Friday, March 30, 2012

Git'R Done

We all love a challenge, and mine often come in the form of scheduling challenges.

Challenge: fit an hour of intervals on the bike trainer into a day that already had a morning swim, work, kid pickup, and soccer practice.

Solution: cycle AT soccer practice.
This was before I started dripping

The really cool thing is, that ALL the parents were doing something active: hula hooping, shooting hoops, walking a dog, jogging around the neighborhood, or throwing a ball. Siblings were playing on the playground and everyone was having a great time!

I have to admit the plan to watch my child did not work out too well when I hit the threshold segments.

The kids are coached by two VT students, Luke and Ed, and this is the team's third season with them. They are AWESOME coaches and I've seen them develop their skills too. We are so fortunate to live in this fabulous college town!

And just in case my kids aren't yet completely embarrassed to have me for a mother, I have this bit to add. My PT Mike had suggested a slide board to strengthen my abductors, but being a bit cheap, I figured I could just improvise with a can of Pledge and a pair of socks. Works like a charm ;-)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

USA Triathlon - Age Group Stats 2009-2011

Not too long ago, USA Triathlon released the final standings for 2011 in which they rank all participants who have completed three or more sanctioned races of any distance. You can check out the algorithm that is used to score race performances and download rankings from 2011 back through 2005.

The top 5% earn USAT All American Honors and the next 5% earn All American Honorable Mention. (I came in at 180 in the 40-44's, putting me at 7.2%, right square in the Honorable Mention Category.)

What I found interesting was the distribution of racers across age groups, and the steady increase from 2009 to 2011. I went through the last three years of results and made a spreadsheet (yay!) of how many qualified triathletes (3 or more races) there were in each age group by gender. Below I give you the raw data and two graphs. Yes, I had other things I probably should have been doing with my time but I found this exploration irresistible!

There are nearly twice as many men as women represented. The men fall into more of a symmetrical bell curve, while participation among women seems to drop off more sharply after 44. The greatest growth area for both genders is in the 40-44, 45-49, and 50-54 age groups.

So, uh...enjoy! (Click on images to see them larger). If anyone wants the spreadsheet to play with, drop me an email and I'll send it your way.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Meaning of Food

For the last eight weeks our family has been on the receiving end of a gift of a weekly meal, prepared from scratch and delivered to our doorstep. The preparer is herself a mom and her food "values" align well with mine. The fare is vegetarian, hearty, and scrumptious.

The thing that has been so neat about this experience is that it has rekindled my reverence for food and reminded me what is missing from the institutional corporate food world. I can't sit down to these meals without thinking about the planning, time, energy, and care that went into preparing them. Not one bit of it goes to waste. Here's what we've enjoyed:
  • Lasagna and Pea Soup 
  • Burritos and Minestrone Soup 
  • Sesame Noodles and Vegetarian Chili 
  • Beans & Rice and Potato Chowder 
  • Stuffed Shells and Lentil Soup 
  • Vegetable/Tofu Pot Pie and Garbanzo soup 
  • Enchilada Casserole and African Peanut Soup
She's very generous and the meals last several days which means I have some awesome lunches at work!

So what do I mean that this has "rekindled" my reverence for food? Well, I used to be part of a team that taught an experimental interdisciplinary two-year Earth Sustainability course here at VT and we devoted a semester to food and agriculture. We read Michael Pollan's Ominvore's Dilemma, visited Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm (and read Holy Cows and Hog Heaven). We learned about the importance of local agriculture and sustainable farming and livestock practices and brought the local Farmer's Market to campus. We began to unpack the cultural and familial significance of food while coming to realize that all eggs/carrots/beef/etc are not created equal. I think I had drifted away from some of that.

Having meals "gifted" to me has been a much-needed reminder of what I want my children to understand about food. I've probably over emphasized the idea of food as fuel and under emphasized the sustainability and cultural/meaning aspects. In them, I want to cultivate a reverence for food as a scarce and valuable resource that relies on healthy soil, water, and air. Right now there is a major war going on that few people are aware of: monopolizing bully industrial land-raping chemical food creators versus conscious sustainable land steward farmers. Okay, maybe that's an oversimplification, but that's the gist of it.

Something that really scared me was that an effort to create a community urban farm in our nearby city was withdrawn this fall amidst tremendous opposition from neighbors. The didn't want a "dirty smelly farm" near them and just wanted to get their food from a store. If they understood the big picture from an environmental and political/corporate perspective they would very likely feel differently.

Folks need to understand the issues surrounding food and agriculture. So thanks to this gift of food, I've reopened these discussions with my kids. I think our next family book reading will be Holy Cows and Hog Heaven.

If this is an area that you are not familiar with, I'd recommend Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma as an excellent introduction and overview.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The final "45" installment

This one was not hard to predict. I got the bike back yesterday from Steve at Just the Right Gear with the new "Merry Birthday" wheels on, new chain, and new cassette. It's a gorgeous day in the 70's and I took the morning off of work. What to do, what to do? Hmmmm. yep, 45 miles. That was easy to guess.

I headed out on a route that I had only done a modified version of once before. On a loop of just three country roads, I got most of the 45 miles in.

I'd forgotten just how nice this bike is to ride. It's just smooooth, shifts easily, and it felt awesome especially after Steve and crew went over it. They sure know their craft.

My mother-in-law, Therese, had given me a copy of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, & the Greatest Race Ever Run by Matt Fitzgerald as an early bday present and she said that she read it first! Even though Mark Allen and Dave Scott suffer orders of magnitude beyond what I could ever do and I'm not an "Ironman" nor aspire to that, she said it gave her more of an understanding of the sport and my attraction to it. Then yesterday she gave me this magnet to the left which meant a lot to me. She grew up in WWII Germany and has always been a very very hard worker in school (master's in Electrical Engineering) and in work. In her generation and facing wartime issues, sports were not exactly a high priority and she did not have those same opportunities. So I really appreciate her interest and support! 

Anyway, lest you should think I have gone overboard on the whole "birthday thing", rest assured the majority of the day was very VERY normal. It included: a few hours at work, dishes, three loads of laundry, a child home on the third (and hopefully final) day of a stomach flu, a quick trip to the grocery store (to buy my own little birthday cake of course, the oven is still broken), filling the gas tank, and a stop at the auto shop for a new turn signal bulb and a teensy little minor repair. Plus I still will hit the gym this evening. Regarding my ancient falling-apart minivan, my dad said of it today that I was "getting all the squeal out of that pig"!!!!  Haha!!

Dirty dishes

Sick kid (and happy dog)

Laundry to be's taunting me.
Back to "normal" tomorrow!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

45 Pull Ups. The birthday adventure continues.

Today's 45th birthday week challenge was 45 wide-grip pull ups. I've always loved doing these and they are a staple for me in the gym. Great for the lats but even better for just feeling strong and capable!

It took me 7 sets (12, 8, 6, 6, 6, 4, 3) and about 10 minutes to do them all with about 45s rest between sets.  Notice how my legs try to push off of ummmm...the AIR... to "help" me up on the tough ones!! All in all, not bad considering I'd had a swim this morning too that included a set with paddles, taxing the lats some. But with the power of the pink lifting straps, all things are possible!

It was good to have a bit of help and extra motivation from Kurt -- rep 26 was a perfect example, haha! After this we went through a back and bicep workout: one-arm dumbbell rows, seated rows, face pulls (rear delts), cable ez bar curls, shrugs, and alternate dumbell curls.

The 45 pull ups workout was a nice addition to the 4500y swim on Sunday. There is still at least one more "fun with 45" workout yet to come...maybe two. The actual b-day is on Thursday the 22nd but the celebration goes through Friday when I told the kids I am having a sleepover birthday party just like they do. But they are the only people I want to invite :-)

The last three years I have done age x 135 lb sumo deadlifts (1 set) - here's last year's 44 x 135.  Even without the slightly wonky hip I knew I wanted to change it up this year and it ended up expanding into multiple events. I guess that is appropriate as a multisport athlete.

Seriously, is there a better way to celebrate a birthday?? I think not!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Birthday week kick-off swim: 4500y

If the kids get to have birthdays that last a week (or more) then shouldn't I? It is in that spirit that I kicked things off today with a 4500y swim in anticipation of Thursday's 45th birthday. My husband said I was doing my "long range torpedo impression." Cute.

For some of you, 4500 in the pool is a regular thing. But my time-crunched life, my swims are smashed into a narrow window between when the pool opens on weekday mornings and when I need to get home to get kid #2 organized and off to school. I like to hit 2500y. Today I had no such constraints.

4500 yards = 2.56 miles = 90 laps. Given my admitted inability to sustain focus long enough to count laps reliably beyond about....oh...say 3 of them, you may be wondering how I successfully counted to such a large double-digit number? I lapped my watch in increments of 500y, knowing each would come in around 9 minutes at a relaxed pace. I'd never really done much beyond 3000 yards. I went at an easy "forever" pace but wondered if "forever" might hit before 4500 or not. Happily, it did not! I took a quick drink break at 1500 and 3000 but all the 500s hit within 10s of 9 minutes. Nice to know my pace didn't slip.

While I definitely enjoyed this slightly longer than Ironman swim, I was glad I didn't have a 112 mile bike ride and a marathon afterward! And now that I think about it, it wasn't that many years ago that I could hardly swim a 200 without being completely spent! Gotta love progress!

More "fun with 45" to come this week.

Related to Boston, I just want to say THANK you for the support, information and leads about gluteus medius tendinosis (ok, yes, DEAD BUTT syndrome, snicker, snicker). I start PT this week and in my normal life and on the bike and in the pool I feel just fine. I cancelled my Boston hotel room and rebooked our family trip for the week prior and already have our entire sight-seeing schedule planned out. So I'm still excited for Boston, just for different reasons and on a different schedule.

 As Swim Bike Mom would say, just keep moving forward
 Picture of our dog at soccer Saturday, she is just the best!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The blog post I didn't want to have to write

I'm NOT running Boston. Yes, again. I made the decision to pull out and give my body time to heal without the time pressure of a race...especially a marathon. I got in some short runs last week after two weeks off of running and I knew there was no way I could ask this hip to run a marathon without significant risks.

My hip issues that started a few weeks back are most likely due to "dead butt syndrome" (gluteus medius tendonitis) in which my gluteus medius is not firing properly and the other structures have had to pick up the slack. This may have been brewing all year, dating back to the drop foot, on the same side, from a year ago.

Given all my strength training and cross training it surprised me to think I could have this, and if three separate people (two docs and a rolfer) hadn't told me this independently, I wouldn't have believed it. There is still much I don't understand, and I'm not sure what they are feeling that I don't. It's off to PT to retrain the glute and neural pathways and I'm putting race plans on hold until such time as I know I am healthy and will be for a long time to come.

This was a very tough decision and my kids saw me go through frustration, disappointment and now regrouping and moving forward. As a parent, one of the gifts of triathlon is exactly this -- the kids see first-hand that we all face these challenging times and that it's OK to feel sad and mad but then it's important to move forward. I rebooked our Boston trip for Easter weekend and we will still go, enjoy the train ride, and our visits to Harvard and MIT (their future schools they have decided at ages 10 and 12).

These are the questions I asked myself when coming to this decision:
  • Do I think I can make it 26.2 miles on April 16? Yes, on stubbornness alone.
  • Is it worth all the worry and possible greater damage while things are vulnerable? No
  • Would I be happy running a Boston Marathon with a time that was 15 minutes slower, 30 minutes slower, or an hour slower than what I know I can do? No.

Decision made. My Endurance Films Racing Teammate, Nick Logan doesn't know it yet, but his post on Knowing When to Fold gave me some much-needed perspective.

I'm putting all race plans on hold until I can run confidently and pain-free again. If this means my triathlon race season doesn't start until June or July, so be it. I've been training and racing with a high level of intensity for the last year, a bit of a breather could do me some good and lead to better later-season races which are my most important anyway. I have emerged from past injuries a bit tougher and more "hungry" and I know I tend to bounce back pretty fast.

And Boston? See you in 2013. Third time's a charm, right?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Injury Rates Among Triathletes

Injury is unfortunately part of the triathlon training and racing package. Over a five year period, “traumatic injury was sustained by 43.1% and overuse injury by 72.2% of the British Senior Squad,” according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2010 (Vleck, et. Al.). On average, each member of the group sustained one traumatic and two overuse injuries during the five year study period. The purpose of this research was to compare the types of injuries sustained by experienced Olympic-distance (OD) triathletes as compared to Iron-distance (ID) triathletes.  (image from

Thirty-one athletes (12 OD; 19 IT) retrospectively recounted their injury histories, a task made easier by the fact that 79% of them kept detailed training logs throughout that time period. The most startling difference between the groups was in terms of Achilles Tendon injury occurrence – 50% of OD athletes suffered this injury but just 12% of ID athletes. Researchers found a correlation with running hill repeats and a lack of pre-cycling stretching.

Top injury sites for the OD athletes included lower back (17.9%), Achilles tendons (14.3%), and knees (14.2%). Among the ID subjects, most injuries occurred in the knees (44%), calf (20%), hamstrings (20%), and lower back (20%). Most injuries were attributed to running and the fewest to swimming. More details can be found in the article.

The authors acknowledge limitations with the study in terms of sample size as well as the lack of uniformity in the way training data was logged and interpreted. However, after analysis of logs, injuries, and training days lost to injury, the researchers offer some practical cautions. Triathletes mistakenly believe that cross-training reduces their likelihood of injury. In fact, there are cumulative overuse effects that carry over among the three sports. Injured triathletes tend not to back off on total training time but increase training time for the sports that are not seen as the direct contributor to the injury. That can slow or impede healing.

My take - 
This study is certainly not intended to be definitive, especially in terms of particular injuries. Where are ITB issues, hamstrings, etc? Regardless, I found the overall injury rates pretty startling and it was a good reminder that overuse injuries are cumulative across the sports. What is it they say about athletes? We are either injured, recovering from an injury, or headed into an injury! The trick is to stay in that healthy zone for as long as possible by being aware of warning signs, responding quickly to issues, and allowing for complete recovery. As frustrating and disheartening as it is to experience an injury, it's difficult to avoid them if we push our limits.

For me, the tricky part seems to be recognizing the warning signs and trying to discern between minor inconveniences and more serious issues. I've managed to push through a lot of things in the past so my tendency is to think I can always do that. Unfortunately, my body tells me otherwise!!

Be careful out there, folks!


Vleck, VE, Bentley, DJ, Millet, GP, and Cochrane, T. (2010) Triathlon event distance specialization: training and injury effects. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1): 30–36

Sunday, March 11, 2012

If ever an event deserved a finisher's medal...

...the fourth grade overnight Williamsburg trip would be it. The 37 kids and 17 adults loaded up at 5:30 am Thursday, drove 300 miles, returning at 8:30 pm Friday. In between was a LOT of standing, listening, walking, and synchronized bathroom trips. The thing that amazed me was that when we stopped at a rest stop at 5 pm on Friday, utterly exhausted, the kids spent about 20 minutes engaged in an all-out game of tag and even their teacher got involved. This group of kids defies the national childhood obesity odds. I love watching their free spirits and natural running form!

Yesterday I took my tri bike to Steve, owner of Just the Right Gear, to get the wheels put on and discuss what it might need for the coming season. The owner, Steve, really gets to know his customers and goes above and beyond for everyone. I left the shop with a helmet and a few new yoga stretches (he's in the process of becoming a certified yoga teacher)! I'd mentioned that I was considering a new helmet as I still have my original from four years ago. He passed along one of his personal, but lightly used Giro helmets. I love hand-me-downs!

It's been a gorgeous weekend here, perfect for running and biking, and now with one extra hour of daylight in the evenings!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I came across this recent article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (What? Doesn't everyone browse through that journal?!) and I'm always up for challenging old ways and old acronyms as these scientists do.

Many of us have learned to respond to a soft tissue injury with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) or PRICE (protection+RICE). Researchers from the University of Ulster synthesized recent research and suggest that rehabilitation with a POLICE approach can result in a shortened and more thorough recovery.

POLICE stands for protection, optimal loading, ice compression and elevation. The key difference is the concept of optimal loading rather than rest. Animal models have shown that “mechanotherapy” or a progressive loading of the affected limb can stimulate and accelerate healing. They state, “rest should be of limited duration and restricted to immediately after trauma. Longer periods of unloading are harmful and produce adverse changes to tissue biomechanics and morphology.” The trick is finding that level of optimal loading. This doesn’t mean the end of braces and crutches, but rather they should be thought of as tools to help with the progressive loading in the return to full function. The article indicates that modalities such as massage can be thought of as a type of mechanotherapy and have a place in recovery.

I suspect most runners and triathletes would overshoot "optimum" levels of loading but it's reassuring to know that total rest is not ideal either.

Bleakley, C.M., Glasgow, P., MacAuley, D. C. (2012). PRICE needs updating, should we call the POLICE? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(4) 220-221.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Finding (my) Nemo

...more like Searching for my Nemo. For us late-to-swimming types, it's a never ending quest to find our way. While I've improved quite a bit over the last three years with patient coaching, video, and practice, plent-y of work remains. The back end and elbows drop while the head over-rotates when I breathe. Yeah I know. Workin' on it.

I think I have Dory's memory or lack thereof. And just when I get one bad habit under control, another seems to pop up in its place.

Fortunately, I am more stubborn than my bad habits, so I chip away at them, and I've seen my stroke and times improve.

This video was some recent practice footage with Coach's newer underwater camera. My favorite part is the sounds, the bubbles, the tranquility. Add in some coral and anemones, maybe a starfish, that would be something.

Today I added a swim because (1) after 18 hours of 6 kids here for the sleepover bday party I needed a little getaway to restore my sanity and (2) this coming Thursday and Friday will be "off" days so I'll miss a swim. I'm not sure I'd call a two-day trip to Williamsburg with the fourth grade "off".

Since this was an add-on, I decided to do a 5 x 400 alternating hard and easy sets with 1 minute rest between. The cool thing is that my 3rd and 5th sets were a smidge faster than the 400 time trial I did in late December. YAY!! It could translate to 8 or even 10 seconds savings in a sprint!!  Wait...sighhh...really...that's all?!

The search for my Nemo continues.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

2012 Racing Sponsor: Solar Connexion

I'd like to say a humble thank you to Solar Connexion and owner Bryan Walsh for coming on as a sponsor of my 2012 racing season and supporting my efforts toward Auckland, New Zealand to race for Team USA in October. Solar Connexion is Virginia's premier photovoltaic contractor and has done installations throughout the state since 1993.

It's important that the values of the athlete and sponsor correspond and in this case they most certainly do. His credo is "reliability, performance, efficiency, workmanship, and integrity while minimizing the true cost per KWH." He wants his clients to get the right system for their long term needs, not the cheapest or easiest for him. It's not about shortcuts or maximizing profit, he just wants to see the right thing done, whether he gets the job or not.

Gorgeous example of Solar Connexion's work!

Bryan and Solar Connexion are also just great community citizens, donating time and equipment for projects like the Blacksburg Farmer's Market, the demonstration wind and solar project at the YMCA, the Virginia Tech Lumenhaus, and a low-income housing community.

It turns out that thinking about having sponsors is one thing. Asking, and getting one, is just a lot more unsettling than I bargained for. It's really weird to be given something, a very substantial something, so I'm happy to have found a few small ways that I've been able to contribute toward the company mission.

If you're at the New River Valley Home Builders Association Home Expo next weekend in Christiansburg, please look up Solar Connexion! And check out their new Facebook page!


With advancing age and experience comes much wisdom. You know, the kind of things you won't read about in books, like today's gem that I will share with you:
If the first stretch of your bike ride is down a good hill, if you then ride down with your butt up off the saddle for no good reason, and if you have elected to use Chamois butter with witch hazel and menthol on windy a day in the 40's, be prepared for a shocking dose of freezer burn when your buns return to the saddle.

And that concludes today's lesson.

Other than that, it was a glorious 40 mile bike ride through the back roads of rural southwest Virginia under a near cloudless sky. I'm always amazed by the sights around here - tractors back on the roads; a field full of sheep and one donkey, old barns and homesteads, and sure signs of the return of spring! Nice to see my One-on-One Endurance compadre John out there finishing up his 3-hour bike ride and to share a few miles with him.