Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The pollen-infused Zwift-assisted FTP test

My poor, dear, neglected blog....I hate when I don't have/make the time/energy to write. Part of this is due to some fatigue and room spins over the past week from the "pollen tusnami." It's been awful. I laid down on a bench at the gym Saturday to do some dumbbell presses and had to hold on for the bonus "spinning teacup" ride.

Added to my pollen fog is the general end-of-school-year chaos like OH, they are telling us today you HAVE to have black pants and shoes and a white shirt for the concert TOMORROW. Let's go find those shoes for your size 14 feet right now! Never a dull moment around here.

Not feeling great means training happens, but it's not been stellar, and motivation has been loooowww. I had my third FTP test on the bike today and held exactly ONE more watt for the 20 minute interval than I did around 6 weeks ago. ONE. Honestly, I was pretty happy to not show a decline. For consistency I've done all these on the trainer, but with such nice weather, I opted for the front porch. There was no way I was going to stay inside - pollen or not.

I rode the FTP "pain train" on the newest Zwift Island course for the first time. I find it funny that you can pull up this imaginary route on Google maps (via Strava):

So apparently I was cycling on an island far off the coast of Australia. It looked an awful lot like Blacksburg, Virginia though from my vantage point on the front porch.

There is something really nice about feeling like I am working hard in the company of other cyclists, even if they are all remote to me and seen only virtually, and earning points and things along the way! The Zwift Beta is now open to all without an invitation and if you have a power meter or "smart" bike trainer I would really recommend you explore it. It's very fun (aside from FTP tests) and currently still free!

I'm starting to see the mental pattern in my 20 min FTP test:
  • 0-3:00: wow, I'm crushing it
  • 3:00 - 4:59: don't look at the time, it'll pass faster that way
  • 5:00: how is this not 10 minutes? how is that only 5? how is that only 25%?
  • 5:01-12:00: oh geez this is humbling. damage control.
  • 12:01-12:16: why am I doing this? can I please just stop now? OK, I'm backing off for 15 seconds.
  • 12:17-15:59: hang in there, just hang in there
  • 16:00: this is doable, I can get through four minutes
  • 18:30: how is this not 20 minutes yet?
  • 20: thankyouthankyouthankyou wonderful timer
I'm glad I did this ride on Zwift Island and I liked the jersey I "wore" for it. You get to customize your rider, and the more points you get the more options you have for your jersey, wheels, bike, etc. This jersey sort of had that comic book "POW BAM" feel.

As I finished up my ride, I grabbed a pic of these giant sculptures along the new course.

When I was done, I waited for the Zwift Island Sherpas to come and put my toys away, hand me a drink with an umbrella, and serve dinner to the family, but they never did. That's definitely a feature that Zwift needs to add. I would pay for that upgrade.

Today is a day off. I hope my pollen fog is lifting. Back at it Thursday!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Goggle-palooza results are in

(photo by Bill Huckle)

I've pretty well wrapped up my search for goggles to replace the recently "improved" Aqua Sphere Kaimen Ladies Goggles that ceased to work for me after a great five-year relationship. The changes made to the goggles resulted in leaking and really bad goggle marks (and I've spoken with others who have experienced the same with the Kaimen). When I realized my dependable goggles were no longer so, I hastily switched to a TYR T-72 grabbed from Dick's Sporting Goods, and without much testing used them at the first race of the season. I had a leaky goggle problem in the race and needed a better solution, pronto.

After many hours Googling goggles and reviews, after several online orders, visits from UPS, FedEx, and USPS deliveries, and many laps in the pool and open water, the goggle that floated to the top of the competition was another Aqua Sphere goggle - the Michael Phelps K-180 Lady Goggle. (Thanks lane-mate Janet and Coach John of Team MPI for the suggestion on that one.)

I'm not going to lie; it pains me somewhat to go with another Aqua Sphere option given the fact that they never responded to my tweets and emails about the change to the other goggles and the fact that I now have multiple unused, unusable sets of the Kaimen in my possession. Aqua Sphere's customer service is completely non-existent. It's just absent in an astounding, black-hole sort of way.

I am just glad to have something that works for now, but I will remain open to switching to a non-Aqua Sphere option. (No, I haven't tried Roka's yet.)

In my search I looked for goggles that seemed similar to the model that had worked for me. I read a lot of reviews, and I opted for the smaller/women's fit if it was available. My goals were simple: (1) no leaking and (2) minimal goggle marks! I also prefer clear frames and straps and not ones that make you look like an anime character as some of those above do. Here's the lineup and some notes:

Photo above, left side, top to bottom:
  1. Aqua Sphere Swedish goggle - fine in the pool, minimal goggle marks, but I wouldn't do an OWS in them.
  2. Sporti Antifog Swedish goggles - same as above just with bungee strap
  3. TYR Nest Pro - my "runner up goggle". No leaking, but left me with goggle marks
  4. Aqua Sphere K-180 Women's fit, and the three other pairs I bought to get me through the season. Note there is also a K-180+ ("plus") option out there. From what I can tell they have a narrower gasket and sit closer to the eye, which didn't seem like something I wanted/needed. I've had zero leaking and can move them to my swim cap and back to my eyes over and over and never have a problem. This is actually an improvement over the Kaimen where it seemed like once I broke that initial seal it was not quite as good again. The K-180 comes with an anti-fog coating that seemed to get a bit smear-y. We'll see how that holds up over time.
Photo above, right side, top to bottom:
  1. Aqua Sphere Kaimen Lady - the "improved" no longer working for me version
  2. Aqua Sphere Kaimen Lady Tinted version - also unusable
  3. Cressi Flash - Small Fit Tinted Goggles - I got these thinking they looked very similar to the Kaimen, but I I had leakage issues. 
  4. Speedo MDR 2.4 - I think I swam 5 yards in these. Immediate NO for leakage.
  5. Barracuda Triton - even if I could get past how ridiculous they look, they just leaked.
  6. Michael Phelps K-180 Goggle (the standard fit, not the lady's) - these seemed OK for me too, and will probably be a backup pair for me.
  7. TYR T-72 Petite Goggle - Let's just say, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." I won't be wearing these in a race ever again.
  8. Speedo Vanquisher - meh. 

A quick peek at the sides/backs....if I had to pick a favorite strap, it would be the split strap on the TYR T-72 goggle (second from bottom on right), but I'm also OK with the flat and simple strap on the K-180. I am now less of a fan of the "ratcheting" type strap of the Kaimen, Kressi, and Speedo MDR. They seem prone to loosening.

My takeaway from this is that when you move away from the "small socket" goggle to more of a mask style, it's got to fit your face and bone structure pretty perfectly or it just won't work. I've been assuming that with my petite face that the smaller models are more appropriate for me, but maybe that's not the case? I also discovered that a larger gasket/mask doesn't necessarily reduce the goggle marks.

I'm glad to have found something that works and I can rely on again. I think you can get away with a lot of less-than-perfect equipment in triathlon but NOT when it comes to goggles and wetsuits.

The upside to my goggle hunt is that my kids will have PLENTY of goggles to chose from this summer ;-)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Race Report: A Second Win at the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Sprint Triathlon

(photo by Sue Snyder)

Subtitle: "At some races all the things go right"

It seems the gods of triathlon have a sense of humor...or would that would be mercy? After the last race with the tow truck, leaking goggles, bike flat, and DNF, things came together at this race and I was able to pull off the overall female win on the day...which feels extra great at age 48. (other win at this race was 2012 with a 1:13:03 that would be hard for me to top)

This was the 18th year of the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Sprint Triathlon. It's one of those races that if you live around here, you just automatically put it on your race calendar because it's tradition, it's a great venue, it's a season opener for many, and you know so many of your friends will be there. I've raced it since 2010,  just missing last year post-surgery (but I volunteered)! I loved racing alongside my coach and the athletes of One-on-One Endurance and the big crew from the Roanoke Tri Club!

(photo by Bill Huckle)
One-on-One Endurance Athletes at the race:
Kristen, Malin, me, Coach Jim, Tanya, Tim

Leading up to the race I was not in a great mental space. I'd been feeling super stressed out by life for a few weeks and although training was going well, I felt flat and lacked the pre-race "fire." Plus I let that last bad race mess with my head. Coach Jim reminded me that a relaxed mindset and body is fine and that race experience and fitness would take over. And on race day seasoned top masters triathlete Mark Long (pictured at the race below) offered his reassurance that great races can certainly happen even when feeling flat.

For some extra insurance, I tried a bottle of beet juice the day before and morning of the race. Yeah, yeah...nothing new on race day. I know, but it's just veggies. Pro Lauren Goss swears by it and there is research showing its value in endurance sports, but even setting that aside, it was just extremely delicious. I'd just like to point out Lauren won her race - IRONMAN 70.3 St. Croix - this weekend too. Must be something to it!!

Even if the beet juice wasn't going to guarantee a great race, I'd least be color-coordinated with my shoes, helmet, Garmin, and toenails. Through a series of controlled laboratory studies I have concluded that yellow is the fastest color.

Incidentally, after many years racing in Saucony Kinvaras, I've switched to the Salming Speed shoe. It's a minimal drop shoe, lightweight, very responsive, super comfortable, and makes me feel light on my feet.

Roanoke Swim Coach Lynda (her first triathlon!), me, and national champion triathlete
Betsy Henderson basking in the sun before the cold plunge!


At the Thursday swim practice before the race my swim coach Tom asked me what my plan was for the swim.

Ummm, "hope for the best??? Is that a plan?"

We came up with a slightly better and more concrete plan to focus on swimming straight and sticking to the stroke that works best for me, the stroke I have worked hard to dial in over the last 18 months. Then he sent me off on an aerobic 400y set and told me just to think about my race swim. That mental rehearsal worked.

On race day the water temperature was 62 degrees, but with a wetsuit and two swim caps, the cold didn't bother me. I stuck to the plan, and had a straight and strong swim, and all the while I could hear Coach Tom's reminders in my head - don't catch air with the left hand entry, keep the head low, stay long and strong, and finish the stroke. Thankfully my chosen goggles (Aqua Sphere K180 women's fit) worked just fine and my swim was 12th best out of 92 women.

I came out of the water feeling a little dizzy and stumble-y and slow due to the cold, but had the fastest T1 among the women.


I love the bike! I passed quite a few people and ended up with the fastest bike split among the women. Best of all - no flat!

(photo by Bill Huckle)

My T2 time ranked 24th. I'm not sure what I was doing in transition for 1:03. I'll blame it on the socks ;-)

Ironwoman, Double-Marathoner, and almost official "Doctor" Karen
made the most of her prior cheerleader experience!

My friend Karen was near the run start with a cowbell. She yelled that I was "third and could probably catch second" so that was a big boost! I briefly wondered if that accounted for the fact that I left in the latter of the two female swim waves. It didn't really matter. I just wanted to run happy and not go so deep "into the well" that I would implode on the run. I wanted to stay a tiny gear backed off from full effort until the end.

(photo by Bill Huckle)

Just after the turnaround I passed a young girl on an uphill and knew there was no one else close, in front or behind, so I just maintained, looked for flow, and enjoyed. After I crossed the finish line, I found out from my friend Kristen who was doing timing, that I had finished first among the women. (average run pace was 7:02...playtime is over...I really need to get that back down under 7 for a 5K.)

After the race it was time to catch up with friends!

Donna and I were roomies at ITU Worlds in New Zealand.
(I like the sign behind us. 
YEAH! Women!)

with Mike Morris in his hard-earned-
50-triathlons-in-50-states shirt and
frequent podium-er John Gregory who won M65-69

Receiving my award from Mike Morris, who I first met in 2011 on the run course
at this very race and who convinced me to go to my first nationals and worlds.

(photo by Sue Snyder)

Given that this is the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Sprint Tri, it was pretty cool to win in my Solar Connexion tri-suit, among the Roanoke Tri Club crew whose kits are partially sponsored by and logo-ed with Solar Connexion. It was a whole "electric power" theme! [Contrary to what some might think, the electric utility and solar contractors are not in opposition; the solar/electric utility relationship is quite symbiotic. In most cases, grid-tied solar with the electric utility serving as storage is far "greener" than going off-grid and relying on batteries that have much embodied energy in their manufacturing.]

Solar Connexion logo on the side of the trisuits (Scott Moir)

Thanks to Solar Connexion for the sponsorship and to Bryan Walsh for coming to the race to watch us in action!

Before wrapping up this race report, I'd just like to note that SO many accomplishments at races are never acknowledged by physical awards. I had several friends shed open water swim demons at this race, my coach marked his return to racing a year after a bad bike crash, several others were coming back from illness and injury, and there were quite a few first-timers! It takes a lot for any of us to get out there and race, even under the best of circumstances. Add a few challenges in and it's an even greater accomplishment.

So congratulations to all who had a successful race day and crossed that finish line on a spectacular May morning at Smith Mountain Lake!

Next event: Wilderness Road Ride on May 23.
Next race: Off the Rails Sprint Tri on May 30th!
Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Life on wheels

I've gone four days now without a tow truck in my life! Things are good! After the pre-race mini-van breakdown, I was without my "portable transition unit" for a week. One PCM module and one Wireless Ignition Node later, I thought I was back in business.

Two days later, the battery light came on. I tried to limp back to the dealership, but the wheels stopped turning and I had a "DNF". AAA to the rescue...again. (I am a BIG fan of AAA...get the Plus version though with further towing options) Now I have a new alternator, which was maybe the source of the problems to begin with, and I hope I am good to go for a while now!

deja vous

The rest of my wheeled escapades have been going well. The miracle of miracles - the lawnmower worked first time out, and none of the wheels fell off (yes, we've had that issue). Despite having two teenage lawnmower operators in the house, I opted to mow for the "zen" of it, even though I still believe grass is stupid for many environmental reasons.

The bike "wheels" are great, with a new rear tube and tire from the race flat, and spring cycling is the BEST. I had an impromptu ride with my friend Eric who was in town for the day and I explored some new-to-me routes with my still race sticker-ed helmet. Doh!

The sights and scenes on our back roads of SW Virginia just can't be beat!

In terms of my personal mental "wheels" -- well they are always on the verge of coming off! LOL!

It's never easy to fit the training into the parental working life. Last week was nearly 13 hours of training across 11 sessions - factor in all the before and after, preparing, getting to and from, and it was probably close to 20 hours. 

Yesterday was unusual with three workouts - a morning swim, a mid-day hour long negative split run, and an evening trip to the gym. I asked Coach Jim if that was deserving of a gold star. And I got one!!

In all the hustle and distraction of life, I realized last night I had not yet signed up for my next race that is in 8 days! Oops! So now I am signed up for my May & June races. 

I'm hoping for some smooth cruising for a bit now - with all my wheels! 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Belews Lake International - DNF Race Report

Thanks to a nice rock slicing the side of my tire and tube, my race ended at mile 18 of the 27 mile Belews Lake International bike course. I experienced my first DNF (did not finish).

Let's back up though, shall we? To when the real fun of race day began....

I left home at 5:15 pm Friday after dropping youngest off at soccer practice, intent on making the 2-1/2 hour drive to the cheapie motel near the race site, rather than drive it Saturday morning. I had planned on a relaxing evening and good night's sleep.

That wasn't meant to be.

About 75 minutes from home, the van dashboard went insane with warning lights, so I promptly pulled off road, thinking OH $HIT, now what. The van wouldn't start, it seemed to think it was in reverse, and would not shift. The front wheels were locked up. I called AAA, and not too long after the towtruck arrived and they dragged the van on to the flatbed. With the front wheels not turning...literally DRAGGED. I couldn't watch. We stopped on the way to buy dish soap to help the van slide back off the flatbed.

We took the van to the dealership about 30 min back the way I came. There I witnessed an amazing display of car unloading and extraction of the tow truck from an impossibly tight situation.

They very graciously gave me a ride to the airport to rent a car. I went back to load my equipment into the new car, and went back on my way, arriving at the questionable motel at 11:15 pm. I slept fitfully, but awoke for the race, still optimistic that a good day could be had!

The venue was gorgeous, the morning was crisp but warm, and I was calm. It was a time trial start, with us heading out two-by-two. I got a few strokes in and the goggles I chose to use started to leak (see last post, I broke up with my goggles). The goggles that worked ok in the pool, did not work well in the open water, and I spent parts of my swim with one eye closed, stopping to empty goggles, and wondering what if a contact fell out. I did not swim good lines, it was just not a great swim. Still, I kept calm and told myself that racing is as much about minimizing the impact of the crap that happens. I hoped to make up time on the bike.

Swim was not good - many of the bikes around me are GONE!

The bike started off pretty really well - it was a two loop course and I made it a goal to pass 25 people. The Duran Duran song "Hungry Like the Wolf" popped in my head for some reason and I felt like a predator picking off my prey! I was picking up some speed on the second loop.

Around mile 18, I was making a pass with another cyclist ahead of me, and did not see a big patch of mud and sizeable rock in the middle of the lane. I hit the rock, heard a very loud noise, nearly lost control of the bike, and turned around and asked if something flew off my bike. Then I realized I'd had a flat. It sliced the side of the tire and tube so my bike ride was done. I sat down in the grass along the road and asked the passing cyclists to alert someone at the next intersection to come and get me. It felt like a long time to wait but I got a ride back to the start.

I really wanted to punt the run but was encouraged to do it anyway. "You'll thank me later" I heard. I cleared it with the race director and headed off. It was hard. My heart was heavy, and so were my legs. It was a hillier course than I expected and I was deflated, but I did it. So at least it was a decent training day.

My takeaways from this race:

Find new dependable goggles. I need a new goggle solution pronto. I emailed Aqua Sphere to tell them their new goggle redesign on the Lady Kaimen is a big fail and why (whoever reads it will probably not care), but in the meantime I've ordered four new various pairs to try. Whatever I go with, they should know I will be loyal!

Carry a flat kit on Internationals. I've never carried a flat kit on sprints and international distance races figuring if I flatted I'd lose so much time that it wasn't worth it. But now I know that it would have been nice to have legitimately finished the whole thing, no matter what the time. Although, in this case, I needed a new rear tire, not just a tube, so I was probably screwed anyway.

Remain attentive to the road! The road conditions were amazingly smooth and clean. I hardly saw any debris, and on the second pass around I may have let my attention lapse, assuming the road was clear. But even if that were true on the first lap, it can change on the second. Be careful when passing behind someone because you can't see the road ahead!

Bad races happen. I didn't quite know what to feel, it was definitely different and weird and lacked the typical post-race satisfaction. But I am very thankful that I didn't go down and that the bike and I are both OK. 

The next race is in three weeks. At least I will feel like I've dusted off the cobwebs. This was a pretty big wake-up call. I expect I will be far sharper!

And Belews Lake...I will be back next year to seek my revenge! Thanks to the Jones Racing Company for a very VERY well run race. That was my first time at one of their events and I was extremely impressed with the organization of it, the communication, and the staffing. Truly a great job!