Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Tale of Two Races: USAT Age Group Nationals


I am finally getting around to a report on USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals, held August 11 & 12 in Cleveland, Ohio. Why a two week delay (slacker) you ask? Because I got home late Monday after the race, had a backlog of work, and was getting my oldest son ready to head off to his first year at the University of Virginia. That happened Saturday.

I did keep up a Facebook album during the race weekend and won't duplicate that here. It turns out I must have pre-ordered the photos from the Olympic race so I'll put them to good use here. I have to keep up my tradition of race reports!

The short version of my report on racing the "double" of the Olympic on Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday:

Some days ya have it. Some days ya don't. 

Saturday's tale: The Olympic Distance Race

The lake was pretty riled up by the time our wave went. I generally like a bit of adversity and I did have fun with the swim, coming 26th out of 125 which is decent for me. Perhaps some credit is due to the sleeveless ROKA wetsuit I impulsively bought on my way to swim start, about 45 minutes out!! (I kept laughing at my total disregard for "nothing new on race day!!") It was one of several purchases I've been debating for years as I have a full-sleeve and I have wetsuit pants, but no sleeveless wetsuit. But I do now, and it's super comfortable and I loved it.


The swim must have spread us out quite a bit since I didn't see a lot of other women in my age group on the bike. I did my thing and felt OK but not amazing (I was 11th on the bike).


Then on the run I just ran out of steam - mentally and/or physically. In hindsight, I may have been under-fueled given the span of time between breakfast and the race start for me.

On this day I didn't quite have it. I found myself walking the little uphills (embarrassing) on the course and just didn't have much fight in me. I got passed by quite a few women in my age group and that STUNG. But I did what I could and came 17th place out of 125 finishers in my age group. The results are here in PDF form, on the app in individual form, or here at sportstats - none in easily sortable lists (which makes it hard to look at how your various splits compare to others in your age group).



I was 26th on the swim, 11th on the bike, and 24th on the run. With the age-up thing, I was 20th for the 18 Team USA spots which probably means a roll-down slot will come but I don't think I'll take it. Why not? Read on.

Sunday's tale: The Sprint Distance Race

I slept well Saturday night and showed up to the venue fresh and ready for another go. I was not sore AT ALL so I knew I had not fully utilized my race gears Saturday. I was determined to use them this day.

The sprint race was changed to a duathlon. Instead of swim - bike - 5k run, it would be a 2.7k run - bike - 2.7k run. While I would prefer all three sports, I knew this offered me a distinct advantage. I love a short fast run!!!

My age group was THE last group to go. We started in groups of four in a time-trial fashion, and there were maybe 20 women behind me. I was really at the back of the race. The wait felt like forever and when it was my time to go, I shot out of the start with pent-up energy. We ran about 200m on the flat grass then headed up the long-ish incline to the park. At the top I glanced at my pace and was thrilled to see something starting with a 6:XX. (Those track workouts pay off!) That just fueled my fight and helped me to confidently lock into my top gears. I just never let off the gas.

I had a blast on the bike, telling myself to "grind." It's funny the mantras that pop into my head on race day! I knew I was having a good race for me and that excitement carried me through every step of that second run and onto the finish. I felt fantastic!!

Sunday's race tale had a much more satisfying ending. I was 4th on the first run, 6th on the bike, and 7th on the last run. This time I was the one passing people (with a time trial start there could be slower people ahead of me and faster people behind me). Overall I was 5th, edging out 6th by just 12 seconds and earning myself the last step on the podium.


I did not have a change of clothes with me for the awards ceremony. Oops. 


That performance earned me one of the 8 spots for the ITU Draft-Legal Sprint World Championship to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland during the Grand Final next August 30-September 1. I took the spot despite my resistance to draft-legal racing. Why? I am a stronger sprint racer than Olympic. I believe I can adapt to that form of racing. And, I've been debating getting a race-quality road bike for YEARS. So this is my kick in the pants to finally do that. (Looking for: used carbon fiber road bike, size medium frame for 5'7" athlete, affordable!)

I was super happy especially given that this past year I've had to shoehorn training into a very packed life. I owe so much to my fantastic coach, Jim McGehee of One-on-one Endurance who helps me maximize my limited time. This is my tenth year of having the privilege of training with him and I am extremely grateful for his wisdom and guidance!!

Oh - one other victory worth mentioning. For the first time ever, I successfully used the multisport mode on my Garmin without screwing up (i.e. pushing start/stop instead of lap) AND I figured out how to add a duathlon mode for Sunday and did that one just fine too!! Pretty cool!


I am closing out my multisport season with two more races - the Claytor Lake Sprint Tri September 8th and the duathlon option at the Charlottesville Sprint Triathlon on the 23rd.

And I'll be in another season of college applications with son #2!!!


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Lake Moomaw Open Water Swim


Today I did my first ever open water swim race - the kind withOUT the biking and running afterward! It was at Lake Moomaw, site of the Bath County Triathlon, but it was held in a different area of the lake, near the Gathright Dam. 

I went with my long-time friend Clare (the chief instigator of this outing) and fellow Master's swimmer Dave (also a LBS owner). 


I figured the 1-mile swim would be a good tuneup for AGNC next weekend and just something fun and different to do. And it sure was!

Packing was freakishly easy. It all fit in one string bag plus a bag of snacks/drinks. 



We checked in and headed to the water for a warm up. I did my usual procrastination and grimacing getting into the water even though it was in the high 70's and actually quite perfect. We got out for the race briefing by Race Director Dave Holland where we heard that the reason that the last turn buoy is attached to a kayak is because the lake is 120' deep there - near the dam. WHA???? I pushed that little factoid out of my brain quickly. I did like his analogy for which side of the buoys to hit - he said it's like driving in the US on the way out, but like driving in England as we come around the last one. Got it!

Here's what we swam and you can see the dam in the top right. It's a huge vertical drop to the Jackson River. 



Taken from the car - Lake Moomaw up top, Jackson River below


I hoped the dam would hold for our swim and I wouldn't get sucked down the river!!!! (LOL - but really, can you imagine?!)

Dave, Clare, and I reviewed what we each wanted to focus on for our swims. Our swim coach Judy had reminded me to keep my leading hand in the water till my other hand was past my shoulder (she has some better way of saying it) - basically don't resort to "windmilling". I would also think about sighting/swimming straight, good rotation and reach, and increasing my arm turnover.

We were called to line up in 7 waves of about 10 swimmers each, heading off from the beach start in 1 minute intervals. I was in wave 3. 

Our wave talked about not going out too fast and there was no scrum. It was very civilized! Off we went, what's to say? Once round the first buoy, we could finally spot the second, and then the third. On the way back we could pick any route provided we rounded that first buoy again on the way into the finish.

A few things I noticed about my own swim: I was tending to drift left a bit, I had to remind myself to sight more often, and I noticed the gap to the others in front of my widened after a turn so I need to learn to get quicker around the buoys. These are things I will think about next weekend at USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals.

I finished in 29:15 which seemed pretty good to me, but for reference, the winning time was 21:05 on the women's side and 22:06 on the men's!! (Results here)  The fastest swimmers were not necessarily the youngest either -- I saw the famous Shirley Loftus-Charley go off in the first wave, and at age 67 she swam it in 22:21!! 

I was pretty tickled to win my age group (there were 5 women in 50-54). Clare came in WAY under her goal time and Dave was faster than last year, so it was a good day for all. We are already talking about going next year!! Swimmers came from DC, Richmond, and even Philadelphia, and I can't help but think this race is going to GROW and GROW. I'd certainly encourage area tri and swim friends to consider doing it.

For more info, follow the Facebook page for the Lake Moomaw Open Water Swim

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.