Monthly Archives: May 2016

Goals, sub-goals, measurements, tracking

I have been pondering the role of measurements and goals in improving fitness. My friend Bonny Baker has been working toward a goal of a sub-30-second Time to Beat run with her small poodle DeeDee; when she told me about that, I started thinking about measurable big goals and measurable small goals that add up to that big goal (thanks, Bonny). I’m trying to run a sub-29-minute 5K (and after that, a sub-28-minute 5K) (and after that? guess!). I know people who want to get more MaCH points for each run and so are trying to run faster with their dogs. (For me, as far a MaCH goes, what I want is to have run every run all-out-trying-to-win, not trying-to-Q.)

These are measurable goals. There is a current measurement and there is a measurable goal. I can tell you what I weighed on pretty much any day of the last three-and-a-half years, and I can tell you what I weigh now. I know my body fat measurement, my BMI, and my weight goal. With those measurable outcomes, I know if I’m making progress toward that goal, and I will know when (not if) I’ve met my goal.

I have lots of goals, in agility, in running, in cycling, even in swimming. My goals vary in their level of ambition, but they are measurable. In swimming, for example, my goal every week is to swim at least once, for at least a half hour; speed is not an issue here, but showing up is. In cycling, my goal is to complete the 45-mile wine country bike ride the last weekend in July, preferably without whining too much. (There are sub-goals to that, because that goal involves training for it.) There are multiple steps in meeting some goals–for example, I’m currently working on running a little faster (and yes, I measure my speed and heart rate every run) and a little longer (of course I measure that too) in my daily runs. I have switched from saying “I think I can, I think I can” to myself as I run up hills–right now, what I say is “no junk miles”. “Junk miles” (as I’m defining it) is running without pushing myself just a little; “junk miles” is running without being conscious of how I feel and how hard I’m working.

There was an article in the New York Times a few days ago about tracking how you spend your time, with the goal (of course) of becoming better at spending time on the things you really want to spend time on. The author pointed out that she also recorded how long it took her to track her time expenditures. Yes, tracking goals takes time. However, I’m pretty sure it’s essential to track, that without tracking, you don’t make progress.

Expanding Time…

I first wrote a draft of this post about three months ago, but I was struggling with phrasing and my own understanding, so it’s been “just a draft’ for a while. Sometime back in January, I started noticing that an agility run with Rush no longer seemed always hurried or frantic. Unpredictably, in some runs but not in others, the run would go by as if in slow motion. I could see every paw land, I had time to make minor adjustments in handling or turn Rush before he took that off-course jump. I couldn’t figure how to force time to expand, but when it did, I felt amazingly competent. I had so much time to get where I needed to get! I knew exactly where Rush would be!

It is my habit, after a day of competitive agility, to review the successful runs–or the more-successful bits and pieces of less successful runs–as I fall asleep, and so for months now I’ve been working out what I do that makes time expand. It’s certain kinds of courses, at this point: courses where the flow and curves of the course are familiar, where the challenges are those I’ve trained and really know how to handle, where Rush and I have developed the teamwork we need so that I know just where he’ll land when. Jumpers now falls into this type of course, mostly because I’ve studied Rush’s jumping so much that I could put an X down on the ground to predict where he’ll land and be correct throughout the course. Knowing where he’ll be lets me know exactly where I need to be, and knowing where he should be means I know when I need to correct my position to put him there, and knowing that without having to think too much about it? That, it turns out, is when time expands.

As a result of studying Rush’s jumping so carefully–and I’m beginning to study movement between other kinds of obstacles as well (how many strides does he take in a tunnel-to-tunnel sequence, for example?)–I’ve started to watch the striding of other dogs as well. I’ve developed a theory about striding and when the dog needs to know the upcoming obstacle or obstacles, when the dog needs to know his path through the course. I sit in the bar-changing chairs at many trials, and what I see, over and over again, is that a dog wants to know three strides in advance where he’s going. It’s why smaller dogs can be easier to run–more strides for the same distance. When a dog knows where he’s going–he’ll accelerate down the course.

I’ve really been focusing with Rush on keeping my body language very clear. If I use verbals, I want my running, my shoulders, my hips, my direction–everything!–to say exactly the same thing as my words. Mostly, I shut up, because making sure I move correctly is hard enough without talking too! As Rush learns teamwork, he’s able to work while farther away from me–and running him becomes easier, because time expands when you need fewer steps to get to the same place.

I finished my first triathlon yesterday…

Did my first tri yesterday. It was a pool sprint triathlon, which means that a) the swim took place in a pool, and b) the distances were relatively short: 500 yards swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run. It went better than I’d expected it would (I thought I’d be around two hours), better than I’d hoped (I hoped for 1:45)–in the end, I finished just under 1:40. After several people advised me not to hurry in the transitions (the parts where you are switching from one thing to the next–T1 is swim-to-bike, T2 is bike-to-swim–I did them slowly, drank some water, had some sport beans, made sure the helmet was adjusted properly, double-checked the shoes….

Diana after tri may 2016I followed additional advice: just do each event as it comes, without stressing about the next one. The swim was pretty much just like practice: doing laps, stay to the right of the lane. It was nice to have someone else count, though, and the last length came up one lap earlier than I expected, confirming my hunch that I forget to count sometimes.

I really enjoyed the bike segment! I don’t think I’ve ever been able to ride 12 miles without stopping at all. Having traffic stopped for me was hugely fun. A world without stop signs and traffic lights! I was much faster than I’ve ever been in training. I’d ridden the course before, so I knew about the hills, which was helpful, but I hadn’t thought about how nice it would be to roll fast through all those intersections.

The run was both like a race–timing pressure! other runners!–and really unlike. Because the only time you start with a group is the swim, by the time I got to the run, I was pretty much running alone. (Small event, 200 people.) I was pleasantly surprised to be able to run at all after I got off the bike–and then again surprised by decent mile splits. I was utterly unable to muster my usual finishing kick, however.

I checked my results as soon as I finished. First in my age group! Yay! But I hadn’t understood that the results constantly changed as other people finished; two very fast women in the last group of swimmers moved in ahead of me and I ended up third in my age group. Of three.

The triathlon was sponsored by a physical therapist group in the area and one of them approached me to compliment me on finishing “with that knee” (pointing at my scars). I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that a high point of my morning was explaining that it wasn’t a knee replacement but a bone cancer cure. Nine years ago now!

Not DFL, however. Somewhere around 2/3rds of the participants finished ahead of me. I’m good with that.

Last minute (sort of) thoughts

I am having a terrible case of “what the hell was I thinking?” about the sprint triathlon I’m doing tomorrow. (I notice I can’t say “running” or another more specific verb. The pun of tri-ing is just too awful to use. I’m stuck with the vague and unsatisfying “doing”. So sorry.)

Seriously, even with long trail runs where I’m likely to be DFL and it’s likely to rain, I don’t feel like it’s a mistake to have entered. But right now, I just feel like it’s all terribly complicated–a race where part of the competition is in how fast you can get your shoes and your bike helmet on? I’ve packed a bag, in layers, with all the things I think I need (two pairs of shoes, goggles, swim cap, clothes for after, bathing cap, five water bottles (some with Skratch, some without), sport beans, and more!) (oh wait, bike helmet, gloves, sunglasses!). Tomorrow morning, at 7 AM–for an 8:20:15 start (yes, they’re that precise, because it’s a staggered pool start)–I have to arrive, get my act together and organize all this stuff.

I love doing 5Ks. By comparison, the hardest part of a 5K is figuring out where to park and whether to toss a sweater in the bushes just before the start or leave it in the car and be cold for fifteen minutes before the start.

Well, I paid my entry fee. I’m not going to scratch now. I’ve done the training. I don’t think I’ll be DFL (but how would I know before I finished and looked at the results, anyway, since everyone starts at a different time (which ranges from 7:30 AM on)?). Think of me tomorrow. I’m hoping I’ll be enjoying it.

What I think when you say “my dog needs a new handler”

I am so tired of hearing people say “my dog needs a better/different/faster/more experienced handler” INSTEAD of saying “I am going to work to be the best handler I can be for my dog.” After all, unless you want to rehome your dog, your dog is stuck with YOU as a handler. So you have a choice: train your dog to deal with your deficiencies as a handler OR become a better handler. I have seen a lot of people who clearly chose to train their dog to check in, slow down, take extra strides to cope with a late cue… but it does NOT have to be that way. You can choose to try to run faster (lose weight, run intervals), give cues at the speed your dog needs, train distance… you can choose to do what it takes.

No, my friends and enemies, it’s not easy. I agree. But you can decide to do something about it, or you can make jokes at your own expense. I know what I chose.

One more post about diet, exercise, weight…

A few weeks ago, I wrote about leaving Weight Watchers in search of a program more appropriate for my goals. These days, at age 60, I’ve decided to take athletics and fitness seriously. I want to continue to improve in running; I am trying out the sport of triathlon (because I’m cross-training with cycling and swimming anyway, as a way to keep fit and balance my muscles without getting injured) (and because I’m hoping it will be fun). Yes, I’m sixty, so I’m late to this. (I regret having given up my competitive running back in my twenties, but I couldn’t run and have the jobs I had then–so the running went. Intriguingly, I’ve recently been reading a history of the early days of women’s running, and at the time I thought I was slow, but really, I wasn’t that slow, so I’m hoping I can become not that slow again. Back then, I was running with a pretty fast crowd. Some of the women I ran with went on to hold records.)

Weight Watchers is not a good place for an athlete. That’s my opinion. Feel free to ignore.

I like to read blogs, and my blog reading lead me to SwimBikeMom’s blog. SBM is a triathlete who started out at 265 pounds and is now way more fit and way less heavy than that. And a lot faster than she used to be. She’s way younger than I am, and probably cuter. None of that matters, since she is also obsessive about becoming more fit. She’s teamed with a nutritionist to create a whole-person-nutrition approach for triathletes, for any endurance athlete, including cyclists, runners, long-distance swimmers. It’s my opinion that we dog agility handlers also benefit from endurance training. Agility is a long day of walking interspersed with sprints.

The program is called SwimBikeFuel (because we need fuel for our endurance endeavors). It’s a one-month series of daily lessons and a very active Facebook group where the nutritionist answers questions early and often. It’s very expensive, probably overpriced… but.

Why but? Well, because I haven’t felt this good in months, I’m running and cycling and swimming strong, I’ve lost three pounds in the last month, and I’m eating more food, too. There are subtleties here, and the program deals with the subtleties. It’s not (really not) one-size-fits-all.

If you’re interested, you can check it out at this link. If you decide to sign up, use my name (Diana) and tell them I sent you, please.

Team work and a five-year-old poodle

Friday and Saturday I took Rush and Dancer up to Argus Ranch (Auburn, WA) for the Puget Sound Poodle Club’s annual agility trial. This is always a serious poodle-fest, with many poodle people making an effort to show up. It’s not often I get to compete against other poodles in the 24″ class, and there were three others! Rush made me proud both days. While we failed to Q on Friday, it was near-misses in our runs: my stupid mistakes and a rickety table that Rush jumped off of when he hit it too hard. (It happens.) But he was running well, and I was running well, and it was just this close to a Q in all our runs.

Saturday was a different game entirely. I felt fast, I was on time with my cues, Rush was listening really well; for the first time, we were 100% in sync (by my views). I’m pretty sure he didn’t bark at me once during our runs. We Qd in Time to Beat, Jumpers, and Standard (that would be double-Q number 2). In Jumpers, the two dogs that beat us were border collies, one of whom has won AKC nationals, and the other of whom has been on the European Open team. Yeeha!

It’s a routine line among poodle people, that standard poodles “don’t get their brains until they’re five.” Rush has always been such a determined dog that I honestly figured that the brains he had at two or three or four were the brains he’d keep, but in recent months he has really steadied down and started to think. He’s told a few poodle jokes in the last months, but yesterday? Yesterday, he was absolutely the strongest member of the team that he could be.