Wednesday, July 31, 2013

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Have you read that classic kid's book "If you give a mouse a cookie" by Laura Joffe Numeroff? The gist of it is that after a little boy offers a passing mouse a cookie, the adorable overall-clad mouse comes into the house and proceeds to ask for a glass of milk, then a straw, then a napkin....then a broom, and crayons, and tape and so on and so forth for 28 beautifully illustrated pages that I read probably 400 times to my kids.

What does this have to do with triathlon, you are thinking?

Well, when I started the sport in 2009, all I wanted to do was finish my first race, enjoy the sport, and have a good time. That was my cookie....and I got it!

Then I invited myself into the house of triathlon and found myself wanting the Virginia Triathlon Series and an Olympic distance event in 2010. Then in 2011 it was USA Triathlon Nationals and a half-Iron. Next it was Worlds and a USAT All American designation in 2012. Each goal, and more, was achieved. I am just like the mouse.

In the final pages of the book, the story circles back around to the mouse getting thirsty and the boy knowing the mouse will want milk which will lead back to another cookie. It was a circuitous route back to the mouse's true desire of the cookie.

I've circled back to my cookie too. Lately I've reminded myself that all I really ask from the sport, all I really want, is a reason to be out in the world swimming, biking, and running. I owe the sport so much for the community I've been privileged to join and the sense of true belonging-ness that has come with that. I truly think this sport rescued me from other potential paths, other choices, that I can't even contemplate.

I need to hold tight to the the cookie, remember the cookie, go for the cookie.  I am headed into Nationals in just over a week with a decent swim and a strong bike, but with a run that is suffering. Yes, I've been able to push and make it through races but with difficulty and significantly off my normal run paces. Those closest to me know what a struggle it has been for several months. And it continues. That sense of freedom and flow I strive for in my running is gone, replaced by pain, anxiety, and mental warfare to just keep going.

After the race I'll pursue the causes, but for right now, I'm only pursuing the cookie. The cookie isn't the race time and it isn't my run split. The cookie is just to be a triathlete. I get to go to Milwaukee, swim, bike and run is in a new city, race among friends, and meet other triathletes

Here's hoping for cookies at the finish line.

If you see me in Milwaukee, please say hi!!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Summer Tri-cation with Multisport Performance Institute

The idea for a tri-cation to Pensacola Beach, FL initially came about a few months ago because I was looking for a summer adventure with the kids and I'd heard about Portofino Island Resort through my work for the coaches of Multisport Performance Institute (their Facebook page is here) My kids love Florida and love the beach and I figured that by July I could use a mid-season triathlon pick-me-up. So why not head to a family-friendly resort that just so happened to be a spectacular triathlon training ground AND offered a super sprint race too?

My plan was to make it a win-win trip for both the kids and for me by filling early mornings with training, before the kids were up, and then spending the rest of the day focused on playing with the kids. Coach Jim filled in my training schedule around my pre-planned activities and travel. Here's how my five day make-your-own triathlon camp went down:

Wednesday, July 17

Second day of driving/arrival. Settling in, grocery shopping (even on vacation!), and play day with kids. We swam and took sea kayaks out on the Gulf side, which was a workout unto itself to paddle through the surf.

Thursday, July 18

7:00 am - 1 mile open water swim. This was a weekly group open water swim in the Santa Rosa Sound near the bridge, about 3.5 miles from the Portofino Island Resort. More than 30 triathletes of all ages turned out on this day, including my friend Kristin from NC who was staying across the street, totally by coincidence. We did the mile as two out-and-backs regrouping at the end of each length. Coach John Murray announced our times so we could compare our four lengths. He and the leading pack were so fast even in what seemed like pretty choppy water. Oh, and what is it with coaches -- they cannot resist messing with your feet to see how you will react!!

with Kristin!

8:00 am - 20 mile post-swim bike ride. Coach John said that usually a few folks ride after the swim and sure enough, as I asked around, I was invited to ride with Angela. She's also a mom and an accomplished triathlete and teaches for Fitness Onboard that utilizes paddleboards for all their classes. We had a beautiful ride, which she capped off with a four mile run, and I capped off with second breakfast of baked egg in avocado.

6:30 pm - Portofino Sunset Tri Race - blog post on that here!

Friday, July 19

6:00 am - Master's Swim. I joined in my first ever master's swim session. It's nice that it was just a three minute walk from the condo to the indoor pool.

 indoor pool (thru windows), outdoor pools (beyond windows), and sound are all just
right there at Portofino. I took this pic from the second floor of our condo tower.

Coach John, who directs the swims, said it would be an easier session because the group had been working really hard. One thing that was really fun and different for me was the "snake swim" in which we did something different in each of the lanes and had to get in and out of the pool each time at the ends to switch lanes. It was tougher than I thought to push up out of the pool quickly and so many times. I discovered in this session that I lagged behind pretty bad on the kick sets so that is something I want to work on.

We concluded the session with an obstacle course at the resort's water park. We paired off and had to sprint out to the equipment, climb up, slide down, negotiate the trampolines and climbing apparatus, and sprint back. We were partnered up and I'm proud to say Peter and I are the reigning obstacle course champions. What a great motivator to work on some fast swimming!!

the water park at Portofino

8:30 am - Swim Video Analysis. After a short break to refuel and dry off I met Coach John for a swim video analysis. We began by talking through the stroke, how he breaks it down and thinks about it, and what is important and why. I had read a lot of what he'd written about swimming but to hear it in person and see him demonstrating elements really brought it to life. He captured video and and analyzed as we watched. We went through frame by frame to see how many were a propulsive phase and how many other frames were not but should/could be and how. He began to prioritize corrections and we worked through some in the water. We arranged to meet again on Monday for a follow-up. This was time well spent!!

 with Coach John

I received my video on cute!!

Saturday, July 20

7:00 am - 52 mile bike ride. This was a scheduled 50 mile ride and although Coach Jim gave me a bit of a "vacation out" to shorten it if needed there was no way I'd take it. I had wanted to start at 5:45 am but I awoke to storming and lightning. By 6:45 it was only raining and not storming, so I headed out. My plan was to go the west tip of the island, Fort Pickens, and then as far east through the Gulf Islands National Seashore to get to 50 miles or so. About 10 miles in the rain thankfully stopped and I had a great first half of the ride, even having the chance to "race" and beat a speed limit sign (briefly) along the way!

On the west side of the island, waves were crashing less than 50' from the road!

The second half of the ride I was buffeted by strong cross-winds that kept me on the handlebars and off the aerobars and it was a bit of a slow, soggy, windy grind. Fortunately it was beautiful even with the storm and I knew this was good training for me. Bring on the adversity in training, then come what may on race day...I will be ready! It was an awesome ride of about 52 miles.

3:00 pm - Standup Paddleboarding. This was my first time and I really enjoyed it. I paddled past the waterpark and picked up each kid and gave them a ride on the front of the board. Then Grant took a Sea Kayak out and we headed out together. What a playground at Portofino!

5:00 pm - 1 mile open water swim. Coach Jim had said something about getting as much open water swimming in as I could so I did this on my own, swimming from the resort's beach to a sandy point east and back again, plus a few laps around the water park.

Sunday, July 21

7:00 am - 8 mile run. Per Coach Jim. I headed west on the running path from Portofino Island Resort to the Portofino Boardwalk area and back. The coolest part of this was that I saw a group of triathletes cycling by-- onesies, twosies, small groups -- the entire time I was running! I knew there was a group of area triathletes that met Sunday mornings to train -- the Mere Mortals and indeed it was them. I recognized some of them from the Portofino Sunset Tri race and I waved and said Good Morning to every single one of the 50 or so that I saw. That made my run so much fun!

Monday, July 22

This was the day we would start the drive back to Virginia but only after our appointment to sail at 10:30. Which was after I needed to return the condo key by 10. Which was after my appointment to meet Coach John from 8:30 - 9:30 which was after I'd do the master's swim session at 6 am. It was going to be a very, very busy morning!

6:00 am - Master's Swim. Oh this was so much fun! I did some new things like swimming with paddles, but only holding them with my fingers only by the straps, and fist drill with tennis balls. Then we did a set of fast 50's and it definitely pushed me to share a lane with a faster swimmer. We did a second set of fast 50's and Coach John said if we could knock a second off our fastest time from the previous set on the first lap, we could stop at one instead of four. That was all the motivation we needed to do so. After that he announced a change of plans. We were headed outside to do a "quick mile swim."!!

We left the dock and headed west, sighting off a boat, a dock, and a building. I wasn't too sure so I found another swimmer I could keep up with and I stayed close to him. We regrouped with Coach John a half mile down the shore and then headed back for the dock. Halfway back a big storm kicked up, the chop grew, the water became dark, and a driving rain hit us. For a moment I was nervous but then I let it go and just thought about how cool it was to be swimming in that! I chalked it up to another great training experience and thought how awesome it was to have had so many open water swims during my short stay in Pensacola.

View north from our balcony - we swam from the dock that is off-photo
to the lower right, to beyond the dock in the photo.

I hope the triathletes in that area appreciate how fortunate they are to have a coached, motivating, and fun triathlon-specific master's swim program and such easy open water access!

8:30 am - Swim Drills. I met coach John for one final swim session to go through swim drills to grow my tool kit and to be sure I was doing each correctly. One by one we went through them. I had a pretty good A-HA moment during...of all things...a doggy paddle drill! I was really able to feel when I had a good catch of the water versus when my arm was just speeding through without that good catch. It's not just about arm speed, it's truly about that "feel" that I finally "felt!"

In summary I have to say this trip was truly awesome for the kids (another blog/post to come) and for me. Most of the time the kids were just waking up as I returned to the condo each morning so their vacation was not too impacted by the tri-cation part of it all. Still, in just five days, I got in two master's swim sessions, two individual coached swim sessions, three open water swims (four if you count the race), 80 miles of biking, almost 10 miles of running, and a race!

While I may be a little worn out physically from all that plus 1500 miles of driving, mentally I feel very refreshed and rejuvenated. It was such a treat to experience the welcoming triathlon community and vibe in another part of the country. It was tough to leave, but I'm happy to be home in my Appalachian Mountains! The kids are already asking if we can go back next year!! (I'm hoping YES!)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Race Report: Portofino Sunset Tri Super Sprint

When most people think of a destination race, they think of a big iron-distance event or a marathon. I wanted something more "destination" than "race", more family fun-centered, and low-key. We found that and more at the Portofino Sunset Tri held at the Portofino Island Resort at Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island. The race series, now in its third year, was founded by and is run by Multisport Performance Institute, a triathlon coaching/services group.

The kids and I packed the new minivan, said goodbye to the hubs who could not come :(, and made the trek from Virginia to Florida for a five day vacation at the resort. I spent the early mornings training (with the local tri group, some solo, and some coached sessions...more in the next blog post) and the days playing with the kids. (And not blogging)

This super-sprint race, one of nine in the series, features a 300 yard swim in the warm and calm Santa Rosa Sound, a 7.5 mile bike ride on the island's only main road, and a 1.5 mile run on a nearly flat asphalt running path. This was my third race in six days, having done the sprint and Olympic in Virginia the prior weekend, and my first time at this super sprint distance. This race confirmed what I have always said, there are no easy triathlons, you just go harder and faster the shorter they are!

We stayed at Portofino Island Resort and so transition was literally within 100 yards of our tower. With a 6:30 pm start time, I ventured down at 5:30 to set up my area, take the bike out for a spin, and take the legs for a run. The Infinity Bicyles folks (race sponsors) kindly lubed up my bike chain and checked over the bike after its long roof-mounted journey. I opted not to take any water on the bike, knowing it would be so short and intense that I'd never take the time to drink.

 transition area photo by Alex Bell

I was one of the early arrivals!

This USAT sanctioned race, capped at 60 entries, is very well organized but also extra welcoming due to its small size. I met several first-timers including a family who also made this a destination race!

Race Director John Murray (also USAT Level 2 Coach and President of Multisport Performance Institute) gave the pre-race talk with a big focus on safety with the open-to-traffic bike course. The wit-infused instructions made it very easy to pay attention. (I think he could deliver the airplane safety talk to a rapt audience!!)

Afterward we made our way to the beach of the Santa Rosa Sound to prepare for the swim start. It was a simple counterclockwise rectangular out-over-in course around the dock. As we waited, we warmed up a little and exchanged the usual pre-race banter and encouragement. There's no fooling my pre-race butterflies - they showed up right on time just as the men set off.

The women started a minute behind the men's wave. This short swim distance (300y) allowed me to swim much more aggressively than I normally do. I realized this is why changing up distances can be a good thing! I came out of the water with another female and realized we were the front-runners! Wow did that feel good. Game ON! It was hard to push on the run to T1 after that all-out swim effort, but I was able to establish a lead and head out on the bike first among the women.

I got to work on the bike trying to keep pressure on the pedals and reel in whoever was ahead of me. That is how I motivate to get the most I can out of myself -- which is really the ultimate goal of any race. The road surface is very smooth, free from potholes, and offers a wide bike lane where needed. I thanked the flag volunteers at the turnarounds for helping us through. It was nice to just open the throttle and not worry about navigation on this straight ride as I enjoyed racing my road bike again (left the tribike at home). I wasn't aware of the winds as I rode, but I was about 4 mph faster headed west than headed east. Overall Garmin had my average moving speed at 21.1 mph.

As I finished the bike leg, I turned into the Portofino Island Resort and back to T2 to quite a bit of cheering. The race had attracted a nice group of spectators! They provided a motivating sendoff on the run as I found my way to the sidewalks to exit the property and head out on the run path. There was a place on the course with about 3' of elevation change and I found myself laughing at that Florida "hill"!

A mile and a half run is such a no-brainer, right? But it can sure hurt and it wasn't long before I was thinking, ugh, where is that darn turnaround? I passed a few people and at the turnaround saw another female racer, Erin, not too far behind and although I wanted to let up I knew I couldn't. About a mile and a quarter in I passed a guy and as I went by, I heard him say, "Oh, man!" and after the race he went on to say he was expecting it was a "dude" coming up behind him so he was even less thrilled to discover it was a "dudette." I would have liked to have known my run pace, but I am about 0 for 5 on successfully using the "Auto Multisport" feature of my Garmin watch.

 It was great to hit the cobblestone sidewalk of Portofino and know I was almost to the finish line. After I crossed over, I was handed an ice-cold towel by Jeff Boulton who finished just ahead of me. I finished fifth overall, first female, in 37:51 (results here). The winning male, Alex Hernandez (pictured at the top with me) finished in 31:30 at just 15 years of age!! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this is a t-shirt and award-free event which I think is great. We are all there racing for the fulfillment of the experience!

After I grabbed a water, I found a spot to cheer on the rest of the competitors as Coach John announced the name of each approaching athlete. I enjoyed the post-race vibe under the setting sun and the chance to chat with other athletes. One of the newly minted triathletes remarked that she had underestimated this race and I think perhaps in some ways I had too. But I now believe this distance race is invaluable for learning to put out a higher level of effort, for putting the pressure on quick transitions, and for gaining more race experience without the wear and tear of longer races. Having it at a resort has the added benefit of exposing more people to the fun of the sport too.

The day after the race, a little boy at the resort asked "hey were you in that race yesterday?" Yeah, yeah I was. Maybe the seed has been planted and he will one day do a triathlon too. Maybe he'll start with the Portofino Sunset Tri.

We hope to return next year and do it again! We had a BLAST!!!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Race Reports: Colonial Beach Sprint & International

Last weekend I made the five hour drive to Colonial Beach Virginia to race in the sprint and international races put on by Set Up Events for the Virginia Triathlon Series. Last year I did the International only here and I loved it!! This weekend was good practice for the double I'll do next month at Nationals and a great excuse to spend some extra time in this quaint sleepy town!

Colonial Beach, on the Potomac River midway between Richmond and DC (green dropped pin below), seems to feature golf carts and boats as the two primary modes of transportation. There are no chain hotels, just cute motels and BandBs. I ate well this weekend with great seafood (and more) at the very friendly Denson's Grocery and Lighthouse Thai and French.

The area had some rain on Friday and late Saturday, but both race mornings were sunny, warm, and humid. A 6:50 am race start seemed kind of early until I experienced just how quickly the day heated up.

I went into this race with some concern about how my quad (I know, ho-hum, I keep bringing that up, get over it already you are thinking) would hold up so my confidence got a lift to see that it's turned a corner and I managed both races just fine. My run is not where I'd like it to be -- I'm off what I did last year and even the year before -- but negotiating the "body detours" (as Coach Eric Neilsen calls them) is part of the game of triathlon. And fortunately it's not a running race, it's a triathlon, so all combined I was pleased to finish on the Master's podium both days - third in Saturday's sprint and first in Sunday's International. These are my results (full results are here: sprint, international).

Sprint - 3rd Master's

Swim (750m) - 17:27 (30th/132 women; would have been 39/181 men)
T1 - 1:32 (14th/132)
Bike (20k) - 37:15 (6th/132; 17/181 men)
T2 - 1:22 (26th/132)
Run (5k) - 22:08 (11th/132; 30/181 men)
Total - 1:19:42 (8th/132 women, 20th/181 men)

International - 1st Master's

Swim (1500m) - 36:53 (31th/84 women; would have been 65/189 men)
T1 - 1:42 (19th/84)
Bike (40k) - 1:05:40 (4th/84; 35/189 men)
T2 - 1:31 (26th/84)
Run (10k) - 47:38 (21st/84; 38/189 men)
Total - 2:33:22 (10th/84 women, 39th/189 men)

with Endurance Films Racing Teammate Bill VanCise who topped his age group!


I really enjoy the swim in the Potomac! It's always kind of interesting with the tides and currents-- they pretty much dictate whether the swim course will go clockwise or counterclockwise. Technically this swim is in Maryland, so we swim in MD and bike and run in VA!

I heard some grumbling about the current and chop but to me that is what makes open water swims fun and challenging! It helps to be in a later swim wave and learn from the earlier swimmers. On Saturday we watched the first group of men all get swept wide left heading to the first turn buoy which allowed the rest of us to anticipate and correct for that. The water temp was a perfect 83 degrees and I wore my swim skin, which was fine except I had trouble with my zipper both days. On Sunday it got stuck about 5" down so I just forced myself out of whatever neck opening I had made. I didn't know who, if anyone, I could have asked for help but I asked a race ref later who said it's not "outside assistance" if you get help from a race staff person or volunteer. You just can't ask some random unaffiliated bystander.

 If this picture of me (trying to unzip) could talk it's possible you might hear cursing


The bike courses for both races take us on nice smooth fast roads that are largely flat but have a few small hills to keep it interesting. Saturday's course is a loop and somehow I found myself at a busy T intersection with a stationary flag volunteer who didn't "volunteer" much information or at least not soon enough. I ended up making a right instead of a left. I did a quick U turn and corrected, and though it was a time loss, it gave me a jolt of adrenaline that propelled me forward. Sunday's course was an out and back so fortunately there were no navigational issues there!

The race officials did a good job of monitoring the course and quite a number of drafting penalties were handed down. I made extra sure not to be in the drafting zone and to pass decisively. Garmin had me at 22.6 mph Saturday and 21.3 mph on Sunday.

Sunday's International race was my one and only go at that distance before Nationals, so I wanted it to go well. I consciously (and probably subconsciously even more) held back a bit on Saturday.

 a block or two from the dismount line, one foot out!


Saturday's 5K run was alright averaging 7:07 a mile. I went out too fast. Of course, I can't tell you how fast, because I messed up the "multisport" mode on the Garmin. I pushed "lap" one too many times. I think I am going back to my old way of using the Garmin Edge on the bike and the 910XT on the run and forget any technology on the swim. To be honest, I don't think it's all that useful on an open water swim and the maps are always way off.

Sunday's 10K had me scared. For the last six weeks, trouble has started like clockwork 4 miles in. I had only one training run where I was able to get a solid hour run in, but the quad suffered the next day. I've had ART (Active Release Technique) work four times in the last 2 weeks or so and I really think that work with Dr. Steve Dowell has gotten me through this injury...and in the knick of time. Coach Jim's instructions to me were "patience and persistence" and given the heat and humidity I just kept throttling back and working patiently. At the turnaround I was told "first masters" and knew I had a decent lead on the others.

This race offered a lot of aid stations on the run with icy cold wet towels too. What a treat, especially with dried Potomac salt on our faces!

At an intersection about 3/4 of a mile from the end, I asked the flagger if there were any women behind me and he said maybe 20, 30 seconds. That would be tough for anyone to make up. So I kept churning away with an ear out for approaching competitors, but I they never came.

It was a sweet finish!! Aren't they all though?


Here are a few other pics from the race.

 John Langford, Race Director, giving some pointers to a Set Up Staffer. He runs the Maryland Triathlon Series but came in to direct this race too. Hats off to race directors.
That is just a ginormous job.

Triathlons have a cast of characters! I couldn't resist a photo with the stars-and-stripes clad 70-year-old Karl from DC! I should have gotten the pic of his butt, it was even better.

Brad (3rd AG) is a new One-on-One athlete! It was great to meet him in person at the race.
He said he had a rough run in the heat but he toughed it out.

This was the bike mechanic's rig. Nice setup!

Betsy Henderson, one of my biggest triathlon "idols" shows she can accept
her top age group award standing on one foot!

Edie is graduating and moving to Pittsburgh so this may have been our last VTS race together for a while. We were celebrating our "double" glasses for doing both races (she was 2nd in the sprint, 3rd in the International) so I had to send her off with a kiss, lol! Edie, you will do great things, my friend! Your kind heart, giving spirit, and work ethic will take you far.

Last but not least, thank you Coach Jim :-) for knowing just what to say to put me in the right mindset. Thank you Robert for the weekend pass even though work is burying you. Thank you Oma for feeding the family. Thank you mom and dad for loving me. Thank you Solar Connexion for the race support! Thank you Colonial Beach for hosting this race for 29 years, I'll see you next year!

That was fun. Now let's get back to work....the realllllly big races are right around the corner.

Up next: Portofino Sunset Tri Super Sprint race this Thursday in Pensacola hanging out with Team MPI!!!!

Tomorrow the mobile transition unit sets sail for Florida!!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Double-header weekend ahead

I'm packed and ready for a five-hour drive to Colonial Beach Virginia to race in the Sprint on Saturday and Olympic on Sunday. That "selfie" pic was from a training ride this week in my original trisuit that I wore from my second race up until I was selected for the Endurance Films Racing Team. With the old van gone, I'm clinging to all things nostalgic! That's a sure sign of getting old, lol!

Yesterday I had one of those total "shut-down" days where the body just said "enough." I had the warning signs of throat/cough/sinus that if I didn't just back off I was headed for trouble. So I hung out in my PJs, took several naps, ate good healthy food, canned the short workouts, and never left the house. I feel good this morning so I must have turned it around in time. This time. But I know this is yet another indication that I need more rest in general and need to take better care.

I had some improved runs this week so although my quad is not perfect, it's definitely better and I should be able to make it through both runs.

I'm pretty excited to drive the new(er) van we just got to the race. The bike fits nicely inside and I took it out for its first go as a "mobile transition unit" this week. I'm most excited that I can listen to podcasts now through the stereo instead of illegally driving with my iPod and earbuds like I used to do. I do miss all the interesting quirks of the old van though - the spastic door locking actuator, the separate keys for ignition/door, the dim headlights, the radio display you couldn't actually see, the wiggly hatchback latch, the doors you had to slam, the wipers that would fly off, the oil leak, the multi-pack of replacement hubcaps required, hanging out with the mechanics on a regular basis.... Ah, good times!

I transferred my ID tag to the new key. I hesitate to use the word "key" but whatever. This is my tip of the day -- get the tiny cat ID tags inscribed with your phone number and attach it to your key. If you ever lose it on a run or bike (as I have) it can be easily returned (as it has been).

As I was writing I found this photo from earlier in the week -- it's of an egg baked in an avocado half. (The other had been eaten already.) I subscribe to tri pro Lauren Goss' newsletter and I decided to try this recipe she had included. I didn't have the sun dried tomatoes it calls for, but even so, the combo of the egg and avocado with a little salt and pepper was incredibly good. I baked them in the toaster oven for 25 minutes at 350. This one was actually my son's, he gave it two thumbs up too. Afterward we ate handfuls of blueberries we had picked the evening before.

That's my random report! Have a great weekend, everyone!