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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Swimming - Three lessons in, sinking averted

I've come a long way in three weeks!

OK, it's only a 25m pool.

OK, I can't do more than 100m without stopping to gasp for air and catch my breath.

OK, so Ironman is 3800m.

I can stop to gasp 38 times, right? No? :)

The triathlon swimming lessons are from this guy from Iron Motivation, he's a really good instructor. Even without personal instruction I'm getting a lot out of it. If you're in Whitby, Ontario, I can't recommend him enough... and it's through the Rec Center, so it's really reasonably priced.

He breaks down the drills so you're focusing on one thing at a time - kicking, breathing, arm movement, floating, etc. It's helped a lot, each piece is coming a bit more naturally and I'm starting to get what I'm supposed to feel when it all comes together.

A few equipment notes.

I thought all I needed was a swimsuit and a positive attitude. Nope.

Swimsuit - I use my old floppy one, but a lot of people have tight fitting ones or these special triathlon ones that you can swim in AND run and bike. Once I'm convinced I can swim I'll invest in something like that.

Goggles are absolutely mandatory. Everyone's got them, and for me it made an enormous difference. Not having to concern yourself with searing pain in your eyes lets you concentrate more on important things.

Nose plugs are not as essential, but I plan to get them anyway. Water keeps going up my nose and into my sinuses, it's sucky. I smell chlorine when I sniffle for days after swimming, yuck.

Swimming Caps seem popular, but I don't think my hair is what is slowing me down at this point. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to go bald before I have to wear the head condom.

So that's it! I'll keep posting what I learn and hopefully I learn enough to pull off a give-it-a-tri without drowning. :)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

How I lost weight

I took in less calories than I consumed.

It's that simple.

Step 1: find out how many calories your body needs in a day.

At the time, I wasn't very active, my requirement was 2600/day. Being active means getting to eat more! :)

Step 2: decide how fast you want to lose weight

Every 500 calories you take off per day translates into 1 pound of weight loss per week. I chose to target 2 pounds per week, putting me on a 1600 calorie/day diet.

Everything I've read suggests that 1200/day is the absolute minimum to get your nutritional requirements met - I wouldn't even go that low. And if you're active then make sure you account for calories burned in your activities. I also took a multivitamin to make sure I was covered.

Step 3: Come up with a way to count calories

I had a strip of paper with boxes on it, each box representing 100 calories I was allowed to eat. When I ate calories, I would rip off boxes. 500 calories, 5 boxes. No boxes left? Stop eating.

The trickier part is often finding how many calories are in the food you eat. I used this site for most basic items, it's fairly complete. Most fast food places have nutritional information available on request. Sometimes, you have to make an educated guess.

I had a postal scale I used at home to measure portions. Portion control is critical.

Step 4: plan for cheating

It's impossible to go months and never go over 1600 calories/day. You'll have birthday parties, you'll go out with friends, etc. So plan for it. I allowed myself to have my full 2600 calories in a day twice a week, usually Saturday and Sunday. This let me let loose enough to stick to it.

Decide in advance of what you will allow yourself in terms of cheating. Make a rule, otherwise you'll cheat more than you should.


- Tell people about it! Once people know what you're doing, you'll feel extra pressure to actually do it.

- Don't let others derail you. They will tell you that calorie counting doesn't work because your metabolism will slow down. This is a dangerous 1/2 truth... metabolism can slow down, but I've calculated it out based on information I found here. At worst, it would slow your metabolism by 200 calories, at best it wouldn't slow at all. Either way, you will still be losing weight. Exercise can often keep the metabolism high to offset any effect, and it burns calories. Win win! :)

- Weight yourself daily at the same time. It's best do do it first thing in the morning when you climb out of bed. You'll have daily fluctuations of a pound or even two, so don't get upset if you're doing everything right and your weight goes up a pound for a day. And get a good scale, a digital one.

Keeping it Off

The best thing about counting calories is what you learn. I'm very aware of where calories are hiding and how to avoid them, even though I'm not counting any longer. I've maintained the portion sizes I used during my weight loss. And I've kept exercising, in fact I've turned myself into an athletic person where I used to be a couch potato.

GOOD LUCK! I think anyone can do this. It's not as easy as the fad diets, but unlike fad diets this works and can be part of a bigger lifestyle change.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dressing for Winter Running

The biggest challenge with running in the winter is dressing properly. With the right layers you can run in just about any temperature.

Now, I'm not in Winnipeg or anything, our winters here in Toronto are pretty mild compared to most of Canada... but it can still get pretty cold. And since I'm doing a 1/2 marathon in February, I want to make sure I'm ready for anything, so I make a point of going out on the coldest days.

At around 0 degrees Celsius:

- Technical T-shirt, short sleeve
- Running wind-proof jacket, no lining
- Cycling gloves, no lining
- Running tights
- Normal socks
- Normal shoes

At about -5:
- Lycra head covering thing, thin

At about -8:
- Toque instead of lycra head covering
- Add athletic face covering thing (covers nose, cheeks, and neck)

At colder than -10:
- Long Johns (MEC sells good thing ones)
- Replace technical T-shirt with a long-sleeve jersey with a lining
- Replace cycling gloves with winter gloves

I've run in as cold as -15C without much trouble with that arrangement.

Some complications:


Today it was -4, which is easy, right? But I didn't account for the -15 windchill... I was about 2k into my 20k run when I had to turn around, my face was just too cold. Ended up with my -10 set-up, except without the long-sleeve jersey (kept the short-sleeve technical shirt). Completed the 20K without any issues, perfectly comfortable and warm!


Snow is usually OK, as long as it's cold enough not to melt when it hits you... but rain can change the equation wildly. Once you're wet, the heat from your body dissipates very quickly, and you freeze.

I still haven't figured out what to do about wet feet, either... hit a few puddles and you're miserable in a hurry. Suggestions anyone? :)


One of the worst things you can do is dress too warmly. Conventional wisdom says if you don't feel cold when you walk out the door, you have too much clothing on. Just like with rain, if you're too warm you get wet and your overheating turns to freezing in a heartbeat. The core of your body heats up, as long as you keep dry and free of wind it's not necessary to pile on thick layers.

-20 and below...

I haven't had the opportunity to run in -20... maybe this year! I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dealing with ITBS

ITBS is IT Band Syndrome, and it's very common in runners. The pain is usually on the outside of your knee. It's caused either by overuse or biomechanical problems (ie. bad shoes, etc).

This is what worked for me. I'm not a medical professional, you should consult one before doing anything, as well as to troubleshoot the cause of your problems!

Don't Run in Pain

Don't try to run through it. If it hurts, stop. Immediately. Every little bit you run with the IT rubbing the knee does damage, and it can take weeks and weeks to get better. In my case, I ran in a duathlon while it was a problem, it hurt for the last 2.5k run and that set me back about 6-8 more weeks. Bad idea.

I had excellent luck with cycling, no pain even when my ITBS was at its worst. There's also swimming, or running in the pool (less impact). I took a complete break from running... other people are able to keep running short distances pain-free, but the key is to stop before the pain starts.

Ice and Ibuprofen

... for when it hurts.


I have had the most luck with this one... you really need to feel it on the outside of your leg, if you don't then move your torso forward (from the waist up) once you're bent over.

Even when I'm not having ITBS problems I do this stretch for prevention.


Buy a pool noodle, lie on it, and roll with all your weight resting on the noodle. Roll from the hip to the knee, slowly, and if you get to a point where it hurts stop and take the pain. Yes, this hurts, especially if your case is acute, but it helps get that IT band loose. I still do this when it starts feeling tight on me, seems to help a lot.

Slow Return to Running

For me, I had to start almost from scratch... 2K run-walks. It was ugly, but whenever I tried to do more it would flare back up. I maintained my fitness through cycling, and now I'm back to my normal running and distances.

The key word is patience.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sinking lessons

So swimming is really not my thing...

The good:

I bought goggles, that helped a lot... my eyes are one less thing to pay attention to! I was able to do the breathing drills a little more easily at the start.

The bad:

I was kicking and kicking and not moving very fast... I managed to get the hang of it a bit by pointing my toes (like a bad ballerina) but then my feet started cramping up! More practice required.

And by the end, my breathing was back to gasping and spitting out water, not to mention water up my nose... I can still smell the chlorine!

The ugly:

The older gentleman next to me lost his trunks on the way out of the pool. Fortunately, he didn't get out of the water before realizing it, stopping, and yanking them up!

More practice coming up! And tightly tied trunks! :)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A healthy diet can include one (or four) pieces of cake

It was my daughter's birthday today... pizza, pop, cake...

Mmmm! :)

I did a 10K run before the party, so I don't feel quite so bad. From the calculators I've used, I burn about 80 calories a kilometer, so around 800 calories. That should have offset the cake at least! Not so sure about the 4 pieces of pizza or the root beer...

Rest week is officially over, so back to the grind. I have a 20K LSD planned, and would like to have my weekly mileage land around 40-45K.

LSD goals for the next bunch of weeks:
rest week
1/2 marathon (Peterborough)
rest week
rest week
Around the Bay (30K)
rest week
Paris to Ancaster (mountain bike)
taper week
taper week
Mississauga marathon

Any comments would be appreciated... I think I have enough rest in there, and enough mileage. It's a tough balance, especially when you have events you really don't want to miss!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The 2008 Marathon Plan

I plan to run a marathon in 2008.

Current goal: Mississauga Marathon - May 11, 2008

I'm taking a fairly unstructured approach to my preparation. I'm planning my LSDs in advance, but other than that I'm trying to listen to my body and push myself accordingly.

I'm sticking to a few rules of thumb.

Never increase LSD more than 10% per week

The temptation is always there to push harder and go farther... but I'm really trying to stick to no more than 10% increases in my LSD. I'm a bit less strict about my weekly mileage, if I feel OK I may go over the 10% increase.

If you increase your mileage more than 10%, you risk injury. Been there, done that.

Rest a few days a week, and have one light week ever month

It's so easy to get overzealous and push too hard. I completely rest 2 days a week - no running, no cross-training - to let my body heal.

Every 4th week, I replace my LSD with a run around 50% of my last LSD, then go back to increases the next week. I read that this allows your body to more fully heal itself and get used to all of the new mileage.

Run at least 3 times a week

I'm training for a marathon, so I need to run. Three times is a minimum for me, usually I do 4, sometimes 5. When I only do 3, I compensate by cross-training the other days.

Above all! Listen to your body!!!

This is the most important thing I've learned. If I'm hurting, I skip the run and do something else. It's not worth risking injury.

So what are my goals?

December: 18K - done!
January: 24K
February : 26K (+ Peterbourgh 1/2 marathon)
March: 32K (+ Around the Bay 30K Road Race)
April: 33K (+ Paris to Ancaster 60K Mountain Bike race)
May: Mississauga Marathon!

Yes, that is a Mountain Bike Race stuck in the middle... toward the end of my training I would like to introduce more cross-training to avoid running injuries, while maintaining my ever-increasing LSDs. It's a bit unusual, but I'm a cyclist first and foremost, so I think this will work for me.

I'll keep posting on where I'm at! Eventually with less frequency, but right now I'm a new and excited blogger. ;)

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Ironman Plan

Ironman is still 3+ years away, but now is the time to lay the foundation. These are the milestones I am working towards.

Cycling - Century Ride - Complete!
I completed a metric century (100km) in 2006, then followed it up with a full century 160km (100 miles) in Fall 2007. Every year I set my cycling goals a little higher, but this year I want to just improve my form for the century and work on speed. Last year I stuck with the 30km/h group, until I had a flat tire and lost the group. Final average was around 28km/h, so this year I want to be in (or beat!) the 30km/h.

Running - Full marathon - Target: 2008
I plan to run my first full marathon this year, either in the spring or fall. My goal is sub-4:00 for the first one... slow for most runners! Right now, my focus is on running the distance, but I plan to work on my running pace through 2009, by dropping weight and training for speed.

Triathlon - Give-it-a-Tri distance - Target: 2008
I haven't swam in a lake in about, oh, 15 years... and my swimming needs a lot of work. So this year I want to do my first triathlon, just to get my feet wet and understand the sport better.

Duathlon - International Distance - Target: 2008
This varies from event to event, but most likely I will do the Coubourg one again. Last year I did the Sprint distance duathlon, which was :
5km Run | 20km Bike | 2.5km Run

This year I plan to do the International distance:
10km Run | 40km Bike | 5km Run

That's about 3 hours of work... well short of the 17 hour time limit for Ironman! But a good challenge anyway.

Triathlon - Ironman 70.3 - Target: 2009?

Muskoka (Ontario) has an Ironman 70.3 event now:

The distances are half that of the full Ironman. This is an obvious milestone for completing the full distance! I would like to do this a few times before I attempt the full distance. There are other 1/2 Ironman races out there as well.

How I'll meet these goals

Cycling - ride ride ride. Put on the miles, bring down my times, I have a pretty good handle on how to get better on the bike.

Running - run run run! I'm building up mileage for the events by doing a long run (LSD) every week, with mid-week runs focusing more on speed (tempo runs). When I'm done the marathon I'll maintain my base, and keep a 15-20k weekly run so I'm always ready to get back into it full-throttle.

Swimming - I don't have a good handle on where I'm at yet, let alone how to improve... so right now I'm taking the swimming lessons and learning some of the basics. It's very weak for me, but I don't think I'd be the first person to swim terribly and finish Ironman if it came down to it. I really want to get better at this though, so I will practice until I get it right. I'd imagine this means some hours in the pool.

Goal for Ironman
Right now? Finishing in the 17 hours seems incredible... so I'll set the goal a little closer to the time!

Around the Bay 30K Road Race, Hamilton

I have signed up for the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton.

They first ran it in 1894, making it the oldest race in North America! Over 5,000 people will run the 30k around the Hamilton Harbour.

For training, I plan to get in a few LSD (long slow distance) runs around 25k before the race. I'll also be doing the Peterborough 1/2 marathon about a month prior.

Goal: sub-3:00

If I reach my goal, I will do the Mississauga marathon in May. If I don't, then I will wait until the spring to do my first full marathon. Stay tuned... :)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Running on Empty

I had good luck early in my running with heading out in the morning on an empty stomach. Found the energy somewhere and managed to get through the runs. In fact I'd even read that it can be beneficial... after a good night's sleep, your glycogen stores are drained, so your energy is coming entirely from fat!

Up at 5.30, running by 5.45, showering by 6.30... Perfect.

Tried it today for the first time since before Christmas. WOW. What a surprise. I had no pace... was supposed to do a 6K tempo run, which for me means running at about 5:20/km... I couldn't touch it, was closer to 5:45/km or slower, almost LSD pace.

Lesson learned. Body needs fuel. I'll be taking a bottle of Gatorade to make up for my depleted glycogen from a good night's sleep. Might scarf down a granola bar or something too.

I may not burn as much fat as I could, but if I can't run at a higher intensity I might as well stay in bed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New digital scale says...

My wife bought me a new digital scale. Looks very shiny and accurate.

Unfortunately... I weight 194lbs, not the 190lbs I was mislead to believe by my old scale.

I exercise a lot, I have for a few years, and what I've learned is that if you don't change your diet you will not lose weight. I was biking 100+ km a week and was still putting on pounds... your body knows it's burning fat and makes sure to signal you to eat eat eat.

I need to drop the pounds before I start running for longer distances. It would lessen the impact on the joints, especially knees. And moving around less weight burns fewer calories.

Except first, I'm going for a few pints with some buddies... hot wings mandatory... weight loss can start tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Peterborough Half Marathon - 2008

I've signed up for the Peterborough half marathon again this year.

It's in February... last year it was around freezing and clear, quite pleasant, but it could just as easily be -20c, you never know until the week of the race. Flat and fast, I don't think there's a hill on the entire run. Not very scenic, but well organized and works out where with where my fitness will be in Feb.

2007 time: 2:07
2008 target: sub-1:55

2007 was my first half marathon and my first year of running... so it wasn't too terrible, but I ran out of gas at about 3/4 distance... I really didn't prepare enough.

2008 will be different! I'm mentally prepared to do it right, and physically I'm in much better running shape.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Triathlon Swimming Lessons: Day 1

OK, simple task - hang on to the edge of the pool, put your head under, blow out water slowly, then pop up. Repeat 20 times.

I put my head under the water, and start to blow. I stop. I didn't want to stop, I just stopped.

Pop head up.


Blow. Stop. I don't get it, I still have air in my lungs, but my body has no interest in letting it go.

I got it going a bit after some practice, but not exactly feeling like 3.8km is right around the corner... :)

No bright spots really, my swimming is weak in just about every category.

The 235 pound Marshmallow Man wants to be an Ironman?

I'm Jon. I was once a 235 pound couch potato. Now my goal is to be an Ironman.

Why? Why not? If that Andy dude on the Bachelor can do it, why can't I? Sure, he's in the Navy, I sit behind a desk all day... he's not married, I have 3 kids.

In Ironman you have to swim 3.8km. You then hit the bike for 180km. Then you run a full marathon (42.2km).

Oh, and you have to do it all in 17 hours or less.

How hard could that possible be? :)

So here's where I'm at.

Weight: down to 190lbs over the last few years, mostly due to cycling and dietary changes. Good-bye pizza, hello whole wheat pitas and hummus. I'm 6'-0", so I still have a good 15 pounds I could lose, that's part of my goals.

So now on to the athletic stuff...

Cycling: Completed century ride, 100 miles (160km) in the fall. Been cycling for a few years, this is where I'm most comfortable.

Running: Started last year, completed a 1/2 marathon (21.1km).

Swimming: I can swim across the pool. And back. Then I stop and gasp for air.

So that's my introduction. I think the earliest I could possibly get there is 2010, but I don't want to just do it to do it, then drag myself across in 16:59 and call it done. I want to do it well. So that means a few 1/2 Ironman distances first (Ironman 70.3), and that's not happening this year...

I'll track my progress here, share my successes, my inevitable failures, and I hope to have a neat blog to look back at to read every step in the journey!

I hope you enjoy it... I plan to!