Saturday, 18 December 2010

Body awareness

One of the things that really doesn't help me to stay in shape on a constant basis is that I think I am slightly deluded.  When I am buff, I look in the mirror and think "Hey, how you doing....".  Then the exercise routine slows down, I continue eating enough for an entire family (and their extended family too) and the slight bulges and droops start to come.  But I still look in the mirror and think "Hey, how you doing...".  It continues like this until someone asks me "Paul, are you the world's first?".  The world's first what I say.  "Oh the world's first pregnant man I mean".  Thats when I realise my six-pack has become a six-saggy-sack.

I think a good body awareness is key to staying in shape.  One way to keep body awareness is to dress in Spandex.  As you may remember the whole Spandex craze started because of Mr Motivator.  He was a classic.  You soon realise if you are bulging that way.  One of my friends Scott insists on wearing Spandex.  I am not sure if he is slightly deluded like myself, but he always seems to think he looks great in it.

How many ladies do you see too, wearing narrow waisted skin tight jeans, with a good generous portion of jello pouring over them.  I believe if I have got my terminology right that they are referred to as "muffin tops".  I mean please, try wearing well-fitted jeans.  They will make you look so much more attractive.  

Now for some amusing photos so you can see I am not exaggerating when I mention words such as pregnant and buff.

Not looking bad
Beer barrel with legs and arms
Bun in the oven

Strength training

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Run Forrest Run!

Too much thinking can be a bad thing.  This morning I was thinking that July 2nd (the date of the Marmotte 2011) still seems somewhat in the future and not yet something tangible.  Plus I wont be doing much cycling over the winter, so I need another target and something earlier in the year.  Crazy thoughts did flash through my mind, like signing up for a X-country skating-style ski marathon, but then the reality kicked in that I have only had one lesson and am still falling over from time to time at the moment, so maybe thats not so realistic.  Next year maybe though.

Then I decided I will do a running event.  I was browsing through all the half marathons in April and May, but I had at the back of the mind the fact that although I have done various half marathons I have never yet had the guts to go for the full event, the killer marathon.  So I went for it, and I am now on the start list of the Zurich marathon taking place on April 17th.

There are so many training plans out there to follow, but I was looking for something aimed at people running their first marathon and something that would fit in with my work and personal schedule.  I found just the one I wanted on Runnersworld - a 16 week beginners marathon training program.  Here is the link in case you are interested to check it out,7120,s6-238-244--6946-2-3X5X7-4,00.html

Pushing it too hard
When I used to run half marathons I never really followed a structured training program.  I think that this was a huge mistake as I would frequently overtrain and end up injured.  Two years ago I had a period where I was running a half marathon every couple of weeks, and it was just too much for my body.  During the Frauenfelder half my knee started playing up, and after finishing I realised it needed to be checked out.  I went to the Sports Clinic in Zurich and they told me it was an overuse injury and suggested a relative new form of treatment where a small device is placed on the knee and it pulses rapidly, delivering a series of small taps.  The taps don't hurt but it is certainly not comfortable.  The idea is that the soft tissues response to the small but firm taps by strengthening themselves.  After 5 sessions my knee was almost back to normal.  Since then I haven't really got back into the running scene properly, but running scene here I come with a vengeance.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Yoga is not only for women

Before I started doing yoga back in 2009, I thought it was just about stretching.  I had no idea how much core strength and balance it takes to maintain the poses for longer than one or two seconds.  At the beginning it was very tough - years of bad posture, pumping iron in the gym and no stretching had made my muscles so taut that you could have played them like guitar strings.  I couldn't even touch my toes, although I could see them at least.

Attempting to perform the dancer pose on a beach in SA
As the weeks passed, I could once again touch my toes.  My overall flexibility increased, and the lunchtime yoga gave a perfect escape from the stress of work.  Each day after the class I would be aching all over but it didn't stop me putting in even more effort the following week.  It paid off as my core strength increased and my posture started to improve.

The thing that I really underestimated though, is just how much yoga can assist your performance in sports.  For the 2008 Marmotte cyclosportive I had put in a fair amount of training, but the race was tough and my back ached from about 50km onwards.  Back then I hadn't yet started yoga.  Then, in the 2009 Marmotte despite the fact I had only done about half the training of the previous year, the race went much smoother and all I had was a dull muscular ache in the closing kilometres.  On top of that I even managed to knock 3 minutes off my previous time.

Yoga will definitely form an important part of my training, and I would recommend anyone who hasn't tried it to give it a go.  Even if you don't enjoy it there will be plenty of eye candy for you.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Oops!... I Did It Again

Today I just happened to be looking at La Marmotte 2011 website, and somehow my hand slipped and I was signed up for it.  Oh my goodness.  Why does this always happen to me?

What is La Marmotte though?  La Marmotte is not just a cute alpine creature that makes whistling noises, but also a cyclosportive in France that covers 174km and 5000 vertical metres.    It is one of the toughest one day cyclosportives there is.  The route starts in Bourg d'Oisans and then climbs over Croix de Fer, Galibier and then finally Alpe d'Huez.

Struggling up the final climb in 2008
It wont be the first time that I have participated.  I also did it in 2008 and 2009, but it never gets any easier.  In 2008 it drew around 8000 participants and since then they have had to limit the number of people that can sign up for safety and logistical reasons.  I remember in 2008 as I had a late starting position, by the time I reached a lot of the drinks stops they had run out and so packed up and gone home.  By the last climb some people were so desperate for fluid that they were drinking out of the stream that runs next to the road on Alpe d'Huez.  I guess they didn't see the people higher up the road that were relieving themselves right next to the stream.

The route starts off with a flat section before the climbing begins.  It's amazing how many people sprint off, somehow forgetting they have 5000m of climbing ahead of them, get to the first hill and then realise that the sprint start really wasn't worth it as now they are knackered.  Then you have the people who didn't train for it - the people that go round telling their mates how fit they are in the pub and that they are going to do a ride with 5000m of climbing, but never actually putting in the miles.  Somehow they thought that lifting a pint glass up and down, up and down would give them the necessary stamina.  These ones can be seen struggling up the first hill, getting half way up and then turning round and heading back.

Then there are the rest of us that did some training at least and we struggle through it but we do finally make it.  Both years I completed it in a shade under 10 hours.  The winners finished a long long time before that.  It's a great event though, and somehow brings all the participants together.  You look at your fellow two wheelers experiencing the same pain and effort as you are and it makes you feel somehow connected. After all, your average Joe Bloggs can't complete this event - it takes a special sort, albeit crazy sort.

Looking around at the bibs (race numbers), there are so many different nationalities that take part.   The nationalities that dominate in terms of numbers are Dutch, British, French and Swiss.  How on earth the Dutch train for the hills I will never know, but they are there en masse.  It's interesting to see the difference in mindsets between the nationalities.  The Swiss in general take the downhills at a decent speed but not exactly breakneck.  The French on the other hand bomb it downhill as if the roads were closed, frequently using both lanes, despite the fact that the roads are still open to traffic after the initial stage.  You always see a couple of near misses, but luckily to date I haven't seen any bike car bonding sessions (a.k.a. collisions).

At least by entering La Marmotte 2011 I have a more immediate target than something that is still almost one year away (the South America tour).  The 2011 Marmotte will be taking place on July 2nd.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a superfood!

With nutrition being an extremely important part of any half-serious training program, today I want to write my first nutritional post on the subject of "superfoods".

What is a superfood I hear some of you ask.  Well I myself didn't have a clue till recently either.  But a couple of months ago I attended a workshop entitled "Yoga and Superfoods" to find out more.

The workshop was enlightening to say the least.  Most of the topics were perfectly within the realms of science, but a few topics touched upon were ones I would put in the same category as UFOs and aliens.  There was mention for instance of people who claim to live off just air (without the need for food in order to survive), although the instructor himself just had an open mind and wasn't proclaiming that it was indeed possible or true.

Before I get into what superfoods are and which kinds of foods have the honour of calling themselves superfoods, I want to touch on the subject of "earthing" or "grounding", as this was also covered during the workshop.  There have been many studies on this subject and the basic idea is that by being in direct contact with the earth (for instance barefoot walking), rather than being insulated from it by our shoes, we can somehow limit the impact of electromagnetic radiation on our body. This makes perfect sense to me (as a former physics undergrad) as when wearing shoes we build up static charge in our bodies, but if we walk barefoot then this can be harmlessly discharged.  You only have to try it to notice how good it feels.  Some scientists even go as far as to suggest that the fact we no longer walk barefoot may be just one of the many contributors to diseases such as cancer which seem to be much more common nowadays.

Wait, I hear you ask.  I am not a hippy and don't want to go to work looking like one so how is this relevant to me?  Well there are various modern day gadgets that can help you to achieve the same effect whilst sitting on your chair or sleeping on your bed.  Mats for instance that plug into the socket and make use of the earth socket terminal.

Now back onto the main point, superfoods.  There is no legal definition of the word, but superfood is a term commonly used to refer to food with high phytonutrient content that may confer health benefits as a result. There are many foods in this category but the following are ones that I currently have in my apartment and will be experimenting with over the coming weeks and months:

1) Maca (Peru) - Maca is a root and is known as the viagra of the Andes.  Some reported benefits include memory improvement, improved function of neurotransmitters and increase in libido.  I was already taking this before I went to the workshop and I do believe it makes me feel more alert and energetic.  As for increases in libido that's information that I am not at liberty to disclose unfortunately.

2) Raw organic cacao - chocolate in its processed form may make you fat and rot your teeth, but raw unprocessed cacao beans are actually an appetite suppressor.  They also contain lots of magnesium and sulphur and even better they contain 20 times as many antioxidants as red wine and 30 times as many antioxidants as green tea.

3) Goji berries (Himalayas) - these berries from Tibet are bursting with vitamin C.   They are widely used to reduce sugar cravings, contain 15% protein, 21 essential minerals, 18 amino acids and extremely high levels of beta carotene

I will let you know how I get on with introducing these superfoods into my diet, but as I mentioned before Maca does seem to have a positive effect on me.  The key though is letting your body adjust to these new foods, as the first few times I took Maca I took far too much and felt a little nauseous.    What with having been on holiday most of November I haven't taken it for a while, but I will be starting again as of tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Dog tired today...

Well the X-country ski lesson went well, but today I feel so sleepy.  It has been a struggle dragging myself out of bed to reach the laptop and write this post.  I am not at all surprised they say that X-country skiing is one of the best all round exercises.  But when I looked up "best" in the thesaurus, surprisingly enough I didn't find the words "painful" or "tiring" which are my alternative versions of the word.

The instructor started us off by using only one ski, which was great for me, as my problem last time was using too much upper body strength.  By taking away the poles we had to focus on the legs and that was great for helping to improve my technique.  After the one ski exercises then it was two skis, followed by two skis and holding the poles (but not using them) and then finally both skis and the poles combined.

We took our little doggy with us, dressed in her new supercool winter jacket.  It turns out though that Negrita isn't really a cold weather dog (well mini Schnauzers were never bred for that anyway) and was shivering almost the whole time.  I am sure I saw one of the husky dogs sniggering at her as he passed.  At one point she was shivering so much I decided I would pick her up and stuff her inside my coat.  She was quite scared though, and thanked me by warming  up my leg with a strange yellow liquid.  I believe this is the same strange yellow liquid that some of us scuba divers use to warm up our cold damp wetsuits at the beginning of a dive - ewwwww.

I have quite a few ideas for my next post, but I will leave it as a surprise for now.  As Forrest Gump said, life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you are going to get.  Although as my father rightly pointed out, you only have to read the label and then you know exactly what you are going to get........