Thursday, August 30, 2012

Matching run routes to mood and workout

Do you have run routes for different types of runs or different moods? I definitely do. Part of the fun of running for me is picking just the "right" place and the "right" route for each workout - rolling or flat, busy or quiet, loop or out-and-back, town or country, asphalt, gravel, or trail. Here are a few of my go-to places:

Valley road with wide bike lane, close to house -- This is where I run if (1) I want something easy, close, and quiet (2) I have intervals where I want to focus on effort and speed and not the surface or navigation.  It's smooth asphalt with wide shoulders and a bike lane on both sides, about 8 miles out-and-back, and perfect for dark winter morning headlamp runs. My brick workouts depart from here.

I've run and biked through this tunnel more times than I can count
Rails-to-trails Huckleberry Trail -- This 12 mile out-and-back suits weekend runs when I am feeling more social and want to be out amongst the walking-running-biking community. It's a small town so it's hard to run there and NOT know someone!

Main Street -- To watch the hustle and bustle of the world go by, I run on our main thoroughfare that stretches from the north end of town to the south, but there are a lot of curbs. It's not a good route to hit specific paces or intervals.

Pandapas Pond in the Jefferson National Forest -- I run here for the head and for the soul and to give the legs a break from the pounding roads. I've had some really transcendent moments on these trails. I've also had a few wipeouts  as well as one major navigation error resulting in an epic trail run.

The Annual Brush Mountain Breakdown race

Virginia Tech Track -- Although our (old) high school has a track, when I have serious speed work goals, it happens here. It's a gorgeous collegiate track, and more often than not, I have it to myself. This is where I hit my first sub-6 minute mile a few weeks back.

Virginia Tech Rec Fields -- The 40 acres of manicured recreation fields are perfect for strides. I am reasonably confident that the surface is level and hole-free so I can bound across shod or barefoot. It's alongside the Huckleberry Trail so I can combine the two.

Rural roads -- I used to really enjoy marathon-buildup long runs on the back roads, with water and fuel planted along the way. Last year, I did more in-town running for my marathon prep but it's nice to have this option.

Tour de Tailgates -- I usually run the November Richmond Marathon (not this year with Worlds), so often my long runs would coincide with football Saturdays. I'd plan to run through campus toward the end when I needed a "Hokie" boost, plus it was nice to have all those port-o-johns around if needed! (Tour du Tailgates blog post)

New River Trail -- This is a 57-mile long rails-to-trails that is packed gravel and quite scenic in sections as it meanders along Claytor Lake and the New River. I hit it for long runs, but I have to drive a ways to get to it. I have run for miles and miles without seeing a soul, which out there can be a little disconcerting.

Town/Campus -- My default standard aerobic running happens through town and campus. It's nice  after four years of running to have a pretty good idea of times and distances for various loops so I can head out without much planning. The Weight Club is just beyond the edge of campus so I can run before or after strength training and make better use of time.

You really get to know your community by running (and biking) through it. You discover how the look, the smells, the sounds, the plants, the animals, and the "vibe" changes through the seasons. Times of the year for me are defined by things like scents of honeysuckle, bright yellow birds, fuzzy caterpillars, bunnies, and wild Hokies.

Rather than feeling like I spend my days going from one "Hobbit hole" to the next and missing all the in-between, I have a sense of inhabiting the whole community and not just my assigned parts of it. That sense of freedom to roam throughout my surroundings is a big part of what I love about running.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Race week niggles and hitches

Relieved after my Vermont Shake-Out Run

Bodies have a remarkable way of "knowing" things. Mine ALWAYS knows when it's race week. There's a definite pattern -- I feel tired and a bit lazy. I may get a bit irritable and out of sorts. And I become very aware of little niggles and hitches that heretofore had been unnoticeable.

The Monday before Nationals I had a short run that included some 5K pace pickups. Right from the start, I felt a definite tightness and pulling in my right calf and Achilles; that's not an area where I typically have trouble. I should have pulled the plug on the run but didn't (I need to work on that) and it was sore and tight. Frankly, I was worried.

I shared my concern only with my coach, close friend, and family. I was in to see my chiropractor and he concurred that it was tight and inflamed. I iced, gently stretched, and took care of it the next few days.

I did not run again until a short shake-out run in Vermont on Thursday. It was still tight but I felt it could at least get me through Saturday's Olympic race. If there was any question, I would pull out of Sunday's sprint.

I went on to race both the Olympic and the sprint without ANY problems or ANY thoughts of the calf whatsoever during the race or since. I PR'ed on both the 5K and 10K run legs.

What is up with that?

While the soreness and tightness were real, there's got to be an unconscious psychological element to it also. This is not the first time I've had a race week issue resolve "just in time" for the race.

I've learned my own race week patterns and I try just to deal with them, ignore them, or ride them out. It's like dealing with a temperamental child; giving them too much attention only makes things worse!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Flat Fixing Merit Badge - Earned!

Today I fixed my first flat. Luckily it happened right at the end of my ride.

I've had this fear that if I fix/touch/tweak anything on my bike, the bike will no longer be "as good" (fast, smooth) as it was before I fixed/touched/tweaked it.

I've watched the bike shop change my flats before but then as I tried to do it, I didn't remember which way the tire levers went in, if I was supposed to pull the bead out of the rim (yes, but just on one side), etc. Duhhh.

It seems to be fixed. I decided I needed to give myself a little "award" for finally fixing a flat, and none seemed to exist, so I made one. Feel free to award yourself the merit badge, or distribute to others who may need the motivation!

Poor little Roo :-(

Home Sweet Home, London, New Shoes

I got back late Monday and although it's been non-stop around here since, it's always nice to be home and part of the daily churn with the kids and family. I'm quite a homebody at heart. In the four days since I've been back, I've caught up on work, biked, swam twice, hit the gym, and had a trail running "meeting" with Coach Jim!

There's been a flurry of post-Nationals team activity (Endurance Films Racing Team), talking about new gear, sharing photos, and recounting events of the weekend.

The professional race photos came out (that was fast) and I spent the small fortune to get them. They really do a heck of a job. I put a few on my blog's photo link, but will include my favorite here. I don't know where these recent goofy finish line poses have been coming from, but I think it's clear I have fun out there.

We've already had to commit to our spot for London 2013, which meant I had to choose between Sprint and Olympic distances. While my best placings have been at the sprint distance, everything in me says go Olympic. Despite placings at Nationals (11th Oly, 3rd Sprint - which are only an artifact of who shows up to race), Coach Jim showed how I actually had a better race at the Olympic distance in Burlington. And if I'm going all the way to London, I want to be out on the longer course, to soak it all up!

I have a fun story related to London. My favorite author/triathlete Andy Holgate (Can't Swim, Can't Ride, Can't Run: From Common Man to Ironman is from northwest England. I've been following him online for some time and we exchange comments and follow one another's training and racing. He's a librarian, husband, dad, and age-grouper just like most of us, but with a true gift for writing (and predilection for odd and humorous things befalling him!).

When I found out about making Team USA for London, I thought of Andy, and immediately wanted to post a big "ANDY!! The family is coming your way, let's meet up!!" But online things like that can easily appear sorta creepy. As it turns out, he beat me to it, suggesting the same, perhaps arranging a trip to London for business and then to watch the race. By then his second book, a sequel, will be out and flying off the shelves (so read that first book now!). Of course, September 2013 is a long ways away, but I'll need that year just to learn the language (they say things like "knackered" over there). I appreciated the nice mention in his IronHolgs blog post too!!

Other things of the week...I broke down and ordered new bike shoes (another small fortune...sigh), identical to what I have. Despite repeated scrubbings and sun-baking, my four-year-old shoes that I largely use barefoot, well....let's just say taking them could be bad for US-New Zealand relations.

I'm also breaking out the backup pair of yellow running shoes! I ordered another pair of my favorite neon green stretchy Xtenex laces to go with them. There was some sort of snafu with my web order and the owner's wife called me. We got to talking, and I told her how I've probably bought 24 pairs of them and how the whole family uses them, and she sent me two extra pairs in neon yellow and silver! Awesome!! Seriously, these are THE best triathlon/running/hurry-the-kids-up shoelaces ever.

Not that I couldn't go on and on about shoes more.....but I shall stop.

Have a safe and happy weekend.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

USA Triathlon Nationals - Photo Recap, Video Highlights

The photos below are from the Endurance Films Racing Team image site. Some are from the HD footage Eric and Danny (of EF) captured and others are stills, but a few of these just really make me laugh. Triathlon is NOT a glamorous sport! The last bit of the run I am always wishing someone would hand me a towel for my snot-and-sweat encrusted face.

It's a lot of me-me-me (which I've personally had about enough of) but I did want to archive these, and my parents will appreciate it :-)

Endurance Films put together two awesome highlight videos of both the Olympic and Sprint distance races that do a great job of capturing the energy and intensity of USAT Age Group Nationals. I have quick appearances in both. They actually shot, edited, and screened the Olympic one all within less than 10 hours, showing it at the 5 pm awards ceremony! Eric and Danny embody endurance, they work very hard.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Race Report: USA Triathlon Nationals

This weekend the Endurance Films Racing Team came together in Burlington, Vermont for USA Triathlon Nationals. Seven of our original members (Nick, Sip, Diane, Laura, Scott, Casey, and me) met up with five of our new members (Corey, Lora, Megan, Tom, and Bill), along with Danny Kolker and Eric Feller of Endurance Films, and Zane Schweer and Jenny MacDougall of Kane Bicycles. (Liz and Nicole were with and in spirit.)

Corey with the Endurance Films bike by Kane
A meet-up on the lake bike path

Team meeting at the Endurance Films Expo booth

We were at Nationals to showcase what we could do with another year of training and racing behind us, as we faced the nation's top age group triathletes. A lot had happened to each of us in the year leading up to this, and as we embraced in greeting, it was with knowledge of each individual's athletic and personal challenges and accomplishments that got them here.

This trip was a whirlwind of two days travel (750 miles each way...road trip!) to Vermont, about 70 hours in Vermont, and two days of narcoleptic travel back. I still have seatbelt marks on me.

Here's how the race side of it went:


Saturday - Olympic Distance Nationals - 11th out of 114 in AG, 92 out of 851 women, 24th master's woman
  • Swim (1500m) – 28:10 (1:44/100 yard pace)
  • T1 –2:12
  • Bike (40k) – 1:07:42 (22.0 mph pace)
  • T2 – 1:22
  • Run (10k) – 42:34.7  (6:52 pace; PR by 5 seconds)
  • Total –2:22:01

Sunday - Sprint Distance Nationals - 3rd out of 56 in AG, 18 out of 397 women, 8th master's woman
  • Swim (750m) – 14:09 (1:43/100 yard pace)
  • T1 – 1:43
  • Bike (20k) – 33:19 (22.4 mph pace)
  • T2 – 1:18
  • Run (5k) – 20:31.7  (6:37 pace) (PR by 13 seconds)
  • Total – 1:10:52
I love the little results "receipts" you get

They do awards 10 deep for Olympic and 3 deep for the Sprint. I qualified for Team USA for London 2013 at both distances (but can only race in one).

This is the biggest race I do, with 2000 racers on Saturday and about 1000 on Sunday. I found these photos online but there is no way to do the scene justice. Transition is enormous. It was SO nice to be returning to the venue for a second time, to be among friends/teammates, and to know the lay of the land. I was so much more relaxed this year.

Aerial view of transition

Olympic Distance Recap

Rather than do my usual (boring to most) play-by-play analysis, I'd rather share a few significant parts of the day. First and foremost has to be what happened just prior to our swim wave. Our 45-49 age group was in the water, just off the pier, waiting to line up for our in-water start when we noticed a male swimmer being pulled off of a boat and laid on the pier. We stared as we realized that medics were administering CPR and pounding and compressing this man's chest. Our wave was delayed while the athlete was transported to an ambulance. He was never revived.

My race-ready self was flattened. Tears welled up in my goggles as I sat cross-legged on the pier. Some of the women said we just needed to make this a great group training day. One woman called it a day. I knew I was here to race, and would, but thoughts of this man and his family were never far away. The next thing we knew, the horn had sounded and we were off. I guess everyone else found their racing selves as it was brutal to the first turn buoy.

The water was very choppy, but on this day, it was good to have something to fight against, something to keep me focused. It was a good swim for me.

The second significant thing of the day was that I "lost" my bike in T1 and gave up some time. The racks have numbered stickers over which your bike is racked by the seat. After bikes are racked, all you see are the back ends of the bikes on the OPPOSITE side of the rack. As I ran down my row, I got momentarily confused by the numbers that did not match mine. I began to think that someone had moved my bike. I backtracked and even stopped to look at my own number on my leg, wondering if I had the wrong number! Anyway, lesson learned, and I have improved my bike-locating strategy for the future (landmarks, look for yellow shoes, etc). That won't happen again.

My rack number...shouldn't be so hard!!

Once I got out on the bike, I got right to work. I had an average HR of 165 and max of 174 which tells me I was cooking pretty good out there. Average speed was 22.0 mph; I had expected a little more speed, but still I passed a lot of people. I had a decent T2 and headed out on the run.

I pushed hard and ran an evenly paced 10k (6:53 pace on both front and back halves). Average HR was 168 on the first half and 173 on the second half, that is top-end REDLINE for me on that second half.  (Number crunching and analysis all courtesy of Coach Jim!)

I rarely get passed on the run by other women, but on this day, I was passed by at least two and I had no gears left to go after them. Seven women in my age group ran faster than me! This is why we come to Nationals....not to see how good we are, but to see how much better we could be! I'm not used to running in such close proximity to others. I kept getting annoyed by the sounds of their nearby annoyed by the fact that I couldn't put distance between them and me.

Overall, it was a good race for me. I had just a couple of hours to eat, clean up, recover, and get ready for the next day's race. Off with the old race numbers, on with the new, and back went the bike to transition. The team headed to the awards ceremony.

Me and awesome Edie, both Blacksburg Hokies
and One-on-One Endurance mates!

Sprint Distance Recap

Once the Olympic race was over, I really relaxed and felt very little pressure heading into Sunday's sprint. The morning was beautiful, the water was calm, and other than a bit of fatigue in the quads I felt good and race-ready!

One of the cool things about this race was seeing Eric of Endurance Films, camera in hand, on the back of a motorcycle filming along the bike route. I was blasting by people, feeling strong, and holding back nothing. Soon the bike was over and I was out on the run. I couldn't believe how good I felt. I found that happy "flow" (the digging deep race kind, but still "flow"). I got faster and faster as I went, finishing with a 6:19 mile and a new 5K PR by 13 seconds!

Danny and Eric wrapping up a day of filming

I finished both races healthy and strong with no major incidents and with performances that I can be proud of. I have two months to fine-tune things before Worlds and my enjoyment and motivation levels remain high.

Thank You!

It took countless people to get me to this race. My husband, kids, and mother-in-law held down the fort while I was away for six days. Coach Jim and Kurt got me to the start with the endurance, strength, and mental tools I needed. Bryan Walsh of Solar Connexion is a trusted adviser for logistics, equipment, and perspective. The Endurance Films owners and team give me a sense of belonging in a sport that is highly individual. The Roanoke Tri folks remind me that a sense of humor is essential to training and racing hard.

I'm grateful to my readers, too! I got to meet a few of them at Nationals including Ryan from Texas, below. I forget sometimes that people other than my mom and dad read this!! (And thanks to them, of course ;-)

Cort and Ryan
Me with Kimberly "Goggles" Arbouw!

And how does a triathlete mom finish up such a great weekend? With laundry, of course!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Would you hire your own internal coach?

What does your brain tell you when you are training or racing? What does this internal coach say to you? Would you hire that coach, pay him/her money to say those things to you? Or is it a destructive voice, one to silence, to fire?

You train your body, are you training your mind?

I do most of my training and obviously all of my racing alone, so the coach I spend the most time with is ME. While I have a generally positive outlook, I have had to do some work on my own internal coach and have become aware of an evolution, a maturation, through the last four years.

Things have broken down at times. I can clearly remember several training runs, a swim, and a race where my thoughts turned toxic, bringing a torrent of pessimism and self-doubt. Last fall was my most recent episode. I finished a moderately long marathon training run in tears because I was off pace for a tempo section -- a pace that I (not my Coach) had set and defined as "success".  What scared me more than being a little slower than I wanted, was how I reacted and the flood of negativity that my own head was capable of producing. I fired off a text message of disproportionate despair to my Coach and was left with a feeling of defeat that stayed with me for days. After that, I decided that I could not let my thoughts get away from me like that ever again. It's too damaging and costly.

Now,  as I train and race, I spend as much time checking in on my internal dialog as I do checking in on my form, effort, and technique. A great antidote to negativity is gratitude. I might "grump" here and there but I remain keenly aware that I am fortunate to swim/bike/run. My history of injuries means I don't take these opportunities for granted.

I am enjoying the sport more than ever and I know the key to longevity is maintaining positivity, fun and playfulness. I cling to that and avoid threats to it. For instance, people react differently to pre-race stress and I gravitate to those whose pre-race chatter reflects confidence, good-natured competitiveness, and maybe even some bravado. The down-trodden and defeatist attitude is not beneficial for anyone and I won't engage in that kind of discussion. Sadly, it seems women are more prone to that.

I have a great role model in Coach Jim as he provides honest feedback and perspective and puts a quick stop to counter-productive dialog.  Similarly, my internal coach has learned to set high standards and demand effort, but she's honest, patient, encouraging, positive....and just a little silly.

I would hire my own "internal coach." Would you?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Aero Helmet Debate Part II: Field Testing

I have a good friend (and sponsor - Solar Connexion) who has become interested in the sport of triathlon as an outside observer of mine. He's been a valuable adviser because he questions convention, looks for evidence, and challenges assumptions that insiders tend to make. It helps that he's good with electrical/mechanical systems, physics, cars, bikes, that sort of thing, and he's tuned into the human element too.

When I told him in April that I was thinking about going to an aero helmet (see The Aero Helmet Debate), he had some healthy skepticism and suggested not rushing into it. With primarily sprint races on the early race calendar, I agreed to hold off.  I'm very glad I listened and waited because the season's bike improvements can now be attributed to the "motor" without confounds of the helmet. That translates to confidence in myself rather than in accessories.

With Nationals up next, it seemed a good time to consider the helmet again.
Over the last few months, I've borrowed and tried several brands of helmets. The Bell tipped back, the Rudy was too wide for my face, and the LG wasn't right either. I ended up getting Taylor Jennings' Giro Advantage 2 aero helmet after he switched to a Bell. He won the men's side of my last race so I figured it comes with some built-in speed! My conventional helmet is a Giro Ionis.


I had the helmet, but in the meantime with such significant biking gains this season, I had become a little reluctant to change anything. If it "aint broke" did I want to "fix" it? Was I just "drinking the Kool-Aid"? Would it help, or might it even hinder?

The only way to know for sure was to test it out and compare it to my conventional helmet. Ideally, I would want to compare helmets over an identical Olympic distance course but with fatigue factors they'd have to be on different days. The problem then becomes holding the human element - ME - constant. Try as I might, I am not the same from day to day in terms of energy, power, sleep, nutrition, and motivation. Nor are environmental conditions the same from day to day. Plus I was running out of time for a big experiment.

The keys to any good scientific experiment are making it as close to the real world situation while controlling as many variables as possible. That is, keeping conditions constant, while manipulating only the variable of interest, i.e. the helmet. I would want the same weather conditions, course, and same me. This was our effort to conduct such a study.


The aero helmet will result in greater speed/reduced time.


I had a 4 x 3 mile threshold interval workout on the schedule so that seemed a good opportunity to test. Bryan agreed to help and we met up on a nearby bike-laned, long rolling road where I do a lot of my intervals work, and we marked out about three miles, delimited by road signs. I would time it on my Garmin but he would time it with a stopwatch (app) too.

We debated the order of the helmets over the four "trials" as fatigue is a factor. The helmet that goes first has an advantage so it would be the conventional helmet. We considered two sequences for the four trials: (A) conventional - aero - aero - conventional [counterbalanced design] and (B) conventional - aero - conventional - aero. We went with the option B and in hindsight that was the right choice. It allowed for a comparison of degradation. The fatigue difference should be similar from trial 1 to 3 as compared to 2 and 4.
    I tried to keep things the same on each interval - getting up to speed in the same way, getting out of the saddle in the same places for the same number of pedal strokes, and same effort levels (basically all-out). After a 1-mile cool down, Bryan drove the bike and I back to the start to reduce inter-trial fatigue.


    While I didn't monitor it while I rode,  my average heart rate was the same for Trials 1/2, and for 3/4 and average cadences were similar.

    Data showed a 2.9% reduction in time from Trial 1 to 2 and a 3.5% reduction from Trial 3 to 4 for an average improvement of 3.2% offered by the aero helmet at these speeds and for this duration.

    There was a 2.3% increase in time comparing Trial 1 to 3 (both conventional) and 1.7% increase in time comparing Trial 2 to 4 (both aero). One would expect similar increases due to fatigue.

    Post-hoc in-field number crunching


    The data suggest that the aero helmet offers a slight time savings.

    It's difficult to predict how the savings might extrapolate from a 3-mile max effort to a 24-mile sustained effort when my overall speed is lower. I was hitting 25-26 mph on these intervals but expect something closer to 22+ on an Olympic bike route.  Air resistance is related to the square of speed.

    The number of trials was quite small, and the human element is an unknown. I can't rule out some psychological aspect of the helmet coming into play - feeling faster resulting in being faster. One might expect a more linear decrease in average heart rate across the four trials such as 167 - 166- 165 - 164. Rather, we saw a stair step 167-167 - 164-164. The differences are quite slight though.

    My takeaway is that the helmet will probably not make me slower and may make me a little faster, all things being equal. I'm glad to have my outside adviser (skeptic!) challenging ideas and making me work a little harder to make smart choices.

    Looks like this helmet is going to Burlington for the real test.

    Friday, August 10, 2012

    Team USA: The Process from Nationals to Now

    Next weekend, in Burlington Vermont at USAT Nationals, 18 athletes per age group will qualify for Team USA that will head to London in 2013. As a first-timer in this year-long process I thought I'd share a bit about how that worked, at least this past year.

    Nationals - At the evening awards ceremony we found out if we had earned a spot and then we were asked to "claim" our spot. Officials posted a list of the top 18 by age group for the following year using the "age up rule." That means you are compared to all the racers who would be in your age group a year from then, since it is a year until Worlds. In my case, last year I was wrapping up my year of 40-44 so I was compared to all the racers who would be in the 45-49 age group in 2013 (44-48 then).

    I signed my "intent" on a clipboard but I don't think you actually have to be there. I believe they contact athletes from the top placing down and then over the following weeks, "rolldown" slots are offered to to the next ranked athlete to fill available spots.

    Fall (can't find when exactly) - Paid a $50 deposit to USAT to really secure my spot and received information on travel packages. In November I made hotel reservations with a group traveling there from my area.

    December - Began receiving monthly "Team USA" newsletters with information and reminders.  Met with a Team USA veteran, Mike Morris, and put together a budget for the event.

    Spring - Secured airline ticket (thank you Hyperion Consulting, LLC). The group I am traveling with arranged for a post-race hiking tour. Started work on my "Cort the Sport" Team USA fundraising, still in progress!

    July - Paid $385 to register for the race. Received confirmation that my "National Federation" had then officially registered me. Checked to be sure my passport was current (it is!). I also paid a deposit of $200 for the post-race group hiking tour.

    August - Received information and ordered a Team USA uniform. Many options are available (1-piece, 2-piece, a few syles) and each comes with a team hat, team shirt, and two boxes of Gu.  After verifying that the suit fit, I can send it back to get my last name screened on, which is part of the purchase price.

    September - Will send tri suit out to have sponsor logos added which will cost a few hundred dollars for the custom screen printing. There are very specific ITU rules on sizes and positioning.

    October - Travel to Auckland!

    I'm fortunate to have friends who have been Team USA members multiple times and have helped step me through the process. I'm looking forward to the whole experience and I'll be among those at Nationals trying to punch my ticket for London in 2013!