Friday, August 29, 2014

Rebuilding the long run

Make no mistake, the return to longer distance running has been a little bumpy.

Sunday I did my first 10-mile run in ages and it was tough! In fact, it was only my third run of 10 miles or more over the last year. Nearly all my runs have been under 6 miles thanks to my then physical limiter. Running has been very stunted since that 3:33:53 Boston Marathon PR in 2013. That's a long time.

The speed returned fairly well to 5Ks and short distances but I can see now it's going to take some time to get some quality longer distance running going. But, there are only two months left in my race season.

I'm planning to run the Hokie Half Marathon on October 12. I'm excited for that because I've only ever run two half-marathons and they were both when I first started running in 2008. After that, I'll race the PPD Beach2Battleship Half Iron distance triathlon October 25 which is a half-marathon that includes a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike warmup :-). 

Logically, I understand why I have work to do. Logically, I know there are consequences when you baby the run for a year and have 8+ weeks off.  Logically, I get that if you have avoided hills for ages (trigger for my condition), hills will be tough. Still, the other day I found my brain bouncing between from being grateful that I can even run to feeling frustrated it's not the speed or ease or endurance that I want to getting upset with myself for not feeling grateful. That was a productive cycle of thought, huh?
 It's hard. It's humbling.

In the moment, on the road, I think I should be able to simply "will" myself to go faster, to work harder, to get more out of myself, to run as I have before. When I can't, and when I don't meet my own expectations, it can be upsetting. Frustration wells up inside of me.

Tuesday I had a rare edge-of-tears call with Coach Jim. (I know that seems ridiculous...and I can't explain...but one can't push physical limits without tapping into emotional reserves.) After we spoke, I took a deep breath. I adjusted my expectations. I have to accept the challenge as it comes. I can't dictate how it unfolds, but I can control my own level of patience with the process and with myself.

We don't do the sport for some predictable linear outcome. The sport is full of surprises, and it ultimately rewards perseverance. We don't know when or in what form, but that is part of the fun I suppose.

I'm sharing this simply to say NO ONE is exempt from the ups and downs, the setbacks, the successes, the accomplishments AND the frustrations. I'm not, and you are not.

So I've put on my shoes and I'm headed out the door for another long-ish run on this beautiful Friday morning. I'm going out with a heart full of appreciation that I am able to do this. I will see what I can do, not what I can't.

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

Monday, August 25, 2014

SAG Crew: Unsung Heroes of Supported Bike Rides

On Saturday I rode in the annual Burke's Garden Century/Metric Century. Burke's Garden is a natural flattened valley within a raised mountain ridge encircling it (pictured above; more about it here). I love the description of this supported ride:
"This century has become a tradition for the New River Valley Bicycle Association since 1997 when a long time member initiated this ride for a casual outing to avoid campus traffic on Move In day for Virginia Tech." 
They aren't kidding. It's not at all safe to bike/walk/eat out/grocery shop around town during move-in days and for a few days after.

I did the metric century (100k = 62 miles) as it fit better with my training plan and my desire to be reasonably functional the following day for a long run. Plus Coach Jim said so. (Let it be known it was NOT easy to drive past the full century riders to the meet-up spot, then again after.)

The ride is all of $8 ($10 day of). What I love is there are no t-shirts, no aid stations (just some stores along the route), no numbers, no fru-fru, but we DO have SAG vehicles, great riders, and a fun course!

This is the only picture I have from the ride, from my one stop, to wipe off my sunglasses. It rained off and on and I, and my glasses, were filthy.

 With Justin Hendrix who also trains with Coach Jim

So anyway, back to the story. I saw the SAG (Support and Gear) vehicles, identifiable by their magnetic signs, a few times along the ride and gave them a little cursory cyclist wave of appreciation. I was glad to know they were there in case I had a flat, because that's what they do, right? Later that day, we had a New River Valley Bicycle Association potluck party and I talked to one of the SAG drivers - Kathy. I had met her earlier this summer at the Bike Valet.

 Kathy and Jim at the Bike Valet in June

I had NO idea all the things that SAG drivers do for us! I figured they drove around, helped change flats and manage mechanical malfunctions and maybe did some basic first aid. Oh no -- there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes, at least for Kathy!

Kathy was the one who had gone ahead and marked the potholes in Burke's Garden with spray paint so we had a better chance of avoiding them. The road that encircles the town is in pretty rough shape and would require maybe 1000 cans of spray paint and two solid weeks to mark all the holes. But for a stretch, she had marked them all, and added chevrons and all sorts of marks that very clearly conveyed the following:
"Cyclists, this is an example of how bad the roads are and you'd better be vigilant and pick a good line between the holes! I have run out of paint, but you get the idea!!"
She was also the one who had put directional signs out for navigationally challenged people like me. There are a total of maybe six turns, and I've ridden the route before, but I find it very reassuring to see those yellow signs. I don't have to waste energy debating whether or not I am lost.

Here's where it gets even more interesting.

Roadkill removal is part of her job description, according to Kathy. She described removing a dead possum from the middle of a switchback descent on our ride. She said, "I wasn't going to let all our riders go past that dead possum." She put on a pair of rubber gloves (an essential SAG supply she noted), grabbed the thing by the tail, and heaved it over the side of the road!! She explained at another ride, she encountered a giant dead vulture in the road. She said there was no head, just feathers, but she found the feet and gave that creature a similar heave-ho! She no doubt saved some cyclists from their own carnage had they hit either.

Then there is canine management. On this particular ride Kathy dealt with two dogs. A dog leash is standard SAG equipment for her, but after this ride she said it will be more than one. Who knew? The first dog incident was a roaming puppy that she returned to the home where it temporarily belonged. They were looking for a new home for the stray dog, and had no leash, so Kathy left the puppy and the leash, gratis.

The second dog was a large overly-friendly sort that a group of cyclists had stopped to try to manage when Kathy happened by. She loaded the "very shedding dirty dog" into her car and secured him with a 6' bike cable lock because she'd given the leash away. Then called the number on the dog tag only to discover it was out of service. So she went into detective mode, drove toward town, saw a person with a dog, pulled into their driveway, and asked if they knew the person listed on the dog's tag. Amazingly, they knew the owner and the dog, and gave Kathy a colorful description of where to go to return the dog. Kathy completed the dog return and the cyclists had one less danger on the road!

She shared other SAG secrets including having a broom to sweep gravel from roads, and carrying cold, wet washcloths in a cooler to boost weary cyclists.

Kathy of course had other stories related to first aid and bike repair that further convinced me that SAG drivers are the guardian angels, the sentries, the unsung heroes of large supported bike rides.

I am extremely grateful to her and to others who volunteer their time to make these types of rides safer and more enjoyable for us all!

Be sure to thank your SAG crew! They are looking out for you in more ways than you even know!

Monday, August 18, 2014 I am a Superfan.

I have flown three times with my bike and I'm here to tell you it is not the most fun thing you can do. In case you have not directly experienced this particular thrill, let me start by sharing the reasons of un-fun-ness here:

You have to drag your giant bike case along with your luggage into and out of the airport. This is extra-special when you travel alone and have to take all the gear for three sports, regular clothes for a variety of weather conditions/hiking/sightseeing, and computer/work stuff. Like many people, I am constrained to two arms for luggage maneuvering.

Bikes get delayed. About ten of us on my flight waited two extra days for bikes to arrive to ITU Worlds in New Zealand because they didn't have room for all of them in cargo and there were limited flights from LA to Auckland on Air New Zealand. It was pretty stressful and I spent a lot of time figuring out a "plan B" if my bike did not arrive.

TSA gropes your bike and can't be counted on to pack it back up safely. Once you pass your bike box off to TSA, all you can do is stand there helplessly as you watch them open the box, move things around, and swab it for drugs or explosives or whatever. The key to keeping things secure in my particular box is to have the straps cinched up very tight. TSA can be counted on NOT to do that.

Bikes can get damaged. So far I have been fortunate, but that is not always the case. The boxes get handled a lot - loaded, unloaded, thrown, transported, loaded again, unloaded again...each is an opportunity for damage. I saw one person in New Zealand filing a claim for a damaged box and bike.

You have to find a taxi that has room for the bike box.

If you are staying to travel more after the race, you have to store your bike somewhere.

It's expensive! You pay a hefty amount of money to fly with a bike ($100-$300 each way)
Read this recent article in the Washington Post, Airlines change gears on passengers flying with bikes. The author does not expect things to improve.

So for my trip to Age Group Nationals I looked into other options to get the bike to the hotel.

Tribike Transport, that ships your bike intact, was not an option because the closest pickup location was 200 miles away. Plus it's really not much/any cheaper than flying the bike.

I could have asked a driving friend to take it, but that feels like an imposition and honestly, I'm not that crazy about it hanging off the back of a car or sitting on top for 750 miles. That left shipping the bike.

ALTERNATIVE A: Ship direct with FedEx/UPS

First I took the bike box to our local packing/shipping store for an estimate. They used a formula that involved differential calculus, my astrological sign, and a patented chemical process to determine that it would be expensive as #$&*@ to send it. It was going to be around $200 each way. Forget that. It was no cheaper than flying.

It took four pieces of paper to get an estimate.


Oddly enough, just as I had given up on the idea of shipping my bike, an issue of Triathlete magazine arrived in my mailbox. Jesse Thomas had written an article about traveling to races called "Pack it up, Pack it in" in which he mentioned that he uses a service called, which "buys labels from FedEx using prepopulated dimensions based on your specific bike box or bag." They basically wholesale the shipping service.

Compare complexity of the photo above to this one:

examples of bike boxes, just pick yours off the list!

No PhD in applied Mathematics required...just two zip codes and knowing what bike box you have!! Then you get this:

Those ground rates of $62 out and $67 back seemed too good to be true (yeah OK not exactly a bike "flight" but that's OK), so I sent an email off to customer support and got a reply back almost instantly. It turned out I knew the person who emailed me back, so I gave him a call and asked if this was legit? That conversation put my mind at ease to give it a try.

I paid for shipping, added a little for extra insurance, and very quickly received PDFs of the shipping labels for both directions. Per instructions, I put a copy of the shipping label in the box, one in a small luggage tag on the outside, and another went in a sturdy pouch that FedEx cable tied to the box.

I packed as much as I could into the box, because unlike with the airlines where you need to stay under 50 lbs, the weight is not really an issue (up to 90 lbs or something?). I put in my bike pump, bike shoes, breakfast food, bike bottles, transition towel, and some other odds and ends.

I shipped the bike off on a Monday (thank you Equipment Coach for the drop-off service) so it would arrive at the hotel the day before I did. I called the hotel to let them know it was coming, then tracked the bike. It appeared to have been on just three trucks in total for the duration of its trip. It was nice to have that job done so I could focus on other things the last day or two before I had to leave. I loved knowing the bike was there waiting for me!!

When I arrived at the hotel, the box, and bike, were there in perfect condition! All set for two days of racing!

The morning of departure, I packed the bike up and took it as far as the hotel lobby. I called FedEx to schedule a pickup, and before I even checked out of the hotel, the bike had been picked up. It arrived back in town, two days later, safe and sound!

I will definitely use from now on. Even if it was the same cost as flying with the bike, I'd still use it for the fact that it eliminates nearly all the hassle factors I list above.

It could not have been any more convenient or simple! (This was an unsolicited endorsement, I received no compensation, just very happy with the service and wanting to share.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

USAT Age Group Nationals: "Write the Ending You Want"

Where to start?? I had SO much fun racing last weekend, SO much fun. The general consensus was the combined field of 4850 triathletes was by far the most competitive Nationals ever. There were crazy fast people in every age category, with most of us racing our hardest for a spot on Team USA at the 2015 ITU World Championships slated for Chicago. Since we are the host country, we get 25 rather than 18 spots per age group, but because Worlds are a year after Nationals, when we are all a year older, we get ranked for spots according to our age group at that future time.

So, when I was compared to the 44-48 year olds (rather than my 45-49 age group), I finished 15th and qualified 15th for the Sprint Distance, and in the Olympic I finished 19th, but qualified 26th because of so many speedy 44-year-olds. So I'm very happy to have made my fourth consecutive Team USA for the sprint, and if I get an Olympic spot that will be "gravy"!

What kept rolling through my head this weekend was "write the ending you want." I have long thought of Nationals as an end point to my recovery, a goal I have focused on since surgery. I wanted an end to this chapter that I could be proud of. "Write the ending you want" reminded me that while I surely don't have control over everything (and wouldn't want to), I had a control over a lot of things - staying calm (peaceful mind), thinking clearly, racing smart, "turning the screws" on myself, being patient as needed, and staying tough and positive.

I'm pretty satisfied with how I "wrote the ending!"

Below are all my race stats if interested. The bottom line is, I took a significant amount of time off my swims compared to the prior year (1:33 in the sprint and 1:39 off the Olympic), and biked and ran about a minute slower. But I got everything out of myself that I could on the day and held a pretty good "redline" heart rate on both runs (Garmin Sprint, Garmin Olympic) that told me I couldn't have done much more. I always want to be faster, but at the same time, I am content to know I did my very best on the day with the fitness I had.

Rather than blather on about the race, I think I want to share some random "lessons learned" from the weekend to share with others who might race at Nationals or similar big race in the future.
  • Go to packet pickup as early as you can. Big races = big lines.
  • Big lines = keep hydration with you at all times, maybe food too.
  • If you think it's a good idea to go to packet pickup just before the 2-hour swim practice block, chances are that 500 other people had the same "good" idea and will be in line in front of you.
  • Go to packet pickup as early as you can. Did I mention that already?
  • Hit up the merchandise tent immediately if you want any event shirts, jackets, etc. We got jackets, not t-shirts for this race, so when I went to get a race t-shirt on Friday, they were already sold out!! This is the case for Worlds too - stuff often sells out day one!
  • Before race day, scope out the port-o-john options for the ones that are just off the "beaten path" - near the expo, or bike mechanic. It's usually worth it to walk a little further and avoid yet another line! You might even get lucky and find real bathrooms like they had at the Art Museum that I am told were rarely used.
  • If you think you need the bike mechanic, go early! Customers pile up quick. And if your valve stems are rattling in your wheels and you somehow never noticed that noise before race weekend, I learned that a piece of electrical tape can fix that!
  • Hook your timing chip around your race suit as soon as you get back to the hotel so there is NO way you can forget it race morning.
  • Be very clear which aisle has your transition spot. The brain fog of racing will interfere with all but the most basic of instructions. At Nationals each line of racks is lettered. I knew which to turn between then I practiced pacing off the steps to my bike in my expected post-swim, post-ride stride. Counting steps is quicker than slowing down to look!
  • Look for alternative ways to exit transition with the bike in case one path has traffic. Part of a rack had collapsed where I had planned to exit, so I just headed to Bike Out a different way.
  • Be prepared to walk to and from the race venue a LOT of times and wait in a LOT of lines - packet pickup, swim practice, bike mechanic, check bike in, race, check bike out, check bike in again, exchange jacket for another size, wait in line for Team USA sign up, race, get a beer (oh, did I just say that?), check bike out, wait in line for Team USA sign up. 
 bike check-in line!
  • Triathletes are crazy people! Not me of course, but all those other ones! Nearly every random conversation seems to circle around to recent injuries and calamities. I saw someone on the run course in a walking boot, talked to a girl who had just placed second in a duathlon in an arm cast weeks prior, and another friend was racing post-eye-surgery!  
  • Do have random conversations and meet people. I love running into friends that I have made at Nationals and Worlds. It's an incredible community of folks.
  • Have a sherpa, preferably an experienced one! Equipment Coach came up to cheer on the local contingent and I put him to work.
  • Make sure your tri-tat number is right-side-up before applying (yes, I saw this). And on the subject of removing them...the secret is....nothing really works. I put lotion on and let them "ripen" for a few hours. Then remove as one does with rubber cement, just start rolling it off - preferably out on the sidewalk and not in your hotel bathroom where you'd make a mess and walk through the bits of stickiness.
  • Always remember, worst-case scenario if something happens to your bike you can rent one with a basket and comfy seat from the city commuter fleet. (yes, I saw this bike in the race; I rented one my last night to ride along the lake)
  • Eat your tried-and-true pre-race breakfast, but enjoy the local fare (within reason) for lunches and dinners!
  • If you are getting ready to pass someone in your age group, do so decisively and smoothly so they lose all hope of catching you ;-)
  • Race morning, check your bike and tires FIRST in case there is a problem! Make sure it's in the right gear for mounting.
  • "Swimming 90% in a good draft is better/faster swimming." True that, Coach Jim. I took advantage of that, swimming from feet to feet and catching drafts as I could.

Friday swim practice (above)

  • My wetsuit seemed to be sticking to me when I tried to remove it in practice, so on race day I put lotion on my legs and arms and that seemed to help quite a bit.
  • Widen your arm entry in the first few hundred yards of the swim to protect your face/head/personal space. (Fist drill can come in handy, haha, just kidding.)
  • Beware the bike mount! It's basically a minefield with roaming zombies. Be careful and get out of there as quickly and safely as possible!! I saw a lady try to ride away with a visor looped around her crank arm, I saw bikes falling over, shoes falling off. Crazy stuff.
  • Remember the mental and physical half-way point of a run is at least 60% of the distance in so pace accordingly.
  • Photographers are good reminders to clean up your form...and smile. It's OK to mug for the camera a bit! If you plunk down the $50 for the set of pics you might as well have some good ones.
  • Racing is a delicate balance of patience and catching the next person.  It's energy allocation. Don't overspend too much in any one place.
  • Save one extra gear for the final 400m of the run and soak it all in! In Sunday's race I imagined all the speedy 44-year-olds ahead of me and my last mile was by far my fastest!
  • Ship your bike to the hotel rather than fly with it! This will be the subject of a future post, but I sent my bike FedEx using and it was the easiest, best way to go by far. No searching for a cab that can fit a bike box, no watching helplessly as TSA gropes through your bike box.

Age Group Nationals (and ITU Worlds), are such unique races because of the depth of talent up through every single age group. I love racing among everyone from teenagers to the 70+ year-old athletes. The head-to-head racing is a blast and while we are competitors on the course, we are compatriots afterward. We all balance life and work and manage injuries and ride the crazy ride that is triathlon.

Thank you to Coach Jim for helping me to write the best ending to the chapter that we could. We accomplished a lot in 2-1/2 months!! Swim Coach Tom and swim-mate Eric, I owe the swim improvements to you! Thank you Dr. Davidson for helping to make this an ongoing novel rather than the short story with the abrupt ending it would have been without the vascular fix. I'm ready for many more chapters :-)

Robert, Spencer, and Grant I appreciate the time you give me to train and race. Your support and love make it all so much sweeter.

Thank you to Solar Connexion, Virginia's premier solar contractor, for the race sponsorship and support that made the trip possible.

Thank you for all the cheers and support from near and far!

Whatever your story, keep writing!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Peaceful mind for racing

"Inner peace, then outer results; not the other way around." ~ Mark Allen, The Art of Competition

Tomorrow I leave for USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals. When I think of my goal for the races, the Olympic on Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday, I find myself thinking only in terms of how I want to feel, not of specific numbers. For as numbers- and data- and spreadsheet-oriented as I am, when it comes to racing, it's all about managing my mind and how it processes what the body is saying. That's the challenge I think we all enjoy.

What I want this weekend is a quiet, un-distracted mind that drives the body with unfailing determination, commitment, courage, and belief.

I can clearly identify various states of my "training mind" when I swim, bike, and run.

On one end of the spectrum there is the anxious mind. This is the one that is worried about hitting particular intervals, paces, or splits, wondering if I measure up, questioning if I am working hard enough, and asking if I am tough enough. Do I have "it?"

On the other end of the spectrum is the peaceful mind that revels in the moment, is bursting with gratitude and appreciation for the ability to move freely, and is focused on the sensations of movement. It is here that I find flow and happiness. (Melanie McQuaid just wrote an awesome article on this state of flow.) Even as I type this, I can picture myself running down Luster's Gate Road and I can feel that peaceful feeling that I want. It's those times that I will report to Coach Jim, "too fast, I know, but I was running happy!!"

My truly peaceful mind frequently follows the release of the anxious mind. When I've hit the pace I want/need, when I nailed the interval, when I got past the tough part, I release the fears. It's as if all that energy that was needed to "feed the fears" is redirected into forward-propulsive ways. That's when I feel my best and when the speed comes more freely.

I began my last races at Colonial Beach with a peaceful mind and that's what I seek again in Milwaukee. I'm not saying I didn't race hard, and I'm not saying there weren't tough times during the race, particularly on the run, but I didn't cross over into that place of fear. It remained about what I could do, not what I couldn't. Not all my races go that way, particularly last year, when I was plagued by anxiety about my leg.

There are 205 women in my F45-49 age group for the Olympic Distance race on Saturday and 110 for the Sprint Distance on Sunday. Last year it was 137/53 and in 2012 it was 114/56. That's nearly twice as many women as two years ago. Those numbers will not enter my mind as I race.

I'm showing up to race with a certain amount of fitness and speed. If I can get that little bit extra out of myself, I will be happy, and to do that, I can't waste energy and thoughts on anxiousness.

Like 6x Kona Ironman World Champion Mark Allen suggests, "Inner peace, then outer results" and that is my goal.

Life is hectic for most of us. Training and racing is our opportunity filter out the white noise of the world, to step away from screens and updates and seemingly immediate demands for our attention. I look forward to having nothing to do during that time but manage my own thought processes. It's not to say my mind will be empty, but it will be focused on the basics:

  • Swim: reach, finish the stroke, head down, feel and pull, swim straight, draft if I can, narrow kick, catch that next person!!
  • Bike: suffer more, grab every bit of speed, catch that next person!!
  • Run: cadence, cadence, cadence, be patient, catch that next person!!!

When I began this sport I viewed it as a physical challenge, but the most difficult "endurance" part of the sport can be maintaining that sharp mental focus needed to perform at one's best. You can't let up, you can't open the slightest crack to doubt.

I'm looking forward to the challenge of the weekend's races, to race my best among the best, and to do so with a quiet mind. Well, quiet aside from it telling me to catch the next person :-)

If you are going to be at the Age Group National Championships and you happen to see me, please say hello!!! Safe travels to all - see you there!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Race Report: Draper Mile

The Draper Mile is a local race that finishes in the midst of our big annual community event, Steppin' Out. It's the best part of a 5K (the first mile) without the pesky 2.1 miles that follow. It's nearly all downhill, and it's reported to allow for mile times about 10-12 seconds faster than a track mile. I was hoping to come in under 6, and I was happy to run a 5:43.61. I was the 13th female, and second in my age group behind the speedy Alice Coddington who had five seconds on me. The winning time this year was 4:10.41. WOW!  2014 Results

Here's the elevation profile from my Garmin:

The Draper Mile has been run since 1982. The record for my age group is 5:31.

The race is actually a "race" and a "run."  The first heat is the faster race and I did that one. We finish and get to cheer on those in the "run".  This pic caught me at the finish, waiting to do just that, and Coach Jim is across from me waiting to cheer on his kids!

That was really fun, and like a ride at an amusement park, I wanted to go back up and ride it again. I should have, considering I registered twice. I chalk the double registration up to "mom brain." I vaguely remember signing up when I was shoe-shopping for my kid a while back, but I re-signed up this week. Oops. Momnesia. Yeppp.