Thursday, July 24, 2014

Training when you aren't "feeling it"

This was me, this morning, before my swim, which was to precede my run. I was not "feeling it." I was not really feeling like training. I was not feeling like brushing my hair and I was not feeling like anything much but crawling back in bed.

But I ate breakfast, had a cup of coffee, brushed my teeth but not my hair (why mess with a masterpiece, lol), and I went to the pool to swim with Coach Tom and the group, as scheduled. There were lots of swimmers today and once I swam a few laps, my brain stopped complaining and got to work. I had a good workout!

After a change of clothes, a banana, and another cup of coffee, I did my first track workout in ages and frankly, it had me nervous. I was not feeling good, not feeling PUMPED and PRIMED and JACKED and EXCITED for the mile repeats like I would want to be. But of course I did it anyway, because it was on the schedule and you don't not train because you aren't feeling perfect because that would not get you very far.

I emptied my brain and again got to work. I started off too fast on the first mile, paced the second pretty steady as instructed, and then on the third I was given a more aggressive range of 6:15 to 6:30 and I thought I might struggle to come under 6:30. I just focused on cadence and staying relaxed, and darned if I didn't hit the 6:15!!

This was a great reminder that you can still have a really good workout even if you aren't "feeling it."

Coach Jim said afterward that the physical and the mental/emotional do not have to match if the physical is strong enough.

One huge advantage to being coached and to having a schedule that your coach invested time and thought to develop, is that you don't skip a workout or mess with a workout without a sound reason (sick, injured, extra recovery clearly called for). By sticking to the schedule you gain experience training through so many emotional and physical conditions that you figure out you really do not have to feel great to perform great! Then on race day, when you wake up not in the mood to race, you know that it's OK. Once the horn sounds, you WILL be in the mood, you will know what to do, and you will have that consistent training to carry you through.

Truth be told, more often than not before a workout I am not "feeling it." But inevitably, within a minute of starting a workout, I am already so happy I did. It takes effort and discipline to get out there and do this stuff, it's not easy for any of us, but the rewards are enormous!

Whatever you need to be starting or doing, don't wait to be "feeling it" -- just start!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bike Pedal Removal for Dummies

This is my third year where my bike will travel to a race in a box. Coincidentally, it's the third year where I could not remember for sure which way to turn the allen wrench (aka hex wrench or key) to remove the pedals to fit the bike in the box.

In 2012 I had the bike shop pack the bike. Last year I took the whole bike apart THEN remembered the pedals had to come off. It's way harder to do once the bike is apart; so hard in fact I couldn't do it and I was too stubborn to put the bike back together. (I needed that time to fume.) Equipment Coach Bryan bailed me out and got them off in maybe ten seconds.

They are not that hard to get back off after a race weekend, but after a full year of riding it can take a little effort so you don't want to be turning the wrong direction! I was determined to redeem myself and do it on my own this year, with this little practice session two weeks out.

I remembered something about turning the allen wrench toward the back of the bike, but one can turn toward the back up from the bottom, or turn toward the back from the top, and they are two very different directions!!

I did a quick search from my phone, and site after site just said, "turn toward the back of the bike". That is not at all helpful.

Some sites try to explain that the pedal goes this way, the crank arm goes that way, you are pedaling forward, so it's threaded this-a-way, and from that information even the biggest moron will instinctively know which is counter-threaded and which way to turn the wrench. Sorry! My gifts as an engineer lie in information design, not spatial/mechanical/directional abilities.

So..... I am a dummy and this post is for me.

It's also for anyone else who is not willing to take the chance that they may be tightening, rather than loosening the pedal based on the half-information of "turn the allen wrench toward the back of the bike."

How to remove bike pedals: Insert the allen wrench so it is pointing UP, THEN push it toward the back of the bike! 

There!! See what a little bit of extra information can do?

A pedal wrench doesn't work on Shimano pedals, but if you have one of those, I can only guess it moves in the same direction. Point it up, push it back.

Here is my pictorial guide:

non drive-train side

 drive train side

stand on the pedal then pull the wrench back against that downward force

One can also have the allen wrench a little closer to the crank arm, grasp allen wrench and crank arm, and use that leverage to push the allen wrench toward the crank arm.

Pedals: 0
Cort the Sport: 1

Even the little victories feel good ;-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Field notes from a bicycle

Each time I am out on my bike, (let's call that 2-3x week for five years - so maybe 6-700 times since I started), and without exception, I marvel at the sense of being "in" the world and observing it in a way that is unique on a bike. I suspect most cyclists know exactly what I am talking about.

Yesterday was no different. I felt a profound sense of happiness to be riding. On my early morning, two-hour, zero traffic light ride, I saw a snake, rabbit, deer, dogs, groundhog, orioles, cardinals, crows, goats, squirrels, horses, ponies, and cows. I was surprised by the lack of chickens, so when I finally saw a few hens scratching around a front yard I yelled out to no-one, CHICKENS!! It was as if I'd won my personal game of animal bingo. I even stopped to rescue a box turtle from the street.

I saw no chipmunks, which is fine, because I had two of them in my house over the weekend, courtesy of our cat (they both made it out unharmed).

I waved to early morning porch-dwellers, the Sunday newspaper-getters and the small group of cyclists I saw headed the opposite direction.

Until I started cycling, I was never quite so aware of the subtle changes that signal the transition between seasons. Right now, blackberries are at or just past their peak, corn is high, and I saw my first few wooly bear caterpillars - sure signs that summer is moving swiftly along (noooo!!!).

The fragrances change from season to season and year to year. This year, honeysuckle seemed to really flourish and I enjoyed an abundance of that sweet smell along my favorite routes. You don't get that treat driving by in a car.

The wildflowers seem extra vivid and plentiful too - purples, oranges, yellows, whites, pinks, blues, and reds. I much prefer the surprise of their random road-side occurrences over anything planned and cultivated. I wish for photo of every flower I see, to take home and say "look what I saw!", but my need to pedal strong and without interruption takes precedence.

Mornings have been unseasonably cool in the last week. I rode through mist and felt the pockets of distinctly cooler and warmer air that one notices best from the seat of a bicycle. It's not one single temperature out there as weather reports would have us believe.

How awesome if we could really convey the sensations, the sights, and the smells of a bike ride to others as an enticement to ride! Yes the effort, the speed, and the feeling of covering many miles under our own power is pretty fun, but the chance to quietly observe the world around us is perhaps even better. We travel slowly enough to observe so much, but quickly enough to escape real notice. It's my kind of "reality show!"

It's not unusual for me to spend a day, or even two, contemplating possible ride routes and thinking of which one will best suit the training objective...and more importantly my spirit. As good as cycling might be for the body, it is even better for the soul.

Enjoy the ride...always.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Race Report: Colonial Beach Sprint and International Triathlons

The short version:

I raced the Colonial Beach Sprint Tri Saturday and finished in 1:17:28, third overall (out of 143 women), and 2+ minutes faster than last year (results here).

The next day I raced the Colonial Beach International Tri and finished in 2:29:16, 12th female (out of 135), 1st Master's Female, and 4+ minutes faster than last year (results here).

Compared to last year, I ran a little faster, biked about the same, and swam quite a bit faster. With just 7 weeks of training, I did not expect those results. I am VERY VERY pleased. (and my leg felt problems now or expected in the future)

Me, happy.

The longer version:

In my usual race reports I tend to rehash splits, paces, seconds gained and lost, blah blah blah blah. If anyone cares, rest assured, it's all neatly recorded in my Google spreadsheet of results. But I felt different going into these races, and I feel different even now in how I think about them. The quantitative seems to matter less than the qualitative.

I was pretty relaxed heading into these. My only real concern was that with so little training time behind me I would pick a 10k run pace that I would not be able to hold. I wasn't worried about other things I couldn't control. I didn't feel a need to get real keyed up about it all.
  • I skipped most of the gadgets like an aero helmet or speed suit. (race wheels stayed)
  • I got to transition 45 minutes before race start instead of my usual 75-90 minutes
  • I didn't care where my transition rack was or if I got "the best rack space."  I was close to the outside fence both days and that was fine.
  • I wore socks to run even if it meant a slower T2. I wanted to be comfortable.
It was nice that my hotel room was 100 feet from transition and I could see it and the swim start out my window.

When I set my alarms Friday night (yes, one was for PM, oops) I thought carefully about the words I wanted to read when I awoke. Above all, when things felt hard, I wanted to fall back on gratitude for the chance to be racing again. That was never a "given" and never is a "given" for any of us.

Sprint Race

Saturday was the sprint race. Highlights included standing with an uncharacteristic calm at the swim start; swimming the way I have been practicing with Coach Tom's swim group; hearing "fifth out" (of my wave) at the exit; and smiling as I realized I was a lot closer to the front of the pack than the middle. Other notables: logging the second fastest female bike split and running a 5k with nearly exact even splits of 7:04-5 per mile despite not looking at my watch after the first mile. Perhaps I am starting to get a sense of pacing.

I shared the overall podium with 47-year-old Teresa Koebel (awesome swimmer who was a whopping 2-1/2 minutes ahead of me) and 17-year-old Lacie Robinson. Pretty cool how we spanned the ages.

Race recovery meant an early lunch at Denson's Grocery and Oyster Bar, a nice nap, then dinner at the Lighthouse. I was amazed that the owners and wait staff at both places remembered us from last year. What a welcoming town with some awesome food!

Olympic Race

Sunday morning I was ready to roll - no soreness, no real tiredness, and some quality bed head.

The water in the Potomac was quite a bit choppier on this day, but I enjoyed the added challenge, and I had another strong swim that was 4+ minutes faster than the prior year.

I even raced folks out there including that girl behind me who I passed after the final turn buoy.

The bike leg was about a minute slower than last year which I am OK with. I am not at prime fitness. Frankly, I am just happy to have finished in one piece considering I nearly got T-boned during the race. About 16 miles in, a car traveling in the opposite direction made a left turn into a very small side street as I was passing through it. Fortunately, in my panic I accelerated, and the car just missed me, just barely. I never thought to keep an eye on the cars in the opposite lane, but I sure will do so now. There's just no way to put a flagger at every single side road so it is up to the athletes to be vigilant.

The run was tough but thankfully we had overcast skies and slight cooling breezes on the scenic river-front course. Thank you race organizers and volunteers for the cold soaked towels handed out along the run course, they were very much appreciated!

The short training window meant I only had three runs of 10k or more. The plan was to hold back for the first half and then turn it on and race the second half. I started off at 7:35 for the first 5k but by the turnaround it was clear I had no other gears and would be lucky just to hang on. But hang on, I did! That seems to be a recurring theme with me this season. Whatever gear I start in, I seem to stay in. (Hi to Victoria who I met on the run course! Meet her at

start of the 10k

Post-race is always fun and I enjoyed hanging with the Roanoke Tri Club folks and other athletes from the New River Valley and elsewhere.

Lynn, Nancy, and Cheryl representing the women of the Roanoke Tri Club!
Nancy had done two open water races the previous day!!

To the victor goes the spoils, or at least the comfy place to sit.


What this weekend taught me is that it's OK to be relaxed heading into a race, remain that way up until the airhorn sounds, and even for a a second after that. Yes, some adrenaline is just part of the process, but one can choose to manage the mental side of that and not let it manage you!

I enjoyed these races more and probably performed better by not overthinking. This is how I want to be moving forward.

Each training-interrupting injury I have had has been like a careful "pruning." I come back changed, a little more rooted, and I hope a little healthier in my thinking.

BIG thanks go to Coach Jim for seeing me through this latest rough patch and carefully and methodically getting me back on track to swim, bike, and run my best. He sets me up for success. He sees the forest when I only see the trees. I cannot say enough about the value of working with a knowledgeable and experienced coach over the long haul!! He continues to keep the training interesting, challenging, and fun.

Thank you to Coach Tom and our Tues/Thurs swim group! Having a coach on deck to give form checks, to push us, and to prove to us what really IS faster is so key. I was able to go into these races confidently with a more efficient stroke dialed in and it paid off in much better swims! I am SO SO excited by this improvement!!!

Thank you "Equipment Coach" Bryan who was influential in my decision to focus less on "equipment" and more on a relaxed mindset. But I still draw the line at riding a beach cruiser and running in combat boots.

Thank you Dr. Jesse Davidson, for fixing my left external iliac artery and allowing me to run and race again without pain or fear. I cannot believe how good I feel, just 3-1/2 months post-surgery!

Robert, Spencer, and Grant, I appreciate your support and recognize the sacrifices you make and inconveniences you deal with because of my sport. Love you!

Sorry for so much me-me-me. By the time I finish writing one of these I am tired of myself. This chapter is closed. It's back to work, family, and training.


Next up: Draper Mile (for fun) and then USAT Nationals. Three weeks to squeeze in a little more training.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Race ready!

I am ready!

I feel strong and excited and ready to race. This is a lot different than last year at this time when I wrote of the races, "I should be able to make it through both runs."

What a difference a year makes.

Today was my final (short) brick workout, done with this audience of turkey vultures. Perhaps I can blame them for the "easy run" that I did way too fast. But it was as much as I could contain myself, feeling happy and grateful.

Yes, I AM ready!

I came across this article called "Learning to Trust Your Training" which is something Coach Jim instills in us. When you put in the consistent work over a period of time, race day is the chance to put it all together and squeeze that extra little bit out of yourself. I trust in my training, my fitness (not yet at peak, but that's OK), my mind, and my legs!

I always believe I can race to my potential, whatever that potential is. Why would anyone go into a race thinking otherwise?

One of my favorite little philosophical books on running is called the Elements of Effort, Reflections on the Art and Science of Running by John Jerome. There are so many pearls of wisdom, among them:
"Most of us, most of the time, have to have something to push against, even on the most cursory and ordinary runs. Fortunately for runners, there is never a shortage of adversaries: time, distance, the weather, the road, fatigue, the crest of the next hill."
I love having that thing to "push" against, and a double race weekend makes it even better.

Saturday: Colonial Beach Sprint Distance Triathlon
Sunday: Colonial Beach International Distance Triathlon


(Thank you Coach Jim!)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Race Report: Shawsville 5K

On the Fourth of July I ran the Shawsville 5K. It's held along a bike route I ride often, but this 33rd annual was the first time I had participated. I always felt like I was too busy or too focused training for some triathlon, that I never really considered running it. What a shame! It'll be on my calendar from now on for sure as a great chance to run a hometown race with so many friends!!

A fast group of 210 runners turned out for this fairly flat and fast course. Some Roanoke triathletes and cyclists, Betsy, Donna, John, Mike, and John, rode the 25ish miles to the race, ran, and rode back! I have to admit, cycling to the race crossed my mind (about 18 miles for me), but on this day I was interested in seeing what I could do on fresh legs.

It was not smooth sailing into the race for me. I didn't blog about it, but two weeks prior I dropped my chain on my bike and it got stuck. I came to a sudden stop and unable to unclip in time, I hit the asphalt hard enough to leave bruises (Thank you Richard and Sandy for the transport home). I thought I was OK but during a run the following day, I felt a sharp pull in the quad of my "good" leg that ended my workout prematurely. I had spot tenderness and took the following day off to ice and rest. I was a bit worried and it took a good week or so to resolve. Thankfully it did but it was a little tentative up until the race.

Race day I felt pretty good and stayed relatively relaxed from being around so many people I knew.

We all lined up to start. Coach Jim suggested a 7:05-7:10 first mile then trying to do a slight negative split. It ended up being a 6:58 first mile. It's amazing how easy the first one always feels when you take off with the crowd! I was surprised to pass my friend Alice, also a master's runner and former collegiate cross country runner, but she was only getting warmed up. Toward the end of the first mile she blew past me! Soon after, I came up on Aileen, one of the 13-year-olds who smoked me in the final mile of the Downtown Sundown 5K and figured I'd try to hang with her as long as I could. I found out later she had some cramping which kept her from dusting me THIS time!

I followed my first mile with 6:56 and 6:59 splits the next two miles for a total 5k time of 21:29 (6:54 pace) to give me the 45-49 age group win. (Alice was the fastest over 40 with me second to her about 20ish seconds back. Results are not up yet.) Mentally, this race felt far more relaxed than the last one so that was even more significant than the time improvement.

Though we all start together, the race finishes with two chutes - one for the men, one for the women. In the picture below, One-on-One Endurance athlete Justin Hendrix and I finished nearly together!

Thanks Marion Childress of C and C Runners for the photos!

Marion with second-place race winner Patrick Woodford (16:19)
Matthew Howard (runs for Georgetown) was the repeat winner from 2013

A nice silver lining of my race year being disrupted by surgery is that it got me out of my prior race schedule habits. That had included racing at least five Virginia Triathlon Series races each year to be eligible for awards. Once I let VTS go, it gave me more flexibility.

Now that I know I can run 5Ks, it's time to see what I can do with a sprint and Olympic triathlon. Up this weekend, Colonial Beach!!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer means kid stuff!

Last week was a bit of a blur with lots of kid type things going on! The prior weekend I'd taken Spencer and Grant to National Harbor in DC for Technology Student Association Nationals where Spencer competed. Long travel weekends make the week before and after far busier, but it's always a fun (and expensive, ugh) time in DC. It was a unique opportunity to be around 6000 kids dressed in business attire, most of whom are probably far smarter than me.

I got two runs in - up over the Potomac and along the river up to Old Town Alexandria on a beautiful paved trail. One was my longest run to date at 8 miles, and the other was 6 miles that included 12x 1 min up + 1 min down intervals. It's always fun to run in a new place...and to feel good doing so!! I didn't swim, but I'll be swimming in the Potomac at my races this weekend.

I returned from my early morning runs to this enthusiastic greeting each morning:

A few days after our trip, I got my first open water swim in, tagging along with the local group of coached 11 and 12 year-olds. I kind of did my own thing, but I'm sure in a head-to-head, every single one of them could leave me in their bubbles. I've always thought that my swimming peers are probably the 8 and 9 year-olds. I might be able to hang with them!

Twice last week I helped with TriAdventure's Youth Triathlon Camp which was quite fun. The 4-10 year olds meet three times a week in preparation for an upcoming local kid's tri. On Tuesday they ran and biked. We did some relay races and follow-the-leader with running and some basic plyometrics.

The biking was done as laps around the parking lot where they will 'race.' I spent a fair amount of time adjusting kids' helmets for a better fit. Those Barbie type helmets that lack the dial or ratcheting adjustment of normal cycling helmets stink!

The second day the kids "swam" and ran. The run part gave me a chance to do something I've always wanted to try. We did a cross-country follow-the-leader type run where the leader sets the pace for one minute, then peels off to the end in kind of a fartlek style. There is probably a name for it. Anyway, we had fun and it was cool to see how the girl in the lead became extra motivated!

Future triathletes!

A very fun week with some talented kids!