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Archive for August, 2012

I may have been joking when I said that I did speedwork with sprinter Usain Bolt, but I am serious when I say that I trained with swimmer Janet Evans. I was 12 or 13 at the time, and we trained on the same aquatic sports team. We competed against each other, and I use “competed” in the loosest sense possible, given that we were distance swimmers and in our distance races she beat me by minutes, not seconds. Hey, not that many people can say they came in second against Janet Evans! Of course she went on to become a 5-time Olympic medalist, and I went on to quit competitive swimming due to repeated sinus infections. I’m not jealous. I’m not bitter. Who’s the triathlete now, though? 😉

All that to explain that I am a competent swimmer. The swim segment ought to be the strongest part of my triathlon race, or at least my favorite part. Nope on both counts! Sunday’s swim at Zuma Beach proved I have plenty to work on. With that in mind, I reviewed several sources for open water swimming tips. These stood out as the most important for beginner triathletes like me.

1. Evaluate whether or not you will need a wetsuit. There are two reasons to wear a wetsuit: protection against the cold, and buoyancy. I find that wetsuits feel constraining and I haven’t noticed the buoyancy advantage, but I still wear one to protect against the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. I would have gone with sleeveless if the cold temperatures for local races didn’t require a full wetsuit. If you’re a beginner and you’re not quite ready to buy a suit, you can rent one. Personally I just dove right in, so to speak, and bought my own suit. I don’t know anything about WetsuitRental.com but I appreciate its Triathlon Event Water Temperatures Index for All States. It lists the past water temperatures for many popular events in the U.S. and recommends the appropriate type of wetsuit (and booties and a neoprene cap if it comes to that!) Keep in mind that some races do not allow a wetsuit, and that it’s also possible to overheat if you wear one when the water is warm.

2. Wear your goggles under your swim cap. Putting your swim cap on over your goggles will help prevent them from being knocked off by waves or other competitors. I noticed that many of the 2012 Olympic swimmers did this even though they didn’t have to contend with other swimmers around them.

3. Conquer your fear. Getting out in the open water for several trial swims is not about “practice makes perfect” so much as it’s about learning to be comfortable in the open water. You can practice form in the pool, but you need to get out in the river, lake or ocean to learn how to sight and swim without a black line to follow, how to deal with waves and wind, and just plain how to get over the fear factor.

Pacific Ocean at Zuma Beach

The shore start for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon at Zuma Beach

4. Practice your start. Will you have a beach start, a diving start, or an in-water start? Each of them requires a different technique and strategy. I love an in-water start like the one at SheROX San Diego. The shore start at the freshwater reservoir for HITS Palm Springs presented a challenge, and that’s nothing compared to the shore start for Nautica Malibu. I’ve got to work on running into the water, diving under the waves to swim out to the first buoy, and body-surfing back in to shore!

5. Expect to adjust your breathing. No matter the conditions in the water, at the beginning of a race the adrenaline requires me to breathe more often than I normally would. That’s something for me to work on, but in the meantime it simply helps to know that I can breathe from either my left or right side and can alternate sides when necessary. Not only is that helpful at the start, it’s helpful when you’ve got a competitor splashing close on your right or someone swimming over you on your left!

6. Train with some backstroke and breaststroke in addition to freestyle. I can swim a mile of freestyle in the pool no problem, but sometimes race day conditions make it necessary for me to change things up. A stroke or two of breaststroke can help you with sighting and help you catch your breath. I don’t recommend much of that though, because it slows you down tremendously! If you really need to catch your breath but want to keep moving forward, flip to your back for a while. With practice, I find that I’m nearly as fast on my back, and while I wouldn’t race the whole way like that, it’s helpful to catch my breath or to recover after accidentally getting a mouthful of water.

7. Practice sighting. With no black line at the bottom of the ocean, you’ve got to pick out a building or a feature on land to guide you. You can follow the buoys too, but there are multiple buoys and they make slightly moving targets. I understood the basic advice to “practice sighting” but it took me a long time to get down the technique that works for me. The key is the timing — where in your stroke you lift your head, and when in comparison to when you breathe. I pull hard with my right arm to lift my head enough for my goggles to peek above the water line, sight, then quickly turn my head left to breathe.

8. Cut yourself a break. Do not fight too hard to replicate that perfect form you have in the pool (ha ha — I wish I had perfect form). Enjoy the moment. You are out there doing something many others are afraid to do.

For more tips, check out these Expert Open Water Swimming Tips for Ocean Swims.

Do have any open water swimming tips? Do you love the swim portion of a triathlon or is it your nemesis?

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After a prior postponement due to child illness, my family and I made it out to Zuma Beach on Sunday along with what seemed like half the population of Southern California. The roads were crowded with people fleeing the inland heat, but the beach itself was fine. Malibu has 21 gorgeous miles of coastline and there was room for everyone!

You see the beautiful Pacific Ocean view at Zuma Beach in Malibu, but I see the intimidating waves I’d need to conquer on my open water swim!

Before I could get too nervous about practicing the one-mile open water swim for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, I wiggled my way into my wetsuit and posed for the camera because wetsuits are so flattering (not!)

Smiling through the fear

The first challenge in the water was getting out past the two sets of waves that pounded the shore. On my first attempt, I made it past the first set but was still getting hammered by the second set that was farther out. I headed back to shore and consulted with my husband and Chief Safety Officer, who advised me to swim out an additional 50 feet or so to get free of the worst of the waves. It took some guts to get back in the water.

Once I made it past that second line of onslaught, Poseidon rewarded me with the sight of two dolphins swimming past me! They looked so big that my first thoughts were: “Dolphins! Amazing! Wow, those dorsal fins are huge. Wait, are those really dolphins? Could they be sharks?! Does anyone else see them?! Do I look like a tasty seal in my black wetsuit?” After my heart stopped racing I just hoped my kids had gotten to see the dolphins swimming with their mom (with the kids’ mom, me, not the dolphins’ mom, and yes they did see the dolphins. The kids saw them. You know what I mean).

The swim was harder than any I have done before. That was my ninth time in open water, after two times in a protected cove off Catalina Island, three times in choppy Mission Bay in San Diego, once off Silver Strand Beach at Coronado Island, once in freshwater Lake Cahuilla near Palm Springs, and once at Corona Del Mar State Beach.

Because the swim proved so tough, I learned a lot. (1) Strap your goggles on tighter, silly, this is the Pacific Ocean! (2) Dive under the waves that are trying to tumble you in the washing machine. (3) Learn to identify dophin fins vs. shark fins. (4) Stop trying to fight the ocean and just swim! (5) Alter your breathing pattern to fit the conditions. I finally determined that I did the best by breathing to my left side, every two strokes, rather than my usual alternating sides every three strokes. It helped me manage my feeling of hyperventilating, and it allowed me to keep tabs on the waves and avoid being swamped.

I can’t say it was a fun experience, but it was an empowering one! I made it the whole 1.5K and now I know that if I can do it in those winds and high waves in the afternoon, I can do it in what I hope is the relative calm on the morning of race day.

I am so grateful that my family supported me with a trip out there. We made a mini-vacation out of it and treated ourselves to dinner on the patio at this family-friendly place:

Thumbs-up (or claws-up?) to the Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market

followed by gelato at Grom Gelateria, also in Malibu. I don’t have a photo of my yummy vanilla gelato because I was too busy inhaling it savoring its wonderful flavor.

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These 10 tips for eliminating excuses not to exercise go beyond the traditional advice to lay your workout clothes out the night before, set your alarm across the room, exercise first thing in the morning, or carry your bike pump on the bike. These tricks have saved me more than once and kept me on track (so to speak) with my marathon and triathlon training.

1. Memorize a basic strength training routine that does not require any equipment. I cannot count the number of times my workout plan has been derailed by the weather, lack of transportation, or a sick child who needs to stay home in bed. After doing the series of strength training exercises laid out in Train Like a Mother just a couple of times, I found that I could do the exercises on my own, anywhere, anytime. You can watch a video demonstration online of How to Get Ripped Like a Mother. Sometimes when I am supervising my children on the playground at a park, I will do triceps dips on the park bench, pushups on the grass, and crunches on the rubber safety turf on the playground! Before I know it I’ve gotten in a 20-30 minute comprehensive strength training workout with no equipment required.

2. Keep headphones in your pocket or purse. If you can’t bear to run without your tunes but suddenly your iPod is dead, what can you do? Use those headphones to plug in at the gym, or download a free library book on tape to a media card in your smartphone. If those aren’t options, swim in the pool (I have found an outdoor pool that plays music!) or choose a local trail and enjoy some people-watching while you log some “unplugged” miles!

3. Pack your workout bag with alternatives. The other day I drove 20 minutes to the bike trail only to find that I couldn’t inflate my front bike tire with my bike pump (note to self: repair tire valve stem; check tire inflation at home). Because I’d worn my running shoes and not my slip-on shoes that I normally wear before changing into my cycling shoes, I was able to salvage the workout with a 4-mile run on the trail. Stay flexible with your plan by packing your swimsuit in your running bag, and bringing your running shoes when you plan to bike.

4. Keep extra sunscreen and toiletries in your gear bag. Perhaps you’ve driven to the gym on your day off only to find it unexpectedly closed for the holiday. If you’ve packed sunscreen with you, you can take your workout outside instead. Just don’t store that sunscreen in your car — the heat degrades the sunscreen, reducing its effectiveness.

5. Research your workout alternatives. You can rescue a workout by knowing in advance what your alternatives are. If you’ve arrived at the gym only to find the pool closed due to a baby’s “accident,” instead of swearing “SH!T” and going home, hit that local city pool that charges a small one-time usage fee. Keep a list of bike and running trails and local parks.

6. Store hairbands on your key chain. This tip applies to long-haired ladies (and men like my husband!), and fathers with girls who are active in sports. I use a carabiner to clip hairbands to my keys, but you can hook the bands right on the keychain too.

7. Invest in some face wipes. After a recent workout I was so sweaty that I could literally wring sweat drops out of my clothes. I can hardly wait to change clothes and clean myself up after a tough workout. If I have errands to run or someplace to be before I can get in a shower, I use face wipes to do a temporary cleanup job. I like Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes with White Tea.

8. Plan for injury. If you’re sidelined by injury from your normal routine, learn to shake it up with cross-training and strength training. With your doctor’s okay, try low-impact aqua-running in the pool, or train on the bike for an upcoming running race (yes it’s possible — check out Train Like a Mother, mentioned above).

9. Keep extra water and snacks in your car or gym bag. Not only is it good emergency planning, keeping extra bottles of water and a snack like graham crackers, nuts or granola bars can fuel an impromptu workout.

10. Cut yourself a break. When all else fails, embrace a rest and recovery day. Use the time to readjust your workout plan for the week to make up for the day. Most importantly, adjust your mental attitude. DO NOT let today’s rest make you feel like you’ve fallen off the wagon, so you might as well not exercise the next day either. That is no excuse! It’s even more important that you exercise the next day. Use your rested body to power out a faster, harder workout than ever!

What tips do you have for motivating yourself to get the day’s workout in no matter what life throws your way? Have you ever rescued a workout by having a backup plan? Once, when I had just 30 minutes before I needed to pick up my toddler at preschool, I ran around the lake path at a nearby park. Nothing unusual about that, except I was wearing jeans at the time! Can’t stop me! 😉

FTC disclosure: Affiliate links support this blog at no cost to you and do not affect the opinion of FitFunMom.

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stack of pancakes with syrup

I could eat this photo by Alicia Solario

You know what the hardest part of a long Saturday run is? It’s not the early morning wake up, the Southern California 76 degree heat even at 7 a.m., the 86 degree heat by the time I finished, the 11 miles on the road, or the smell of exhaust from the lawn mowers and leaf blowers. It’s the smell of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. I don’t even eat bacon, but it smells heavenly when all you’ve had to eat is half a banana and you’re eight miles into a run. There ought to be a law, or at least a principle of honor, that dictates that anyone who makes pancakes on a Saturday morning on a well-traveled running route must set out an extra plate, preferably with a side of real maple syrup. Listen up politicians. Here’s your new campaign slogan, free of charge: Pancakes for Everyone! The world would be a better place.

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Putting my marathon race goals out there for everyone to see intimidates me. I know that saying them out loud makes me no more or less likely to achieve them. I will put in the hard work of training. I will do my best to rest for recovery, eat well, and stay healthy. With a little luck thrown in, I will show up well-trained and injury-free on race day. Then it’s a matter of seeing how the cards fall that morning.

Which of these goals will I achieve? Does it make it any less of an accomplishment if I don’t achieve them all? (Remind self on race day: the answer is no — if you achieve any of these goals, you should be thrilled and proud and ready to strive for the next goal at the next race!)

5. Finish the race. I know all too well that the goal with any race, and particularly a new running race distance, is to finish. No DNS, no DNF = win! An automatic PR! Better yet, finish without injury and you’re golden even without a spot on the podium.

4. Finish in under 4:30. That would be a darn respectable time.

3. Finish in under 4:10. Now we’re talking.

2. Finish in under 4:04. That’s what the McMillan Running Calculator and other pace calculators predict I can do based on my half marathon time — somewhere in the range of 4:04 and 4:02.

1. Sub-4! There’s a big difference between 4:04 and 3:59:59. Some (including the authors of Run Less, Run Faster) would say it’s not wise for me to push the pace and try to break four hours. Perhaps they are right, and “they” can tell me they told me so on race day. I am content to strive for my highest goal. My training thus far proves that the goal is on target. Using the Run Less, Run Faster plan and assuming a marathon pace of 9:06, I am able to meet the prescribed times for the track repeats, tempo runs and long runs. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, I’ve-put-it-out-there-don’t-smite-me-now, I will achieve one or more of my goals at my first marathon less than three months from now!

Do you set one or more goals for yourself for a race? How has that played out for you in past races? I broke 30 minutes in my first 5K as an adult. I completed my first 8K and 10Ks without injury (I set a low bar on those races!), and I reached my highest goal of a sub-2 for my first half marathon.

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Oh my goodness, I am about to bring women everywhere a valuable public service announcement. If you’ve ever wished you could pee standing up, here is your cure for penis envy.

It’s the Shewee, the hilarious yet oh-so-practical female urination device for the athlete on the go! You pull aside your underwear, place the Shewee securely to your body, aim away from your feet, complete your business, shake dry and place the Shewee back in its case or a resealable bag. Here’s the illustration from the company in case you’re having trouble picturing it:

Right off the bat I can see at least three uses for this for female athletes:

1. To avoid having to sit on the nasty seat at the race porta potties.
2. To pee discreetly while on the race course without having to wet oneself or wait in line at an all-too-rare porta potty on the course.
3. To finally be able to write your name in the snow.

Why had I never heard of this before?! Apparently this is only one of several brands of such devices on the market. Another reusable brand folds up compactly, and there are disposable, cardboard versions, too.

So ladies, let’s get down to business. Would you use the Shewee? Have you tried it or something like it? Have you ever squatted in the bushes at a race? Have you ever wet yourself (on purpose) while running, just to save valuable race time? 

FTC disclosure: Amazon.com links support this blog at no cost to you and do not affect the opinion of FitFunMom.

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All summer long I have been working on a fun project that promotes good nutrition, an interest in geography, and a broader world view. See this map?

World Map

World map with flags for recipes from various countries

It’s hanging in my kitchen. Those little yellow flags represent meals I have cooked from countries around the world. My kids get involved in the selection and preparation of the meals (a tip I have found that works wonders for making children more likely to try something new!) My 10-year-old read the Percy Jackson series and asked for a meal from Greece, so we made Greek salad with homemade Greek dressing. Then she read The Red Pyramid also by Rick Riordan and we made koshary from Egypt.

Many of the recipes we’ve made have been inexpensive, vegetarian, and easy to prepare. We’ve made a broad range of recipes using whole foods and a wide variety of spices, which I believe contributes to good health. From the cookbooks The Best Recipes in the World and Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook, we’ve made pumpkin soup from Venezuela, scalloped corn from Paraguay, African meatballs from Chad, rutabaga pudding from Norway, red curry from Thailand, and outback damper from Australia, just to name a few. Several of the recipes we pulled from Allrecipes.com for free:

Canada: Firefighter’s Meatloaf
China: Steamed Buns with Barbecue Pork, Egg Rolls (I left out the ground beef and MSG, and baked them not fried, and made this Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce for them)
New Zealand: Pavlova
South Africa: Milk Tart, Yellow Rice

Finally, I couldn’t forget our great state of California: California Rolls (we replaced the imitation crab with shredded carrots)

Not everything has been a huge success, but several of the meals have become family favorites. When a child turns her nose up at a meal, she knows the house rules. You don’t have to eat it, you don’t even have to try it, but if you don’t want it, you make yourself your own dinner. Even the four-year-old can pour herself a bowl of cereal and milk or use the toaster with supervision. Dinnertime should not be a battle — it should be fun!

The kids help locate the country or state on the map and push in the flag pins, often on the capital city. If we have time, we look up pictures from the country on the internet. During the meal, we talk about our travels if we have been there, or daydream about the trips we’d like to take some day.

Want to recreate this project? We bought the map on Amazon.com, mounted it with spray glue to three foam core boards, then framed it with molding from Home Depot. Here are some of the products I used: Giant World MegaMap, Large Wall Map, Non-Laminated 48×77, The Best Recipes in the World cookbook, Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook, Yellow Rectangle Map Push Pins.

Do you have a favorite world recipe?

FTC disclosure: Affiliate links support this blog at no cost to you and do not affect the opinion of FitFunMom.

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