  At this time last year I was averaging splits at around 10:00 per mile.  All in all, it was a great run.  I know that we've still got plenty of winter left to smack us around, so I'll take all of this that I can get.

After my run, I got ready for Valentines Day.  The Wife and I took the day off of work and scheduled a couples massage and spa day.  Since I didn't want to frighten the poor soul assigned to massage me, I decided to clean things up a little bit 'down there'.  No no no.  Not THERE.  I mean my LEGS.  Sheesh. 

Shaving your legs means a few things.  First, it's a way for runners, swimmers and cyclists to put on their 'game face' and helps them feel faster.  Second, it tells everyone else at the gym and in the pool that you're so serious about training that you don't care what society says about men shaving their legs.  Third, it says that you care enough about your masseuse not to give them rug burn on their hands.

Before = Wookie Legs
After a few moments with the hedge trimmers electric clippers, and a few more moments with the foam and razor, I was ready to go. 
Ahhhh.  Much better.

So, today The Wife and I got to spend the day together.  We don't spend as much time together as we like; she's going back to school at the moment and our work schedules don't mesh the best, so getting the whole day is kind of a big deal. 

We headed down for our spa time and enjoyed a nice hour-long massage together.  My masseuse didn't say anything about my legs, but I could tell she was grateful.  After the massages, The Wife got a manicure, and I sat down for my first pedicure.  Runners are known to beat the heck out of their feet, so I was looking forward to showing my tootsies a little love.

No.  My toenails weren't THAT bad.

See.  Nice purdy tootsies.
Would I do a pedicure again?  Eh.  Maybe.  It was nice to have them sand off the rough spots and clean things up a bit, but I spent more time trying not to focus on how much it tickled than I did actually enjoying the experience. 

After our spa treatments, The Wife and I headed over to Old Chicago and enjoyed a nice burger and fries.  Good stuff.  She's out at an evening class now, but for a day off work, I couldn't have asked for more.  It was a great day.  I love ya hon!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All Snow and No Sun Make Eric Go CRAZY!

Sure.  I've done my share of complaining about Minnesota winters.  But, I'm at the point now where I'm so anxious to get outside that I'm starting to get twitchy.

When winter first took over, way back in November, it was actually kind of nice.  It ruffled up my training schedule and gave me a change of pace that freshened things up a bit.  For cycling, it put me on the trainer for the first time since last March.  I started doing high-intensity interval sessions on DVD and felt like I was getting a better workout with a 1-2 hour indoor ride than many of my 3-4 hour outdoor rides.  Plus, I didn't have to clean all the crud off my bike when I was done.

On the running side, I got to do some cold weather runs.  Sometimes it was pleasant to enjoy a quiet run and just listen to the crunch-crunch-crunch of my feet hitting the snow.  There was also a twisted part of me that enjoyed the looks on drivers' faces when they saw me running in the below-freezing weather, or the "seriously dude, are you crazy?"  looks on my friends' faces when I told them I just went for a run through the tundra.  At the gym, the treadmill was new again.  It was nice to run while listening to music, or even better, while watching Jeopardy!

But, all this is starting to wear a little thin.  I'm tired of it taking 20 minutes to get dressed for a run.  I'm tired of frozen cheeks, chapped lips, runny noses and the ever-present risk of freeze-drying my bits 'n' pieces.  Trainer rides are getting old.  The view never changes.  I've done all of my Spinervals multiple times over.  I can't get Coach Troy's voice out of my head.  "Keep your tempo up?"  Really!?!  "On this next set, you're going to stand up?"  Bite me.

Granted, none of this has actually caused me to stop working out.  For some reason, I'm still motivated to train just as much now as I did at this time last year, and even more than last fall.  I've got goals, and still have plenty of room for improvement.  I had better do the work now, so I can be faster later.  I like the work.  I like that training every day is tough.  Sometimes tough feels good.  Lately though, it's just getting harder and harder to focus on the silver lining rather than the big, ugly cloud. 

Maybe it's the competition that I miss.  Through last year, there was an average of one race/event per month to focus on.  My next race is scheduled for the end of April.  That means there are still 2 1/2 months to go before I can scratch that competitive itch.  Maybe one of the local indoor tris is the answer; or maybe there's a 10K or 1/2 marathon that needs another entrant.  At the very least, it'll shuffle things up a bit.

Sorry about the rant.  I know this isn't the usual cheery post that usually grace this blog.  But, the nice thing about my blog is that it's MY BLOG.  So, where I go, it goes.  Now, I don't want to make it sound like life is all doom and gloom.  Cripes.  If the biggest thing I have to gripe about is a lack of workout motivation, then things must be going pretty well.  The next thing you know, I'll be complaining about how my aero helmet messes up my hair, how my running shoes don't match my socks, or how my clothes are giving me weird tan lines.  Though, on second thought, I do kinda like the weird tan lines.

Fret not.  I will be back soon with a more uplifting post.  Maybe it'll be food related.  Maybe it'll be funny.  Or, maybe it'll be something I haven't even considred yet.

I'll keep you guessing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

2011's Race Schedule

Well, the big news today is that I finally signed up for my first race of 2011.  Oddly enough, it will likely be one of my last races of the year.  That's right.  This October, I'll be attempting the Twin Cities Marathon.  This will be my first try at a marathon.  Now, I know what you're thinking: "Wait.  Didn't you do a marathon during the Ironman last year?".  Well, yes, I suppose so.  But, this time around it'll be nice to run that distance without all that hoo-ha with the 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike beforehand.

Anyway.  That's what my season will be leading up to, but there's plenty to do between now and then.  At the end of April, The Wife and I will be doing the Get in Gear race together.  Last year, she did the 5K while I lead the cheering crew.  She's planning to do the 5K again, and I'm aiming to to the 10K.  We did a triathlon relay a couple of years ago, but this will be the first time where we're on the course at the same time.  In fact, with the way that they're timing the starts of the two races, I'm hoping we can finish at pretty close to the same time.  It'll be cool.

In May, I'll be doing the Ironman Bike Ride in Lakeville, MN.  This will be my 4th time around with this ride.  Weather has always been a big question mark for this event.  In the past, there's been wind, rain, snow, sleet, and yes, even sneet during the ride.  I haven't decided which distance I'll be doing yet.  There's a 35-ish ride, a 68-ish ride and a century.  If I can get in some decent cycling miles this spring, then I'll aim for the century, but since it's literally the day AFTER the Get in Gear race, I may opt for the 68 mile distance instead.

The tri season starts in earnest in June.  I had such a great experience at the Liberty Triathlon last year that I just HAD to do it again.  Since my 'A' triathlon is in July (more on that in a bit) and my training plan will be starting earlier this year, I'll have quite a bit more miles under my belt in June.  So, it'll be interesting to see if I can crack off a faster time.

July will be a busy month.  Of course, I had to the Chaska Sprint Tri again.  Chaska is one of my favorite races and this will be my 3rd go at it.  A little over a week later, I'll be doing the Chisago 1/2 Iron.  This is a fairly large race just north of the Twin Cities.  It's also the only local 1/2 Iron that I haven't tried yet.  Chisago will be my 'A' race, so all of my Spring and Summer training will be leading up to this.

August will start out with Tour de Tonka.  Like, the Ironman Bike Ride, this is a community event.  So, there won't be any times, just a nice long ride.  Again, there will be a wide range of distances ranging from 16 to 100 miles.  I'm aiming to do the century ride again.  At the end of August, I'm planning to do the Maple Grove Triathlon.  This is an Olympic distance (.9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run) race and has only been around a couple of years.  Strangely, for all the races I've done over the last couple of years, this will be only my 2nd Olympic distance.  My first was Trinona way back in 2009.

I don't have any races scheduled in September.  I'll be too busy training for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 2.  Sure, I'll have built up a good running base throughout the summer, but September will have some of the longest runs before I start tapering for the marathon.

So far, it's looking to be an exciting year.  There will be plenty of familiar events and a good number of new races as well.  Everything will be local too, so there won't be any road trips.  That's cool though. There will still be plenty of opportunities to travel again.  You know, once I can convince The Wife to let me sign up for another Ironman. 

There will probably be a couple more events peppered in there too.  The Wife and I have talked about doing an indoor tri this spring, and there's always the chance of doing a few more running events next fall.  But shoot, there's already plenty on my plate for now.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Poll Results: Why did YOU visit the site?

It's been two weeks now since I first asked the question, "Why do YOU visit my site?".  I was curious because site traffic was steadily climbing, and I wanted to make sure that it wasn't due to this fancy little photo:

What's the appeal here?  I just don't get it.

Well, what would you guess happened?  I got some responses, that's what happened!

Were the repsonses what I was expecting?  Well, yes and no.  The majority of the responders know me personally, but there were a couple of first-time visitors and even a few returning readers that I haven't met yet.  Learning that felt pretty cool.  I was a little surprised to see that about 25% of you voted for the 'I Love BOOBIES!' option.  But, I know a few of the people that did, and honestly, they do REALLY love boobies.

Now, I should probably mention that my site traffic took another huge jump after I posted the poll a couple of weeks ago.  Most of them were via that infamous Google Image Search for 'balaclava'.  Since the majority of the visitors declined to participate, I've adjusted my pie graph to take into account people that were directed to my site with motives that I can only assume were less than wholesome.  Here are the adjusted results (click on the pie chart for full descriptions):


Well, I'm not going to start putting photos of naked ladies on here just to attract the perv crowd.  For now, they'll just have to settle with photos of a sweaty man in his 30s.  Hopefully, there's somewhere else they can go on the Interwebs to find naughty photos. 

In other news, I signed up for my first race of 2011 this morning, but I'll make a formal announcement for that later today when I post my full race schedule.  That's right, I finally got my act together and planned out my year.  Woohoo!  Stay tuned for more soon...