Saturday, November 14, 2015

When I hate my job

I love my job.  I get to save lives.  Whether it's someone in the throes of a massive heart attack, on whom I can perform an angioplasty to open an artery to restore blood flow to the heart, or help someone to control their risk factors to prevent a heart attack in the first place, I make a difference.

On the other side of that, I care for some pretty sick people.  Usually I can help them.  But sometimes I can't.

It is beyond frustrating to do everything in my power to help heal someone, and in spite of this to see him or her die.

I'm often asked, do doctors feel pain when they lose a patient?  I would say absolutely yes.  When we put our own heart and soul, our time, our deep thoughts, into a patient's care, it is hard to see him or her die.

Thankfully, I have far more moments of saving lives and helping my patients to live better.  And, that makes what I do for a living worthwhile.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Coming Off Medications

Frequently, patients tell me that they feel they are taking too many medications, and in some cases want to come off of all of their medicines.

Remembering to take a medication can be challenging, and a prescription pill can be a stigma that a person is unhealthy.

I am a big proponent of patients taking as few pills as absolutely necessary.  I emphasize food as medicine, exercise and movement as critical for health.  So, for some, it may be possible to stop medications, with appropriate lifestyle changes.  

One patient had a cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle) which recovered, he switched to a plant-based diet, and at this point he no longer needs blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes medications.

Another patient who I regularly follow is a man in his mid-30's with hypertension and elevated triglycerides.  When I first met him a few years ago, his blood pressure was wildly uncontrolled and his triglycerides quite high, and I had him on three medications in order to control his blood pressure.  He has gradually improved his diet, eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, has taken up regular exercise including Crossfit three times a week.  I see him every three months in the office, and we've been able to gradually decrease his blood pressure medication.  At this point he is on two low-dose blood pressure medications.  I think that in time he may be able to come off of the blood pressure medication entirely.

A man came to me in his late 30's after having quadruple bypass surgery.  He had a list of eight medications.  At that initial visit, I was able to streamline his medication list down to three, and now about five years later, he is only on two medications, an aspirin and a statin, the appropriate medications that anyone with coronary artery disease should be on.

That said, coming off of medications isn't necessarily an option, and should not be undertaken without a physician's guidance.  For example, a patient with a cardiomyopathy who stopped his medications on his own came back to me months later extremely short of breath due to congestive heart failure.  Or, a patient with uncontrolled diabetes and cholesterol and a history of a heart attack who "doesn't like medicines", this is not someone whose focus should be on stopping medicines, but rather on controlling his risk factors and regaining his health.

Some people should never be off of all of their medications, that simply isn't reasonable.  For example, type 1 diabetics don't produce insulin, and injecting insulin is their lifeline.  Or, a patient with coronary artery disease, whether he's had a heart attack or coronary stents or a very high coronary calcium score, he should remain on an aspirin and a statin likely for the duration.

There are many people who take several medications who may actually be surprised that their list could be shortened.  An obese man on three blood pressure medicines, a medication for high triglycerides, and one medicine for esophageal reflux -- with effective weight loss, his reflux symptoms could resolve, his triglycerides would drop, and he would need far less, if any, blood pressure medication.

It is possible to shorten a list of medications, or even come off of all medications entirely.  But, this needs to be done carefully and with thought, working with a medical provider.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Foraging Run

I'm not training for anything right now.  Exercise is about being fit, on my own terms.  It's about working out when I want to work out, because I want to do it, not because I have a race to train for or a scheduled workout or time goals to achieve.

Today I knew I wanted to run a bit longer, because I want to keep my endurance.  I'm also on call, so I wanted to keep my run nearby.  

My neighbors have a huge avocado tree.  Based on the quantity of avocados that have fallen on the street, it seems that they do not like to eat avocados.  But I do, and I've been picking them up, rinsing them off, and slicing them into my salads for the past couple of weeks.

I hate to see delicious avocados go to waste!

If there were all these avocados just next door to me, how much available fruit could I find in my neighborhood?  So, today I decided to run with the goal of finding as much fruit as possible.

Now, normally I don't pay attention too much to the trees, or nature.  On a typical run I'm staring at my watch to see if I'm meeting my time goals or if my heart rate is in the correct zone.  Today my focus changed as I looked for fruit.

Once these oranges behind me become ripe, I'll be back!!!

I'm not sure how I never noticed the abundance of fruit, all of which is reachable from the street or sidewalk!!!  I found sweet grapefruit (as opposed to the sour grapefruit growing in my back yard and on most trees in the neighborhood), pomegranates, clementines, limes, pears, hachiya persimmons, and multitudes of oranges that aren't yet ripe.  I stopped at my house twice to drop off my haul, because I couldn't hold everything.

I love being able to change my focus from competition and training to just getting out and putting one foot in front of the other.  And, I love fruit.  Definitely a successful run today ;)

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Last week, I turned 40.

I never knew what 40 would feel like.  I always assumed it would feel old.

I celebrated with friends.  Then I spent a weekend in San Diego with Patrick, my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, and 4 nieces.  And we went to Qualcom Stadium to see to Lions, my hometown team, play the Chargers.

I don't feel old.  Actually, I feel more energetic than I did when I was 18.

Once, I hid my age.  Having graduated from medical school, I heard years of "You're too young to be a doctor."  Sometimes I still hear that refrain, but now I respond that I'm 40.  And I'm proud to say it -- clearly old enough to be a doctor, but fortunate enough to be perceived as youthful.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

After the Ironman....

After my first marathon, or my first Ironman race, I remember feeling lost.  I had achieved my goal, and didn't have anything to aim for, to train to achieve.

I don't feel that way after Ironman Boulder.  Actually, I'm happy.  I took three days off from exercising after Ironman, then went swimming.  Three days may seem like a short period of time, but by then, I had no aches.  I felt energetic.

Now that I'm not training for an Ironman race, I can work out on my own terms.  If I want to run, I can run.  If I want to swim, I'll go swim.  If I want to bike... no I don't want to bike, so I haven't touched my bike in 3 weeks.

I still exercise six days a week because that's what makes me happy.  I've been doing a lot more swimming, and more strength training.

I swim with Golden Road Aquatics, a masters swim team in Burbank.  What if I swim five days a week with a team... what will happen?  I've never done that before.  Coach Mike Lucero has given me a few pointers on my swim stroke, and it's a great bunch of folks who show up at the pool.  Maybe one day I could swim in a meet.... we'll see.
photo courtesy of Shiggy Ichinomiya

And, I'm doing more strength training.  Leading up to the Ironman, I curtailed my heavy lifting for about two months, and was doing more functional training in the weeks before the race.  Now, I'm doing more strength training, and getting back to some of the heavier stuff.  Some of my strength training is with my boyfriend Patrick who is conveniently a personal trainer, and some of it is at Tru Fit Bootcamp in Van Nuys.  

Yesterday at Tru Fit, I did 90 air squats, swung a 35 lb kettlebell 80 times, did 70 pull-ups, 60 burpees, 50 snatches with a 45 lb bar, 40 box jumps, and 30 push-ups.  That's all I got done before time was up, as that wasn't the entire workout, but it kicked my butt.

Did you know.... if you want to get skinny and get in the best shape of your life, an Ironman is NOT the way to do it???  I put on a couple of pounds, and definitely lost some muscle tone.  With weight training, I'm hoping to get some of that muscle back.

Malibu Triathlon is coming up on September 20.  I may put a bit more structure into my training before that, but for now I'm just having a good relaxing time doing what I want.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Ironman Boulder -- Race Report

Five years ago, after completing Ironman Lake Placid, I loudly declared myself  "one and done", that I would never race another Ironman distance triathlon.

And yet, one year ago, I signed up quietly for Ironman Boulder.  Outside of my coach and members of my team, I didn't tell anyone.  After so vehemently proclaiming my disdain for the Iron distance, I didn't want the pressure, or the mocking, to distract my training.  So I didn't blog about it, I didn't post on Facebook about it, I didn't tweet it... I just trained.

Why would I put myself through another Ironman race?  I wanted to prove to myself that I am a stronger athlete than I was five years ago.  And, with at least 40 other friends and teammates, and my coach, racing, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.  In the meantime, I met my boyfriend Patrick, who incidentally has a huge family in the Denver/Boulder area.  So, not only did I arrive four days in advance to acclimate to the altitude, I had the chance to meet several of his cousins, one of whom let us stay at his family's home.  And, I can't be more grateful for them allowing me to take over their kitchen, make my morning oatmeal and coffee, though in return I did whip up a vegan lasagna that I'm pretty proud of....

Boulder Reservoir.  Day before the race

The Swim

Water temperature was 78 degrees.  When the temperature is above 76 degrees, participants are instructed that wetsuits are permitted, but if you wear a wetsuit you will not be eligible for age group awards or a Kona slot for Ironman World Championships.  I am in contention for neither, and I know I swim fast in the sleeveless wetsuit that I borrowed for the race.  So, I opted to wear the wetsuit.  The vast majority of competitors made the same decision.  The problem is, this was supposed to be a "rolling" start, with people starting based on their anticipated finishing pace.  The minority of participants who were not wearing wetsuits were seeded, but the 1500+ of us who were in wetsuits were not.  

As a result, there was no order to who entered the water when, and I would say the first ten minutes of the swim was utter chaos, with fast and slow swimmers intermingled, and CROWDED!!  I found myself closed in by other swimmers, hyperventilated and panicked like I can't recall having done in a long time, and actually did the breaststroke for about a minute until I could calm myself down.

It took a little over ten minutes to feel normal in the water.  From there onward, I felt comfortable.  Though the water felt a bit warm, I was grateful that I chose to wear the wetsuit, as I passed a lot of people swimming in tri kits.

Out of the water, and I see Patrick, who sees me first and is cheering me on.  He and his cousin Joe were volunteering in the transition tent for swim-to-bike, but I told him to expect me out of the water in 1:20.  I finished in 1:21, two minutes faster than in Lake Placid five years ago.  Close enough.  I run out of the water, dashing around the folks who are meandering and walking, grab my transition bag, rip it open outside the change tent, grab my helmet and shoes, run to the folks with the sunscreen, let them lather some on me, run to my bike, and off I go.

The Bike

Compared to where we train here in Southern California, this wasn't a hilly course.  Two loops, with a couple of gradual hills, and then a third separate loop with a couple of steep climbs.  Temperature was upward of 90 degrees throughout the bike ride.  My nutrition on the bike consisted of coconut water mixed with water, four Skratch Labs packets of gummy blocks, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a carrot cake LaraBar.  In addition to about 32 ounces of coconut water, I drank about seven bottles of water.  I had some cramping in my toes around mile 80, but those got better with eating another packet of the Skratch blocks and chugging a bottle of water.

Overall, I felt pretty good on the bike.  My shoulders were a bit achey, and I got out of aero position about every 5-10 minutes to stretch.

Photo by Kelly Walsh-Barrios -- thank you Kelly and Vera for the cheers on the bike course!

The course was a little short, about 109 miles instead of 112, and I cruised into transition, left the shoes on my bike and ran in my socks.  Again, people walking their bikes through the transition frustrated me, and after I had my transition bag, I quickly changed socks, threw on my running shoes and hat, and off I went.

Bike time -- 6:24.  A huge improvement from my 7:38 in Lake Placid.

The Run

I dash onto the run course, and there is my friend Rhonda, Patrick, and Patrick's cousin Joe, all in volunteer shirts, directing traffic at the start of the run, a location that each runner would pass four times during the 26 mile run.  I was so thrilled to see some friendly faces.  I declare, "I feel awesome!!" and off I went on the run.  My first mile was about 9:30, my second just a bit slower, and then the next four miles at about 11 minutes per mile.  Then the legs got heavy.  Really heavy.  Mile pace dropped to about 14-15 minutes per mile.  Nothing specific hurt, my legs just ached.

And my stomach.  I didn't want to eat anything.  I wasn't nauseous, I just felt uncomfortable.  So it was a very good thing that I ate well on the bike  On top of that, I was a little grossed out by the hygiene of the food at the aid stations.  Trays of grapes and fruit that triathletes were dipping their dirty little hands into.  But, at every aid station I did drink a small cup of water and dump another cup over my head.  I had a few sips of Gatorade at one aid station, but that was it, I just don't like the taste.
Running with Patrick, getting some much needed encouragement
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hochman Urban)

Around mile 10, I saw Patrick again.  How are you doing, he asked?  My pace has dropped, and my legs are heavy, and I don't want to eat.  "You look great!  I love you!!"  Ummm... did you hear me?  I kept on running.  Or shall I say slogging.  Out toward a river recreational area, with lots of families and kids, occasionally dashing onto the run path.  Fortunately a few volunteers were keeping the kids off the path.

After mile 14, the miles dragged.  Each seemed to last an eternity.  My nutrition from mile 10 onward consisted of a Clif pureed sweet potato packet and some medjool dates from my special needs bag.  I had stashed a bottle of coconut water in the bag, and drank about half before I chucked it in the trash.  My stomach is definitely misbehaving if I'm throwing out coconut water because coconut water is one of my favorites.

Every so often, I walk a little bit, but I know I have to run if I want to keep up a reasonable pace and get this awful run over with.  I see a lot of people walking, but I remind myself, as much as it hurts, even a slow jog is faster than a walk.

At mile 23, I know I have one more out and back to do and the end is sort of in sight.  So I pick up the pace to an astounding 12:30 per mile, which is all my heavy legs could muster.  In the last mile, I couldn't see the turnoff for the finish line, and I asked volunteers, and someone who I thought was a volunteer, did I miss the turn off for the finish line?  None of them knew, so I kept on running, until I saw a clear sign to turn off the path.

Finally!  I run off the bike path, onto the street, see an arch ahead of me, then hear music and people cheering.  I let a couple guys run past me because I want them to have their own moment at the finish line, but more importantly, I wanted mine!  As I approached, I grinned, tears welled in my eyes (yeah, cheesy, I know), I hear, "Heather Shenkman, of Sherman Oaks, California, You are an Ironman!" and I cross the finish line.
Approaching the finish line

And there at the finish, in their volunteer t-shirts, are Rhonda, Patrick, and Joe.  Patrick and Joe took advantage of their volunteer t-shirts for all-access, and Patrick put my Ironman medal around my neck, and Joe captured a video of me crossing the finish line.

The Recap

What a day!  Total time -- 13 hours and 33 minutes, 46th out of 112 finishers in my age group.

I'm thrilled with my swim and bike, but my run was not very good.  At 5:31, I was six minutes SLOWER than I had been in Lake Placid.  What happened?  I'm not entirely sure.  I think I hydrated well enough; other than some brief cramps on the bike, I didn't feel like I was dehydrated.  I drank at every aid station.  I don't think I destroyed myself on the bike either.  Maybe it was just a tough course and the altitude caught up with me.  That said, my rank on the swim was 36th, bike 41st, and run 46th.  So the run wasn't that far off base from the other two disciplines, relatively speaking.

How do I feel?

Two days later as I type this, I feel pretty awesome.  I am walking like a normal person.  My legs are a little achey, but really, nothing hurts.  I am full of energy.

Thank yous!!!

Coach Gerardo Barrios, for saying, "I knew you'd sign up for another one" when I took the leap a year ago, and preparing me for the big day.  Thanks to his training, not only did I have a good race, I'm not in a world of pain and feel like a normal person two days after the race.

Patrick, my boyfriend and sherpa for the day,  It's awesome to have a personal trainer/massage therapist in your corner when you're training for something this big.  He accompanied on several workouts, and even an altitude training weekend in Big Bear.  He would let me know that I had a massage scheduled for Friday evening at 6:30 pm, and provided some personal training geared toward my upcoming race.  And on race day, he and his cousin Joe were all over the course, from the transition area after the swim, to the middle of the run course, to the finish line where I was lucky enough to have Patrick put my medal on me.

Friends/teammates on the course, including Kelly and Vera at mile 102 on the bike when I was so glad to finally see a friendly face, Lori and Shay in the first transition area, and Rhonda on the bike course and in the finisher chute.

When will I do my third Ironman?  The answer to that is never.  And this time I mean it.  I don't love this distance, I feel like I proved what I came back to prove, that I'm faster than my 14:45 time in Lake Placid, on a tougher course, at altitude, and five years older.  Nothing more to prove.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Maligning of Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables, in their natural form, whether fresh or frozen, benefit our health.  They reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, several forms of cancer, and help maintain healthy weight.

And yet, they are getting a bad rap.

Is kale toxic?  One alternative medicine researcher published on his web site that he found high levels of thallium in the urine and tissue of patients who consume large amounts of kale.  He then suggested that their ailments were due to thallium accumulation.

As a result, you'll find sensational titles on the web, like "People are getting seriously sick from eating kale"  or, "Sorry Foodies: We're About to Ruin Kale."

Image taken from

But if you look closer, you'll see that for all practical purposes, this was a completely unscientific pursuit, not published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the findings spread by someone who profits from selling "chelation therapy".

Or what about carrots?  "Oh, I don't eat carrots -- they're too high in sugar".  I've head the same from patients about grapes.  I'm still looking to find someone who's obese from eating too many carrots or grapes.  With all the carrots that I eat, I'd be a very large woman.

I'm going to keep on drinking my morning green smoothie, with my handful of kale and a handful of carrots.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Surround Yourself with Greatness

This evening, I went to Tru Fit Boot Camp, at a time I don't usually work out, but a time when I know a lot of tough athletes show up.  We were asked to split into workout groups after a warm-up run.  During the run, I saw one woman who absolutely flew, could probably run circles around me.  I followed her and joined her group.  Throughout the hourlong workout, I kept my eye on her.  Whenever I felt like stopping, I saw her out of the corner of my eye, and I kept on plugging away.  My workout this evening was awesome.

I don't like to be the slowest or least fit, because that's just not good for the ego.  But I sure don't want to be the fastest.

I like to be pushed, physically and mentally, to my limits, because that's how we get stronger.

I seek out challenge.  I've worked out with personal trainers who have pushed me to the point of sweating, grunting, and cursing (Corey, Rick, Kiki all come to mind).  I ride century cycling events with Ruth, who even though she's 60 years old, can ride circles around me and climb better than most women half her age.  I swim with my team, including Michelle who smacks my feet when I'm going too slow.  And I'll run with Kelly, a 3:33 marathoner, who as I grunt my way through 800 yard repeats, is just ahead of me running effortlessly.

Challenge yourself and get stronger and fitter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rest Days

When you exercise regularly, it's hard to take a day off, and taking a few days off is even more challenging.

Here is how I often feel about rest days:

But, truth is, the body needs rest.  Rest days allow the body to recover, which ultimately helps to build more strength and improve athletic performance.  Some would argue that the greatest fitness gains are made while the body rests.

I find it challenging to take a rest day.  I feel lazy, because my default for any given day is to have at least one, if not two, workouts to complete.  And, if I'm not working out, I feel more sluggish.

My coach routinely schedules about one rest day per week for me.  I'm not always the best about abiding by my rest, and often I'll move a strength training workout or a swim that didn't get done earlier in the week to a rest day.  I'll rationalize it in my mind that it's not *that* tough a workout, and I'll "rest" for the duration of the day.   And I need to be better about that.

I have a cold.  I don't get sick very often, which I attribute to a healthy diet, exercise, and hand sanitizer.  So, I've taken three days off from training.

My gut feeling would have been to trudge on through and do my two hour run, hour long swim, and all the other workouts on my schedule.  Fortunately, I have level heads advising me, my coach and my personal trainer boyfriend, who have urged me to get some rest.

My three days of rest have done me some good.  I've slept in, something I rarely do.  I'm going to attempt a brick workout this afternoon; I think I'm ready.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mulholland Challenge 120 miler

One of the toughest local rides.  121 miles, 13000+ feet of climbing.  I did it last year, proud to complete it, wanted to do it again.

This was not an easy ride.  But that's why I do it, to prove I can.  And I faced some challenges, may have thought about cutting the ride short, but I did finish.

Climbing "Rock Store", mile 50ish

 I have to admit, I wasn't the best prepared.  My longest ride was a bit over 5 hours, I had missed a couple of mid-week rides over the course of a few months, and spent the week before the event on vacation in Costa Rica.

I felt good until the Decker Road climb, around mile 75.  Then exhaustion set in.

Descending "Rock Store", mile 85ish

The last major climb was Stunt Road.  Stunt is 4 miles long.  It's not very steep. I've done it before.  In fact, I've done REPEATS on Stunt, where I've spent a couple hours just riding up and down the hill.  But at about mile 97 on the course, it's bruital.

And, it's at about this time that a killer cramp set into my left foot.  Every pedal stroke killed.  And yet I had more than 20 miles to go...  There were a couple of guys who I could tell were hurting too.  I got behind a couple of them to draft so they could pull me up the hill.
Mile 100.  Feeling worn down, in pain.

With one mile to go from the top of Stunt, the pain became unbearable, and I had to get off my bike, shortly after this picture was taken.  I took my left shoe off.  I stretched my toes, wiggled them around.  The pain got better, surprisingly, and I put my shoe back on, and started walking my bike a bit.

The SAG vehicle pulled up and asked if I was ok, if I needed water, bars, anything.  Ice, I asked?  Nope, they had no ice.  But I knew there was an aid station in a mile that had ice.  Clumsily, I got back on the bike and slowly, and with less pain, rode to the top of the hill.

I tried to troubleshoot the situation --  why did I cramp up in my foot?  Not enough electrolytes?  After all, I was drinking only water on the ride and not an electrolyte solution because it wasn't too hot outside.  Maybe I needed caffeine?  How about icing the foot, a suggestion from a friend I texted when I had gotten off the bike a mile earlier.

So... I drank some Perpetuum with electrolytes, took a salt tab, iced my foot on a can of Coke Zero and ate three peanut butter and jelly half sandwiches.  Was the PBJ therapeutic to the situation?  Probably not but it made me happy.  And then I drank the Coke Zero, telling myself that maybe a little caffeine would help.

After about 10 minutes at the aid station I was back on the bike.  20 miles to the finish.  I felt more energized.  A couple shorter climbs, and I was done!

Pleased to be done.  I will use the experience from this ride for the L'Etape ride up Mount Baldy next month, which might be even tougher.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Fortius Racing Triathlon Training Camp

For some, lying on a beach drinking a Mai Tai is vacation.  Triathlon training camp for me is a fun vacation.  For this long weekend, I am spending time up at Lake San Antonio, the location of the Wildflower Triathlon, for Fortius Racing triathlon training camp.

I love getting to go away and just be an athlete.  Sleep in.  Ride long or run long.  Do yoga.  Stretch.  Share healthy meals with teammates.  Learn from coaches about cycling and running technique and how to get stronger.
Heading out for our long bike ride

Yesterday, we ran the Wildflower short course run course.  Today, we rode the 55 miles of the long course.  With 4900 feet of climbing, including the infamous Nasty Grade hill around mile 43, this was a challenging ride.

Tomorrow, we ride the Wildflower short course bike ride, 24 miles of rollers, and then a trail run, and some yoga. Then on Sunday we run the Wildflower long course.

And, of course, good healthy food is important.  Dinner tonight includes miso soup and spinach and avocado salad with garbanzo beans.
Coach Gerardo cooking up healthy stuff

So far, it's been an amazing weekend.  I'm a little sore, but I feel amazing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Definitions Fitness Magazine

Please check out this online fitness magazine that I write for.  Definition Fitness Magazine is written by and for plant-powered female athletes.  Issue Four featured an article about me, "Tofu-Powered Triathlete", and in Issue Five, I have written an article about my experience as a heart patient with an arrhythmia.

Click here to subscribe, only $14/year.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Bump in the Road

I haven't talked about my running in a while.  And that's because I haven't been doing much running.  I strained my right calf about five weeks ago.  I can't recall a specific injury, but ultimately every time I would try to run, it would ache.  So, I had to stop running for a couple weeks, and as a result I'm not running the Napa Marathon.

What happened?  I'm not entirely sure.  Much of it has to do with my left leg being stronger than the right.  I'm not sure how that came to be, possibly a lingering effect of having fractured my right foot a year ago and relying so much on my left leg, enough such that even a year later my left leg was stronger than my right, leading to an imbalance?  That's my current theory.  Nonetheless, I'm working with a physical therapist, who has given me exercises to help strengthen my right leg.

I am back to running, but it's limited so far.  I am being very conservative.  Today was my longest run since the injury, two miles, pain-free.  I have strict instructions that the second I feel any pain that I am to stop running and rest for another several days.  Luckily, in the past few days of running, there has been no pain.

That said, unable to run, I have started picking up my cycling, and have done a couple of good challenging rides, gearing up for the Mulholland Challenge 120 in April.  I have also started swimming more, and have taken on the challenge of swimming 24 times during the month of February.

Here's a video that Fortius Racing Team coach Ray Barrios took of me swimming:
Lots of swim technique things to work on.

So, with good healing, I should be ready for the Chesebro Half Marathon on March 28.  This should give me plenty of time to recover.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Trip to the Cardiologist

I see a lot of anxiety associated with a first time visit to the cardiologist.  Chest pain, palpitations, fainting, and shortness of breath can all be scary symptoms related to heart disease.

Or they may not be.

I may surprise you when I say this:  More often than not, for patients who come in for an initial consultation for one of these symptoms, the cause is not cardiac.

Chest pain can be due to many things other than the heart -- a pulled muscle, esophageal reflux, anxiety or stress.  While palpitations may be an arrhythmia, they may be due to anxiety and stress.  And the most common cause of fainting is a vasovagal event, which is completely benign and improved with lifestyle changes.

A common scenario is a patient who comes in with symptoms that after a thorough evaluation I determine is not related to his heart, but that same patient has multiple uncontrolled cardiac risk factors.  A typical patient would be a middle-aged man with chest pain that is burning in nature and worse with eating spicy food and worse at night.  We determine that his pain is due to esophageal reflux and is not due to his heart.  HOWEVER.... he has uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure, smokes, doesn't exercise, and eats poorly.  So, once I reassure him that his chest pain is not coming from his heart, we discuss the uncontrolled risk factors that are the true threats to his heart health.

That said, I see some pretty serious stuff.  I'm sending one recent new patient for urgent heart valve surgery.  Another in all likelihood has pretty severe coronary artery disease, so we're getting him tested very quickly before we proceed to more invasive exams.

My point is this:  Being referred to a cardiologist can be scary, but doesn't necessarily mean you have a life-threatening heart ailment.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

More Pills!!! More Pills???

A new study called the IMPROVE-IT trial presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in November demonstrated that adding ezetimibe (Zetia) to simvastatin in higher-risk patients is associated with a decrease in LDL cholesterol and also decreased risk of cardiac events.

Another study, the TRA2P-TIMI 50 trial, found that a new antiplatelet medicine vorapaxar (Zontivity), when added to aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix), reduces the risk of cardiac events in high-risk patients.

First off, two big wins for big pharma.  Two on-patent, in other words not generic, medicines that have positive clinical outcomes.  But, should we start prescribing them widely?

In the IMPROVE-IT trial, the primary endpoint of cardiac events occurred in 32.7% of patients on simvastatin alone and in 34.7% of patients on simvastatin plus ezetimibe.  It comes out to an absolute risk reduction of 2%, which isn't a lot.  In other words, to prevent a single cardiovascular event, you would have to give ezetimibe to 50 people over the course of six years.  That also means that 49 of 50 people receiving the medication would not have an event prevented.

Similarly, in TRA2P-TIMI 50, patients taking vorapaxar had an 11.2% risk of cardiovascular events, and those not taking it had a 12.4% risk.  Again, a statistically significant difference, but a 1.2% absolute risk reduction, and yields a number needed to treat of 83.  83 patients need to get a daily pill over three years to prevent just one event.  And if you're on vorapaxar, you will have a significantly increased risk of a dangerous bleed.

I want to give my patients everything that I can to keep them healthy.  But do I want to give them more costly copays?  Is that where my energy should be focused, putting my patients on more medications?

What if we can get these patients to change their lifestyle?  What if we can get them onto plant-based diets, get them walking 30 minutes a day, help them to lose weight, and get those who are smoking to quit?  How many cardiovascular events can we prevent if we can do that -- a lot!

Or more practically, since we know not all patients are so motivated, let's say we can get our patients to eat less meat and dairy, eat a few more fruits and vegetables a day, eat more meals at home instead of at restaurants, and walk a couple days a week.  Even with those more modest lifestyle, we can prevent a lot of heart attacks and strokes.

Is there a role for these two medicines, ezetimibe and vorapaxar?  Maybe.  But before we pull out our prescription pads, let's make sure we're giving our patients all of the tools that they need to be healthy, not just another pill.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Avoiding Injury

In my 20's and early 30's, I ran, and sporadically I would strength train.  I had a tendinitis in my foot that kept me from running for nearly a year and a half.  Then I was plagued by plantar fasciitis that burned with every step I took.  And once that healed, iliotibial band pain kept me from running for another three months.  Ultimately, I realized that I needed to make some changes as an athlete to avoid more injuries.

In the past 9 years, I have remained injury-free, even as I train harder.  Here's how:

1)  Foam roller -- I spend a couple of minutes on my foam roller a few times a week.  I pay particular attention the the lateral aspects of the thigh, which is overlying the iliotibial band which can easily get inflamed.  If I find a spot that hurts, I concentrate on rolling out that particular spot.

2) Massage -- Get a massage every so often.  It will keep you limber and loosen up any problem areas.  I recommend either David Wachtel of LA Body Mechanics or Efren Jimenez at Joseph Lamar Salon.  Both of these guys are athletes and do great work.

3) Yoga -- Great for flexibility, stretching, and relaxing.  I incorporate restorative yoga into my training, and particularly love Melissa's Sunday evening restorative yoga class at Black Dog Yoga.

4) Get a coach -- I have a coach not necessarily to push me, but rather to rein me in.  I could be perfectly happy running and doing boot camp strength classes day in and day out, but that would be a quick recipe for injury.  Coach Gerardo Barrios of Fortius Racing knows my goals and gives me a schedule of training to follow so that I am strong on race day and stay healthy getting there.

5) Strength training -- A strong core and strong body make for a stronger runner. I strength train two to three times a week, once a week privately with Corey Enman of Burbank Fit Body Bootcamp and another couple times a week at Tru Fit Bootcamp in Van Nuys.  In the off-season, I also love Barry's Bootcamp, an hour workout consisting of 30 minutes of running and 30 minutes of strength training.

6) Swimming/cycling/cross-training-- It's important to use other muscles that you don't necessarily use for running.  I swim and ride my bike a couple times a week, even during running training and the triathlon off-season.  Cycling strengthens the glutes and hamstrings, and swimming is great for core stability and strenght.  Both are great for flushing out the legs after hard running.

And this is how I keep on training and keep from falling apart!!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Phoning it in

Do you get annoyed when you come to a workout, ready to give it all your effort, and you are surrounded by people who seem to not care?

I found myself in that position at a recent boot camp class.  Two women in front of me, probably in their mid 20's, spent much of the class giggling to one another and generally not doing the workout.

START -- 100 jumping jacks.  I get to work.  One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and.....  And I'm starting to break a sweat.  Our two cutesy crop-pants-wearing friends do a few lacksadaisical slow jumping jacks.  When I'm counting fifty jumping jacks to myself, I see them stop and move on to the next exercise, which is supposed to be 50 sit-ups.

I bang out my situps.  One, roll up, two, roll, three, and so forth.  These two chicks slowly roll up, tousle their hair, one stops for like two minutes to fix the perfect pony tail.  They did, maybe, 20 of the 50 situps.  Followed by 40 mountain climbers, of which they each did about 10.  Then 30 squats by which each of these girls might have lowered her rear end about six inches toward the ground, possibly a total of six times. Then 20 push-ups, and I think each of them did 5-10 exercises that involved a slight bend in the elbows, before doing two or three of the ten thrusters that they were supposed to do, and finally followed by about 15 seconds of what should have been a minute long plank,in which one of the "planks" involved an ass way up in the air and resembled nothing of a plank.

It is nearing the twenty minute mark, I am sweating and finishing off a final 100 jumping jacks.  These two girls have been standing around for 5 minutes, I think they may have done a yoga pose or two to stretch and then walked over to check their cell phones for the remainder of the time.

Should I care what these two lazy twenty-something girls in front of me are doing?

The problem is, I do care.  And it annoys me, that I am working my ass off to get results, and they're barely making an effort.

Now, my point is not to mock people who aren't in shape.  I am mocking the people who don't care to try, who don't push themselves.  My point is that if you come to a fitness class, you should put in the effort.

So why does this bother me?  After all, I'm here at bootcamp for myself.  I'm not here to facilitate anyone else's workout.  Perhaps it's because I come to a class to have others push me, and watching others not put in the effort does not inspire in the least.

I look in the mirror at myself.  I'm fit.  I get results because I WORK HARD.  When I come to work out, I give everything I have.  Your body gains little if anything by half-assing a workout.

For me, I have to remember, I'm here for my workout.  I have to find the people who inspire ME and stick with them.  I find those types of people on Fortius Racing.  I find them at master swim workouts.  And sometimes I find them at my bootcamp classes, and when I see them, I stick with them.  I watch what they do.  I try to keep up, do more.  Because they push me, and hopefully I push them too.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Eating Healthy for the Holidays

The holidays are a tough time for those of us trying to stay healthy and stick to our fitness goals.

I knew I'd be heading to a couple social events in the evening, so lunch had to be healthy.

This is blended cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, and green onion sautéed in vegetable broth, with Trader Joes teriyaki baked tofu. When you blend cauliflower into tiny bits in a Vitamix, somehow it has so much more flavor.

In the evening, I was going to my friend Suzanne's "White Trash Christmas" party. It's a funny theme, and the food all fits the theme. Funny, and perhaps delicious to some, but definitely not healthy. Fried cheese sticks. Oreos. Pizza. Spam rolls. Chicken nuggets. In other words, stuff I don't eat.

I informed Suzanne that in spite of the theme that I was bringing a large salad to share. Yes, that's me, the healthy buzzkill.

I love a good salad! My strategy was to bring a salad that could serve as a complete dinner for me, or as an appetizer for others. Dark leafy lettuce, lentils, carrots, blended cauliflower (I'm on a bit of a kick with this blended cauliflower as you can tell), apple slices, organic cherry tomatoes, almonds, dried cranberries, and a Bragg's pomegranate dressing on the side.

And, even at a party where the theme is unhealthy food, my salad was essentially polished off.

Happy Holidays! And stay healthy!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Going for the BQ -- Boston Qualifier

I had an awesome triathlon season -- three Ironman 70.3 events, moving from top 27%, to top 23%, to top 20% in my age group.

After my nearly ten years as a multisport athlete, I have one goal on my bucket list -- the BQ.  Boston Qualifier.  And, as I turn 40 next year, there's no time like the present, since the qualifying standard becomes a slightly less challenging time of 3:45 as I age up.

I talked to my coach, Gerardo of Fortius Racing, and he thinks I can do it.  Actually, he has given me the goal of 3:39.  A 3:39 would give me adequate cushion to my time to make sure I can get a spot in the 2016 Boston Marathon.

I plan to qualify for the Boston Marathon at the Napa Marathon on March 1, 2015.

That's an 8:21 per mile pace.  I stutter a bit as I type that, because that's pretty darn fast.
Santa Monica Run Fest 10k, October 19, 2014 -- 51:14

I am currently in my base training, which is the early training for the marathon.  So far, I've been doing a lot of trail running.  But recently, the training has picked up, and I have to admit, it's a little scary.

On Friday morning, I had a workout goal to run 4 x one mile in 7:45-7:55 per mile, with 200 yards as a break in between each.  I hit my goal for the first two miles, but on the third mile I ran 8:05, and for the fourth, I had nothing left so I cut the mile down to a half mile and finished that in 3:59, an 8:00/mile pace.

My coach sounds confident that I can achieve a qualifying time if I do the workout plan that he gives me.  I am nervous, but I'm going to trust him, because he knows what he's talking about.

It's going to be a tough four months.  But, I'm ready for the challenge.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nuts and Avocados

Last week, I attended the annual meeting of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.  Not only was it an opportunity to hear some of my favorite speakers, but I had the chance to meet plenty of like-minded medical professionals, who like me feel that medicine is more than just a handful of pills.

One of my plant-based heroes, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, presented at the first morning of the conference.  His work has demonstrated that not only can people adhere to a whole-food plant-based diet, but that when they do amazing things can happen.  He has demonstrated that changes in diet can lead to a decrease in angina, fewer cardiac events, and even reversal of plaque build-up in the arteries as seen on an angiogram.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

The diet that Dr. Esselstyn advocates is free of meat, fish, dairy, egg, oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.  In other words, it's more intensive than just a vegan diet, and inherently quite low in fat.

I have a number of patients who have successfully followed Dr. Esselstyn's program, and not a single one of then has has a recurrent cardiac event or needed another stent.  But, the question that I have been asked, and I have wondered, why no nuts or avocados?  I can understand avoiding animal products and oils since these are inflammatory to the body, but why go so far to restrict the diet?

So, I approached the microphone at the end of Dr. Esselstyn's talk, and I asked.  His answer was that because they are high in fat, they are not helpful to most cardiac patients.  But what about those cardiac patients who are normal body weight, can they enjoy nuts and avocados?  His succinct answer?  "No."  So I pressed him on the question and asked, "Why?".

Dr. Esselstyn answered that this is how his studies were designed, the diet has worked so well, and as a result he hasn't wanted so change up a successful formula.  Some participants who I spoke with found this to be an unsatisfying and unscientific answer.

And, yet, at the same time, minutia like nuts and avocados, does it matter?  Does it really matter when, to paraphrase President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. David Katz, "most people are eating glow-in-the-dark junk"?

My take on all of this -- I would love to see all of my coronary disease patients on Esselstyn's diet.  That said, I eat avocados and nuts, and I don't believe most people should avoid these foods since they have plenty of important nutrients.  But, for those patients with coronary disease who are so motivated, I encourage them to follow the program espoused by Esselstyn.

But, the majority of my patients, while they are willing to make positive diet and lifestyle changes, may not feel ready to go quite this far.

And some of my patients have far less than ideal diets, those who may eat the majority of their meals at fast food outlets, or when asked about fruits and vegetables will tell me that they eat "eggs and potatoes."  In these cases, it might be a victory just to get this patient to eat one fruit and one vegetable per day.

We can all agree that more fruits and vegetables, less processed food, less refined sugar, less sodium are all good choices.  So let's start there, at the very least, when encouraging lifestyle change.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


It's interesting what our sense of "normal" is.

When I first meet a patient, I ask her about her diet.  A typical response is, "I eat normal."

What does "normal" mean?  Upon further questioning, "normal" is the Standard American Diet.  In other words, a diet high in processed meat, red meat, sugary desserts, high-fat dairy, processed foods, refined grains, and sugary drinks.  It's a diet that has few fruits and vegetables, if any.

A "normal" diet is one that increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and many forms of cancer.
How normal is that????

Why can a person sit and eat a burger, fries, and large soda and no one think anything of it, and if I sit down with a big salad for lunch, it's viewed as alien, atypical, or even.... "healthy".  But not normal.

So, how is that we as a society have come to view foods and habits that kill us as "normal"???

Our paradigms need to change.  And that's going to take a big shift in how we as a society view food and exercise.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My New License Plate

I had to share... :)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Silverman 70.3 -- Ending the Season Right

I certainly didn't pick easy races this year.  St George 70.3 was a hilly course with a high of 73 degrees, Vineman 70.3 was pretty damn hot too, and Silverman, with an elevation gain of over 4000 feet on the bike course and three loop hilly run, it just ended up being a long challenging day.

We had heard rumors of Lake Mead being as warm as 80 degrees.  When the water is warmer than 76 degrees, wetsuits are not legal.  I brought mine anyway, and when I heard the water was about 75 degrees, I was glad that I could wear my wetsuit to give me more buoyancy and therefore a bit more speed.

My wave, women 35-39, was one of the first to start.  I started in about the second or third row of women.  About halfway through, in my full-length wetsuit, I felt really warm.  My mouth was dry.  And I was worried -- did I just overheat on the swim and blow my entire day? Fortunately, I didn't.  I drank quite a bit in the first few minutes of the bike and in transition and I was fine.

I'm going to digress for a minute -- I had a side bet with one of my teammates Kosha.  He is an amazing athlete, former college football player, blazing fast runner, and awesome cyclist.  But on the swim, he and I are pretty close.  At Vineman, he was 23 seconds faster on the swim, and at Malibu he was a couple seconds faster also.  We made a bet over a shot of tequila over which one of us would be faster.  In this race, finally, I outswam him -- by 7 seconds, with a time of 38:33.  But, a win is a win, and he had to do a tequila shot.  And I joined him in doing the shot, because truthfully, it was an amazing swim for both of us.

My swim:  17/70 women finishers in my age group

This was a hilly bike.  Not just hilly, but basically no flats.  We were either going up or down, but mostly up because the point-to-point course ended us at a higher elevation.  And no shade from the elements.  It got hot fast, like over 90 degrees.

There's an interesting psychology to where one starts in a race.  In Malibu, when I'm in one of the last waves, I get to pass a lot of people in front of me.  But, at Silverman, when I'm one of the first waves, I get passed by a lot of people.  I have to not get demoralized, remind myself that most of the people passing me are men, that I'm not getting passed by (many) women, so I'm staying ahead of my competition.

The wind was a factor also.  I have a disc wheel in the back, which makes me even more susceptible to wind.  On some of the downhills, I felt pretty unsteady and found myself gripping the brakes.

The biggest challenge for me on the bike was mechanical issues with my chain.  Whenever I would try to shift to my smaller gears, the chain would fall off.  It fell off four times, necessitating me to get off my bike and put the chain back on.  That wouldn't take me more than 20-30 seconds and a little lost momentum each time, but it did give me a brief chance to stop pedaling and stretch.

My legs were tired.  I'd say about 20 miles in, I thought to myself, how am I going to do this?  It's hot.  My legs hurt.  And I have 36 miles to go.  In my head, I broke it down.  Let's get to the turnaround.  Then, let's get to the gate at the exit of the park.  Then, let's get onto that next turn, let's get over that big hill, and let's get to T2 and start running.  Yes I'm getting passed, but those are mostly men.

I stayed well hydrated, which is important on a hot and windy day.  After finishing off my two bottles of coconut water, I relied on one bottle of Ironman Perform (yuck) and then some water.  I had a couple of mini-Bonk Breakers also.  I don't love gels when I'm on the bike; solid food just makes me happier.  And the aid stations are just fun.  I yell out what I need, put out my hand, fly by on the bike, and grab the bottle or the Bonk Breaker or banana or whatever it is.

I arrived at T2, the second transition area, to find very few bikes, which was reassuring, and indicated that most of the other women in my age group were behind me.

My Bike:  3 hours and 24 minutes.  14/70 women finishers in my age group.

Three loops.  Well over 90 degree weather.  More hills.  My run was more of a shuffle.  I felt like I was barely moving.  But, my strategy is always to run everything except the aid stations.  Because, no matter what speed I'm running, it's faster than any walk.  And if I stop to walk, I won't want to run again.

Again, awesome volunteers with lots of goodies at the aid stations.  At each station, I took a cup of water and drank it.  I took another cup and poured it over my head.  Then I'd swig a cup of Ironman Perform (double yuck) or some Coke.  And then I'd grab another cup of water to douse my head.

To keep cool, some women were handing out zip lock bags of ice.  I grabbed one and stuffed in the top of my tri-top.  When the ice melted, I'd refill it with more ice.

Running with bag of ice stuffed in my top

I can't say I felt great.  The heat took a lot out of me.  I stopped looking at my watch because I just didn't want to know how slow I was running.  But yes, I was running.  Not walking.  It was a slow run.  How was I not getting passed by everyone?  My coach Gerardo who was running as part of a relay team, breezed past me,  He reminded me to run tall and take smaller steps going uphill.
Is this over yet?

Sometimes I put a mantra into my head.  I saw people walking, and slowing to a walk was all too tempting.  I kept saying to myself, "What are they doing?  They are walking.  What am I doing?  I'm running.  So I'm going to keep on running."  Kind of silly mantra, but it kept me going.

What made this event nice was that there were so many familiar faces on the course.  About twenty of us from Fortius Racing were there, and a bunch of others from LA Tri Club who I knew.  It always helps to cheer people on or to get some words of encouragement, and on a day like this, a few "Go Heather!" 's can make a huge difference.

My Run:  2:23.  17/70.

Overall Finish time:  6:33.  17 out of 84 women finishers in my age group.

My slowest 70.3 all season, BUT my best finish.  12 women in my age group didn't finish the race.

I'm so grateful for the success of this race.  I stuck around toward the end for the rolldown for Ironman 70.3 Worlds, with a chance of a rolldown slot to compete at the world championships.  I didn't get a spot, but to think I even had a chance, was just a cool feeling!

I'm happy to finish the season well .  I'm taking a few weeks off and then will start marathon training. More about that soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Be critical of what you hear...

We hear all sorts of messages about our health, and many of them are conflicting.  However, it is important to see who and where those messages are coming from and what context they are in.

I am going to give a couple examples.

1) "People with lower cholesterol die earlier."

This is true -- sort of.

I was recently told this by a patient with coronary artery disease who cut the dose of his statin on his own, for fear of increasing his risk of death because his cholesterol numbers were too low.

Several groups of people have low cholesterol -- people with advanced cancer, liver disease, or anyone with severe calorie malnutrition.  And yes, these people are more likely to die sooner.  But, I think it's obvious to say that they aren't dying because their cholesterol is too low, they are dying of their underlying disease.

And it is that underlying disease that is causing the low cholesterol numbers.

However, on the converse, among the majority of people, those people who don't have terrible life-threatening diseases like those described above, lower total cholesterol numbers are not associated with increased mortality.

In fact, in those patients who have coronary or vascular disease, we use statin medications to drive the cholesterol numbers down.  But, as we are learning, more important than making the numbers look nice, statins perform an important role to stabilize and potentially reverse the plaque that is in the arteries, improve endothelial function which is the functioning of the lining of the arteries, and reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.

And, in this patient population, problems with cholesterol numbers being driven "too low" have not been identified in the large randomized controlled trials.  Further, there is a population of people with a genetic PCSK9 mutation which leads to extremely low cholesterol numbers, and these people have very low risk of cardiovascular events.

2) "Are Himalayan salts good for my health"?

Interesting question.  I've done a little research on this question.  When you enter "Himalayan salt" into a search engine, the vast majority of sources of information come from places that want to sell you Himalayan salt.  So, anything you read on those pages you need to take with a grain of salt, so to speak.

What I can tell you about Himalayan salt is that it is not processed like standard table salt, and naturally contains many minerals including iodine.  Himalayan salt is also lower in sodium than table salt.

I do not know that there are specific health benefits to using Himalayan salt.  Specifically, I do not know of any type of clinical trial that supports any health benefit of Himalayan salt over any other type of salt.  But, if you can cite a study that would say otherwise, please leave it in the comments, as I am eager to learn.

That said, regardless of the source of the salt, it contains sodium.  Sodium does not need to be supplemented in our diet, and in fact diets higher in sodium are associated with higher blood pressure and higher risk of cardiovascular disease.  

Bottom line is this -- do not believe everything you hear about health.  Question everything.  And if I'm your doctor, question me too!!!  When a patient asks questions, I know he is processing what I have told him, and a knowledgeable patient is a powerful patient who has the tools to make good choices for his health.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Malibu Classic Triathlon -- Race Report

I do this race every year; this was my 7th year in a row.  I love the Nautica Malibu Classic Tri because it's well-organized, a race where lots of people get exposed to the sport and some for the first time, and it's just a big fun race with a few celebrities.

This is actually my shortest triathlon of the year, amongst the three half-Iron distance 70.3 races and Santa Barbara Long Course which I raced a few weeks ago.

The women start after the men, and start from youngest to oldest, so the women 35-39 was probably the third to last wave.  When you start after a lot of people, there are lots of people to pass, which can be fun.
Photo courtesy of my Shiggy Ichinomiya, aka GoShiggyGo.

I started the swim in the second row, and fairly close to the left since there was a current that would be pulling us to the right, or west.  As we ran in to the water, there were a few significant waves that I managed to dive under.  The current was definitely pulling us west, and I had to redirect myself to get to the first buoy.  Once around the buoy, there was a fair amount of chop, but I felt okay.

However, getting out of the water was a different story. I'm a hesitant ocean swimmer, particularly when it comes to exiting the water.  The westward current persisted, and I saw several swimmers who were way too far west.  I was able to sight the flags for the swim exit chute, so I didn't go off course.  In addition, there were a few waves, and I almost felt like I was being sucked back in.  As I looked behind me, I saw a wave coming, and I panicked briefly, but turned around and dove under it.  And then another wave that I dove under. I looked behind me, and the water looked flat and I went for it, put my head in the water and probably swam at least ten strokes without breathing in a panic to get out.

In the transition area, everything went seamlessly, wetsuit came off without any crazy dramatics of arms or legs getting stuck.  Helmet on, wrestle bike off the rack, and go... but WAIT!  No sunglasses!  So I turn around and grab my sunglasses and off I go.

18 miles of biking and I passed a ton of people, but no one passed me.  I stayed on my aero bars most of the time.  I did a lot of yelling "On your left!" but I think that's a courtesy so that no one is freaked out by my suddenly approaching.  My chain dropped at Leo Carillo, the turnaround point, but we were moving slowly to get through a narrow space, so I jumped off the bike, put the chain back on, and wasted no more than 20 seconds.

Other than a little drop of the chain, a good ride.  Time was 55:56, so somewhere between 19-20 mph on the bike.

I saw only a couple of bikes on our rack, indicating just a couple women in my age group ahead of me.  Maybe I took too long typing my shoes, but my 2:26 T2 time was too long.  Maybe I need to re-take that part of kindergarten, or perhaps as I'm breathing heavy I need to be a little more speedy in getting my shoes on as I catch my breath.

Off onto the run.  4 miles, supposedly, but it ended up being 4.2 miles.  I passed a lot of people, but most importantly, one of my age group competitors Abby, who I know from having run track with her before, sped past me.  She said "good job", and I said "good job" to her too.  She was blazing fast, so I knew I wouldn't even have a chance of keeping with her, so I let her go.  As it turns out, she finished fifth in our age group, and I finished sixth (with only five spots on the podium).
My overall time was 1:56:25.  Sixth place out of 107 women in our age group.  Good enough to qualify me for USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals for the fourth year in a row, but just one place away from a position on the podium.

Great race, fun day.  Next year I'll race as a 40-44 year-old woman, which will give me a better chance of hitting the podium -- my time would have been 4th place in women 40-44.

One more race left this season, and that is Silverman 70.3 on October 5.  And then a few months off.  And when I say "months off" that doesn't mean the couch and bon-bons.  That means I exercise, on my own terms.  Not sure exactly what that exactly will be yet.  I'm thinking it will be a lot of boot camp classes and some swimming and maybe a bit of running, and a fun bike ride here and there.  For me that's relaxing. :)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Comfort Foods

Nearly 10 years ago when I contemplated becoming a vegan, I found myself in a dilemma.  Or at least at the time what felt like a dilemma.

Veganism felt so final.  As in, I could never again eat some of my favorite comfort foods.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Brownies.  French toast.  Macaroni and cheese.  Not that these were major staples of my diet, but they were things I enjoyed from time to time (more so then than now, as I've considerably improved my diet in the meantime, thanks to triathlon and my desire to be healthier).

As I explored, I found vegan versions of all of the above.  Except macaroni and cheese.

And it wasn't just the run-of-the-mill macaroni and cheese that I craved.  It was the blue box.  Kraft.  With the orangey powdery cheese with all sorts of artificial coloring and flavoring.  It was a comfort food growing up, and even as a young adult a treat that I enjoyed every now and then.

I realized, though, that my craving for the blue box would not superimpose itself on my commitment to health, the animals, and the environment.

And then there was this:

Earth Balance's version of macaroni and cheese!

I whipped this up the other evening.  It has the powdery vegan cheese and instructions to add a non-dairy milk and Earth Balance Buttery Spread margarine.  I used almond milk, but I found that my Earth Balance margarine was moldy from sitting in my refrigerator and not being used (proof that I don't eat unhealthy food all that often), so I left it out.

It was delicious.  I only ate half a box worth and made a salad to enjoy with it.  At 640 calories in a box (one "serving" has 260 calories and there are 2 1/2 servings in a box, but let's be real, who eats just one serving?) with about 1300 mg of sodium, it's not the healthiest choice.

My point is this:  Look hard enough, and I think there's a vegan version of just about everything.  And when you find those decadent foods in a vegan version, don't imagine that they are magically healthy.  When your diet is clean, a small rare splurge can be reasonable.

One last note-- this is not a paid endorsement!  If only I was important enough to get paid to promote stuff...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Challenge Me!!

Over the past three months, I've participated in challenges.  In June, I completed a push-up challenge by doing 100 push-ups daily for 30 days.  In July, it was a plank challenge, to hold a plank position for progressively longer periods of time, with a goal of a five minute plank.  I got to 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  While I didn't fully complete the challenge, 4:30 is longer than my previously longest plank by a minute.
That's me.  In a plank position.  It's a tough one to hold once you get beyond a minute and a half.

This month, I've taken on a challenge of my own, chosen by me to suit my personality.  I am meditating for ten minutes each day.  I must admit, I don't feel like I am good at meditating, but I think it will make me a better, calmer, more balanced person.

I'll challenge myself next month too.  I'm not sure what it will be yet.  Maybe a challenge not to eat after 7 pm?  For October, my tentative challenge is to do yoga every day, since my season will be done after my October 5 race at Silverman 70.3.

Challenge yourself.  Can you be stronger?  Fitter?  Eat better?  Pick a challenge, recruit a few friends, and get to it!