Monday, February 14, 2011

What’s Working

I wanted to use my most recent training block to set some very good habits for the year, to experiment with what my body needs to be successful, and to take all those tidbits of advice that we hear as athletes and put them all into practice at once and see if it makes a difference.  None of this is new information by any means but as an amateur athlete it was a good test of how being on my best behavior impacts my training. 

As a caveat, I will state up front – I’m in a very fortunate position with respect to my ability to enact these changes.  I don’t have the responsibility of children, I have some control over my work schedule, and I can afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables often. 

Consistency and Trust

I do the workouts on the schedule.  I don’t second-guess if my body can handle them or if they’re really important, I trust my coach to make that decision.  I don’t try to push a little harder than instructed because I want to get my averages or miles up – if it says easy, I go easy.  I trust that if I work hard enough I can meet the assigned targets for each one.


I’ve always been fairly good about getting a good amount of sleep but I remember those freakish nights in Ironman training where I passed out exhausted and then woke up sweating and shivering all night, or unable to fall back asleep, or starving, or peeing 5x a night.  Some of that will be unavoidable, but going into this year I wanted to work on my sleep habits and get a better understanding of how my body operates at rest and what it needs.

So, I took a leap of faith and invested in a Zeo Personal Sleep Coach.  For a very detailed review of this device and the plethora of features and functions it offers, please see DC Rainmaker’s review.  Suffice it to say there are a lot of cool features, like the Smartwake option where it wakes you at the best moment in your sleep cycle within your defined time window.

One of the first things I saw from tracking my sleep data was that the vast majority of my deep sleep (the kind where physical restoration occurs) comes early in the night and I miss out on a lot of it if I go to bed too late.  By the same token, my REM sleep (the mental restoration part) all comes in the wee hours of the morning.

The most interesting feature of the Zeo that you don’t get from a standard alarm clock is the sleep coaching.  There are multiple steps that focus on different areas (learning ways to relax yourself into sleep faster, improving your bedroom environment, synching with housemates, etc) and each can take one to several weeks to complete.  Among the changes I have made, I’ve stopped watching TV or surfing the internet during my last hour before bed, I’ve turned the heat down at night so I don’t repeatedly wake up sweating and then shivering, and I’ve stopped waiting for Jeff to be ready before going to sleep or heading to bed to start powering down.

During this training block, I completed the step on optimizing my sleep schedule.  Based on my feedback about what time I needed to get up most mornings and the data about what I needed for sleep, the Zeo assigned me a bedtime of 8:45pm and a rise time of 5:00am.  The only night that I found difficult to meet the bedtime goal was on Tuesdays, where I have agility class with the dogs until 8:15 and only barely get home by 8:45.  Otherwise I stuck to my schedule fairly well and found that I was falling asleep faster, getting more overall sleep, more deep sleep, more REM sleep and feeling better and more eager to work out in the mornings.

So, hey, that’s progress!  I am looking forward to seeing what the Zeo has to say about dealing with noisy housemates when I reach that step. :-)


It’s no secret I’m working to clean up my diet even more this year.  I shared my green smoothie recipe last month.  I’ve continued to refine my eating habits over the last few weeks.  I refreshed my memory with a visit back to my favorite sports nutrition book to ensure I was fueling at the right times for my training.

One of the things I shoot for with respect to my daily input is a lot of fiber.  Possibly really high for some people.  I try to take in at least 35g of fiber on an average day, some days I end up in the 40s.  The result for me is that I’m likely to fill up on a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, leaving less space available for eating junk.   A typical morning or afternoon snack might be a big bowl of fresh berries, satisfying my sweet tooth and some of my fiber needs all at once. 

I got a subscription to Cooking Light recently and have been experimenting with more of their recipes and cooking at home a LOT more often than past years.  I live at Whole Foods (OK not quite but I’m there 2-3x a week since I like FRESH ingredients and only shop for a few days at a time).  I am eating less meat than ever – it does NOT need to be the centerpiece of a meal to be well balanced.

And the funny part of all of this is, I feel like I’m eating more volume-wise than ever!  But by timing the meals with my workouts and eating meals and snacks with some balance, I’m possibly beginning to master this whole nutrition thing.  I consider this a HUGE gain because I remember the all-day-long chowfest that was Ironman training and I want to have a better handle on it this time. 

The even nicer upside of good nutrition during the past few weeks is a noticable change in body composition.  Clothes are fitting differently (looser in the waist, for example) and I’ve visibly gained muscle mass in other areas: classic moment, coming out of the shower and drying off I glance in the mirror - “what are those lumps under my armpits?” – hello, dummy, those would be LATS.


Compression tights (well, sadly cheap compression capris but they were almost like tights on me) went right on after long rides.  Compression socks after most other hard workouts.  I think this went a long way to helping my muscles rebound faster from the abuse I put them through.  Based on what I felt from using the “tights” I really want to try these at some point.

By the same token, I’ve worn the calf sleeves less since I got my bike fit.  There’s been less need now that my pedaling position has improved so I’m not pedaling toes-down so much over-working my calves.


I’ve been following the same routine every morning: 1 multivitamin, 2 Recovery e21 electrolyte capsules, and 2 Joint Health capsules.  I take additional electrolyte capsules after long or threshold workouts and will be taking them during long workouts over 2 hours.

The multivitamin just seems like a basic good idea in the event that I’m missing some key nutrient in my diet.  The electrolyte capsules are contributing to faster recovery from workouts and – yes, bonus! – decreased soreness.  They are also going to be great for electrolyte replacement during workouts and races in the heat this year!  Since I began taking the joint health capsules, I’ve lost all those twinges in my shoulders after weight lifting and knees after running, so they must be doing something good for my joints!

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Or rather a decreased amount of alcohol.  Rather than a drink or two, several nights a week, I’ve basically dropped off to once per week.  I know this is a hard one for some, but it’s felt right for me as more often than not, there’s really no reason to have that drink. 

I’m sure I will have lapses during the year or events worth celebrating a bit more enthusiastically.  When I DO indulge, thankfully, I’ve learned a couple Recovery e21 capsules before bed restores electrolyte levels and I’ve been able to train the following morning feeling 100%!


So in summary, none of this is ground-breaking or new.  I’ve done bits and pieces of it in the past when training.  But I’m still learning a lot about putting it all together and will continue to now that I’ve seen how well it works for me! 

I apologize that this post turned out so long!


Iron Krista, "The Dog Mom" said...

The ZOOT recovery tights are AMAZING! And, you can wear them under your cloths if you have to go into the office or anything. Great for flying as well :-)

They are TIGHT tho, it's like another workout to get them on!

elizabeth said...

sounds like you are really honing in on everything Molly. this year is going to be AMAZING for you!! LOVE it :)

Wes said...

Yea Molly you're a smart one! People make a living out of putting it all together, and you are on the right track! Knock it outta the park!

Anonymous said...

Really good post, thanks for sharing this! I'm sure after doing tris for a couple years you're now zeroing in on what is making a difference. This being my first "real" training year I'm just finding the things that DON'T work (alcohol being high on the list :-)) Good with consistency and sleep, not so good with diet. On the fence on compression, but thinking I might need to give it a shot!

Anonymous said...

You will be a good role model for me in keeping the eating controlled. I'm really practicing eating enough when warranted (weekends) so I don't end up over hungry and binging during the week. It really is a better way to do things isn't it.

I'm impressed you are cooking more, I know that's not one of your favourite things - I hope doing it now will feel like it's for YOU this time.

Now, what is really important, is what we're going to wear next November. Really, I've been actually thinking about that. I'm so vain.

Liz Waterstraat said...

That's the thing about success - none of it is new or a big secret. It's making these little changes that add up to BIG things. Your commitment to this is what sets you apart from others. Way to go!