Wednesday, May 20, 2015

#WorkoutHack: Triathlon Strength Training at the Cottage

The Victoria Day Long Weekend is traditionally when Cottaging season starts.  Having a cottage (or access to one) can be a real boon to the training triathlete.  First and most of all, it’s a way to access open water swimming.  Bike and run training can be done too, though often it takes a form of cross-training since the roads can be a little rough; mountain biking and/or trail running are great, and I’m proud to say I got both of those done this long weekend.

My training schedule, however, had me down for a strength training session on Monday.  I’m in the Specific Preparation Phase 3 of the plan,  where the strength training profile is specifically geared to “Power Endurance” with explosive and plyometric type exercises.  Moreover, they focus very much on triathlon specific muscle groups and functional movements that mimic swim, bike and run.

The workouts call for 8 types of exercise:
  1. Hip extension (squat, leg press or step-up)
  2. Standing bent-arm lat pull down (bent at the same angle as during freestyle swimming)
  3. Chest press or push ups
  4. Seated row
  5. Abdominal curls (core body work)
  6. Back extensions (core body work)

#3 has been substituted with a “personal weakness” in most workouts in the book.  I still like putting in some work on my chest for the sake of balance though.  The question is, how was I going to get in a strength workout at the cottage, far from any gym, never mind one so specific?

Well, I’ll tell you.  I started off doing push-ups on the dock.  I still use the 100 Push-Ups app to give me structured sets.

Then I found a stump to do step-ups.  I had considered box jumps, but it had rained, and you should generally do box jumps onto something very stable, so the stump might not have been a good idea even if it had been dry.  For a weight, I used the Lightning Kid, and moved up to a heavy rock on my third set. (10 reps per leg, per set).

Instead of a seated row, I used the kids’ swing to do TRX-style inverted row (3 sets of 12-15 reps).

I don’t like the Standing bent-arm lat pull-down, as it seems to put my shoulders at risk.  Most recently I've been using medicine ball slams as a substitute, but at the cottage, I chose to split some wood - same motion, same downward stroke to help the shoulders power my swim.

I’m not going to lie, I didn't finish that workout that day, at least not before lunch was ready.   I had scoped out a bench we use sometimes and tested it out for doing Dolphin Kicks as shown below (from this article on Daily Burn); it would have also been handy to do lying leg raises which would have fulfilled the core/ab exercise for #5.

I’m looking forward to using the cottage environment to supplement my training for the rest of the summer.

Do you have ways of turning your cottage or home into a gym in unexpected ways?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Five: New Stuff

I've been training hard, and eating (fairly) well, maintaining my weight etc.  They say you shouldn't reward these efforts (or the goals they produce) with food, as it’s kind of counter-productive.  Let’s pretend, for the sake of this post, that I've been following that advice and have rewarded myself with a more ‘retail’ type set of gifts.

  1. The first item is from Manpacks.  (Full disclosure, that’s a referral link.  You can use it to save $10 off your first purchase, and I get $10 credit if you do).  Manpacks has grooming goods, underwear and other consumables that busy men don’t seem to get around to shopping for themselves.  A pack arrives every 3 months, so I find it manageable to change the order to stuff I actually need.  This item, Brode Electrolyte Vitamin is supposed to help you stay hydrated by providing the needed electrolytes before you get dehydrated.  It’s aimed at travellers (long plane rides with that recycled air), hikers and athletes.  Obviously keeping water with you is the best option, but I have found that a lunchtime run (or runch) after a morning of coffee drinking is hard on my system (I have often said that I only exist in two states: Under-caffeinated or Dehydrated) and I often don’t pack a water bottle and belt or hydration pack, so I was curious to try these.  I will say that they seemed a little hard on my stomach and I experience some mild cramping and discomfort immediately after swallowing them, but I think I could notice the effect on some of my runs, especially since the weather has been getting warmer than I am used to.

  1. I’m not exactly Mr. Compression, but with an aggressive training schedule, I’m open to trying things that will help me recover better and stay injury-free.  I have a few pairs of compression socks (most of which are lousy and ineffective), and a pair of calf sleeves from 2XU.  Those are all focussed on lower body, obviously, but that’s where the work is principally done for your average triathlete (like me!).  Still, I took advantage of a guest sale at the Reebok/Adidas corporate store to pick up a few items, including this TechFit T-Shirt.  It’s the first time I've had compression on my upper body, and I wore it under a work shirt after a tough strength workout (in the ‘Specific Preparation Phase 2’ part of my training program, the strength workouts are primed for ‘Maximum Strength’).  I was hoping it would aid recovery so I’d be primed for a benchmark swim the next day - frankly, it felt weird.  Not necessarily bad, but weird, and I kept it on for about an hour and a half.  It might be better to wear it during the workout; like I said, I’m not Mr. Compression, and this stuff confuses me a little.  The official description says: “techfit® focuses your muscles’ energy to generate maximum explosive power, acceleration and long-term endurance” and the next phase of the program (starting next week) focusses on Power Endurance which combines strength with velocity (including plyometric work), so we’ll see.
  2. As evidenced by our outfits at the Spring Into Action 10k, I'm liking the combination of red and black. I also like hoods (it goes with the whole 'Rogue' theme), but I don't really need any more warm red hooded sweatshirts, so at the same sale, I picked up this long sleeved top with a hood. It's Crossfit branded, but that doesn't bother me; with the warmer weather, I'm not sure how much more use I'll get out of it till autumn, maybe for some early morning workouts.
  3. I'm on a bit of a Saucony kick right now.  My Saucony ISO Triumphs continue to serve me well, and provide the cushioning I like on the road. I'm happy enough with them that I got Saucony's for trail running too.  They kept me on the trail in the very muddy 5 Peaks Terra Cotta run and I can't wait to get more mileage on them.  Heck, even my wife is on the Saucony bandwagon...
  4. Another product I scored from Manpacks is this Everyman Jack Face Moisturiser.  I needed something for the post-shave, and I'm not looking any younger, so one way to keep the face protected is with some sunscreen (which I also like for preventing melanoma of course).  I always like killing two birds with one stone when I can.

Any new stuff that you've treated yourself (or been treated to)? Moms out there probably have Mother's Day Wishlists....

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Race Recap - Spring Into Action 10k for Diabetes

This was our second time running in the Spring Into Action 10 km run.  After last time, I knew we weren't going to run with both boys in the Chariot; they're getting bigger and packed like sardines in there, and they seem to be struggling with the behavioural skill of "keep your hands to yourself" (to say nothing of feet).  So this year we brought along my mother-in-law to watch Shark Boy near the starting area while my wife and I pushed the Lightning Kid (who still seems to like this sort of thing) on the run.  

Spring Into Action had a convenient 'Family' registration package that saved me time and money.  Getting extra bibs for everyone took a little extra time and effort so that I missed the yoga warm-up, but luckily, the rest of the family got to participate.

I got Shark Boy a tag and bib, because I could imagine what the outcome would be if he was excluded from the bling, even if he was happy to not run the race.

I got a chance to say hi to Barry Samuel (the organizer of the race), beforehand, and he asked a few of the families in attendance to come on stage and kick the event up with the National Anthem.  If my off-key singing hurt anyone's ears, I apologize!

We got Shark Boy to start the race with us for kicks, but as soon as he touched the starting line archway, he headed back to go play.  I hope you don't mind me skipping to the end to tell you he had a great time playing in the surrounding woods, engaging in the kind of old fashioned outdoor play that you think kids don't know how to do anymore.

It was a beautiful day for a run and the spring colours were in full effect in Sunnybrook park.

At the 2.5 km mark the volunteers had the 5k runners turn around to complete their out and back.  Last year there had been some trouble with people getting lost or off of the 10k course, and Barry had mentioned to me that they were going to do better this year.  Just after the 2.5 km mark we veered up one of the biggest, steepest hills I can imagine on a run. At the top was the 3 km mark, where they had us turn around again.  I was a little puzzled since I knew heading back to the start wasn't going to add up to 10 km, and if getting 10 km was simply a matter of doing the 5 km course twice, why did we have to go up that big hill to 3 km?  

All would become clear to me soon enough, because at the 1 km mark on the way back, we turned back again.  At that point we had run 5 km, running another 2 back to the top of the hill and 3 till the starting point gives us a total of 10 km.  A little confusing, but I have to say it was much easier to stay on the course and not get lost.  This run has to compete with the Mississauga Marathon and the Toronto Goodlife Marathon for participants and volunteers so you have to appreciate that it's a little smaller.  What the volunteers lacked in numbers, they made up for in cheer and enthusiasm.

With 2 km left to run, the Lightning Kid was eager to get out of the Chariot, going to the point of trying to bluff a bathroom break.  2 km is a little far for his little legs, but once the finish line was within sight, we took him out and he ran his heart out.  I can tell you he wore the medal he earned for it the rest of the day.

There was a post race barbecue with hamburgers (and veggie burgers and hotdogs.  The buns were provided by Cobb's Bread, who also gave out vouchers and various buns and scones (like delicious cinnamon scones which Shark Boy and I stuffed ourselves with). There was also lemonade for sale (basically for a voluntary donation to a Diabetes cause); lemonade cannot taste better than on a hot day after a run.

There was a DJ playing some nice remixes of older tunes and a clown doing face painting. Shark Boy asked for a cheetah (his favourite animal - no, I'm not changing his nickname), and the results are below.

Before leaving, we grabbed a group shot with Barry and thanked him for a day of fun, run in the sun!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Race Recap: 5 Peaks Terra Cotta Trail Race

Having skipped out on the Yonge Street 10K in favour of watching the kids and cheering on the runners, this last weekend was my chance to get a bib on and race.  It’s the first race of the 5 Peaks Ontario Trail Racing season and I was pumped - pumped to try my legs out (especially while carrying less weight) on a new trail and push them as fast as they could go, pumped to get the kids running around their fun run, pumped to see friends.

We arrived at Terra Cotta Conservation area around 9:30 AM with plenty of time to park, pick up and our race bibs.  I was pleasantly surprised to see we got some swag before the race, because I've missed out in the past when they've handed it out well afterwards, and I've already long since gone home.

I got to see Janice from Fitness Cheerleader finish the competitive 3 km kids race with her eldest daughter. I found Krysten from The Misadventures of a Darwinian Fail (and her husband) as well as Paul from Paul's Inane Ramblings Then it was time for the 1 km (or 600 m in this case) fun run for kids of any age.  My wife wasn't feeling too well that morning, so we opted to encourage Shark Boy to run it on his own, while I stuck with the Lightning Kid.  Shark Boy seemed a little upset at not being near the front of the starting crowd, but knowing how he dislikes standing around waiting, there was nothing for it except to encourage him to nudge his way forward before the official “1,2,3  GO!”

The Lightning Kid has been getting faster and faster and I’d already noticed in the past few months, so I was glad to see him put that to use now.  I’d experienced this phenomena with Shark Boy a few years ago, but when racing with a 3 year-old, the limit isn't so much their fitness, but their attention span.  He’d stop to see who was coming up behind him, glad-hand with new-found fans (a repeat of last year at Albion Hills), and generally smell the roses.  I’d be cheering and chanting “Come on! Go, Go, Go! Faster” the entire way.  

Those are actually snow pants.  The morning was not warm.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How To Build A Descending Swim Set

I'm thinking...

Following a structured swim workout can be complicated. I could probably do an entire series on swim terminology that I don’t quite have a handle on. Even when you look the terms up, it can still be a little intimidating (this is one of the better resources I’ve found so far).  One of the things do understand is the idea of doing a set, like the following example:

4x100 Descending

So that’s doing 100m (4 lengths in most pools) 4 times.  Each of those 100m intervals are supposed to be done successively faster.  If you’re like me (and congratulations if you’re not), it’s hard to get those paces right; how do you do it, beyond just
  1. Not too fast
  2. A little faster
  3. A little faster still
  4. Fast as you can!  (assuming you have anything left).

Trying progressively harder hasn't yielded times that decrease for me when doing sets like this, but I did stumble across a way to gradually get faster and have different degradation of effort that I can mentally separate.  I even gave them one word nicknames that can double as mantras, if that’s your kind of thing.

  1. Stroll: the pace/effort of a walk in the park.  You’re swimming casually, and without much concern for form (though don’t be purposely sloppy) or pace or anything.
  2. Elegant: Make every stroke as perfect as possible.  Anything you’ve been working on remembering to do in drills should be found here.  You really concentrate on the best form you can manage to do for the entire interval; it takes some concentration
  3. Mash: This feels like a hill climb on the bike (or maybe even the run); every stroke should feel like it has a lot of resistance.  Push hard on every stroke, feel the power, like you would if you had hand paddles on.
  4. Quick: This one is almost the opposite.  Rather than trying to push every stroke hard, you’re trying to get every stroke over with quickly, and focus on the quickest arm turnover possible.
This shows the resulting times for 4x100m and 4x200m.  Usually about 15 seconds rest between intervals.

The first time I tried this, I actually had #3 and #4 reversed, since I expected that would give me descending times (i.e. go faster).  Quick seems to outpace mash for me, it may be different for you.

Disclaimer: I am not a triathlon coach, or even a particularly good triathlete. If you have one of these in your life telling you differently, more power to you - I am merely a busy cheapskate with a DIY ethic (at least in triathlon training) who likes to share his ideas and discoveries.

Monday, April 20, 2015

#MotivateMe Monday - A Snapshot of My Training Week

First things first! The winner of the free entry to the 5 Peaks Terra Cotta Trail Run is Casey Barreto!  I’ll be contacting Casey via twitter/email to send her the code.

I’m participating in the #MotivateMe Monday link-up being run by Fitness Cheerleader and Running Rachel; the link-up is “a place for us to share goals, plans, successes and have each other to pick us up to keep moving forward.”

While I don’t like writing posts simply for the purpose of journaling my training for any given week, I've been on the Half-Iron Training Plan for 5 weeks now, and this gives me a chance to put some of it under the microscope, share some of the details and logistics with you, and crunch some numbers (math makes everything more fun, right?).  It also gives me a chance to turn my Instagram into a kind of highlight reel.


I used my Dumbbell Doubles Workout for the most part, though I’m extending to 3 sets of most exercises.  After that I try to address my quads since the Skulpt Aim says they’re weaker than the rest of my legs; while I don’t like using machines, I end up using the leg extension and leg press because otherwise my hamstrings get recruited too, and stay ahead of the quads in terms of strength.


Though Plan A was to get up at 5AM to fit in a run, we had a rough night with the Lightning Kid’s wake-ups, so I didn't get up for that.  I thought I could fit a swim in at lunch and run at night after my wife got home (I was watching the kids for the evening).  I am simply not a night time exerciser, I like to wind down before I go to sleep.  So no “TwoferTuesday” for me, but I did get 1800m done in the pool (or 42 minutes, since the training plan counts time).


Strength training days are Mondays and Wednesdays, but with an eye to regaining my lost run, I did a Burbathlon workout; that’s trail running, jumping on/over logs and obstacles, plus bodyweight strength exercises on whatever structures I come across.  See the instagram video for some of what I got up to.


While TwoferTuesday didn’t happen, TwoferThursday certainly did! But, oof... this day.  I had an alarm set for 5:00 AM, but the Lightning Kid beat it by 5 minutes.  I got him back down, only to hear the cat throwing up at various locations through the house.  By the time I was done cleaning that up, it was 5:45, and I got out of there before something else could go wrong.  The result is fasted cardio; I hadn’t had any fuel prior to the run, so I resolved to take it easy.  Still, I felt good, and the right tunes came on and I ended up with a pace I’m pretty happy with.  I think taking some weight off has helped my speed, which was the plan all along.

I managed a 2000m swim at lunch; I wanted to go longer in a way, but when I look at the clock I know I have to get back to the office.
A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on


What I wanted for a bike ride on friday was to do a 40 minute spin class, then tack on another 20 minutes on a stationary bike solo, while watching some Netflix.  I finally finished Season 3 of House of Cards (a little disappointing, to be honest), and I was stoked to be starting Marvel’s Daredevil (who has always been my favourite superhero - and early reviews of the show are very, very favourable).  I got interrupted by a very important phone call (which I really did have to take) before the spin class was over, and by the time I was done with that, I could only afford another 15 minutes of solo spin/TV watching.  Still, I loved what I saw so far and can’t wait for more.


This is the day I’m most proud of; I had to get the Lightning Kid to his soccer lessons but I wanted over an hour of running too, so I took him in the Chariot.  By the time I had everything organized to go, I was running a little behind, luckily, I caught nothing by green lights, and really pushed myself.  Of course, that meant by the time I’d helped him score goals and go through drills, and with a significant headwind, there was no way to do a negative split for the run home.
This was a proud moment for me, because I think the days of Stroller running are coming to a close.  Shark Boy no longer has the patience for it, and at age 5, he's doing most of his own running and biking anyway.  The Lightning Kid isn't far behind him, but the nostalgia and whatnot are making it hard to let go... in fact, I'll be participating in #StrollerRun15... National Stroller Running Day 2015 is on May 31st!  See Mom's Little Running Buddy for more details soon.

Ideally I’d have gone to the gym and put him in the daycare to get my swim in that day; in fact, that’s exactly what I tried to do in the afternoon, only to remember too late that the gym daycare isn’t open in the afternoon.  What I should have done was head there right after my run, but of course, I was a little tired. Instead, I took the Lightning Kid to the park, where I got a little bit of my own exercise in ;-)


On Sunday, my wife ran the Yonge Street 10k, and we planned to take the boys with us to the starting line, see her off, ride the subway and then the streetcar to the finish line.  It was a great way to spend the morning except for the fact that we were a little unprepared for how cold it was.  Still, I’m proud of how well behaved the boys were, because wrangling the two of them through the public transit system and with a lot of walking to boot was an intimidating task that I wasn’t sure I could pull off.  We got to see some friends who run as the “Justice League Runners” raising money for The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, and the kids always get a big kick out of the costumes.  We had a nice brunch post-race, but unfortunately, I spent the rest of the afternoon and night feeling nauseated, so I never got my final bike ride for the week in.

Totals For The Week


Planned: 2:45
Done: 2:00

The plan is a 1:15 workout for Monday and a 1:30 Workout for Wednesday.  I’m past the initial ‘Anatomical Adaptation’ phase of the training plan and into ‘Muscle Stamina’.  Obviously I came up short, but I do wonder what you can accomplish in 1:30 that you can’t accomplish in 0:45 if you use a more efficient, circuit based system.


Planned: 3:15
Done: 1:32

If you miss a whole day’s workout, you’re going to come up short, but again, with individual workouts of over an hour, it seems excessive.  I get over 2000m done in less than an hour, but a half-iron distance swim is 1900m.  I know I’m not swimming the 2000m continuously in the pool, but still, I guess I don’t get why the workouts have to be quite that long.  I’m hoping that being fairly consistent and trying to keep the quality up with structured sets will be enough for me.


Planned: 2:15
Done: 0:43

Oof.  The book says that in the Specific Preparation phases of the plan, 40 minute spin classes are an acceptable substitute for an hour’s ride, but missing a day due to illness really killed this goal.  Bike remains my weakest discipline.


Planned: 2:15
Done: 2:59

I actually exceeded the goal here, which might set off alarm bells for overtraining if I hadn’t shorted everything else.  Running is still my favourite, the easiest to get done, and the most fun to keep doing once you start.


Planned: 10:30
Done: 6:26

Just for kicks, I’ve also run my distances (with a best estimate of my bike) through my friend Dan’s points system.  For every 10,000 yards of swimming you get a point, for every mile on the bike you get a point and for every quarter mile you run you get a point.  He was nice enough to make a metric version with a spreadsheet and everything for me, but I found it easiest to just total up my meters and kilometers, then convert to imperial and calculate my points.

According to Dan, a Half-Iron training plan should get you to around 200 points a week, and I totalled 120 (42 for swimming, 16 for bike, 62 for running), so by this measure, (again) I need to step it up.

How was your week? What do you think... am I in trouble training-wise already?