Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January letter to my racing self in May

I did some work for a race that happened this past weekend and as it was going on some 1800 miles away I thought about all the nervous athletes lining up at the start. Sitting calmly in my house, months from my own race season, I thought about how silly it is to get so nervous for a race! Yet I get nervous before a race too (case in point, pre-race deer in the headlights pic above).

There are all kinds of articles that tell you how to manage race nerves - visualize, have routines, repeat a mantra, seek quiet, use affirmations, remember why you do it, yada yada yada. For me, I just need to slap myself upside the head with a big reality/perspective check.

This is what my January self would like to tell my May racing self when I line up for the first race of the year. What would you say to yourself? Does any of this strike a chord in you?

Dear May racing self,

You aren't nervous, you are EXCITED! You have no reason to be nervous. You trained for this and you are ready. Baring a major random problem, you'll have a happy and successful race if you just do what you love to do every day in training. Race day adrenaline will take care of squeezing that extra bit out of you. Have faith that it will come.

This is controllable excitement and that's what you like. There aren't that many unknowns - there's water, roads, and paths. You know your bike. You've run in these shoes. It's not like your horse days - the bike doesn't have moods and opinions and you aren't facing solid cross country fences you have never jumped. OK, there is the weather...but you've raced in some tough conditions and were not as cold and miserable as you feared.

You don't need to get all worked up, you've got time out there. Triathlons are about who slows down the least. You're out there for one, two...five hours. It's not like a swim meet where it's like WAHHHHHH airhorn!!! and you go from standing around to V02 Max in 2 seconds. That is alarming. So don't waste energy getting excessively keyed up beforehand.

Even you don't have a great race, you will still have a good race. If you cross the finish line, if you know you gave it your best effort on the day and battled whatever challenges arose, it's still a win. It's not like your powerlifting days where you'd have to get all psyched and crazy for a five second effort that was either a success or a failure, pass or fail. There was no in-between. Today it's a measure of what you have on the day and in the past that's been pretty good.

Races are where you feel most a part of the triathlon community. You have an awesome group of triathlon friends near and far. They are driven, crazy, funny, honest, and caring. Races are the tie that binds and showing up and trying is what matters! 

No one is judging you. It's a clock and a time. It's not like your PhD prelims or defense where it was you and your PowerPoint with five faculty judging your every word and years of work. That was scary. Out on the race course you don't even have to think that much. Things are beautifully simple and you have only to manage your own inner dialog and corresponding level of effort. 

You are trained for this. You do this stuff every day! This is a supported training day with friends.

You love chasing and passing people. You do. Admit it, you love it a lot.

Frankly no one cares what your time was or what your place was and by tomorrow you won't remember either.

The stakes are extremely low. You are not a professional. Don't take yourself so seriously. Be happy and grateful in the moment. You chose to do this. 

Triathlon is a long-term investment in your mental and physical wellness. You are in it for the long haul and with that comes some highs and lows. Ride out whatever comes.

If you didn't have races, training would not have the same purpose. You thrive on purpose and goals! 

Racing has been the gateway for some tremendous life experiences - racing in London and Auckland, and experiencing new cities and states in the US.

Triathlon and all that goes with it makes you happy. It makes every day an adventure, gives your life some structure, and has made you a much more positive person. This moment, these butterflies, are all part of that happiness because they give you the chance to push beyond fears and see you are tougher than you think.

So what are you nervous about? You should feel nothing but happy and proud to be swimming, biking, and running in the great outdoors among friends. You should trust your body and mind to do what they have done for many miles and years now. You have nothing to prove other than your commitment to the sport and gratitude for the opportunity be a part of it.

So take a deep breath, put a smile on your face, and let it flow. Oh, and while you are out there, if you wouldn't mind, please suck it up Buttercup!

aka January self

Monday, January 27, 2014

Big indoor training weekend

Like much of the country, we've had some really miserably cold (sub-zero) temperatures and this weekend brought a lot of wind Saturday and more snow Sunday. For me that meant an indoor training weekend, even though I did see a few crazy cyclists and runners outside. I can't stop thinking about the group of local cyclists recently taken out by an ice patch. I'm not interested in that risk.

It was a really GOOD indoor training weekend though. The kids were busy with a programming project and the husband had to work extra this weekend so I made the most of it!


(1) Easy treadmill run - 45 minutes / 5.5 miles

(2) Gym workout - roll, stretch, motor control, strength - 1+ hour

(3) 6-minute 6-pack workout - Lesley Paterson's new ab/core series (last day of the Challenger week)
    Lesley Paterson is a Scottish pro triathlete, the 2011 and 2012 World XTERRA Champion and 2012 ITU Cross Triathlon World Champion, and she just launched this 6-minute 6-pack video series. It's 6 minutes - 6 days a week - 6 exercises each week - 6 weeks (36 total exercises). I'm a week and a day into it so far and plan a review in the future, but I have to say I'm enjoying it so far. It's very well done with a short instructional video for the week showing the beginner, intermediate, and advanced versions of each exercise, then you just follow along on the actual 6 minute 6 pack workout that literally takes 6 minutes.

(4) Vasa Ergometer workout - 35 minutes including 5 min + 2x4 min + 4x1 min intervals at 72 watts (my 400m time trial average from the fall). It feels good to be back on the Vasa Swim Ergometer :-) This was an adaption of a cycling workout from Coach Eric Neilsen - he converted the times and power goal.


(1) Bike Trainer Workout - 50 miles (new PR for me!)
    For the first hour and a half of this workout I watched the Diana Nyad documentary called The Other Shore that was just incredible. It is the story of her determination despite all the challenges, obstacles, and failed attempts in the lead-up to her successful Cuba to Florida swim last fall. I had NO idea all she endured including a near-death experience and I have even more awe and respect for her and her team than ever.

(2) 6-minute 6-pack workout - Lesley Paterson's new ab/core series (first day of the Contender week)

All-in-all, very fun! The weather probably inspired me to do more than I might have otherwise and the mental aspects of that long (for me) trainer ride were a good challenge for me.

I'm excited for a new week. Have a great one, everyone!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Product Review: Roll Recovery

After years of running and triathlon-ing, and experiencing the injuries that go along with that, I've acquired a pretty good toolkit for working out soft-tissue soreness, trigger points, and adhesions. I thought my toolkit was complete, but it wasn't. This week I added a new one that I'm pretty excited about - Roll Recovery.  I saw this at Runabout Sports and it's essentially two rows of four wheels (like inline skate wheels), held together under spring tension, that are rolled along a limb. It addresses some of the shortcomings of rollers, sticks and balls - pressure and precision.

Rollers are good for a generalized "wringing of the towel" effect but they are not very precise and for some areas it's hard to get enough downward force from bodyweight alone. For instance, rollers don't do anything for my calves. The Rumble Roller (top) is good in some situations but often I find it's just a bit too torturous. The massage stick is a good small portable option, but it takes some effort to generate pressure and some areas can be hard to reach effectively. The tennis-balls-in-a-sock and hard rubber balls are useful for small areas and localized trigger points, but if your whole leg needs attention, that's a bit like fighting a forest fire with a garden hose.

Roll Recovery provides precision, pressure, and complete coverage along the eight rollers allowing for a deeper massage action. You just slide your leg between the rows of rollers and move it along the muscle, changing the direction and angle as desired. With Roll Recovery I know exactly where I am sore.

I keep it by my desk and use it a few times throughout the day. It's easy enough to use yet the spring-tension is pretty powerful. It adjusts to apply the right tension to the top of my hamstrings as well as my calves. And I even tried it on my forearms just to see, and yes, that works too.

I suspect quite a lot of thought, testing, and refinement went into this product as it's quite well made and functions well. At $118 it's not inexpensive, but it's an investment to consider for leg health and enhanced recovery.

Thank you Solar Connexion for the investment in my leg health and enhanced recovery. This is much appreciated!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tap into the journeys of paratriathletes

For some time I've been wanting to write about paratriathlon. Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. seemed like a good day for it. Dr. King was so courageous, had a clear vision of what was possible, and was steadfast in his commitment toward goals. I find those qualities in abundance among the paratriathletes I have gotten to know or have learned about in the past year.

In my work with Team MPI (whose coaches John Murray and Mark Sortino served as Head Coaches for Team USA Paratriathlon in London), I've enjoyed email exchanges with a number of paratriathletes. Then in London, I had the privilege of serving as Sarah Reinertsen's handler (preferring to call myself "transition assistant") for the ITU World Paratriathlon Championship. That experience made a big wonderful impression on me!

I wished I could bottle up and share the can-do energy, the focus, the determination, and the grit of the athletes I watched training and racing - sightless athletes running so fast upon ground they could not see, prosthetic legs swapped out faster than we change shoes, and wheelchair athletes finishing races with bodies, arms, and minds drained of their deep reservoirs of power and endurance.

While I couldn't bottle up and share their energy, I could collect up and share their blogs and tweets that are full of insights, reflections, and lessons for all. So over the holidays, I gathered paratriathlon blogs onto a Paratriathlon Page on the TriCrowd website. I began with USAT's published list of National and Worlds Paratriathlon team members and searched for websites, blogs, and twitter names. I created a twitter list of the paratriathletes (and related organizations) that anyone can subscribe to and follow. There is also a blog feed to keep up with the latest from this group of paratriathletes. The page is not complete, but it's a start. If you know of others, please pass them along!

I would encourage you to explore the TriCrowd page and learn more about the athletes of paratriathlon, a sport that will make its Paralympic debut in Rio in 2016. With that ahead, things will really heat up this year!

I am so glad to be part of a sport that thoroughly includes para-athletes. They remind us that triathlon is about setting off on a journey toward our own personal best. We just need to start from where we are at this moment, and work with what we have right now.

The journey is the reward.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Race Awards - my thoughts and my favorites

We are excited to welcome a new triathlon to town - the Off the Rails Sprint Triathlon in Roanoke on May 31. The organizer was asking our local tri group about suggestions for top awards, generating considerable discussion. It got me thinking about the race awards I've collected over the last four and a half years and what I have liked the best.

I'd have to say my favorites are in the top photo - engraved stones from the Bath County Sprint Tri and Giant Acorn (both in Virginia), and the teak plaque from the USS North Carolina presented at Beach2Battleship, a full and half in North Carolina. I tend to like natural materials and things that are tied to the event or area.

It's also important to have the event name, date, division, and placement. That seems like a no-brainer, but not all of them do. 

The collection I have (partially shown above) includes trophies, bobble heads, plaques, trivets, coffee mug, travel coffee mug, wine glasses, water glasses, wine carafe, yoga mat, arm warmers, and socks. At this point I have plenty of drinking vessels. 

As much as I'd like to say awards don't matter at all, I must admit to a certain satisfaction as I pass by these shelves in the bedroom. They serve as tangible reminders that the daily efforts and choices add up to accomplishments - in racing and in life. Even so...I don't need LARGE reminders. Small reminders, taking up little shelf space, are just fine ;-)

If I could keep only one thing from each race, it would be the race bib. It was along for the whole journey and not just awarded at the end!

I'd keep the flags from worlds too.

I also like the collections from the races I have done in consecutive years - like my season-opening race at Smith Mountain Lake. I think it's nice if a race sticks to an award design like this year-after-year.

Still one of my all-time favorite awards was a series award from Virginia Triathlon Series - a customized bag with the VTS logo and our name. This has been my transition bag and gym bag, through thick and thin, for years!

I get a kick out of my Sharpie-d award below, with the age division corrected, and its neighbor with the paper printed label. Hey whatever. And in a shout-out to all my readers in the male 11-13 year old demographic (which would be none...not even my two kids read this), I have provided "banana for scale."  Yes, that is a plastic banana. Thank you to Spencer and Grant for introducing me to that valuable measuring concept.


To summarize my suggestions for those tasked with ordering awards, I would offer:
  • Tie the award design to the event or area
  • Include event name, date, division, placement
  • Keep them small - we are adults. It's just a token reminder of how we finished. We don't (shouldn't) need lots of stuff (or any stuff).
  • Keep the awards similar from year to year
  • And if you are awarding beer or wine glasses, consider providing the beer or wine to go immediately into the glass ;-)

And then there are t-shirts....that's a WHOLE other conversation for another day....

What are your thoughts and your favorite awards?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Out season gym time: Functional Movement Systems

Among my out-season gym goals are to (1) fix weaknesses and imbalances and (2) add in core work. I wasn't sure how to approach either. I didn't really know for certain what my weaknesses were (though I had guesses) and I was a little overwhelmed by all the options for core work and the mixed opinions on what is worthwhile and what is a waste of time.

I mentioned this to my trusty runner friends Carla, Kristen, and Michaela at the Weight Club, and they suggested I talk to the fitness coordinator and trainer there who has experience in Functional Movement Systems - DeWayne Moore. He had helped others to retrain non-optimal movement patterns that had led to injury. I contacted him for help, not knowing what to expect.

I should preface this post by saying that my first years in the gym (early 90s) were as a competitive powerlifter. So for me,

gym time = moving heavy weights to failure

I like heavy stuff! I was not prepared for how challenging things could be just dealing with my own body and no (or little) extra weight.

My first meeting with DeWayne involved a battery of tests to evaluate my movement and flexibility. I had to follow directions (a challenge lol) to lunge, step, squat, and move arms and legs various ways multiple times as he evaluated my movement patterns. The idea was to prioritize issues and address the most pressing ones first -- for me it was core and shoulders first, and we've since moved more to core and hips.

DeWayne prescribed a series of stretches and movements that became my "homework" until the next meeting where he would reassess. Thus began this sequence of evaluate - prescribe - retrain - re-evaluate.

(I have not read up on Functional Movement Systems at all aside from finding the link; I thought it most useful to present my raw interpretation of the process.)

The movements I am doing require simple equipment - like a mat, foam roller, stretch cord, stability ball, pvc pipe, and small free or cable weights. The trick I am finding is doing them correctly, breathing "normally" and using my core down to my glutes to stay stable. Otherwise, if I don't, I'm just letting the strong stuff continue to bully the weak!

I thought I had a pretty vast "library" of exercises after all these years at the gym, but 80% of the things I have learned from DeWayne I had never done before. I'm learning too that the nuances really matter - the direction your toes are pointing, alignment of knees, and maintaining a flat back and engaged core.

I am appreciating just how important flexibility is. I was struggling to maintain alignment in an overhead squat holding just a token 5 lb plate. After taking a few minutes to stretch the soleus and shoulders it was noticeably better.

Retraining the body requires a few tricks. My right knee has a tendency to collapse in -- a fact I have since noticed is also an issue on the bike. When I am doing things like split squats or step-ups, I am using a band around that knee (top photo DeWayne is helping with this, but it's anchored to an upright when I train alone) that pulls the knee inward, causing a natural tendency to then keep it out. Cool trick!

To summarize, I am doing a lot of....

....stretching and rolling (takes time to do it all right)


...asymmetrical movements that require the core to be on task to stay balanced

...and movements that demonstrate my lack of balance and lower leg stability ;-)

(me not falling over)

All kidding aside, I'm really enjoying this change up from my old gym habits. It feels good to be doing things with a purpose and seeing and feeling results. And if the regular bouts of sore glutes serve as an indication...I'd say things are working. My lazy butt and lazy core have received notice that the vacation is over!

(Photo credits: Bryan Walsh)

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's not always smooth sailing

This morning I had a time trial at the pool and the results were not as I had hoped. While it was just to establish an early season baseline, and I had no illusions of being in peak shape, it was significantly off what I expected. I was not happy.

Frankly, it's been a rough go lately.

I started back running on the 1st with mixed results. My early run/walks and treadmill runs went fine but then yesterday my old friend, the quad problem, resurfaced when I hit the hilly roads.

On top of it all, energy levels are low for me, and gone is the second wind I usually get after dinner. 

Times like this, I remind myself "triathlon is a lifestyle." I know that means it is for better and for worse. Triathlon is not always about feeling awesome, firing on all cylinders, and kicking butt. Sometime it's about learning to persevere when things are rough. The bottom line, we are still swimming and/or biking and/or running and they are all positive things for minds and bodies.

It's still frustrating sometimes.

What is most important to me about the sport is to be in this for the long haul. To do that requires weathering the frustrating parts, like now. They are part of it. Andy Holgate of Can't Swim Can't Ride Can't Run, Sheila Plemich of Mind and Body of Iron, even Leanda Cave attest to that through their writing about the ups and downs.

I am sharing this because I post a lot about all the upsides of the sport, when things are all clicking. But it isn't always that way. The archives reveal that I have had a number of challenges along the way - IT band issues, two broken fibulas, posterior tibial tendonitis, shoulder impingement, drop foot - but this quad issue is setting the record for hanging in there.

I will persevere, and focus on all that I can do. That includes addressing muscle firing patterns, balance, and core at the gym. That means dialing in my nutrition and bumping up my D3 to get through the winter. That means getting needed rest. That means getting back on the Vasa Swim Ergometer and restoring lost swim power. That means enjoying what I can do in the water, on the bike, and on my feet.

Just the process of writing this has been helpful to restore the perspective that was temporarily lost as I looked at the clock from my swim lane, and was flooded with feelings of disappointment.

I will be tougher than my frustration.

I wonder how much of this is just winter itself? Ugh. I almost titled this post "Winter Sucks"!! (Except I still want ONE good snowstorm.)

If you are feeling some winter frustration along with me, hang in there. Let's do what we can do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Endurance Film's 'RIDES: Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains' Indoor Trainer Video

Late last week I got my copy of RIDES: Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains. I watched it once from my couch (which felt like the equivalent of watching Biggest Loser while eating ice cream) so I was excited to officially fire it up from the bike trainer, as intended. My in-house IT specialists (coincidentally, also my offspring) waved their wands and via the wonders of AirPlay and AppleTV, RIDES: Virginia was conjured magically upon the wall. Very cool. I put on my Runwell kit (but did forgo the Rudy Project helmet that I love and wear all the time for outdoor cycling) and settled in for some work.

Endurance Films has gotten quite a bit of feedback from athletes remarking this is the toughest RIDES cycling workout yet. And as a member of the "peloton" that was in the video (see blog post on filming RIDES: Virginia), I can attest to the difficulty of the ascending intervals and tough pushes out of the saddle. The expressions on our faces in the video tell the tale. But misery -- and this was gooood, productive, strength and endurance enhancing misery -- loves company. That is the point of the RIDES series. It's to be a part of a group pushing their boundaries so you will push yours. You can see it in the body language, the eyes, the movement of the bikes, and you are inspired to work a little bit harder, to hold those watts a little longer, to rev that heart rate, and to keep cadence up long past when the mind says WHOA! Then in the warmup, rest periods, and cooldown, you are treated to some of the most beautiful scenery that the region has to offer. I would know, I ride these roads almost weekly and never tire of them.

If you are looking for a productive change-up to your indoor trainer workouts and want to be treated to scenery and routes from around the US, check out the RIDES series, and of course my favorite, Virginia :-)

The cat found my pedal stroke fascinating until it bonked her on the head.... which point she turned  her attention to systematically
disassembling a LEGO plane knowing I would not interfere while cycling

...which wore her out requiring a nap.
Which is what the RIDES video made me want to do.

...because this was me when I finished.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy Feet

The much anticipated return-to-running happened yesterday in nearly ideal conditions of upper 40's and a blue, cloudless sky! It was a 45 minute bout with a walking/dynamic warm-up and cool-down and 6 x 5 minutes of "jogging" with 1 minute walking recoveries. I felt like I could have run ten miles, and I probably could have, but I'd be paying the price today.

My legs have that feeling that they did something a little out of the ordinary, but nothing is sore, unlike Frazz:

What did I notice?
  • Happy Feet! A spring in my step and lightness overall
  • A shedding of anxiety with each step
  • Some tightness in my right hip (must stretch pre/post)
  • Zero complaining from my quad (yay!)
  • Some tingling in left toes (related to quad...)
  • An awareness of my core and glutes working - hopefully this is for real and due to recent gym work on muscle firing, strength, and flexibility.
  • No problem running my normal aerobic pace
  • Forgot to turn the Garmin off...I am rusty on procedure!
  • Finished wanting more

Coach Jim is stressing "patience" now and I agree. The point is not to return to where I was, but to chart a new course to where I want to be.

Happy Feet to you all!