Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Training stats for first half of 2015

My graph-loving self did a mid-year check in on training stats! It's nice to see such consistency across the year. That was nearly threatened by a sudden issue with my anterior tibialis last week but I got right on it, had some ART work done, and seemed to turn it around. I'm still being a little cautious and it was a wake-up call to get back to stretching and rolling.

I am averaging about 8-1/2 hours of training per week. That surprises me a bit. It feels like more than that, but on the other hand, it fits pretty comfortably into my life. I guess this also speaks to the idea of quality over quantity, particularly since I am focusing on sprint and Olympic racing this year. There is a fair amount of intensity in my workouts and it seems to be working out OK in terms of racing.

I share this always with the caveat that training is a very individual thing and needs to be appropriate to one's goals and one's life. What is right for me may not be right for you.

Truly what I like about these bar charts is the fact that there are no empty weeks! That is a huge win for sure!

Happy training :-)

Monday, June 22, 2015

On the Color Pink

Pink Vignette #1 - The Swim Cap

At last weekend's race, my all-female swim wave, one of only four swim waves, was assigned pink swim caps. I don't have anything against pink per-se, and I appreciate that it has a lot of symbolism and meaning, but I resent the fact that so often it is the defacto "girl color." No one like assumptions made about them, right?

So perhaps I fussed a lot bit when I was handed my pink swim cap. I was told I was not the only one who grumbled.

I thought about taking a black Sharpie to it.

Only once in my years of racing have I seen a men's swim wave wear pink. So I'm not saying it never happens, I'm just saying it's far from a chance assignment. It's surely not 50% of the time. The color assignment should be a little more random.

Pink Vignette #2 - The Cycling Shoe

My other recent pink-is-for-girls situation involves the Shimano Tri shoe that I've been wearing for years. I bought my original pair in 2009 and one replacement pair a few years ago. They have some subtle green and yellow accents, and are fairly androgynous-looking shoes.

When it was brought to my attention that the ever increasing "fragrance" of my shoes was no longer appreciated, I looked to replace them. (Scrubbing only goes so far. Ten minutes baking in a hot car and hoooo-weeee omg.)

I'm only sorry this is not a scratch-and-sniff blog so you could 
enjoy the full-bodied aroma

It turns out the newer model of my shoe has pink accents (no other options). There is just no way I could wear those and feel good about them. Again, just my personal preference like I would not choose to wear brown cycling shoes or gold shoes. I just don't understand why if a company is making a product in only one color, with no other choices, why they would opt only for pink.
So I went on a hunt for the old model Shimano shoe, the same ones I had, and found probably the last remaining pair in my size in the universe at A1 Cyclery in Indianapolis. Yay! Otherwise I would have been looking for a new brand of shoe. And we all know how much I love change!!

Pink Vignette #3 -The Wetsuit

Last winter I noticed that XTERRA proudly announced the following regarding their 2015 line of wetsuits:
"First and foremost we have given our suits a complete makeover! The color highlights will now be gender specific - the men's Vortex suits will have brighter and bolder yellow, while the women's Vortex will have teal green highlights. The men's Vector Pro is now fire engine red, and the women's Vector Pro is now magenta."
Gender specific colors? Who decided this was good marketing? I mean, pick whatever colors but then just leave it alone. Why even call yourself out there and say "gender-specific"?

Safe to say I will never buy this model wetsuit.

Pink Vignette #4 - Things I like because I chose them

Lest you think I am totally anti-pink, I am not! I just don't like it being the only choice. Here are some pink things I happen to love - two sparkly pink swim suits, my pink Suck it Up Buttercup shirt, and my pink and black lifting straps that help me to crank out the pull ups. No assumptions there!

I hope all you tri equipment manufacturers are reading this. Pink is fine as an option, but not great as the only choice.

Now excuse me...I have to go and polish my tiara.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Race Report: Bath County Sprint Triathlon and Downtown Sundown 5K

I had a double race day on Saturday - the Bath County Sprint Triathlon at 8 am, and the local Downtown Sundown 5K at 8:30 pm.

Bath County Sprint Tri

The Bath County Triathlon is one of my favorite races. Lake Moomaw is a spectacularly beautiful lake tucked quietly away in the mountains, lots of friends show up, and the bike and run courses are simple out-and-backs closed to traffic. The weather forecast was iffy and I was expecting rain, but we ended up having a sunny, dry, and not-too-hot day!

I had a good race, finishing in third. There was a pretty large spread among the top female finishers, and the winner Kate Buss (daughter of my swim partner) just crushed it in 1:06:13...she was third OVERALL among the men!!

I really wanted to title this post "The Pigs Have Flown" because something happened at this race that I never EVER ever thought would happen (hence the "when pigs fly" expression comes to mind)  In terms of rank, I swam better/more competitively than I ran. Eek!

I was happy to have put in a decent swim and strong bike, but it was a bit of a wake-up call on the run. I've been going into races this year with this mindset:
  • Swim: dial in stroke technique, swim strong, maintain a sharp mental focus...GO!
  • Bike: push those watts, keep the effort up, focus...GO!
  • Run: hang on, run with whatever is left over...kind of try, sort of!
And that's pretty much how it played out. Interesting how that mindset calls the shots.

Swim - This was a barely wetsuit legal swim so most of us opted to wear them. I took off from the start hoping to draft some off of Kate Buss. I'm proud to say I stayed with her for a full two or three strokes (haha) and then she was GONE!  By the first turn buoy I was already feeling the heat of the wetsuit. I knew I'd only get hotter but that I had to put it out of my mind because there was nothing I could do about it. With my stroke better established now, I have more brain power to notice what is going on around me, to draft a bit, chase after swimmers ahead, and keep an eye on my line to the buoy. I'm actually starting to have fun with the swim! I attribute that to consistent work and so many sessions and sets with Janet and Coach Tom where we regularly have to maintain a race-like intensity and stroke. 

 where is my zipper pull?

  OK this is not funny, where is my zipper pull?

 for CRYING OUT LOUD where is my zipper pull? Oh, there it is.

Bike - I managed to forget (despite Coach Jim telling me in the pre-race notes) that this course is uphill out and downhill back. I got a little discouraged seeing my time at the turnaround, but oh my GOSH did I have fun on the return trip!!! I had an absolute blast...and happy racing always makes for faster racing. I turned in the second fastest bike split (still two minutes behind Wonder Woman Kate...she has some mad skills and talent). This is the second race in a row where I did a good job of waiting until pretty close to the dismount line to come out of my shoes. I used to think I needed half a mile for that. 

Clearly up out, down back...can you say "terrain-induced negative split"

Run - As I started the run, I heard someone tell me there were two girls ahead of me, which, according to my impressive deductive skills of 2+1=3, could mean an overall podium for me. I wondered who was behind me. I took the first big hill very conservatively at the slowest pace that could be technically considered a "run." I saw fast Kate and fast Kyra wayyyy ahead of me. Then past the turnaround I saw Kate Fisher coming the other way but with enough of a gap that if I stayed steady I'd be OK. It's harder to push yourself when you really can't catch up or be caught. I ran a 23:10 5K. At a 7:27 pace, that was not much faster than my 7:38 half-marathon pace in the fall.

But I was happy with my 1:13:02 finish. It was an improvement over my 1:16:16 finish in 2013, but not quite that epic finish of 1:11:47 I had in 2012.

the anti-fast-and-flat course

I think I see the finish line there! Yes, YES I do! 

Thank you Coach Jim!!

Roanoke Tri Club boys...I think I crashed the photo!

Cool award on a beautifully finished wedge of wood.

Downtown Sundown 5K

I finished very happy with my overall race but I couldn't help but be a little annoyed with myself about that run (slowest 5K time ever for me). Fortunately I had another opportunity to test my 5K legs. Later that day, our town hosted the Downtown Sundown 5K that started at 8:30 pm in celebration of the Summer Solstice. I wasn't pre-registered and only told Coach Jim that morning (surprise!) that I was considering doing it. He said if I did it as a slow 25-minute 5K that would be OK. He and his family would be there as his son was running it too.

I told myself if the forecasted heavy rains held off I'd run it. I felt extremely confident that it would rain a LOT. Plan B was a Netflix binge-watching session of Season 3 of Orange is the New Black.  It didn't rain. Sigh. No couch potato time for me.

there's me haha

So I towed the line with 215 members of the local running community, each of us with some kind of light or glowlight for the dusk run. Yeah, I was looking for a little redemption. My legs were a bit tight so I just figured to run hard, but well within myself. I was not willing to risk injury.

I had a MUCH better run and felt so much better than on the morning tri run. My stride was more relaxed and I got some great flow going. I was happy and felt strong!

I saw Coach Jim and his family (minus their running son who was on the course) around mile 2.25 and heard him yell something along the lines of "So much for the easy jog!" I gave him a smile and a thumbs up that I hoped would convey that I was pushing but it was plenty manageable.

I was in a good position, keeping friend Marcia (3rd overall!) in my sights, and I was ahead of friends Kristen and Eric. With maybe 200m left to go, Kristen and Eric gunned past me, and I made a split-second decision to maintain my gear, and I don't think I could have matched them. Plus I was not willing to risk a big sprint effort, risk injury, for a run that Coach Jim said I should "jog" (lol). I finished in 21:14 (6th female), enough for the top female master's spot! I was VERY happy with that time!

photo courtesy of Runabout Sports;
THAT'S the way to run, totally different look than the morning!

Yeah running off the bike is not the same as just running, but I think this says a lot about mindset and running relaxed. It was a good experiment on the day.

So four races in three weeks. I was going to ask Coach Jim and suggest a two-day break, then I looked at my schedule and saw that he was way ahead of me - that was already his plan! Yay! I think it will be good for me. But I am already excited for the races to come...Colonial Beach, Nationals, and Worlds!!!!

Last but no least, Happy Father's day to my awesome dad, Ted. Thank you for always having an active role in my hobbies, be that horses or triathlon! Thanks for giving me a love of speed, showing me the importance of a work ethic, and for calling me "Cort the Sport." It took a while, but that prophesy finally came true and I'm loving it, and loving you!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Photo reflection

Photos were recently posted from the Off the Rails triathlon from a few weeks ago. I saw this one and I quickly spent the $3 to get it from AM Photographs (appreciate that price!!)

This photo is a welcome departure from the usual bike and run photos and a different perspective of racing. It's the calm before the storm, the quiet contemplation, the days and months and years of training collected up in one duffle bag, a bike, and a body.

As I walked, my mind was clicking methodically through each of the things I'd need to do - packet pickup, timing chip, body marking, numbers on helmet, bike, and race belt. Transition setup - fill my water bottle, give the bike a quick check, clip shoes in, and set up helmet, glasses, race belt, running shoes and socks. Get goggles, swim cap, and Gatorade to drink and wait to swim.

My hand on the saddle, I guided Roo to transition, as I had done for races many times prior! My confidence is buoyed as I roll along with my "partner," thinking of the thousands of miles we have logged together. Roo looks so skinny!

Within my bag are are the accessories of racing, but I know the most important one is between my ears. I tried to keep my mind filled with thoughts of happiness, gratitude, and strength. I would not forget that one year ago I was volunteering at this race, still recovering from artery surgery, and unsure of my racing future.

In this photo I see a capable body. It is also aging, scarred, and plenty flawed by popular standards of beauty. But sport teaches that true beauty lies in strength and spirit.

This moment is a tiny slice of a journey that began for me in May of 2008 when I first set out to find a fitter and happier me. I never dreamed of the adventures I'd have along the way. It all started with a single step toward change. Without that, what photo might I be looking at today, what would I see, and most importantly, how would I feel?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Race Report: Challenge Williamsburg Olympic distance

This past weekend I did my first race in the Challenge Family series of races - Challenge Williamsburg, which offered both a half-iron and an Olympic distance event. This race satisfied my desire to get in an additional Olympic-distance race this summer and to try out the Challenge series.

Challenge is well-established in Europe and around the world, but is new to the US, and recently grew with the acquisition of the Rev3 races. So bear with me as I present a race report intertwined with a race review as there were a number of aspects of the race that were new to me.

Pre-race day

This is a two-transition area race so upon my arrival in Williamsburg I stopped first at T2 to check in and get my race packet. Next I got my timing chip and I noticed that rather than give out a pre-numbered timing chip, they program your timing chip right then and there, during which time they also take your photo ("for the finish line") and double-check your information. Lastly, I went to get the "swag bag" - given in exchange for providing information about your hotel nights, number in your traveling group, etc (i.e. economic impact).

The swag bag included some product samples (not shown), a red bluetooth speaker, 
and a copy of Triathlete magazine.
Shown also - my bib number, tshirt, finisher's medal.

The checkin area offered a bounce house and activities for the kids as well as a number of vendors including (I think) TriSports who had just about everything a forgetful or upgrade-needing triathlete could want!

As I was getting checked in, the pro panel was beginning with Meredith Kessler, Alyssa Godesky, Kevin Collington, and Matt Chrabot. This was my first race ever with pros racing simultaneously on the same course. Did that matter to me? Yes, it absolutely did. I loved that and would like future opportunities to do races with pros as they elevate the whole race for everyone!

I left T2 and drove to T1 for the mandatory bike check-in. As I rolled the bike to T1, a very friendly volunteer escorted me to my spot (albeit not necessary, but a nice gesture). It's handy how they label the racks with your name and number so everyone gets the same amount of space (no one likes a rack hog, people!).

After getting the Roo settled in, I checked out the swim venue, swim in, bike out, and drove the bike course. I noted a half mile section of very bad road on a loop we'd need to do twice. At least I was prepared.

Race day!

I had my usual race day breakfast of oatmeal with a banana and two single serving packs of almond butter, coffee, and a can of Beet Performer (to top off the two from the day before). I'd prepared three bags - one of the things to drop off at T1, one of the things to drop off at T2, and a bag of things I'd need for the swim. Then there was no forgetting, and more importantly, minimal thinking required on race morning!

T1 on race morning was a sea of bikes. It was already plenty warm and muggy. 

There was a LOT lot of red. I gather the Challenge Family really likes red.

Rather than body marking with Sharpies, in your race pack you get temporary tattoos - a race number for each arm, and an age and race ("O" for Olympic or "H" for Half) for your leg. I was supposed to apply the leg ones like this:
But the way I did it, it looked like I was 480 years old!!

Swim (28:54)

The water was in the low 80's and just perfect without a wetsuit! The 70.3 athletes all went before we did so we could see the effect of the slight tide pushing many swimmers to the right, beyond the first turn buoy. I made a note to start further left and at the front. We also watched the pro men dolphin diving for quite a ways through shallow water at the end of the swim. That looked exhausting. I decided I would swim until my knuckles dragged the bottom.

It felt like a good swim for me! Despite our very large swim wave, people spread out fast so I didn't get much of a chance to draft, though I did actually RACE and pass a few people along the way. About 1000m in I had some cramping in my lower left leg and could feel one of my toes involuntarily crossing over the other in a spasm. It was a little unnerving (haha) but what could I really do but just keep going and try to relax that leg.

I was able to swim until maybe 25y from the shore when my hands struck the bottom. We were all slow through that stretch of water but I passed about four people on the run from the shore to my bike!

My Garmin had me at a 1:41 pace per 100y which is not too bad for a 1500m swim where I don't get to push off a wall for added speed along the way. It's a big effort for me to hold a 1:36/7 on a 1000y swim in the pool so I'll take this for a 1500m. It was the 17th "fastest" out of 88 female finishers. Best of all, I felt strong and confident!!

Note: Challenge offers nervous swimmers the option to wear a red cap so that guards and guides on the water can keep a closer eye on them. That seems like an excellent idea and I noted a number of athletes opted for the red cap.

Bike (1:08:49)

In my races I am really focusing on pushing hard on the bike and not consciously or unconsciously holding back to "save" for the run. The bike has become my strength, and on this hot and humid day I wanted to gain as much of an advantage there as I could and just run with whatever was left. Plus I don't think "saving" really works for me. I wanted to look down and see watts over 200 as much as possible. The power meter was a really good reminder to keep the effort up!!

The course was nice; it included one loop that was repeated. On that loop there was a stretch of road between two "End State Maintenance" signs that was pretty dreadful and required some careful riding, but otherwise I just pushed. I got passed temporarily by just one girl at about mile 14, trailed her for about 1/2 a mile to see what she had, then showed her who was boss (haha). That was the last I saw of her.

The course was very well marked with lots of color-coded directional arrows on the pavement and sufficient course marshals who did their jobs, thank you!

When I hit the 20 mile mark and had just under 5 miles to go, I pretended it was a threshold interval and that I had to give it all I had. I came into T2 at a good clip and for once did not come out of my shoes too early.

Run (49:18)

I took off on the run feeling decent. Thanks to the heat and humidity that was short lived. It was a two-loop run course for the Olympic; four for the Half. The first half of the loop is thankfully in the shaded woods, but it was rather twisty-turny and constantly either going up or down a short distance but at quite a grade. It was packed gravel which is just a slower surface for me. I decided not to look at my watch and run by feel. I hardly saw anyone on my first loop (and at one point feared I'd missed a turn!!) so I passed the time counting my strides up to 100 then repeating, over and over. Fun, huh?! To try to stay cool, I dumped water on myself and put ice in my tri suit at the aid stations.

That would be a "grimace"

The tricky thing with these multi-loop courses is you have no idea what loop anyone is on. I got worried about one girl and asked what loop she was on to be sure she was one behind me. At the turnaround on the second loop I saw another girl behind me, too close for comfort, with a mile and a half to go. I ran scared from her all the way to the finish and then figured out later she was also a lap behind!

I ran with all I had on the day - it was a threshold heart rate paired with something closer to my normal upper aerobic pace. Argh. What can you do? On the plus side, I stayed pretty positive on the course. However, I could have done better keeping my cadence up. As I reported to Coach Jim,

"Cadence was inversely proportional to my desire to sit down."

Here are some excerpts from the press about the race; heat was a central theme:
"Challenge Williamsburg delivered a doozy of a day, with 90 degree “feels like 100” heat and sweltering humidity that turned the run course into a war of attrition befitting the historic setting. Those that ultimately triumphed did so through calm, calculated efforts, knowing that any error of too-intense effort in the unrelenting heat would spell certain disaster." (Read more at
This was the hottest race I’ve participated in,” said Kessler afterward. “Ever, ever!" (

Total (2:30:44)

Overall I am happy with the race! I was 6th among the females, first age group, first over-40. There was a 12-minute gap between me and the next female finisher.

I got to share the podium with my friend Sami Winter, for whom this was the third race in 8 days. She is crazy strong!


After I finished my race, I got to watch the pros in the Half finishing up. I saw the men on their final lap, and the women on their third and then final lap too. They are amazing to watch! Even though Meredith Kessler led by a big margin, there was no doubt she was giving it a big effort!

My friend and former Endurance Films Racing Teammate Liz Baugher (below) raced but unfortunately pulled up half-way through the run with a sore hip flexor. She's coming back from a bad bout of mono so I was glad to see her erring on the conservative side right now. She has a long career ahead of her.

Awards for the Olympic race began on time and happened more efficiently and quickly than any other race I have been to. I very very much appreciated that! They had a nice podium and organized process for handing out the award medals and bags. Well done, Challenge staff!

And when I went to retrieve my bike and my swim-to-bike bag that had been delivered to T2, I found this on all the bike saddles. Cute!

Summary of Challenge Family race production

In summary, I would say based on my one race experience that Challenge definitely does an above-and-beyond job of running an athlete-friendly race! At $170, this race was more expensive than a typical Olympic race, but for all that went into it, I'd say it was worth it. The staff and volunteers were absolutely excellent. The communication was appropriate (neither too many nor too few emails) and the athlete guide was well organized and thorough.

I have only a few suggestions/ideas about the race:
  1. Provide a participant list that is sortable by gender, age group, location, etc. I had no idea how many people were in the race ahead of time. All we got was a PDF bib list for both races combined.
  2. Provide the address for T1 and T2. It's not enough to just give a map! Also, verify the course maps. The turn by turn directions for the bike course were not right.
  3. Have cold/ice towels on the run course!
  4. Consider a wristband type lap counting system so we can see what lap other competitors are on.
  5. Award top-3 masters!
Thank you!

Final thoughts - I just want to say thank you to Coach Jim McGehee, Coach Tom Williams (swim), Solar Connexion, and my family! I'm also very appreciative to the staff and volunteers for putting on a terrific race.

I will now wrap up this way-too-long race is in four days. Back at it!