Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Training Partners - Human and Canine

Humans are social creatures and it is natural to introduce a social element to our training and pursuits.  Training and spending time with like minded goal orientated individuals forms a virtuous spiral by increasing our motivation and training frequency leading to improved performance ad infinitum.  Additional benefits include providing a safety factor and expanding our knowledge base by learning form one another.  In sports such as cycling, efficiencies can be improved by use of techniques like drafting.  Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai cannot be done without training partners.  For these reasons I train and associate with other athletes as often as opportunities present themselves. 

Not all training companions are human.  My most faithful training partner is my dog.  He has not a care in the world for anything beyond activities, eating, and sleeping.  Very one dimensional I know, but he never says no to a workout, has no consideration for the weather, and always reminds me when he has been too long without exercise.  While I don’t always agree with his methods for requesting activity, most every behavioral problem he has goes away with exercise.   

Lefty after a long run that left him particularly thirsty

Our core activity is running.  Occasionally I bike with him, but these days aren’t about me as much as they are about tiring him out.  I even tried open water swim with him.  Despite his great natural swimming ability, group swim went poorly, perhaps because it was not natural or goal orientated to him like fetch.

Lefty’s short coat, medium build, broad tail, and long nose make him a very capable runner and swimmer.  I have seen him reach 25mph when he has been running alongside my bike.  On our long runs he has always been able to match me on all but the hottest days; he wears a fur coat after all.  His ability to fetch in the lake is greater than my patience to see when he has had enough.  He is quite the athlete and regular walking is insufficient to expend his energy.

Having a dog as a training partner isn’t without challenges.  Almost every run includes at least one early stop for a bathroom break.  He is also horrible at pacing, pulling for the first one or two miles before winding down and often requiring loving encouragement to finish.  I time our runs during non-peak hours such as the early morning to avoid other trail users, but the occasional presence of other large dogs and wildlife like deer requires some application of muscle.  Holding his leash and managing him breaks down my form somewhat and introduces a small pace penalty. 

Weather considerations are even more important with Lefty than for me; his ability to cope with heat does not match humans.  He refuses to quit so I have to quit for him when he is struggling.  Depending on the duration and heat we pack water, I have a pack and so does he.

I occasionally see other people training with their dogs but it is very rare.  Lefty makes a great training partner in spite of the occasional problems and embarrassments that come about.  I am always interested in other peoples training but have a special place in my heart for people who train with their dogs.

Chicken Spinach Feta Wrap

This wrap features few ingredients and minimum preparation.  I make this year round and always keep wraps stocked in the pantry.  Spinach can grow in cooler temperatures and makes the ideal garden plant for spring and fall in cooler climates.  High quality Feta cheese will greatly enhance the flavor of this wrap; I typically get Vela Sheep Feta Cheese from a local organic grocery store.  The wrap takes very few ingredients:

Olive Oil
Chicken breast
Feta Cheese

Cut the chicken breast into strips and season with a general purpose seasoning.  Coat a pan in olive oil and add chicken.  Cook on low heat until cooked through.  Lay a wrap flat and add spinach and feta in the center.  Place the chicken in the center over the other ingredients.  Fold the wrap to enclose all ingredients and place on a pan with oil to heat each side.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summerfest Rock’n Sole Course Preview with Elevation (1 of 2)

Summerfest’s inaugural Rock ‘n Sole ½ marathon and 10K on Milwaukee’s lakefront is fast approaching, Sunday, 10 Jul 2011.  I plan to run the ½ marathon and look forward to the stretch over the Hoan bridge.  The 10k course is the same as the first half of the ½ marathon.  In preparation for the event I used a Garmin 410 Forerunner to gather the elevation and grade of the Hoan bridge.  Later this week I will capture the second half of the ½ marathon course on my weekly tempo run.

The mile ticks of the elevation plot approximate the mile marks of the course map available on the Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole website.  The first, third and fourth miles feature long steady climbs over the Hoan that will make these miles slower or require increased effort to keep pace.  Using empirical training data my guess is the pace penalty will be on the order of 4 – 8% of expected pace. 

The prevailing downhill nature of miles two and three and five will offer an opportunity to recover lost time.  The only advice I have for the downhill portions is to find shoes and socks which allow for comfortable and speedy descents.  Some shoes, socks, or a combination thereof allow too much movement of the foot during down hills leading to discomfort and an unnecessary slowing of pace.

One great unknown the day of the race will be prevailing winds.  There will be no dampening effect as much of this stretch of the course is elevated and completely exposed along the lake.  Winds could play a huge role in last minute adjustments to our race day plan should they be present.  Other weather factors should not be forgotten, see the post weather considerations for more detail.     

I will be training through this event, it will serve as my weekly long run.  My peak will be at the end of August in time for the Badgerland Striders ½ marathon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Weather Considerations

The weather is largely beyond our control but factors heavily in our performance.  There are some things that can be done to mitigate high heat and humidity such as training in the early morning or late evening.  On cold days with minimal sunlight training can be done midday.  Competitive events with fixed dates and start times, set months in advance with the best intentions, do not allow the luxury of shuffling a weekly schedule or altering training times to take advantage of optimal weather.

The temperature, humidity, winds, and precipitation at the time of training or a competitive event all need to be factored in and plans and expectations adjusted accordingly before starting.  Non-optimal temperature and humidity will exact a performance penalty for the entirety of the course.  Extreme temperatures and precipitation are also a concern for health and safety and can lead to hypo/hyperthermia.  High humidity and wind will dehydrate us more quickly than optimal weather.  Assuming the same start and finish points, a headwind or elevation changes will exact a penalty for half of the course while providing a performance enhancer for the other half.

Unfortunately training plans and training aides are set for optimal conditions.  In less than perfect conditions real effort will be understated by pace metrics.  Heart rate should reflect the higher level of effort but will not reflect dehydration and other conditions.  Of course our bodies will know and calculate the pace we can do.  Relying too heavily on a training aide such as pace will lead to exhausting greater effort in a shorter amount of time than intended.  This will hamper our ability to complete training or an event at best, and will lead to health and safety concerns at worst.  Too much effort too soon will exact a larger total penalty in the second half than even - albeit slower, pacing throughout would have.  

Not every day or event is made for meeting a training target or setting a personal record.  These days are useful nonetheless as they stress our bodies in different ways we can adapt to, provided our effort is not too great or too little.                


Summer means fresh garden herbs, basil included.  Basil makes a lot of great things including two of my favorites margherita pizzas, and pesto.  Fresh pesto is great in the summer because it takes few ingredients, requires no heat, and is quick to prepare.  Tonight's dinner featured ravioli and pesto with a moscato white wine.  Shrimp and chicken would have also made great additions to this dish.  To make pesto in a blender combine:

2 cups fresh packed basil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 head garlic (or less)

blend and add in:

olive oil (1/2 cup to start plus additional to reach desired consistency)

At restaurants lately I have noticed pesto used in sandwiches and being made out of anything green with arugula pesto being quite popular.  Next time I make this I will blend in some fresh mint or rosemary from the garden to see how it turns out.  Cilantro pesto would also make for an interesting experiment.

Ravioli with pesto and moscato.  Crushed red pepper added some mild heat to the dish.  Preparation and dishes took less than 1/2 hour.

Two of the containers in the backyard garden.  A few basil plants and occasional reseeding can provide fresh basil all summer. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Base Training

Base training consists of moderate effort training over the course of weeks and months.  When done properly this period of training establishes good form and strengthens the body laying the foundation for more intense, longer duration, injury free activity later.  Base training means different things to different people based on their sport specific fitness and experience.  Developing a base for a sport we are new to will be different than the base period going into another training season for a sport with which we have lifelong experience.

Proper form is very important in the base period, more so if we are new to a sport.  The base period is a time when focus needs to be placed on muscle memory and nervous system training.  Maintaining the proper form is the concern which trumps all others - training with bad form will reinforce bad habits guaranteeing less than peak performance and possibly leading to injury.  For this reason duration and intensity is limited by the ability to maintain form.

If when training competitively we discover a deficiency in our form, we have to abandon advanced training and return to the base period.  For runners this could be the transition from heel striking to midsole.  Recently for my swim it meant giving up thrashing around in an attempt to do laps to doing the drills in the Total Immersion perpetual motion freestyle DVDs.  I find swimming and mixed martial arts such as Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu require more drilling and careful thought than less mindful running and cycling.

The base period for sports with which we have lifelong experience is more about strength than form, as form should be mastered already.  This period will involve strength training in some form.  For runners and cyclists this does not have to be limited to weights and can include hill repeats, tempo work, sprints, etc… as long as the total activity remains moderate.  

Successful completion of the base period of training will yield some 'base' level of stamina and endurance.  From this 'base' the next phase of training, the 'build' can add duration and some intensity.  Some inherent overlap exists between the base and the build phases.  When done properly all phases of training should transition gradually, too much too soon is a recipe for injury and burnout.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cajun Barbecue Shrimp

Inspiration for preparing food comes from all different places.  I spend a good amount of time reading recipes and methods in magazines, books, the internet, and the back of products.  TV provides endless programming and ideas with my favorites being Kitchen Nightmares and Man vs. Food.  Restaurant experiences and home dining, good and bad, have led me to create dishes.  Even poorly executed meals can provide inspiration if the underlying idea has value.

For as much as I research food, perhaps ten percent or less of all recipes or ideas make their way into the kitchen and onto my plate.  What is on hand and what is seasonal are always formidable considerations.  The weather drives some course decisions as well as dictating the cooking method.  As it is now summer time I have been doing more grilling.

A word about shrimp and ingredients in general:  the fresher and less processed they are the better they will taste - by orders of magnitude.    For this reason I typically get raw fresh or frozen shrimp in the shell.  Shelling and deveining shrimp takes time but is well worth the end result.  Similar story with garlic, freshly minced garlic tastes way better than minced garlic in a jar ever will.    

This Cajun barbecue shrimp recipe was inspired by the recipe on a bottle of Makers Mark barbecue sauce.  Deviations were made, which I feel were for the better.  It is a rare event for me to make something on a product label but this one was very well received by all my guests.  This recipe was an appetizer for a party of 15-20 people.

Combine in a large bowl and let marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours:

5 lbs shrimp, raw 16 – 20 Count in shell – deveined and shelled
2/3 cup Makers Mark Barbecue sauce
3/4 stick butter, melted
Juice from 2 lemons
Cayenne pepper to taste (2-4 tablespoons)
Fresh Garlic, 1 head, minced

Put the shrimp on skewers and grill (I prefer charcoal) until done.  I flipped these a few times while on the grill and kept a watchful eye.  I would say each skewer took a little less than 10 minutes total. 

Grilling is a much nuanced affair with many pitfalls.  I spent over a year failing at it before some good friends mentored me along.  I have learned a lot and continue to learn.  Mastering the basics such as patience, having a good bed of coals and a seasoned non-stick grate are all essential for peak barbecue success.   

Next time I make this recipe I will probably mix it up by adding some green in the way of fresh minced parsley.  I will also remember to take pictures for food posts going forward.  Chances are I will also be making a bourbon based barbecue sauce from scratch when the fresh garden tomatoes come in.