Sunday, June 26, 2011

Diesel the Dog: The Athlete

Will someone please play with me?
It has been one year since Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice brought me home from the place I was kept with my two brothers after we were found on the street in Oklahoma. I’m so happy they picked me. I have the best life! I eat, sleep, poop, fetch, swim, run, play with my doggie friends and sleep some more. I am really lucky, because I have A LOT of energy and Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice make sure I get plenty of exercise.

We started with playing Frisbee. I am really good at it. I run really fast after the Frisbee and then jump high in the air and grab it with my mouth. Sometimes I like to show off and do some tricks while I am in the air. Everyone ooh’s and ahh’s and I get yummy treats. You know what I really hate though? When Crazy Blonde pretends to the throw the Frisbee and I go running after it and look around and it is still in her hand. I feel so foolish and everyone laughs. Stop doing that, I do not find it amusing.
I'm a jumper!
When I got old enough, Crazy Blonde started taking me for runs. She attached my leash around her waist and off we went. At first we only ran a little bit. It felt like we just went around the block. Then I got to run longer. It is the best. We go to really cool trails with lots of things to smell and see. The other day I saw this big animal that Crazy Blonde called a deer. I really wanted to chase after it, but Crazy Blonde wouldn’t let me. I can just run and run forever, with my ears flopping in the wind and my tongue hanging out of my mouth. I get to run several days a week with Crazy Blonde. Sometimes Deep Voice takes me out for a run. He is much slower, so those are my recovery days.

For a long time I would not chase a ball. But then, it was really windy every day for a long time and my Frisbee wouldn’t fly in the air very well.  One windy day, Deep Voice threw me a ball and I went after it. I had no choice; I needed to run after something. Oh my goodness, it was much more fun than I thought it would be! Deep Voice got this funny looking object to throw the ball and it goes really far, almost across the park. Then Deep Voice got this bright orange ball that bounces really high. I can jump in the air like I do with my Frisbee, or I can chase after it at full speed.

Why do you tease me so? Just throw it already.
Now that it is summer, we go to the lake a lot so I can swim. It is not my favorite thing to do, but it is really refreshing and I don’t get so hot like I do when I play at the park. At first I was timid and would not go out very far. We have gone a lot, though, and I have been able to practice. I can go all the way to the middle of the lake! Of course, I only go in the water when somebody throws my favorite ball and I have to get it. I really don’t see the purpose of just going in for no reason.
I totally beat that other guy to shore

I like to nap after I workout. It is really good for my recovery.
Crazy Blonde keeps joking that if I could ride a bike I would be a really good triathlete. That seems silly though. How would I get a helmet to fit my head? And, those bike shorts look ridiculous, and where would I put my tail?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The female athlete discrepancy

Last week Sports Illustrated published a list of the 50 highest paid athletes. Take a look at it. Do you notice anything unusual? Look again. There are no women on that list. None. Despite the ever increasing number of female sports stars as household names and despite the ever increasing number of female sports aficionados, female athletes are grossly underpaid and underrepresented. 

This list is enlightening. One would imagine that men are earning more because the PGA, NBA, NFL and MLB have deep pockets to pay their athletes. It is true that much of the disparity starts in salary. But, here’s the thing. Most of the athletes on this list are earning the majority of their income from endorsements. The top three athletes earned between 30 million and 60 million in endorsements. Not salary. Not prize earnings. Endorsements. 

I suppose it must mean that these athletes are fantastic role models, right? Think again. Tiger Woods still tops the list as the highest earner, despite the embarrassment of his personal life. Big companies are stuffing the pockets of their male athletes much more deeply than their female athletes, while the female athletes are often working harder to maintain their image and spend their precious free time engaging in charity work. 

Many sports now boast equal pay for men and women in terms of prize money. Sports such as road running, triathlon, and tennis dole out comparable prize purses to both genders. And, in these sports the number of female participants is increasing, such that many running races actually have more female contestants than male. Why is it then, that males in these sports are more talked about and more hyped? Why are the males in these sports more recognized and looked up to? Why are the marketing dollars spent more on males than females? 

Here is something that is really telling. Almost any write up about sports in which men and women competed on the same day (marathon running, track and field, triathlon, swimming) is always kicked off with the men’s recap. The space devoted to the men is often twice that of the women; the women’s race is treated as a postscript. Men are more highly lauded and treated as icons even though the women are competing on the same course on the same day.

The media, then, is perpetuating this discrepancy. Instead of making stars out of more top women athletes, they continually promote male athletes or spend their time focusing on a select few females. Certainly, the United States is dominated by very male-centric sports and the female counterparts to those sports (i.e. the WNBA) are after-thoughts. This weekend, people all over the world watched as Rory McIlroy won the US Open in record fashion. I bet that 90% of these people cannot even name an LPGA player let alone spend the weekend watching women compete.

Last fall I was honored to attend a retreat to launch EspnW, a self-proclaimed online destination for female sports fans and athletes. I applaud the recognition that a hole existed in the need for a platform for women’s athletics. But, I believe it is sad commentary that women’s athletics is such an afterthought in the mainstream media that a separate site was developed to fill this gap.

I believe the problem, then, is two-fold. The media promotes male athletes. Because the media has over-hyped male athletes, they become household names and thus, more marketable. This then leads to companies willing to shell out more dollars to these athletes leaving much less for female athletes even if they have superior skills both on and off the playing field.

Women athletes are working just as hard as male athletes. Women athletes have the potential to be fantastic role models. It is up to society to recognize this and shout a little louder that they deserve equal recognition.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spinning your wheels: an open water swimming primer

 When I was growing up as a swimmer, I was a terrible sprinter. We practiced our fast swimming often and sometimes I even had to swim the sprints in swim meets. I was so bad a sprinter, my 100 meter freestyle time was only a tad faster than what I would do on the first 100 of a 200 meter swim. After one particularly slow and painful 100 on a relay, my coach admonished me, “You are trying too hard and you are spinning your wheels. Your arms are flailing (I don’t know how he could actually tell, since my arms always flail).”

His words did not resonate at all. I blew him off since I knew that my future was in distance swimming and I just really hated sprinting.

When I turned to triathlon, I regretted my laissez-faire attitude about swimming fast. It is true that well swum distance events in the pool are controlled at the start. However, in triathlon, the swim start is frenzied with everyone jockeying for position. One must be able to sprint to establish a good position or at the very least to not get swum over. I revisited the sprinting concept and work hard at honing my speed in a more efficient manner.

This very topic of swimming hard and swimming hard efficiently has been on my mind lately. I have had the pleasure of helping a few struggling swimmers with their stroke. When I asked them to swim hard the words of my former coach suddenly popped into my head. The reason these athletes were swimming so much slower in races than their capability is because they spin their wheels when they try to swim fast. The harder they are swimming, the less efficient they are in the water and they are expending more energy to go slower.

Let me give you an analogy. Imagine you are riding your bike down a steep hill in your small chain ring in your smallest gear and you are pedaling. Your legs are moving very fast but you are producing very little wattage and you are experiencing a lot of fatigue in your legs and you are breathing hard. Suddenly, another ride coasts by in a much bigger gear, seemingly effortlessly.

That is what happens to weaker swimmers and even many strong swimmers during races. They are effectively trying to swim in the wrong gear. There is so much extra energy expended on the swim that it inevitably leads to slower times in not only the swim, but also the bike and run.

Here are some tips to swim faster and more efficiently when you race.
  • Do not let your stroke become short and choppy. Try to maintain your same stroke length, but increase your stroke rate.   
  • Do not increase your body movement. In many cases, the short, choppy stroke causes extra head movement and causes the body to wriggle like a worm.
  •  Do not try to emulate the perfect stroke of Michael Phelps. I see so many swimmers aiming for a beautiful arm recovery with bent elbows. Open water swimming and pool swimming are very different. A higher recovery phase is actually very beneficial in open water swimming, especially if the water is rough. You want to be able to swing your arms over the waves.
  •  Do not drop your elbows underneath the water. Propulsion in swimming comes from what happens underneath the water. If you do not “catch” the water, you will lose momentum and speed. Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen, a top master’s swimmer and a top-notch instructor, tells swimmers to think about how you would feel if you were paddling on a paddle board (check out her video here). Adopt this high elbow technique, and then practice it until it feels comfortable whether you are going hard or easy.

  • Do not panic at the swim start, this will only make your stroke worse.
  • Practice going hard in your training. Do lots of hard 25’s and 50’s to get used to good technique while swimming fast. 

Now, of course, this is not the final word in stroke technique or open water swimming. Most people would benefit from a lesson from an expert to help them determine the shortcomings in their stroke. But, these tips should help you on race day if you practice them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Blue Line Index: Rock n' Roll San Diego

Now that is a sea of people! I circled myself.
Ok, so I wore my Garmin during the Rock n Roll San Diego half marathon yesterday. Guess what? The course is long! My watch clocked me at 21.4 kilometers, a whopping 300 meters extra. I am going to take 65 seconds off my time to account for the extra distance I ran. I tried hard to run the tangents, but when you are running on a major freeway as we did for about 2 miles, the width of the road is tremendous. I was hugging the inside of the road and the aid station was on the outside; there was no way to even make it over there without adding significant distance.

I have yet to come across an athlete whose GPS device measures the course accurately. After races, I often hear grumbling that the course was long. To ameliorate the groans and complaints from runners with GPS devices, I recommend a Blue Line Index (BLI, if you will). Many major marathons, including the Olympics and the World Championships, paint a blue line on the road to mark where the course was measured. If athletes follow the blue line, they cut all of the tangents and run the shortest possible distance. No geometry is required during the race; just look for the blue line. The New York marathon website indicates that they use 75 gallons of “marathon blue” paint to mark the course in the days leading up to the race. Now, I am not suggesting that every marathon should paint a blue line on the course (although that would be a nice touch). But, wouldn’t it be cool if marathons had a Google earth map on their website with the blue line superimposed on the course to let runners know the shortest route?

36,000 people ran either the half or the full marathon. I was lucky to obtain an elite start, which placed me at the front of the throngs. I took my place at the head of the race with some heavily pedigreed runners. Needless to say, I felt terribly out of place. I didn’t need any triathlete gear to give away that I am a triathlete. My body said it all. With my swimmer’s arms and broad shoulders and my legs which still carry extra muscle from years of cycling, I felt gigantic. Fortunately, an athlete I coach, Jim Lubinski, was racing in the men’s elite half marathon field (as you can see from the photo, his attire SCREAMS triathlete). He is a rather big fellow towering over everyone there. We stood in the start corral chuckling to ourselves. Maybe we should have worn camo.

The race itself was a spectacle. From running Elvises to spectators proselytizing to bands galore to the stunning course, I thoroughly enjoyed this race. I stuck to my game plan of running conservatively and consistently. I powered up the hills and ran hard down them. I knocked off the miles one after the other and felt strong the entire way. I was very pleased with a new PR and with my second place finish. Ironically, despite the thousands of people in the race, after mile two I ran alone.

I wanted to go here instead of the race expo, but they wouldn't let me in. The aroma was intoxicating.
There are many merits to large scale races. They are extremely well organized. The expos are huge selling just about anything you can imagine to enhance your racing experience. Need a rack to hang your finisher medals? They were there. Need a special headband? Yep, you can find it. Want to get your medal engraved with your name and finisher time? That was on offer. There was even a booth selling flooring. I'm not quite sure how that fit into the mix, but maybe the soft surface promotes better recovery when walking around the house.

The biggest downside to the large scale race is the morning traffic. The race started at 6:15am. We left the house at 4:20. We were already too late. The traffic was backed up for miles and miles, worse than LA at its worst. After inching forward for 20 minutes watching the digital clock turn over from 5 to 5:05 to 5:10 to 5:20, my stress level starting rising (I was in serious need of a bathroom). My father used his New Yorker fancy maneuvering to navigate us through the sea of cars and get us to the venue with enough time to warm up. I am certain that a lot of people were still parking when the gun went off.

I’ll be back in San Diego in August for the AFC half marathon. Anyone know of a fast, flat half in July?