Monday, May 15, 2017

My most fun finish - The Gallop 4 the Greenways Adventure Tri

with the men's winner, Matthew Togo, and Carillion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in the background

A while back, on a whim, I signed up for the Gallop 4 the Greenways Adventure Tri in Roanoke that was set to be a 4 mile run on the Greenway, a 2.7 mile paddle down the Roanoke River, and a 6.6 mile bike ride UP to the Mill Mountain Star and then back down again. Friend Ron offered a kayak, and with my VAST (i.e. can be counted on one hand) kayak experience, I was excited to try something different!!

With the paddle portion, it took the pressure off and I felt like I could really kick back and just enjoy the event and the celebration following all the Gallop 4 the Greenways events.

That wasn't meant to be.

Thanks to significant rainfall the day before, the river was deemed unsafe due to the fact that there wasn't sufficient room to pass under a particular bridge. We were disappointed, but that's how it goes with outdoor sports!

It was turned into a run-bike and my plan to slack off was foiled.

Well, the morning of the race I woke up with a very red and angry inflamed toe. About 10 days prior I'd noticed a small dark puncture on the inside of the toe and it had been itchy since. I figured it was a bug bite. The morning of the race I woke up and it had taken a turn for the worse - it was more swollen, and now also tingly, painful, and with a disturbing red line of inflammation. It was not happy stuffed into a shoe. It looked infected or something.

a very swollen toe-next-to-my-pinky toe - this was taken the day after the race

I went to Velocity Care to get it checked out where the doc went with "infected spider bite" and prescribed an antibiotic. She said to keep it elevated and not to run for a few days. Right. When pressed she just said racing might just delay healing and she conceded biking would probably be fine. (incidentally, 2 days later it's still no better and the new theory is just spider bite, maybe brown recluse, and perhaps not infected.)

I went to the coffee shop to wait for the pharmacy to open and ran into my friend and fellow athlete mom, Amy. Right after "hi" I showed her my toe and we discussed it. I had been uncertain, but left there having decided to race. I picked out the running shoes with the widest toe box, I iced my toe, and I hoped for the best.

It was the first year of the race, capped at 100, and small with 47 entrants. But there were some competitive racers there including Mathew Togo. Many of them were experienced with the famous "Mill Mountain" route but I'd never ridden it. Though I'm a decent climber, I'm not the most aggressive with descents. In a FB message thread I said something like I'd be going with "safety first" which was met with the response of "lies!" Haha!

We gathered for the 3:15 pm race start, and I said the same thing I say before a lot of races:

"I don't feel like working hard today."

Sherpa said "go all out."

Then the gun went off.

Matthew was aiming for something around 6:45 min/mile on the run (I know because I asked ;-) which wasn't very realistic for me for 4 miles. He led off the run and I found myself in second, not far behind him, and keeping up with him pretty comfortably. One side of my brain was saying "you'll pay for this later" and the other was saying "maybe this is your day!!" And as delusional race brains do, it also said "maybe that spider bite gave you super powers like Spider Man!!" I laughed at the thought.

I stayed with him pretty well through 3.5 miles then the elastic snapped with about 0.5 to go. With enough of a gap to third, I let off the gas a hair to save a bit for the bike. I did the 4 mile run in 27:28, which comes to 6:52/mile, but my Garmin had me at 6:38, 6:46, 7:00 and 7:14 (6:55 avg) -- not the even or negative split pacing Coach Jim would like to see but still a very good pace for me. I know without the pull of Matthew I would never have gotten that level of effort out of myself. And this is why we race!!

Matthew told me later his plan was to get out of transition fast and get out of sight of me. As a directionally challenged individual, I do not like when I can't see racers ahead of me. I pedaled HARD to try to find him and about half-way up, I did. I slowly closed the gap and passed just before the top.

When I found myself in the lead, I wanted the win and was committed to working hard for it. I was concerned he'd catch me heading down and I did not want that to happen.

Safety first on the downhill? Ha. I went as hard and as fast as I could. (I was careful about traffic though, and fortunately encountered very little.) I averaged 9.9 mph UP the mountain and 34 mph DOWN, hitting a max of 43 mph on the short 6.4 mile bike.

Roger on the lead motorcycle was ahead of me. (The "rabbit!") I'd hear him honking his horn through intersections and it felt very cool to have an escort!

At one point I got ahead of the motorcycle and slowed to yell out, "I don't know where I'm going!!" Not that he would hear me! Despite being an out-and-back with maybe four turns (with marshals), I was paranoid I'd go off course. Thankfully he pulled ahead again and I pedaled as hard as I could behind him to the finish and was so happy to be the first to cross the line as the overall winner! Matthew was just 0:22 behind.  [Full results here]

It was reassuring to know I still had that competitive hunger inside! One fun thing about racing, there is just no predicting when things will come together.

There was something very special about finishing up in front of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where I'd had my artery patched up three years prior (thank you Dr. Davidson!!) Without that, I would not be able to enjoy the sport of triathlon.

No matter that it was a small local race, it was probably one of my most exciting and joyful finishes! My toe didn't bother me for one step of that race either, yay for adrenaline!

With Angela (3rd) - Kimberly (2nd) not in the photo due to snafu
photo by Karen Williams

Grad student and competitive canoer Ryan McClure (3rd),  Jason Williams (2nd), Matthew Togo (1st)
photo by Karen Williams

It's always good to try new race formats and new distances and I would highly recommend this race to others next year!

To round out an excellent weekend, Coach Jim put a 65 mile bike ride on the schedule for Sunday, and my kids treated me to an amazing post-ride dinner they planned, shopped for, and prepared.

Today I am resting my still inflamed and unhappy toe and my sore but happy legs!

Up next: the Memorial Day weekend Mountains of Misery century ride with Kristen and team "Real Food for Fuel!"

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Smith Mountain Lake Sprint Tri: Lessons Learned

I enjoyed my seventh go at the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon, despite cold, blustery conditions and grey skies! I finished third overall and was pretty pleased with my effort (but I'd always like to be faster ;-)

Here's my short and delayed race report as I spent the early part of the week getting final grades in. (Done!! YAY!!!! Great job by my students!!)

Lessons learned:
  • Swim faster.
  • Then swim faster than that.
- OR -
  • Go back in time and join swim team at age 6 and never quit.
I had my typical race where I lag in the swim, then make up as much as I can on the bike and run. I was a full four minutes slower than race winner Anna on the swim, and two and a half minutes behind Krystina in second. Ouch!

It's tough being an adult onset swimmer, but I do enjoy swimming. We were met with some unexpected choppy water for the middle third of the swim that left me feeling dizzy as I got out of the water but I still managed a decent T1. My most excellent sherpa reported there were about 11 women ahead of me as I exited (one must have snuck by him). For me, that's not a bad position coming out of the swim.

(photo by Bill Huckle)

As I do for EVERY cool weather race, I agonize about whether to add a layer for the bike. I didn't, and I was fine. As always. It's amazing that on a training day I'd need a few layers to cycle comfortably in those temps, but thanks to the "magic" of race day, I was fine in just a tri suit. I got right to work catching folks and had a great time on the bike!

Off on the 5K I went, feeling good. I got an updated report that I was in third, and got encouragement to "catch second who was 300m ahead." That's hard to make up on a 5K but I did what I could to put time into second. I maintained my position, finishing third - 38s behind fellow Blacksburg triathlete Krystina Stadler. [Complete results here,]

(photo by Bill Huckle)

It's hard not to think of where I might have found those 38s, but then again, she could have found 38s more herself! Congrats to Anna and Krystina, as well as Kristen Chang who finished 4th with the day's best run split. 

(photo by Bill Huckle)

Thanks to Mike Morris for being a part of the SML Sprint Tri for all of its 20 years! We love this race and energy and personality he has brought to the sport. It was great to see you back out on the course!

Love the Roanoke Tri Club and appreciate that they allow us Blacksburg-ians to be a part of it (even though I missed this group photo)

Some of the Blacksburg One-on-One Endurance contingent - Tanya, Kristen, and Coach Jim!
This is what it's all about!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Long Course Duathlon National Champion F50-54: That's Fun!

This will be a pretty short race report as I have to get right back into life and work and I'm racing again next weekend. Also I have a stack of exams in urgent need of grading. (Helloooo, grading fairies....where are you???)

Early in the year I saw the list of USAT National Championships which showed that the Long Course Du would take place in not-too-far-away Cary, NC. I figured I should take advantage of the relative proximity and race it especially since it didn't seem all that long with a 5 mile run, 31 mile bike, and 5 mile run. Those are great distances for me! Coach Jim incorporated a number of run-bike-run bricks into my training and I felt ready! 

I was mentally relaxed on race day and not having a swim to contend with certainly simplified things. My stomach felt pretty rough which is unusual for me and I hoped it would settle once the race began.

The race venue was within the USA Baseball National Training Complex and the Virginia Tech Hokie baseball team was staying at our hotel!

I was surprised the turnout for the race was not larger, but some of the top multisport athletes were there like Kirsten Sass so I figured that competition would be tough for the top spots.

The women's field started together in one wave. Each run was two loops that involved quite a bit of turning but I kind of enjoyed that rather than just a long boring straight out and back.

My legs felt snappy, my stomach settled, and I surprised myself by running a 36:03 which comes out to 7:12/mile and my last mile was my fastest! (Goal pace was around 7:30) One kind of curious thing was the lack of timing mats on the run course -- odd, given how much attention course cutting has been receiving lately.


Then it was off on the bike where I totally bumbled my uphill mount a few times before getting going. It was a nice open and scenic course with generally good road conditions and plenty of marshals to keep us going in the right direction. Only once was traffic even a slight issue. We were pretty well spread out and I didn't see any blatant drafting. However, on a slight uphill I was behind a few riders and the motorcycle ref somehow pulled up quietly next to me. I had a small panic attack wondering if I was far enough back from the cyclist ahead of me? I retreated when in fact, if I had any doubts, I should have just made a pass just in case. Anyway, I rode along wondering if I'd maybe I'd gotten a 2 min penalty (never had one before), but then I decided I'd just work to finish MORE than 2 minutes ahead of whoever was behind me in my age group just in case. I did not get a penalty, but it was motivating and a wake-up call to pay closer attention to my position relative to other cyclists and eliminate all doubt! It's good the refs are out there.

I felt I rode decently enough considering the run I had put in, averaging 180w / 187w normalized and 20.9 mph. By the time I'd clicked off the 31 miles, I was more than ready to switch sports and get on with the second run. I had some calf cramping on the bike so in T2 I chugged a Hot Shot, then I doused my small towel with water and threw it around my neck for the run as the temperatures had climbed into the upper 80s.

The second run was a far different experience than the first. I began by dropping my gel heading out of T2 and stopped to get it.

retrieving the dropped gel

Love how we are both starting our watches! 

I unapologetically walked at every aid station to dump water on myself or put ice in the towel around my neck. I walked up the one short steep hill on the course to stave off the growing threat of cramps. Somehow I stayed reasonably positive knowing everyone was struggling in the heat. I'm not sure who all the young volunteers were on the run course, but they were certainly encouraging and motivating.

My second run was a 40:38 - more than four minutes slower than my first (oops) - and an average of 8:07 min/mile. Could a more reserved first run helped my second? Maybe a little but I kind of doubt it. And I had so much fun on that first run, so it was worth it! Overall I'm happy with my effort and excited to have a National Championship jersey for F50-54 and to be included in the USAT news article: Albert Harrison, Danielle Dingman Earn Long Course Duathlon National Titles, April 29, 2017.  I had an absolutely wonderful time at this race! 

Thank you THANK you to Coach Jim McGehee who has been my steadfast coach now for almost 8 years! He has an incredible knack for keeping my training fun, interesting, and productive. He seems to magically know how to best fit it into my life without it ever seeming overwhelming. 

Thanks to Bryan Walsh and Solar Connexion for supporting my racing in so many ways!

Thank you to my terrific sons Spencer and Grant who never question my need to swim, bike and run. We rally round one another in whatever our missions.

Lastly, thanks to Kristin and Chad for the great post-race company. 

Me with Kristin

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Goodbye 49!

Tomorrow I will be 50! I'll have gone around the sun 50 times and will embark on my 51st journey. I just took this unedited photo to document the moment. All-in-all, I'm comfortable with me. I think that comes from being happy with what my body can do, the places it takes me under my own power, and the way it lets me feel!!

I don't wish to be a different age. That would mean undoing things I have done and things I have learned. Life has filed away many of the sharp edges and left me softer, more open, less fearful. I like myself more now than ten years ago. I know that the things I value most can't be taken from me - love, relationships, knowledge, skills, courage, freedom, fun, resilience, and gratitude. 

This past year has taught me that I'm capable of more than I thought, and shown me that I am stronger than I believed. 

I choose to move forward with a spirit of adventure and with a heart full of love. Yeah, I think that pretty much sums it up. 

I'm opting to have a pretty low key birthday without any special "50" related workouts. That is a big departure for me. I have a brick scheduled and I'll do it as planned - my first race, a duathlon, is just a month away! Training has been going reasonably well - on track and on schedule - which is kind of amazing if you knew how insanely packed life is at the moment.

I want to wrap this blog post with something I say a LOT, which is how wonderful it is to be a part of the running/swimming/tri community. People are active and competitive through their 80's, 90's and beyond! There's a great flow of energy and fun with friends in the sport and from the sport itself. I feel very fortunate and never lonely!

Watch out 50-54' I come!

P.S. Once the semester is over I will be grading less and blogging more, lol. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Making vs Having Time

I am back from a nice 50-miler (with NO traffic lights) on this unseasonably nice February day with my good friend (and multiple Ironwoman) Janet. I noticed the forsythia is just starting to bloom which means spring is not too far away! Despite the lack of blogging, rest assured my training is on track as I prep for my eighth race season despite the self-imposed crazy busy-ness of life.

This year I added an extra bit of "excitement" to life by agreeing to teach one class this semester at Virginia Tech. It's been a while (years) since I've been in the classroom, and when I was asked I was simultaneously excited and terrified! I'd not taught this class before, the whole course management platform had changed since I taught last, the class has 84 students, and there is a lot packed into this 3-credit Introduction to Green Engineering course.  Critical to me has been ensuring that it does not take away from my work with the triathletes and companies we support through the fortyninegroup, so most class prep happens on the weekends. 

the classroom

I get a kick out of this when I start up the AV system!

Triathlon has taught me that it's alright and even good to take on things that are scary, and to do so without feeling like you are ready or that you know everything. Sometimes you just have to jump off that cliff and have faith that with hard work it will be ok! Anyway, I'm glad I made the decision to go for it. I'm enjoying the material, the challenge, and the students. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it. Yes!

This added responsibility means I have had to get even more efficient with my time. For example, I teach at 8 am T/H, which are my swim days. So now, I swim at 6 am, am out of the pool at 7:20, I change for class, eat a snack on the way, and am in the classroom by 7:50. Is it easy to plan and get up at 5? No. Is it worth it? Yes! 

There are some folks around me who seem to think I must have a life of leisure to be able to incorporate such "frivolity" as triathlon. It's not about HAVING the time, its about MAKING the time. Like a lot of us, I work full-time (and then some) and am raising two boys and managing a household. We all make choices and tradeoffs about how to spend our time and for me, training is the scaffold of my life. I wrote this bit of reflection to Coach Jim after a hill workout a few weeks ago:
The training time provides MUCH need time away from the computer, phone, and people. It gets me off the hamster wheel of life and gives me something that involves tangible progress - yards, miles, minutes logged. I like knowing I'm doing something that most people don't do and it's a daily reminder that I'm resilient and capable when other parts of my life might be sending me different messages. So, thank you very much for being my coach and for the thousands of workouts you have written and responded to, and for giving me such an important, constant source of structure, purpose, and joy for the past almost 8 years now. I'm very grateful for the time and energy and encouragement you pour into me, and I'm grateful for that training calendar!!!!"
I make no apologies about devoting some time to fitness, getting outside, and being with friends!

I've been encouraging my students to get outside too. One of the ways they can earn extra credit is to listen to podcasts related to energy and green engineering topics and provide a written synopsis and reflection. I've suggested while they listen that they get outside to walk or hike and if they do, they can write to me about their experience outdoors! There's no better motivation to protect the environment than by being out in it and appreciating its beauty and the priceless ecosystem services it provides (clean water and air, nutrient cycling, waste removal, etc). I want them to leave class knowledgeable and empowered to influence and make decisions that are positive for the planet.

Engineering, environment, life - it's ALL about tradeoffs and choices. 

I stand by mine.