Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Being an Athlete

For years I have been pushing myself to reach my goals, whether it was finding a way to go “out of state” for college, or, more recently, working madly to fit in a linear algebra course at Berkeley while also working full time and training for the Boston Marathon. While last year’s Ironman experience was both a physical and mental accomplishment for me, I have felt that I have been doing things (or not doing things) that were holding me back. Going to Diabetes Training Camp helped me to once again realize that it is okay to dream big, and gave me some practical tools and knowledge to get me on the path.

There is so much to say, so I will just include a few highlights…

Triabetes team coming together. I was finally able to meet most of those I hadn’t met—Steve Ahn, Steve Chop, Dave Shack—and to visit with Peter Nerothin and Bill Carlson again as well. I look forward to meeting the rest of the team soon. It was wonderful spending time with the documentary team and family, and I look forward to getting to know them better over the coming months. Dave’s comments during our educational sessions at camp were priceless, and I was impressed that he hammered out some tough miles on our climb up San Marcos Road. I think this was his 3rd time riding a road bike (and being clipped in!) and he just didn’t stop. By the end of camp, I had a new perspective on the Triabetes project and realized that not only could it help others, but also that it had already changed my own life.

Here I am with Bill C. on our ride with Peter N. up past the avocado orchards. Those trees were just out of reach--dang! I would like to say that I blazed past both of them on the way up but it just wouldn't be quite true. (gotta get a better camera phone)

Did someone say “swimming?” My theme for the week was swimming, swimming, and more swimming. With Oceanside (aka California 70.3) this coming Saturday, I initially felt a little nervous abandoning my normal swim workouts, but soon realized that this would be far more helpful. Each day at camp, we had two training sessions of either swim, bike or run skill sessions and workouts and an occasional other option like yoga or wall climbing, and one session of strength- or flexibility-based fitness workouts such as pilates, yoga and strength training. I decided to swim at least once a day. Josh Gold and Celeste St. Pierre, who trekked all the way from NY and NH, patiently took apart our stroke and then put it back together again. By the end, I had increased awareness of my body position in the water and felt longer and much more balanced, and had learned tools to help me continue to improve once I got back home.

“This might be a little harder than your average stress test.” I believe this understatement was the caption on the cartoon above the treadmill at UCSB’s physiology lab where we did the VO2 max testing Tuesday. Hooked up with EKG leads and a breathing mask, I ran my little heart out. My max heart rate was as I expected (193, which was my max going up Welch Creek Road last fall) and I was relieved to see that my EKG showed no abnormalities. My biggest concern with my training this year has been my inability to get my weight down; Rick Crawford, the training coach on staff for DTC, worked out a plan that is already working well. He suggested that I focus on eating higher carb-content foods during and after exercise, and otherwise eat meals focused on protein with fruit and veggies/legumes. Since last Tuesday, my weight is down 3 pounds and I am highly motivated to bring it down to a more competitive weight. Furthermore, I feel relieved mentally to have a plan that I am not constantly fighting against. My biggest concern right now is dropping weight too fast since I’m pretty sure that would have an adverse effect on my fitness. Later in the week, Rick and I went over the numbers from the test and I realized that, perhaps, those hours and hours and hours of exercise over the past 20 years may have paid off after all. My attitude has changed from thinking of myself as a person who likes to exercise (a lot) to that of an athlete, and I am 100% committed to reaching my potential, whatever that may be.

Developing the mind as well as the body. We had many engaging educational sessions, ranging from topics like sports nutrition, exercise physiology related to exercise and diabetes, hypoglycemia and how to prevent and manage it, and just a conversation on how to get better medical care. One of the themes for the week was on designing training plans to start with a couple months of base training, to then enter a transition phase, and finish with a more intense phase leading up to a race. Within these phases, there are also periods of recovery. While this talk was focused on training for physical performance in a sport, it became clear that the ideas were also applicable to managing one’s diabetes. In particular, the idea of being patient, and including some periods of recovery (perhaps not logging for awhile) could be helpful. Another session was on relaxation techniques that will come in handy before my races this year. Although you might not suspect it, I am definitely one of those athletes who needs to “hype down” before a race. Take a look at my pre-race blood sugars and you will believe it. (Adrenalin causes a spike in blood sugar.)

All are welcome. The campers who came to DTC were a diverse group, ranging from many-time Ironman finishers and avid cyclists to those just embarking on their athletic careers. What was most impressive to me was the respect with which all athletes were treated. So much of the time I have wondered, “Is there anybody out there who understands this diabetes and exercise thing?” While there still are a lot of unanswered questions, it was a relief to be surrounded by a team of health and fitness experts with experience and insight into diabetes. Still, diabetes was not viewed as an excuse to perform less than any other athlete out there, an attitude I consciously try to maintain.

I would like to say “Thank you” to Matt Corcoran for having the vision and dedication to create this camp, and for all of the staff who worked to put it together. I feel enthused with a sense of hope and determination that will carry me forward for a long time. And I hope that I can also spread the message that living an active life with (or without) diabetes not only improves one’s health but also one’s spirit. It is not a burden but a pure joy.

I would also like to sincerely thank Andiamo Production and our sponsors who shared in the vision of the Triabetes project. We had some great news down there--Triabetes was just granted non-profit status, which means that any donations are now tax-deductible. If you would like to be involved as a sponsor or donate for a particular team member, just check out this page. We still need significant financial support to allow this project to be as successful as possible.

And as a last note, for those who were there, didn't Kathleen & Josh both have nice abs?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What's Your Speed?

I had an amazing time at Diabetes Training Camp last week and will give a full update soon. But in the meantime, here's a fun test for your finger speed.

83 words


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Diabetes Training Camp Update

One could not wish for a better setting for Diabetes Training Camp than we have here in Santa Barbara. The facilities at UCSB are impressive and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. And I feel like I'm pretty spoiled living in San Francisco. Hmm, SoCal may not be such a bad option after all! Even more than the setting, though, are the people making things happen here. So far I have enjoyed some expert help on my swimming, participated in a pilates class for the first time, and was able to have my VO2 max tested. We still need to go over the results for that but the one data point I know is that my max heart rate measured on the treadmill was 193. I saw 193 riding up Welch Creek Road on my bike; today, I also felt like I was giving it everything I had. True to form for high intensity exercise, my blood sugar spiked from 155 to 183 and then kept rising after for another 30-40 minutes, peaking at 230 and settling down to 215 over the next 15-60 minutes. This is probably the only group of fitness/diabetes professionals who understand that exercise can often make your blood sugar rise. How many doctors would be surprised to hear that?

Ray and Nella from Andiamo arrived last night for filming, and caught some footage of the VO2 max testing this morning, and will be filming over the next few days. Although I would gladly say good-bye to the pumps and cgm's and pin-cushion fingertips, events that bring together groups of type 1 athletes are always magical to me. If you want to experience this, I suggest that you sign up for one of the JDRF rides, look into joining Triabetes in 2009, participate in one of Insulindependence's events, or come to a Diabetes Training Camp session. Or, if you are able, please consider donating to or sponsoring Triabetes, which will help inspire people to take on one of these opportunities for themselves.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Running and the 9/8 Time Signature

This should be filed under: how music and swimming made me a better runner.

Several years ago I learned that, despite running different distances, most elite runners run around 180 steps per minute, or 90 steps per foot per minute. I worked on increasing my cadence to about 90, and have felt lighter and quicker because of it. (On a somewhat related note, I also read a great suggestion in a running magazine to imagine, while running, that a rope was attached to my sternum, pulling me forward. Visualizing this causes me to open up my chest and increase my forward momentum.)

A few years ago I started swimming for triathlons, and knew I needed to learn to breathe on both sides. I am a natural right-sided breather but felt I would have a smoother, more even stroke if I learned to breathe every 3 strokes. (I hope I can get that down to every 5 at some point!) So, with some good tips and encouragement from my swim coach, I trained myself to do bilateral breathing and am more or less comfortable with it.

Training for California International Marathon in December 2005, I noticed that my running was not completely even--I tended to favor my dominant side just as I did in swimming. I thought that if a 3-count rhythm worked for swimming, maybe the same would hold true for running. I also wanted to make sure I was keeping to a cadence of 90 steps per foot per minute. So counting "1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 4-2-3," where each beat is a step (i.e., "1-2-3" = right-left-right foot steps), I would count to 180/3 or 60 sets of 3. With this method, though, I found I was still favoring the right foot by emphasizing every other set of 3 steps.

In order to force myself to alternate the emphasis between right and left, I adopted the 9/8 time signature, where each measure consists of 3 sets of 8th notes, grouped in triplets, with the beat on the first 8th note for each measure. Each 8th note is one foot strike. I've never been a fan of this time signature in vocal works (or 12/8--even worse in general, but this one found here is okay), because the music tends to be a little sappy for my tastes. It has served me well in running, though!

Here's how it works:
Count in your head or mutter under your breath, "1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3" as one set. Get in this rhythm so you don't really have to count all the individual footsteps. I would think something like, "1-ta-ta, 2-ta-ta, 3-ta-ta," as one set, which consists of 9 footsteps, or 3 sets of triplets. Then the next set would be "2-ta-ta, 2-ta-ta, 3-ta-ta" and then "3-ta-ta, 2-ta-ta, 3-ta-ta," and "4-ta-ta, 2-ta-ta, 3-ta-ta" and so on. Eventually, just think, "1..., 2..., 3...," with each count representing 3 steps. The first beat I use to count how many sets I've run. If you are running at a cadence of 90 (or 180 steps per minute) then you would have 20 sets in one minute. Using this method will cause each subsequent set to start on, and the emphasis to therefore fall on, alternating feet. I have found that, using this method, my running form is much more even, comfortable, light and fast.

Sometimes, when I am trying to focus on positive mental thoughts, rather than "Ugh! I'm tired!" I will use this method and think something like, "one..., strong..., smooth..., two..., strong..., smooth..., three..., strong..., smooth..." where each word falls on every 3rd step, and I am still counting in 3 groups of 3 steps. Once the rhythm is ingrained, I might replace counting with another positive word, such as "fast" or whatever pep I might need at the moment.

Another helpful tip is to note that 180 steps per minute is equivalent to 3 steps per second. So I might do a quick cadence check during a run and count "1, ta, ta, 2, ta, ta, 3, ta, ta,..." and so on and make sure that 20 seconds have elapsed once I've counted to 20. If I'm slowing down my cadence, I can pick it up again.

This method worked really well for me at CIM 2005--I posted my still-current personal best of 3:39, fulfilling my 10-year goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which I ran in 2006. (It took more than counting, though!)

Happy running.

If this is all too confusing, here is the bottom line.
Try counting, where each count is one foot strike, "1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3,..." and so on. Emphasize the first count of each set (in bold). Run 3 steps per second. This helped me to run more evenly, quickly and relaxed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In Memory of Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson

As has been reported widely in the Bay Area, Matt Peterson and Kristy Gough were killed yesterday morning riding along Stevens Creek Road in Cupertino. I have been on the same route countless times and rode part of the same route on Saturday. It is considered to be one of the safer rides around, since there is a decent shoulder and, typically, the traffic is not too heavy. A police officer on routine patrol crossed the double yellow line and hit them in a head-on collision. According to reports, the police officer stated he must have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Kristy had been a star triathlete and more recently, an Olympic hopeful in cycling. Matt Peterson recently won his division at the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic in Merced, a goal he had been working towards with great diligence. More importantly, though, they were two well-loved friends, a daughter, a son, inspiring teammates. There is a sad mood in the cycling community. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Kristy and Matt. I also feel sadness for the police officer; although he is clearly at fault here, I am sure he will carry a heavy burden.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bill Carlson the Pioneer

Here's the original ABC broadcast of Bill Carlson as the first diabetic athlete to compete and finish an Ironman race. He did this back in 1983 with a pump that puts the old brick cell phones to shame. After having the pleasure of meeting Bill back in December, I would have to say that he hasn't changed much! His competitive streak seems as strong as ever and I think he's probably even more fit. I think he rides his bike a gazillion miles every day or something! (maybe a few less)

Bill is part of the Triabetes group and will be racing with the team at Ironman Wisconsin this September.

As a side note, I'm glad to see the progress in diabetes technology as well as hair styles since 1983.