Thursday, February 27, 2014

I'm Injured, I'm Injured Not??

I’m sure you’re all familiar with this classic scene: we find a young lad, usually sitting under a tree, who’s holding a flower. He begins pulling petals off the flower one at a time, going around in a circle and alternating “she loves me” and “she loves me not” with each petal. From the renditions I’ve seen, it usually results in good news, ending with an exuberant “she loves me!”

That’s how I’ve felt lately with a potential injury. Part of me wants to literally find a flower, sit under a tree and rattle off “I’m injured, I’m injured not” until I get to the last petal. It might be the only way to figure it out. I strained my calf ever so slightly while on my adventure run in Charlotte a couple weeks ago. This was weird, because it was a joy run through a freak snowstorm at a very casual pace, albeit a long run. It didn’t hurt at all in the moment, but I could feel that I’d done something minor to it. As a precaution I iced it afterwards, and backed off my miles the rest of the week. Since then it has simply been an enigma. One workout I can at moments feel it acting up and it feels a little sore afterwards, and I’m convinced I should shut things down for a few days to a week. For my next scheduled workout I’ll warm it up really good and begin the workout just to see how it responds, and I can’t feel a thing. And around and around it goes!

There’s such a fine line between powering through something minor because “it will go away on its own, rub some dirt on it, you’ll be fine” and stupidly aggravating something by pushing through when you should have just taken a couple days off. I really dislike taking time off, so I usually compromise by chopping some time and/or intensity and seeing how I feel. My rule is that if I feel pain at all, I have to stop. Sometimes it seems like I can “feel” the area in question, but there’s no pain, so I allow myself to continue. Regardless of how it goes, afterwards I make sure to stretch, ice, etc… the stuff you always hear. I was in a similar predicament at a race last year. It hurt just walking around pre-race, and I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to finish. Instead, it was probably my best race of the season. Other times you start a workout and realize right away you need to stop. It’s weird.
I guess the takeaway for myself and everyone else is to just be careful. Try to form good habits to avoid injuries in the first place such as warming up, stretching, icing, etc. When an injury does rear its ugly head, be smart. I think you can compromise to see how something responds, but use good judgment. Hopefully more times than not, after a short while “I’m injured?” will turn to “I’m injured not!”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: Matthew Kucharski - Maryland

Triple Threat is currently in the process of expanding our national team. Former collegiate wrestler and father of newborn twins Matthew Kucharski is one such new addition, representing Baltimore and the state of Maryland. Thanks for the time, Matt!

What's your background and how did you get into triathlon?
Growing up, I was always an athlete and played sports but I was more into playing baseball and soccer, as well as wrestling. I never really ran (other than to stay in shape for other sports) and I was never on any organized swim teams, so to find myself in the triathlon world is a bit odd I guess.
Once I realized my competitive days were over in those other sports, I knew that I needed some outlet. My wife is a runner, and when she decided to try her hand at a triathlon I went to support her. I came away from that event very impressed and thinking that I could give it a try. After a couple years of casually racing I decided to take the next step and became committed to the sport. I started training year round and 2013 was my first real season of competitive racing. I hope that last year was just the starting point as I continue to learn and improve going forward.

I've always respected wrestlers for the work they put in despite receiving far less glory than other sports. Has wrestling helped you as a triathlete, from a physical and/or mental perspective? Have you ever used some of your moves in the washing machine that is open water swimming?
Well thank you! It is true that wrestling does not attract much glory but I really enjoyed my years competing and would argue that it is one of the most physically demanding sports out there. I will say that the years of grueling practices and workouts have helped me as I transitioned to triathlon. Obviously the training all those years kept me in great physical shape, but I think there may be even more value in the mental aspect of things. Although technically a team sport, wrestling is very individual as once the whistle blows you are out on that mat alone and it is up to you to decide how bad you want it. I get those some feelings during a race when I am tired, and sore and just beat down and I know that if I want to just quit, nobody is going to stop me. There is that constant battle in your mind to keep going and push harder, and I think I learned to deal with that from my wrestling days.
The one challenge has been the disparity in the training regime between the sports. I spent years in the weight room trying to pack on muscle mass only to have that work somewhat against me now as I compete. It has been one of things that have slowed me down over the past few years as I struggled with accepting that I would have to basically transform my body type and sacrifice some of the muscle if I wanted to truly be competitive in this sport. I think I have finally come to grips with that and I look forward to seeing the strides I can make this upcoming season.

One added bonus is my comfort level running around in front of the spectators and fans in skin tight spandex suit! I never realized how similar a tri-suit and a wrestling singlet were! As far as dealing with the “washing machine”, you are probably right although I have never thought about it that way! I’m not out in the water headlocking guys but I do think I have a higher tolerance for the body contact that occurs out there.

How would you sum up your 2013 season? What was the highlight and lowlight?
I look at 2013 as sort of my rookie season in the sport in a competitive nature. I raced a handful of sprints and Olympics before, but It was really just more for fun and to have a challenge for myself. I think the highlight of 2013 isn’t really one race, but more so the fact that I was able to go from “participating” to “racing”. I was able to complete my first 70.3 as well as pick up a couple podiums, so just the fact that I was able to push myself to make that transition is what motivates me going forward. 
Luckily the positives outweighed the negatives but I did have a disappointing end to the season. In my last race of the year, I was feeling really confident with my chances to place overall. I had my best swim of the year, came into T1 right behind the lead pack and ready to attack on the bike course. About 5 miles into the bike, I hit a patch of gravel and sand during a turn and blew out my tire. It was a Sprint course so I wasn’t carrying a spare….my first DNF. I know it happens to everyone at some point but it definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth for a bit.
To what do you most attribute your improvement over the last few years?
As I mentioned earlier, I think the overall breakthrough was finally committing to make that adjustment to dedicated triathlon training. Increasing volume across all three disciplines while scaling back the strength training was an obvious need. I started making that adjustment going into 2013 but have really taken it to the next level this offseason.
I also learned that nutrition and fueling is really the 4th discipline, and that becomes even more prevalent the longer the course your racing. Working with Hammer nutrition to become educated on proper fueling and really nailing down my own plans made a big difference in how I trained and raced.

How would you rank the three disciplines from your personal strength to weakness?
If I had to rank them as they stand today, I would say 1) Bike 2) Run 3) Swim. I think the swim is a pretty common weak link for a lot of triathletes that don’t come from a swimming background. It is a steep learning curve trying to develop proper technique as an adult. I don’t think I’ll ever be an FOP (front of pack) swimmer, but ever since I started attending a masters swim class and putting in the time to get comfortable in open water as well, I have seen a world of difference.
The running has come along slowly but surely over the past few years, and for someone who never ran track or cross country, I am proud of the progress I have made just with a combination of logging the miles and shedding some of the bulk I had been carrying. As I continue to increase the mileage and trim down the weight, I hope to continue to make those strides.
The bike is my favorite to train and race. I think it’s just a result of taking to the discipline well. It doesn’t hurt that there are endless amounts of toys you can buy these days. I think most would agree that one could spend a fortune collecting gear to get more aero and to try and shave a few seconds.
In your application you wrote "I love having a goal to strive towards year round. When I am running, or on the trainer in the morning, or at the pool on the weekend - I am training for something. I am not just exercising to stay in shape--I am training with a purpose." What's your focus in terms of racing and/or goals for the 2014 season?
My goals are pretty simple at this stage. I hope to see my training pay dividends with each race. That could mean winning or placing at each event---but that could also mean seeing a PR with each race I compete in. I would like to qualify for USAT nationals again and be able to eventually earn a bid to represent the US at worlds, but if that doesn’t come this season I will still feel successful as long as I keep getting faster and show that the hard work is paying off.

How did the Hammer sponsorship come about, and what have Hammer products done for your training and racing?
Well as you would attest to, racing can be a pretty expensive sport so any age grouper or pro that can secure a sponsorship(s) can consider themselves pretty lucky.
More importantly, finding a sponsor whose products you believe in that is willing to provide you that support can be even more challenging. As I started my search for a sponsor prior to last season, I thought about the products that I already use and where there could be a good fit. I have been using Hammer products for a few years already, so when I applied with them to be part of their race team I was stoked when things worked out.  Everything that I need to get through training sessions and races they offer and on top of that they have been able to help educate me and develop a fueling plan that works for me specifically. Myke Hermsmeyer and the rest of the team at Hammer have been super supportive and awesome to work with. Fueling can be tricky and overwhelming when getting started and I can say that since hooking up with them that is one less worry that I have on race day. I would highly recommend checking them out if you are looking for help building out your nutrition plan as they can offer everything from Energy Gels,  and electrolyte replacement, to recovery and protein products.

As far as personal accomplishments go, in your application you first talked about how proud you are to have your twin girls (born on Halloween). What are your daughters' names, and has it been a tough transition?  Have you ever timed yourself on the changing table?
Yes—it has been an awesome, and at times overwhelming, experience for sure.Maya and Arya were born on Halloween and they have already got me wrapped around their fingers already. It has been an adjustment for sure and not just for training but for life in general as they pretty much decide what my wife and I are going to do each day. We went from only having my 5 year old son, Jackson ,part-time, to now having two infants at all times. My wife Lauren is like a supermom. She has patience beyond my imagination when they are both upset and really handles the heavy lifting. Communication and organization have become key when planning anything now and my wife and I try our best to support each other when it comes to hobbies and activities. I don’t think I would be able to stick to half of my training if I didn’t have such a supportive spouse.
I now frequent the bike trainer at 4am during the week, and I take advantage of getting the majority of my runs in during lunch. These are just the types of sacrifices that I’ll need to make so that I don’t interfere with family time. I need to respect the support that I get from my family and if that means training while everyone else is sleeping so that I can still pick the kids up from daycare and cook dinner then that is just how things will need to be for awhile.
Can you tell us a bit about your day job, and what hobbies do you have outside of work and triathlon?
I work for a company that specializes in “Project Rescue”. I left my job at a major financial firm after about 10 years to help start up and build this consulting firm. We specialize in project management services for companies within the financial and healthcare industries and will come in and take a project that may be stalled out or have failed in the past and apply our style in order to get it on track and see it to completion
In order to take triathlon seriously, I really had to drop any other hobbies or activities that I used to participate in like playing softball and soccer. I am a big country music fan and still try to catch a few shows every year. I am also a diehard Baltimore Orioles and Washington Redskins fan. We live about 15 minutess from Camden Yards so we usually attend a decent amount of games each summer.

You mentioned that you have "quite a few tattoos which seem to draw attention at races." What are your thoughts on the controversial subject of the "M-dot" tattoo... still cool, or an over-done stereotype?
I think tattoos in general have become more mainstream in the past few years. I know the whole “M-dot” topic will usually garner opinions that sit strongly on both sides of the fence. I honestly think that if you complete a full IM and that is what you want to do then I think you have earned the right to do so. I know that some view it as getting a corporate logo branded on your body so I see their point as well, but there is a difference between someone proudly displaying the M-dot and someone getting the Mcdonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh inked on their calf.
I think a good compromise, which I have seen a few examples of, is to use the M-Dot as a start but to design something more custom and unique that represents the accomplishment. This way you can still commemorate  the 104.6 accomplishment but keep it unique to you.

Check out more on Matt!

Twitter: @matthew_Kuch

Related posts:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are You an Athlete??

I was rummaging through my wallet the other day and found something I'd completely forgotten about... a printed out Nike ad I've carried around for several years now. Thought it was worthy of sharing.

Are You an Athlete??

Because if you are, then you know what it means to want to be better, to want to be the best. And if you are, then you understand it's not enough to just want to be the best. You can't just sit around and BS about how much you want it. Show me how much you want it. Stop just "thinking about it" and "wondering about it" and "hoping for it" and actually go out there and get it. Dare to do what it takes to be the best. And then, whether you win, lose, or collapse on the finish line, at worst you'll know exactly who you are."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Here's the Kicker

As a triathlete, in the past I haven't seen much use for kicking drills in the water. The masters team I swam with for a few years in Wisconsin would incorporate kicking into practices, but I'd put on my flippers and just kind of coast. For me it was more a time to rest and recover than to push myself. After all, my legs were already tired from biking and running, so why tire them out further?? My mentality was to give the dogs a rest in the pool, making my upper body do the lion's share of the work. For similar reasons I adopted a "2-beat" kick several years ago, in which I only kick once for each stroke (in contrast to the more common "6-beat" kick). As a result, I'm sure I give up a little time on my swim splits, but I'm convinced having fresher legs ultimately benefits me on the bike and run. Hard to quantify, but that's always been my mindset.

Recently, however, I've come around to the idea that I can probably improve my kick while still "saving my legs" for the heavy stuff. In other words, it may just be possible to have one's cake and eat it too. I've started mixing in a little kicking to try to get more bang for my 2-beat buck.

I really like the videos from the Race Club, led by Gary Hall, Sr. I posted a couple of these in the past and they've been quite popular. This one talks about propulsion from kicking, something I am sorely lacking. Lots of great tips in here, although "thanks, but no thanks" at 2:43!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Running on Empty

I’ve spent much of this week in Charlotte, NC, where the headquarters of the company I work for are located. I come here a few times a year, and usually am greeted with pleasant weather great for running. This time, however, I’ve managed to time my stay with literally the biggest storm the area has seen in the last decade. Coming from a place that gets a lot of snow, it’s a bit comical seeing the reaction from people here. It’s pretty nasty out, but far from armageddon. Local news is making it sound like hurricane Katrina, the movie “Twister”, and the San Francisco fire of 1906 all rolled into one. Local stores are completely sold out of supplies, grocery stores are being bought out of everything from bread to candy, and virtually all restaurants are closed. All for a few inches of snow!

I’m used to running in cold temps and snow, and didn’t think twice about hitting my favorite local route, a trail system called the Little Sugar Creek Parkway. The only problem was that getting off work I was very hungry, and knew I’d bonk horrifically on a long run without any fuel. I try to tell people that one advantage of training (for triathlon or anything, really) is that it changes the way you think about food. So many people see food as bad, count calories, etc. On the other hand, I see food and associated calories as fuel that is essential for success. That doesn’t mean I recommend my fueling strategy from last night, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
their fueling strategy was better planned out than mine

I wished I had a flask of liquid shot, some gels, or anything for that matter, but I was empty-handed. On top of that, the stores near my hotel were closed due to the weather, meaning my most viable option was the hotel lobby. Nothing on the menu was even remotely conducive to a long run ending well, but I decided a cheese pizza was acceptable. For a minute I actually considered carrying a folded slice while I ran, taking a hit as needed as you would a gel. However, with gloves on the idea seemed absurd (as if it wasn’t without the gloves). Before I knew it I had put down half of the pizza, and had to pull on the reins to not eat more. That would be plenty of fuel for the tank and then some. I let it “settle” for a half hour or so, then was on my way. The run itself felt pretty good, and besides a lovely couple walking their dogs, I had the trails to myself the whole time. It wasn’t snowing, windy, or even very cold. Towards the end of the run I was already getting hungry again, and my thoughts turned to what my “recovery” fuel would be upon finishing. Lo and behold I encountered a Trader Joe’s at mile 8 (open for business!), and decided to hop in. My objective was to grab the first thing I saw with some protein and sugar, get in and get out. I settled on a box of peanut butter granola bars, then grabbed a yogurt and some chocolate milk for good measure. I looked ridiculous, and the girl at the counter sincerely asked if “everything was ok.” I said “yeah, I’ve just gotta run back to my hotel.” I grabbed my stuff and ran the last two miles with goods in hand, laughing at the situation.
Just a day in the life of a triathlete… and man, that stuff tasted good post-run!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Triple Threat Triathlon - 2014 Team

Triple Threat Triathlon is looking to expand its team for the 2014 season. Benefits include some swag and being part of a new endeavor on a national (and potentially international) scale. "Requirements" are being involved with the team and helping out where you can (social media, etc). Our main motivation is having fun w/triathlon and trying to build something cool.

There will be a relatively informal application process. We're currently in the process of gathering candidates, so contact us if interested! Passion for the sport is far and away the most important criteria for consideration.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chronicles of a City Slicker: TTT Team Member Eric Swenson

New York City is cold this time of year. Really cold. Now I’m sure there’s some reader out there training in Anchorage or Minneapolis thinking, “You soft city slicker! You wouldn’t know cold if it slapped you in the face!!” So with that in mind, I readily acknowledge that colder places do exist (and props to you if you train in one of those places), but to me, NYC is pretty brutal.

After not venturing outside much for my workouts last winter, I’ve been taking to the streets a little more frequently lately thanks to an awesome Christmas gift from my wife. She hooked me up with a super warm, lightweight jacket that has made running outside much more enjoyable. I can’t stand training on a treadmill, so this has made it a lot easier for me to get outside, even on the coldest of days.

In Manhattan, there aren’t many options for a nice, uninterrupted run. People don’t exactly head to Times Square or Fifth Avenue for a leisurely jog. The tourists, stoplights, street vendors, and taxis are enough to make the most patient of people lose their minds trying to keep some semblance of a pace. 
move it or lose it, sister!
Due to the limited options, hundreds and even thousands of people run and bike the loop in Central Park every day. This is my usual “go-to”, mixing in occasional runs/rides along the Hudson River on the Upper West Side. There are many reasons I love training in Central Park, but here are a few:
  • Even on the coldest of days, there are enough people running, biking, and walking that an innocent bystander would think there was an organized race going on

don't be fooled, no bib numbers here
  • No lines at the Honey Buckets
lady's choice
  •  Endless paths to explore if you want to go off the beaten path
one of my favorite detours

Some of the best “people watching” this country has to offer:
  • I seem to always pass a couple well into their 70’s just chugging along
  • Besides runners and bikers, there are usually a few unorthodox methods of transportation that catch my eye

In the city that never sleeps, these workouts in Central Park have provided a much-needed break from the treadmill of life. Without a yard of our own, it’s therapeutic to get out in nature and clear my mind. While NYC certainly presents some unique challenges for devoted triathletes, I’ve grown to embrace it.

half city slicker, half monster

Monday, February 3, 2014

How's Your Training Portfolio?

A trip to the dentist the other day brought back some funny memories. Like most kids (and adults for that matter) my siblings and I strongly disliked going to the dentist, despite the fact that our dentist was also our uncle. We were terrified of receiving “the news” of a dreaded cavity, as if that was the end of the world. Side note: to this day I’ve never had one, but I wish that was still my biggest concern! Anyways, roughly 24 hours before our appointments, we would begin a binge-brushing regimen of at least once an hour. We were still nervous, but figured this last-ditch effort could be our saving grace. Collectively we rarely if ever had cavities, but of course it wasn’t thanks to scrubbing the enamel off our teeth the morning of... it had much more to do with good habits throughout the year. As I small-talked with the dental assistant while various torture devices were being prepared, I envisioned how the conversation would’ve gone as a kid:

“So, how’s your flossing going?”

“I’d say strong… to quite strong? I mean, I flossed 11 times yesterday.”

“And brushing?”

“Couldn’t be better… I brushed 27 times this morning.”

A recent episode of Modern Family applies my dentist story to the world of training/exercise. Phil had a deal with his wife that in order to keep his stairmaster machine in their bedroom, he would need to cover the distance from their home (Bay area, I believe) to the Canadian border within the calendar year. If he failed in this quest, the machine would be moved to the garage. Of course, Phil got way behind schedule throughout the year, and had to put forth a Herculean effort in the final days of December to get the job done.

As another example, here’s how my conversation above could apply to the morning of your big race:

“So, how’d your swim training go… you ready?”
“Well, I swam the course several times yesterday, so I should be good to go.”
“How bout biking & running?”
“Great, I got up early and got a nice long brick in!”

It’s still only February, but hopefully we can all stay the course, putting “hay in the barn” on a regular basis as opposed to a last-minute scramble. Best of luck as you work towards your goals for 2014!