Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Custom Kit journey with Pearl Izumi!

This January I looked into new custom tri kits. I've raced in three different kits across seven years and the most recent was showing signs it was ready for retirement to the less rigorous demands of training rather than racing.

I reached out to my ultra endurance sports friend Shannon Price who works at Pearl Izumi Custom. I've always been a huge fan of their apparel and all my cycling shorts and nearly all my running shorts are PI. To my delight, he said they would work with me!!

I discovered that PI has a very methodical process to take you through several cycles of design/redesign, review, and feedback along a prescribed timetable that keeps things moving along.  I was paired with a designer, Julie, and we worked using their Dropbox-like system and email. I sent her the logos, color palette, and swatches of patterns that I found appealing, and indicated which general designs I liked from their idea book.

some of my swatches

We started by focusing on the bike jersey, knowing the idea could be translated to other pieces. Within a few days we had the first round of several ideas from Julie. We set up a little creative space, bought some colored pencils, played with her ideas, and provided feedback to inform the next round.

I will confess it was a little scary at times, thinking of narrowing down from an infinite set of ideas, and I would wonder what we might be inadvertently eliminating! We went through a lot of options; here are just a few colored pencil sketches and printouts, sometimes modified with scissors and tape.

Early in the process I found sudden inspiration from, of all places, Zwift! My Avatar had been wearing the jersey below, unlocked by riding 100km on my bike trainer in the virtual cycling world. So we kind of rolled with that theme. 

This is how I "tried on" the jerseys.


After a few iterations we had a bike jersey design finished and then Julie got to work on the other pieces. When we got close to having a full set of designs that was ready to go, I was sent a fit kit so I could try on various sizes and know exactly what I needed. 

I greatly appreciate the fact in addition to the typical XS, S, M, L, etc sizes, Pearl Izumi also offers mid-sizes like XS/S, S/M, and M/L. I ended up ordering the mid-sizes for most things. 

After a few weeks in production, my clothing arrived on my doorstep - bib shorts, jerseys, softshell jacket, arm warmers, and one piece tri suits.

I have been extremely happy with every single piece - the colors, quality, fit, and comfort! I like the yellow and orange for visibility on the bike, and the subtle grey and black solar cell pattern accents.  

The process takes time and creative energy, but it's rewarding to have a unique design and high quality performance apparel. If this is something you or your group is interested in, I'd suggest doing some pre-work to gather ideas and starting early because a good process can't be rushed. I hope my overview has been helpful!

Big thanks to Shannon and Julie of Pearl Izumi Custom, and race sponsor Bryan Walsh of Solar Connexion!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Shawsville Fourth of July 5K: An excuse to run in stars and stripes

On the 4th of July I ran my third Shawsville 5K, a race that has been around for 35 years! It's probably the flattest 5K you can find in the hills of Southwest Virginia.

I love this annual local race that starts on a cul-de-sac road, between two driveways (see top photo), and attracts some fast area runners. The top three men were under 17 minutes; the top three women were under 20 minutes.

Despite my love of the race, the sound of the rain falling on race morning had me considering my love of my bed and remaining in it. 

But hey, I didn't spend $5 on a patriotic tank top at Old Navy for nothing!!

I thought I was SO amazing for getting out the door to DRIVE to the race, until halfway there when I saw two cyclists up ahead in the steady rain and recognized my friends Kristen and Jordan Chang RIDING to the race. Impressive.

The rain tapered off and we really had nice conditions to race!

At the start, I was so surprised (shocked in a "what are you doing here?!" way) to see Michael Casciere (below), a Physical Therapist I worked with early in my running "career" who lives in North Carolina, but was in town and ran this with his granddaughter. He ran for Boston University and had done the Boston Marathon many times. The running world is a small world in many ways!

The race always starts with the Pledge of Allegiance and timely words regarding our nation by Coach Marvin Ballard, a history teacher at Eastern Montgomery High School. It always chokes me up!

Then off we went. 

I paced of off Tom Inzana who usually beats me, then I passed him after the first mile. He must have been having an off day. We spread out after the half-way point and had pretty well settled into our positions. Or so I thought. I got passed by a young runner in the last 400m (shown behind me in the next photo). She had an awesome finishing kick! I finished in 21:50 and repeated as the age-group winner. [Full results here]

I was really glad I ventured out into the rainy morning, thanks to a little extra motivation in the form of a tank top!

photo above and two below by Kristen Chang, RDN, CSSD of Real Food for Fuel 

photo by Blue Heron Photography; Coach Ballard in the yellow shirt at the finish line. 

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 ;-)