Thursday, November 29, 2007

Trip Prep

What does one take to keep warm when one is headed north to colder climes? Normal dressing is easy enough, but what about for workouts?

Siberia in July

For the bike rides: arm warmers, leg warmers, a headband that covers the ears, a coolmax jacket . . . will that be enough? I have no idea. We don't ride around here very often when it's even chilly. I have leg warmers that I've worn maybe twice, and both times they were too hot. Arm warmers are usually enough on a cool day around here.

It's not like we're really going to Siberia. We're going to Napa. It warms up nicely there in the afternoons, but at night it's been getting down around freezing. It stays in the 30's-40's until midday. Since we're planning to ride at the crack of dawn, that's going to be dang chilly.

The running is easier, I think. Long tights, long-sleeved shirt, maybe gloves and a hat. Do I even own a hat? Oh yes -- I have a fleece thing I wear for skiing. I'll take that. The hard part will be making ourselves leave the nice, warm, comfy home and head out when it's that chilly. Must. Not. Wimp. Out.

Basta shows no signs of wimping out. He is on the trainer again tonight, and bitching less. He started out by whining that his legs were tired, he felt he was working them too hard, he didn't know how he could do this for an hour, waa, waa, waa. He lifted weights today and he's started the new "Muscle Build" phase where he lifts heavier weights at lower reps to failure. The goal here is to build muscle, of course. It makes the muscles tired, for sure.

I told him to put the bike in an easier gear so it wasn't burning his legs. He said had it as easy as he could get it. I looked over at the bike and saw he was on his middle front ring. "Honey," I said. "Go down to your smallest ring. Ease up the load on your legs. Easy load, high cadence, remember? And stop bitching."

So he did. He's having a much better time in the easier gears. I gave him the remote and he got the volume on the tv adjusted to make him happy. He hasn't bitched in the last half hour and he only has about 15 minutes to go. Hooray.

Tomorrow morning, early, we are going to the pool to get one last swim workout done. 40 minutes of swim intervals --warmup, then 8 laps as fast as possible followed by 4 recovery laps, repeat 3x. I'm thinking about getting in the pool and swimming a few laps myself. Ha. Might. I hate swimming. But if I ever intend to do another traithlon myself I'd better swim once in a while.

Then a 40 minute run, interval waves (3 minute easy, 1 min moderate pace, 1 min sprint, repeat). I might do that, too. Same course, just not with him. He's too fast. We'll meet at the car after 40 minutes of running. Napa in Fall

The forecast is for rain tomorrow. That will be the first test of our potential wimpiness. We should do these workouts even if it is raining. The swim, for sure. You get wet anyway, right?

After traffic dies down, we'll load up the bikes and head up north. 8 hours later or so, we should arrive at our friend's house. A nice dinner with them is planned; to bed at a reasonable hour; then up early Saturday - ready for the big ride with the big boys.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Basta said tonight that he's thinking about skipping his annual ski trip with the guys.

He's been doing this ski trip for something like 15 years now. Same group of guys. They have a routine. Same week every year. Nearly everyone makes it every time. They are all on the pushing-geezerly side so they ski hard all day and then spend their nights listening to jazz at the local club. This opposed to some things a group of men together in a apr├Ęs-active ski town away from their wives could be doing. I actually believe that, too.

Anyway, this year he said he was thinking about skipping the trip because it would interfere with his training. We could call his time on the slopes "cross-training" but really, we all know it wouldn't be. It'd beat up his legs and do nothing for his cardio conditioning or his speed. So a week away would affect his training. So if he wants to dedicate his life to nothing but triathlon, he shouldn't ski.

But what kind of a life is that? I mean really. Even the pros must have fun sometime. As an age-grouper aspiring to a podium one must make sacrifices, sure. But one must still live their lives, too. Balance. Training is not everything. There are a number of people in our triathlon club who make triathlon their lives. They can't keep a girlfriend, much less a wife, and they have chosen jobs that allow them the flexibility to train long hours during the day, every day. They are successful triathletes and have great bodies, yes. But is this living a full life? I don't think so.

I think Basta will achieve burnout pretty quickly if he avoids all of the things he used to enjoy because of his training. Right now that's all he can talk about. Anyone he hasn't talked to in a while gets regaled with detailed tales of his training, his goals, his intervals, his distances, and his speed. Zzzzz. He doesn't notice his dear friends' eyes rolling back into their heads and them nodding off as he talks. But he will. And he'll tire of this himself, one of these days.

Unless he learns about that ever-difficult balance. We talked about this. I told him I thought he should ski. Enjoy life to the fullest and all. He still thinks he should skip it because he doesn't want to blow his training. I worry that's he's setting himself up for huge disappointment if he doesn't podium after he gives up everything for training.

I know that anything can happen in an event. Even if he is extremely well trained he could have a bad event. Get smacked hard or follow the wrong feet in the swim. Have a lousy transition. Flat on the bike. Have the nutritional plan rise up and meet the asphalt in a colorful display. Or cause delays in a much less colorful but equally dehydrating way behind a handy bush or port-a-potty. Throw the race plan out the window in the excitement of the day and burn out too early. Many, many things.

As his coach, I need to find a way to convince him this isn't his one and only triathlon. It might be a great one or it might be a learning experience. You just never know. We do intend to do triathlon for many years to come. He tends to approach things with single-minded focus, though, so this could prove a challenge for me. On the one hand, it's great because he follows my training plans almost to a T. But on the other, he needs balance. He needs to make triathlon part of his life, not his whole life. As his coach, I know I can influence that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fat Is Not Evil

A report published by the Journal of Exercise Physiology supports the results of many other similar studies:

"Total blood cholesterol and lipoprotein levels appeared not to be significantly affected by dietary fat intake. Interestingly, they were also not significantly correlated with measures of body fatness. "

The "Low-fat" dietary recommendation is one of the worse things the USDA has pushed on us. SO many people still believe it to be true and buy the low-fat! and fat-free! unnatural products that crowd the shelves in the typical American market.

It's not the fat that makes your body store fat and give you heart disease. It's the overall excess of calories, the unbalanced diet of high carbs , low protein, and low fat, and the consumption of artificial or highly-processed ingredients that send the body into fat-creation mode.

Consider the Inuit, the natives of Northern Alaska. How do they survive on a diet of very high fat, protein, and no grains or veggies? They not only survive, they thrive. This article is worth reading in its entirety:


Or not.

We were supposed to spin tonight. I've never spun before, but I've certainly heard about it. Everyone, without fail, says it's the hardest workout they've ever done. Great.

I've been trying to spin for a while now. The only time my gym offers a class I can attend is Tuesdays at 6. A few weeks ago I showed up, bike shorts and shoes in my handy gym bag, only to find a 'Class Cancelled' sign on the door to the spinning room. Grrr.

Then we went on a trip to New Orleans. No spinning.

Then I had a business trip to Philadelphia. No spinning.

Then Thanksgiving week. Class cancelled again (we belong to a small gym. Classes get changed and cancelled a lot). This time they at least planned the cancellation ahead of time.

Which brings us to today. I've put "60 mins spinning class" on Basta's workout schedule every Tuesday for the next few weeks. I think spinning will improve his biking. It'll also encourage me to go, and lord knows I need both the improvement in the biking and the workout for myself.

I packed my stuff again. I know I should do this. But I fear the spinning. I don't know if I want to work out that hard. I was dreading it all day long.

Along about noon, I started to feel sick. Hmm. Really sick or dreading spinning sick? It feels really sick, but who knows? I started on the Zicam right away and have high hopes that will do the trick yet again. But tonight, I feel achy and snuffly. I need to be healthy by this weekend when we head up to the wine country, so I opted to skip spinning (aw) and go home to bed instead.

Basta, determined to get his minutes done this week but not wanting to spin without me, decided to ride the trainer at home instead. We are still debating the Computrainer and right now just have a regular fluid trainer. It works well. Of course, it's boring as hell. He moved it up to the bedroom so he can watch tv while he rides, but still. It's boring. He did 60 minutes tonight, bitching pretty much the whole time. I wonder if the CompuTrainer will be any less boring? I think somewhat so. You get to see a lot of stats, work on your form, and watch a video of actual courses. But it'll still be a trainer. I think that's something you just need to change your attitude for or else it'll always be awful.

Next week, Napa. My next potential spin drama is mid-December. Far enough away for now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day of Rest

Mondays are rest days for both of us. The last two Mondays Basta has been pooped. Lead legs, achy body, and very, very ready for the rest day.

Today, he's fine. Happy to not be training for a day, but not exhausted. Of course, this was also Thanksgiving week and he skipped a few workouts. But let's ignore that for the moment. I like to think that he's getting more fit and able to handle the workout load better.

Well, no. Scratch that. I just updated his actual times against his planned times. He was supposed to do 600 minutes this week. He did 423. No wonder he's feeling rested. But holidays make it hard, I know this. He could have skipped a lot more than he did. He could have drank a bit less at the friend's get-together Friday night and gotten a better ride done on Saturday, too. But I suppose if he were perfect he'd be wearing a halo and that would probably annoy the hell out of me.

This coming week he has 720 minutes scheduled. We'll be out of town for half of it. Not ideal. Fortunately, we're spending Fri - Sun with a friend who is a biker. He has a 56-mile ride planned for us on Saturday. He rides FAST. I'm hoping he can teach Basta a lot of technique that day. They are going to ride most of the Vineman course so Basta can see what it's like. He wants to do the half Vineman this year. I'm going to ride some of it myself, just not with them. They are too fast for me.

Basta hasn't ridden 56 miles all in one sitting in nearly a year. His longest ride in these three short weeks of training has been around 2 hours. Also, there aren't many hills around here. We have to drive to find hills if we want them. This Vineman course is very hilly, and he won't be done in 2 hours. I suspect this is going to kick his ass.

It'll also help get all of his minutes done this week.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Is it truly evil? Why? I've been trying to figure this out since I first heard about the potential evil of it. After reading tons of articles, both those slanted ultra-negatively against it and those that sneer at the very thought that anything could be wrong with it. And loads in between. Here's what I've figure out:

The problem isn't exactly "High Fructose Corn Syrup." It's any fructose in high doses. Let me explain the difference.

Fructose is a natural sugar. It's what you get when you eat an apple, for instance. Fructose, unlike most other sugars, must be broken down by the liver before it can be utilized. If you eat an apple's worth of fructose, this isn't a problem. It's a small amount and the liver handles it easily.

High fructose corn syrup contains a massive amount of fructose, comparatively speaking. The equivalent of far more apples than any human would ever eat in a day. The liver can't handle this well. So what does it do? Same thing it does for most things that overwhelm it: It creates and stores fat. Eventually this can lead to fatty liver disease. Some research shows that HFCS can cause a host of other maladies, but this simple fat-storage trigger is enough for me to want to avoid it. My liver has enough work to do processing the wine that I drink and all of the environmental toxins I am exposed to. I don't need to be forcing it to do so much more work when I can easily avoid this stuff.

And that means avoiding all fructose, not just the high fructose corn syrup variety. I'll still eat an occasional apple (and other fruits) with their natural dosage of fructose, but I don't need products that use fructose as the sweetener. My liver doesn't need it.

All other types of sugar are broken down in the stomach and can be absorbed directly by the cells without having to be processed through the liver. Thus, from an athlete's perspective, they are more readily available.

Armed with this knowledge, I went through our stores of myriad sports drinks, gels, blocks, tablets, and wafers that we've picked up at various events over the years. We have piles of this stuff. I swear, we'll never need to actually purchase a sports drink ourselves. That's even with me putting back anything that says 'partially hydrogenated' or 'high fructose' on it.

I was not surprised to find that a fair number of these products on the 'nutrition' shelf in the garage contain fructose. I had sworn off HFCS-containing sports products a long time ago (and there are a lot of them), but I wasn't aware of the trouble with fructose itself until recently. Even my beloved GU contains fructose. Bye, bye, GU.

We only use products that are fructose-free now. Anything made by Clif is a-okay in my book. Rice syrup is the carb and most ingredients are organic. Plus, they are great event sponsors.

Second Tests

This, the third week of training, calls for the tests in all three sports to gauge progress. Results are thus:

Week 1

Week 3






Resting BP



Resting HR



Test Run



Run Pace



Test Bike



Bike Pace



Test Swim



Swim Pace



Yeah. Weight down 3.4 pounds. He doesn't need to lose weight. He's 5'10" and has 6% bodyfat, fer god's sake. He needs to eat more if he's going to work out this much. That doesn't mean he can eat any junk that comes along, of course. It'll still be the whole, natural stuff he eats now. Just more of it.

Resting BP. The same. Already low, so that's ok. Resting HR down. I like to see that. I hope that's really a downward trend and not just a difference due to a normal daily variation. Next few tests will prove this.

The run. Slower by 3 seconds. I attribute that to a headwind on test day that wasn't there for the first test. Also, the course could have some variation in it. I start him, then ride the bike down the bike trail until my Forerunner says 1.5 miles, then set up a finish line for him. I may have gone a yard or two farther. Who knows? I think it's safe to say that he's not any faster yet. He felt nauseous several times during the run, so he needs to increase his fitness to see a faster time.

Then there's the bike. This bike test says, 'warm-up 20 minutes, then ride 5 miles on a flat course as fast as possible.' Simple enough, right? What he actually did was ride fast from the get go to the bike path. Then, once he made it to the bike path he rode up it, fast, for four miles. Then he turned back and started the 5-mile test, into the wind. So he blew out his legs riding fast for a good 10 miles with no warmup, then did the test into the wind whereas the initial test was with the wind. Useless, in other words. Honey, honey, honey. What were you thinking? I need to figure out how to get the concept of SLOW, EASY WARMUP into his head.

I'd like him to repeat this bike test but he's got other training to do. I know he's riding faster. We'll see just how much at the next test, maybe.

At last, we have the swim. His time is only a touch faster, but he said he felt a world of difference in his comfort level. That's what Total Immersion does for you. You may not get a bit faster, actually, but the experience is so much more effortless that you have plenty of energy left for the bike and the run. Your overall event time should be faster. Basta is now bilateral-breathing like a champ. His body is straight, not angled. He breathes by rolling his head gently to the side, no more straining to breathe. This is a fantastic improvement in such a short time.

He can still improve quite a bit, though. He rolls well onto his left side but his right remains too flat. He crosses his arms in front of his face rather than reaching forward and pulling. He kicks too much. I keep telling him he's kicking and he says he's not kicking. But he is. In fact, every fifth stroke or so he throws in this little bent-knee whippy-kick with one leg. I videoed him with my phone as he swam last time so he can see this. "Huh," he said. "I guess I do kick."

Also, in this swim test, he slowed down every few laps. His first lap was done in 51 secs. The next few were just over a minute. By the time he got to the end, 20 laps, he was doing 1:11 laps. So he just needs more fitness there, too. Good thing. It's early and he will increase that every day.

This week marked the end of his "Prep" phase, too. His weekly hours start to go up from here. This week he needs to do 12 hours of workouts. Two hours more than last week. Longer distances, somewhat higher intensity.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dana Point Turkey Trot

A pre-feast 10k with 10,000 of our newest friends. Why not? I like getting some good exercise before a day of wanton food excess.

My goal was to run it, or run/walk it, burn a few calories, and have a good time. My friend from work who runs about my pace (10ish min miles) came too. Basta's goal was to leave it all on the course, run as fast as he could, and have a good time. He ran it with his buddy, a former collegiate runner who knows all about racing for competition, and who is 15 years younger than he.

Lovely day. A bit chilly for Southern California (shush), but after a mile or so we could all toss our sweatshirts and be comfortable in our short sleeve shirts and tights. A number of pilgrims, indians, and turkeys ran, which is always fun. I like seeing that kind of thing but I can't imagine doing it myself. Maybe I’m repressed, I don't know.

But the atmosphere was very good and my friend and I had a good time, chatting away and jogging.

I had left instructions with Basta thusly: Slow warmup jog for 10 mins prior to the start. Be warm and ready to hit it hard when the gun goes off. Pace yourself through the first 3 miles, then increase speed through mile 4 & 5. Sprint all-out mile 6 and through finish. Don’t hold back: leave it all on the course.

I don't know how much of that he actually did. Basta's buddy is fast and he said he worked to keep up with him most of the race. But towards the end he said, 'let's leave it on the course!' and started to sprint. His buddy couldn't carry the sprint and told Basta to take off. He did, and beat his (very much younger) buddy by 20 seconds. He also set a 10K PR: 47:39 - 7:40 pace. 26th out of 196 in his age group. No podium, but mighty impressive. Coach is proud. This is only his 3rd week of training, after all.

Pedal Technique

I found a great article: that helped me see what you're supposed to be doing with the pedal stroke. As usual, I cut to the chase by eliminating words like "hamstrings" and "quadriceps" and 'extension' and 'flexion' and so forth for Basta*. In fact, I reduced this whole article for him thusly:

"Most cyclists begin the downstroke too late, the backstroke too late, and actually push on the upstroke. You should begin the downstroke push at 12 o'clock, then pull the foot back starting at 3 o'clock, and pull up starting at 7 o'clock. Pull up with the knee, not the foot. One-legged drills should verify that this creates more equal pressure through all 360⁰."

He got that. I try this myself with my own biking. If I can master this, I will definitely increase my speed from its pathetic 14-15mph. When I really focus on this and do it right, I can see 19-21mph on the flats. Wahoo!

Basta sees his speed increase rapidly and the effort seem less, too. The key is to do it consistently. I can't ride with him because he's faster than me. When we do ride together, I tell him to take off. He does, and he circles back to me now and then. I tell him to focus on push early, pull early, and lift high. I'm excited. Our first baby-step into the wide world of efficient bicycling technique.

*I don't mean to imply here that Basta is stupid. He's not. Far from it, in fact. He's an attorney, which means he went to college for 3 years longer than I did. He passed the bar on the first try. He's smart, insightful, interesting, and fun. He just doesn't have the slightest interest in sports physiology. Fortunately, I do.

First Week Stats

The first week of training involves tests to set a baseline to gauge performance.

Baseline body stats:
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 147
Blood Pressure (BP): 108/72
Resting Heart Rate (RHR): 68

First a run test. 1.5 miles as fast as possible, after a 10-minute warmup jog.
Result: 10:25, 6:58 pace. I'm impressed! And this is his starting pace. I'm happy to see 10 minute miles. But then, that's why I coach, not do.
Then the bike: Warmup 20 minutes, then 5 miles balls-out on a flat, non-stop course.
Result: 16:21. 18.4 mph. Not horrible, but we really need to get this up into the 20's.
Finally, swim: 20 laps of 50 yards each. (20x50).
Result: 22:08. 2:12/100m. 2:00 is considered 'average', so we need some work there. His form in the swim is pretty bad.

I have his first three weeks of workouts done. There's a lot to this. Duration, intensity, number of minutes per week, and the various workouts and drills to improve performance. Add to that the fact that he doesn't know what any of these terms means. If I write 'tempo run' he goes, 'huh?' Intervals -- "huh?" Warmup first -- "huh?"

So I'm writing short notes under each day's workouts to remind him and explaining in as much depth as he can stand what he needs to do and why.

It'd be best if I could be there for each of his workouts, but I can't. Our work schedules don't always allow that. But in the beginning here, I almost have to or we'll never get anywhere. We're juggling our schedules and doing workouts with me there whenever possible.

His running style has changed nicely. I've been working on the Chi Running style with him for a while now, long prior to this coaching stint, and he's really adapted to it. He plants mid-foot nicely, he picks up his heels with perkiness, he has a short stride, a high cadence, and he keeps his feet directly under his hips. All is well there. When he gets tired he reverts to the heel strike a bit and he sometimes tends to lead with his stomach instead of his pelvis, but overall it's very good.

I can't keep up with him on foot, so I put on rollerblades to teach him intervals the other day. Me with my Forerunner, timing his intervals and his pace. It was fun. He enjoyed it, too. He'd never done intervals before and said he liked how it felt. He actually even asked what this was supposed to be doing for him. He was interested in a sports training theory! I explained all the things that intervals are supposed to do for you: increase lung capacity. Increase overall speed. Give the ability to change speed as needed during the course of a race. Burn fat (though he has no excess fat. I'm the one that needs this).

Early morning Basta The next day I walked up and down the pool and coached his swimming style. Lots going on there. He doesn't roll very well and he refuses to try bilateral breathing. A half hour of work with Total Immersion drills, a bit of arguing discussion, and he started to improve. By the end of the session he really looked good. Like a torpedo through the water. He also tried a few laps of bilateral breathing and decided it might have some merit. Hooray for that. He tends to really jerk his head out of the water to breathe, and struggles to do so. Then the next day his neck is killing him. If he can swim more smoothly, create a better pocket to breathe in, and bilateral breathe to share the wear on his neck I think he'll do a lot better.

Then with the bike. Seriously don't know how much I can help him there without getting more help myself. I explained what I know about pedal technique: keep pressure on the pedal through 360⁰. How to do this? Not really sure. Has something to do with angle the foot touches the pedal. My Ride Fast book says to do one-legged drills to feel the flat spots. I did those myself and found loads of flat spots. Didn't make much progress in fixing them, though. And seeing it on someone else? Nope. Can't do it. I can see if he's wobbling his upper body or riding a wavy path, but I can't see his pedal efficiency. Really need to figure this out better, and soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

So We Begin

Basta: He's the athlete. Also, he's the husband.

Me: I'm the coach. And the wife, of course.

He has the natural athletic ability.

I have the interest in figuring out how the body can work most efficiently. That covers a wide range of topics, like sports physiology, nutrition, kinesiology, psychology, medicine . . .many others. I like reading this stuff. There is so much so-called expertise out there. Through the wonders of the internet I can find a fascinating article by a PhD at a respected research institution on a given topic and then find another fascinating article by someone equally credentialed that directly contradicts it. Isn't that great? I find that I disagree with a whole lot of the mainstream opinions and lean towards the 'cutting-edge' and 'novel approaches.'

Like, remember when most nutritionists were saying that a low-carb diet would result in organ shutdown and death? And now most are recommend eating only whole, unrefined carbs and to limit the intake of high GI starches. Good. Finally.

Remember when the dietary advice was to avoid saturated fats like the plague and the consume very little fat overall? Then it went to mono- and poly-unsaturated fats being ok. Now it's being realized that there's not a darned thing wrong with fats at all. In fact, the human body can survive quite nicely on a diet of fats alone. Amazing. Yet how many people do you know still try to eat low-fat? I shake my head. The body needs fat.

Remember when the recommendation with running was to hit heel-first, then roll onto the outside of your foot and then push off the balls of your feet with strong quadriceps contraction to produce the most force and speed? This is where the term, 'pounding the pavement' comes from. A lot of high-school track coaches still teach this. A lot of people still swear by this. This running style led me to a chronic problem with ITBS, a pulled hamstring, and plantar fasciitis. These injuries then led me to find both Chi Running and the Pose technique. These saved my running career.

There are a world of examples like this. I intend to rant about them as I go along here. For now, let me state where I am with my thinking about these topics now:

Diet: The South Beach Diet pretty well sums it up. Eat whole, organic, unprocessed, unrefined foods. Eat a wide range of whole, fresh veggies (preferably local and organic). Eat hormone-free, preservative-free proteins in abundance. Eat fats without fear. Avoid the four whites: white rice, white sugar, white flour, potatoes. My only quibble with SBD is that recommends avoiding saturated fats with no supporting research. I don't think saturated fats are bad for you.

Running: Chi Running, as stated above. It rocks. Seriously. This is THE ANSWER to elimination of running injuries and to effortless long-distance running.

Swimming: Total Immersion. Rocks. Completely and totally rocks. It is THE ANSWER to effortless long-distance swimming. I, like hundreds of thousands of others, am convinced of this. My best friend at work who swam in college is not. This is a good part of what I enjoy about these topics so much. There doesn't seem to be a completely clear-cut answer to anything and what works for me may not work for everyone. That's a good challenge if I ever saw one.

Biking: Here is my weak spot. I know there must be as much technique involved in biking as there are in the other two sports. I am reading about this. Pedal technique is key, it appears. I'm hoping to learn this soon enough to teach it to Basta in time for him to practice it and build his speed in time for his big event. The bike is his weakest event, and it's probably the most important to triathlon. Must work on this. I bought Eric Harr's "Ride Fast" book and am thinking about getting a CompuTrainer. I don't know that effortless biking is possible. I've certainly never heard that term like I have with swimming and running. But I know we can get faster than we are. Much faster.

Health: Don't take drugs into the body unless absolutely necessary. Don't strap or brace or support or bind any body part unless it is broken. Don't let anyone cut you except as a last resort.

But back to the coaching thing. I read this stuff. I enjoy it. But I try to apply it to my own sorry triathlon career and I see mediocre results. I am injury-free, yes, and that's huge. I am a lot more comfortable and these events aren't such a struggle now, true. But I'm not fast. I am a middle-of-the-pack age grouper. I probably always will be, too. Unless I just outlive everyone and continue doing triathlon forever. By the time I'm in my 70's Sister Madonna Buder ought to have given it up, so maybe I'll have a chance at a first then. I'm fine with doing this for fun and fitness.

But Basta. Oh Basta. He's athletic. He's lean. He's wiry. He's fast. Yes, he's 53 years old so the best he will ever be is a fast age-grouper, but that's a lofty goal. Those old guys are competitive.

He started triathlon last year, basically following me into it. He showed some talent and placed third in his age group in a couple smaller events. He thought he was pretty hot stuff. Then he did a few bigger events, ones with around 200 guys in his age group, and he placed mid-pack. He was surprised. And disappointed. He wanted to do better.

His training program, self-designed, involved doing whatever workout sounded good on a given day, for however long he felt like or had time for that day, with the ultimate goal of being able to complete the distances of the next event.

I kept trying to get him to put a little more thought into his workouts but he didn't want to read the articles I'd found or have to think so much about his workouts. He just wanted to do.

So we hit upon this brilliant idea: Let me design a program for him. What to do, every day. Intervals, Tempo workouts, Distance, Drills. Technique. Nutrition. The works. Be his coach, in other words. He doesn't want to have to learn this stuff. He just wants to be told what to do and see results. That works for me.

And so we go. I've never done this before. Though I have a lot of opinions on a lot of these topics, I've never put together a whole program designed to peak an athlete for his main event. I'm excited about the challenge.

Basta's big event is the Oceanside Half Ironman on March 29, 2008. I bought the Triathlete's Bible by Joe Friel and have been relying heavily on it for the program I'm putting together.