Sleep your way to optimal health, fitness & performance: 7 tips for better sleep



Alfie practicing what he readsSleep is as essential to our health and wellness as breathing, hydrating and getting good nutrition are. In fact, when push comes to shove, your need for sleep overrides hunger. Getting adequate sleep is required for optimal cognitive and physical performance. The quality and length of sleep we get impacts every aspect of our lives. If you short yourself on sleep, you short circuit your athletic performance and so much more.

Aside from feeling and performing sub par, not getting the sleep we need can take a significant toll on our health. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with serious and life-threatening diseases, including high-blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of sleep has also been associated with irritability, mood swings and impulsive behavior–a recipe for disastrous interpersonal relations.

According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 40% of us are sleep-deprived. The consensus of Harvard researchers and the National Sleep Foundation is that 7 to 9 hours is ideal. Making sleep a priority will help regenerate, regulate and replenish your body. Sleep repairs and restores your muscles so you can reap the benefits of your workout and prepare you body to go to a whole new level.

By the way, naps are A-Ok as long as they don’t interfere with logging your 7 to 9 hours. In the book pictured above, Littlehales stipulates that we need to be mindful of our natural 90 minute sleep cycles that alternating between NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement – a deep sleep) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement – dreaming sleep). He maintains that we’ll feel better waking at the end of a full 90 minute cycle versus waking in the middle of cycle even though we may have added on another half hour or hour of sleep…There probably something to this, but I haven’t really experimented enough with my cycles and wake up times. (Admit didn’t want to give up the add on half or hour.) Let me know if you do and I’ll update this blog if I do.

7 Tips for Better Sleep

  1. Exercise in the morning, preferably in the sunlight.
  2. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed.
  3. Unplug all blue screens 30-90 minutes before bed (tv, phone, tablets, computer).
  4. Practice meditation to calm your mind and lull yourself to sleep. (The American Academy of Sleep Medicine Recommends it as an effective treatment for insomnia.)
  5. Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine / ritual. (Do some gentle stretching combined with deep breathing, listen to soothing music, meditate, soak in a bath-not too hot.)
  6. Try to stay on a consistent sleep schedule.
  7. Make your bedroom your sleep and intimacy sanctuary. (No work, tvs, phones or computers allowed.) Speaking of intimacy, orgasms are a natural sleep aid with many health benefits so there you go.

Sweet dreams and sleep well to fulfill your potential – athletic and otherwise.

Any sleep tricks up your pajama sleeve? Do share.


Just breathe: Why meditation is a must for all of us, especially athletes.

“Recently, I  had the privilege of spending a week at the active paradise of Thanyapura Health and Sports Resort in Phuket, Thailand. It was an amazing immersion in mind and body fitness, including yoga, meditation, triathlon training and more.

My biggest takeaway from the week was how essential meditation and yoga are to optimal mind body health and fitness. (Yoga post to follow.)  I know what many of you hard core endurance athletes are thinking, something along the lines of “Here we go again with that new age mumbo jumbo.” And before my time at Thanyapura, I’d be right there rolling my eyes with you.

What changed?  I encountered and practiced with the mind training meditation guru, Pierre at Thanyapura.  Pierre has a knack for explaining the practice of meditation in a practical way that speaks to athletes and he guides his sessions like training sessions.  This isn’t ethereal stuff, though with dedicated practice, you might find yourself transcending previous limitations, setting new PRs and levitating to new heights. Ok, maybe not the last one (unless you’re a pole vaulter), was just checking to see if you’re still paying attention.



Mind Trainer, Meditation Coach Pierre


Without further ado, here’s what I learned about meditation from Coach Pierre:

Meditate on this

  • Meditation is a physical activity. Meditation is anchored in the breath. It doesn’t get more physical than breathing, does it? (Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before either.)
  • It’s all about being engaged and in the moment. You focus on your immediate experience vs. the ongoing (often negative ) internal narrative. Most physical pain from exertion (not injury)  passes. Once we attach emotional thoughts to physical pain as is the tendency with unfocused thinking, it becomes much more difficult to endure. Also happiness is something that happens only when we are truly engaged in the moment and your senses. Meditation helps us be in the moment more and to be more engaged during and after meditation. Meditation can bring more happiness into your life.
  • Meditation can improve our athletic performance. Unguided thoughts are random and prone to negative spiral, which can sabotage your daily life and your race performance. Ever been in the middle of a triathlon  and felt like giving up? Were you in the moment,  or were you in random thought mode after your rival passed you on the bike? Meditation helps us practice being focused, which keeps us performing well and transcending pain and exertion throughout the race.
  • Just breathe and relaxation will follow. Deep exhalations stimulate the body’s relaxation response. It’s like taking a valium, except it’s good for you. Conversely, if your muscles and body are tense, your mind will look for a reason to be upset and keep you focused on it.
  • Meditation can be undertaken like interval training. (5 minutes intense focus, 5 minutes relaxed focus.) Start with bite size pieces of meditation and soon you’ll be increasing them with ease.
  • Master your mind with meditation. Our mind can be our biggest saboteur, now you’re in control. Now, go, fight, win!

In case you can’t tell, I’m a total convert now. What’s your perspective of meditation? How has it enhanced your life or your sport?


Roll out of your exercise rut: 10 tips to change it up for better results

Are you doing the same exercise routine day in and day out? Most likely you’re bored and not getting the results you hoped for. Guess what? Your muscles are bored too- they’ve already adapted to the activity and are at ho hum status quo. Chances are you’ve hit a plateau and your progress has halted.

You have to change it up to get the results you want and to stay committed. The great thing about triathlon is cross training is built in (swim, bike, run), but even triathletes can get in a rut. The solution? Change it up. If you’re not feeling it, forcing yourself into a prescribed workout is not always the answer and can lead to burnout. Substituting a fun activity that you don’t do often is one way to combat exercise ennui.

This weekend, instead of another bike ride, I laced up my roller blades (remember those things?) and rolled out the door. It was quite refreshing and is a great, low impact leg workout that targets different muscles than biking or running.


10 Tips to change it up for better results

  • Change your route regularly. If you run / bike on roads, hit the trails. At the beach? Run barefoot in the thick sand.
  • Boost your intensity / speed.  Add interval training, track workouts or hills.
  • Increase your load in the gym.  Add weight so that you can just barely do  3 sets of 8 until you’re able to do 3 sets of 12, then up it again. (And no, ladies, you won’t get too big – that takes a ton more work.)
  • Alternate exercises. Doing the exact same routine every day may make it easy to go through the motions, but unfortunately that’s all your muscles will be doing too.  And you’ll be sacrificing results and possibly inviting injury. Switch out bench presses for chest flys with dumbells, etc..
  • Include strength & core training. It will enhance everything you do and help protect you from injury. Not to mention the vanity dividends.
  • Get outside. A good dose of Vitamin D, fresh air and scenery will do wonders for your energy level and your spirit.
  • Do yoga. Your body will thank you.
  • Try something entirely different – SUP, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, wake boarding, rollerblading, soccer, softball, tennis, dancing,  limitless options.
  • Make exercise time your fun time. What physical activity makes you smile? Starts with S? I meant skipping rope, but yes, of course the other too!
  • Cultivate a handful of activity partners so you always have a playmate for different activities.


What do you do to roll out if your exercise ruts?

Live and travel vigorously: 7 tips to activate your next getaway.

Being fit and healthy for life is to a large extent about exercising (pun intended) an active lifestyle. Having a healthy mindset to a large degree is also about being physical, being outdoors and being open to new experiences, people, ideas and places.

So my advice, plan your next vacation and make it count. It’s an investment in your health and well being that will pay dividends in both the short and long run. I know you’re so worn out from your daily grind that you might think you just want to sink into a hammock with a coconut drink and not move for 7 days, but hear me out. You can have your coconut drink and hammock time, but if you vaca my way, I guarantee you’ll enjoy them more.

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Whether it’s a staycation, a camping trip, or an exotic locale – find your activity bliss (limitless options) – whatever makes you smile while you sweat just a little or a lot.

7 tips to “activate” your next getaway 

  • Say “yes” to opportunity. If an invitation to do something active and outside of your realm lands in your lap, take it.  Adjust your schedule, do what you need to do, but as they say “Just do it.” It’s those serendipitous surprises in life that seem to yield the biggest rewards.
  • Try an activity that’s outside of your comfort zone. (On a recent vaca, I immersed myself in yoga and meditation and it yielded some incredible results, as well as a new respect for both activities. I’m a convert – I’ll tell you why in an upcoming post .)
  • Go somewhere new. Even if it’s just that park around the corner that you’ve never explored, go check it out.
  • Get out of the country if you can. The dollar is strong right now so it’s probably less expensive than you think and it’s such an enriching experience.
  • Book a trek, bike / multi-sport, dive, kayak, [fill in the blank] adventure vacation. There are so many great active adventure tour operators out there and they cater to people of all levels. No planning, just tons of active fun with like-minded people. (My adventures have included a 4 day trek to Machu Pichuu, and more recently, an amazing 3 day multi-sport and a 3 day mt. bike adventure in Northern Thailand. (See my pics,videos and posts on my adventure travel site:
  • Do what you’ve always wanted to do. Take that tennis, golfing, dancing, diving, karate, fly fishing, or rock climbing class that you’ve always wanted to try. There’s no time like the present so stop putting the good stuff off. Try something new or get back to an old, but not forgotten pastime. With tons of inexpensive and free classes, your local community colleges and yes, even senior centers are great resources.
  • Check out local activity meetups at your destination. You’ll meet new peeps and get the local scoop on bike routes, hiking, running trails, etc…
Longtail Boat Snorkel Trip

Longtail Boat Snorkel Trip, near Railay, Krabi in Thailand

The options are limitless! Tell me, where will you go next and what will you do?

Like this blog? Like active adventure travel? Check out for fun explorations near and far.

Iconic N. County Camp P bike route & a chance encounter with the “Starving Cyclist”

A great iconic North County ride and one of my favs is through Camp Pendleton, a US Marine Corps base, to San Clemente State Beach. Bring your driver’s license as they check IDs at the gates both entering and leaving the base. It can be a little tricky merging with traffic to get onto the base from the South in Oceanside, but once you’re through that – it smooth cycling with minimal traffic and very few lights or stops signs. The roads are generally in good shape, but the rain storms have beat them up a bit so be alert to debris and bumps. Just one hill and the rest is flat with a couple rollers. (I’ll have to film it for you.)

Once you exit the northern gate of Camp Pendleton, / Las Pulgas exit off Interstate 5, you’ll be in the blissful no car zone along the old airstrip and out to the San Onofre bike trail and the beach. Cruise along enjoying fantastic vistas of bluffs, beaches, and the Pacific. In the summer, you do need to be on the watch for campers, kids and surfers running amok. There’s camping, picnic and restrooms available throughout the park.20170205_122303

Yay, getting back in the road bike saddle. This was my 5th and longest ride post kidney stone surgery (see my Honoring the gift of health post). (Yes, I drank my H2o on the ride.) I cut it about 10 miles short for a total of 46 miles with 2,015 elevation gain/loss. 20170205_122412

Speaking of camping and biking, I ran into the “starving cyclist” , AKA Greg Valenzuela, on my ride. He’s been on the road for nearly 5 years biking around the world on his Cannondale. Greg didn’t want his picture taken so here’s his rig instead.

I asked Greg some questions about his adventures.

How many miles do you ride a day?

Between 40 and 100 depending where I am and where the next stop is.

Where’s the best place to ride in the States?

Washington and Oregon as there are so many cyclists who live there and the scenery is great.

Where have you felt the least safe?

Mexico and Nicaragua are sketchy (understatement).

Did you get any tickets?

4 tickets in New Zealand for not wearing a helmet.

How much does your rig weigh?

Got it down to about 121lbs…

Have you been in any accidents?

Yeah, a couple, but nothing serious.

Any tips?

If you’re riding in hot climates like Thailand, take saunas in the morning if you can. It will help you acclimate to the heat.

Where to next?

Dana Point on my way to Redondo Beach and then off to Morocco.

Who inspires you?

Check out the inspiration page on my blog.

And who inspires your inspirator? (Some really great sites & videos here!)

Happy adventuring!

Got your race results? Athlinks does.

Having trouble keeping track of your race results? Creating spreads sheet to microanalyze your times from race to race and compare them to your closest rivals? If you compete and want to make progress, you need to hone on the details. What seems like minutia may be the key to unlocking your next PR. This is especially true when it comes to triathlons, duathlons, aquabikes,  and the like because there are so many aspects that come into play. Yes, the swim, bike, and run, but also those pesky transitions. Races have been won and lost due to transition efficiency / inefficiency as I mentioned in my Tips for Conquering the 70.3 /Half Iron post. Trust me, it stinks to miss the podium or your PR due a slack transition. Stay tuned for a tips on transitions post.

The good news is that there’s a website called Athlinks that makes it easy to “geek out” on your results and  unveil your best opportunities for improvement. Athlinks is a comprehensive database of endurance race results worldwide. If you’ve raced, your results are visible there – go check them out. Here’s what it looks like:

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(And yes, the transition for my race looks super long, but a full iron was going in as well so it was super convoluted and protracted. The important / telling thing is that my transition was still “winning” comparatively speaking.

You can view your race results without joining Athlinks if you like, but joining is free and fun. Once you do, you can get a a complete (macro & micro) view of your race history, see how you rank,  calendar future events, follow your friends, stalk (figuratively speaking) your rivals, keep a training log, etc. Whether you’re racing for the podium or just for the sport of it, Athlinks is a great resource. And no, no one’s paying me to say so.

What’s your biggest opportunity for improvement? Got questions? Send ’em.


Tips for conquering the 70.3 / half-iron distance

An athlete friend of mine (runner, biker, swimmer, among other vigorous pursuits) asked me for advice about training for her first 70.3 this summer. I did one a couple years back with my sister – the White Lake Half in NC. And have done a couple of the same distance without the run more recently (The Wilmington Beach to Battleship Aquabike in 2014 – 1st  age group, 2nd female overall with a combined 1.2 mile swim  and 56 mile bike time of 3:26:42.)

Since I started “triing” I’ve completed dozens of sprint triathlons and a handful of olympics, and duathlons over the years. The majority of which I was able to pull down some top age group wins and a few with overall wins (surprised me too). Not bragging, but wanted you to know that I do have some solid experience under my race belt.

The story of my first half iron is not a “winning” story though and I only have myself to blame for the poor performance. It was a great race though and I learned from it so you can too. It’s an absolutely  gorgeous venue alongside a State Park. The lake is crystal clear – you can see straight down to it’s pristine white sandy bottom. Sweet! It’s a wet-suit legal swim with a flat, fast bike, and a flat double loop run. These types of runs aren’t my fav – I’m a scenery girl and get my energy from the sights. Also, as bizarre as it sounds, I’m do better on hilly courses – I like challenges and get bored with flat pavement.Others love it because they can keep an eagle eye on the competition and know the course. There’s a race for every preference.

My first Half Iron : White Lake Results

Distance           1.2 swim      T1         56 mile bike             T2             Run

My times          39:35             5 min         3: 04 / 18.2 mph              2:55     2:02 / 9.19  pace  : (      

Finish time & place            5:54:35             9th in  age group

Disclaimers, I was on a rental bike  – not recommended unless you can get dialed in on exactly the same model you use at home. Also, I made the fatal mistake of eating half a dozen rolls slathered in butter the night before. How could that possibly hurt? Oh, at about mile 4 of the run I was doubled-over with unrelenting stomach cramps.  Consequently I  walked most of the run. Definitely should have known better.

So what do I say to someone who says “I’m the kind of person who can’t just follow a 12-week training plan and go.” I hear ya, neither am I. We have a similar “training personality”.  We don’t want rigid regimens, we want the freedom to wake up and decide what we feel like doing. It’s not that we’re slackers – we’ll do the work. In fact, we love doing the work. We just want to decide exactly what we’re going to do day by day intuitively and physically. Others need a rigid regimen to keep them motivated. Neither is right or wrong, but mixing it up is a good way to go here. For the most part, freestyle it if that’s your preference, just be sure to mix in those scheduled track & master swims workouts. Those on the regimen, listen to your bodies. If you’re not feeling it, do something different or take the day off. Beware of burnout. Take a hike, rollerblade, surf – change it up as a treat. And treat your body well – fuel it nutritiously, take jacuzzis, get massages, sleep.

Training tips

  • Do’s
    • Join your local tri club – you’ll always have peeps to swim, bike or run with when you want company. These groups are very social too – parties & good food and good people abound.
    • Join a Master’s swim group if possible, group workouts are very helpful, also you’ll get tips on your technique and increase your speed (just as you would with track workouts). Also, it will teach you how to draft  – follow those bubbles and toes, and you’ll have an advantage.
    • Immerse yourself in some open water swims – lake swims if it’s a lake, ocean if it’s a ocean. Practice your ocean entries & exits, get comfortable in the waves / lake, sighting. Wear your wet suit.
    • Buy a swim wetsuit and get used to it- it’s a huge advantage. It streamlines you and floats you like a cork. Yes, it’s a pain to get on & off  – there are tricks – will do a post on that too-Trust me, you will gain so much time in the swim, and come out of it fresher. Also, everyone else will be wearing one if it’s wets suit legal and they’ll have a huge advantage over you, unless of course, you’re Dara Torres or Michelle Phelps.
    • Get some track workouts in to work on your speed, hills for strength and enter some 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons too.  
    • Bricks / double workouts – “bricks”- bike rides followed directly by runs or in the same day. do some swims followed by bikes too
    • Race, practice racing by racing – start with prints, followed by olympic distance races. Nothing gets you in race shape like racing…Just hold out your big guns for your “A” race. (I once had an elite pro tell me you shouldn’t enter a race, unless you can race the distance. I wanted to “tri” an Olympic distance to see what it felt like and use it as a “trainer”. I got 3rd in it btw. The lesson, enter what you feel like doing and know that you only have a couple A races in you per season, but the Bs and Cs will keep you tuned-up. )
    • Do the full distance of the swim, bike, & run, but don’t feel you have to put them all together before the race.
    • Practice your transitions – it’s easier to take time off getting your bike shoes. helmet, and sunglasses on vs. trimming time off your run or swim. (And yes, there is an art to transition preparedness – I’ll devote a separate post to that.)
    • Consider taking salt pills in warm climates to prevent cramping on the bike and run. Do it in training first.
    • Taper a couple weeks prior to your race – far better to be rested & ready on race day than tired and over trained.
    • Eat and drink on the bike. You may not feel like you need to – do it anyway. It fuels you. Get in this good practice and carry it over on race day.

Race prep

  • Don’t do anything new / untried the night before or on race day – that goes for both food and equipment
  • Eat the night before the race the same way  you’d eat before a big training day – wisely and adequately, but not overboard as I did. 
  • If you live near the venue, train on the course! If not, get to the venue a day or 2 early and do a really easy 20 mile ride to see some of the course, trot a mile or 2, & take a little swim – nothing to tire you out – just keep your body loose and warm. If it’s ocean, practice your entries and exits.
  • Check your bike thoroughly and make sure everything is running smoothly before you rack it in the transition area and review all your transition set up. (Not a bad idea to get a tune up a couple weeks prior if you are overdue.)

Swim tips

  • Before your swim start, get in the water, submerge your head and swim around a little. (If the water is cold and it hits your face for the first time when the gun goes off, you will likely hyperventilate and that’s not the way you want to start.)
  • If you’re a confident fast swimmer and it’s a land  or water start, get out there in front. If that’s not you and you are worried about the clobberfest that’s about to ensue, hang back and just follow Dora and Michael’s lead. Drafting in the swim is legal, do it.

So my friend is a speedy marathon runner, an avid high elevation cyclist who bikes in frigid, low, double-digit temperatures, and who swims 2400 meters on her “off days”. She’s a girl after my own heart. She needs my advice like – well, let’s just say she’s got this. Perhaps she just letting this ol’ gal feel vital and helping her remember the glory days and lessons learned…

Between you and me, I know she can easily  and relatively quickly finish a 70.3 tomorrow with no further training . (Of course, I’m guessing that she will pick a grueling course because that seems to be her general inclination.) I’m just indulging her by writing this post and hoping it will be useful to those who are considering getting in the fun and fray of triathlons.

And me, I’m still “triing”. A pic from The San Diego International Aqua Bike I did this past June. Unfortunately, I had a bike malfunction – brake dragging on my tire so I didn’t do as well as I should have. Hence, the tip about checking your equipment before you leave the transition area for the swim.


3rd place SD International Aqua Bike                          Swim 1000 Meters 16:49         Transition 1:57                         Bike 18.6 Miles  55: 28    Total 1:14

Let me know if you have any questions. As you can see, once you get me going on the subject… : )