Sunday, December 30, 2012

Instant gratification not on the path to fitness

Instant gratification not found on the path to fitness

You know that person. Maybe you’ve even been that person. The one who, come spring, laments the size of her thighs and engages in drastic, crash diets to get her body “bathing suit ready,” only to be struggling to zip her jeans again by fall and dreading the upcoming holiday season with its onslaught of baked goods that will cause this scenario to repeat itself yet again, like a bizarre dieting version of the movie Groundhog Day.  

Or maybe you’re the guy who hasn’t run a mile since high school and, suddenly inspired, dusts off his old pair of Converse high tops and attempts to run sub-seven minute miles at a local 5K race, pulls a hamstring or injures a knee, and, as a result, retreats to the couch, swearing off exercise again as a foolish, even dangerous, pursuit. 


While these sudden bursts of motivation are clearly born of good intentions, a key factor is being overlooked. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”

Change takes planning, patience and perseverance. Even new mothers who are anxious to drop the weight gained during pregnancy are reminded that “nine months up, means nine months down.”

Achieving weight loss and fitness is not easy; if it were, everyone would do it. In this age of instant gratification, the idea of not immediately getting what we want exactly when we want it, has little appeal. But instant gratification is overrated, lacking the true satisfaction that comes from achieving results through hard work and determination. Rather, it’s a fleeting fulfillment that leaves us feeling empty and, similar to the way in which certain foods are engineered to keep us wanting more, never truly sated.

Resorting to liquid or highly restricted diets that lack calories and nutrients for the satisfaction of losing weight quickly for a specific event or time of year, is not sustainable. The minute something besides lemon water and carrots enters your mouth, your body will cling to it like a lifeboat and store it away in an effort to protect you from the next time you attempt to starve yourself.  Ultimately, the weight will pile on quicker than it was lost and a sense of failure and disappointment will set in, robbing you of your motivation and will to reach your goals.

A friend of mine, after many fad diets and failed attempts to lose weight, has finally found her way. It has taken a year, possibly more, but she has been safely and steadily losing weight, shedding 50 pounds through better nutrition and regular exercise. Last spring she ran her first 10K, her first mud run and her first duathlon. This year she will tackle a half marathon and a triathlon. Her parents’ Christmas gift to her was a gym membership. She has the support of her family but, first and foremost, she has herself.   

The path to lifelong fitness requires commitment and dedication. Until you are willing to forego the instant gratification of temporary weight loss and make the permanent, sustainable lifestyle changes that lead to long-term fitness and health, you will never be truly satisfied. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's the engine that counts

Q: “I was thinking of purchasing a bike for my wife to use for her first triathlon. Can you give me any advice on a decent starter model and let me know how much I should expect to spend on it and where to purchase it?”

A: It seems you are already giving your wife one of the most important things she will need to achieve her goals—your support! That said, the best starter model for her is the bike she already has, or one she can borrow. 

My first three triathlons were successfully undertaken on a mountain bike. I wouldn't recommend making an investment in a road bike until your wife is certain that triathlon will be an enduring passion rather than a fleeting interest.

Also, surprising her with a new bike may not be the best idea considering that the most important factor in choosing a bike is getting the correct size and fit.

After my initial foray into triathlons, I took a long break to raise my family. When I returned to the sport seven years later, it was with a new mindset; I was not only interested in having fun, but in challenging myself, testing my limits, and seeing how competitive I could be. To become a more serious triathlete, I knew I needed a more serious bike. While a mountain bike will get the job done and can actually be advantageous when climbing hills, it won’t be particularly fast when compared with the lighter, sleeker models on the road. But, I still wasn't ready to make a sizeable investment, so I borrowed a road bike. It was too big for me, but I used it for a full season until I was ready to purchase a bike of my own.

Once your wife knows she’s in it for the long haul, it’s time to visit a reputable bike shop for a fitting and to test ride a few bikes. Bikes are sized by the top tube length in centimeters and also come in women’s specific designs for more petite riders.

After getting properly sized for a bike, there are many options for finding one at a discount. I found a great deal on eBay and bought my first road bike, an older model Cannondale, for less than $500, including shipping. I loved that bike and rode it for several seasons before upgrading to a tri bike, also known as a time trial or TT bike, with aerobars, which is not recommended until after gaining some cycling experience.  

At approximately $2000, this was still considered and entry level performance bike, according to A high performance bike can easily exceed $4000, but it’s important to remember that it’s ultimately not about the bike—it’s the engine that counts.

To purchase a road bike before your wife determines if triathlon will be a long-term pursuit would likely not be the best use of your resources as a more versatile bike, such as a hybrid or comfort bike, would be better suited for both road riding and trail riding, as well as leisure riding around the neighborhood.

Ultimately, as long as your wife has a bike that is safe, comfortable and reliable, she’ll be well-equipped to tackle her first triathlon.   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

'Tis the season for transition

When athletes refer to the “off-season” or the “winter” season, they are referring to the time of year when they are not actively racing and when training duration, volume and intensity lessens, allowing the mind, body and spirit time to recover and rejuvenate.

This, however, is not the same thing as doing nothing. The key is to find the right balance between zero exercise and zealously maintaining peak fitness, which ultimately leads to injury, burnout and exhaustion. 

The happy medium between the two is sometimes referred to as the “transition season” and is typically divided into three phases: Recovery, reintroduction and base-building. The length of each phase will vary depending on how long the race season was and the type of races undertaken. 
According to, the longer the race season, the longer the races, the longer the break.

When race season ends, recovery is the first order of business. While it’s important to let your body recover, your mind also needs a break from the stress of training and racing. There should be no structured training and nothing overly taxing or challenging during this phase; getting plenty of sleep should be the top priority. Attempting to maintain peak fitness throughout the year is never a good idea. As noted on, “There is much greater risk from a week too little rest, than a week too many. Part of the benefit of a longer period of total rest is that the short term loss of fitness prevents you from smoking yourself when you return to training.” While there’s no specific formula for how much time to take off, it’s important to listen to your body and honor what it needs.

After an adequate period of rest, the body will naturally start itching to get moving again, but you will need to allow yourself time to rebuild your aerobic capacity and endurance. The best way to do this, according to, is to “do a little something every day” at an easy to moderate effort.  

This aerobic reintroduction period is a great time to focus on new skills and technique, particularly in your weakest areas. Consider having someone film your swim stroke and incorporating swim drills into your workout. Ensure that you have a good bike fit and practice single-leg pedaling and pedaling perfect circles. Use running drills to improve turnover and form, and be sure to hit the gym to strengthen muscles specific to triathlon as well as those not generally used during triathlon training. Ideally, strength training should be practiced year-round to maintain core strength, increase power and aid in injury prevention, but be sure to keep the weights light during the off-season.

When it’s time to resume base-building in earnest, start by increasing your frequency and adding a few short, high-intensity sessions with plenty of recovery time built in. Be patient and kind to yourself during this phase and remember that you have plenty of time until your first key race; your return to training should be stress-free and enjoyable. 


Friday, December 7, 2012

A better cuppa

My new favorite mug

If you are a coffee drinker, you probably already know that a little caffeine is not bad for you; in fact, studies show it can actually be good for you, what with the antioxidants and all. 

But here's a few tips to make your cuppa even better: 

1) Hold the cream and sugar. 

I know, I know. Black coffee? Blech. But here's the thing--coffee alone is not bad for you, but when you add dairy and sugar to your mug the whole chemical balance shifts, creating a beverage that is much more acidic when digested. 

Some studies have shown a link between chronic inflammation and disease and highly acidic diets which, unfortunately, most American diets are--highly acidic. A more alkaline diet is recommended for optimal health. 

Can't stomach the idea of black coffee? Skip the dairy and try using unsweetened almond milk instead. 

2) Sweeten your joe, naturally. 

Coffee and almond milk alone not going to cut it? By dumping spoonfuls of sugar or generous pours of flavored creamer into your coffee, you are not only upping the acidity level of your brew--you are adding extra calories and sugar. 

Try this: Use flavored coffee beans. Starbucks offers caramel and vanilla-flavored coffee beans. My favorite, "Coconut Crunch," is from a coffee shop in the Outer Banks. I bring home a few bags of the flavored beans every summer and even have a few bags shipped to me in the winter months. My husband was recently in Hawaii for a business trip and brought home a bag of Coconut Almond coffee, which rivaled my OBX cup.  

Another way to naturally sweeten your coffee is to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg on the grounds before brewing. I've heard coconut flakes work too. 

3) Limit your caffeine intake. 

Generally, 150-300 mg of caffeine per day, which is about 2-3 cups of brewed coffee, is considered safe for healthy adults. More than that and you may experience unwanted side-effects, such as tremors, nervousness, irritability, palpitations, headaches and upset stomach. 

Be aware that caffeine lurks in other places, like chocolate, tea and sodas, and that one venti-sized drink may blow your daily mg allotment. 

4) Skip decaf

If you want to enjoy a warm beverage without the caffeine, opt for herbal tea instead. Most roasters use a chemical process to strip the caffeine, and who wants a chemical residue in their cuppa? (Though I am told the Caribou company uses a water-based process for their decaf instead of chemicals. Starbucks, however, is said to be in the chemical camp.) 

5) Buy organic and Fair Trade

As with the chemicals noted in the decaf-ing process, who wants residual pesticides and other nastiness in their coffee? Go organic to drink a cleaner cup. And, while that steaming mug may perk you up in the morning and give you that "feel good feeling," you'll feel even better knowing that the people who grew, picked and harvested your beans were treated well and paid a fair wage for their efforts. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Miracle Race – Kona 2012

The Miracle Race – Kona 2012
Harriet Anderson, Ironman World Champion

This is Harriet Anderson's amazing and inspiring story, posted on November 30th by Athleta Chi. I hope I can be like her when I grow up! :)

Harriet Anderson Kona Ironman World Championship
Harriet Anderson, age 77, Ironman World Champion

The Kona Ironman is such an exciting race. The beautiful Hawaiian setting, the exciting atmosphere, the incredible professional athletes, the fun pre-race activities, the Expo and the wonderful athletes from all over the world all contribute to making the race so exciting.

I debated about doing another Kona Ironman race after having a very slow time in 2011. I am aging and losing muscle mass every year, which makes competing more difficult. I received a slot for competing by winning my age group in 2011. My friends convinced me to compete again in 2012.

In the Spring and Summer of 2012 I completed two 70.3 races and my training was going as planned. In the months before the Ironman race I gradually increase my distance in all three sports. My longest run had been 16 miles by the end of August. I usually go out on a long bike ride early on Sunday mornings, before there is much traffic on the roads. On Sunday, August 26, 2012 I was out on a long bike ride. My plan was to ride around eighty -five miles that day. Everything was going fine until I was going down Pierce Road in Saratoga. All of a sudden I hit something and I went flying through the air. I landed hard on my right side. Another cyclist and a neighbor came to my rescue. The neighbor bandaged by wounds and called my husband. He told me a motorcyclist had crashed on the same spot the day before. A water main had broken and the road was not completely repaired. There was no cone or sign to warn people about the problem. The neighbor took me over to Starbuck’s on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road to wait for my husband. I told this nice man that he did not have to wait with me but he insisted on waiting until my husband arrived to take me to the emergency room.

The X-rays revealed a broken right clavicle but only a bruised right hip and knee. I was seen by an orthopedic doctor in Redwood City who told me to keep my arm in a sling and he would see me on October 8, 2012. I told him that was the date I was leaving for Kona. I received a referral from my doctor to see my former orthopedist who was now in San Mateo. He said I would have another x-ray in three weeks to see how the healing was progressing. In three weeks he started me on exercises. I was able to spin, use the elliptical trainer and water run. Another x-ray was taken at five weeks and the bone was healing well. At that time I was able to start swimming and running. I also took my first bike ride out on the roads. I was a little nervous and very cautious when I was biking. Thank goodness I arrived home safe and sound.

On October 8th I flew to Kona. I was still not sure I would feel like doing the race. I did a bike ride and I swam in the wonderful warm water at the start area, known as DigMe Beach. A treat during race week is having a coffee boat out in the water about half a mile out from shore. They serve you a small cup of coffee and a cookie. It always tastes so good!

On Thursday evening the carbo load dinner was held. The island entertainment was spectacular. The dancers are so beautiful and graceful. The entertainment gets better each year. This year the age group winners were able to sit in the VIP section which made me very extra special.

Harriet Anderson - Kona Ironman 2012

On race morning I went down to the start line to compete in my 21st Kona Ironman. Since my training was reduced I did not know how my body would react to the long race. My swim was very slow, 2 hours and 10 minutes, my slowest time ever. I had made the cut off by 10 minutes. I ran to the changing tent and put on my bike jersey and I was off on the bike. Of the three sports, biking is my favorite. The winds and the heat on the bike course are a given at Kona. I felt good on the bike and I made the bike cut off time and I was then off on the marathon. I try to jog and walk the first part of the marathon. I had hoped to jog more but I thought I could walk fast and still make the midnight cut off time. With eight miles to go I had two hours to finish. If I could walk 15 minutes miles I would make it by midnight. One of the monitors on a motor scooter said I needed to go faster if I wanted to make it by midnight.

By mile twenty-four, I was told I was the last person who had a chance to finish by midnight but I only had a 50/50 chance of making it. I did not feel like running but I did not want to be like the lady the previous year who missed the midnight deadline by four seconds. My daughter and nephew encouraged me to keep going faster. Going down Palani was easier because it is downhill. When I turned on Kalakini Street I did not feel like running. My daughter kept encouraging me. She told me I could rest at the finish line. When I reached Alii Drive I started running. A group of people joined my daughter, nephew and I as we ran down Alli Drive. The noise level increased and I could hear the Ironman announcer, Mike Riley, announcing my arrival. Mike was still full of energy after announcing the arriving athletes all day. I crossed the finish line and I put my hands on my hips and stopped to catch my breath. I had made the midnight cut off with 41 seconds to spare. I was so excited I had made it to the finish time before midnight. My son had been texting my daughter to try to make me go faster. He was calculating the time and the distance and he did not think I could make it by midnight. Everybody was thrilled, including me, that I made it.

My husband greeted me along with Mike Riley and Pete Jacobs, the winner of the race much earlier in the day, who put the finisher medal around my neck. Leanda Cave and Miranda Carfrae greeted me as I was walking down the finish area. Midnight arrived and the race was officially over. The fire dancers started dancing at the finish line and the crowd was enjoying the final entertainment of the night.