Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm READY for Chicago!

Just over two weeks left till I head out with races September 17 and 19, but I'm ready...with the look at least! I'm not saying I will wear these all together...not saying I won't. But I thought I needed to add a few pieces to the official Team USA wardrobe.

I passed on the full patriotic bodysuit but I am betting/hoping someone from the Team will wear it in the parade. Hint, hint.

Unlike with most of the bigger races I have done, I am feeling more excited than nervous for the ITU Grand Final Age Group Worlds. I've been training and racing consistently and decently all year, and the body feels good. Recent tough workouts turned my questions into answers, and with each, my belief grows.

The control-ables are under control and the rest I can't worry about.

I'm not there yet. There are two more weeks of training ahead. But I've been building this fire all year, and can't wait to light that match!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Know when to fold 'em

In my last post, I mentioned an hour easy run gone VERY bad on Saturday, a few hours after a short aquathalon that had gone quite well. Three days later, I am still feeling the effects in the form of residual muscle soreness and some fatigue.

In hindsight, I should have pulled the plug on the run. I should have respected the lead legs. I should have realized that a race-like heart rate paired with a plod was my body yelling at me to stop and rest.

Instead, I got mad at myself for not being able to make myself chill, relax, run easy, and bring that heart rate down and lighten those legs. I kept going, determined to finish, determined to check that box and get those miles in.

For my efforts I was rewarded with a post-run crash-and-burn nap, then soreness from head-to-toe the following day. It was the most sore I have felt in years.

Why was this happening? The prior weekend I raced the double at Nationals and complained that not one molecule of my body was sore. I felt like I had not done anything! Why had a short race and "easy" run done this to me?

The theories are (1) not enough hydration on a hot day (2) body was in post-race recovery mode after those all-out sprint runs and swim and not prepared for another effort (3) stress from life, travel, and three races in 8 days had caught up to me.

My lessons learned here are that (1) I need to pay closer attention to hydration and nutrition on a double workout day; (2) either do the workouts in close succession or allow sufficient time between for a proper meal and rest; and (3) when the body is not functioning within normal bounds, the wiser, smarter, more mature thing to do is to STOP.

I don't think STOP was among my menu of choices. It did not occur to my overheated stubborn brain.

Given how I felt Sunday and Monday, STOP will definitely be a choice in the future. It has not been fun knowing my decision to keep going brought about soreness from what is probably muscular breakdown. Today I got in a proper easy run and things have largely returned to normal. But this is a lesson I will not forget.

If your body is sending signals that are out of normal bounds for you, please choose to "Fold 'em" and save yourself to train well another day!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Race Report: Roanoke's Splash and Dash

With Christina and Lynda (thanks Ann for the photo!)

Today was Race Roanoke's first ever Splash and Dash! I was looking forward to this unique challenge, so much so that when I checked in this morning they told me I was the first person to register for it - many months ago. It was a 2.5k run + 700m swim + 2.5k run. 

I opted to race in a swim suit for the first time. It meant a little less wet material on the second run and it turned out to be really comfortable. I can't see biking in that, but for run/swim I'd do it again. Plus I'm sure the shark suit gave me a psychological advantage, bwahahahaha!

So scary, right?!

It was a "mass" start but fortunately not too massive with just 43 of us racing. Regular triathlon transition tactics would not apply so I thought carefully through what made sense for this race. Part of the fun for me, as an industrial engineer, is to see just how efficient I can be.

I took off with no hat on run 1 and my cap tucked into my swimsuit so I could put it on running into transition. (Coach Jim talked me out of my initial idea to wear the swim cap on the run, lol). I paced off of friend Mike Dalsey and was thrilled I could keep up with him. His plan was to hold back on the first run, and my plan was to go all out. It turns out his "holding back" and my "all-out" were fairly close and I finished 5 seconds behind him. Garmin showed me at a 6:29/mile pace. The race results have me at a 6:07 pace, which I would love to claim, but in fact, the course was short. 

In transition I shed my shoes (no socks, powder in the shoes) and grabbed my goggles. I forgot to take my race belt off so I tossed it aside on the run to the pool and noted I would need to pick it up on my way back. (They could have probably skipped the numbers and just done body marking.

My transition area looked oddly lonely and barren.

To jump in the pool with a threshold running heart rate was different but the water felt awesome! I soon settled into my stroke but then got caught behind a guy. I drafted for a bit but it got ridiculously slow and I tapped his feet to signal a pass. I tried a few times to pass him up the middle and he would speed up and not let me. He didn't get it that if he let me go ahead and I could swim faster, he could too by drafting. Finally at the wall he came up and I said very exasperated, "Will you PLEASE let me go by," and I escaped.

I may, or may not, have released one additional expletive, laden with race emotion, in the direction of Mark Taylor (he was taking photos at the end of the lane).

It seems the swim was a challenge for many folks with quite a bit of passing going on. Not everyone knows the etiquette of tapping the toes ahead to ask for a pass at the wall or understands the collective benefit of letting the faster swimmer go. But we all got safely through and it was a nice pool for the event!

I picked up my race belt heading into transition, tossed the cap and goggles, and put on shoes and a hat for run 2. Alice Kassens, who pre-race said "I am not a swimmer" (haha) was ahead of me the whole race and by the second run it was clear it was hers to win! She crushed it, and I came in second woman, 4th overall, in the small field.

with the winner, Alice!

It may have been a small field but there was some great competition! The winner, Pieter deHart, was the bronze medalist at the ITU World Championship Aquathalon in M35-39 last year. He finished this race in 28:07!! Mike finished second in 33:02, Alice finished in 33:49, and I was 34:43. (full results here)

Postscript: After this race my training schedule called for an "easy" hour run. By the time I got started on the greenway temps were already into the 80s. My heart rate climbed and no matter how slow I went, my "easy run" felt so much harder than the race. Not sure what that was all about but it was not the fun, relaxed, celebratory run I had been expecting to have. I came home feeling awful and had to nap it off. 

Tomorrow is a day off of training, and a break from racing for a few weeks now. I think that will do me good. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Race Report: USAT Sprint and Olympic Age Group Nationals

It was a great weekend of racing in Milwaukee - a bit cool, overcast, and dry - which made for fast and fun racing. There is nothing like the excitement of the National Championships weekend (read's recap here and see their great photos here). This year there were 4300 finish line crossings from teenagers to athletes in their 80s (and one aged 91). One of the many attractions of this race is that we are competing for a spot on Team USA for 2016, when the ITU Grand Final will be in Cozumel, Mexico. The top 18 in each Olympic Distance age group (based on our ages in 2016) qualify. The Sprint offered 8 spots since that race is switching to draft-legal in 2016 and there will be a special qualifier in the fall for the other 10 spots.

With Glenn and Sue - Sue was 5th in her age group!

This race draws us back, year after year, to catch up with friends and meet new folks. In the top photo is Amy, who I met getting off the plane in Milwaukee. It turned out we are in the same age group, we were staying in the same hotel, so we took a cab into town together and dashed to packet pickup before it closed Thursday. At the expo I ran into a number of friends including Glenn and Sue who I first met in New Zealand in 2012.

Friday: Pre-Race

Friday I got in an easy ride, mainly to review the run course and explore the venue again, which felt so comfortably familiar on this, my third go-round at Nationals in Milwaukee. After that we had a practice swim session. The water was 63 and a bit of a shocker to jump into, but once that bit of water between wetsuit and skin warms up, it's pretty OK. I always find it funny that there is a lot of conversation going on in the water - just random groups of people treading water to discuss the swim. 

On the Art Museum bridge, overlooking the finish line

Don't go to packet pickup first thing Friday - it's always a madhouse.  
Go Thursday, or wait till later!

With Nicole Baxter Brown at swim practice

I had a little extra time after to explore a curious bookstore across from my hotel. The doors opened to an incredible place complete with cats! I bought a book about cycling. Imagine that!

Then I headed to the host hotel to see 6x Kona Ironman winner, Mark Allen, talk. He is a legend in the sport and a master storyteller and coach. He spoke to a packed house, sharing tales from the highs and lows of his own racing career to show us how we can manage our own thoughts to allow ourselves to race our best. One of my main takeaways was to tell my own brain to "shut up" and stay in the moment. I really appreciated hearing about the 1995 race, in which he overcame a huge deficit to Thomas Hellriegel, who was 13 years younger, to win his 6th Kona. He had to get past worrying about the other guy, just as I had to get past my own brain telling me I was another year older in my age group and that the younger girls were coming up to get me. He also reminded us that the race isn't over until that finish line, and you can't know how your race is going while you are in it! It was the perfect motivational sendoff for my races.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear him talk in person, DO NOT pass it up. He's a phenomenal speaker and will impact your mental game!

Then it was time to check in my bike (mandatory bike check-in is always the day before). After this, I felt like I had walked 10 miles and I was tired and ready for a quiet dinner and early night.

Saturday: Olympic race

Race morning the nerves kicked in a bit. The day was here! I had a chance to watch some of the first waves of swimmers and it always amazes me that there are a few stragglers in each wave who really struggle to swim, I mean REALLY struggle. I don't get it considering we all had to qualify for this race. I wonder if they are injured or qualified in a pool swim race or what. Who knows, but it's hard to watch as they backstroke off course into rocks, or make almost no forward progress.

As for my swim, the best way to describe it would be "sardines." It was packed out there with 150+ in my wave. But it felt like a strong, smart, in-the-moment swim and much to my surprise I powered out of the water with great energy, passing several women on the run up to T1.

I wore two caps both days with goggles over the first, under the second.
It's a little warmer and more secure.

The bike went fine and once I got going and passed a few women in my age group, I really didn't see any other 45-49'ers anywhere near me. I always know the fast swimmers are ahead so all I can do is put my head down on the bike and get to work. I used my power meter to keep me honest (am I really working hard, or just thinking I am?) and did a little leap-frog with one guy (he'd pass me down the hills, I'd pass him up!)

Given where my run is currently (as opposed to where I'd like it to be), my plan was to run a 7:20-7:30 opening mile -- and it ended up a 7:24. The next goal was to go by feel and not dig myself into a hole the first half. I ended up running fairly steady: 7:23, 7:26, 7:34, 7:20, 7:28. I stayed positive, even though I did have a few women in my age group and some 50-54's blow past me as if I was off on a stroll.

After the race I went to the results tent for a printout, having no idea where I finished. I was extremely pleased to see I was 14th in my age group and with age-outs and age-ups for Worlds 2016, I secured a spot on Team USA in Cozumel. (results here

Someone else who should be pleased with their race would be Barrett Lehardy of Roanoke, Virginia (our closest city) who WON the whole race, like first of everyone, in 1:51:17. Amazing and cool to think he's from my neck of the woods!

Post-race I walked back for a shower and lunch before returning to the venue to pick up the bike. I had to swap all the numbers and remove my temporary number tattoos for the new ones the next day. 

HINT: to remove the number tattoos, apply packing tape over top and rip off like a bandaid! It will remove most of the tattoo and the rest can be pretty easily rubbed off. I read this somewhere recently, I forget where, but it does work!

HINT: don't keep those number tattoos on beyond race day, or beyond your first opportunity to shower. At least try to remove them. We know you are a triathlete. Awesome. Move along with life, the race is over.

A few hours later, it was time to take the bike back again to check it in for the next day's sprint. (This is why it's important to have a hotel close to the race site - you will make a bazillion trips back and forth.)

I took this rare opportunity to bike in flip flops, regular street clothes,
and the aero helmet. Good times!

Sunday: Sprint race

My nephew Evan drove from his home west of Chicago to watch the race. He's done a number of triathlons up through Ironman so it was great to have him there!

We swam under the pedestrian bridge in the middle so you can't see the back half of the course.

This swim was much less sardine-like and I could do more actual racing. I passed a number of people, particularly in the final 1/3. Even though I am not a top swimmer, I am just having more and more fun with the swim as you can see in the photo below.

The sprint bike was trickier because I was bunched up with a few other competitors and had to ride carefully to avoid drafting. The Nationals races are heavily patrolled with officials looking for illegal drafting. Once you are in someone's draft zone, within 3 bike lengths, you HAVE to pass and have to do so within 15 seconds. I saw two girls drafting one another, perhaps unwittingly, but one did get a 2 minute drafting penalty that moved me up a spot.

We dropped one girl, but then I got stuck behind the other (I guess the one who got the penalty), feeling throttled back, but not sure if I had enough "gas to pass" (haha funny). After sufficient frustration accumulated, I hit the accelerator and made the pass on an uphill and I stayed ahead until she passed me back in the final 500m. But then she dismounted way too early and I cruised past her, throwing my leg over the saddle and hitting the brakes within a foot of the line, carrying that momentum into T2. It's all part of the fun of racing!

I did the 5K run by feel and it came out to a 7:03 pace, with splits of 7:05, 6:58, 7:03. Again, pretty even. I just thought about keeping good flow and form, staying relaxed but fast, and being happy. I guess it worked well enough as I finished 6th - one off the top-5 podium, 17 seconds away (darn it!) (results here).

That placing was sufficient for a Team USA spot for the sprint which will be draft-legal in 2016 so in all likelihood I will pass on that one. It requires a different bike (road, not tri) and probably a much lower deductible on the medical insurance, just saying.


Like last year, after I packed the bike up for its BikeFlights return trip, I rented a Bublr commuter bike that they have all around the city and rode the lake front path. It's such a fun way to decompress and enjoy the area. I've really enjoyed Milwaukee but will look forward to new adventures as the race moves to Omaha Nebraska for 2016.

Thank you to Coach Jim of One-on-One Endurance! I could not do this without his guidance, encouragement, and perspective. It's such a gift not to have to do all the hard thinking, organizing, and analyzing he does, but to just get out there and swim, bike, and run! When I toe the line of a race, I do so with full confidence knowing he has prepared me well!

I am also extremely grateful to Solar Connexion and Bryan Walsh for supporting my racing and the local tri community through kit sponsorships and race volunteering. I, in turn, appreciate my role as "solar advocate."

Last but not least thank you to my family, including my master triathlon statistician husband, and very tolerant children, who got their mom back just in time for school to start tomorrow. Thanks mom and dad for cheering and watching (dad, I did get you a shirt!), and to my nephew Evan for coming to see me!

Five weeks from tomorrow I'll be heading to Chicago for the ITU Grand Final. It's hard to believe.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

There's no place like home

That's probably a funny blog title considering I'm in the Charlotte airport headed to Milwaukee, but I have noticed I get very sentimental about my final at-home workouts before big races. I am so fortunate to live where I do in Southwest Virginia, and to have a great swim-bike-run venue just down the road from my house. When I have a brick to do, I drive my minivan (Mobile Transition Unit) down and park adjacent to the creek, giving me the perfect post-workout cooldown spot!

I would say 90% of my biking and probably 80% of my running involve this same stretch of country roads set in a glorious valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains! These photos were all taken in my last two workouts Tuesday and Wednesday - a short bike and a short brick.

I am always happy to see the train, unless I'm in the midst of a critical interval! 

I feel like I know half the cars I see and I get lots of waves, which I enjoy!

And there are plenty of cute critters - goats, sheep, cows, and horses - to say hello to.

When I race I often think about how I feel when I train here, on my home roads. This is where I have learned to dig deep, learned to relax, and felt the best. I just love it.

Time to board the plane.

More from Milwaukee!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Packing for the "what-ifs"

Packing for a race that requires flying requires some planning. When I travel in my beloved Mobile Transition Vehicle (a.k.a. minivan), I can take all kinds of stuff and it's all under my control. With flying, you are at the mercy of the airlines and the TSA. So I try to plan for the "what-ifs" just a bit, like what IF the airline loses my checked bag?

There are three bags/boxes going, each with varying levels of control and potential "groping" of contents by others:
  1. Carry on bag - only bag somewhat in my control, minimal to no groping expected
  2. Checked bag - hopefully going along in the planes I am in, could be groped
  3. Bike box - going FedEx straight to hotel, no groping

I don't know how other people pack, but this is my "what-if" thought process:

Carry-on bag: CRITICAL items. 
This contains everything (but the bike) needed to race that can't be easily or cheaply replaced: tri kit, cycling shoes, helmet, wetsuit, swimsuit for practice swim, goggles, and essential toiletries (I will wear my running shoes on the plane). If bags/boxes #2 and #3 don't arrive, I would hope/pray I could find/borrow a bike and still race. I would have no extra clothes, but that's what stores are for. Or I could make clothes from the hotel curtains like in the Sound of Music. 

Checked bag: Things that would be quite helpful to have but not essential for racing. 
These are things that I'd sure like to have, but I'd survive without or could easily replace: clothes, breakfast food, extra just-in-case-but-not-critical things like rain jacket. These are things that TSA can't really mess up if they open and grope the suitcase.

Bike box: Things I don't want anyone else messing with 
I can't stand watching helplessly as TSA opens my bike box at the airport and attempts to put it back together. Key to the integrity of the box is that the straps remain very snug and on more than a few occasions I've picked up the box post-flight and found them disturbingly loose. This is why I like sending my bike and bike accessories via BikeFlights - FedExing it to and from the hotel. In the box I stash bottles, nutrition, tools, pump, transition mat, and CO2 cartridges that you can't send on a plane. Plus this way I don't have to lug that monstrosity through the airport or drag it into or out of the hotel. It's also 1/3 the cost it would be for me to check the box onto the plane. 

That's my packing rationale! I plan the best I can, then after that it's out of my hands, as is the case for all of us.

I listened to a recent podcast with tri pro Alicia Kaye and she recounted a flight from h*ll this year trying to get to Mt. Tremblant - delays, cancelled flight, a day behind getting to the race, and then no bike when she landed. She still managed to finish third despite a very rough journey and very little sleep.

All part of the adventure I suppose!