Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Five Favourites

It's Friday, and I'm going to list some favourite things I've discovered over the summer.  It's a series from You Signed Up For What?

  1. My Mizuno Wave Rider 17s - I actually bought these before the trip to Germany, and it was there that I wore them running for the first time.  My Salomon trail shoes were showing their age, and I figured it was time for new shoes.  So many running bloggers I know love Mizuno, and these came recommended for runners who like/need cushioning, without being heavy.  Since buying them, I've found out Mizuno makes trail shoes, but I still really like these, as they've lived up to their weight vs. cushioning ratio promise.
  2. Cheddar & Caramel Smartfood - A while back, my wife managed to grab something called Chicago Mix, which was a mixture of Cheddar cheese popcorn and caramel corn.  I'm all about the savoury/sweet mixtures (e.g. salted caramel) these days.  Sadly, Chicago mix was hard to get our hands on, but this version of Smartfood is the next best thing, and I keep stumbling across it in every grocery store.
  3. Kobo Glo e-Reader - This thing has kept me reading a little better than I might have otherwise.  I forgot it at the cottage this weekend, but I'm currently reading through A Feast of Crows (Book 4 of A Song of Fire and Ice a.k.a. the Game Of Thrones books).  It also came in handy when I wanted to read the short fiction work of fellow triathlon blogger Dan T. Head, and as long as it's connected to WiFi, it syncs my progress so I can continue reading on my phone (or iPad) app.
  4. Mill Street Brewery Seasonal Sampler - Every time I drink a Mill Street beer, I feel good about supporting a home team brewery, but the beers themselves aren't always my absolute favourite (I really want to love the Organic Lager, but I don't).  The seasonal sampler is a six-pack of six different flavours, 4-5 of which I would love to have in their own 6 (or 12, or 24...) packs.  100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager (distinct from the aforementioned Organic Lager), Palomar (Chipotle Lime) Ale, and the Belgian Cherry IPA are all new, and the Belgian Wit was new(-ish) to me. 
  5. Spi-Belt - I heard about Spi-Belt a while ago, and I kept hoping some blogger would post a giveaway or discount, but I ended up cracking and buying one.  The concept is simple: provide a belt for runners with a generic pocket that can store ID, keys, smart-phone/other device.  So many products are dimensioned exactly for a particular thing, making them useless if you're not using, say, an iPhone.  The Spi-Belt's pocket expands to fit a variety of items.  It's a bit of a pain to get my smartphone in and out when I want to do things on the run (skip songs, pause the workout recording, take a photo), but for the better part of a year I was without a solution for storing things unless I wore my hydration pack or a water bottle belt.  I've since found out there are models that have even bigger pockets; the Endurance model and the Messenger Bag.
Happy Friday!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Snapshots From Germany

In my on-going game of blog post catch-up, I would like to engage in the (probably pointless) exercise of telling you, dear reader, about our annual family trip to Germany.  Last time I kept a detailed journal, not so much this time, so I’ll wrap it up in a single post, with just the broad strokes. With Germany in the World Cup final, I'm sure you're all eager for a little taste of the Fatherland, right?


Travelling with small children is indeed exhausting, especially the flights, but I have to say, my boys are actually pretty good, all things considered and they get compliments from airline staff and other passengers.  They've both been on planes since they were 6 months old, and while the Lightning Kid still doesn't get the need to stay seated, they show their veteran flyer status in their general behaviour.


Due to the German holiday calendar this year, we weren't able to spend as much time with my brother’s family, and we ended up heading to the Berlin area shortly after landing.  Germany gave us some great weather this year, though it was late May, it felt like a full-on summer (meanwhile, back in Canada, the climate was still shaking off the Polar Vortex).


This gave us an opportunity to swim in the Havel river a bunch including off a boat!  Shark Boy really improved his swimming and it ended up paying off a few weeks later at TriKids Burlington.  I even got my own open water swimming training session, and though it didn't feel great in terms of technique, performance or accomplishment, this is the first year I've gotten one done while on vacation though that river has been there the whole time, so I feel proud of it.

This boat was docked nearby, and it gave me a daydream about living on it, and having constant access to open water, living a nomadic, triathlon lifestyle a little like Team Wuertele.  Having a cottage is pretty good too, though.




We don't do much sight-seeing while there and prefer to be homebodies... it's quite cozy. Apparently some ducks thought so too - but nobody told them that ducks aren't roof birds...

The other big physical activity we did as a family was a bike ride; Shark Boy rode at 10 km on his own, and now that the Lightning Kid is a little bigger, he can ride longer in the rear seat - he is also carrying on his brother's tradition of reaching forward to try and give me a wedgie.



While we didn't sightsee, we did have to find ways to keep the kids entertained, and we looked into a couple of amusement park and play centres as we've come across them over the years. Lots of jumping and climbing for both boys, and it's great to see the Lightning Kid really rock his gross motor skill development.




After Berlin, we did finally get a chance to spend time with my brother and his family, and what we didn't have in quantity of time, we made up for in quality. Seeing the cousins play and bond really reinforces the feeling that family is something to be treasured. We took a nice hike up one of the Taunus mountains.



I also got a nice run in with my brother.



Like any vacation, it was over too quickly and now seems so long ago.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Race Recap: Shark Boy's Triathlon Debut at Sunrype TriKids Burlington

Happy Canada Day!

After the 5 Peaks - Heart Lake event, we headed to Burlington for our race kit pickup.  The best race kit pick-up systems in triathlon have you report to stations in order, with big numbers to identify each station.  This is probably doubly important with dealing with kids.  I was really impressed with how organized the TriKids event was.  Finding the bib number, body marking, swag bags, it was all there, and there was even an orientation session.

The orientation session

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Race Recap - 5 Peaks Trail Run - Heart Lake

Whenever a blogger hasn't posted in a while, they always lead with something like "Don't worry, I'm not dead!" and I always have a reaction along the lines of "I wasn't thinking that at all."  I've been swamped (still am, in fact), and there are quite a few topics I want to write about to get caught up on, but last things first....  I raced the 5 Peaks Trail Run Series - Heart Lake Sport course this weekend.

I ran this race last year in September, and doing it in the summer had an entirely different feel. Just like last year, there was a Kids' Challenge Fun Run of just under 1 km that both Shark Boy and the Lightning Kid participated in.  It's fun to see them actually improve year over year: I'm pretty sure Shark Boy can pace himself better so that he keeps up a more consistent tempo, and the Lightning Kid finished much faster too.  They make me so proud.

Game Faces.

Shark Boy raises the flag (or ribbon) of victory (or participation).

The Lightning Kid approaches the finish line with Mama in tow
The Kids' Challenge course had many of the same features as the sport course, only shorter, naturally.  We took off from the starting line and dropped down into a little valley where we circled a field, while going up and down a few hills that surrounded it.  It was all led by a volunteer and there was a tiger mascot to motivate them right to the end.  The really great part about this venue for kids is there was a splash pad right next to the race site where the boys got to spend the time while I was off on my race.

This year, I decided to seed myself in the 4th wave rather than the 3rd.  I think I got passed a little too much in the early first kilometre last year, and I wasn't exactly at my fastest going in.  In spite of the guidelines they give you as to wave vs. benchmark time (the pre-race bulletin called it "...the 5K time you could run immediately after eating a plate of nachos, with a beer or two to wash them down, followed by an ice cream sandwich for dessert.").  By the time I had finished getting my good luck kisses, I had a little trouble getting to the front of the 4th wave, but I still think it worked well.  

The single-track didn't start till 500-700m into the race, so there was plenty of time to get things sorted out in terms of runners' paces and who should be where in the pack.

I started my Garmin a little late (and my MapMyFitness app even later - I hope no-one was listening to the robot lady in my phone calling out false kilometre marks), and I quickly noticed a little problem.  I recently added a new heart rate sensor and I think that reset my HR Zones and values; according to what it displayed, I did nearly the entire race above 90% my maximum heart-rate (I later found out that the programmed max was 187 bpm, and my max of the day was 197, so now at least I have a new, up-to-date maximum heart rate).





The course spent a lot of time in the shade of the forest, which I really appreciate; I had a hat and sunscreen, but I don't like to rely on those more than I need to.  Even the little bit toward the end (I think well after 4km on a 7km course) that was more sun exposed was well thought out - there was only a single aid station on the course, but I thought it came at the perfect place the first time I passed it, and you got to pass it again another time.

I took a couple of walk breaks during the race, but they were more in anticipation of hills and wanting to be properly energized for the climb than necessary to recover from fatigue.  My favourite hill was a near vertical climb that slowed people down to a crawl.  I used my trick from last year to make the crawl literal and used my hands to get extra traction to make the climb.

I made the final climb to the finish line with a smile on my face, and finished in 45:46 which is more than a minute slower than last year, but with my training schedule (or lack thereof) I wasn't too surprised and quite pleased.

After a slight cool down in the shade and getting a few snacks into me (including mint-chocolate Clif Bar Builder Blocks!) I met my wife and kids coming back from the splash pad.  We had the briefest of moments to meet with Jessica of Laces and Lattes (which is not only a good blog, but an excellent running resource) - if not for her, I think I would have forgotten that the race was that weekend.  I also got to meet Robyn Baldwin, and she fell victim to the charms of the Lightning Kid:



He didn't give her nearly the attention I wanted him to, because he was so busy stuffing cookies in his mouth, but maybe he knows more about playing it cool than I do.  Rounding out the group of tweeps I met is Mark Sawh, who was better known to me as Spider-Man (from the Yonge St. 10k).  Based on the conversation I had with him, trail running has another convert...

I wish we'd been able to hang around more for draw prizes and other fun, but we had to get to Burlington for the race kit pickup of the TriKids Burlington triathlon Shark Boy would be doing the next day.  Guess what my next post is going to be about?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Gear Corner: Reviewing the Fitbit Flex

There are an increasing amount of activity trackers on the market these days, including models from Jawbone, Polar and Samsung but I chose to get a Fitbit Flex. My reasons are that Fitbit syncs with Earndit and Pact, as well as I could get one for Air Miles (which I had racked up enough of).

The Fitbit Flex came with two wristbands (one large and one small) as well as a USB cable for charging. Inserting the unit into the wristband of choice is easy enough - in fact, it seems to be fitted so that you can't put in in wrong and have the lights/LEDs not display. Fastening the wristband is straightforward, but not easy to do one-handed, especially if you don't want the band to be too loose on your wrist. With a little practice, this becomes a non-issue. In addition to the cable, there is a wireless adapter that you plug into your USB port so the Flex can sync its recorded data automatically when it's within range. I honestly don't use this feature, since I always sync to my Smartphone or iPad with the Fitbit app.

I find I have to recharge the Flex every 3 days or so, possibly because I'm a little obsessed with seeing my data update and sync often during the day. If I'm not careful, the Flex won't make contact in the little socket for the charging cable, and it won't charge.

Though the app gives you all kinds of things you can track (manually entering activities, food log, weight, body fat%), my main motivation for using this thing is steps taken and tracking sleep.

Tracking Activity (Steps)



Saturday

This is the Saturday before the Yonge St 10K.  I took it easy, no workout, but I still had to take the kids outside, pick them up, a few light chores around the house.  So I still burned well over my recommended 2100 calories.  This is one of the things I like best about having the Fitbit Flex.  I wanted to write a post about 'The Calories I Can't Count" for all those little things that tire, without being part of a workout or training plan.  Now I have a rough measurement.



Sunday
Sunday was the race, so you can see how I racked up the steps, calories and 'very active minutes'.
Monday

The day after the race, was one of those days where I would usually have to miss my slotted workout (which I usually do at lunch).  I was on a training course all day, which usually makes for a very sedentary workday.  Here's where Fitbit (and GymPact) help; I parked far away from the office, took stairs and extra walks on every break I got, and managed to exceed 10,000 steps on a day where I was booked too heavily to make it to the gym.

That training course lasted till Wednesday, and on Thursday I made it to an intense bootcamp class.
Before

After
The class had things like mountain climbers, lunges, and burpees, and I question how well the Fitbit Flex can track those movements since it's only giving me credit for about 200 calories for the 40 minute class, and I'm pretty sure it's worth than that (to say nothing of how the 'active minutes' didn't increase much either).

All in all, the Fitbit Flex let's me feel good about days when I seem to be tired without having done a 'workout' and is helping me stay active during non-workout periods and burning more calories during the day.  I'd say it helped me with my most recent DietBet.

Tracking Sleep


This feature is a little less interesting to me, since I know that my sleep is of poor quality; the Lightning Kid wakes us up a few times a night.  Still I'm curious, and like the activity tracking, the Fitbit could do a job of 'keeping me honest' so that I know a little better how much/little sleep I got; if I feel tired, I might exaggerate - what feels like 4 hours might actually be closer to 6 for example.

 
My biggest problem is I think it underestimates my wake-ups.  That night, the 3:00 wake-up (visible in red), was due to... um, a call of nature.  But the Lightning Kid woke up at 4:30 and I had to rock him and put him back down.  This involved some squirming on his part that often wakes him back up again, so I had to restrict his flailing - the point is that I was on my feet for 10-15 minutes and the Flex marked that as 'Restless' sleep.  So I don't put the most faith in this feature, but it's better than nothing.

Overall, I'm really happy with my Fitbit Flex and continue to use it daily.

How do you feel about the activity tracker trend? If you have one, do you use it/like it?



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Holding Your Ground

It's May, and there are no triathlons in my Race Calendar.  I don't really have any goals set.  I follow bloggers who are doing half-ironman and ironman triathlons, bloggers who have already done their first marathons this season.  It's an ecology of overachievers in the corner of the blogosphere that my personal flight pattern covers, and at the very least, the benefit of setting goals is well understood.  I should feel bad for not toeing the line by having some goals set.


I don't.  I won't.  I can't, because feeling bad certainly wouldn't change anything.  I'm certainly inspired by all those who are conquering new ground, there's no question of that.   They are my heroes.

Yet, I can't help but be reminded about something I read about the movie 300.  It's based on the Graphic Novel by Frank Miller, and loosely (i.e. with plenty of artistic licence) based on the Battle of Thermopylae, where a mere 300 Spartans (give or take some other support from other Greeks) held off tens of thousands of men serving a Persian invasion.  When Frank Miller learned of the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, "...the film altered his perception of the 'Hero' concept insofar as he came to realize that the hero didn't always win and that sometimes, to be a hero, one must sacrifice oneself."  In that story, the good guys (according to the way it was told) didn't "win" or conquer, but they held their ground against seemingly overwhelming odds.



So while conquering a new frontier in multi-sport and/or endurance is an appealing goal, that might not be the path for me at this point in time.  Over the past 3 years, we've become not only a family of two small children which is often overwhelming ("That's cute." said everyone with 3 or more kids), but a special needs family too.  The special needs aren't that overwhelming, but the Lightning Kid has more of them now than he did as a newborn.  The transition from daycare to "real school" is coming.  I'm looking at some medical procedures, which I won't detail here, at least not yet (nothing serious, routine stuff).  Oh, and there's water in the basement (my precious man-cave!)... that'll take time, effort and money.

I have an incredibly supportive spouse, but not a Sherpa wife.  Triathlon (and by extension blogging about it) is a hobby, and fits in after (or gets outranked by) family obligations, career, the welfare of my kids, my relationship with my wife, etc.  It can't eclipse them.

These are not excuses, per se.  I'm not trying to weasel out of anything, in fact, I am more committed than ever to active, outdoor, multi-sport living.  So we'll be running races with the whole family using a stroller, parent and child sports classes, triathlons for the kids, active family vacations and so on.  These are my values.  They are our Family Values. I can serve these values without pushing my personal performance envelope.  And to whatever would try to come between me and those values, I say:

MOLON LABE

Which loosely translates to "Come and Take them".

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