Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Novice Master Triathlete...

... that's what I am. And by that, I mean someone who comes to triathlons in their 40s (or late 30s) without prior background in swimming, cycling or running. There seems to be a growing number of us, so I thought I will share some learnings/observations (mainly from Joe Friel’s “The Triathlete’s Training Bible” and some personal observations) and hope to draw your valuable comments:

1. Training Time

The biggest challenge the Novice Masters Triathlete has is probably the difficulty of finding training time while trying to balance work, family and social commitments. This is where motivation comes in – only you can decide what you are willing to give up to fit in Triathlon Training. Usually TV time is the first to go, but unless you have been a TV addict, that may not be enough hours yet, so time discipline is crucial. :)
I have found that a good analogy for time management is the act of filling up a bucket with sand, pebbles and rocks – if you start by putting in the pebbles/sand, it is gonna be tough getting all the rocks in. If instead you start by first putting in the “rocks” of your life (in priority of importance to you), at least they get in the bucket before the smaller stuff. There is no way to fit everything in, the trick is to first put in all the important stuff when we plan the day/week/month. So to me, the first step really is deciding what is more important than Triathlon training – for me, it is Intentional Discipleship time (Quiet Time with the Lord, fellowship/service in Church, etc…), family time, and of course, my job (and the frequent traveling it requires). I make sure that my training fits around these 3 “rocks” and not the other way around. Just about everything else, I try to fit around my 4th “rock” – Triathlon Training – and if there is not enough time for everything, I don’t sweat it.

2. Setting Goals

Related to the above is goal setting. While it is good to set challenging goals, it is also important that they are realistic (achievable) and measureable. Without a frame of reference, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself with the ex-swimmer/cyclist/runner around you. I have often done it and it usually leads to disappointment and demotivation – the killer of the Noice Masters Triathlete. :) I see two ways about it – if you are concerned about whether you are improving in race fitness and want to make sure that you can adapt your training plans to address weakness areas, measure your performance on a on-going basis using objective criteria like time trials or fitness tests (Joe Friel’s book has got a whole chapter on “Accessing Fitness”). On the other hand, most Novice Masters Triathletes will probably be focusing on “going the distance” so the training principles should be rather simple (more on that later). So if you, like me, cannot be bothered to take the time/effort to set up repeatable tests, just don't sweat it! :D
In terms of setting realistic goals, Joe Friel’s book has a useful chart on annual training hours versus target event (e.g. Sprint 300-500hrs, Olympic 400-600hrs, Half Ironman 500-700, Ironman 600-1200), but I suspect these are more for competing in the events rather than for completing the events – two very different goals. To take a more personal example, I have done only Sprints so far, but I am targeting a Olympic Tri in July 2007 with only 6 hours or so a week to train, which works out to be a lot less than the 400-600hrs indicated in the book, however, I have decided not to target a half ironman in 2007, as my available training hours are far short of what is suggested in the book.

3. Training Principles
Joe’s book is all about the “Periodization” of training – i.e. to grow to the full potential of a Multi-Sport athlete, one has to split training into different periods (Prep, Base, Build, Peak, Race, Transition) per year and continue for years for maximal results. If this is all getting too complex, take heart, because he also says that the 1st year of training should be primarily in the Transition and Base periods, with the focus on developing aerobic endurance, force, technique (speed skills), and muscular endurance. There is no reason to build power and anaerobic endurance. So here are some simple training principles as I understand it:
  • Going the distance – The initial focus should be on being able to complete the distance and the estimated event time. I.e. the initial focus should be on being able to complete the individual distances and then working up the total training time to be somewhere near the estimated total event time. There are loads of sample “Couch to Sprint” or “Couch to Olympic” training plans in the ‘Net like the BeginnerTriathlete website which focuses on going the distance.
  • Staying healthy (and able to train) –According to Joe’s book, immunity in older folks is also lower than that of the young ‘uns and thus colds/flus may be more prevalent (and I thought it was just me picking them up from the kids). I have been struggling a bit with colds/sore throats/flus, and if you are like me, here are a few pointers:
    i) Get a Flu Shot – Will not stop you from getting colds/sore throats/infections, but at least saves you from nasty fevers and the like. Flu shots typically last only a year as the flu bug mutates constantly and hence a new “cocktail” is needed periodically.
    ii) Get more protein – Lean meat, egg whites, etc… There is little danger in taking in too much protein – the unused stuff just turns to fat, but a lack of protein is detriment to training and also lowers your immunity system.
    iii) Drink lots of water and take vitamin C regularly – Okay, I know this is common sense but I had to sneak in that one. :)
    iv) Adequate rest – The 24 to 36 hours following a “breakthrough” workout (i.e. a long, hard training session), your immunity drops, so be extra watchful – avoid public places if possible and wash your hands regularly with soap. Develop good habbits like using your right hand to do stuff (open doors, press elevator buttons, etc) and your left hand if you need to touch your face. I often try to get in a breakthrough workout just before leaving on a business trip to try to get as much training time in as possible, only to wonder why I fall sick when traveling. Moving forward, I will wear a doctor’s mask if I have to fly in the 24-36 hours after a breakthrough training – betta safe than sorry! :)
  • Rest Days – Stick to them! Joe suggests 2 or even 3 rest days following a breakthrough workout for us oldies. Don’t be tempted to squeeze too much into the weekend, and risk illness and injury (which may wipe out all training benefits).
  • Strength Training – Especially after 50, we lose muscle mass pretty rapidly. So for the Novice Master Triathlete, strength training is recommended all year.
4. Diet
The Novice Masters Triathlete probably needs to be even more careful about diet than the younger atheletes due to the onset of age-related risk in heart disease. There is much written about diet of the athlete in his/her 40s/50s and beyond, but some quick pointers are:
  • Protein is good – As mentioned above, protein helps build immunity and aids athletic performance. Vegans, don’t hate me, but Joe says animal sources of protein are better than vegetarian sources of protein.
  • Fat is not all bad - Accordinfg to Joe, low-fat, high carbohydrate diets don’t work for atheletes – some fats needs to be introduced. Having fats in our diet help build immunity, and also builds long term recovery and capacity to train at a higher level. But before you all rush off for cheese burgers and ice cream, this means leanest cuts of meats (wild game, if possible, and all visible fats removed), seafood and poultry, and low or non fat dairy (in small quantities).
  • Alkaline foods are good - One of the reasons for losing muscle mass is acidity in our blood, so eating alkaline foods helps. There is a table of acid/alkaline foods in Joe’s book, but the short of it is to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables – just what Mama said. :) A surprising piece of information is that raisins is the food item with the highest alkaline content in the table – Praise God!
5. Equipment
Triathlon gear, and specifically the budget for it, is generally less of a problem for the Novice Masters triathlete than for the budding Juniors triathlete. In fact, most of us (myself included) seems to over-compensate for poor performance with state-of-the-art gear - afterall, a lot of us are from the "did not have the time & money to do this when I was younger" category. :) Even so, it pays to look at the equipment needed for our specialized and rather expensive sport:
a) Swim – Okay, not quite in the equipment catergory, but if you can find a Master’s swim class, join it. If, like me, you do not attend a Master’s swim class, at least get a friend or a coach to periodically check your stroke.
b) Bike – Comfort is EVERYTHING to us oldies. :) No point having a super aerodynamic position on the bike that requires you to stretch out every 15 mins! :) In general, carbon and titanium frames work best for us as they are more compliant. Yes, they cost a lot more than alloy frames but your back is worth it (plus, it is a great excuse to tell the missus why you need that expensive bike). :) I ride a road bike with clip-on aero bars, but I have been told that a properly fitted Tri bike can be just as comfortable, so if you are using the bike only for Tris, get a Tri bike. At least it will stop you from gazing forlornly at the sexy Tri bikes on the road – okay, maybe I am speaking from personal experience on that one.
c) Shoes – Expensive running shoes do not mean good running shoes, but bargain basement discount running shoes are almost always a bad idea. Proper fit to your running style is key. Pay the premium and get your shoes from a shop that can analyze your gait and recommend shoes that fit.

Well, that’s it from me then. A long post but hopefully one that helps some to avoid the trials and errors that I have been through. Until next time, train safe and God Speed!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Reason to Live (Part II) - Triathlon Training

First and foremost, my sincere apologies to RobTheRunner and other friends out there tracking me through bloglines. I was silly enough to switch to blogger beta and apparently there is some issue updating bloglines. Was searching the 'Net for some answers, but there does not seem to be a clear fix, just a lot of unhappy beta bloggers airing their grievances. :(

Also, sorry that Part II to my previous post took so long in the making. It is partly due to an extended break in Triathlon Training (I have run out of excuses - sickness, bad weather, you name it...), and a short get-away with the family in Sentosa (an island resort connected to Singapore by a land-bridge). It didn't occur to me to take a picture of the chairlift (yes, that's how irregular I have become in blogging), so I stole one from the 'Net for ya. Chairlifts in Singapore? What will they think of next? A ski resort?!?! :D

So back to the subject of training plans for 2007. I am the sort of person who reads the ending of novels before I start, so here's the conclusion: there will NOT be a Ironman 70.3 for me in 2007, just Sprint and Olympic Distance Triathlons.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why I am continuing Triathlon Training - so much so that I have had to read my own post on this subject back in January. Reading the Triathlete's Training Bible also helped put things into perspective - there was a quiz in the early part of the book that measures mental attitude, and my score quite literally said that I should seriously think about why I am in Triathlons! :)

So the short of it is that I am still committed to Triathlon Training because my reasons for doing so has not changed, but instead of setting impossible goals and then getting depressed about not being able to meet them, I've decided to set realistic goals based on the amount fo time I have to train. There is a very interesting table in the Triathele's Training Bible that lists the estimated training hours annually for a Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, Ironman, etc... I estimate that I would have a maximum of 6 hours a week for training and 4 weeks off a year - that's a total of 288 hours, which according to the table, puts me at only Sprint Distance Triathlons. :) In fact, given that the Olympic Triathlon in Singapore is in July, that translates to less than 150 training hours! Of course, we have to temper what we read with what we know about ourselves, so I sticking to my original target of doing my first Olympic Distance Triathlon in July 2007. Given my current lack of training time, and additional distractions to come in 2007 from R1 going to Primary School (i.e. Elementary School) and the huge merger happening at work, I think I will have to take up qcmier's offer to do the Singapore 70.3 Ironman in a couple of years. :)

So here's my draft race calendar for 2007. Given the difficulty in getting some sort of race calendar for Singapore, this is highly subject to change and probably a little too agressive (it would take a lot to be able to join the overseas events).
  • Mar '07 - 11 Mar '07 Singapore Duathlon or 17 Mar '07 Singapore Biathlon (1.5km swim, 10km run). Don't think I can do both and the Duathlon details are not out yet.
  • 26/27 May '07 - Aviva Bintan Triathlon (Indonesia) (Olympic - 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run)
  • *"A" Race* 7/8th July '07 - Singapore Triathlon (Olympic - 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run)
  • *"Stretch" Race* Oct '07 - Pulai Triathlon (Desaru, Malaysia) (Long - 2km swim, 60km ride, 15km run)
  • 3 Nov '07 - Corporate Triathlon (Sprint)
  • Dec '07 - Half Marathon
So much for planning, now it's time to get off my ass and start training again. ;) Until next time, train safe and God Speed!

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Reason to Live (Part I) - Intentional Discipleships

Sorry for the ambitious title. It's that time of the year for reflections and direction setting/renewal, and I was very much encouraged by a song we sang in church on Sunday, reminding us that Jesus came to show us the reason to live. Well, 2 of the main reasons Christ has given me to live are are Intentional Discipleship (intentionally being a disciple of Christ) and Triathlon Training. The other being the family of course, but that's not the topic of this blog. ;) As such, I thought I will split this year's reflection and direction into two posts, this one focusing on Intentional Discipleship and Part II focusing more on training plans for 2007.

1st, a confession: 2006 has been a lax year for me in the area of Intentional Discipleship. In 2005, I was leading my Care Group (fellowship/bible study group) in a focused study on the Masterlife series, serving in the Toddlers' Ministry at church, and at the same time reading through the Bible using the Cover to Cover reading plan. It was a busy time, but also a time of growth in the Lord; growth that I missed in 2006 because I quit the Toddlers' Ministry and also had the luxury of having rotating Care Group leadership (thus effectively leading only one month in the entire year). I have also been inconsistent in keeping to my Quiet Time with the Lord. :(

Three significant things happened to me in the last few weeks that is bringing me back on track:

  • Firstly, I have come to learn that I need to serve not because the Church needs me, but simply because I need to serve. Without an active ministry/service, I cannot be a part of God's blessing for the Church. In His infinite wisdom, God has chosen to use us as the primary channel of blessings to the world, and He has given us gifts to equip us for the work that He calls us to do. However, when we refuse to serve, He respects our decision and uses someone else. The problem is that when He does that, I miss out on the growth and intimacy of relationship with Him. In the end, the one who loses out is not the Church, nor God, but myself.
    Action: I will actively look for and pray for areas of service in Church. Rather than wait for some sort of "divine wisdom/inspiration" to descend on me, I will put my hands to the work at hand, and take a more active role in leading my Care Group and in the Toddlers' Ministry.

  • Secondly, Church Camp last week away in Malaysia has been a wonderful time of spiritual blessing/rejuvenation. To cut a long story short, I have had a few prayer requests/concerns confirmed. Praise God! On the last night of the church camp, the speaker invited us to come forward for a specific prophetic word from the Lord, and I did. When it was finally my turn, I was told to look into the Song of Solomon to find intimacy with the Lord, so that others may look at me and see the presence of the Lord upon me. I must confess that I was initially puzzled by the prophesy and even doubted if the speaker "knew his stuff". :) But as I reflected on it that night, I remembered to humble myself to receive God's word with faith and not to focus on the instrument used (i.e. the speaker) - who am I to judge the instrument that our Lord chooses to use? When I swallowed my pride, the prophesy began to make a lot of sense to me, and in fact agrees with my constant prayers to be "like Daniel/David" - to have the presence of the Lord wherever I go and whatever I do - that my daily life would indeed point others to the goodness of our Lord. It occured to me that this prohecy is indeed a direct reply to my prayers, that God is telling me that the key to have more of His presence in my life is intimacy, and the book of the Song of Solomon will show me show to grow in intimacy with the Lord.
    Action: I will receive this prophecy in faith and study the Song of Solomon. I will get back to being consistent with my Quiet Time (QT) with the Lord daily.

  • Thirdly, prayer has been an area that I have been lacking in 2006 - I am comfortable reading the Bible during QT, but somehow I could not pray consistently. Well, the Lord has confirmed that He has placed a love for children in my heart, and I have somehow been "picking up" prayer items for little children over the last few weeks. But instead of praying for the children, I have been asking God for a "enlightenment" as to what ministry He wants to call me to. I have been thinking in my pride "surely He wants me to do more than just pray queitly in the background". I have been listening to my pride and not to the "still small voice".
    Action: I praise the Lord that He has called me to prayer for these children. I commit to spending at least 15mins a day in prayer as part of my daily QT. I will stop asking for "divine revelation" and start being a prayer intercessor in the background.

That's all folks! Sorry for the rather lengthy post, but this is a subject that is very close to my heart. Next post, Triathlon Training plan and a draft race schedule for 2007! Until then, train safe and God Speed!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Triathlete's Training Bible

Thanks to Mr Sanguine, I finally have my hands on this book. And hopefully just in time to do some serious mugging in the next couple of weeks and work out some sort of training plan for 2007. I have yet to set goals for 2007 - was waiting to read the book first - but I definitely want to do at least one one Olympic Triathlon in 2007, and, if I am feeling ambitious (which I must say currently I am not), maybe even a half ironman.

N, my "speedy Gonzales" buddy who ran the New Balance 10km run with me in August, has kindly volunteered to join me in the Oly Tri in July, and we agreed to decide on Ironman 70.3 Singapore "depending on how we feel after the Oly Tri". While that might be pushing the decision a little too far away, registration is not open yet for Ironman Singapore 70.3 so I think I will take at least a couple of months before I make that decision...

I have been on a training "slump" due to a cold and then a nasty infection in my gums. Next week is church camp away in Malaysia (probably no Internet access), so it looks like it is "maintenance and self-study" mode until week after for me. Until then, train safe my friends and God Speed!