Monday, July 29, 2013

Race Report: Twilight Triathlon Crystal River, FL 7/28/13

This was only my second triathlon of 2013.  I know, I'm way behind.  But I've been training hard for the big boy - IM Augusta 70.3 - so it's not like I've been just hanging out.  It was a shorter sprint distance race - 400 meter swim, 10 mile bike ride, 3 mile run.

This race was a little bit different.  Like the name implies, the start was around dusk - 7:30 p.m.  The race organizers touted that almost everyone would cross the finish line at sunset. What a romantic sentiment.  They obviously hadn't given much thought to the likes of this mediocre triathlete. 

I wasn't really nervous at all for the race, I was very much looking forward to it, actually.  I have been putting in a lot of time in the pool, and I was anxious to see if my swim had improved.  I never have great swims in the open water, but I was determined to get over that and PR on the 400 meter swim.

At the race start, all of us women lined up on the shore in our pink caps.  Following my husband's advice, I planted my toes in the sand right up front.  I am usually in the back, so as to avoid getting kicked, punched, puled, etc.  As the siren sounded for the start, I took off, dove in, and went for it.  The water was bathtub warm, pretty swirly, and really cloudy - this swim is not the best representation of the normally clear and beautiful Gulf of Mexico.  I felt great as I swam, I managed to not get punched, and only had minor collisions. Until about 150 meters in, that is.  As I brought my right arm up mid-stroke, I realized that I had something in my hand.  It was a swim cap.  I had somehow yanked a cap off a fellow athlete.  I immediately looked up and saw her behind me.  All I could do was toss the cap at her, apologize profusely, and keep going.  That was definitely one of the weirder things that's happened to me in a tri!

I stayed the course on the swim, I saw myself passing a lot of swimmers, even some men that had left in a wave 3 minutes before mine.  I was elated, thinking I was going to do it!  I was going to beat the hell out of this swim.

I made it to the swim exit, ran up the beach - which I hate, by the way.  The soft Gulf sand KILLS my feet, even for only a teeny tiny run, and slows me down.  I got to T1, and managed to get my bike gear on, including socks, in what felt like record time (my transition times are normally glacially slow).

It was a hot and humid evening, and even though the water had been really warm, it felt great heading out on the bike wet from the swim.  There was quite a stiff breeze, so it really cooled me off.  It was a short bike ride - 10 miles - to help with getting people in close to sunset.  5 miles out was flat and fast, and there was a good tailwind that pushed me along.  I stayed over 20 mph before the turnaround.  For me, that's like breaking the sound barrier! Then came the turnaround and the inevitable headwind.  No hills, but enough of a sock to the face to slow me down to about a 16 mph average.  Bummer. 

It was at this point in the race that I remembered exactly why I dislike this particular course.  I had raced this course once before, and really didn't enjoy it.  It's an open course, meaning the roads are open to traffic, and athletes - cyclists and runners - are sharing the road.  This venue is at a park that only has one way in and out, and has several boat ramps and next to no parking.  Many large trucks with trailers are parked along the road, are pulling in and out during the race, and generally being pretty inconsiderate to us annoying triathletes.  In races past on this course, I have heard of cyclists getting knocked off their bikes by the trailers attached to trucks that couldn't be bothered to slow down just a tiny bit.

I was finishing up the ride as the sun was setting, and even though I don't love the course, it is really visually striking in some spots - save for the giant nuclear power plant in the background.  The sky was gorgeous, a palette of oranges and bluish grays, just stunning.

I biked into T2, parked my stuff, and headed out for the run, again in a much quicker fashion that normal for me.

During the ride, I made sure to drink A LOT, to avoid dehydration.  I've gotten sick because of that in other races, and it was so humid that I knew if I didn't drink a lot, I would likely puke.  As I started my run, I began to feel really queasy anyway, like I had eaten too much too soon before the race, which wasn't the case.  It was the humidity, which has a really negative affect on me.  I've been dealing with it all summer, and my runs have suffered.  But, I soldiered on, at a snail's pace.

I walked through the water stations at miles 1 and 2.  At the mile 2 water station, I made the huge mistake of pouring a cup of water down my front.  Not only was the water super warm, making it feel as if I was peeing myself, but the water quickly traveled down my legs, into my socks, and into the bottoms of my running shoes.  Immediately, my feet were soaked and I could feel the chafing begin.  ***I always learn something in every race.  Sometimes it is an unpleasant lesson.

Sure enough, over the course of the last mile, I could feel a hot spot on my big toe.  Bummer again.

As it began to grow dark, traffic picked up.  Boaters were leaving the park, and while most of the drivers were cautious of the runners and cyclists, there were a few jerks.  At about the 2 1/2 mile mark, I had picked up my pace considerably, and as I rounded a last corner, a ridiculously overcompensatingly large white dually truck pulls out into a 3-point turn in the middle of the road, in front of me, another runner, and a cyclist just finishing up.  We had to stop to avoid getting hit, and as I screamed obscenities at the idiot, he just looked up with a great big douchebag grin.  He had done it on purpose, because we were in his precious way. People are amazing in a really bad way sometimes.

I got past the truck, and could see the finish line.  I could also see a woman creeping up on my left.  Even though I hadn't really been racing during the entire run, it was then that I was all like, "Oh HELL no" and turned on the boosters to put some distance between us.  I crossed the finish line, and promptly felt the urgent need to puke.  Though I didn't, I realized that this is becoming an issue, and I need to figure out what is causing it, because there will come a time when I won't be able to stifle it, and someone in front of me will get an unwelcome shower.

Before the race, I had set a goal time of 1:20:00 for myself.  I ended up coming in at 1:16:19.  I was thrilled.  Of course, all of my friends that had been racing, my husband included, blew me away, but I'm the one who held back on the run.  No podium finish for me, but it was a victory nonetheless.

I was elated with my performance, until I saw the split times.  Thinking I had killed it in the water, I was upset when I saw my swim split was a lousy 9:10.  Even though I felt the best I ever had in a race during that swim, it was my slowest swim ever in a triathlon (at that distance).  I'd like to think I lost time hobbling up the beach - why do they make you run so damn far up the beach into the transition area? - or maybe I conserved my legs too much and didn't kick enough.  Or maybe I swam off course a bit and added distance.  Or maybe I'm just a crappy swimmer.

At the end of the day, I did better than I had expected to, I had a good bike ride, and I did really feel great during the swim.  My run can always improve, it is by far my least favorite thing to do - in a triathlon and in life.  Every race is a learning experience.  I learn about each discipline in the race, I learn how to make faster transitions, and I learn about myself and how hard I am able and willing to push.  Win or lose, if I get stronger, that is what counts the most.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Triathlon Checklist, A Guide for Newbies

When I was training for my first triathlon, I did all kinds of research on what to take to the race.  My biggest fear was forgetting something and finding myself either unable to race or too freaked out to enjoy the experience.  Overwhelmingly, everything I read boiled down to one important piece of advice:

Make a list!

A triathlon, especially your first, is frightening and vomit-inducing enough.  But realizing you have forgotten something 30 minutes before the race starts, something like your running shoes or your bike helmet, can send you into full cardiac arrest.  Make it as stress-free as humanly possible by having a list of the gear, equipment, and anything else you will need for race day, following that list as you pack, checking off the list as you pack, and referring to the list as you unpack and prepare your transition area.  If you are like me, and just about every other triathlete out there, making lists is second nature to you.  What might not be so easy, though, is knowing what to put on that list.

This is a basic list for newbie triathletes, ideal for a sprint distance race.  Long course triathlons require an ungodly amount of extra gear, nutrition, clothing, etc., so much so that you might as well pack a sherpa.  I've broken the list down by race leg - swim, bike, run - as well as pre- and post-race items that are good to have.

Triathlon Packing List - A Newbie's Guide

Pre-race (transition area setup)

Bucket filled with water or a large bottle of water - this is for your first transition from the swim to the bike (T1).  Depending on the race venue and the swim type, you might have grit  or sand on your feet and in between your toes.  Dip your feet in the water or pour water on your feet before you put your shoes on, or you will be hating life during the run.  Some races offer a foot wash, but I find that it doesn't do much good, and I always have water at my transition area anyway.

Towels - Have a dry towel for your feet, have an extra towel for wiping your face.  

Nutrition - A sprint triathlon does not require you to lay out a buffet at your transition area like the long distance races.  But have water or your favorite hydrating liquid (save the beer for AFTER the race) ready on your bike, and have extra easily reachable in your transition area.  Have a gel or something you can tolerate, that won't make you puke, and that YOU HAVE TRIED BEFORE available if you need it.  **Cardinal Rule of racing: NEVER try something new on race day or during the race.  Bad things, unspeakable things can - and likely will - happen.

Sunscreen - Never neglect your skin!  Lather yourself up good before the race, and reapply between the bike and run.

A gear/transition bag - You need something to lug all of your crap in.  You can buy triathlon gear bags - they vary in price from moderately pricey to is it going to race for me? expensive.  They have way more pockets, pouches, niches, and zippers than they need, but they are fun to carry, in a burden animal sort of way.  Use a backpack, a duffel bag, any bag that helps you contain, organize, and tote your triathlon stuff to your transition area and out again.  It also gives you a place to safely conceal your car keys, phone, id, and money.


Swimsuit - You will be swimming in the same outfit that you will be biking and running in.  The sprint distance doesn't allow time for a wardrobe change.  And honestly, nobody likes a naked triathlete in the transition area.

Wetsuit - if the race is wetsuit legal, and you are wearing one, you will want to remember to pack it.  Don't be a polar bear if you don't have to be.

Goggles - Race in goggles that you have swum with before (Cardinal Rule).  But bring an extra pair!  Goggles snap, break, and grow legs and walk away from time to time.


Bike - This should go without saying, but you really should bring your bike.  People have been known to forget their bikes.

Shoes - If you have clipless pedals, you must remember your cycling shoes!  These are not necessary, of course, and many folks have regular pedals and ride in their running shoes.  If you wish, you can put your socks on during T1 and both bike and run in them.

Sunglasses - Proper cycling/running sunglasses will help cut down on glare.  Not necessary, but a nice thing to have.

Helmet - You MUST have a properly fitting bike helmet.  I can't think of a race that will let you leave the transition area without your helmet on and strapped at the chin.  It's the rules.


Running shoes - These are pretty important.  Again, people do forget them!  So, don't.  This should go without saying, but please PLEASE do not wear a brand new pair of shiny running shoes.  Ahem, Cardinal Rule...

Socks - Bring 2 pair, and don't wear a pair that you haven't run in before.  Again, remember the Cardinal Rule...

Hat/visor - Not a necessity, but nice for keeping the sun off your face, and sweat out of your eyes.

Race belt - This is for attaching your bib to for the run.  It is pretty necessary, and they are inexpensive to buy.  Have your bib attached to it before the race, and have it set out on top of your running shoes.  Also, go for a run wearing it before the race, so you can have it adjusted to your comfort level.  Again, CARDINAL RULE!


Change of clothes - Depending on how much you sweat, and how comfortable you want to be during the post-race festivities, you might either want to bring a full change of clothes, or simply bring a t-shirt to wear over your wet and sweaty triathlon ensemble.

Money/i.d. - Bring these for food and drink after the race.  You will also have to show your identification when you check in before the race.

This is my starter list for a triathlon newbie.  As you gain more race experience, you might find that you need more or less in order to have your perfect race experience.  If I've left something off, please don't hesitate to call me out on it...leave your suggestion in the comments!

Make your list, train hard, race harder, and enjoy yourself!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Training Log, Week #6

I am deeply entrenched into the training program, and it has successfully overtaken just about every aspect of my life.  Midway into the sixth week, I am starting to experience the telltale signs of training stress: the tweaks, the aches, the fatigue.  I am trying to stay focused, and keep my eyes on the prize.  The prize being that feeling of crossing the finish line and knowing that I have pushed my body and spent all of its resources without taking it all for granted.

Last week's training was tough, I'm not going to lie.  As much as I would love to sit here and say that I am coasting through each training session, I just can't.  Even the swims are tough, and those usually feel like a rest day for me.  The fourth training week was a recovery week, meaning the workouts were shorter and less strenuous than the week before, and I was successful at completing each and every minute of them.  Last week, the fifth week, not only put me back on the track, but it thrust me into the fast lane.  While I completed every minute of every scheduled workout of the week, I paid for it in pain and exhaustion.  The training plan seems to ignore the 10% rule, and my mileage was jacked up a lot more than that, particularly in the running department, arguably my weakest link in the triathlon chain.  

A rough 75-minute run on Sunday on a really hilly course has left me spent.  I worked through it during Monday's 60-minute swim, successfully completing five 500-yard sets intermingled with some 100-yard backstroke recovery sets, for a total of 3100 yards.  Yesterday brought a 60-minute bike ride, and my legs wanted nothing to do with it.  I got through it, at a glacial 14-15 mph average pace.

My hamstring is giving me fits again, and I am just so fearful of being injured.  I do not want to be the one who limps through a race for 9 hours.  I want to be the one who triumphantly completes the race, feeling spent but strong.  

This morning, the plan was to do a 60-minute interval run.  My husband and I were up and out the door before 5 a.m., and it became quickly apparent that there would be no intervals, and that 60 minutes was a laughable suggestion.  I came to the conclusion that I still have 10 weeks of training and that little Half Ironman triathlon to get through, and I'd like to do it injury-free, so we hobbled through a mere 30-minute run, choosing to listen to our bodies rather than pound through the pain.  Sometimes it is smarter to back off in order to be able to keep playing until the end of the game.

If it sounds difficult, it is.  If I sound beaten down, I'm not quite there.  The workouts are tough, but the gratitude I feel toward my body at the end of the day makes it worth it.  With as little time that we are given in our bodies, I think it is a shame to waste that time not seeing what they are capable of.  

Overall, I am enjoying the training.  Most days after a workout, I feel strong and pleased with my progress, even if I feel weakened and sore.  The aches and the tweaks are to be expected, I have done this enough at this point to know that.  What I need to continue to work on is my recovery and my nutrition, both of which are lacking.  It's difficult to take the time to stretch, roll, and rest when I've already taken so much time away from my family to do the workouts.  I suppose that I can swim, bike, and run through some of the fatigue and pain, but I will never be able to outpace that damned guilt.

Onward and upward!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A few of my favorite things

Training takes time and energy.  And sometimes I have to wedge my training between the responsibilities of life, meaning I don't always have time to come home after a workout and prepare a perfect recovery meal.  I, and likely others, find myself turning to quick convenience foods from time to time.  Convenience foods do not have to be the enemy.  There are some great quick snacks and refueling options for those busy folks who want to put real food in their bodies.  Here are a few of my new favorite things...

KIND Bars: Oh my goodness, I have become addicted to these!  My favorite flavors are the Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew and Almond and Apricot.  But there are a few new flavors that I am dying to try, including Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan.  If you read the ingredient label on a KIND bar, you can pronounce and identify each and every ingredient, which is like, DUH, in my opinion.  They taste wonderful, not too sweet, and not artificial at all, meaning no weird aftertaste like you sometimes find with over-sweetened granola bars.  I will grab one of these for a pre-swim snack, or I will throw one in my bag for a post-workout pick-me-up.

Coco Cafe: This is my new guilty pleasure, only I don't have to feel guilty at all when I drink one!  What is contained within one wonderful little box of tastiness is coconut water, a shot of espresso, and some low-fat milk.  It's just the right amount of yumminess post-workout, and has become part of my after-swim routine.  And while I don't know if I truly buy all the hype about coconut water being more hydrating than anything else on the planet at the given time, I know that drinking one of these little babies feels a bit decadent and naughty.  But it's not at all.  It has protein, it hydrates, and it caffeinates!  If you love coffee like I do, this is the jackpot.

Chocolate Almond Milk: This stuff tastes like liquid chocolate ice cream, plain and simple.  A small glass after a hard run or a bike ride gives me an instant boost and tides me over while I prepare a proper post-workout meal.  It's got calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B12, it is gluten free, cholesterol free, and dairy free.  And it is also excellent poured on a bowl of homemade granola - talk about decadent!

Greek yogurt: People either love it or hate it.  I am in the "love it" club when it comes to Greek yogurt.  I love its consistency and texture, I love its taste, and I love that it has a good ton of protein.  It is good mixed with fresh fruit of all varieties, it is good on top of my homemade granola, and it is good as a substitute for sour cream and for using in baking.  When I eat regular yogurt anymore, I am almost disappointed in its wimpiness.

These are a few of my favorite easy foods that I turn to in a pinch.  They hydrate, fuel, energize, and don't make me feel too guilty about having a sweet treat.

What are your favorite good for you "fast" foods?

****I am not a nutritionist, a dietician, or a food expert of any type, kind, or sort.  These are the things that I have found for pre- and post-workout fuel and recovery that work for me on the go and in a pinch.  I always advocate eating your fruits and veggies, and taking the time to cook well-balanced meals for yourself and your family.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cursed by the cycling gods

Early yesterday morning, my husband and I set out on our long Sunday ride, as prescribed by the Half Ironman training program that we are trying as hard as we can to follow diligently.  For some reason, when it comes to the weekends, something always happens, and we can't seem to get in those vital long runs and long rides.  It's either storming, we are at a swim meet with my kids, we have projects around the house that have to be completed, it's something.  Our rides are supposed to happen on Saturdays, but when I woke up Saturday morning completely unable to move my neck, shoulders, and upper back due to some weird spasm or something that hit me in the middle of the night, we postponed it until Sunday.  Sunday was supposed to be a REST DAY - those are so few and far between - but I got plenty of rest propped up on the sofa on Saturday.  In other words, life - and OLD AGE - keeps managing to get in the way of our Half Ironman dreams.

Yesterday's ride was scheduled to be 90 minutes, which would have been about 25 miles.  We had mapped out a route that was a bit longer, in order to make up for having to shorten the previous Saturday's ride due to life getting in the way.  We set out on our 30-mile route, I felt great, our bikes were tuned up and ready to go, all was right in the world.

Let me digress a bit here.  Every time, EVERY TIME, I go on a bike ride with my husband, 1 or more of these things happen:

  • He darts our in front of a car at an intersection, leaving me to fight or flight
  • I fall in a very embarrassing way
  • Something breaks
  • Something bleeds
  • Something gets lost
  • I tell him that I hate him
  • I consider filing for divorce
**I am a very intense person, so my telling him I hate him is merely my admittedly immature response to the utter stupidity that he has just exhibited.  He knows this, he accepts this, and I make it up to him later.  Please don't send me hate mail.**

Unfortunately for us, during yesterday's ride, each and every one of these things happened.  About 10 miles into the ride, I was averaging a blistering 18-19 mph (believe it or not this is NOT sarcasm.  That is Tour de France speed for me) on a pretty hilly road.  I was smiling at the mooing cows along the roadside, enjoying the light breeze and slight tailwind afforded us, I was something that I NEVER am on a bike ride - happy.  Then it happened...


My husband popped a spoke on his front wheel.  This was the third spoke to pop in as many weeks.  Despite what you might think, no, he is not overweight, and no, he does not go off-roading on his road bike or otherwise put any type of undue pressure on it.  The bike shops scratch their heads every time he comes in YET AGAIN with his busted up wheel.  We have all decided he needs new wheels.  Brother, can you spare $2000 for a set of wheels for my age-grouper triathlete hubby?  Didn't think so...

So, we pull over, he pops off as much of the spoke as he can, and we decide to head to the end of the road that we are on and turn around to head back home, cutting our ride short.  Of course.  We start up again, get back up to speed, go about 2 miles, then POING!  Another spoke bites the dust.  Are you F-ing kidding me?!?  Four busted spokes in 3 weeks???  Now I am frustrated and cussing, husband is frustrated and cussing, almost to the point of tears.  He pulls THAT spoke out, and we head to the intersection where we plan on turning around.

I've been having trouble with my right clip and pedal lately.  It tends to stick when I try to unclip.  This was bound to cause a problem, and it did during this ride.  Of course.

We get to the stop light, and wait for it to change.  While we were talking the light changed to give us the right of way, but as my husband went to make the crossing it turned green.  I called out to him as the car waiting at the light began to go despite a person on a bicycle being in the middle of the intersection.  I was going to wait, so as I began to stop and unclip, my right clip got stuck on my right pedal and I very dramatically stopped and plopped in the intersection, in front of about a dozen cars that very likely contained at least a few people that I know.  

I landed hard on my right side, and somehow husband managed to not get mowed down by the car and get over to me.  The first thing out of his mouth was, 

"Why can't we ever just have a normal bike ride?!?"

To which I replied,

"I HATE YOU!  Why do you always have to dart out in front of cars?!?  I am NEVER going on a bike ride with you again!"

My leg was bleeding, my knee was skinned.  But I was no worse for wear.  Dirty, deflated, and really annoyed, I got back on my bike, yelled out to husband to just go, and and we began to pedal home.  I had brief thoughts of divorce, but mostly I had thoughts of running over husband with my bike.  It took me running through my gears 3 times before they would properly shift, and I was finally able to get back up to speed, optimistic that we could salvage the bike ride.

The traffic was light, the sky was blue, and I was feeling a little better.  And then a little gust of wind cam along and blew my damn sunglasses right into the grass on the side of the road.  This bike ride had officially reached ridiculous.

Husband retrieved them as, out of frustration, I decreed that I wasn't stopping until I reached my front door.

And as luck would have it, I didn't have to stop.  The traffic lights were with us, no cars got in our way, and I reached home on my dirty bike. Husband's bike was totally out of whack, clinking and clacking and basically limping into the garage.  Yet another trip to the bike shop was inevitable!

With another shortened and memorable bike ride in the books, we went about our day, making no mention of the bad luck - and bad cycling on my part - we had experienced.  And we will likely hit the road together next weekend on our long ride, because that is what our life and schedules allow.  And maybe someday I will be dextrous enough to unclip without falling over like a drunk after an all-night bender.