Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Tiniest Triathletes


Today was the Kids In Training Youth Triathlon put on annually by TriAdventure, for kids ages 4-10, and I was very excited to be volunteering again. It's no small feat to cater to the tiny crowd, to keep them going in the right direction safely and happily. It takes quite a bit of planning, plenty of volunteers, and an experienced race director and staff.

Let me back up to yesterday when work at the venue began. I was part of the four woman set-up crew that put into place lot of plastic posts, orange fencing, string, flags, and cones to ensure the tiny triathletes would stay on track.

Following a pool swim of 25y, 50y, or 100y (determined by age), they would ride 1, 2, or 3 laps (again, by age) of a bike course that followed the perimeter of several linked parking lots, then run 1, 2, or 3 laps of a run course around a recreation field.

You can't just put four cones out and say "run around those." It has to be pretty fool-proof.

Lest you think all I can do is type on a keyboard, I'll have you know, my contributions to the infrastructure included:

  • Hammering in all the posts with a rubber mallet
  • Putting up orange fencing around the perimeter of transition
  • Painting lines that would delineate each transition area 
  • Painting directional signs in transition

I'll admit though, my extensive keyboarding didn't adequately prepare me for my many swings of the rubber mallet:



But it mattered not, it was so much fun and the venue was taking shape!


I returned early race morning and pre-race setup was underway - the finish arch, tents, signs, road blocks, and cones - LOTS of cones. Field marking chalk was used to lay a route through the parking lots.

The athletes and bikes of various sizes began to filter in and since a rack isn't practical, each athlete had an area:


Next, my friend Chitra and I attended to body marking arms with race numbers and calves with their age (to be "official"). It just so happened that most of the race numbers were four digits, which I found funny on those little arms! As we marked each child, we'd try for a little conversation. One little boy turned out to be only 3 years old but you could just tell he'd be fine. Indeed, with older siblings in the event, he handled it like a pro!

None of the kids seemed particularly worried.

At 8 am it was go time, with kids split into age groups on the pool deck, with parents on the other side of the pool. The 7-8's (below) group was by far the largest.


I got to be one of the shadows, a person who acts as a buddy to a particular child, helping just enough but not too much. Just before the swim, I was matched with a young triathlete-to-be.

She swam. (photo credit: Chitra Ranganathan)

She biked.

She ran. (We also did a little chatting.)

This little girl grinned the whole way through the swim, toughed it out on the ups and downs of the bike course with training wheels, and then flew on the run with a strong kick to the finish! She's got grit for sure!



As the finish line festivities wound down, we disassembled the transition area, bike and run course. As I worked, I thought about the spirits of the children. I thought of the courage of the young first-timers venturing into the unknown. And I thought about the parents who had given their children this wonderful opportunity! What a confidence builder! 

And in other news, I ran/raced the Hell Climb 10K Saturday morning. It ascends 2000'+ over 6.2 miles with no downhills. So now I'm not sure if I'm sore from the race, or sore from walking around bent over with paint can after paint can, lol. 

It was an awesome weekend!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Farewell and Thank You to the Bath County Triathlon


me, Coach Jim, Sue, and Chris (overall winner!) of One-on-One Endurance

Last weekend was my 8th Bath County Triathlon! I've raced it EVERY year since 2010 except 2014 when I was recovering from surgery. Unfortunately, it seems this was the final year of this beloved race on Lake Moomaw in the Allegheny Highlands (near the iconic Homestead Resort).

It was a very small race this year with a combined 90 individuals and teams.

The race features a beautiful, clean lake and closed bike and run courses. But it's not without challenge in the form of significant hills.

I wanted to write this post to say thank you to the Bath County community. Without this race many of us would never have experienced this spectacular area, well off the beaten path. And the back roads make for a fun drive in a little yellow car!

Just a few things of note this day.

First of all, I broke the valve off my tube stem on my front tire when I was pumping it up race morning in transition. Boy did that sucker go flat fast! I posted about this on race day, but I shocked myself by how quickly, efficiently, and without swear words, that I got it swapped out. I guess I learned from those few times I practiced and seemed to do everything wrong. I'm not kidding, there was one time I practiced and I'm pretty sure it took me like 45 minutes and my hands were filthy at the end. I don't know how in the world I made it so complicated.


geez look how skinny my bike looks!


After I got set up, it began to rain. I discovered just how difficult it is to put a wetsuit on when you are already wet.




After 7 Bath County swims in the clockwise direction, we were informed we'd be swimming counter-clockwise. Whoa!!

The swim course had five markers: two orange balls, an inflatable doughnut, an inflatable duck, and a "no wake" pylon. It's all part of the charm. If we wanted cookie cutter races, we'd go to swim meets, right ;-)

Anyway, I took off in the frenzy at the front of the swim and hung on as best I could. I came out of the water in 5th, right behind eventual winner Jen Fleming.


I'm somewhere in there

After a 3rd best T1, I headed out on the still-wet bike course. where I traded leads with Becky Keller (eventual 2nd place) but ultimately clocked the fastest bike split of the women.




Bath is/was a very spectator-friendly race. This was the corner for watching the start/finish of the bike, then you walk 75 yards down the street to watch the start/finish of the run. 

Behind me you see "THE" hill - we start the run going up and finish coming down!

After a decent T2, I think I headed out on the run in first. Becky Keller passed me not long after, and at the turnaround I saw Jen Fleming coming FAST! She laid down a sub-19 minute 5K and passed Becky on the final downhill for the win!! I wish I could have seen that! [Full results here]

We hung out at the finish, and with the last competitor under the finish arch, the Bath County Triathlon was over.


Awards with Jen; Becky was not able to stay.

I've seen participation drop in quite a few events around me. I sometimes wonder if it's because people are just busier or overwhelmed trying to keep their heads above water in an increasingly challenging world.


Me - me, I cling to training and racing (and the turn buoy duck). I appreciate and need the time outside (and away from my computer) and the opportunity to experience new places. I don't need fancy vacations or fancy things, I prefer my fun served up by the mile, and frequently!

The little yellow car serves as a nice drying rack, among other things!

Post-race we went to the Bath County Pumped Storage Station. It's the largest in the world. I taught about it in the Intro to Green Engineering course last spring but had not been to it. It's two large vertically separated reservoirs in which water is pumped to the higher one during times of low energy demand, then the water is released and captured as hydroelectric energy during times of peak demand. That process happens over and over and over. It's a giant battery of sorts. We could only see the lower reservoir from afar (below), but it was still cool!


So that's the report! My next triathlon is USAT Age Group Nationals in August.

photo credits: Bryan Walsh

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Unintentional Swimcation

view from our cabin

I just got home from a long weekend in a house on Watauga Lake, Tennessee with my two boys and two of their friends (so two 16-year-olds and two 18-year-olds)

This trip was of the boys' choosing. When I asked what they wanted in a summer getaway, they decided on the following: a lake front cabin with nice views and a hot tub. I found a property online that seemed right, and although I knew nothing about the lake, I'm always up for an adventure.

The cabin was off on one of the smaller "arms" of the lake. We planned to hang out on the water in our inflatables, canoe, play games, cook over the fire pit, and just unplug.

Our lakefront "cabin" which was quite sizable.

I figured I'd swim a little, but I'm usually pretty nervous (very) about swimming in open water outside of races and organized training in our home quarry. 

But something about this lake just called to me. 

Can you fall in love with a lake? Because I surely did. 

I knew I could swim it and feel safe and feel free. 


Why? 

First, there were almost no powerboats. It was mainly canoes, quiet fishing boats, and the occasional pontoon. I think there were two reasons for this -- first, it's a smaller area and near the mouth of the Watauga River. It's like a cul-de-sac and not a thoroughfare. Secondly, the area had major storms recently that led to flooding up the riverbanks that washed a lot of logs and debris into the lake. I don't think it's the kind of thing you want to take your powerboat through. 

Some of the larger logs in the lake post-storm.

Second, the water temperature was about perfect, even for wimpy me.

Third, it just felt right. I guess it's like the way you fall in love with a person and can't necessarily explain the nuances of why. But I liked the shoreline, the size, the fact that I could swim across it pretty quickly, the availability of docks just for reassurance. There were enough people out on the water that I didn't feel alone. And it was interesting and had character!

I hopped in the water for my first swim Friday morning (while the boys slept) intent on swimming to the furthest dock that I was able to see through our binoculars from the cabin deck. I had my tow-behind inflatable visibility buoy, a bright cap, and I generally tracked along the shore - maybe 30-40m away. 

As I swam, I felt any sense of nervousness just fall away. I felt amazing - capable and relaxed. 

I know what you are thinking - don't swim alone!! And generally, YES, I agree. But for all the times I have looked longingly at a lake, wishing I could swim across or just explore on my own, THIS was the most ideal situation to finally do it!  I took precautions, I had studied the lake, and if something is going to happen, so be it. There are far riskier things a person can do. 

So I swam to that distant dock, along towering rock walls and thick forest. I had to negotiate around floating logs and had the best real-world reason to practice "alligator eyes" of sighting. My hand would come down on small twigs and I would feel it vibrate as my hand began to catch. None of it bothered me. I felt protected by and supported by the water. I thought of nothing but my stroke, my body position, the sights around me. My confidence grew. 

I reached the distant dock and climbed upon it. I could hear a family outside of the house through the trees. I considered whether I should get back into the water quietly as not to disturb them. I decided against it, and I jumped boldly in for my return swim!

After the hour swim I returned to the cabin to make breakfast for the boys. Priorities! 


That afternoon we had a rainstorm. We watched and heard as it rolled in over the mountain and across the lake. As the clouds disappeared and the fog lifted (and with the boys playing Mahjong), I headed out for a second swim, this time "down river."  Between the two swims I'd gone about 3 miles. 

I did not swim on the grass!

The second day I decided to swim about a mile toward the mouth of the Watauga (same direction as my first swim but further). The lake narrowed and began to resemble a (quiet) river. I could absolutely see the appeal of wanting to swim the length of a river or across a lake. 

I wasn't breaking any speed records but the swim had taken me to a different head space - away from pace clocks and lane lines and buoys. 

Garmin crapped out after the turnaround

This shows the teeny tiny bit I swam on Saturday. How I would LOVE to swim the whole thing!!!!!

It was absolutely magical. MAGICAL. I swam 5 miles in two days, easy-peasy. (Thank you Coach Judy for recent stroke improvements that helped with that!!). There was never a moment I thought of this as training or something I had to do. It was something I could not believe that I got to do! 

In running and cycling we allow ourselves easy sessions - on scenic trails and back roads. But it's so seldom that we get the same in swimming!

Although this was not intended to be a swimcation, those sessions were a wonderful and unexpected addition to a fantastic weekend with four wonderful young men. 

P.S. No online pics of the boys at their request. SIGH! 

This is a selfie from canoeing though:


Unnamed people from the vacation witness protection program ;-)
They explored while their "Uber-canoe" with yours truly waited for them.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tour de Floyd Metric Century


I've been eyeing the Tour de Floyd metric century ride for a few years. (You know, you hate to rush into that sort of thing, lol.) Well, this was the year!!

It's one county over from us and includes part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the 62 miles includes 5000+ feet of climbing. In other words, it sounded like a lot of fun!

We pushed off at 8:30 and, despite days of rain preceding this and an iffy forecast, it turned out to be quite a nice morning to ride. We had some misting rain but not much wind and we finished under blue skies.

One of the cool things about these rides is how you group up and pair up with people you don't even know and you look out for one another. There's a connection and common interest without even saying a word!

Also there's a lot of yummy food. This ride is known for the homemade cookies at the Parkway stop - they are amazing. I will be having dreams about the lemon cookies!

I met the ride founder and organizer, Paul Lacoste (below), at a rest stop. I asked him how the ride came to be. He said it was a favorite ride route of his and for probably 10 years he thought about creating a ride to share it with others. Good thing he finally did! This is the 11th year of the Tour de Floyd. The support, food, and route are fantastic! Even though it's a good bit of total elevation gain, there's nothing monstrously long or steep.


I rode much of the ~30 mile Parkway stretch solo because I knew that section (and there was no way to really get lost there - always my fear!!). I grouped up for the back roads as I could, even though the turns were very well marked. The probability of getting lost was really quite low (even for me).

There's one part I could have done without -- At one point I was part of a group and I had just gone to the front on a downhill stretch when a very large dog bolted onto the road in front of me. I just managed to avoid him but he took down the rider behind me. I knew the dog would claim a victim. I heard it before I looked back and saw the rider on the ground. Erring on the side of caution, the cyclist got a ride back with a SAG driver. I saw him post-ride and he was in good spirits, albeit with some road rash.

I really REALLY enjoyed this ride. Cycling never gets old. I appreciate new routes, new scenes, and new people now and again!

FUN!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

8th go at the Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon

One-on-One Endurance athletes: Me, Kristin, Chris, Coach Jim, Rebecca, Kirk, Kimberley

Yesterday was my 8th time racing the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Triathlon, and my 9th year going (one year volunteering). When I started I was just a youngster in the 40-44 age group!

I love this race because it's our local season opener, a time to reconnect with friends, and Smith Mountain Lake State Park is so tranquil and beautiful. 

BUT the water is usually so cold in early May. BRRR! Guess what?? This year it was actually OK! The morning air temps were in the mid-60's and the water was near 70. 

My oldest son Spencer came with me to the state park cabin. He was ready for some much needed R&R and sleep after an especially tough week of school with many deadlines.

Spencer is 6" taller than me, not 14" as it appears in this photo. 

Race night I slept horribly. In fact, the week prior I had not been feeling great at all. I'd pulled the plug on two runs and had very low energy. I blame/credit hormones for most things. At my "age group" I"m allowed to do that, lol.

Race morning I did not feel well. Emotionally I felt frazzled. I leaned on friends and pulled myself together. I was thankful for good race conditions and didn't want to squander that. I knew in my head that you don't have to feel good to race well, so at least I should give myself the opportunity to do my best. 

The air horn went off. I made a decision to swim steady and not exhaust myself. I drafted as I could to conserve energy. I was the 11th female out.

photo credit: Christopher Davis

I had the quickest T1 of the women with credit given to the fact that my wetsuit came off fast! SCORE!

On the bike, I have to try to chase down all the fast swimmers. I didn't know it at the time, but I was 3 minutes down from the front runners which I knew would include my speedy friend Rebecca. I found my strength on the bike and let myself enjoy the hunt. I came off the bike in second but with a quicker T2 than the leader, I led off the run with Laurie Grant on my heels. (Transitions matter!!)

Competition on my heels!!
photo credit: Christopher Davis

I didn't know where I stood but I heard encouraging news from spectators and other racers. I felt OK enough on the run but it was one of those efforts where I was afraid to even talk, afraid to break my concentration. Sweat and snot gathered on my face and I didn't even care. At the turnaround I saw Laurie and Kristin not far behind which strengthened my resolve. And scared me a little!!

But I found my way to the finish and was proud of myself for keeping my head in the game. I had pulled myself together and found focus and a mental calmness.

And as a bonus, I finished first (results here). This was my fourth overall win at this race and meant a lot to me. At age 51, with a life that can feel pretty overwhelming at times...yeah, this meant a lot. 

Thanks to Coach Jim McGehee of One-on-One Endurance, master's swim coach Judy Wolfe, sponsor Solar Connexion, and my friends and family :-)

photo credit: Jim McGehee