Friday, April 10, 2015

I'm Going to Colorado!



 ...for "vacation."  Bummer!

I've had the idea in the back of my head of moving out to Colorado ever since college.  So what?...  That was around 2006.  I had applied to both UC Denver and UC Boulder for grad school, but I failed to get into either.  After grad school here in CT, I had softly laid plans for moving.  Once I dove into triathlon, I've looked into doing races out in Boulder with the thought of attaching extra days to the trip so that I could look around and get a feel for the area.  But after all those failed plans, FINALLY something came up and I made the decision to GO FOR IT!  

 If THIS was my backyard, I would NEVER make it into work!!

I will be spending a week (6 nights and 5 days) in Boulder, Colorado soaking up the Rocky Mountains, the outdoors-oriented culture, and... well, I'm not sure what else.  I'll figure that out later.  I head out in 24 days!!  Woohoo!!

Now arguably the bigger part of the announcement.

I am spending a week in Boulder, Colorado with Mirinda Carfrae and Siri Lindley!  I am going for a triathlon training camp through Triathlon Research and I am pretty darn excited. 



To be the best, you have to learn from the best.  Right?  Or at the very least, they can help you.  So I will be taking a week (and my vacation for this and probably a few years to come) to work with some of the best... 

  • Mirinda Carfrae (3x Ironman World Champion)
  • Siri Lindley (Mirinda Carfrae’s Coach)
  • Bobby McGee (6-Time Olympic Running Coach)
  • Ivan O’Gorman (Mirinda and Crowie’s Bike Fitter)
  • Eney Jones (Siri and Mirinda’s swim coach)
  • Charlotte Saunders (Siri’s Squad nutritionist)
  • Seton Claggett (TriSports.com Founder)
  • Erin Carson (Mirinda’s strength coach)

A week of one-on-one sessions, groups sessions, talks, LOTS of questions, and MUCH MUCH more!  This is an opportunity to truly act like a dry sponge and soak eeeeeeeeeeeeverything up.  Speaking of which...

What would you want to ask the professional coaches?

Let me know!  I'm amassing a list of questions to put to them and the more heads we put together, the better the list will get.  PLEASE send me your questions!

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Questions
1.  Where would your dream vacation be?
I am not a beach person.  I prefer an adventure to typical "relaxation," so anywhere there is something new or interesting to check out is good with me.

2.  Is your dream vacation active or not?
I don't sit still very well, so I am on the active side.  Sit me on a beach and I last 5 minutes if you're lucky.

3.  What would you want to ask the professional coaches listed above?
I'm looking to amass a list of questions to ask, so PLEASE feel free to add to it.


DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

RACE REPORT: 2015 Colchester Half Marathon

The 23rd Annual
(My 3rd Annual)
Colchester Half Marathon

It was pretty unanimous from all the runners that the Colchester Half Marathon tops their list for the best half marathon around.

Why you ask?

Well...  for $14 ($20 on race day), you get a race that is chip timed, professionally photographed, and fully volunteer supported that also boasts some of the best post-race food I've ever seen at ANY race (cooked 100% by the high school students), pre and post-race massage, a locker room with showers, and a race director that runs around on the course just to give you high fives!  Oh, they even throw in the hills for free!!  What a deal!

Sure, it's February and cold, but I dare you to find a better deal!!

Therefore, without further ado, here is my report for the Colchester Half Marathon.

The race starts at 10am and is about a 45 min drive to get to, so I was up at 6:30a to get breakfast in before 7.  Three eggs, 2 pieces of toast, and a bottle of water.  Then I stretched and rolled myself out.  I headed out about 7:30a and for the first time was able to easily get a parking spot.  Usually I end up finding some tight spot off in the far corner that everyone has skipped over.  I got my bib and did some more stretching/rolling.  I hit up the bathroom multiple times and laid around a bit waiting for some friends to show up.

My biggest dilemma of the day was what to wear.  Some websites said it was in the single digits, some double, some below twenty, and others above.  It was very inconsistent, but they did all agree that it wasn't warm.  Most people had thermals on.  For me, 20 degrees is my cut off.  Below twenty, I put on my thermal tights.  Above twenty I can go without.  I kept debating and then Adam, a friend of mine, came by and he was wearing shorts.  That was it!  I put on my shorts, went outside to see how it felt and with the sun out and little wind (at least at that moment), it felt just fine.  Shorts it was! 

I took half a Powerbar energy bar at 9am and a Clif gel at 9:40a.  I did some dynamic stretches and headed out to warm up.  I got in about 7 minutes with a few 20-30 second striders.  I felt like I should do more, but everyone was lining up.  We then sat in line for the next 7 minutes or so.  Oh-well.

I lined up on the left hand side.  I knew I wouldn't be leading the race, so I gave those who wanted to battle for position their space.  I knew one guy who was there; his name is Ken.  He goes to the Fleet Feet track workouts and he is FAST!  He would tell me during the first mile that he would be happy with a 1:15 today (he ran a 1:20).  Gees!!  So I gave them room and set myself up to run my own race.

Staring Line

And We're OFF!

The race starts off on a slight incline.  Since this is the hilliest half I've ever run (725 ft of gain/loss), it only seems right that it does.  The front thinned out fairly quickly and I found myself up in front with maybe 6 other people.


I'm in "don't shoot me" orange

My goal for this race was to increase my average HR from last year, 171 bpm.  I didn't care about my time.  It's the hilliest course I've run; there's no way I'm going to PR!  So it was all about finding that redline as early as I could and staying as close to it as I could.


Well, with that in mind, about 20 seconds into the race, I'm up front with Ken (super fast guy; blue shirt & tights above), Steve (a buddy of Ken's; white shirt behind me above), and some others behind us and I'm feeling like I am WELL under my threshold effort.  For a minute or so, I stuck right behind Ken thinking I didn't want to blow up, but then I shook that thought off and pushed ahead; "run your own race Kurt!"  For the next half mile, I was leading the race.  Steve was tucked in on my left side and I could hear Ken close behind us.  As we passed the first mile marker, Steve asked Ken what we were at - he said 6 minutes.  I rolled my eyes and pushed on.  I had silenced my GPS so that I wouldn't know what I was at.  Somehow that always gets foiled.  Oh-well.

Maybe a quarter mile later, we hit the first real hill and both Steve and Ken were off.  One thing I am very good at is maintaining an effort.  Whether it's a flat course or super hilly, my average HR doesn't move more than 1 bpm.  Unfortunately, that means that I get smoked when we hit a hill.  I would be on my own until around mile 8.  The majority of this race was a tough training run. 

Comparing in my mind to my PR, the Chesire half last year (HR ave = 176), I felt like I was definitely under that effort level.  However, my mind was uneasy pushing harder since I was unsure of how close I could be to that redline.  This is why I do these spring races; to redefine my feeling for that redline and get comfortable with being so close to it.  Ultimately, I stayed put.  A part of me felt bad about it, but then the other part of me just laughed 'cause it wanted nothing to do with pushing harder.

Around mile 5, I took out one of my two gels.  I had opted to run without a water bottle and instead use the three aid stations on course for liquids.  I started taking "bites" of my gel and they immediately sat oddly in my stomach.  In my head, I knew I needed the gel for energy, but I felt if I ate it, I'd end up stopping for a bathroom break (and this course does not have port-a-potties!).  So I ate maybe half a gel between miles 5 and 11 and had three swigs of Gatorade from the aid stations.  That was it!  After talking with my coach, I might go with just the aid stations on the next race. 

Slip-N-Slide

I'd like to call this next section "Slip-N-Slide."  There are a couple dirt roads on this course; the first is a large hill and the second is a flat, curvy backroad.  The race director warned us beforehand that while they have been plowed, sanded, and salted, they are still quite icy.  There were people stationed at the first road to make sure we were aware of that as we made the turn.  WOW they were icy!!  I took up the line right along the far right trying to run more on the snow than the ice in the middle of the road.  It didn't keep my feet from slipping right out from under me on the push off though.  I didn't fall, but I heard of others who did. 

At mile 2, I had turned my head back to see someone maybe a quarter mile back.  I put in my head that I wanted to hold them off for at least a mile.  Well, turns out I held them off for about 6.  There is one super nasty hill on this course and Melissa caught and passed me on that hill.  I kept her within a quarter mile the rest of the race, but could never close that gap.

After the 2nd dirt road which is much longer but thankfully is not a hill, we have about 2.25 miles to go.   At the mile 11 marker, I tried to kick it up a gear.  Turns out I went up 3 bpm, but it didn't feel like I was going any faster.  I tried to imagine myself at home on a training run.  I pictured where I would be if I was 2 miles from home.  That seemed to help 'cause at that point on my normal route it feels like I'm practically home. 


After the mile 11 hill (yup, it has a hill all to itself), I hit the mile 12 marker.  I started thinking of the Savin Rock Half now where my breathing was so incredibly ragged for the last 2 miles.  I thought of my progression runs and how hard I'm pushing at the end of those.  I tried to push and I got a little more out of my body.  It certainly was fighting me.  I had actually been wheezing for a majority of the race which is really weird, but I found some rhythm in the wheezing now on the final hill and pushed just to maintain that effort and rhythm.  It'll all be over soon!

As you may recall, my main goal for this race was to increase my HR average.  I had silenced my GPS because I didn't care what my time was.  My PR here (though sick at the time) was 1:33:xx.  I figured I should beat that and if I was lucky maybe break 1:30.  Honestly, I hadn't given it much thought.  It was all about HR.  That is, up until about 5s before I crossed the finish line.  Haha.  Here's how that happened.

I'm pushing up the final hill, trying to keep the effort high enough to make my breathing ragged.  I cross the street, run right in front of a car, and line myself up with the cones that make the final turn.

Inside the cones!

I know I only have 0.05 miles to go (probably less!) and I'm pushing hard.  I make the final turn with plenty of people there cheering me on.

Right turn!

All of a sudden, I get a glimpse of the time clock at the finish line.  1:24:xx. 



CONFUSION!!  Is that real?  That can't be real!  What else would it be timing??  Did that just happen?  How did I just run a half marathon PR on the hilliest course?  Am I dreaming?!

2015 Colchester Half Marathon
1:24:22
4th overall
HR ave = 173 bpm

As soon as I got a drink and my breathing came back down, I switched all my data back onto the screen of my GPS.  My average HR was 173, 2 bpm higher than last year.  Success!!  And yes, my time was 1:24:22!  I think I would have still been second guessing it if I hadn't timed it myself.  With those two pieces of data, I was on cloud 9!!

I warmed down a bit, went and put on sweats, and headed back up to the finish line to catch one of my athletes finish, who by the way beat his course PR by about 12 minutes!  AWESOME!!  We were both very happy with the day's run.  We warmed down, got changed, and headed in for the best part of the race, FOOD!!

Remember that this race costs $14 if you pre-register.  And after the race, there are massages, a full locker room to shower and change, and homemade food prepared by the high school students.  They always make use of the cafeteria since the race is based out of the Bacon Academy High School.  And the food is always GREAT!!  One even better thing this year was that they had specific vegetarian options; vegetarian chili, vegetarian lasagna, and ziti.  I was one happy vegetarian!  

The post-race at Colchester seems to take just as long as the race itself because we sit and talk about our races with all our friends so much that time just flies by!

So if you're ever in the CT area on the last Saturday in February and want to check out a REALLY cool half marathon, I highly encourage you stop by Bacon Academy High School in Colchester and join us!

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Questions
1.  What is the hilliest race course you've ever been on?
I've run other races that SEEM hillier, but Colchester certain wins at 725 ft of elevation change over 13.1 miles.

2.  What is the best deal of a race that you've ever done?
With massage, showers, and food, I could care less about shirts and medals/awards.  

3.  Have you ever run a race and thought the whole time "Eh, I could do better" only to be surprised at the end by how well you did?  Or maybe the reverse; felt great, but did horribly?
During the race if I had to guess, I might have said I was right at the 1:30 mark.  I would have never guessed I would PR!

4.  Do you run races with data or do you go by feel?
I much prefer going by feel.  Data in the past has ruined my race by getting me depressed, though it has also lit a fire under my a$$ and got me going.  But ultimately, I prefer going without. 


DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

RACE REPORT: 2015 Tradition Run 5k

The 46th annual Tradition Run 5k

This "un-race" began in 1970 when Bernie Jurale ran up to the radio tower on top of the West Peak in Meriden, CT on his 70th birthday.  He continued the tradition through 1979 having been joined over the years by students of his from the local high school.  Since then, the run has carried on in the spirit of it's name, a tradition.  No matter the weather, runners congregate and make the trek up to the peak.

The run is free.  There's no official timing.  Walkers are suggested to start at 10am and runners at 10:30am, but people can and do start whenever they like.  The course, having been changed since Bernie's first run in 1970, takes you up the back access road to Castle Craig at the East Peak of Hubbard Park.  Unfortunately, misdirected by the name, it is not a castle, but a watchtower.  It offers the best view of the Meriden area around and is the highest point within 25 miles of the coast from Maine all the way to Florida.

So why not have a "race" up to it.
Right??

This is the third year I've done this race.  Every year I try to psych myself up for it and every year I end up gritting my teeth and struggling just to continue without walking.  Here's why.


Above is the elevation profile for this race.  Mile 1 is okay.  Mile 2 is tough.  Mile 3 is beyond torturous!  According to my Garmin, we climbed 667 ft, 400 of which was in mile 3 alone.  Here is a picture from roughly 0.5 miles in looking up to the finish line at Castle Craig.


I would suggest not looking in that direction and discouraging yourself at this point in the race.  Keep looking forward.

This is NOT a PR course!!

Let's see how it went.

I got up without my alarm (the best way to wake up) around 7:30am.  I ate breakfast (3 eggs, toast, banana w/ pb).  Then I spent some time catch up on emails and about 30 minutes stretching.  My hamstrings have been really tight lately, so I've been working on making stretching more of a daily habit. 

Given the limited parking available, I left at 9am and got there at 9:30am when registration began.  The lots were already about 95% full.  Anyone who showed up later had to park along the park entrance/exit roads.  This party has quite the following!!

I got registered (just a waiver form), hit the bathroom twice, and went back to the car to listen to some music.  Volbeat's A Warrior's Call and Shinedown's Bully all the way!!  With about 20 minutes 'till the start, I switch into my running jacket, took off the sweatpants and headed out to warm up; about 10 minute jog with a few striders thrown in to loosen up and get the HR up.

The weather called for mid to upper 30s with wind chills in the mid twenties.  I ran with my thermal shorts (one of the best running gear purchases I've ever made), calf sleeves, a long sleeve shirt (though I could have gone short sleeve), and my Brooks Utopia mittens.  Because this race always fails to have water at the top (though they advertise they have it), I politely asked the photographer if I could toss my hydration pack in his truck.  That was a huge help! 

I lined up at the start line with 2 minutes to go.  Here was my plan - push to get a higher HR average (my current HR PR at the 5k is 180 bpm).  I'd also like to beat my previous course PR of 22:xx, but while I really did want to beat it, it meant less than hitting that HR PR.

There was a scrawny kid (probably looked like me) doing sprints at the start line to stay loose.  I'm going to call him Captain because he had a Captain America shirt and socks on.  He had a track tattoo on his right calf, so I pegged him as the likely winner and decided to let him go on ahead.  This was both a good and bad thing as you'll see.

Runner's, take your mark.....
*silence*
*runners inched forward*
*more silence*
*starter laughing*
GO!!!

"Haha.  Funny, funny!" I commented as we started out.  Probably half a dozen runners burst out from the front.  A friend of mine, Adam, came with me for the first 0.05 miles and I secretly hoped he would hang on, but he didn't.  That start always seems to go in slow motion and fast forward all at the same time.  About 0.1-0.2 miles in, it was the Captain out in front, me and at least one person just off of my heels.  I could hear their footsteps.

I quickly found a pace that felt like a push but wasn't overly taxing.  I tried to maintain it while my HR jumped and found a groove to sit in.  The Captain was inching forward but not quickly.  I had already tagged him as running off ahead, so I was content with simply keeping him within reach for awhile.  I focused more on the steps behind me, trying to push a bit on the flats to put some distance between us.

Once I turned my focus behind me, I started gaining on the Captain.  For a split second I thought maybe I should slow down.  'Am I taxing myself too early?'  Immediately, I threw it out and kept with my pace.  If I catch him, then I catch him.  'Stick to YOUR pace Kurt!'  And I did.

Just around mile 1, I caught the Captain, pulled up along side, and must have lit a fire inside of him 'cause he surged forward again.  I let him go, but he didn't go far.  He got ahead on a little hill and then I started catching him again on the down/flat.  We crossed the north end of the pond at around 1.75 miles in, took a photographic moment of us neck-and-neck, and then he backed off and let me lead. 

This proved to me that A) I should not have pegged him as the winner at the start line and B) he probably helped pull me along faster in the first 2 miles than I would have gone on my own.  They were certainly faster than my previous 2 runs on this course.

'I am in the lead!  I am actually winning a race and it's not just the first 20 seconds.'  That went through my head as I made a few turns and started up THE HILL.  Nearly 400 feet of constant UP. 

Well...  Haha.  It didn't last long.  The Captain kept fading until I couldn't hear him anymore, but about 0.25 mile up the hill I was passed by the eventual winner.  If he was the footsteps behind me at the start, then he was smart.  He probably saved himself for the hill, knowing that we all fade there.  That, or he just runs here all the time and knows better than most how to attack it.  Either way, he breezed past me at a good clip and just kept on chugging.

I spend the entire hill desperate for a reprieve.  I convinced myself that every horizon, every turn was the end of the hill.  My body slowed, my HR stayed up, and my legs went into auto-pilot, refusing to respond to my commands.  After about ten false crests, I finally made it to the top.  There is a short downhill and then an even steeper but short uphill.  Finally, there are a few twists and turns before the finish line. 

I put everything I had into it and crossed the line as someone yelled out "21:39."  Or at least I thought it was thirty nine.  My watch read 21:49, so I might have not heard him correctly or my mind wasn't in the best state to remember things at that point.  Either way, 21 minutes anything meant that I had beaten my 2013 PR.  Woohoo!!!  However, my average HR was only 176.  Bummer!

The photographer took my name and city and I went to his truck to grab my bag.  I put on my windbreaker, grabbed a sip of water and put on the hydration pack.  I took a quick picture of Castle Craig before I headed back down.


Castle Stormed!

The way back down was MUCH easier, though the course seemed so much longer this way than it was on the way up.  Weird!  I made it down, got my piece of cake (yes, post-race cake for a free race), got a patch/certificate, and headed back home. 

Once home, I noticed my left ankle was bothering me.  I didn't remember hitting anything, but... (*looks down at ankle*) WOAH!!  When did I do that?!


It took me 30 minutes to recall that in taking the above Castle Craig picture, I had stepped into some snow that had a shelf of ice over it.  The ice must have cut into the skin.  Oh-well.  Another bloody story to tell.

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Questions
1.  Have you ever had a free race?
This is my 3rd year at the Tradition Run.  Any free race other than this one was due to winning the registration.  They do a darn good job with it!

2.  What is the best post-race goodies/food you've had at a race?
Who can beat cake at a free race??

3.  Have you ever injured yourself without knowing how you did it?

DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

RECIPE BOOK: Stuffed Zucchini






Thanks to my friend Katie, I bring you another recipe.  This time, the recipe comes in the heat of farmer's market season!  I love walking around the farmer's market looking at the various options they have.  Not only do you find some new items you've never seen before, but you find gigantic zucchini and bell peppers, onions with the stalks still on them, every color tomato you can think of, and peppers in more shapes and sizes than you've ever seen in the grocery store.  When you can find a knowledgeable staff member who isn't busy with customers, it's fun to pick their brain in asking what this or that might be used for, what the heck something is, or what the difference in taste might be between two similar items.  Sometimes, you may find you come up with a whole new recipe or side dish that you had never thought of before. 

This recipe at first came from Katie.  I'm not sure where she got it, but I can't take credit for the bulk of the idea.  However, after making it once, I decided that it needed some changes.  Thanks to my love of mushrooms and corn and the local farmer's market, I had plenty of inspiration!




INGREDIENTS

1 large Zucchini, halved and hollowed out
1 Tomatoes, diced
1/2 Bell Peppper, diced
1/2 Yellow onion, diced
1 Portobello Mushrooms, diced
1 Corn on the cob, cut from the cob
1/4 cup Monterey cheese, shredded
Garlic, finely minced (or garlic powder)
Parsley
Oregano

The best part is that everything except the mushrooms came straight from the farmer's market.  What a difference fresh ingredients make!

DIRECTIONS

Pre-heat the oven to 350o. 

Clean, halve, and hollow out one large zucchini.  I like to use the meat of the zucchini for a separate stir fry.  There's no use in wasting!  Fill a pot with water and boil the zucchini until it begins to be flexible to the touch.  We don’t want to fully cook it in the water.  Set aside in a baking dish.

Add onions, mushrooms, and uncooked corn to a large pan.  Sautee for 5 minutes or until the onions soften and the mushrooms become aromatic.  Add peppers and seasonings to taste and cook for 2 additional minutes.

Empty the pan into a bowl and add tomatoes and cheese.  Mix and spoon into zucchini.  Bake at 350o for 15 minutes or until peppers are cooked to your satisfaction. 

Top with additional cheese or seasonings if you so choose and enjoy!



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Questions

1.  Do you visit a farmer's market or partake in community shared agriculture (CSA)?
I love visiting farmer's markets, but have not pulled the trigger on the CSA yet.

2.  Is there any specific item you love fresh versus from the grocery store?
I grew up eating nothing but local corn on the cob.  If it wasn't picked that day at the farm, it wasn't on our plate.  The difference, I found much later on, is incredible.  Now, in adulthood, I eat nothing but farm fresh tomatoes as well.  Again, the difference in taste is astronomical!


DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Gym Pet Peeves

As many of you know, I work as a trainer at a gym.  Every once in awhile, to keep people's minds busy, I give them something to make a list of.  One of the best ones to date was "Songs you don't want to hear in the hospital" which included Quit Playing Games With My Heart by Backstreet Boys, Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, and

This time, I asked them to list their pet peeves of the gym, the things they hate seeing people do while they're working out.  Here's what we came up with.

Gym Pet Peeves

I really can't stand it when a member...

  1. ...hangs onto the treadmill while walking at a high incline.  Get your hands off!!
  2. ...uses their cell phone during their workout (to text, call, browse FB, or play candy crush)
  3. ...when you can hear someone's feet hitting the treadmill but they're completely oblivious.
  4. ...thinks they're at Crossfit and drops their weights.
  5. ...does repetitions of only 25% of their range of motion (and does 100 of them).
  6. ...doesn't wipe down their profuse sweating.
  7. ...hogs a machine by "resting" on it for 2-5 minutes between sets.
  8. ...goes for an impressive weight while ignoring their form.
  9. ...does more and more and more crunches (and only crunches) in an attempt to get a six pack.
  10. ...sticks to their gender roles; guys in the free weight area, girls on the cardio equipment.
  11. ...is in the gym for an hour without a single drop of sweat.
  12. ...comes to the gym with full makeup on and their hair done up.
  13. ...sounds like their constipated or trying to pass a kidney stone/give birth with every rep.
  14. ...can be smelled halfway across the gym 10 minutes after they have left.

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Questions
1.  Are there any items that you can add to the list?

2.  Are you guilty of any of these?

3.  What have you seen in your gym?


DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Body Image Issues

Hi.  My name is Kurt and I have body image issues.

I have been an athlete almost all of my life.  I've never been overweight.  I've never had a doctor tell me I need to lose weight, stop a bad habit, or that I was anything other than perfectly healthy; even superiority healthy most of the time.  I am a swimmer turned triathlete.  I am a scientist turned fitness coach.  And ever since...  maybe junior high?, I've had body image issues.

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As everyone seems to start these discussions, this is hard to put into words.  But it's not hard because I struggle emotionally with it.  It's hard to describe.  I'm not the stereotype, so I don't fall into a category that has already been hashed out half a million times this week alone.  I've never been overweight, so I don't fear that.  I've never been stricken by an eating disorder.  Heck, I've always eaten just about anything I wanted; even up through this past year of being a vegetarian.  I am symmetrical, so I can't blame malformations or physical oddities.  And I have some muscle, but nothing to stand in front of the mirror flexing with.

I am me.
But for many reasons, I've never fully accepted who that is visually.

Where to begin?!...

Why am I writing this?  Many people consider those with more prevalent issues - obesity, eating disorders, malformations, or even body builders - to have body image issues.  A part of me wants to tell you that that's only the Hallmark story, the majority and more apparent occurrences.  As a fitness trainer, I've come to realize that many many many many more people have or have had similar questions, thoughts, or troubling times.  This year, some things have happened that have helped me get over my issues.  I am by no means cured, but I have some tactics in place now that get me over any issue that comes up.  So I am writing this so that more people will be aware of how the people around them feel.  I don't want you to be 'more careful' about what you say because heaven knows we don't need to be more censored, but instead more supportive of one another and open to different perspectives. 

So...  let's dive right in. 


High school.  Ha!  You can't talk about any body image issue without going through the most grueling time in most people's lives for comparing themselves to others.  One classmate of mine shot up to 6 feet tall in 6th grade and as far as I could tell, never grew another inch.  Another friend of mine shot up 6 inches over one summer and his voice dropped about two octaves.  Girls start to get their curves.  We're all pretty awkward at that point in our lives and for some unspoken reason, we hold it against one another.  Why?  Beats me! 

My personal battle at the time was acne.

It's typical.  I had it on my face, chest, and a large portion of my back.  I still do today, but have somewhat outgrown it and/or learned how to deal with it.  But in my early teenage years, it bombed how I looked at myself.  I very much disliked going shirtless and because of how embarrassed I was, I let that filter into my self-worth.  In my mind, I wasn't the desirable jock or one of the cool kids (as very few of us ever really were).  I tried lifting for a time to counter my skin by building some muscle, but it never took.  I stayed just as scrawny as ever.  I figured I was bound to be second rate or worse even forever.

Having said that, I want to point out that I LOVED high school.  I had a great group of friends, loved learning, and until shortly after graduating, I would have chosen to rewind time and repeat high school any day!  I simply did not think highly of myself. 

Now, one key to this story is that there was one place where how I looked never crossed my mind.  The swimming pool. 

The pool.  That was my dominion, my safe haven, my no judgement zone.  I had been a swimmer well before getting to junior high and spent 7th through 12th grade living as a swimmer.  It's a funny comparison that taking off my shirt outdoors was absolutely out of the question at that time of my life, but walking around in a speedo while in the pool area didn't make me blink.  I never cared what I looked like.  I never had much muscle.  I didn't care what my skin looked like.  I could swim and my focus was not distracted once I walked through those doors.

In college, I didn't swim.  I realized that pinching skin off of your bod is normal.  It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I had ever been able to do that.  A part of me really wants to go back and get tested for body fat.  I was below 4% I know.  But overall, my feelings about how I looked remained the same during those years.  It also didn't bother me as often because I had plenty of other things (studying!) to keep me busy.

Fast forward again and I'm now in grad school.  I had started to feel like I had outgrown my acne.  I felt a liiiiiiittle more comfortable if I was to take my shirt off say, at the beach, but I still would avoid going shirtless under most circumstances.

I have gotten better since,
but I've never outgrown that insecurity.

Now, remember how I couldn't put muscle on in high school?  In grad school, I decided to really try and focus on that.  For whatever reason (I can't exactly remember what the trigger was), I wanted to improve how I looked.  I joined a gym.  Over 6 months or so, I leaned out a bit, put on about 5-10 lb of muscle, and began to be happy with the thought that I could end up where I wanted to be; happy with how I looked.  The problem was (and if you had asked me then I would have eventually admitted the same thing), I knew it was only a journey.  I would never truly be happy.

I see myself as my junior high self.
It will take a long time to overcome that ingrained identification.

Enter Triathlon.  When I started triathlon, it functioned just like swimming used to.  It was my domain.  I didn't care who was looking at me or what I was (or wasn't) wearing.  I was so focused on performance that nothing else mattered.  (*Cue Metallica*)  Maybe that's why I loved it so much and still do.  It brought back into my life a way to escape from the world for awhile as well as a focused goal to work towards.  I was addicted. 


Then, as I started to dream of getting better, I started looking around and naively tried to pick out who was better than me.  I wanted to emulate them, to pick apart how they train or race.  Whether I picked out the right people or not, I noticed that the fast athletes tended to look rather fit.  They weren't big and muscular, but they were lean and good looking.  My own insecurities crept right back in!

'How can I beat these guys?
I don't look anything like them.'

Fast forward 4 years.  I started triathlon in 2010.  I spent 2011, 2012, and 2013 with those thoughts in my mind as I sized up the competition.  I would do that REPEATEDLY.  Thankfully, since people jostle positions a lot during a triathlon and coming into the sport a strong swimmer, I tended to come out of the water towards the front and got a taste of glory.  That has helped keep my triathlon career alive and enjoyable. 

As of this year, my 5th year in the sport, I am starting to revert my way of thinking.  When I'm at a new race, I still look at my competition and think 'I don't look as good as he does.  There goes the podium,'  but I have the experience that no matter how I look, I've proven I can perform.  I regularly podium at the local sprint races.  I came in 6th at Rev3 Cedar Point.  Yes, there are still a lot of better athletes out there, but I recognize that this sport is visually deceiving; looks have nothing to do with rank.

Looks have nothing to do with rank in triathlon.

Now, shortly after triathlon entered the picture, I switched careers and instead of doing neuroscience research, I became a personal trainer.  It was because of triathlon that I'm in the career I'm in now and it's in large part because of triathlon that I remain here.

Personal Training.  Walk into any gym and you are often greeted by a staff that visually look very fit.  If you asked people to pick out someone in a line up that is a personal trainer, they'd probably pick out the most muscular person there.  It's a stereotype.  It has historical reference too, which keeps me from getting too upset about it, but if I'm going to be honest, there have been multiple times when I've dealt with people doubting my knowledge and ability as a trainer because of how I looked.  That goes both for potential clients as well as other trainers.  It can be frustrating.

Why do I have to look like a body builder
to help you lose weight or get in shape?


I admit that it's easy to think that if someone looks fit, "buff," or built, they must know how to get that way.  But there are plenty of people that have the knowledge and decide  not to put it to use on themselves.  I am a fit person, but line me up next to other 6 foot, 165 lb guys that might be regulars to a gym and I don't look much different.  Thankfully, my experience with triathlon has helped me brush off what people say about my professional abilities.  I like to think to myself 'Let me show you what I can do.  Then we'll see who's talking smack.'

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Overall, No.  I will never be able to fully shake my own self-perceptions.  However, I can do my best to keep them from causing me any emotional grief.

I've never been happy with how my skin looks and am still embarrassed by it.  It has gotten better as I age through my 20s, but I doubt it will ever go away and the scars from the years that have gone by will always remain.

I've never been a muscular guy.  I never thought I got sucked into the social desire to be lean and muscular, but maybe I did along the way.  However, now I also don't want to be.  If I'm going to continue as a triathlete, the extra muscle will only slow me down.

Professionally, it will always be a struggle as a personal trainer.  I don't have the body that market's myself like I know some do.  However, if my triathlon career has to suffer for the sake of my professional career, then I'm good with struggling.  As long as I'm persistent enough, I know I can change people's opinions and hopefully their own perceptions.

I am who I am.
Thanks to athletics, I am learning to accept and enjoy who that is.


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Questions
1.  Have you ever had issues with body image?

2.  Are you affected personally, socially, or professionally by a stereotype?
I do not "look the part" of a typical personal trainer and many potential clients as well as other trainers doubt my knowledge and abilities because of that.


DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

No More Apologies

It's that time of year when the triathlon season for those of us in the northeast US starts to wind down.  Many of us are already off on our "off season" shenanigans already.  And most of us have already started sketching out crude plans for 2015, thinking about how to adjust training, and what races we're going to do.

The off season is a time when a lot of us find time for that get together we've been putting off, for that trip we've always wanted to do but couldn't fit in, or simply for being lazy and having massive pancake breakfasts for no more of a reason than "it sounds great!"

In the past, I've been that person.  I've taken this time to catch up with friends, stay up later than normal, go out, eat things I couldn't before, and for all intensive purposes lead my alternate life.  I did that because come the new year, I knew that all of those things would be back up on the shelf as training began.  I'd be in bed early, RSVPing "no" to parties, being a stickler with what I ate, and the list goes on and on.  Every year, I either considered or actually did post a pre-emptive apology...

"If you're reading this, I want you to know that I am taking this year as my shot at some hefty triathlon goals and I want to take every step I can to complete them.  I apologize for not being able to make your parties, stay up late, eat anything outside of my diet, and the like.  So, in short, I'm sorry for the next 6-8 months."

That was something akin to what I sent out in 2011 when I started getting serious about triathlon.  I was doing my first 70.3 and then got a spot for the Ironman 70.3 WC in Vegas.  In 2012, I thought very hard about sending out another apology as I set myself up to tackle my first full iron-distance triathlon.  2013 just felt like an extension of 2012.  And this year, I hired my first coach to help me. 

Over those years, not only have I lost touch with a number of friends - and I do apologize for that to those who have suffered - but I've changed as a person.  I've taken triathlon on not just as a hobby, but as a lifestyle.  I don't dabble in a few every year.  My year is scheduled around my races.  My yearly vacations are taken so that I can travel to races.  I've adjusted my diet so many times that I've gone from eating frozen dinners to becoming a lover of farmer's markets and a vegetarian for over a year.  I've embraced my morning person attitude.  If I could be in bed by 9:30p every night so I'd be up at 5:30a every morning, I would!  I've gone from lab researcher to full time coach. 

Since 2011, I have changed.  I've changed a lot.  We all do.  I thought about that a lot as I was driving home from Rev3 Cedar Point last week and listening to Scott Jurek's book "Eat and Run."  In the end, I came to one very large conclusion.

I am no longer apologizing.

I am not sorry about missing late night parties. 
I am not sorry about skipping eating out.
I am not sorry about having to fit in my sometimes very long workouts.
I am not sorry for being tired and wanting to take a nap or stay home.
If you ask me "can you just not do or move that workout?," it does not phase me to tell you "No."
My socializing consists of pre/post-race, group OWSs on Fridays, track workouts, and meeting up for a long ride/run.

I very much enjoy how I've changed my life.  What started out as a new hobby and small ambition has morphed into a true focal point in my life and I refuse to apologize for that any longer. 

So as I move into my off season where I have more time, more flexibility, and less scheduled items on the to do list, I will continue to be in bed early, up early, cook at home, be a vegetarian, and be active.  If you have an issue with that, then that's too bad.  This is my life.  I'm going to live it the way I want to.

BOOM!

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Questions
1.  Have you found that any particular hobby has altered your life?
Triathlon has COMPLETELY changed my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.

2.  Do you take the off season to "let loose" or lead a somewhat alternative lifestyle?
I used to lead a different life in the off season. 

3.  Have you ever made an apology in order to maintain an athletic endeavor?
Yes, I have.  At first it was against my typical schedule, but at this point most people have come to assume that I have a workout, bedtime, or the like.  It's much easier now that I've been in this lifestyle for a number of years.


DREAM.  BELIEVE.  ACHIEVE.