Thursday, June 26, 2014

Things I learned at this morning's swim practice

  1. What Coach Tom says is faster is faster (reach, good catch, complete strokes, strong finish, control).
  2. What I think is faster is slower (churning).
  3. When our instructions are to swim "choice", "not swimming" is not one of the available choices.
  4. Swimming outside early in the morning under the rising sun is awesome (once getting over the hurdle of actually getting in the water).
  5. I love to swim as part of a group. 
  6. Swimming with faster people motivates me to work a little harder and focus a little more.
  7. I wish we could change up the lane lines sometimes to be more like this:

    Instead of always like this:

  8. It's perfectly acceptable to pump gas in a swimsuit and towel.

If you are local (New River Valley) and want to join our T/H 6:30 am triathlon-focused swim practice with Coach Tom Williams, I can give you more information. It's a lot of fun and very helpful. We swim at the Blacksburg Aquatic Center on Tuesday and Shawnee Swim Club on Thursday.

ALSO if you are local, please join our new New River Valley Triathlon Facebook page!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Race Report: Downtown Sundown 5K & Festival Bike Valet Service

Saturday night I was set to run the Downtown Sundown 5k that started at 8:30 PM. At that hour, PM means "Pajama Me" not "Pounding Miles" so I wasn't sure how I felt about such a late race. As part of my effort to fill the day and keep my mind off a race that I viewed as my recovery "final exam" or race season "pre-test," I volunteered a few hours at the Bike Valet station for the Summer Solstice Festival downtown. To encourage people to ride bikes to events like this, the Bike Kitchen and NRVBA provide secure valet parking under a shady tent adjacent to the action.

Volunteer Kathy had the PERFECT tshirt for the job; it matched the hats. She is talking to engineer and bike wrench extraordinaire, Jim.

Beth Lohman is the chief organizer and she devised a simple but clever system of bike tagging and claiming with re-usable clothespins.

I could not believe how heavy some of those commuter bikes were but it was fun to admire the different bikes. I thought about the scene in Ferris Bueller where the valet parking guys take Cameron's car for a joy ride. I controlled myself and resisted riding any of them; I'd brought my own bike.

After that I spent some time at home, out of the sun, laying around to save my energy. I re-read about half of Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald about the Mark Allen and Dave Scott Kona races. I ate sweet potatoes. I napped. I drank coffee at 6. Yeah, rough life, I know. Then I went back to the festival and saw Coach Jim and his son, which was just the surprise I needed.

I was feeling nervous. I wanted to run strong from start to finish but I didn't have much run mileage over the last month to know what pace I could reliably sustain. I've run/walked a total of 15 times since I was cleared.

The goal was to negative split the race so I aimed for a 7:20 first mile (slight uphill) and go from there. As I warmed up, I could tell anxiety was driving my heart rate up, so I took some time to get my head right. I saw Ann McGranahan, the eventual women's winner, and she reminded me just to think of it as a Tempo run.

The front pack took off like rockets, with me swept up among them, so that first quarter mile was probably way too fast for me (weeee!). But I felt refreshingly great through that first uphill mile. We all settled into our paces and I found myself running with two under-15 girls who were powering along with tremendous focus. I passed them, but not long after, those slender pony-tailed girls cruised right on by and that was the last I saw of them. As it should be. Get after it girls, I was cheering silently!

I was SO fast, my husband could only capture this blurry photo of me!! Haha.

I finished in 22:07 (7:07 pace) which is pretty much right in line with most of my 5K stuff of last year and a minute or so off my best 5K paces. I'll definitely take that and be VERY happy with it. And it even appeared to be a slight negative split. My legs felt just fine and the hurt I felt was that all-over racing hurt of nothing in particular, but everything at once. For my efforts, I got a nice little bonus:

My heart called the shots on this race and my body had to work exceptionally hard to deliver. I think I PRed on having the highest sustained heart rate for a 5k for me - an average of 174 bpm. My Pace:HR deviation was 5% so I've got some work to do in the fitness department, but we don't want this stuff to be easy. We should have to work for it!

I felt a rush of grateful emotion after the race. Dr. Davidson's artery patch has allowed me to return to running and to enjoy racing again. There were never any guarantees, yet I feel I got an incredible outcome that was better than I even hoped for.

I am extremely happy with this starting point and it will be fun to see where we can take it. 

Less than three weeks till the Colonial Beach Sprint and Olympic Double Triathlon Weekend. YIKES! What is the expression.... $ht suddenly got REAL!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Happy 5th Coach-iversary Coach Jim!

This June 22 will mark five wonderful years of training under Coach Jim of One on One Endurance. That's five years of learning, of discovery, of adventures, and of change.

I first met Coach Jim at a music shop where my youngest was taking piano lessons and his son was taking guitar lessons. They were little kids then, not so anymore!

I was coming off my first broken fibula, hobbling around, and knew when I was back to two legs I wanted to give triathlon a try. I asked Coach Jim for help to learn to swim and then it quickly expanded into "will you please help me do a sprint triathlon in nine weeks?"

At that point, I'd been running for just a year, and had little swim and practically no bike experience. With his help, I did my first sprint tri in August of 2009.

Lake Norman Novice Sprint Triathlon - the newbie in pink top (R)

And here we are five years later. In that time, I've logged the following in Training Peaks:

Bike 11,662 miles
Run 3,906 miles
Swim 376 hours (For the first few years I recorded time, not yardage...not sure why)
Total number of swim/bike/run workouts:  ~2400
Total number of swim/bike/run hours: 1750 hours

Compared to many, those hours and miles may be a very modest tally for five years, but it's what we have learned that my family/work schedule, life balance, and body can manage. I think it's a testament to what smart, focused, consistent training under a knowledgeable and experienced coach can produce.

During those five years, I've raced in 34 total triathlons, three USAT National Championships, two ITU Age Group World Championships, and ran the Boston Marathon. Each year since 2010 I earned USAT All American honors and year-end podium spots for the Virginia Triathlon Series, including a master's win in 2011 and 2nd and 3rd overall female for 2012 and 2013.  (see Race Results) All of this was a team effort, and I never forget that!

It's not all been smooth sailing of course. There have been injuries, tears shed, frustrations expressed, and fears faced. I'm sure I have exasperated him with some of my dumb choices (18 miles run on a track with a bum hip would be one example that comes to mind) and times that I have deviated greatly from a plan simply because of lack of discipline and self control (but it was FUN! I would say).

Through it all I've never wanted to quit (though pre-surgery I really thought my running days could be over) or been bored or not looked forward to nearly all of my training.

The accomplishments and level of enjoyment of the last five years would not have been possible without Coach Jim. He knows when to push me, when (and how) to hold me back (mostly), when to counsel, when to encourage, when to tweak the training, and when to tell me to suck it up. The whole process is so much more fun when you have someone else vested in it. Through the ups and downs, lefts and rights, it's all shared.

What would the last five years look like had I not had the good fortune to fall in with my coach? It makes me think of this saying, that I love:

...and I am sure glad I started with Coach Jim five years ago. I look forward to many more years to come!! So Happy Coach-iversary Coach Jim, and thank you for all you have done for me as an athlete and a person.

If you'd like to learn more about Coach Jim, read my interview with him from March of 2013!

(And a year from now...what will YOU wish you had started? How about you start that TODAY then?)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cort the Sport's REAL guide to run training zones

If you have a structured training program or work with a coach, your runs may be divided into sections of particular intensity levels; these intensities relate to heart rate ranges. My coach will often use the categories of aerobic, tempo, and threshold with finer gradations within each indicated by things like "easy" or "lower" or "upper".

It can be tricky for those new to running to understand and distinguish among these zones. I thought I would share my interpretations in case you find them helpful for your own training!

Easy Aerobic = This means go as fast as you can while convincing yourself it feels easy (or that it should feel easy, and that if you were more fit it would be easy, so it must be easy. See how that works? Easy is a state of mind, not a pace, silly!). In this zone, you can run and simultaneously fiddle with your iPod and Garmin and alert your Facebook friends and Instagram followers that you are presently running.

Aerobic = This is a little faster so posting a running selfie may not happen, but you should still be able to pay pretty good attention to podcasts like Competitor Radio, This American Life, or Radio Lab on your iPod. At this pace you are content to keep going (at least to the end of the playlist) and the urge to stop is minimal.

Upper Aerobic / Lower Tempo = see: Tempo (it's practically the same, so round UP!)

Tempo = This is the pace of consistent yet sustainable suffering. This pace is comprised of equal parts wanting to keeping going and wanting to stop. Forget podcasts now, as blood is redirected from the listening parts of your brain to your legs, it's music only, and you may or may not even hear what is playing. You've clocked in for work.

Upper Tempo = see: Threshold (the round-UP thing again)

Threshold =  This is pretty much full-on. At this pace all you can think about is when can you stop but you keep going anyway. You are imagining your competitors and asking yourself how bad you want it. You think of your A race. You remember that the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. Tricks to holding this pace: count steps, run to the next tree/mailbox/blade of grass/rock, and mantras. You may find yourself repeating some random out-of-nowhere nonsensical mantra like "run for puppies" or "legs like a weed whacker" or a line from a song (probably one you hate) and it will go on auto-repeat for a creepy long time.  If you are running a threshold interval properly, you should begin to be annoyed by every song on your iPod - the very same ones you loved at Tempo pace. It's all part of cultivating that mental toughness!!

So I hope that helps to better understand the intensity levels that make for a varied and productive run session. Have fun out there!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Road to Race-ville!

I've got almost four weeks of training behind me now. It's gone better than I expected, and I think better than Coach Jim expected. I believe that the "extreme walking" (as he called it) had a lot to do with retaining some decent fitness; I logged almost 150 miles of walking/hiking during my recovery. (As did Trixie)

As Jeff Galloway says, "never underestimate the power of a good walk." (Walk to Strengthen Muscles Slow down to get stronger and go longer, January 15, 2013.) After this experience, I certainly won't discount the fitness and mental health benefits of walking for anyone.

 Trixie and I are still finding opportunities to hit the trails and walk
in addition to my now-solo running- this was Sunday.

Six-weeks post surgery I started back with short bikes, short swims, and walks with bits of running, and have built back up already to some decent 75/90 minute rides, swimming with my group, and Sunday I even logged a 6+ mile run. The runs still include some short walk breaks that Coach Jim has me use to check in and to stretch, and to be sure the body is OK.

My list of worries leading back into training included: will I be lazy and have low motivation; will my speed be gone; will the hunger and drive be lost; will I forget how to work hard and pursue that good pain after all these months of avoiding the bad pain; and what if I am not really fixed?

  (one of my favorite quotes from her book, Wild)

Those worries have begun to evaporate.

The reality is I've looked forward to my workouts, hunted (and passed) someone on the bike (I was nice and said hello!), touched on my 5k and 10k speeds, charged up hills, and while not *exactly* in the training plan, for brief periods I've reached that state of near-red line, which is back to a full-body experience as opposed to one leg.

It still seems amazing to feel this way again - I feel like me.

Things are not perfect and I wouldn't expect them to be. I have my ab and leg scars (who cares, I still wore a bikini to the pool), some creepy feeling outer thigh skin numbness (noticed every time my hand brushes my outer thigh as I swim), my left leg can fatigue before my right, my stomach is not back to its presurgery tone (and maybe never will be), and my hamstrings and calves have been tight (frequent stretching). But so what. The functionality is there and running is fun again.

With every run and bike I am reminded how much the situation had deteriorated over the course of last year. With those slow progressive types of things it's harder to recognize when you are in the midst of it.

Things are coming back nicely, even in the gym - pull-ups (back up to 6 in a row), pushups, lunges, etc - all the basics are still there. I think this speaks to the value of maintaining some type - any type - of activity. I truly believe there are carry over effects to the body as a whole.

11 days till my first 5K of the year.
32 days till my first triathlon of the year (double race weekend at Colonial Beach!)

My race goals? I just want to enjoy those runs, find some flow, and smile (ideally while passing people, haha).

May 13 to June 8 training summary: 

(Yes, it is driving me nuts that it says 49.99 miles run.
Had I known...I'd have done another .01;
I would have also put in another 100 or 1100 yards of swimming.
And maybe 23.45 more miles of biking.)

It's nice to be logging post-workout comments for Coach Jim like "felt great" and "no problems".


Monday, June 2, 2014

Certified "water stop" volunteer

This weekend I earned my "water stop" certification at the Off the Rails sprint triathlon in Roanoke, Virginia. This was the inaugural year for this race and since I couldn't yet race, I was more than happy to add a new volunteer experience to my recent and growing list that includes road marshaling/cycle cheerleading and aid station/gravel shoveling/peanut butter and jelly making. Plus it gave me the chance to see my friends racing and to cheer them on!

Since Equipment Coach Bryan can expertly and carefully top off flooded lead acid batteries, he volunteered as well, to be sure the cups were filled *precisely* to the same level (half-full) and that they all had the same specific gravity. (Note: batteries are not used in most solar electric systems, only for off-grid and grid-interactive battery backup applications. Read more here.)

He could also watch the Solar Connexion logo go by on many Roanoke Tri Club kits.
The cups were filled and aligned with expert precision, some flowers added to dress up the table, and we were ready!

Volunteer coordinator Joe Hanning had suggested we might want to bring bikes since the stop was 1.5 miles down the Greenway so we did. To avoid any temptation to really "ride" I brought Grant's too-small mountain bike and Bryan brought his vintage steel road bike. (We forgot don't try this at home.. but we rode slow and safe.)

We told the runners the water had
 as we handed it out from our very scenic spot at the turnaround on a bridge.

Nearly everyone took water, nearly everyone stopped running or walked to drink, and nearly everyone threw their cups carefully into one of the three trash bins along the way. So tidy!

The repeated stopping-for-a-long-time-to-drink drove me a little crazy and I felt myself getting anxious and wanting to urge the racers on. "Gooooo!" I was yelling in my head, "It's a RACE not a cocktail party!!!" But I stuck to positive encouragement. I could see everyone was working hard regardless of pause or place or pace.

It was estimated that this race had 30 or 40% first-time triathletes. Kudos to the organizer Michael Clark of Roanoke Parks and Rec for creating such a welcoming race. He faced some logistical challenges along the way but things came together really nicely.

In keeping with the "Off the Rails" theme, a Norfolk and Southern train passed by as we finished up. It's in the pic just past the trees. I love trains, I think it's in my blood. My grandfather (my dad's dad) was a railroad engineer on trains 47 and 53 for Conemaugh and Black Lick Rail Road, the short line railroad for Bethlehem Steel.

We were rewarded with exceptionally nice race shirts. Race tshirt orderers: take note, this one's a definite winner! Why? Very soft cotton blend (beats cheap technical ts), and bold, eye-catching but subtle tone-on-tone graphic. The fitted women's cut was a bonus.

After the race we went back out on the greenway and fastidious Bryan had us peeling up the directional tape and helping to move supplies off the bridge. I draped a bag of trash over the top tube and had to pedal like a frog.

I had WAY too much fun on my kid's too-small bike (which is also too small for him since he is now taller than me). My legs and glutes paid the price on the real training ride I had to do later.

Not too many tri-bikes have this convenient bottle/cup/flower holder in the front!

I have really enjoyed volunteering over the last month and that is something I certainly want to keep in the mix. However, it is finally time for me to start shifting my focus to racing again. It's three weeks till my first 5k (should be interesting since yesterday was my first continuous 20min of running) and just two months until Nationals. That's not a lot of time and I have quite a bit of work to do to get enough fitness just to survive double-race weekends in July and August. But I'm feeling good and fresh and hungry!!