Friday, February 27, 2015

2014 USA Triathlon Ranking

It appears the 2014 USAT rankings are finally final - long after the year is just a memory and the slate is wiped clean for 2015. It always feels a bit anticlimactic at this point. But it's still nice to see the fruits of a shortened tri season - a season I wasn't sure I'd even have at all.

So for the F45-49 age group, I finished 52nd out of 1906 ranked women in my age group - top 2.7% - good enough for All American, fifth year in a row! I see it as 51 reasons to train smart and work hard this year!

My highest ranking came in 2012 when I finished 28th and had a great race at the Age Group World Championship. Rankings are determined not only by your race finish, but also by the races you do. Longer races, championship races, and larger/more competitive races count for more. From that, your top three performances are averaged. My longest race (B2B half iron) and two national races were my top three points-getters. Just kind of interesting to see what earns what.

It's cool, numbers are fun, but the rewards that matter most to me and keep me coming back for more are intrinsic, non-quantifiable, and un-spreadsheet-able!

New year, new adventures!! We all just start from where we are...and frankly I'm feeling pretty good about where I am at the moment. Can't beat that.

Triathlon Pie Charts

I laughed pretty hard at this post I saw the other day on the 60 funniest pie charts. It got me thinking about how we'd represent triathlon in pie charts, which wouldn't be hard to do considering how numbers-oriented many of us are. I fired up Excel and put a few together.

What would you add?

Time on the run

Race Photos Suitable for Public Display 

Frequency of Maintenance

Contents of My Closet

Time Racing

Stop Garmin at End of Race

Training Time

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mental Skills Training

Lately I have noticed an increasing number of posts and articles related to the mental skills aspects of triathlon. Maybe you've skimmed a few and caught yourself nodding in agreement, but did they result in any changes? Probably not. Nothing was put into action. Maybe we didn't know how to change, maybe we didn't think it possible. And no one knows what goes on in our heads but us!

We understand that through training and physiological adaptation we can gain strength and speed. But do we even believe that we can change our mental approach to the sport? Or do we just figure we are set (stuck with) the way we are - our confidence, self-talk, focus, etc?

Top athletes and sports psychologists will tell you that mental skills most certainly can and must be developed and optimized to achieve our personal bests and/or for healthy long-term enjoyment of the sport. Mental Skills are often called the fifth discipline of triathlon.  (or fourth discipline, nutrition is one too, and recovery...who is counting).

So where am I going with this? Well, I have had the opportunity to work with Coach Amanda Leibovitz of Team MPI on MY mental skills for the past 6 weeks. She is an experienced USAT Level 1 Coach and completing her master’s degree in counseling with a specialization in sport and health psychology at the Adler University in Chicago. She's great to talk to - energizing and positive!

I really had no idea what to expect, but it's been very beneficial (way more so than I anticipated), so I wanted to share my experience. 

I've had all of my sessions with Coach Amanda over Skype, with her in Chicago and me in Virginia. If you've never used Skype, I'll just say it is so easy even my dad uses it (love you dad) and it's nice not to have to drive anywhere, or change clothes. At the last session I was still dripping from the bike trainer!

The first session began by reviewing some paperwork, getting acquainted, and talking about my athletic past, future goals, and approach. Then she administered a mental skills inventory that scored me on a number of elements like motivation, goals, self-talk, imagery, anxiety, etc. From that we were able to identify some areas for development, and chief among them were self-talk and imagery. That did not come as a big surprise to me.

Even though I am a pretty positive person, I can be pretty hard on myself in training. Oddly enough, I battle this negative self-talk primarily on my easy runs and rides, and have a VERY hard time allowing myself to really go easy. Logically, I understand why these sessions and warmups are important and need to be easy, but I get out there and think that "easy" should be faster than what it is. Long story short, I get into a very unproductive cycle of thought. But try as I might, I just haven't been able to will myself to think or act differently in all these years.

Enter Coach Amanda and her toolbox......

What we have been working on is replacing the negative thoughts with positive, productive thoughts. This has involved discussion, homework, and follow-up. I've had to jot down when negative thoughts hit, what resulted, and what replacement thoughts I could come up with. From that I've established a few go-to mantras that have been effective in stopping the negative thought cycle. For the first time maybe ever last week, I did a truly easy run with the heart rate evidence to prove it!

One of my new mantras is "Save it." By running easy in a warmup, or as a recovery run, I recognize I'm saving the good stuff for when I need it - for the hard intervals and hard runs. And saving is a good thing!


I was able to put my positive self-talk to the test at the Blacksburg Classic 10-miler race just over a week ago. I used the "Save It" mantra to stick to Coach Jim's race plan for some conservative early miles then switched over to "Strong and Controlled" to push through the final tough miles.

We are continuing with check-ins to refine the new thought processes and to be sure they stick. I am feeling confident that this will result in long-term change because:
  • I am not just getting "rid" of negativity, leaving a void for negativity to seep back in. I am replacing it with productive thought.
  • I am developing mantras to quickly stop the patterns (no need to overanalyze myself now)
  • I have done the homework and really dug into where my thoughts go
  • These negative thoughts have been diffused by writing them out and talking about them.
  • There is accountability in place with regular sessions with Coach Amanda

So if you are looking for a way to invest in a better race season, I would really suggest looking into Mental Skills coaching. Here are some of the questions Coach Amanda poses:
  • Are you looking for a competitive edge?
  • Do you perform better in training than on race day?
  • Do you lack confidence during training, during a particular event, or on race day?
  • Do you have trouble staying focused during long training sessions or a race?
  • Do you struggle to begin or continue a training program?
  • Have you lost confidence or motivation after an injury?
  • Are you looking for a way to improve your triathlon experience?

Before you pay out big bucks to save a few grams on the bike, or to get the latest and greatest wetsuit, you might consider investing some time in Mental Skills Coaching. It could be just the change needed to perform better and enjoy the sport with less anxiety and more confidence!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Race Report: Blacksburg Classic 10 Miler

This was my fourth time running the Blacksburg Classic (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015), which this year fell on Valentine's Day!!

I love/hate this race. 

I love it because it's a hometown race with friends, it's a good pre-season race, and it's tough. 
I hate it because it's the middle of February, it's not till 1 pm (e.g. morning of thumb-twiddling), and it's tough! 

Did I mention it's tough?

The first two miles I sought to stick to Coach Jim's plan of no faster than 7:40 miles. They felt surprisingly easy and relaxed with a low-for-me heart rate which gave me a boost of confidence. I let people pass me by (and I passed by three Solar Connexion yard signs! Go solar energy!) figuring I'd patiently reel them in later and I kept telling myself "easy speed." That mantra went along with what we worked on at Thursday's swim session - achieving speed with more relaxation and not always thinking that speed has to mean a redline heart rate!

Coincidentally, race morning I had received some reading material from Coach Amanda Leibovitz of Team MPI about achieving "flow" in sport. It gave me lots to think about, and came in handy since I stopped using an iPod in road races last year and now have to provide my own "on-board entertainment." Some of the thoughts and mantras that filled my head for nearly 75 minutes included:
  • Strong and controlled
  • Autopilot
  • Skills to match the challenge
  • Charge the top half of hills
  • Strong legs from the gym
There's a turnaround at mile 7 and I was grateful for the shouts of encouragement from runners going the other way (I really am!) despite my typical inability to respond in any verbal manner. I heard Linda Vick say "loosen up" and tried to follow her good advice and I got a nice high-five from Marion Childress who leads C & C Runners. 

The last three hilly and windy miles were a gut-check. You want to be done, but you aren't. Ten miles is just a weird distance. 

I worked hard to try to sprint past this guy in the final 200m, but didn't have quite enough time even with his hair-o-dynamic handicap. And to set the record straight, despite what his shirt might indicate, he is not "with" me. Nor am I cupid. Lol. 

I gave it all I had, I ran a mentally strong and positive race despite rough winds, and I got to spend time with friends. Plus I got to wear a fun hat and socks. WIN!!

This marked my third Blacksburg Classic master's victory. Results aren't up but Carla looked and said I ran a 1:14:29. My PR at this race was a 1:12:42 in 2013. So this was not my speediest, but it wasn't my slowest either. It's in the ballpark!

I've missed two races due to injuries, but aside from that you can be sure I'll be at that start line. I may still love/hate it, but I'll be there!!

Congrats to all the runners who braved a cold windy day to run (Sally aren't you glad you ran?!)

Monday, February 9, 2015

What my kids' Hackathon experience taught me about triathlon

Grant and Spencer watching the awards

Spencer and Grant competed in their second 36-hour "Hackathon" this past weekend at VT Hacks. Hackathons are immersive events where mainly college-aged programmers and developers come together in small teams to create projects from scratch and compete for prizes. Last year Spencer and Grant won a prize. They displayed a great work ethic, teamwork, and were the only middle-schoolers at the event. This year it would be tougher to stand out.

After much thought, the brothers (now in 7th and 9th grades) came up with the idea for a cloud-based clipboard that allows the user to copy a string of text or whatever from one device (laptop, android, etc) and then paste it onto another device. They had the idea, the name - CloudBoard, the skills, and the belief that they could do it.

Friday night they set to work, amidst hundreds of other programmers from all around the east coast.

They did accomplish their goal of creating a working prototype. They did not win one of the many sponsor prizes. I thought they might be disappointed, yet at the end of nearly 48 hours at this event, they were anything BUT disappointed. They could not have been happier, more energized, or more motivated for the next project. Their heads were brimming with ideas and excitement and they were practically bouncing off the walls.

Spencer and Grant fine-tuning CloudBoard for judging

The weekend was a giant success for them. I asked them about how they felt and why, and as we talked, I realized the roots of their satisfaction are pretty universal and apply to triathlon racing too. 

They had a clear achievable goal going in. They knew what they wanted to accomplish and could name it! Their goal was to create this app, not to win an award. (In triathlon this translates to goals like a negative split run or strong swim start rather than a certain finish position.)

They had belief and trusted in their skills. Despite the inherent uncertainty of a project like this, they had strong belief in their coding knowledge, ability to problem solve, and teamwork. (We can't know our race result in advance, we can only trust in the training process and preparation we've put in.)

They went there to learn. The kids said during the group formation phase of the Hackathon (for those who need groups or group members) the organizer said to think in terms of what you are there to learn, not what you already know. That resonated with Spencer and Grant and me too! (Great approach to races - don't race from a place of fear, take a chance and see what can be learned.)

They pushed through the hard parts. They ran into a number of tough technical problems but never gave up. (Accept that the tough parts come with anything worth doing and that one can move through them.)

One of the demo areas

They had fun. They enjoyed the programming, but more importantly they enjoyed the whole event. They played Super Smash Bros and League of Legends and broke up the work with fun. (Find what makes it fun and keeps it light!)

They did not define their success by the judgement of others. They had internal satisfaction knowing their personal goals were met. (Don't define success by others! Race your own race and focus on your individual goals.)

They remained flexible and adjusted their plan as needed. When a Mac specific issue could not be overcome they switched to the PC side for their project.  (Not everything in a race will go according to plan. Accept the unexpected and adapt.)

They used the results as a stepping stone, not an endpoint. They are already thinking about next steps for CloudBoard and new ideas for future Hackathons. There is continuity in their journey. (A race does not define us, we are the journey not the waypoints!)

They received and gave help. A new set of eyes gave them a fresh perspective that allowed them to debug and fix problems. (Encourage others and that will come back many-fold.)

They drew energy from the community. As Grant noted, there was "not a jerk in the whole group", and everyone there shared similar interests and had an ease of interaction. (The race field is there first and foremost to help bring out your best!)

The awards and finalist demos

If you want to finish a race and feel as amazing as Spencer and Grant did after this event (and believe me, you DO), then follow their lead. I plan to - particularly the part about the "what can be learned" approach.

And while I do sometimes wish the kids and I had a bit more shared passion for swim/bike/run, what matters most is that they DO have a passion for something that drives them to learn, explore, take chances, and see the value of consistent work. Their passion is teaching them about who they are and who they want to be and shaping them into very cool people.

Similarly, triathlon drives us to learn, explore, take chances, and see the value of consistent work. And even as adults it teaches us about who we are and who we want to be. Hopefully it's shaping us into better versions of ourselves too!

Have a great week!