Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bath County Sprint Tri - 2nd female, happy race :-)

photo credit: Bill Huckle

This was my 6th year of the Bath County Sprint Tri and it is a true gem of the Virginia Maryland Triathlon Series, tucked away in the western part of the state at the beautiful, tranquil Lake Moomaw. Most of the local athletes turn out for this race so it's a priority for me to race here. It's also one of the few races with the out-and-back bike and run courses closed to traffic. And if you like hills like I do, you'll love this race!!

Luckily the swim is flat (no chop or churn) as well as beautiful and clean.

tranquil Lake Moomaw, photo credit: Michael Stowe

gathered pre-swim, photo credit: Bryan Walsh

With water temps around 76, I opted to race in my XTERRA Lava pants rather than a wetsuit and it was a good call for me - I got some buoyancy and speed without overheating, and they are quick and easy to strip off. As I was putting them on, the Star Spangled Banner began, and I found myself standing there with my pants half on, the whole time wondering if it was better to just keep standing there, or fumble to pull them on which would not be quick? In the end, I just stood there quietly with my pants down! Whoops!

I didn't realize until I was in the water and spotted my friend and lane-mate Kristen, that all the women were grouped in one swim wave. I like that! It makes for better head-to-head competition.

I felt strong and tactical on the swim and upon exiting my sherpa called out that I was 8th out of the water (12:08; 8/64 women). That is a good position for me!

photo credit: Bill Huckle

The bike is pretty much UP and then DOWN. I averaged 18.3 mph and 208w UP, and 26.2 mph and 197w DOWN. I heard reports of close calls with deer, and I saw more than a few dropped chains on the uphills, so I was glad to finish safely. Coming into the finish I heard I had moved up to 2nd among the women which surprised me. I passed one woman on the bike that I knew of so maybe I dropped the others in T1 or just didn't notice them on the course. I had a blast riding and just focused on trying to patiently catch the next person up ahead!


I am super pleased with my run. Sometime after last year's race my friend Tripp said something along the lines of "you usually look so light and up on your toes on that first climb, but this year you didn't." He was absolutely right. I took that exactly in the spirit in which it was intended - as an honest observation from a friend and motivation to improve for this year. I've thought about that many times since and up hills I am always trying to think "light and springy!" 

the famous Bath hills on the run course

After I crested the first hill in a light and springy way, I was totally excited to see Kelly Neville on a bike on the run course, riding toward me to tell me I was the second woman and about 45 seconds back. First of all, it was the first I'd seen her after I spent much of the winter following her onlline on her brave cycling adventures Down Under. Secondly, I felt like a pro getting timing information on my position in the race!! The runners around me started encouraging me to catch the lead woman, and I sure did my best to. I passed one guy on a downhill and he shouted after me "hey do you have a tow rope?!" I put in the fastest women's run of the day (7:12 min/mile avg pace for 3.28 miles) and cut into her lead, but Christina Meyer, age 44, of Charlottesville, Virginia retained her lead by 38 seconds! Well done! [Full results are available here.]

Of course, you can't lose by around half a minute and not wonder a little bit about where you might have shaved those seconds, lol. But then I tell myself, she also could have probably found 38 seconds to shave! At any rate, this was one of my happiest races of late. I was calmly in the moment and just enjoyed feeling strong. It has left me really motivated to spend the next two months preparing for USAT Age Group Nationals where every second will really matter. 

One-on-One Endurance athletes with Coach Jim! 
Kristen, Tanya, me, Coach Jim, Joe, Brad, Brent
photo credit: Bill Huckle

Happy to be on the overall podium, finishing 2nd
photo credit: Bill Huckle

Congratulations to Tanya Leroith for her AG win and continued strong racing and many podiums year after year. We sure appreciate her bringing along her partner and talented photographer, Bill Huckle, who supplies us with magnificent race photos!

I'd like to also mention the Stowe family - I've raced with Michael many times and more recently with his two teenage daughters Eliza and Emma. They've made it a family affair with the right emphasis on fun and with their enthusiasm and talent I see a very bright future in the sport for them!!

Thank you to my super sherpa and race supporter, Bryan of Solar Connexion; Coach Jim of One-on-One Endurance; the volunteers and race organizers from Bath County; Greg Hawkins and the staff of the Virginia and Maryland Triathlon Series; and the area triathletes, new and old, who give the sport personality!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Happiest triathlon moments are when no one is watching


That sunbeam photo sums up how I felt today after my short pre-race brick. This was just a great training day where things felt so dialed in for swim, bike, and run! Cue the chorus of angels!

It is a wonderful feeling to move the body with the full awareness that comes from the intentional movement of sport and physical challenge.

You don't get those feelings from sitting in front of the computer or rushing around in response to the demands of the day. You get them from striving in some physical way.

The mind-body connection was strong. I was tuned into things on the swim that I'd never noticed before - a subtle tilt of the hips, the path of my hands, some wasted movement of the head. I felt a different sort of relaxed control and balance in the water.

The bike was just happiness on wheels. And on the short run, despite temps well into the 80s, I never felt hot. I didn't wilt like I almost always do in the heat. On this easy run I stayed in the moment, found flow, and discovered I was flying without trying.

Exercise, fitness, training, working out - they are often discussed in terms of time, miles, and performance metrics. But the real magic, the thing that keeps me coming back for more has no number. It's that mind-body connection. It's the freedom of movement. It's the intrinsic reward from asking and getting more out of myself. It's the ability to shut out the noisy world and quietly tune into some small part of myself.

I love racing, I really do. But some of my happiest moments on this triathlon journey happen when I am by myself and no one is watching.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Took the Fast Track at the Off the Rails Sprint Tri

photo credit: Zac Hosack and Malin Fjällström-Hosack

I wasn't sure that I wanted to do this race. It was the same day as my dad's birthday, our first without him, and a lot of emotion churned up for me kind of unexpectedly the day before. Racing well takes a lot of positive energy and I wasn't feeling positive OR energetic. I was also coming off a lazy, gluttonous week of family vacation in Cancun the week before.

But of course I am glad I went and raced with friends. There's nothing like a race to push us to find that extra gear that is not available in training.

We began with a 3-lap, 300m pool swim, seeded by our self-reported 100m swim time. I was seeded bib #22 (but chip #28 which alarmed me briefly but dramatically at 7:58 with an 8 am race start), and I ended up ranked #21 on the swim. I only had to pass one breast-stroking guy on the swim and didn't get passed so that worked out pretty well. I kept hearing what Coach Tom had said to us: "finish your stroke, think about those sexy triceps!" LOL!

photo credit: Zac Hosack and Malin Fjällström-Hosack

bike mount, photo credit: Ann Stinnett

I'm a wide-open biking kind of girl so the sections of the course with tape arrows on asphalt directing us between planters, around medians, and through turns was a little challenging. But the longer stretch along the railroad tracks was a lot of fun. At just over 9 miles, it's a short course that requires maximum effort.

photo credit: Ann Stinnett

The 5k run was on the mostly shaded Tinker Creek Greenway. I took off feeling AWESOME...for the first mile. Then it always becomes a bit of work! But at that point my mind filled with the same thought I've had at every race since my dad passed away - of him painstakingly sanding and painting every vertical spire of our wrought-iron railing on our front porch a few summers ago. He enjoyed projects and if I didn't have any for him, he would find some! As with all he did, he worked patiently, he paid attention to detail, he did not relax his high standards nor stop before it was finished, and most importantly, he did it all with love.

photo credit: me haha

As I run with that vision filling my mind, I think to run patiently (in the moment), with attention to detail (cadence, relaxed shoulders, flow), maintain focus, and do it with love. Take it one spire, one mile at a time. 

Just past the turn-around, in a deja vous moment from last year's race, the very strong Mark Long (who went on to finish 4th overall) passed me by. I paced behind him as long as I could then settled in for my own finish - which was sufficient for a strong win [Full results here]. I shared the overall podium with Taylor Jennings for the second time - we did this also in 2012 at the TriAdventure race!  We won roof-mount bike racks from Yakima which was cool!!

photo credit: Bryan Walsh

After the race, my mom and I were texting about my dad and she said, "you ran with his hand on your back." Yeah, I did :-)

Thank you to Ann, Zac, Malin and Bryan for the photos; to Roanoke Parks and Rec for the excellent race; to Bryan for supporting my racing as well as the Roanoke Tri Club and for being an excellent Sherpa (aside from telling others to catch me on the run!); to my mom and sister, husband and kids for their support especially this year; and to Coach Jim who has been guiding me through the ups and downs for 7 years now!!

I'll race again this weekend at Bath County, and then not again until Nationals in August. It's a busy July for the family so I'll shift focus to them (and to a good training block ;-)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Recent Additions to the Swim Collection

I am not big on the "retail therapy" approach to triathlon. I tend more toward equipment minimalism, focusing on the engine, mindset, solid coaching, and consistent training. I do not like having too much stuff. I still have my one and only tri-bike, purchased used. I carefully launder my workout clothes and hang-to-dry so they last seemingly forever. OK, I did have the "goggle-palooza" episode, but aside from that, I like to get by with as little as possible.

But I have added two very useful things to my swim equipment inventory in the past few months.

The first is XTERRA Lava Pants. They are an upper-calf length wetsuit pant that I wanted for use in the pool to simulate wetsuit body position without the overheating of a full wetsuit. I debated the purchase for a while but am so glad I went through with it. It provides a subtle backend lift that positions me for a better catch and rotation and gives me practice kicking when my natural tendency in a wetsuit is toward a very lazy (or nonexistent) kick. In the Lava Pants, I swim faster, am more streamlined, and honestly sometimes it provides just the mental boost I need. There have been a few times this year where I was really NOT excited to swim for one reason or another and so I would reach for the Lava Pants. They give me a different feel, a fun feel, and turned a low-mo swim into a motivating one.

I have one friend who has really struggled with the swim and he found that using the Lava Pants and then moving down to Lava Shorts helped him to gain confidence and establish good technique.

In the case of a barely wetsuit-legal swim I would give strong consideration to racing in Lava Pants for the body position and speed assist rather than risk overheating in a full wetsuit.


The second thing I have added to the swim equipment is the Kiefer SaferSwimmer swim buoy (I got it through the Team MPI Swim Store and saved some $$) It's an inflatable buoy and dry-bag that is tethered via a sliding ring to a waist belt and floats un-noticeably behind you for far greater visibility. I'd been debating this for about half a year since my friend Ashley Heher suggested she was interested in it, and I finally got one, knowing I would want it to try to swim in the ocean on our family trip to Cancun. 


The buoy arrived just before our vacation. It brought me tremendous peace of mind and my husband noted that it was easy to see from quite a ways out. I swam 12 miles during our 6 days away and I don't think that would have happened without the SaferSwimmer buoy. I had probably 500 yards of ocean swimming experience prior to this - I just got too creeped out! But with the SaferSwimmer buoy and favorable ocean conditions, I felt more confident than I'd ever been.

I attached my Garmin 920XT to it for greater accuracy, and appreciated having my little inflatable friend to hang onto for my occasional watch-checking stops. Periodically a small tour boat would pull up to and away from the beach and I was super glad to know I was more visible. 



I also used it for our snorkeling explorations from the beach, including this one with my oldest son Spencer where our increased visibility meant we also got corralled for swimming too far beyond acceptable tourist limits. Oops. 


I plan to use the Kiefer SaferSwimmer buoy on every open water training swim from here on out. Why not? I don't notice it, it doesn't slow me down, and I am grateful for the improved visibility. (Watch out for copycat versions that are smaller and less rugged...I saw some on Amazon.)

Now I am just waiting on the third product to come available - the secret jet propulsion system! Until then, I will concentrate on consistency, good coaching, and hard work!

That's all for now from my shopping channel :-)
Spend little, train smart!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

IM 70.3 Chattanooga: Regaining mental stamina


5:12:51, 7th out of 173 in F45-49

After last year's focus on sprints and Olympics I was ready to give a 70.3 another go, my fourth time at the half-iron distance. It had been a year and a half since the last half-iron at Beach2Battleship and I wanted the particular challenge that comes from longer distances. Last year, 10k runs had started to feel long and that just had to change. I wanted to regain that mental stamina!

I also will admit also to wanting to try my first IRONMAN branded race and I must say, it did not disappoint. My friend Scott described their events as "pageantry" and coupled with the incredible support of the city of Chattanooga and fantastic weather, it made for an exceptional weekend.

I spent Saturday getting settled in and met up with a number of folks that I work with - Coach Allen Stanfield and Coach Brad Noble of Team MPI along with Team MPI athlete Amy Hunt, pro Justin Metzler along with pro Jeanni Seymour. I ran into Swim Bike Mom, Meredith Atwood and her husband James who was racing, and I also met Mirinda Carfrae after the pro panel and quickly and awkwardly introduced myself as "the Cortney who works with Timothy"! (Full photo album here)

Sunday morning I was not super excited about getting bused to the swim start and having to wait in a line for the TT start (flashbacks to the long Boston Marathon wait) but it was actually not so bad. I was probably 2/3 of the way back in the line but still got off at 7:22 am after a 7:00 am age group start. I was much more relaxed than I am at the start of a shorter race because I knew I had many hours ahead of me. It was pretty weird marching along, to the end of the ramp, and jumping in like an obedient line of little ducks, and with little fanfare. Following the cold lake swims I've done, at 72/73 degrees, the water felt warm.




Written to Coach Jim: One fun thing about this swim was actually racing through the throngs of people. It was pretty crowded (despite having an entire river) and there was a wide range of abilities. You had to be able to swim while sighting to plan a line through the back strokers, water-treaders, breast strokers, and squeeze between people, swim defensively, and keep moving aggressively forward. I had a blast, and the water temps were perfect. 

It felt good to come up the swim ramp and run again and I passed a lot of people. My swim was ranked 14th in my AG (Garmin Connect Data here). I had a smooth transition and was ready to roll! 



Written to Coach Jim: Yes, I stopped and peed in the grass. I just couldn't bring myself to pee on the bike. The bike course was congested and there were a few times I had to throttle back due to vehicular traffic, or to avoid drafting. I didn't see a whole lot of drafting going on but I read reports of it. It would not have been too hard to get away with as I probably saw refs just 5x on the course. I tried not to blow up on the bike, and I felt good through to the end! I was ready to run!! There's one very short sort of steep hill that took its toll on a few people. It was pretty funny. Flatlanders!

Coach Jim noted that the "pee break" took 78 seconds, lol, but then I hit my peak 10-minute power immediately following that ;-) Overall, I averaged 189 watts, heart rate of 154, and I stayed pretty even, front half to back half, so I am happy! (56 miles in 2:43:07, 20.60 mph, Garmin Connect Data Here)

One thing I noticed on the bike was that a lot of people would coast down a roller, rather than pedal to carry momentum into the following hill. What a waste! Keep that power delivery consistent people, up AND down the hills! 

Last year I found myself dreading the run and I'm not sure why, so this year in training I have worked hard to reprogram my brain and relearn to be happy to run. It worked, and I took off feeling awesome, but controlled. I hit the paces I wanted without much effort and I was ticking off the miles and enjoying the run, the scenic course, and the energy of the volunteers at the aid stations.


Then at mile 5, on a short but steep hill, trouble hit. I got a cramp in my inner thigh, just above my knee (sartorius or vastus medialis), that stopped me in my tracks. It felt like it could be a race-ender. But after standing and resting it for nearly 3 minutes, taking in salt and mustard, it relaxed and I continued very carefully. I could feel it with every step. I had no salt left and thankfully got a "hit" of BASE salt from Sami Winter and another athlete on the course, thank you!!! 

All I could think of to grab at the aid stations were bananas (pre-peeled was appreciated) for the potassium, plus water and ice. I held up pretty well until just before that same hill on the two-loop course, and I ended up walking/stopping for another 3.5 minutes. I noticed everyone around me walked up that hill. Somehow through it all I kept positive and didn't panic and got through the remaining miles pretty well. 

It felt SO good to run over the final bridge with the encouragement of many spectators and make the turn to the finish line. (13.1 mi in 1:52:12, pace 08:33/mi, Garmin Connect Data here). I proved to myself that I had regained the mental stamina I wanted and needed. 

Total race time: 5:12:51 (full results here)



I look forward to my next go at this distance, hopefully minus the pee stop and cramp breaks, at IM 70.3 North Carolina in October. In the meantime it'll be back to the shorter distances, with my improved longer attention span and positive running attitude!

Thank you to Coach Jim of One-on-One Endurance for guiding me through this challenging race prep. I am coming up on seven years working with him, and I know I say this a lot, but it's true - I can't imagine doing this without him. I appreciate the structure, the challenge, the accountability, the encouragement, the corrections, and the sharing!!

Thank you to my family for supporting me through it all, as I disappear with my goggles, running shoes or bike for hours at a time.

Thank you to Bryan Walsh and Solar Connexion for the continued support of my racing! If you are in the VA/WV area and are interested in residential or commercial solar energy, you won't find a more experienced or knowledgeable contractor, so get in touch!