Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tunes for Pre-Gaming

Spinning workouts are impractical, this time of year. Sure, you might hop on your trainer for a quick intervals workout, but in general you'd much rather be riding outside than listening to some dumb instructor tell you what to do as you stare at a blank wall.

With that in mind, spinning podcasts will take a break (because I haven't already been taking a break, right?) until late fall, when it gets cold enough that everyone will head back into the gym/house to ride on their stationary trainers.

You know what kind of audio we need, though?


Why listen to music before a race? I have a few reasons, but I'll preface them by saying it's a pretty individual thing. I have two main reasons: The first is that it's easier to push myself farther than I want to go when in my head Eminem is screaming at me to "lose myself in the music." The other is that it's helpful for me to get an appropriate rhythm stuck in my head before I go out to race.

What's an appropriate song, though? Again, it's very individual. One of my athletes really enjoys the Tim McGraw song "How Bad Do You Want It?" I might listen to that song when I'm training or use it for a cycling workout, but not when I'm racing. It's too obvious for me (Melissa Etheridge's "Run for Life" is the same way; great for training, but too obvious for racing), intensity is too low, and I don't particularly enjoy country music. But if you really hate rock, rap, or ska, you might really hate my selection of pre-race songs.

So having said all that, I present to you my suggestions for pre-race music. These songs have a driving beat at an appropriate tempo for swimming, cycling, and running (some more appropriate than others); lyrics that encourage reaching beyond the present moment, or that force you to remember an object greater than the current challenge; and I like them. This is the music playing on my iPod the night before a race (or sometimes an important workout), driving to a race site, and setting up transition.

The Song: Quest
The Artist: Bryn Christopher
Why it's Here: These lyrics: "What I'm gonna live for / What I'm gonna die for / Who ya gonna fight for"

The Song: Way Away
The Artist: Yellowcard
Why it's Here: Driving beat and catchy lyrics will help you wake up at 4:34 in the a.m. Cause it's hard to be sleepy when you're singing along at the top of your lungs.

The Song: Saturday Morning
The Artist: Eels
Why it's Here: Even though most triathletes race on Sundays more often than Saturdays, the central idea of the song--"It's Saturday morning! Stop sleeping 'cause it's time to play!"--is totally appropriate. Let this song remind you that you're playing out there; you don't have to take yourself so seriously.

The Artist: Birdmonster
Why it's Here: "Cause you can!"

The Song: Remember the Name
The Artist: Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park's DJ) Feat. Styles Of Beyond - Fort Minor
Why it's Here: This song is all about earning respect by working hard. This song is about entitlement; you've worked hard to compete at your event, so go out and give everyone a reason to remember who you are.

The Song: Breathing
The Artist: Yellowcard
Why it's Here: Same reason the other Yellowcard song is on here; it's catchy, it's high-energy, and it's fun to sing along to.

The Song: The Dirty Glass
The Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Why it's Here: This song is fun. And that is enough.

The Song: Overrated
The Artist: Less Than Jake
Why it's Here: The lyrics in this song speak to how boring everything is, how it's hard to find something worth doing. Before a race, I like to remind myself that the intensity of a triathlon is a step above the humdrum of normal life.

The Song: U + Ur Hand
The Artist: P!nk
Why it's Here: Just for this line: "You don't really wanna mess with me tonight."

The Song: Pressing On
The Artist: Relient K
Why it's Here: "I'm pressing on, pressing on / All my regrets are going, going gone / Pressing on, pressing on." Yeah, just try quitting with this song running through your head.

The Song: Lose Yourself
The Artist: Eminem
Why it's Here: "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you want it / You better never let it go / You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime." The hardest hills seem easy with this one; this one carries me through.

What are your suggestions for pre-game songs? Why do you listen to music before a big event, or, if you don't listen to music, why not? Sound off in the comments!

P.S. I also have a few other songs that I put on there, for no other reason than that I like them and they get me going, get me ready to race! You'll see those extra songs once iTunes decides to publish my iMix in their stupid store.

Monday, May 26, 2008


There are a handful of things that regularly shock me by the deep level of satisfaction they afford me.

Writing a song or poem (or a blog post).

Actually getting through all the things that I have to do in a day.

And the feeling that wells up as the deep misery of a tough bike ride through high winds (15-25 MPH), rain, and muddy dirt roads fades away.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Holy Crap!

High wind advisory.

Tornado advisory.

Severe weather advisory.

Holy crap, Kansas! You finally figured out it's spring!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(Un)Reasonable Expectations

Breaking into sub-8:00-minute-mile territory has got me thinking.

Running that fast was really difficult. It hurt. I did not want to do it again.

And I know that improvement in sports (in most things, actually; I experienced this while I was still playing piano) ascends to a certain point and then begins to plateau; it operates on a long curve approaching a largely predetermined glass ceiling. And the improvement at the beginning comes a lot easier and more quickly than the improvement close to that limit. For example, I started really adding in speed work last January under the supervision of Coach Rad at USC Tri. And I saw my average pace drop from around 11:30/mile to around 9:20/mile in about four months. So that was pretty quick improvement. This season, I've seen 5k pace at 9:07 and 2-mile pace at 8:16 (but let's not talk about that 10k Wildflower time, okay?) . . . which is still some pretty significant speed gain.

As much as that 1600 hurt on Friday, I'm starting to wonder if I'm getting to the point where the improvements will come slowly, with a lot more hard work and suffering. Which gets me to thinking . . .

What are reasonable (or unreasonable) expectations? Is a 24:00 5k reasonable? What about a 45:00 10k? How about 24.5 MPH on the bike? Or cranking out 300+ watts on average (not that I can afford a frickin' Power Tap right now)? Should I shoot for a 25-minute 1500 M swim?

Here's my concern: Let's say I set my sights on a 24-minute 5k and accomplish that. Will my brain tell my body, "Hey! Good work! Unfortunately, that's pretty much your glass ceiling. That's as fast as you're ever going to run. Sorry legs, I'm just not going to give you enough oxygen to run any faster. Because that's the limit!"

What if, subconsciously, I set limits that don't exist? What if it's enough that they exist as realities in my mind?

This goes back to a post I wrote a while ago: "Believing in Belief." In it I shared accounts of athletes who did truly extraordinary things simply because they thought--no, scratch that, they knew that they could do it. They knew that they could do it. And they did it.

With that in mind, I'd rather have ridiculously unreasonable expectations than accidentally undershoot my full potential because I set my sights too low. And who knows what my body may be capable of?

Maybe there's a Vanessa Fernandez or an Emma Snowsill hanging out in this short, stumpy little body!

Note: I would also like to comment that Vanessa Fernandez is pulling a ridiculous face in that photo, proving once again that event photographers don't take good photos of anyone. Even world champions.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feeling Good About Recovery

Today, while lifeguarding at the pool (because when no one else can guard, guess what the Aquatics Director gets to do), I was working on a forthcoming blog post about overtraining/under-recovering. I was reading a journal article that reviewed the current research on the topic of recovery, which prompted me to think about the unique situation of triathletes when it comes to recovery. Then one of the other lifeguards (my pacer from Friday night, actually) was generous enough to relieve me early (at 5:00 instead of 8:00), so I headed home for a 6-mile tempo run.

Which sucked.

I didn't want to do it. My legs were sore. I was thirsty and hungry. And all I really wanted was a nap.

Ironically enough, about 3/4 of the way through the first mile, I was listening to a podcast detailing the dangers of overtraining for triathletes.

And I took it as a sign. Instead of running 6 miles at tempo pace, I ran 2 miles easy. I figure that since I'm getting into the last main push of my training, and since I'm in the first week of a 3-week build phase, and since I ran my fastest-ever mile split on Friday, it might do me good to push a difficult workout back by one day.

Normally, I feel terrible about this kind of decision. Stupid and weak, insufficient, unable to complete the most basic and mundane training tasks. But today, with this decision, I feel really good; I feel like I made the right choice.

And now I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's tempo run.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Heights

Thanks to my workout partner, I have a new fastest ever mile time.


This is the first time I've ever run sub-8:00.

And it won't be the last.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Evolution of Goals: Discuss

Since I wrote about how goals evolve in triathlon, I thought I'd share my own personal progression. Or rather what I can remember of it. Because being in the middle of the lifestyle, it's hard to recall what it was like when I couldn't run even 2 miles. I invite everyone to share their own evolution of goals as well; I'd love to read them in the comments, or on your blog.

So without further ado, having looked through old journals, blog entries, and conversations, here are the ambitions that have run through my head since I started this crazy journey (some of these are direct quotes, by the way).

September, 2006: Learn to swim
February, 2006: Finish Shawnee Mission Triathlon short course
April 10, 2006: Work out for 45 minutes straight/begin training program
May 31, 2006: "Swim .5 km under 15 minutes; Bike 20 km in 1 hour; Run 5km under 30 minutes; Short course triathlon in less than 2 hours"
June, 2006: Finish Shawnee Mission long course.
June, 2006: "My goal is to finish my race, but it would be really cool if I could swim 2:00/100, bike 16 MPH, and run 10:00/mile."
August 30, 2006: "I'm hoping to get my mile time under 30. Oh yeah, and hoping to be able to swim a mile :-)"
October, 2007: Commit long-term to triathlon.
March, 2007: Train harder.
April, 2007: Be competitive in my age group.
July, 2007: Finish in the top half of any race.
December, 2007: Run sub-9:00 5K pace; Swim 2 MPH; Bike avg 20 MPH; Improve mental toughness; Break 3 hours on an olympic-distance tri
April, 2008: Win. A lot.
May, 2008: Place in my age group at Shawnee Mission. Run a 24-minute 5k. Swim a 25-minute 1500. Average 20 MPH on the bike. Be a sponsored athlete.

And my #1 goal? Hook up with another triathlete after a race ;-)

How have your goals progressed over the years? Let's hear it in the comments!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Evolution of Goals

Note: This post took me quite a while to write. It's been brewing in my head for a long time, and I'm glad to finally release it to you. Thanks for sharing in my journey.

Remember how it began?

"I wonder . . ." or "I bet . . ." or "With enough training . . ."

The goal was to get through it, wasn't it? You knew that if you could be sure that you could swim 525 yards (or 1050 or 1500), could bike 12.5 miles (or 41 km), could just run 3.2 miles (or 6.3 or whatever), you could definitely finish. If you could go the distance and then some, you would definitely cross the line.

And so you did. Then maybe you were two months out from the race when you started thinking, "I know I can finish, but I sure hope I don't finish last." Maybe you even started
figuring paces from your workouts, comparing them to finish times from previous years' results. Finishing was no longer enough; you wanted to finish before someone else. Maybe you wanted to win.

Yeah, goals in triathlon are a funny thing. It's not like running or swimming, where most of the top competitors have been top competitors since they were young (and if you couldn't beat the top dogs in 8th grade cross country, what hope do you have now?) . . . Pretty much everyone who's been successful in triathlon is (relatively) new to the sport. Why? Because most of us didn't know this sport existed in high school.

Triathlon is very, as my group fitness director put it, "user friendly"; it's a sport that anyone can do. As my friend Jonathan in the Distance wrote last week, Ironman is everyman. It's every woman, too.

acing in triathlon is a lot like second-wave immigrants coming to America. It was (still is) such a young country; what wasn't possible in a country like that? If you were hard-working and slightly savvy, the world was your oyster. And maybe not everyone would end up a Rockefeller, but everyone had a shot at comfort. That's what triathlon is like--it's fresh, it's big, and it provides plenty of room for spreading out. You may never be a Dave Scott or Michellie Jones, but you can live that same lifestyle of pushing yourself farther than what seems humanly possible.

All that to say that after a little bit of time in this sport, finishing event after event is no longer enough. You know you can do the distance, but the sport doesn't lose its appeal for that. It's odd, too, in that your new goal comes while you're still doing a race. Tell me, fellow athletes, that you've never spent at least part of a race thinking about how you'll train next time for a faster split. The goal could be anything; break 10 minutes for a 500 yard swim; average 17.5 MPH on your next bike split; run an 8:00-minute pace for a full 10km. Maybe you want to break 3 hours on your next Olympic; maybe you want to break 12 hours on your next Ironman.

The wonderful part about this sport (and about America, if you care to continue the earlier analogy) is that it presents an evolution of goals. And that evolution takes you from wondering what is possible to wondering what isn't.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Wildflower III

Chris Lieto has a cool Wildflower video up on his blog, The Green Athlete. Go check it out!

I've already written about 18 drafts of this post. Not in words, so much, but in thoughts and feelings, starting around mile .01 of the run and lasting all the way through the drive back to L.A., the flight back to Kansas, and my return to a normal schedule.

I thought that it would be easy to describe my Wildflower experience, at least the racing part of it. I only needed one word: dehydration. I was pretty sure of the ability of that one word to fully communicate exactly what happened up there in the mountains of the Central Coast.

But as I've sat with my experience over the past two days, I realize that this race was so much more than that one word, and cannot be written off only as an example of my ability to fail. Yeah, I knew better; I should have had more to drink on the bike. But there's more to it than my personal fear of being a coach who can't adequately apply knowledge when push comes to shove.

I won't be so cliche as to claim that Wildflower represents some kind of "journey" for me, but I will invite you to join me as I reflect on what exactly happened up there at Lake San Antonio.

Wildflower: The Experience
One of the best parts about Wildflower is that most of the time you're there, you're not racing. What are you doing rather than racing? Why watching other people race, of course, and getting totally stoked about your own race, which is the following day. Or that's what I did, anyway. USC Tri brought a grand total of 6 people to Wildflower, one doing long course (way to go, Susie!), three doing long course relay, two doing Olympic course.

I spent all day Saturday scampering around the main Wildflower area, sending off my (few) friends, hanging around transition long enough to watch the pros, and scoping out the vendor booths. I was standing inches away from Macca as he came speeding into T2 (although it took me a minute to realize that I had just seen him, 'cause he was frickin' flyin'), and could have reached out and touched Samantha McGlone as she crossed the finish line. I have to admit that I get pretty star-struck in the presence of triathlon greatness, which seems kind of weird, because it's such a strangely down-to-earth sport. The pros seem so approachable (although Hilary Biscay's the only one I've actually talked with), and so I'm torn between feeling ridiculous about approaching them for an autograph, but still secretly wanting to.

Saturday night was spen
t preparing a delicious meal of fire-baked sweet potatoes and vegetables roasted in individually-wrapped aluminum foil ovens. I made the fire, prepared the food, and I have to say, it's one of the better campfire meals I have ever cooked (much better than last weekend when I went camping with my dad and the temperature dropped to 40 degrees with 30-40 MPH winds and rain. No hot food that night).

On a slightly different note, we were camped right next to the Cal Poly team. So I heard the annual Naked Run start, but didn't get over in time to see it. By the time the team was back in sight, they were all clothed once again. Sadly, I had no first-hand experiences of nudity this weekend (unless you count being walked in on in a Port-a-John). But there's always next year!

Swim: 1500 m, 29:40
I felt strong in the swim, like I was really able to race it. I actually don't have a lot of issues with open water swim starts. I know they're going to be rough, that's part of the deal, and frankly, I'm pretty good at the jabbing and clawing bit (a couple years of playing football on an all-male team will do that to a person). I'm not deliberately mean, but I don't go out of my way to avoid; from the first moment, I felt that I was able to swim my own race and not worry about what was going on around me. I was able to grab onto the feet of a slightly faster swimmer and cruise. Unfortunately, my generous drafter was not sighting as well as she probably should have been, and she led me significantly off-course, a fact which I didn't note until a be-kayaked lifeguard started shouting at me. Yes, I almost ran into a kayak. I was waaaay off-course. Probably lost 50 m on that one. Then at the very end, I sighted off of the first buoy (rather than the humongous, impossible-to-miss inflatable arch at the swim out) and swam at least another 100 m out of the way. Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I checked my results last night and saw that I cam out of the water sub-30. That's right on pace with what I've been doing in the pool, with an extra 150 m besides!

T1: 3:20
Not much to say about this. Because I got blisters on my last six-mile tempo run, I decided that I should take the extra time in transition to wear socks for this race. Glad I did, but 3:20 is a ridiculously slow transition time for me (of course, the run from the swim exit to transition is long and steep, so I guess my transition time includes that).

Bike: 40 km, 1:33:22, 16 MPH
Just shy of 16 MPH, but I had to stop at one point and kick my chain back onto the big chainring, so let's just call it 16 MPH. Wildflower, as you may know, is a challenging course. And as you may know, Kansas is not a challenging location for biking, at least not as far as hills go (but let me tell you about some wind . . .) So I was not at all optimistic about my bike split. And 16 MPH is much slower than I wanted, but considering I've been averaging 18 MPH on the really flat rides I've been doing here in Kansas, I'm pretty happy with the bike.

My big problem on the bike, as you may already have gathered, was hydration. I have a difficult time taking enough nutrition--both food and water--in on the bike. Since I tend to race more sprint courses (this was only my second Olympic), my nutrition generally consists of one bottle of sports drink (which I tend to drop about 2 miles into the bike) and one bottle of water. Honestly, that hasn't even been working very well for me; I'm pretty sure I bonked at Emporia.

The real problem I have, though, is when to drink. Don't want to do it on a climb, because I want to get the damn thing over with; don't want to do it on a descent, because I want to devote all my energy to maximizing my weight (both in body and bike) by descending well; don't want to do it in the flats, because that's when my powerful, compact body and tight aero (if not entirely biomechanically sound) aero position give me the greatest advantage.

Which leaves me with a decent bike split, but teetering on the precipice of dehydration on a very hot, very hilly (relative to where I've been training) course with six miles still left to run.

T2: 2:18

Run: 10 km, 1:08:14, 10:59/mile
Don't even look at it. I'm so embarrassed. When I got out of transition and started running, I don't think I realized how much trouble I was in. I was setting a fairly slow pace, but probably no slower than at Emporia (9:07/mile), which also felt horrible. Besides which, the first part of the run course is pleasantly shaded, for the most part, if uncomfortably rolling. So I didn't think the discomfort I was feeling was anything out of the ordinary.

But as the run progressed, I started walking more and more. The dozens of people I had passed on the bike started catching up, passing, falling back, re-passing . . . I think it was a tough day for pretty much all of us. The course passed out of the shaded beach road and meandered up some nasty hills out onto a long, exposed stretch of road. It wasn't until after passing a big sign marked "5" that I realized the signs were marking kilometers, not miles. And I think that's when I knew I was in trouble.

I kept going, kept bantering with volunteers and other competitors, but I never made a friend on the course; we all just wanted to get through it. It was around kilometer 6 that my stomach tightened up around my Clif Shot Bloks and Gatorade, and I realized that I had better get as much water into my body as humanly possible. That only made me more nauseous, because my body couldn't absorb it fast enough. My obliques cramped; my lats cramped; my biceps cramped; my quads cramped; my calves cramped; my hamstrings cramped. I knew then that I was dehydrated and bonking. I started thinking about how I would avoid the med tent post-race, and if I would need to be pulled off the course.

But it wasn't over, and I wasn't about to stop (although I did casually consider it every time I passed an aid station). Around kilometer 7, I was passed by a slow-moving chick with the number "23" magic-markered on her left calf. "That's my age," I thought. "She's moving slow. I can catch her." Somehow, through all the pain of cramping and dehydration and my body basically cutting me off ("No more for you!"), I managed to remember that I was racing. And I wanted to beat just that one girl. So I started running again. I didn't keep running the whole time, but I did pass her. And she stayed passed, dammit! I never saw her again.

The run course at Wildflower ends with Lynch Hill, a steep hill that goes on for a mile or so. Thank God you don't have to run up the mofo. Of course, some people say it's no better running down it.

I am not one of those people.

I crested that last little peak, leaned into the decline, and ran for all I was worth. I would really like to know how fast I was running (I know the split is out there somewhere, because you run over a timing pad before the last mile); I would guess right around 8:10, 8:20 per mile. It felt amazing; I don't remember any pain. All I remember is passing a lot of people and thinking, "I can do this because I lifted weights all winter."

After that downhill, I was able to keep running and maintain a decent pace, at least up until I ran into the corridor of screaming spectators, holding their hands out for high fives, waving, and cheering. As the cheers got louder and the crowd got thicker, I picked up the pace more and more, until, in the last 50 yards, I summoned everything I had left for one final sprint over the finish line.

And that was it.

T3: The Ride Home
Except of course it wasn't over. I still had to collect my things from transition, make the 45 minute trek UPHILL to our campsite (with the generous help of my teammates, who carried my bags), break camp, and then wait for an hour and a half to get out of the park because everyone wanted to leave at the same time.

It was like being hung over (except without the fun of getting drunk first). I knew that I had to eat, but every time I put something in my mouth I got nauseous. I knew that I need to drink as much as possible, but I didn't want to have to stop and pee every 15 minutes (I made it about once every 45, but there were some really close calls; I thought I was going to cry, I had to pee so bad!) on the way home. I have only felt that bad one other time. It was following a very, very stupid night, and I never let it happen again. And so here's hoping that I never let this particular very stupid thing happen again, either.

Total: 3:16:56
I was hoping to go sub-3:00. That was not meant to be. Not on this course, not on this day (although we'll sure as heck see at Topeka Tinman!). I did improve on my previous Olympic distance time (Cal Poly last year, another very difficult course) by about half an hour, so I'm pretty pleased with that. And I placed 21 out of 57 in my age group, 1331 out of about 2400 (male and female, only counting finishers) overall. That's a far cry from being in the bottom third of every race last year (at Cal Poly I was the fourth from the last to finish).

So I have come a long way, and I'm actually pretty pleased with my racing performance. But I still just feel so stupid! I know better than to let myself get dehydrated like that. I would never let any of my athletes get away with that, and I will not allow myself to make excuses. But neither will I endlessly berate myself, just because the run happened to be the worst thing, the last thing, and therefore the most easily remembered. I had a good swim! I had a decent bike! I know better now what to do for my third Olympic distance tri, which is in a month and a half and I can't hardly wait (although I was pretty sure at the end of Sunday's race that I would never do an Olympic distance race again, let alone Half Iron)!

And I will never ever ever again get so intoxicated with the spirit of triathlon that I get a tri hangover.

Wildflower II

This is not the race report. The race report will have significantly more paragraphs. Also it will have pictures.

This is to let everyone know that Wildflower is possibly the most interesting race experience I've ever had.

And tomorrow I'll tell you why.