I may look relatively happy in the photo to the left, as I sat in the Venice airport with KT and NP and waited for our flight back to Germany, but at that particular moment I was in fact experiencing an episode of distinct culinary unpleasantness. I was without doubt eating one of the worst meals of my life: an over-toasted (to the point that there was charcoal on the bottom) cheese and aubergine sandwich and a mostly stale pain-au-chocolat. The will to smile for the camera was made possible only by the coffee, which was the high-point of the meal in the same proportion as the Burj Khalifa is the high-point of the Dubai skyline (see photo here).
One of the big challenges for KT and me when we travel is finding food that provides a well-rounded vegetarian diet. Cheese and vegetable sandwiches, cheese-laden pasta dishes, and garden salads, while ubiquitous vegetarian selections on restaurant menus and often very tasty, don’t add up to a well rounded diet. It’s also amazing how many dishes, which appear to be vegetarian on the surface, on closer inspection or inquiry are not. We often miss legumes (an important part of varied protein in a vegetarian diet) in particular. Now, one of the great tools of the vegetarian traveler is Happy Cow, a website which provides lists and reviews of vegetarian restaurants in cities around the world: all you have to do is type in the city to which you’re going. This works really well in bigger cities, where there is usually one vegetarian restaurant close to where you’re staying. Even if you’re not vegetarian, you’ll find a lot of wonderful restaurants using this tool.
Dublin was great in this respect, where we visited a couple of vegan restaurants, one called Blazing Salads (given the film reference, we knew we would find beans there!). In Venice, however, there were no dedicated vegetarian restaurants near us that we could find, and so we ate a lot of aubergine and Parmesan sandwiches (which in the city itself were really good, and I love aubergine!), the odd risotto, and some gnocchi. We also made sure that we were fortified each morning by a good breakfast made ourselves in the kitchen of the convent where we were staying, which also gave us the opportunity to buy things at the local supermarket to make snacks for the day. We made it through in reasonably good form, but I was aware when we arrived home that I hadn’t been eating as I’m accustomed. After that terrible airport sandwich above, I actually made myself a pasta dish when we got home at 10:00 p.m., as I was worried about my body being woefully under-fueled for my race the next day.
Nutrition is essential to proper triathlon training, and also to racing performance itself, as I was reminded again yesterday on my longer (than expected) bike ride, when I wasn’t prepared with nutrition for a longer ride than intended (due to getting lost). If I take my general nutrition very seriously, I have frequently been under-prepared in the nutrition department while out training on the bike, which can have very negative consequences. I have commented on this before, but after yesterday’s ride I am now determined to make sure that I am always consuming the carbohydrates and liquids I need, to be mathematical about this, and to be prepared on new rides for the contingencies of getting lost. In particular, I’m going to be experimenting carefully with nutrition options over the next few weeks to be ready for my race on May 13 in Lindau. I’ll report on how this progresses.
In the past two weeks I’ve also been enjoying two new pieces of equipment that have really been great for my training. The first of these is a new pair of (shiny blue) Newton running shoes:
My old shoes were for the past couple of months running on borrowed time. Not only were they not good shoes to begin with, but I had run well over the recommended limit of 800 kilometers for a pair of shoes, and done a lot else in them too (e.g. playing pick up football/soccer). The Newton is not a cheap shoe, but I feel that it has been money well spent, as I’ve really been enjoying running in them. They’re designed to promote a mid-sole strike, in other words the Natural Running technique in which I’ve been training, and have become very popular amongst triathletes. I can also genuinely say that I have felt less impact on my body since switching to these shoes (although, again, my old shoes, in comparison, were akin to wooden clogs). The design takes some time to get used to, but they now feel natural on my feet.
My other great advance in training equipment is a Garmin GPS Forerunner 610 running watch and heart-rate monitor:
The GPS functionality of the watch allows me to track and record my route, pace, elevation, and heart-rate (among other things) throughout my training sessions, and also has some functionality geared to the bike (even if it’s not itself a bike computer). These watches are again not cheap, and I did a lot of reading reviews and thinking about this before I bought it. Particularly useful, incidentally, are the expert reviews by the well-known DCRainmaker, whose triathlon-focused blog is one of my favourites – he provides in-depth reviews of equipment, amiably and humorously offers good advice on a whole host of topics, and is just plain entertaining.
I can safely say that this watch has revolutionized my training, and, when one considers how often I’m using it, that it is worth the money. I did previously have GPS capability on my phone, which, with the very useful programme Run Keeper, tracked my distance, pace, and elevation. But there are serious disadvantages to having to carry a phone around with you when running, and the functionality of that setup is limited. I now have an accurate record of pace and time that I can see with a quick glance at my wrist and many other features.
But perhaps most important has been the addition of heart-rate data to my training data. I’ve discussed in previous posts how in the first months of my training programme (then self-designed) I was just working at one intensity level (near threshold) in all of my workouts, without thinking about training at different intensity levels (something needed to make real progress and to avoid burning out). My coach has cured me of my misguided initial approach, but I’m finding that it’s only with the addition of heart-rate data that I can really be precise about training properly in the correct heart-rate zones. I have previously always been focused on pace and speed when training (and these things of course remain of interest), but by looking alongside and beyond pace/speed to my heart-rate, I now have an incredibly powerful, even essential, training tool at my disposal.