Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Resolution Accomplished

(Me in front of the Giza Pyramids during our last trip - 2004)

I am checking off yet another New Year's resolution this week: I'm traveling to Egypt and Turkey for a 3 week vacation!

I have also just signed up for the Sandman Sprint in VA Beach for Sept 19. The race is a month after I return from the Middle East. I'm hoping that this will be perfect for refocusing and whipping my body back into shape. After all the hard work I've done, the last thing I want is to slip right back into bad habits. Many people talk about how to squeeze in workouts while abroad. Though it would be great, I am also trying to be realistic. Plus for the two weeks we are in Turkey I have us so booked we'll probably be averaging 4-5 miles of walking a day. I'm not overly concerned about how much endurance I'll lose during the trip, but rather jumping back into the game come my return.

What ever I am able to squeeze in or any tips I pick up along the way, I'll be sure to post once back in the states. Until then...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Accepting Your Weaknesses

No matter how far I've come in the last 6 months of training, I have to accept the fact that I do not do well training alone. I consider it my Achilles Heel. Yes I can physically do it. I'll get up and go through the motions, but I don't push myself nearly as far as I do when in the group/team atmosphere. That's why, even though training is officially over, I've focused on creating my own workout groups.

For example, two of the girls I ran with all season happen to live quite close, so we try to meet up about twice a week for a run that always ends up at our favorite coffee shop as our little reward. It's a great pairing because A) Location: we can workout in the mornings versus fighting our after work schedules B) Pace: everyone feels included and comfortable with our speed C) Goals: we don't just want to "jog" but also mix things up with hill/strength training, distance runs and speed training (fartleks).

There are also swim groups that have emerged out of the original Y-Tri swim classes. On our Y-Tri website there is a huge amount of swim workouts posted for our use that you can print out and take down to the pool to orchestrate with whoever you choose to join in with. It's nice that so many people are interested so it's not impossible to find someone the same or similar speed.

The most recent development has been morning rides. So far they have been a bit casual (route below), but starting next week it looks like I'll be joining up with a more serious group that actually does drafting which I have absolutely no experience in. I plan on being dropped quite early on, but am excited to learn and gain the experience in a familiar environment of friends, especially when the biking community in DC can get quite aggressive and does not always seem the most welcoming to newbies.
View Interactive Map on
A great benefit of mixing in these new found circles is also the free training advice. For example, one of the girls I run with, I met as my spin coach this season. On top of her spin experience though, she also is a pilates instructor, which is something I've never attempted and am quite curious about. Another friend I've made in the group was one of the favorite swim coaches. After the tri, I felt like the one area I had the most room to improve in was the swim, so I asked if she'd be willing to spend a couple minutes in the pool observing my form and giving me some pointers on what to work on. Instead, she ended up spending almost an hour and half in the pool with me, going over drills and form exercises, and finished up with filming me swim a couple lengths so I could look back and see what she was seeing. Usually the only way to get attention like that is paying through the nose for a personal instructor. (Post with details to come...)

Then there is my Sunday morning yoga and brunch dates with two of my very best girl friends who, refreshingly, have no involvement in Y-Tri at all. This brings up the all important point that not all workout groups need to be serious. You are not always in "peak" mode. Relax and enjoy the social side of this community as much as the physical benefits.

These groups can be as formal or casual as you need them to be. The only thing that matters is what motivates you. Be it just you and your roommate doing online yoga every day after work or 15 of you heading out for a 30 mile bike this weekend. The key is to understand your weakness and set yourself up to enjoy succeeding.

A Hairy Issue

So it might not be the first thing you think about when considering a triathlon, but as a women with a significant head of hair, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it to keep it out of my way for the three stages of the race. Separately, the three sports did not pose a styling issue. For swimming my hair is always in a tight bun under my cap, for biking a low pony tail or knot to accommodate my helmet and for running in a tight pony tail. But how do I get it from high bun to low knot while in a quick transition dealing with a wet mop of hair? The last thing I want to worry about during a transition is doing my hair. So how can I secure it in a way that fits under both a swim cap, a bike helmet, but is also off my neck for the run? Umm... Mom?!

Luckily for me my Mom was in town to support my first tri and when we were kids it didn't matter if we were traveling the world or going to the beach, her go-to safety hair style for us was pigtail french braids. They looked cute, held on during our manic play dates, and prevented tangles. Perfection!

You can also see here that even at the end of the tri, my huge amount of layered hair was up, out of my way and not looking half bad!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Race Day: Injuries

As much as I want to promote the fun and satisfaction of competing in a triathlon, one still must be aware of the possible dangers. Within my own Y-Tri team, we had at least three injuries that I know of that occurred on race day.

The most heart breaking for me would be Arthur's story. Arthur was a newbie, like myself and his positive energy and great motivation has already been mentioned in this blog. He was always the first to show up early with a smile on his face and something nice to say. He worked harder then any other team member. On the morning of the race, he was placed in the wave immediately before myself. When he jumped in the water to get in place for the start, his foot hit the bottom of the river and was sliced open on what we assume was a broken bottle or other similar form of pollution (*plug to keep your rivers and streams clean people!). He was taken to the medic tent and ended up having to receive 8 stitches. After six months of training Arthur didn't even make it past the starting horn. It was torture to watch and not the most motivational thing for me to witness seconds before jumping in the water myself.

The next accident I witnesses was that of one of my running coaches. About 4 miles into the bike I turned the corner to see her on the side of the road being attended to by the ambulance. Turns out someone had cut in front of her and when she had to slam on her breaks ended up flipping over her handle bars and breaking her collar bone. This is an example of not depending on your experience to keep you safe. She is a marathon and triathlon vet. You never know what outside variable is going to affect your race, so keep vigilant.

The third and final was the most nerve racking for me simply because it was my best friend. Before the race we figured out our estimate timing. He used to compete in swimming so we knew he'd kick my butt there, but he also was super new to biking and we figured I'd at least catch up if not pass him during that. Then for the run we assumed we'd be together if not extremely close. So about 6 miles into the bike I was actively looking out for him. Then there he was, on the side of the road, standing over his fallen bike looking extremely shook up... though in one piece. I yelled to him if he was OK or if I needed to stop and he waved me on saying he was fine. What happened was someone yelled to him that they were passing on the left and he looked over his shoulder to make sure he was out of their way. When he turned back facing forward, someone had come to a complete stop directly in front of him, forcing him to slam on his breaks and flip off his bike. Luckily for him he just ended up scuffing up his elbow and hip and was able to jump back on the course and continue with minimal delay.

Be safe and be aware...

What's Next?

"Four months before, I had asked, I wonder if I could do this? Answering it had cost me money and sweat and time. But now I was asking that other question, the one that has always gotten me, and you, into real trouble: I wonder if I could do this faster?"

"Triathlon Training Crash Course" by: Peter Sagal

Monday, July 12, 2010

Race Day: The Finish Line

I completed my first triathlon in 3 hours and 14 minutes!

Immediately after crossing the finish line you walk through a barrage of volunteers: there are the photographers, someone's giving you a medal, another handing you a bottle of water and cold towel while yet another is fishing around your ankle to remove your time chip. All in all, considering what you just went through it can be a tad over whelming. Plus there is your family and friends screaming for you at the end of it all.
The first person to meet me was my mother followed by the rest of my family and friends. After expressing how proud she was the second thing she said in an appropriately worried Mom tone was "What do you need?"

"I need to get these shoes off!" My feet felt as if I had taken up walking on coals. We walked to the tree lined curb, where I sat down and ripped of my sneakers and replaced them with a pair of Reefs. I sat there for a minute or two, catching my breath, drinking my water, and enjoying the shade. I could literally feel my body do a little crash and reboot.
Then it dawned on me that my best friend/race partner was just behind me. So with a sudden surge of energy from who knows where, I jumped up and joined the crowd at the finish line. A couple minutes later, there he was and from that moment on, the rest of our day consisted of celebration.
*The pictures in this post are of my actual race and me (#2589)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Race Day: The Run

I knew coming into this adventure that running would be my Achilles heel. Not only have I never been a strong runner, but I've never enjoyed running. This was an area I really surprised myself in the process of training. Did I fall in love with running? No. But I realized I could do it. Back in February when our coaches said we'd start with 4 miles, I though I was going to die. Then only 3 months later I was running 7.5 mi with the girls no problem.

Also, transitioning between swim and bike was simple. Transitioning between bike and run on the other hand... your body goes through the awkward phase where you don't feel quite in control of you appendages.

When I pulled into the transition area on my bike, it was pretty easy to switch shoes, throw on my bib and just take off again. And as I mentioned in my last post, my endorphins were flowing which helped push through that initial "dear God, who took my legs and replaced them with gummy worms" feeling.
No matter the training, the first half mile of the run will always take some getting used to. The key for me was to just not think about it. As the saying goes, "just put one foot in front of the other" and everything will slowly work itself out. Once you begin to feel normal again you can focus more on picking up your speed, but being cautious that not only do you need to pace for 6.2 miles, but 6.2 miles after completing two thirds of a tri.
At this point I was still on my high and feeling good. My body felt good, my mind felt amazing, and I was surrounded by my Y-Tri team and our family and friends who cheered us all on. It wasn't until just after the 3 mi mark that I started to feel it. It was high 90's that day with a heat advisory and we were running on major city roads with no shade and an awful lot of concrete. Suddenly each step took effort, each water station was that much further away and at that point I was running in a section of closed off freeway so there were no supporters along the roadside to help boost our energy.

In the last transition I had half heartily stuffed a Cliff Shot (Gel) in my back pocket, mainly because everyone kept saying it was necessary. Up until now I had yet to use anything like that and really didn't think I would need to. But there at mile four, when my once feather light legs felt like anvils, I figured it couldn't hurt to try. So as I was coming up to the water station, I gulped it down. I didn't really know what to expect... Was this the equivalent to Popeye and a can of spinach? I trudged along with only the cheers of my teammates as fuel and then I slowly felt the my energy renewing. Did I feel like I could sprint the next mile? No. But I felt like I could keep going, which at that point was as close to a miracle as I was going to get. This pick me up only lasted about another mile but it dropped me off right where my family was waiting for me and seeing them and how excited and proud of me they were was exactly what I needed.
Then came mile 6... my nemesis in this event. The gel energy was gone, the cheering subsided, and in front of me was Capital Hill. Dear God who's idea was that? I looked at it and for the first time in the entire race, considered the possibility I might not finish. "Screw it!" I thought... "I'm walking this hill..." and just as that thought was going through my mind I heard her. Screaming like a banshee half way up the hill at the water station was Trish... my "Yoda" running coach. From the very beginning of training, Trish had singled out my hatred for hills. So every time we did hill repeats or hill strength training, she would find me and push me through while telling me why hills are so great and that I should approach them with love not hate. How appropriate, here was the ONE person I couldn't bare see me walk up this hill. So I continued on. Even in the midst of this exhaustion, you could not help but perk up and smile at Trish's ridiculous enthusiasm. She made it sound as if I were in first place crossing the finish line.

Once past the station I had the top third, most steep and unshaded section of the hill to complete. The soles of me feet felt like they were boiling and bubbling from the intense heat. For the first time in the entire run, I allowed myself to walk. Taylor, one of our swimming coaches, appeared on the side lines and she started to walk with me as she asked how I was. I just looked at her and could tell from her expression that my face must be conveying EXACTLY how I felt.

Once at the top, I began to run again. Pulling up next to me was one of my teammates who I used to pace with during many of our morning runs. We fell into stride. Every couple minutes one of us would find the energy to say something motivating while the other grunted in agreement. The finish line was finally in front of us, and my friend looked at me and said "Let's sprint this out!" and we did.
I finished my first triathlon in 3 hours and 14 minutes!

*The pictures in this post are of my actual race and me (#2589)

Race Day: The Bike

Once I reached the transition area after the swim I plopped myself down on my towel, wiped my feet with the hand towel, slipped on my socks (not extremely easy when wet) & bike shoes, threw on my helmet, watch & glasses and took off toward the exit. One thing that so many people get penalized for is mounting their bike before the official area. They mark this with a thick yellow line and large signs... I mean it was pretty brain dead.

Once on, I focused on getting my speed up slowly and finding the right gear. This is where it's important to have made sure that you racked your bike in an appropriate starting gear. Then it hit me: I had just finished the longest open water swim I've ever attempted. With all my training both in the pool and Bay, I had yet to attempt a full non-stop open water mile. That small accomplishment just revved me up and, unlike the swim, I felt I started my bike really strong. Also, within my first 1 or 2 miles, my family was waiting for me curb side, camera in hand and cheering.

*Important Note: I understand that triathlons are not an appropriate spectator sport. I get that. But I cannot tell you the immense motivation you get from seeing friends and family cheering you on.

Even though you are feeling good you need to make sure you pace yourself. I heard stories of some of our best veteran runners having to walk/run the last leg because they hadn't gauged their effort right. Think of it as a 7 out of 10 in effort.

The bike course was relatively flat, but since we were getting on and off the freeway there were some ramps and slight hills. This, ironically, made the ride much more fun for me. You were able to play with your gears to pick up speed up hill and fly down the other side. Though serious hills could be an issue, I imagine a completely flat course would get quite boring. Plus it seemed to work more areas in the leg rather then simply chugging along on the "usual suspects" and seemed to ward off muscle exhaustion.
After the first 12 miles or so I did have to pull myself up out of my saddle now and then to stretch out. On top of the usual kinks you get from working in the same position, during a race, with all that adrenaline, you can unintentionally grip your handle bars which causes extra and unneeded stress to your neck and shoulders. Getting yourself off of your saddle can remind you to reexamine your positioning and focus on what your muscles are doing.

Something else to remember is this is really the only time you have to refuel & hydrate. As mention before, I had 2 bottles of liquid: one water, one Gatorade. I tried to make sure to switch between the two and my goal was to mostly finish both, even if I didn't feel thirsty. I also had a Clif Bar and Jelly Belly Sports Beans taped to my handle bars. Though I didn't finish either I made a significant dent in both and you really do feel it kicking in, especially when the adrenaline starts to peter off.

By the time I came to the end of my bike my adrenaline rush from the morning had disappeared but in it's place had come the most intense endorphin high I have ever experienced. I was flying and my body felt like it reached a place that I've never physically been before. It was by far one of the most amazing feelings I've ever felt in my life. That alone made this entire process worth every penny and ever drop of sweat.

*The pictures in this post are of my actual race and me (#2589)