December 31, 2012

(pre-)Ironman training begins

As the New Year approaches rapidly, it's time to do some planning for the 2013 athletic season; mine will certainly look very different than it has the past seven years. (Here's a great article on the importance of season planning by ironguides' Austria-based Coach Alun 'Woody' Woodward.)

For the past seven years, my race planning revolved around marathons, with 10Ks and half marathons, and the odd ultra, thrown in as preparation, finetuning, or pure fun. My training consisted of running, as did my races. I ran. Period. Choose a marathon, start specific training four months earlier. Recover at least one month. This is how I planned my seasons for the past 12 marathons, or seven years, and loved it.

2013 will be different. There will be cycling, and swimming, and yoga. And -- hopefully -- running too.

For me, this year is all about Ironman Whistler, my goal race of the year, about finding the courage to start. Held on August 25, I'd like to use a 16-week race-specific preparation -- this means that real Ironman training starts on May 5.

There are another 18 weeks between today and May 5. And that's a very good thing; the last time I raced, and trained, as a triathlete was in March 2005. You can imagine that both my swimming and cycling need a little work.

One benefit of a temporary inability to run (I've been struggling with heel pain for six months after allowing myself to be guided into a high-intensity program too soon after my fastest marathon) is that it makes time-consuming triathlon training easier to manage; it's always good to look on the bright side of things.

As of January 7, I will begin swimming with the Titans; Coach Roseline Mondor Grimm leads a masters program that involves three one-hour sessions a week. Those are held on Monday evening, Wednesday evening and Friday morning, so that's the weekly swimming taken care of. These sessions also help firm up my new weekly schedule.

I don't expect to finish the one-hour whole workouts initially; the local pool has just reopened after a six-week closure for annual maintenance and upgrades. Prior to the closure on November 12, I got into the water nine times with my longest swim covering 1.5K in total.

As of this week, I plan to cycle on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with the latter reserved for the longer rides; those will all be done indoors until Spring, mostly on the windtrainer at home, though Tim and I also plan to accept a local bike store's offer to use its Computrainer sometimes.

I first got back on my bike, on the windtrainer, on October 16, before I knew I'd sign up for Ironman two days later, as I was desperate to return to some kind of training; since then I have done about two dozen spins, though only two of those happened in December -- we were away for a couple of weeks and upon our return near-daily Bikram yoga sessions have taken up most of my time and energy. Today I did my 16th Bikram session in 22 days.
Tim and I opted to buy a second windtrainer, which we did not think particularly luxurious for two Ironman triathletes training in a Canadian winter, even if only a West Coast one. Previously Tim had this toy all to himself, as I simply never used the bike I have thought of selling many times.

We got a great Black Friday deal on a Cycleops Mag+ in the Western Bikeworks store in Portland (also, Oregon has no sales tax). The bike is now set up in my office, and I like the new view from my desk.

I will continue doing yoga (I'll likely stick with Bikram), though I won't be going as often as I have in the past 22 days.I will also keep doing daily exercises to strengthen my feet, ankles and calves, and plan to add core strength exercises; the key is to develop a sustainable routine that is effective and time-efficient, and fits into the weekly schedule.

Training is all about consistency, ask any coach. Eight months is a long time to stay consistent, so it is crucial to avoid burning out before you even get to the Ironman-specific preparation phase. In the five Ironmans I did between 2002 and 2005, I found the third month of each four-month prep the hardest to sustain and I certainly wasn't alone in the squad I trained with back then.

Mental and physical fatigue can easily overwhelm the Ironman triathlete after a few months of training just a little too hard too often, breaking the willpower and ability to remain consistent in the Iron prep at a time when it is most needed.

To help break up the season and get some much-needed refreshment in tri racing, I have entered the Victoria Half Ironman on June 16; this will be my first half Ironman since I last did one, in Nieuwkoop, the Netherlands, in May 2004. (A race report on my chilly experience there, titled Triathlon Popsicle, ran on; my body had adapted to the Aussie climate by then and did not appreciate the return to water temperatures of my native land.)

For the past six months I hung in the unpleasant no-man's land of injury, suspended in the unknown, expecting to be training and racing again "soon". Planning revolved around injury treatment, while training sessions began in hope and ended in disappointment. 

In August I entered an early December marathon as I believed, as did those who treated me, that surely I'd be running by then. I still am not of course but I have made great progress; I am focusing on the things I can do and plan accordingly. It has taken me a few months to find joy in training that does not involve running, but now I am grateful for the forced change in pace.

Planning the athletic year ahead is exciting and fun -- I hope yours is taking shape too.

Wishing you a healthy, fit, happy and inspired 2013!

December 28, 2012

Update on DIY backyard cedar fence

The fence in the backyard is progressing well. As mentioned in this previous post, I am a novice carpenter so this is easy to do. I began by cladding the front of the old 4x4 posts, which did not need replacing but were a different wood, in cedar 1x4s; once the weather permits I will paint the sides of the old posts.

Then Tim and I began placing the 1x6s, three per panel. We opted to start at the far right, and spaced them 12-1/2 inches apart in height to allow for two 1x3s between each 1x6. We also chose to make them level, though the retaining wall is not; it may have been at one point but certainly no longer is.

Once the first three 1x6s were in, we matched the height of each one on the subsequent panels to the left, still using the level on each.
We had to cut the length of some of the 1x6x8s, and this prompted us to switch from the hand saw to the power mitre saw, a tool we have owned for at least three years but had not yet tried. It is actually very easy to use, though naturally you must pay attention and wear protective ear plugs and glasses.
Once the 1x6s were in place, it was time to head back to Rona. They only had 10-foot 1x3s in stock but with the power mitre saw that was not a problem. The guys were laughing at me for building a fence in winter, though I was not alone in their lumber yard; they have been very helpful including with fitting these twenty-eight 10-footers in the Pathfinder.

We used two shorter 1x3s to space them from each 1x6, an easy and surefire process to line up all boards neatly; they also only needed one screw on each side so the job of adding four 1x3s to each of the seven panels went much quicker than I had thought. (Rona suggested to allow at least 3/4 of an inch from any edge to prevent the cedar from splitting; I used one inch everywhere.)

There is more work left to do; we need to decide how to finish the top of the fence posts, which are currently very uneven, as you can tell, and possibly add another 1x3 near the ground. Again, the cedar planks are perfectly level, the retaining wall that carries them is not. On the far right side, there is a small section -- perhaps a foot wide -- that we still need to replace; if possible we may opt for a tiny gate there to allow access to the ravine.

The bigger challenge is to finish the fence on the left side as a big shed needs to be tackled first, a project we plan to attempt tomorrow. The shed, which looks more ramshackle on the outside than it is structurally on the inside, overhangs the retaining wall. It's about eight foot at the highest point. 

Both Tim and I have enjoyed demolishing and rebuilding the fence; as novice DIYers it is empowering to realize a project that had seemed too hard is actually quite manageable. I absolutely love working with cedar; it's soft yet sturdy, the colour is warm and diverse, and it smells fantastic.

And Luka isn't complaining either, as he loved playing ball in the snow between each board going up.

December 26, 2012

Running injury: a blessing in disguise

The past 12 months have been dramatic, to say the least. As a runner, I have enjoyed the highest highs and suffered the lowest lows.

2012, which marked my 17th year as a runner, began with a training regime I loved and responded well to, both mentally and physically. Everything clicked; I thoroughly enjoyed my training and saw the results in races, lowering my best times for the half marathon to 86:54 (from 88:13 in 2008) and the 10K to 39:39 (from 39:51 in 2008).

Those PRs were simply picked up along the way to my key goal -- improving my 3:06:06 marathon, set in October 2011 when I bested another 2008 PB by 64 seconds. Consistent marathon training and racing since June 2005 paid off in May this year when I ran 3:00:29 in the Vancouver marathon, a 5-1/2 minute improvement. I was on top of the world, and I knew I could go faster.

Then I made what turned out to be a critical mistake.

Instead of taking my usual time to recover, allowing at least four weeks, I embarked on a 10-week running clinic that started two weeks after the marathon. It was led by a coach I was keen to work with and I was not sure if the opportunity would come around again. It was high intensity and I ran my best times for 400m, 800m, the mile and 2 miles, all within six weeks of my fastest marathon. I also raced a 10K and a half marathon.

Not a good idea...

Increasing tightness turned into pain and six weeks later I knew something was very wrong, though did not yet have a clue about the extent of it.

I have always been extremely careful, taking care to avoid injury. I love to run, and I want to be able to do so as long as I live. Until this summer I had enjoyed nine injury-free years, during which I raced three Ironmans, 12 marathons in 3:15 and faster, completed five ultras (one 45K, two 50-milers, and two 100Ks), and a slew of other shorter running races and triathlons; I am very disciplined and work hard at staying healthy.

My success in warding off injury was part of the reason I let my guard down when I should have been most careful, and I am still suffering the consequences; I have not run for three months, and even in the prior three months my kilometres run totalled 200K at most. (That's an average of 15K a week -- in comparison, I ran at least 100K a week from July 2011 through September 2011, and again from January through April this year without any issues). I probably will not try to run again until February.

An MRI in early November (there is a two-month wait period) showed little to explain the pain in my right heel/ankle.


The healing procress has been frighteningly slow. It is only in the past couple of weeks that I am starting to feel a real difference; I can now walk the dog again without pain during or afterward. And I have been able to do Bikram yoga, eleven sessions in the past 14 days; at the start of July I had bought a 20-visit pass, valid until January 2nd, but stopped going as it aggravated the pain in my ankle/heel and I first needed to find out what was going on.

It is only now that I can truly start to picture running again, and that I am able to see the injury may prove to have been a blessing in disguise.

Bloodwork done because of my injury helped detect that my calcium was low, so I am now taking a supplement to boost it. The results also prompted my GP to recommend I take vitamin B12 and D and magnesium. (My iron levels were excellent, however).

To help the healing I also made significant changes to my diet, cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, sugar and gluten, while boosting the amount of veggies and fruit. Bread and pasta formed a huge part of my diet for years and nearly eliminating them has been enjoyable so far, even if a little challenging at first.

In October I signed up for Ironman Whistler 2013 because I needed positive motivation to swim and cycle again for the first time in more than seven years, cross training that I have been encouraged to do while the injury heals. I doubt I'd otherwise have entered what will be my first Ironman in 8-1/2 years. And by now I am excited about it, even if still scared too.

With the help of Tim, who gave me some fantastic workouts, I returned to the pool and found that I did not drown, even actually enjoyed swimming again after such a long layoff; freestyle has never been my forte. I am now comfortable enough to join the Titans' masters swim program, which offers three sessions a week; in fact, my first race of the season might be a swim meet -- gulp! -- on February 24 in Vancouver with the club.

I had hoped to start 2013 with the First Half Marathon and have until January 9 to accept a spot, but that is not a good idea, as tempting as it is.

Meanwhile, spinning on the wind trainer has also proved a welcome outlet for pent-up energy, and the Argon 18 Platinum and I have reconnected on short easy sessions of between 30 and 60 minutes so far.

The injury has forced me to work on strength and flexibility, and I can only benefit from this. The postures in Bikram confirm I have plenty of tightness, weakness and imbalance; they are pretty good at pointing out their exact location too. This also confirms, indeed strengthens, my belief that I can improve all the personal records I set this year with a stronger, more flexible and balanced body.

I hope to do another five Bikram classes before the end of the year to finish the remainder of my pass, and I certainly plan to incorporate this or another type of yoga in my training regime in 2013.

Also part of my new rourtine are specific exercises for my feet and ankles. My supportive sponsors Drs Paul Fleming and Leah Stadelmann have provided me with great strengthening exercises for my foot, aside from a slew of treatments, while Australia's Dr Daryl Phillips, the first ART therapist I ever saw because of an ITB injury in 2003, has given me superb ankle-mobilization exercises. I thank them for their ongoing support, which has been much appreciated.    

A sports med specialist in Vancouver told me that calf raises were the key to my return to running; when I last saw him on December 12, he gave me a concrete goal; when I can do three sets of 20 single calf raises with fast drops without pain, I can try a run. He estimated it might take me six weeks. He also recommended I learn to balance on the ball of each foot for 30 seconds.  

The No. 1 priority remains a return to injury-free running, period. For now, it is about Bikram, swimming and cycling, strengthening, and mobilizing. And calf raises.

December 19, 2012

Building a cedar backyard fence

The week before Christmas might not be the time most people choose to demolish and rebuild a backyard fence. But that is exactly what I am in the process of doing. 

Our house was built in the 1980s and presumably the fence was too. The wet West Coast climate takes a toll on wood and the property's fences were looking tired by the time we bought the place four years ago.

A coat of paint would help, we thought. So I painted the 60-odd feet of wood panels about three years ago. It improved the look a little but not enough, and it certainly did not stem the rotting. Last year we removed the lattice from the top panels where it had not already fallen out on its own. A cleaner look perhaps but, again, far from enough.

The whole backyard needs work. Tim has spent much time and effort trying to turn the clumps of green and dirt into proper grass, including dethatching it, but so far it has not turned into the sea of lushness we had hoped for. There is also an old shed that has seen far better days, and it is waiting to be demolished to make room for a nice patio.     

Our dog, Luka, loves to play ball in the backyard which I am sure has not helped the condition of the "lawn", as he slides after his toys to fetch them. I recently read the term "pet-scaping", landscaping with your dog (or pet) in mind, something that I'd like to look into next spring.

This summer we got a quote to redo all of the property's fences and building some new ones and, not surprisingly, it was pretty expensive. We have plenty of other projects that are screaming for funds so it is a matter of prioritizing.

In the meantime, we had been keeping an eye out for fences we like. Tim and I both like clean, modern lines. Horizontal boards provide that look.

Our backyard is about 65 feet wide. It's deep too, though a large part is taken up by a steep ravine that houses plenty of tall trees. The back fence, which sits on top of  a retaining wall of about 4-1/2 feet, is there to keep bears out of the yard, and Luka in it. As we have found, a bear has no problem jumping our fence but at least there is an extra hurdle. Privacy is not an issue, and we like the green outlook.

As another summer came and went, we were too busy with other things to tackle the fence issue. Tim and I both signed up to do Ironman Whistler in Canada next August, which there means will be little time for big home projects in May, June, July, and August of 2013. A new fence would stay on the to-do list another year.

Tired of looking at this ...
Or so we thought. Last Friday, December 14, proved a fantastic sunny day. Perfect conditions to get rid of that hideous fence; I was suddenly completely tired of looking at it -- we see it from the kitchen, Tim's office and the dining room.

Tim was initially not enthusiastic about my plan; he did not want to be without a fence for months. What was I going to replace it with, and when? My initial plan was a temporary solution, using a 50-foot roll of 4-foot-high multipurpose fence attached to the existing posts with large ties, which would be a relatively simple and easy job.

Old shed in back will soon follow ...
After a little discussion, he agreed and I set about removing most of the panels, initially six 8-foot ones. It took me 3-1/2 hours of solid work, using both sides of a claw hammer, a hand saw and a square-tipped screw driver; the time included piling the wood in the shed.

Tim went out to get some large ties to attach the new fence, which we planned to do the following day as darkness arrives before 5pm at this time of the year. At night I decided to look into lumber, check more modern fence pictures, and before long there was a new plan: a modern wood fence, either pressure-treated or cedar.

After a Saturday trip to Home Depot where the sizes in stock were not the ones I had in mind, I went to Rona on Sunday while Tim was at a bike store. Plenty of cedar 1x6x8 planks at $5.49 each. They also had 1x4x8s, but were out of 1x3x8s, though those could be ordered and arrive in five days. No 1x2x8s.

Fence post
We had decided to keep the old 4x4 fence posts to keep the job manageable; they're still sturdy and anchored to the retaining wall. Besides, they are conveniently more or less 8 foot apart, measured from mid-post to mid-post. To improve the look, we decided to clad the front with a 1x4; in spring I'll probably paint the sides of the post in the same white as the trim of our house.

For the fence panels  I decided to use three 1x6s, and then add two 1x3s between each to add some visual interest, while keeping the design simple. I have never built a fence and am a novice carpenter, after all. Gaps of 2-1/2 in between each board, plus the size of each one (all half an inch shorter than their names, i.e. a 1x6 is really 5.5 inches wide) plus a 3-inch gap from the retaining wall will add up to a height of about 47 inches. Perfect.

Back to Rona with the plan. Once Tim and I loaded the Pathfinder with 18 1x6x8s and 7 1x4x8s, it was full enough; we picked up screws and paid a total of $148; the 24 1x3x8s we'll pick up later will add another $100. Not bad for a 48-foot cedar fence.

The first task was to cut the 1x4x8s to size; the existing fence posts are all a different height. I ran each new cedar piece along a post, marking the desired height with a pen, and then brought it back inside to hand saw it to size. To avoid splitting, it helps to saw both sides of the board.

To avoid splitting, start sawing at the back for a small groove
... then move to the front to finish the job
... et voila
My rather basic "work bench"
This process for seven 1x4s took less time than I thought, and screwing them onto their posts was easy; cedar is a soft wood. I only used two screws, one near the top and one near the bottom, as there will be more once the horizontal boards will be screwed into the cladding and post.
Side view, to be painted white in spring
Front view of cladded old post
The following day Tim helped with the two-person job of getting the 1x6x8s onto the posts, using screws, square screw driver, level, and a measuring tape.

Work is progressing well. Four panels are now in place, which will later get the four 1x3s -- two between each 1x6, and possibly another 1x3 near the bottom; the boards are level, the retaining wall is not.
Four eight-foot panels are up; four 1x3s will be added later 
To be continued ...

December 13, 2012

Souvenirs from California, Oregon roadtrip

Holiday souvenirs for me typically include books and stones; and the latest travels were no exception.

Tim, Luka and I just got back from a 16-day holiday / road trip of more than 4000K that took us to California and Oregon. The main purpose of the trip was the California International Marathon, for which we both had registered. We had entered in September for this popular marathon that runs from Folsom to Sacramento, as I was then still optimistic I would be back running "soon".

We had considered flying to Sacramento for a long weekend but decided to drive so we could take the dog and see more of northern Califoria and southern Oregon, places neither of us had been. We took three days to make our way to Auburn, where we had rented a place for the week. Both Tim and I still had to work, and this made a good location to get to the marathon start on race morning.

Auburn is, of course, where the Western States Endurance Run finishes after beginning 100 miles earlier in Squaw Valley. A little ironic to stay there on a trip for which I did not even bother to pack my running shoes, as I could not use them anyway because of my injury that's now approaching six months.

On the way back north we had opted to stay for four nights at a stunning place near Port Orford on the southern coast of Oregon. Driving there from Auburn, we passed through the magnificent Redwood forests in the torrential rain that had been with us for the previous five days. We stopped at the visitors' centre of Humboldt Redwoods State Park; this is where my souvenir gathering began.

Among the neat things the centre offered was a solid selection of books; Stories in Stone was a title that caught my eye immediately. In the preface author David B Williams writes, "[W]herever I am in the world, whether strolling through downtown Boston or hiking in the Northern Cascades, rocks are the first thing I see."

On sale at $9.95, this hardover edition subtitled Travels Through Urban Geology had to come with me; as a kid I was already enthralled by rocks, and still am today.

After majoring in geology, Williams moved to Southern Utah, a great base for his explorations around Moab, "a geological paradise" he had to leave when his wife opted for a master's degree in Boston. "I hated the first few months," Williams writes.

"Where I had once traipsed through quiet sandstone canyons, surrounded by thousand-foot-tall cliffs of rock, I now walked through shadowy canyons created by buildings. Where I once hiked on desolate trails, I now crossed busy streets. For the first time in many years I felt disconnected from the natural world."

But he found a new way to connect in Boston's buildings. "Half-billion-year-old slates abutted 150,00-year-old travertines. Metamorphic rocks interfingered with igneous rocks. Fossil-rich, sea-deposited limestones juxtaposed mineral-rich, subduction-created granites. Plus, builders had gone to the effort of cleaning and polishing these fine geologic specimens, making their stories much easier to read.

"As I began to notice the stone in buildings, I found the geologic stories that could provide the connection to wildness I had lost."

Keeping an open mind to a change in life that at first seemed undesirable can lead to a new passion, or a new way to practice a long-held one. I am looking forward to reading Stories in Stone which, he writes, "offers readers a new window through with to look at urban landscapes. Intriguing cultural and natural history stories are no farther than the nearest building."

Another title jumped out at me, The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, a book  about coast redwood trees, "the largest organisms the world has ever sustained". According to the book jacket, "Preston unfolds the spellbinding story of Steve Sillett, Marie Antoine, and the tiny group of daring botanists and amateur naturalists who have found a lost world above California that is dangerous, majestic, hauntingly beautiful, and largely unexplored."

This $16 paperback came too.

Next up in terms of souvenirs were the beautiful rocks at the beaches near Port Orford where we stayed for four nights. Luka was thrilled to chase his ball in the sand, while Tim and I looked for natural treasures.

We drove home via Portland where Tim took Luka for a walk as I went to Powell's City of Books -- ahh, paradise can be overwhelming! I had half an hour, which grew to 45 minutes, and I had to make some quick decisions so I focused on one area: writing / reference as I wanted to get a copy of the latest Roget's International Thesaurus. 

Once I had that (hardcover edition for $12.93), I also brought: Thinking on Paper: Refine, Express, and Actually [really, actually in a title for a book on writing?!] Generate Ideas by Understanding the Processes of the Mind by VA Howard and JH Barton. A whopping $6.95 for what I think will be a great book. 

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser was also an easy choice ($7.95).

Lee Gutkind's 2012 You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between was my most expensive purchase at Powell's for $16.

Natalie Goldberg's Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir came too for $7.98,  as did Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel at $4.98.

The last one I was least sure of bringing, but I did for $9.95: Martin Manser's Collins Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

So many great books in one holiday  ($92 all up) ...

December 07, 2012

Vancouver Manuscript Intensive 2013

Earlier this year (in early September) I applied to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing optional residency program at UBC. I was cautiously optimistic about my chances of being accepted, though only about 20 to 25 percent of applicants are.

Alas, I just found out that the writing I chose for my portfolio did not make the cut for the 2013 program. And I am very disappointed indeed. But that's life, and there is nothing I can do about it.

It was, however, an encouraging rejection as my portfolio made the shortlist.
"This list consists of approximately 40% of the applications received and manuscripts on the shortlist are those which our faculty feel have a great deal of promise. From this shortlist, the smaller acceptance list is generated," according to UBC.
"Our decision definitely does not close the door to another application at a later date, and indeed we encourage shortlisted students to reapply. Every writer grows by revising old work and writing new material. Should you wish to try again, we would welcome your application; to make this easier we will keep your transcripts and related application materials on file for one year."

I will probably apply again next year. Unfortunately, even though understandably, there is no individual feedback on the writing submitted so I do not know which parts were considered strong and which were judged to be weak.

The rejection motivates me to work even harder on my writing.

And I have a great opportunity to do so in the next four months.

I am thrilled that the manuscript (a jumble of 50,000 words) I just wrote in November during National Novel Writing Month has been accepted into the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive 2013 program. (I committed to this program before I heard the results from my application at UBC.)

This mentorship runs from January through May, and I am very excited to be working with Claudia Casper on my manuscript during this time.

I am very serious about writing; and I take heart from the lessons learned as a runner. If you set your mind to a goal, you can do it -- you simply need to keep at it. It has taken me 16 marathons to approach my dream of running a Sub-3 42.2K, and this year I finally got close enough to know I can do it.

The injury that has halted this progress for the past six months, and still remains to be solved, has only served to motivate me even more.

Writing is more important to me than running. It is harder too.

My ultimate goal as a writer? I just want to write a damn good book, and then improve in the next one. A more measurable goal for now is that I would like to revise (most likely completely rewrite) the manuscript with the working title Out in the Wilderness under Claudia's guidance in VMI 2013, then seek publication through a traditional publisher for the first time.

I want to run, and I want to write, and I always seek to improve in both. Life is as simple and as complicated as that.