Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Radio Silence

Apologies for the radio silence! We've been busy welcoming spring here at GMS.

That's right, we're finally on the water!!! We've only been out twice so far—a plethora of rain and snow melt has created a spectacular current. Still, it's rowing, and it's awesome.

In other spring news, I've got my veggie starts planted for the garden. We have cleared the weeds from last season and have planned to till, mulch and plant in late April or early May. I'm taking a rather unambitious approach to the garden this year, and planning to plant only one or two of each plant variety. My focus will be on learning the new environment and getting some timing issues nail down.

I will also focus on getting the garden set up for future success.

Speaking of gardening, we're applying for a huge grant for the garden here at GMS! The first selection round involves public voting, so please take a minute to go vote for our garden:

The garden is called the GMS Rowing Center Garden, or you can just search for our zip code: 06776.
Please spread the word!!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Heart Rate Monitors

Until last year, I almost never trained with a heart rate monitor. Now, I wear one for nearly every practice.

For most athletes, a coach dictates whether to use a heart rate monitor. Some athletes choose to use them independently. Regardless of your heart rate monitor status, it's helpful to know some of the pros and cons of the straps. This can help you use them more wisely.


Heart rate monitors:

==> allow for more precise training
Especially coupled with lactate testing, heart rate monitors can provide personalized, precise training. By using the heart rate coupled with blood lactate levels, you can focus your time on crucial intensities. For example, in winter, we do most of our training at blood lactate levels of 0.8-1.8 mmol/L—well below the generally established 'lactate threshold' of 4 mmol/L.

You can use the same principle by using one of many heart rate zone calculators based on maximum and resting heart rates. They won't be as precise, but they will help you target your training. If using these tools, understand that you may need to adjust the provided heart rates to maximize your training.

==> provide clear and manageable targets for workouts
I know I can do 100 minutes with my heart rate between 167 and 174. Even if I'm fatigued and mentally struggling, physically I can complete the workout. Similarly, I know I can complete 10km with my heart rate between 180 and 189, regardless of speed.

It takes experience and/or an experience coach to provide useful heart rate targets. However, those targets can take the guesswork out of what's do-able.

==> can help adjust for the effects of weather, fatigue, dehydration, etc.
Sometimes, perfectly reasonable split targets from last week are way off this week. If it's much hotter or you've done a challenging lifting session the day before, the same splits may be much more work to maintain. That's totally normal.

Using a heart rate monitor helps adjust for those environmental factors, allowing you to continue benefitting from your most useful workouts.


Heart rate monitors:

==> don't account for mental and emotional fatigue
Although they're great at adjusting for physical effects, heart rate monitors don't monitor the brain. Sometimes you're slow because your head isn't in it.

If you always listen to your heart rate monitor, you might fail to give yourself crucial mental and emotional recovery.

==> are inappropriate for some workouts
This week, we did a pyramid workout with very short distances (starting at 3 hard strokes at a time, working our way up to 17 hard strokes at a time). The longest work segment was around 30 seconds. It takes the heart time to react to changes in exercise intensity, meaning your heart rate will not accurately reflect your effort after just 30 seconds. Generally, we don't use heart rate zones for any work segments less than 2 minutes.

We also don't use heart rate zones for weight lifting workouts. It can be fun to see your heart rate during lifting sessions, but to get the most of lifting we trying to avoid using them as an additional cardio workout. Since we're not stressing the cardiovascular system, which the HR monitor monitors, we don't need the data.

==> over-focus on the numbers
There is pleasure in simply rowing: listening to the glide of the boat, the thwack of the oars, the swish of the water. Data takes away from the beauty. Of course, it's not just the heart rate—it's the splits and the stroke rate and the time and the meters. There something wonderful about rowing as fast or slow as you want, until you want to turn around, and then coming back. It's a bit of mental respite that heart rate monitors can't provide.

==> can make you lose touch with your body
Heart rate zones change. Over the course of six months, my heart rate zones shifted as much as 10 bpm. Over-reliance on numbers can dampen body awareness crucial to making zone and intensity adjustments. Regular lactate testing can help the latter, but body awareness is incredibly important in racing. You have to be able to determine when to risk everything—and your heart rate monitor can't always tell you.

How can this help your training?

If you train with a heart rate monitor, be aware of the cons. Account for your own mental fatigue, leave the monitor behind for some workouts, and stay aware of how your body feels not just your heart rate.

If you haven't yet taken the plunge, consider the pros. If these are areas where you've struggled, it might be time to invest in a heart rate monitor. Maybe you have trouble finishing workouts, or find your numbers jumping around from week to week. If used correctly, a heart rate monitor can help you with pacing and consistency.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I Ate Wednesday

One of the fun things about living at GMS is living with a gaggle of rowers. Two of the other women living here also help coach the high school team. We got to talking about healthy eating and encouraging the kids to choose better foods—more fruits/vegetables/whole grains, less candy and general junk.

We thought it might be helpful if there was an example of what we, as full-time and generally healthy athletes, ate on a regular basis. I always think it's helpful to see what other athletes are eating. Food is definitely an individual choice, but seeing others' choices helps me understand my own choices better.

For example, if somebody else is eating lots of gels and sports drinks, and I'm not, I ask myself why I'm not doing that. I don't change my behavior, but rather understand my choices better.

So, here's what I ate this Monday. We had two workouts, 75 minutes in the morning and an afternoon weightlifting session.

steel cut oats (2 cups) with walnuts, dried cranberries, brown sugar, sunflower seeds
mug of coffee


brown rice (1 cup) with olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper
sauteed kale (1 cup)
lentil loaf (lentils, mushrooms, bread crumbs, onions, etc.) (1.5 cups)

steel cut oats (1 cup) with 2T peanut butter, 1.5T jam

walnuts (0.5oz)
raisins (2T), banana
green tea


walnuts (0.5oz)

sweet potato (1 medium)
diced roasted russet potatoes (skin on, with salt, oil) (2 cups)
salad with baby kale, cucumbers, radish, carrot, fennel, lemon-garlic-oil dressing (3 cups)
chickpeas sauteed with onions, spices (1 cup)

As you can see, I focus most of my calories into three main meals of 500-1000 calories. I also sometimes add an auxiliary smaller fourth meal of 4-600 calories, and some (relatively) small snacks of 150-300 calories.

On days when I don't workout as much, I keep a similar eating pattern, but maybe cut out one snack and my fourth meal. It depends on my hunger levels. On days when I'm working out a lot (burning upwards of 2000 extra calories), I will increase the size of my 4th meal and maybe add a late night snack.

What do you eat on a daily basis? How do the quantities compare? Are you trying to lose weight? gain weight?

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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Scales

Bodyweight is always a contentious issue. Especially when it comes to purposefully changing ones weight, what some people view as healthy, others call obsessive. Ashley over at {never} homemaker recently got some serious flak for talking about weight, which inspired me to write about it.

As a lightweight rower, I have no choice—weight is part of my daily life. My results have different meanings at 125 and 135 pounds. And I have very strict weight deadlines that require me to weigh myself weekly starting months in advance. For example, I expect to weigh under 129 pounds on April 23rd and around 125.5 pounds on May 14th. Those are not loose deadlines.

In fact, the stringency of those deadlines has definitely led me to some bad habits: obsessively counting calories, over-weighing, chronic dehydration. I spent much of my first training year tracking every morsel of food and every calorie burned. In college, I often didn't drink water all afternoon, in case our coach had us weigh in at practice.

I've been working on those habits. This winter, I've focused on getting in touch with my body. I've learned my true hunger cues and also learned to respect those cues. Not surprisingly, I'm suddenly a lot faster, calmer and less prone to eating half jars of peanut butter.

Now that I'm finally coming to terms with my body, weight and eating habits, here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

==> It's okay to have a number in mind.
Ashley got a lot of crap for focusing on the 7 pounds she's gained. But I think it's okay to focus on it. She mentioned that 7 pounds can really easily turn into 70; I've talked to a lot of women in their 40s or 50s who now regret not focusing on those first 5 or 7 or 10.

==> It's also okay to have different numbers for different seasons.
Lightweight rowing automates this. I weigh 132-135 pounds in winter and 126-129 pounds in season. I eat more heartily and train heavier weights in winter; I eat more fresh fruits and veggies and do more HIIT in summer. It's part of my body's natural cycle (and I never regret have some extra insulation in winter).

==> Weight varies a lot from day to day and week to week.
My weight can change 2 pounds in a day. I clearly did not overeat by 7000 calories—chances are I ate more vegetables and drank more water. That's why I use weight ranges, not specific weights, when possible. It's also why I don't care if I've gained a pound from last week; I notice when I've gained two pounds from two weeks ago, or five pounds from five weeks ago.

==> It's not okay to weigh yourself more than once a day with any regularity.
If you do this, for any reason, please spend some time thinking about your relationship with food. There are much better ways! And there are a lot of resources to help you get in touch with your body without relying on the scale. (It's possible to maintain your current weight without weighing yourself!!!)

==> If you're eating uncontrollably, you might be hungry.
I used to go nuts with the jar of peanut butter. It was my nemesis. Apparently, I wasn't eating enough breakfast. Now, I aim for 600-800 calories for breakfast, and similarly gigantic portions for lunch and dinner. Since I'm not starving between meals, I don't feel the need to snack on inappropriate foods. (1/2c of PB is not an appropriate snack 30 minutes before a hard practice.)

What are your thoughts on weight? Do you weigh yourself to maintain your weight? Or do you go by other cues? Or do you not pay attention at all?

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Monday, March 3, 2014

The Training Center

In case you missed it, there are some great videos up on row2k about the men's national team training in Princeton. When I first saw them posted, I didn't think there was a ton to learn from the series—I expected it to be more geared towards the general public.

In reality, the videos are incredibly motivational and reassuring, and a great insight into specific aspects of training at a high level. It's fun to see these names I've heard since I was in high school presented as real people on camera.

The fourth installment just came out. Here are links to each of the videos:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Living on a Budget - Unpackaged

I've mentioned this before, but food is one of our major recurring expenditures. Even being careful, we spend nearly as much money on food as on rent. Still, we've cut down our food costs significantly in the past two years, which means more money goes into our savings accounts. Glorious.

Cutting out packaged foods has made a huge difference in our grocery bill. For example, we no longer buy crackers or cold cereal, opting instead for larger meals (not snack foods) and hot oatmeal. In fact, just the switch from cold to hot cereal has saved us a bundle.

The two of us eat a box of cold cereal every two days, plus the cold cereal required about a gallon of soy milk a week. Even with cheap cereal and milk, we were looking at $13/week for breakfast (not including bananas or other tasty toppings).
Now, we buy steel cut oatmeal (the most expensive kind of oats, and worth every extra penny). We go through 4-5# a week, with only a half gallon of milk, dropping us below $10/week. We use the extra money to buy walnuts, raisins and sunflower seeds, to make our breakfast more nutritious, delicious and filling, for the same cost.

Ok, maybe not the best example, but ultimately that breakfast provides us more calories, meaning we don't buy snack foods, meaning we save money.

I guess the lesson is that focusing our meals around large, filling, whole foods has helped us avoid more processed and packaged foods that used to fill the gaps between meals.

That being said, we do rely on some packaged foods because they are filling and inexpensive. For example, although our homemade vegan sausages are delicious, they are more expensive than buying Tofurky Italian sausages from Trader Joe's. When we throw in a load of potatoes and a bag of frozen veggies, we've got an inexpensive and well-rounded meal that is really quite filling.

Similarly, we buy some pre-made sauces, like soy sauce, peanut butter and sriracha. We simply don't have the time to make these things from scratch. We do combine these pre-made sauces into other tasty concoctions, like homemade peanut sauce for our stirfries. We also make all of our own salad dressings.

As an added bonus, less packaging means less waste!

Our top five packaged foods:
1. Peanut butter!
2. Soy milk
3. Bread (although I'm keeping an eye out for a bread machine on freecycle)
4. Tofu & Tempeh
5. Raisins

What do you buy in packages? Do you make your own sauces or buy pre-made?

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Scenes From Connecticut

The house has finally filled out with warm bodies. My teammates have returned from Oklahoma City, Houston, and Worcester, and we are all training hard for our upcoming 6k and 2k erg tests.

Unfortunately, the extra warmth hasn't melted all the snow. I expect we'll be indoors for another month or so. Hopefully we get at least a week on the water before the first national selection regatta!!

This is where Dan works. He started last week.

The lake was thawed for one day when we arrived. Now it's a sheet of ice.

Our poor west coast car doesn't know what to do.

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