Lessons from a bike

Want to know how NOT to prepare for something? There are lessons from a bike coming right up that you can apply to anything at all, believe me.

Do you remember that last week we talked about the importance of doing the preparing before the doing – whatever it might be? Just in case you missed it, you can refresh here.

Preparing for anything has been front of mind for me due to my inability to move my neck for quite some time after a gazillion handstands but also because of a random encounter on a plane.

Back in October, I boarded a plane in Sydney bound for my hometown Perth. I was at the end of the queue, so by the time I found my home for the next five hours, both occupants of the seats either side of me were ensconced. The gentleman in the window seat was deep in conversation on his phone as I got settled and although I know it is rude to eavesdrop, it was a little hard not to when you are sitting 1cm apart from each other.

Although it was not mine, I quickly became engaged in this conversation. It didn’t take me long to work out that my travelling companion (lets call him TC) was about to embark upon a bike event that he was ill-prepared for and with just two days until the start gun sounded – there was no small element of PANIC.

Once TC was off the phone – I couldn’t resist questioning him on what he was actually doing. Firstly, hats off to him committing to a very worthwhile cause, the Ride to Conquer Cancer. But and there is a big but – when that commitment involves two consecutive days of sitting on a bike and cycling a grand total of 200km – preparing is central to one’s success at making it off the bike alive.

With five hours to spare, I had all the time in the world to grill TC. This is how it went.

Q. How much training have you done? A. None.

Q. Is your bike ready? A. Probably not, the last time I saw it was in the garden shed and it may have a basket attached to the handlebars.

Q. What are you wearing? A. What do you mean?

Q. What have you planned to eat and drink on the day? A. No plans as yet.

I could see that in order to assist TC to avoid being on the nightly news over the weekend, intervention was required and let’s just say that a crash course in general preparation, sports nutrition, logistics of cycling and survival skills ensued between Sydney and Perth that night.

I thought of TC often over that next weekend and first thing Monday morning he kindly updated me on his adventure. Here is what TC had to say…..

Hi Julie

Well, I completed the 200km and followed your nutrition plan to the letter. Had I not, I would be dead…

Key Take-aways:

  1. Identify obstacles – the weather Saturday was extreme

    a. Pissing rain from the start

    b. Hail in Byford

    c. Howling Sou’Wester (clocked at 80km / hour) that we rode directly into for the last 60km!

  2. Think logistics – setting up the swag at ground level was torture

    a. My knees were swollen enough without having to kneel on them.

    b. Slept first 3 hours in my shoes as I could not face the torture of taking them off

    c. Woke at midnight to find my way to porta loo and change into more comfortable attire in blustery 7 degree temperatures

    d. At first light surrounded by very enthusiastic cyclists who were looking forward to a 3 – 4 hour effort back to Perth and a lazy Sunday afternoon… Not available for me

  3. The right equipment is essential – my bike was a piece of s**t

    a. Sunday morning I woke to two broken spokes, a bent rim and 15 Psi in an 80 Psi tyre – all of which I suspect I rode with for a good portion of on Saturday

    b. Was told by learned colleagues my weekend was over… Some called it deliberate sabotage by me to avoid the 2nd 100Km

    c. I thought I would give it a bit of a go for personal pride with no thought of actually making it. Surprise, surprise, I crossed the finish line at McCullum Park on my bike in the second last group of real battlers.

  4. Recovery is Important

    a. Epsom salts

    b. Hydralyte

    c. Ice on both knees

    d. 50mg Voltaren tablets

    e. T Bone Steak

    f. Half a bottle of Red

    g. Compression bandages applied indefinitely

Signed up for next year…Thanks for your contribution and being interested – part of the healing process is being able to talk about these things. TC

Thanks TC for the lessons you have shared and the grace in which you accepted your fate. Lets catch a plane a little earlier next year.

Sprint Finish

running sprint vs marathonA few nights ago I came to the end of my first month back at interval run training.  I say back, because prior to this, the last time I graced the springy grass track was over 10 years ago before I had kids.  It has hurt me big time, because for many years I have just been running. Training for 10, 21 and 42km events that have seen my pace pretty much stay the same.  Flatline. This year, I wanted to shake it up a bit and see if my legs could turn over a little faster. It seems they can. Going to intervals makes me anxious. I know its going to be hard and competitive. My heart and lungs will feel like they are about to jump out and run their own race.  But what gets me to the end of each gritty set, is the finish line and a short breather. These days we run our lives like a marathon event with no rest and no finish line in sight.  We just keep going without regularly stopping to recover and regroup, which dramatically impacts our quality of life and ability to stay at the top of our game. Research shows that our bodies work best with 90 minute cycles of work, followed by a brief break.  This means focusing on whatever your task may be for 90 minutes, reaching the finish line and then taking a 5 minute breather.  Your focus will be hugely improved, your energy levels will be stable and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.  It cuts down on distraction when you know there is a finish line just around the corner. Start thinking about your life as a sprint event not a marathon.  Sprinters give 100% because they can see the finish line.    

Choc + Milk = Good

choc-milk gang

As a kid I loved choc-milk, so its pretty exciting that it is now championed by science. Sports nutrition research has shown that choc-milk, other favoured milk and just plain milk supplies the nutrition your body needs after exercise.  Just to test its performance, along with my running gang, I have been religiously swilling down a 600ml choc-milk immediately following our long runs in preparation for the New York Marathon, a race we will tackle in just over a week. My recovery has been great and my body is holding up and I know the timing and content of my favourite flavoured milk has helped me hugely. The good news is that studies have shown women who drink 500ml skim milk after training gain more muscle and lose more fat compared to women who drink carbohydrate drinks. There is good news for the men too.  Men who drink the same amount of skim milk after a resistance workout  have been shown to gain 63% more muscle mass than those who drink carbohydrate-based beverages.

Milk and its flavoured counterparts provide you with:

  • Carbohydrates to help refuel muscles and energy stores
  • High quality protein to promote muscle recovery and growth
  • Fluid and electrolytes to help replenish what is lost in sweat

We know that a combination of protein and carbohydrate is best for recovery after exercise and with the exception of cheese, dairy products are a winning combination of both.

Dairy foods providing approximately 10g protein

300ml Milk

300ml Flavoured milk

125ml Evaporated milk

250g Flavoured yoghurt

100g Ricotta cheese

40g Cheddar cheese

250ml Vanilla custard

I very much hope that New York will have a finish line and some choc-milk waiting for me on the 3rd November.

 

 

Get me some yen

julie overlooking 5 terre

It’s time to come clean.  I have long been dedicated to eating well and exercising but for many years I have been  downright incompetent at balancing my life to enable adequate recovery and renewal, to my own detriment. A sea change has been required for some time and having just returned from a three month adventure in Italy , it really could not have been a better place to recover and work on changing unhealthy working habits.  I know that so many of you will relate to this and there is no doubt that our daily performance is greatly affected by how we design our work and daily routine. I know mine has been.

The past three months have enabled me to reflect on how I conduct my combined professional and personal life at a speed that is simply unsustainable.  For this to occur I needed distance and quiet time to do this but reflection comes in many forms.  Meditation and yoga are two very popular forms of reflection and stilling the mind and I have tried a handful of times over the past 20 years to embark upon both of these. I have tried introduction courses several times and each time finished the course feeling no more competent than before. So far, the well- known benefits of this age-old practice have well and truly eluded me. Mostly, because I didn’t allow myself the time and space to do so.

It is obvious to me now that one does not tackle meditation like an exercise program and that it is a ritual or routine that requires time and practice. Considering that people have been meditating for thousands of years, perhaps it’s not surprising that I haven’t been able to master it in a couple of decades.

The definition of meditation depends on the form you are practising, however, many forms involve training your mind to focus and achieving a state of being and awareness. The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association says, “In its broadest and most universal definition, meditation is a discipline that involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image or feeling.”

It is well documented that many successful people (including Ros Worthington and many others in this book) make meditation part of their day and find it essential to their health and for developing their ability to focus on the truly important things in their personal and professional lives. Meditation helps develop skills in:

  •   Knowing what your mind is paying attention to
  •   Working out where your mind’s attention needs to be focused
  •   Maintaining attention on what you want your mind to be focusing on

The difficulty with developing focus is not just the external distractions in our lives but also the internal chatter in our minds. It is very difficult to sit and keep your mind focused on a single thing when automatically your attention is often drawn to replaying the past, worrying about the future and other negative thoughts. Feeling relaxed and focused is an immediate positive side effect of meditation but it can also help develop mental strength, resilience and performance. Experts in this centuries old practice have various methods of meditation including focusing on the breath, counting and mindfulness. Although many people may associate meditation with spiritual practice, in a practical sense it is attentional practice.

If, like me, you have found meditation to be challenging, there is good news. In my research and practice over the past three months I have discovered that meditation doesn’t need to be lengthy. Sitting quietly admiring a view can do the trick nicely. Many have suggested that simply focusing intensely in a concentrated way for 30-60 seconds is better than trying to maintain focus over a long period of time, while your mind wanders here, there and everywhere.

Interest in maximising performance has been gaining momentum for a while but there is no doubt that times are changing. Amidst the incessant demands that we are subject to each day, people are more interested in things that bring balance, focus and harmony. Meditation (and reflection) is one of those things.

 

 

Renewal and Recovery

antique italian cats
The Masters of Renewal and Recovery

Craig Lowndes could be mistaken as a petrol head or perhaps even an adrenaline junkie.  It’s true that he does spend a vast majority of his time skilfully driving powerful cars around a track at warp speed and there is no doubt he is highly competitive. These traits and skills have led to him achieving excellence , becoming a V8 Supercar champion and one of Australia’s most popular sporting heroes.

V8 Supercar driving requires 100% focus.  Legendary British racing driver Stirling Moss describes competitive high speed driving perfectly, “It is necessary to relax your muscles when you can. Relaxing your brain is fatal.” Many researchers now believe that regardless of your inborn talent, it is possible to achieve excellence in almost any domain through single-minded focus and purposeful practice. The ability of Craig Lowndes and others like him to completely shut out distractions and have 100% focus on driving a high powered car around a racing track for hours on end, is integral not only to his success but also to his life.  A moment of lost concentration and focus can ultimately mean severe injury or death to him and others. For the everyday person, the outcome of losing attention or focus is not usually life-threatening. But it is a reality that many of us juggle several tasks at a time and struggle to focus on any one of them for very long.  Lack of absorbed focus takes it toll on the depth and quality of whatever we do and is an inefficient way of doing things. We often allow ourselves to be distracted by the urgent but not important tasks in our day and become very reactive rather than focusing intensely on our priorities. We get so caught up in the business and logistics of life that we don’t stop to consider what it is we really want or where to invest our time and energy to achieve those goals. Tony Schwartz, author of CEO of The Energy Project, believes that if more of us were able to focus, great performance in almost anything would be much more common than it is. Tony goes on to explain that, “Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re hard-wired to be rhythmic. We’re at our best when we pulse between spending and renewing energy. Unfortunately, the need for rest and renewal gets little respect and the result is that we increasingly find themselves working at a pace that feels unsustainable. We’re in an energy crisis – and this one is personal.” The Energy Project has some great resources which have certainly made me stop and reflect on the way that I (don’t) recover and renew my own internal machinery.  The Energy Project is offering a series of free  Take Back Your Life in Ten Steps webinars, which will help to re-energize, refocus, and reengage you. Each month, Director of Product Development, Emily Pines  shares The Energy Project’s expertise around ten simple practices featured in Tony Schwartz’ blog, “Take Back Your Life in Ten Steps,” onHBR.org that will enable you to achieve more in less time through renewal and recovery. In the first webinar that I recently attended with the Energy Project I immediately picked up a handful of tips that had me wondering why I hadn’t been utilising them earlier. Top tips included:

  • Start thinking about life as a sprint event not a marathon. Sprinters give 100% because they can see the finish line.
  • Take a break every 90 minutes to renew and recover from whatever task you are doing.  The break doesn’t need to be mammoth, it can be as simple as a deep-breathing exercise, getting up from your computer for 5 minutes or taking a fuel stop. We all know how easy it is to work for hours on end without a break, so set a timer if you need to. This tip is crucial to our energy renewal and recovery.
  • Work at increased capacity over shorter periods of time (90 minute cycles)
  • Go to sleep earlier
  • The value you create equals the energy you invest NOT how long you work
  • Vacations fuel productivity

I especially liked the thought that we were left with. “Seize back your life – it belongs to you.”    

Run for a Reason

If you are a running enthusiast, autumn and winter in Australia provides you with a veritable smorgasbord of events to try your legs at. Having just braved the strong winds and sprinkling of rain in the Perth outdoors this morning I am totally pumped to talk about it. I love the fact that anyone can run at any time, in any city of the world. It is a great way to see the sights (even if it is just your neighbourhood), get some fresh air in your lungs and work through your daily strategy.  Over the next few months, in Australia and in fact anywhere in the world you can choose from a running menu of 4km, 12km, Half Marathon (21.1km) or the Marathon (42.2km). If you thinking about participating in any of these events, now would be a good time to start thinking about what petrol you are going to use.  Yes, I know lots of people don’t bother with the training or preparation for ‘Fun Runs’ but doing so certainly puts the FUN back into them and enables you to walk and function after all that fun. Your preparation does require some thought with regards to fuel consumption. Do you want to be a BMW or a Datsun 120Y? Now is not the time to be indulging in takeaway for dinner or skipping meals and certainly not getting stuck into the vino the night before training. I am personally preparing for the Perth HBF Run for a Reason to be followed up by the Perth Half Marathon and I recently wrote about some nutrition tips to use in training that you might find useful. One thing that I find challenging myself is to make sure that I eat or drink something containing carbohydrate and protein within 15-30 minutes after I finish training.  It is SO easy to waste that crucial recovery time doing something else like talking, getting yourself and others ready for work and school or just generally faffing about. Your blood is flowing quickly after exercise and there are enzymes ready and waiting to pick up some petrol to transport back to cells and assist your muscle recovery. You might just need a ‘transition’ snack before your next meal to get your recovery happening and its best to look for 50g of carbohydrate combined with 10-15g protein in this snack. Some options include:

  • Up and Go Energize drink
  • Sustagen Sport
  • Uncle Toby’s Bodywise bar plus a glass of milk
  • 1 cup low fat milk combined with 2 tablespoons skim milk powder
  • 1 small tub low fat yoghurt with a banana

Paying attention to your recovery will dramatically improve your energy levels and improve the quality of your training sessions.

The Last Supper

2 sleeps to go. Race day is looming and you need to know what to eat before you rush out the door to the start line.  While rushing make sure you factor stopping at the bowser 90-120 minutes before the gun goes off. Actually eating breakfast is the important thing.  Next is what you choose.  Around 100 grams of carbohydrate with some protein mixed in will be good prep for your running event.  This pre-race meal could be:

  • 1 cup cereal with milk and 1 banana
  • 2 slices of toast with jam or honey

If these options have you reeling, you could try a couple of crumpets or 2 slices of toast with banana or tinned spaghetti. If breakfast is not your thing, try an Up and Go or Sustagen Sport, it will still give you some petrol.  If you are not used to eating before an event or any exercise lasting longer than 1 hour, it may be too late to start for this weekend but embark upon training your stomach to accept food as soon as you can.  Its just like training any other body part. Just remember, Datsun 120Y or BMW? Imagine yourself crossing the finish line, arms raised in the victory position.  Sure, there will be much celebrating but don’t forget to recover and grab some sports drink or fruit within the first 15-30 minutes after you stop running.  Your blood is pumping and enzymes are at their peak, lying in wait to pick up carbohydrate and take it back home to your tired muscles and liver. Recovery mission complete, give yourself a pat on the pack.  Well done.