Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Race Report: PPD Beach2Battleship Half Iron Distance

This is my second year capping off my season with the PPD Beach2Battleship Half Iron distance race. I like finishing the year with a break from the all-out intensity of sprints and Olympics and it's hard to beat this awesome late October race at the beach!

Last year I finished this race in 5:15:26 (race report here), winning the master's division. Going into this year's race I thought best case maybe I could shave a couple of minutes off that time mainly in the swim and run, but I also knew it was just as likely that I could end up slower. One never knows on race day so I just went into it wanting a strong and happy race.

Coming in under 5 hours never EVER seemed within the realm of possibility. I confess I briefly thought about the math required to make that happen and quickly dismissed it. So no one was more surprised and thrilled than I was to have finished in 4:59:29. That was good enough for 10th overall out of 329 women, and 2nd Masters! Here's how the day went.


I arrived in Wilmington late Thursday and enjoyed a pretty relaxing Friday. Races are so much less complicated the second year you do them! I headed to packet pickup, chatted with the weekend's honorary host - tri-legend Michellie Jones, and dropped off my bike-to-run bag.

After that the fortyninegroup (me, Erin and John) had a spontaneous reunion/meeting in front of the Wilmington Convention Center! We do some work for the race (communications, social media, sponsorships) but by this point things were moving very smoothly and we were all very happy!

Then I took Roo to T1 bike check-in near Wrightsville Beach (#2118....drinking age and voting age is how I remembered my number).

I had a nice dinner and slept reasonably well for a race night, and awoke at 6 am to start the day, get to transition before it closed and then to the swim start. My wave was scheduled for 9:04.

Swim - 1.2 miles
56th/329 women

Thankfully, it was not nearly as cold this year and I did not need my chemical hand and foot warmers and three layers of clothing! The water was warm, perfect for a wetsuit, and there was a favorable push from the tide. The earlier swimmers had a bit more current assist, and those of us in the last wave had a bit less, but even so, once in the water we found ourselves having to swim against the tide just to remain on the starting line.

The channel is so wide that it's easy to get your own bit of space on the swim. Still, I did a fair amount of drafting and was pretty straight to the first and only turn buoy, then it's anybody's guess if I took a good line. I basically followed the crowd, so who knows.

I climbed the ladder up out of the water and felt my wetsuit being unzipped. I dashed off to the wetsuit strippers and then was on my way! I am not in these pics, but this is what that process looked like (these pics and more from Wilmington Star News Online). Then I ran through the showers and quickly to my bike.


My analysis: Overall a solid swim, feeling strong from start to finish and lots of technique-checks on my stroke. I should have positioned myself more in the front of the line of swimmers and gone out harder to find faster swimmers than I ended up with. I could have scouted out landmarks ahead of time to ensure I was on a fairly optimal line.

Nutrition: 6 am breakfast of oatmeal, PB, banana, coffee, OJ with nutritional yeast. Pre-swim (8:30 am) Clif Mojo bar, half a banana, a few oz of Gatorade.

4th/328 women

I laughed pretty hard when I saw I had the 4th fastest T1 of the women, considering I had to pee...and did. Here's my little trick: squat down while putting on your bike helmet and well, go ahead and pee. T1-P1, I called it. Note: this is best suited to a grassy, absorbant transition area.

As I was ummmm....finishing up, a volunteer came over (they are the best at this race!) and offered to put my wetsuit and gear into my T1 bag. These bags are then collected and transported to T2 at the Wilmington Convention Center for later pickup.

That guy makes me look tan. Few things are more attractive than post-swim cap hair.

Bike - 56 miles
2:37:10 (21.4 mph; Garmin data here)
8th/328 women

The bike started off pretty uneventfully, once I got my feet into my shoes which seemed to take an inordinately long time. I felt great, awesome actually, and fell under the spell of believing I could sustain a higher heart rate than I'd planned on. That worked fine, for the first half, until I realized I was probably pedaling closer to an Olympic distance (24 miles) effort level than a half (56 miles). But I'd had enough tough training rides to know I had some reserve capacity and pressed on, averaging about half a mile an hour faster on the back half than the front so I guess I did OK!

We had awesome conditions - very light wind, perfect temps, and sunny skies! I saw a number of people overdressed out there, fooled by the cooler morning, and was glad I opted for nothing extra. 

I passed a lot of cyclists including a few master's women that I noted (the 40-44's started two waves ahead of those over 45), and I was only passed by a handful of men (obviously the slow swimmers from a prior swim wave). At 30-some miles into the ride I got passed by a group of four - three master's women I'd passed earlier and a small guy with a disk wheel. They were very clearly riding in a pack now and they caught me by surprise. When they did not immediately break apart, I yelled in response, "You guys need to put some distance between you, that's not fair!"

The USAT no-drafting rule is: "keep at least three bike lengths of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds."

One of the women in the pack with the aero helmet and shield yelled something back at me at that moment and several more times before the bike leg ended, but I couldn't make it out. Probably just as well, as I don't think she was saying "Good job!"

I wasn't quite sure what to do. In all my races I had never found myself in situation of pack riding in a race. I would back off, then my heart rate and effort would drop below what I wanted, so I'd bridge back up and sprint around in front of them and hold them off as long as I could, fueled by anger! I had a few short conversations with other riders and we just wished for course marshals to appear and bust them on this obvious pack riding. You can see the sprint level efforts in my heart rate after mile 40.

It was really annoying. It's not the fault of the race, as there were marshals out and plenty of penalties assigned. This group just got lucky. It just amazes me how blatant they were about cheating. I held them off in the final miles and pushed hard to T2 determined to finish ahead of them, which I did!

Nutrition: I took in an aero bottle of Perpetuem (270 cals), 3/4 of a Clif Bar (200 cal), and two or three caffeinated gels (180 or 270 cals). I never touched my second bottle that was just plain water.

My analysis I don't think I would have done much differently in the bike leg. I don't regret pushing my overall effort, even though I'm sure the surges hurt me. However, I think it was appropriate given the situation.



T2 at Beach2Battleship is a model of efficiency and service! You push your bike over the timing mat and immediately your bike is whisked away, valet style. You continue up around the interior of the convention center where a volunteer yells your race number into a megaphone and another volunteer finds your numbered T2 bag and hands it to you, while you continue running the perimeter. I diverted to the loo for T2-P2 (this time with an actual commode), accounting for the less than stellar T2. I did multitask and change my shoes while peeing, however.

Run - 13.1 miles
1:44:42 (7:59 pace; Garmin data here)
21/322 women

All the bricks, all the transition runs in training, they are never quite like the real deal of a 56 mile race effort on the bike followed by a 13.1 race effort on the run. Right from the get-go my inner quads were cramping and hurting; they would need to be managed to get me to the finish.

I sought that relaxed, holding back feeling the first few miles like I did at the half marathon two weeks prior, but even so, my heart rate was higher than what I thought was sustainable for that distance. I ended up walking through about every other aid station, taking 10s or so to get in enough fluids (and salt tabs twice). I hate walking in a race, just hate it, but just maybe that was the wise choice, who knows.

The aid stations are every mile on the run and they are amazing. Each was like a glittery oasis of energy and nourishment! There were lots of volunteers, and several tables with oranges, bananas, animal cookies, Heed, water, salt tabs, Coke, Clif Shot, Clif Bar, etc. I kept marveling at how well stocked, and how perfectly cut the oranges looked! It's funny what you think about out there. There were speakers and music on the course and a fair amount of shade. It's a flat out-and back course that winds around Greenfield Lake and is very pretty!

I truly cannot say enough about the support and volunteers at this race. The encouragement, the attention, the help, is absolutely incredible, particularly in transition and on the run course. (The athletes have been posting stories of awesome volunteers on the Facebook page all week and I hope the volunteers know the difference they make in our races.)

I arrived at the final aid station that had a "gridiron" theme and I noticed the green asphalt and football field type markings on the road. I knew then that it was just a few turns, a downhill, the cobblestones of Water Street and the finish. I saw my friend Kristin on the course and reached out for a high-five! She helped me find that final gear for the finish!

Thanks Kristin for the high-five just before this pic!

I've become one of those people who wears the race belt around my butt.
It's the only place where it doesn't spin around and annoy me.

Nutrition: two caffeinated gels (180 cals), water, Coke, Heed, four salt tablets.

My analysis: Now that I've seen my heart rate data (mid-160's) I realize I could not have pushed the run much/any more than I did. The walking may very well have saved me and my crampy legs from a blowup and allowed for better running between, but ideally I'd like to get through a future 70.3 run leg without walking. I felt mentally stronger on the run this year than last - more in control of the situation with healthy legs, but there is room for improvement staying mentally tough late in the race.

Having only raced this distance three times in four years, the trickiest question for me is how to optimally balance the effort between the bike and the run. My half marathon here was five minutes slower, about 5% slower, than the Hokie Half Marathon two weeks prior. But how much would I have to hold back on the bike to bring that run time down even even just a few minutes? So as I am typing this and thinking about it, I am realizing maybe I did OK with that balancing act. I pretty well maxed out the bike and the run, had a negative split on the bike, and did not drop off too badly during the course of the run. I definitely left it all out there. So yeah, I'm going to say "good job!"

(See this is why it's good to do a race makes you think about and figure things out!)


It was a bit before I found out I'd come in under 5 hours and I really did not believe it for a long time. There's something so nice about that sub-5 time that is way better than 5:00:01!! It makes me thankful I pushed on all the places that I did, and I am still just riding a wave of happiness and satisfaction from this race, and the whole year.

I was very sore after this race, probably the most sore I have been after a triathlon. It took three days for most of it to dissipate so I guess I did work pretty hard out there!

It was a real treat to receive my award from Michellie Jones, who incidentally finished 3rd overall in the morning's NHRMC 5K running an 18:50!!!! She spent a lot of time out with athletes, it was great!


I've come away with an even deeper appreciation for why people love this race, and why I love this race. It is born of the community of Wilmington and infused with tremendous energy and pride from the volunteers all the way up through the sponsors including PPD (Pharmaceutical Product Development) who are very hands-on. The race includes the PPD Heroes who have overcome medical adversity to race and it's awesome to see their purple jerseys out on the course!

Every athlete from the first across the finish to the last is made to feel like a rock star as volunteers go above and beyond as if your race is their race too. It is a monumental effort to put on a point-to-point race like this, with separate T1 and T2 areas, but from an athlete perspective it is so much fun!

You could say I am biased, because I do work on behalf of the race, but that also gives me access to the behind-the-scenes of this race, one of just a few remaining (and the most successful) non-corporate 140.6/70.3 race in the US. All I can say is a tremendous amount of passion goes into this race and it is worth consideration for your 2015 race calendar.

This was a fantastic ending to a really satisfying season that didn't even start up until late May. I have so many people to thank for this race, and all that led up to it.

First of all, thank you to Coach Jim McGehee, who has been my Coach for almost 5-1/2 years now since I first began the sport, and who has been with me through thick and thin. He does the hard parts of planning, scheduling, adjusting...and managing me (!), while I do the fun parts of swim, bike, run, and race! The best investment a triathlete could EVER make is an experienced and knowledgeable coach. The race wheels, aero helmet, power meters, gadgets, and gizmos are nothing compared to the guidance of a great coach, and Coach Jim is the best! So thank you Coach Jim for another great year!!!

Thank you to my beloved husband Robert and kids Spencer and Grant who accept my triathlon habit without question. Robert is my race statistician and while he is not real keen to be at the races, I always know he is at the computer while I am racing, keeping an eye on my times and those of my competitors! He usually knows my results before I do! I am also grateful to my mother-in-law, Therese "Oma", who fills in when I leave town (and also when I am here). She makes sure that the family is fed and the kids get where they need to go! I am grateful to my "fans" of 47+ years, my mom and dad, Ted and Donna. No matter how old you are, it still feels good to make your parents proud :-)

Much appreciation goes to Bryan Walsh and Solar Connexion for sponsoring my race season and supporting the local triathlon community by volunteering at races and sponsoring kits. I'm pleased to serve as a solar advocate and maintain a connection to renewable energy and sustainability themes that began during my time at Virginia Tech. Bryan is the go-to "equipment coach," problem-solver, and chief sherpa!

Thank you to Coach Tom Williams for the patient swim coaching and the huge infusion of confidence that has come along with that!

Without the help of Dr. Jesse Davidson, vascular surgeon extraordinaire, I would not have been running or racing. Thank you for fixing me!!

Lastly, thank you to Krista, and all my friends/tri-friends who I do not dare try to mention all by name.  This sport is infinitely more fun when shared with others, even those who are remote from me, who I may not have met (yet), but feel a kinship with.

Thank you to my readers for checking in on my blog, where I still don't know what I'm doing, but I write from the heart. My message early on, and my message still, is to dream big and go after it...whatever "it" may be. I never imagined this fulfilling life 5 years ago, and now I can't imagine it any other way.

As you look toward 2015, please, DREAM BIG!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Top 10 Clues it's Race Week

Three days until the PPD Beach2Battleship half iron distance race, the final race of my season (not counting a spontaneous holiday 5K or two). I am so excited! I did this race last year and loved it so much and I really enjoy finishing the triathlon year with a 70.3 after a season of sprints and Olympics. PPD B2B is one of very few events (two or three?) in the US that offer a very successful iron distance not attached to corporate triathlon - REV3, IRONMAN, etc. It's got amazing community support and you really feel like you are part of something special!

I'm feeling good. This is what I wrote to Coach Jim yesterday:
"I always ask myself before a race, if the race doesn't go according to plan, will I still feel good about the training that led up to it? YES! Will I feel like I wasted my time if it's a bad race? NO! I'm so happy for how the training has gone, what I got through, and what we have accomplished. The race is just the cherry on top of what I already consider to have been a successful season!! So I'm in a good mindset, the body is ready. You've got me ready!!"
There are tangible signs of my readiness, of the taper, and of the arrival of race week.

My top 10 Clues That It's Race Week:

1. Perpetual inescapable feelings of imminent potential spontaneous combustion. (translation: race horse in the starting gate.)

2. Presence of things like chia seeds, kombucha, and coconut water in refrigerator.

3. Apology issued to coach for final short brick run done TOO fast. (Yet I do it before every.single.race. It's just part of the process I guess!!!)

4. Triathlon explosion on dining room table (also known as packing).

5. Waxing and admiring of bike. Cleaning and lubing of chain. Stealthily hiding CO2 and spare tube. (awww, pretty Roo!)

6. Buying things at the bike shop (whether needed or not, but I did need spare tubes with long stems).

 Emma and Nate are not blurry in real life.

7. Attention span of a....goldfish? (drove PAST two destinations today, had to turn around).

8. Hyper aware of every body part. And hyper. And very aware.

9. Extra kale and spinach. (snacked on homemade kale chips with Cajun seasoning; yummier than pictured)

10. Toenails freshly painted to match kit. (kitty approved!)

Time to go stretch. Or eat. Or sleep. Or hydrate. Or notice something that feels odd. Or look at my packing list again. Or shine up the bike.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Purging the Training Equipment Graveyard

I started packing for next weekend's PPD Beach2Battleship race. That meant I was very open to non-packing alternatives to do!

It's no surprise then that my little "collection" of broken training equipment in the cabinet caught my interest. I'm generally an anti-hoarder, but I guess I'm a little sentimental about my oddly colored green Forerunner 405 that went to my first marathons and triathlons and logged a lot of miles. It's the same for the Garmin Edge 305 - it's accompanied me on many great adventures on the bike! But they are dead and gone, soul-less bits of plastic and electronics, blank faced, never to be revived, no more miles to be recorded.

But why did I keep two broken foot pods, seven broken heart rate monitors, broken headphones (hey never know when you might want to hear in just one ear), and a large collection of earbud covers all in sizes that don't fit me.

Sigh. One thing I will say, Garmin support is fantastic and if you want to know why things are a bit pricey - Well, it's because they are very good about replacing things when they break....and letting you keep the broken ones. Which I apparently do keep. For years.

One major upside to the purge is that in the process I discovered one brand spankin' new Garmin heart rate monitor that came with the new Edge and has never ever been used. Very wow!!! I have found that after 9 or 10 months the monitors get flaky even with a battery replacement plus they get stretched out too far to make them small enough to fit me.

So this is my current stash of what gets used regularly:

I'll confess I kept one foot pod "holder" and one non-functional heart rate monitor but recycled/tossed the rest.

Then I went to the garage and made this pile of tires and tubes to take to be recycled. There are reasons each of these came off my bike(s). In 5+ years I have never put an old one back on, so why do I think I would now? ("Good bike trainer tire" they say, but the bike trainer bike hits the road often enough that I need a tube/tire that I can trust.)

So you know what this all means, don't you?

Next week, one of the kids will have a school project where they need 6 old bike tires and 20 ear bud covers ;-)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Race Report: Hokie Half Marathon (PR!)

The second annual Hokie Half Marathon was yesterday, the day after Mirinda Carfrae's amazing comeback win yesterday at the Kona IRONMAN World Championship.

If you didn't follow that race, after the swim and bike, Rinny found herself 14 minutes behind the leader at the start of the marathon. It was a seemingly insurmountable deficit. Yet she steadily worked her way to the front, building to a 2 minute lead, by maintaining efficient and beautiful run form, strength, and focus as the commentators noted her "attention to detail" in terms of fueling and hydration. Watching her was mesmerizing.

I thought often of Rinny's determination and performance as I raced to a PR at the Hokie Half with a 1:39:55 finish. (I've only run two other half marathons though, both in 2008 in my first year of running.) That was 94th out of 1290, 18th woman, and top of the 45-49'ers. I was very happy and as with each and every race, I learned a few things along the way.

Lesson Learned #1 - Rough weather races are best shared with friends! Unlike Rinny's day in Kona, our race day began cold (50F) and rainy. Sigh! I talked my friend Krista into doing this race and the rainy Claytor Lake Sprint Tri. Nearly all of our shared races have been in challenging weather, and we have several pre-race "staying warm in the minivan" pictures like this one:

Lesson Learned #2 - It really is better to race without an iPod. I generally train with an iPod (but ignore it when I'm focused) and run most road races with it. And as we know, they are not allowed in triathlons. With Krista's encouragement I raced without and discovered I didn't need it, didn't miss it, and I'm sure I raced better without it. Thinking about it afterward, with swimming this year I have discovered just how much energy and effort is required to maintain technique when fatigue sets in. With minimal distractions I could better focus on maintaining run form. As Rinny demonstrated in her run, every detail counts!

Lesson Learned #3 - Third-person race commentary and coaching can really help! I heard this story recently on NPR Why Saying Is Believing — The Science Of Self-Talk, and how we are more encouraging when our self-talk is in the third person. I tried it out with some third-person coaching and race commentary in my head. For instance, I could hear Greg Welch from IRONMAN saying, as he did about Rinny, "look as she climbs that hill, her stride does not change!" Or I would say, "Cortney you are doing a great job here, feel how strong you are!"

Lesson Learned #4 - It pays to be patient early. We planned for me to run the first 5 miles fairly conservatively, and I stayed true to that, keeping effort and heart rate low. At that time I watched two fast local women (35-39'ers) pass by me, but I stuck to the race plan and let them go. Later I passed them decisively between miles 10 and 11. I ended up with a nice negative split on this course, which is tough considering the first few miles are mainly downhill. As Coach Jim points out, the benefits of the patient race and negative split are not only physiological, but motivational too as I spent the second half of the race just chasing down the next runner and the next and the next! (Listen to Coach Jim Vance's interview on Babbittville Radio about the Kona Pros who go out too hard/fast on the marathon and pay!)

Lesson Learned #5 - Running in the rain is fun. Volunteering in the rain is far less fun. Most of us had a pretty good time running in the rain! If you are dressed right (hat to keep rain out of eyes, light wicking clothes) it's a blast! We dodged puddles we could avoid, ran through the ones we could not, and kept moving! Volunteering is a lot of standing around - at aid stations, at intersections - and that does not keep you very warm, and certainly not dry. I did my best to say thank yous to all the volunteers, bands, and law enforcement, as I ran. Thank you!!!

This was a GREAT race and I would highly recommend it. I was extremely impressed by the organization and support for the runners!

Today is a day off, then a bit more training for the week before entering the "taper zone" for PPD Beach2Battleship on October 25!

P.S. Why is it called the "Hokie" Half you might ask? This is the long story of the Hokie Bird and Virginia Tech!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Emoticons Translated for the Workout Log

After 5+ years of logging workouts on Training Peaks it occurred to me that it should include an emoticon option for the comments sections. Think how much typing we could all save with these handy shortcuts that convey universal meanings from athlete to coach!

Here are some examples of emoticons translated:

Very good workout, went according to plan, all systems go, feeling good!
Much suffering.
Total panic meltdown and massive doubts regarding upcoming race. Please call with reassurance and coachly perspective.
Could not hit those paces/intervals/times. Do you have me confused with somebody faster?
Did not hydrate enough.
I got distracted and forgot to pay attention to what I was supposed to do.
Complete disregard for entire workout plan. Had a LOT of fun doing something entirely different.
OMG VERY hard workout, thought I would for sure die/pass out/vomit!
Slept through master's swim practice. But I needed the sleep. Really. 
The new GU flavor was NOT a hit.
That was one bad a$$ workout, thank you very much!
Drank too much last night.
GI problems.
Worthy of a celebration.
OH! Was I supposed to do ALL those things?
Fuming. Currently not loving this sport.
I love this sport so much!
That went well. 
Perfect execution. Exact precision on every single interval. 
Lost track of the number of laps on that set. And the time. Got nothing for you. Sorry.
Gold star workout.
Ummmm....notice anything? Hmm? Like a GIANT PR on that?

And that's just the start! What would you add?