Sunday, November 8, 2009

Race Report: HPT Grand Prix CX

This was a cool race.

The course was laid out at Topeka's Heritage Park, which is a racing track. You know, where they race things with motors.

Except on this night (yes, it was an avondcross, or evening cross race), all the racing was of the two-wheeled variety.

Like the other races in the 60CX series, the women go in the first round of racing, along with most of the masters. What that means for us is that we get to pack down the grass for the big boys, which I don't think is fair at all. Of course, the trade off is that any chicanes and sharp corners that are likely to get slick aren't too bad (at least not until towards the end of the race).

This course was different from any other CX course I've been on, and not only because it was dark when I was riding it. Started on a short strip of tarmac, then a moderate, grassy uphill into a downhill chicane. Few more yards of tarmac, then a hard right into the racing arena and on to some of the finest surface you could ask for in a CX race. The dirt was hard packed, but with some texture, almost like course sand, but softer. It was fast. I even got into my big chain ring (53) on that stuff. Hammered around the outside of the race track, then a 180 switchback and more hard dirt riding into the wind. A sharp right onto the infield, with some (very) patchy grass, still moving fast. Through a small dip with a little mud (take the smoothest line and you don't even get wet), a right turn that's sharper than it looks, a little more grass, and hammer so you can beat anyone around you to the best line going into a series of very tricky (very fun) switchbacks. Left, then sharp right, then right, then left, like a snake folding back on itself. Out and around, through more grass, crossing the track, then uphill and hard right along the back straightaway of the dirt track. A downhill chicane (more than a little scary on that loose, sliding dirt) and then stairs. That's right, stairs. Sharp ramp off the stairs (out of the arena, now), slight left, another chicane, then downhill and around the backside of the arena. Bumpy bumpy bumpy, and watch that huge bump (got worse as the night went on and got darker) at the bottom of the hill. Then the grass gets thicker and thicker as you move into a false flat. Steep hill (only about 8-10 yards of it, but gotta be 20%), fight over it, then fight the urge to recover as you head back into the tarmac. Another chicane (don't hit that tree!), up and around to another flight of stairs. Remount, one more chicane, then a hard left and do it all over again. Phew.

Topeka is a 2-hour drive (if you interpret the speed limit somewhat liberally) from me. Rode up with my Cross Yoda, who got very chatty about 30 minutes after he had a little energy drink. We arrived 20 minutes before registration for my race closed. We changed and got all our gear, then went to take our bikes off the rack. I aired my tires up before I took the bike off the rack (I have to let air out of my tires to get the wheels on, because I use my road bike for cross and it doesn't have cantilevers), and must have finagled the valve stem into a strange position. After I aired the rear tire up and went to get it off the car, I heard a "CLICK pfshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." Shit. It's now 15 minutes until registration closes, and my rear tire is flat.

Fortunately, my new investment (a pair of Bontrager Jones CX tires) totally paid off. And I do mean investment. Those tires were $50 a pop (although, thanks to our awesome sponsor, I got a good deal on them). I had the tube out and changed in 3 minutes flat. Stress level returned to normal. Plenty of time to register, pee, and pre-ride the course before staging.

As I was riding a warm-up lap, I realized that I really, really didn't want to race. Seriously. Not only had I not been on my bike for a full week, I hadn't been off-road in at least three. I told you how my mojo's been off. That's translated to almost no outdoor cycling, and absolutely no CX practice. Also, I've never ever ever had to do stairs with my bike. My bike weighs 23 fucking pounds; it's a 44 cm triple-walled aluminum monstrosity with a steel fork. And I am very, very short. In order to get that bike high enough to clear stairs, I have to get the top tube on my shoulder. I can't reach down under the down tube and set the seat on my shoulder (I tried) because the front wheel isn't high enough to clear. And I can't curl 23 lbs with my right arm (the shoulder is FUBAR). Which means that in order to get up those steps, I have to squat down low enough to get a shoulder under the top tube (which--believe me--is way, way low, even for me). Of course, none of that would be a big problem if I'd been practicing run-ups. Which I haven't been, stairs or no stairs.

At any rate, I totally wasn't feeling the race vibe. I didn't want to suffer. I didn't want to hurt. I didn't want to fight. I seriously considered chucking the race fee and calling it a night. But it was $20, plus the 2-hour drive up and the 2-hour drive back, plus gas and turnpike tolls . . . so I sucked it up and staged with the other women.

Big field, at this one. 14-15 in the Cat 4, and about another 10 in the open. That's a significant number, for the women's field. Lots of mountain bikes, too.

I learned from the last race that I don't want to get too good a starting position. Especially at this point in my season, I can't hang with the big girls, and I don't want to put myself into that much hurt early in the race. So I tried to get a good enough start to clear most of the chaos (especially coming into that first chicane), but didn't push to get good position. My plan was to sit in and see how things developed.

Most of the women took off without me, but I started making serious headway once we got onto the track. I put it in a big gear and hammered. I quickly established myself with a group of two other women, and followed some wheels before I realized I could whip around them with no trouble. It was a little dicey in the infield on that first lap, before everyone broke up, but I beat a few girls by getting to the inside line.

I lost all the time I'd gained on the stairs. That chicane made me really nervous, and every time I stopped, dismounted (and not the cool way), and ran up the stairs and down the ramp. I was very tentative with those steps all night. Through the grass, I made up some more ground, but really had a rough time getting over that steep hill on the back side of the arena. It was full-body, wrenching the handle bars, trying to get my damn ass over the top, then regain some momentum coming out of it. The second set of stairs was not as bad as the first, but I still lost time there. 

Every time I hit that second set of stairs, I could hear spectators crying, "C'mon, Sandy!" Now Sandy is a woman I met at Smithville last year. She's a triathlete, too. She does Emporia every year. We've done several CX races together. And I've always beaten her. So when I heard people calling her name as she's right on my tail coming into those stairs, I knew I had to give it all I got, take the best lines through the chicanes, and let loose on the track. That strategy worked pretty well, too. I put some serious time on her on the track. But every time, I lost so much of it back at the stairs. On lap 3 or 4, she passed me on the second set of stairs. I gapped her in the arena. She passed me on the other stairs. I caught her in the grass. We traded off and on for the next couple laps. With 2 laps to go, she had a sizable gap on me (again, from the stairs), but I was gaining on her through the infield, and caught her on the back straightaway. Again, stairs. She dismounted and remounted beautifully, and I looked like a camel (I'm sure) getting bandy-legged off my bike, running up the stairs and down the other side. I happened to look down at my chain ring and notice that it was in the granny gear (which is not where I'd put it), and stopped to readjust it. I didn't want to risk losing it completely when I hit the big hole on the backside. That's where I lost Sandy. Once we got onto the grass, I could see she was still within striking distance and I thought, "Okay, still have 2 laps to go, just pace yourself." I knew I could catch her with 2 laps. But I didn't put it all on the line with 1 lap to go, because I didn't want to blow up and really lose it. They stopped us after that second-to-last lap, though; we'd already been lapped by about half the masters field, and the top woman, as well (she started 15 seconds ahead of us). So I never got a chance to catch Sandy.


But I definitely found my mojo at this race. And even though Sandy and I were fighting for 9/10 place, it was definitely a battle. And every ounce of mental and physical energy I had was going into that battle. It was amazing. And invigorating. At the end of the race, I found myself wishing that I could go out and do it again. I think part of that was the course design; I never felt that tired, burny, oh gods make it stop feeling that you normally get at a CX race. I think that the course was laid out in such a way that you can follow the flow of it without the start/stop sprint/coast dynamic of most courses. It was still a tough course, but in a very different way.

I was really happy with my performance in the race, even though I only place 10/13. Cross Yoda kept telling me, "Hey! Top 10! That's not bad!" but I just can't get excited about placing only 3 spots up from DFL. And last time I got 6/12. So if nothing else, I have to prolong the CX season for one more race, just to prove that I belong in the middle of the pack (not at the bottom).



Of course, it might also help if I would actually practice.


Additionally, I would like to give major props to Cross Yoda, who--in spite of crashing in a big tangle-up in the first chicane--came back to get 4th place! And props to Boulevard Brewing, as well, for providing post-race refreshment for free.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Anyone Know a Good Mojo Doctor?

I think my mojo is afraid of H1N1.

That's the only reason I can think of that explains my mojo's obvious absence. I have no interest in blogging (obviously) or coaching; personal training is slow and I don't even care; I haven't even wanted to do a cyclocross race since Capital Cup (although I'm doing one this weekend--an avondcross!); my cycling classes are boring and I don't want to be there; I haven't swam in who the hell knows how long. My mojo is definitely on hiatus. Maybe it went to someplace tropical; maybe I can go visit it there.

You know what I've been doing a lot of, though? Running.

Of all things, right? Anyone remember when I hated running, when those were the only workouts I ever skipped, when I did an Olympic tri without having ever run more than 4.5 miles? Apparently, those days are over. I love running.

And I'd love to tell everyone how that happened (because I know I'm not the only one who's struggled with serious resentment towards one of our three sports), but I can't. Because I have no idea how it happened. Maybe it's like an arranged marriage--you spend enough time together, eventually you find love.

Anyway, if anyone knows a good mojo doctor, let me know. Otherwise, I'll just be waiting for this mojo affliction to run it's course. I'm sure that as the off-season progresses and I start reading about this race and that race and his plans and her plans, my mojo will take tentative steps back from Fiji or wherever it's gone.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Remiss

That is what I have been. Remiss.

Not so much as a peep from me in a full week! I'm sorry!

To those of you who are awaiting response from me re: free coaching, I will e-mail before the weekend is out.

For those who have asked for a new spinning podcast, it is in the works (up in Garage Band as we speak)!

For those of you who have no requirements from me except for entertaining and informative reading . . . well, my endurance faculties seem to be hibernating. And my work schedule is cuh-razy. Seriously. I get off work at 3 p.m. today and it's *still* a 10-hour workday.

BUT! If you'd like to read what I'm reading (and some comments, besides), you can take a look at my Tumblr page: http://trihardist.tumblr.com/. On that site, I post articles that I read and find interesting, things that I think may be helpful, entertaining, or otherwise encouraging for my fellow athletes.

You can also follow me on Twitter. And between those two things, you can keep up with me (if you want to, although I must warn you that I'm not all that interesting) until I regain my blogging mojo.

Thank you for reading! And keep your eyes peeled for the latest installment in my one-on-one cycling workouts!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Race Report: Capital Cross

At last: success!

I finally managed to get through a full cyclocross race without injury or incident. No flat tires. No twisted ankles. I still managed to fall and puncture my leg with my chainring while simultaneously bruising 82% of my shin, but that wasn't bad enough to prevent me from finishing. Truth be told, I didn't even realize how bad I'd hit myself until I finished the race and took my pants off.


Rode up with one of my Specs Racing teammates, Bob. Racing started at 11:00, and my race was one of the first (Cat. 4 women rode also with the women's open race and all the masters divisions). Having the first race on the course meant that I had the stiffest grass to contend with, and there was a ton of grass.

The course began with a nice, long stretch of pavement, but slightly uphill and with the north wind right in our faces. From there we moved into a long straightaway on the grass. The grass had been recently mowed, but it was still thick and stiff (that's what she said). Course dipped around into a ditch (riding off-camber), which led us around a tree, uphill and around another tree, then back through another straight-away the way we'd just come. Much of the course was like that: grass, tree, tree, grass. Slight uphill, slight downhill, slight turns. Two barriers in a small cluster of trees. Two separate times the course turned sharply and directly up steep hills (those were fun).



The highlight of the course was the Mound of Mercy, a banana-shaped embankment that was a moderate climb on the ends and steep in the middle. Course followed a few sharp turns around trees, then straight up the stem side of the banana. We rode steady around the banana's back, down the other side into some more off-camber section. 180* turn at the butt of the hill, then forced dismount for a barrier and a long, steep run-up. A small chicane followed the first run-up, then an even steeper downhill, another 180*, and a final run-up. Remount at the top of that run-up, then hammer back down the banana, left-hand turn, and through the finish line. 1.8 miles. And that's just lap one.

I lined up in the second row in a field of about 14 women. I'd read an article about how to get a good start in cyclocross races (because what else am I going to do at work at 5 in the morning), and I applied that new knowledge to excellent effect. I grabbed a wheel, passed, grabbed another wheel, passed, looking for a rabbit to chase. Going into the first grassy section, I was sitting in third position, with a fair gap back to the next woman. But as soon as we hit that first section, I knew that I was in trouble. The two women in front of me were much, much stronger. My body was already sending me messages: "Too much! Too soon! Abort! Abort!" I let them get ahead a little bit and tried to find a manageable pace. All my lines were good, but my power was not. I was already tasting blood, and could feel bile stirring up in my stomach. Coming through the second section of trees, the girl in fourth was right behind me. I let her go ahead, saying as she passed, "I already feel like I'm gonna throw up." This may have been about a quarter into the first lap.

I still had a fair gap back to the next two girls, two women from Free State. I probably had a 20 second gap on them. One was working her way up to me, and she passed me sometime around the second lap. Coming to the pair of barriers on the third lap, I fell while trying to remount my bike, and jammed my knee right down into my frame, between the top tube and down tube. It hurt enough that I pulled off to the side to assess the damage. My quad was definitely sore, and my shin was definitely bruised. It was stiff as I started pedaling again, but it worked out quickly. The other Free State gal had passed me at the barriers as I was pulling off to the side, and I was anxious to keep contact with her. She and I traded positions through laps 3 and 4, chatting as we passed and re-passed. I can't repeat all the things that were said, but we were both grateful when the masters men lapped us and we had a lap taken off of our race.

After lap 4, I was still in the lead over the FSR chick. I hammered through the tarmac, trying to put as much time into her as I could. I backed off the gas once I got into the grass, then focused on taking the best line and doing whatever was necessary to hold her off. She was within 10-15 seconds going into the Mound of Mercy for the last time, and I thought she was going to catch me on the final run-up. Fortunately, I was willing to suffer enough to hold her off, and once I got onto the last downhill, I was golden. Crossed the line in 6th place, after 5 laps and about 48 minutes of racing.



As often happens in these maximal exertion type races, everything has kind of blurred together into one long stretch of vague pain. I remember my one little fall. I remember the few passes. I remember a few of the lines I took on the off-camber portions, and the run-ups on the Mound of Mercy. I remember letting one girl pass me, because I figured she was racing as a junior. Silly me, the juniors' race didn't start until 12:15, so this girl (maybe 13-14) was racing as cat. 4 woman. I felt totally stupid when I saw the results, because I could have ridden the girl down--I was passing and re-passing her the whole time--but I didn't bother because I didn't think that it was worth it.

This course was tough for me. All that grass was really draining. Talking to another athlete after the race, she mentioned that it was "a real power course." I hadn't thought about it in those terms, before, but she was right. And the need for constant power really took its toll on me throughout the race. But the greatest limiter to my performance in this race was the inability to keep contact with the next rider, mentally. I found myself in no-man's land several times in the race, and its because I lack the mental toughness to pull a few extra watts out of my legs to hand on to another cyclist's wheel. If they're tough enough to pass me, then they must be tough enough to keep going. And I guess that in my head, I'm not that tough.

My goal for next weekend (Smithville Cross Festival) is to better maintain contact. If the course is anything like last year's, it should be good for me. A start on the pavement, some tricky handling work, a little bit of singletrack, and a good set of barriers. It's got that one steep run-up, so I'll need to find the lugs for my shoes. And it wouldn't hurt to practice a few steep run-ups at Sim Park cross practice this weekend.

Okay. I know what I need to do next time. I'm set.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Runners' High: De-stress

I don't want to go into the details of cortisol production and clearance in the body and how that all relates to weight loss, weight gain, eating habits, working out, and so on. Part of that is because it takes too long to explain, and part of it is that I don't really understand it myself, and you can Google it just as easily as I can.

But while I may not understand the details of stress hormones, I do know when I feel that stuff pumping through my blood. I know it makes me want to eat, and it prefers sugars and fats to get its kicks.

Tonight, someone made me mad. They hurt my feelings and pissed me off. I'd already been working for 13 hours, and still had one hour left to go (on a Friday, by the way). I wanted to cry but couldn't. I wanted to call a friend and vent my spleen, but didn't have time, since I had one more appointment to make it through.

My last client of the day was what I call a Baby Swimmer--someone who is so new to swimming that she still fears to put her face in. Working with these swimmers is a very hands-on process, which means me in the water, sometimes lending a hand when Baby Swimmer says, "You're not gonna let me sink, right?" Point is, I was active. I was moving. I was in the water and (sort of) swimming, but at the very least using my body.

And I didn't really start making connections until I got out of the pool, into the shower, and started thinking about the situation that so greatly upset me in the first place. I was considering sending a nice, private e-mail, making sure my feelings were understood, and that everyone was on the same page. And as I was mentally composing this e-mail, I realized that I was thinking sensibly and rationally and reasonably and I was no longer feeling the flood of stress in my bloodstream.

In other words, a gentle workout helped to clear that shit out.

Just a reminder, then, of something we all probably know already: exercise makes you feel better. The next time you feel the tides of cortisol corroding your brain, make time for a little workout. Guarantee it'll clear your head, clear your heart, and clear your blood of those nasty stress hormones.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Next Step: Coaching




First off, Joe Friel (author of the Training Bible series) just did a few blog posts on how to choose the right coach; you should check it out.

As for me, the economy has not been kind to personal trainers (or not to me, anyway, but my sales skills are pretty paltry), and I can't afford a coach. There's nothing wrong with coaching yourself; that's what most of us do anyway. But there's no denying the efficacy of hiring a good coach to make you faster.

With that in mind . . . 

I've been giving some thought to something that Speedy said . . . something about not wanting to waste $200/month just to have some schmuck who's read The Triathlete's Training Bible impose rigid periodization on her. Or something. In other words, someone who's learned things from experience and from Triathlete Magazine; someone who's had success as a coach, but also as an athlete; someone who's actually (you know) been there.

Well I've been there in terms of personal training, but not in coaching.

Sure, I've coached plenty of athletes to their first triathlon, their first half marathon, even their first half ironman. But I haven't really taken an athlete and made him or her faster and stronger through my ingenuity and their hard work.

Which is why I need you.

I need experience, and you need coaching. So I'm extending an offer of 6 months of free coaching to two athletes (don't want to spread myself any thinner than that). There are a few requirements for this coaching. You have to have done some racing before (you need to be at the "next step" phase of training). You have to be willing to work hard. You have to have a good amount of patience with me, as I'm going to be figuring my coaching process and style out. And you need to live at least 50 miles away from me (so we don't run into trouble with my non-compete contract).

If you're interested in being one of my two coached athletes, send me an e-mail (jamielynnmorton[at]gmail[dot]com). Include your name, e-mail address, a phone number where I can reach you, and why you want to be coached. And we can go from there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Race Report: Chris (Cris?) Cross '09


DNF.

This is my first DNF. First time I haven't been able to finish a race.

But at least it had nothing to do with my ankle.

I will admit outright that it's a little ridiculous to make a 3-hour drive (each way) to do a 30-minute race. Quite ridiculous. Especially when it's cloudy and cold, with sub-freezing wind chills, and threatening rain.

It makes very little sense, additionally, if you've driven all that way and your front tire appears to be a little bit squishy (when you'd just filled it up that morning) to air it up beyond the pressure you'd normally use and roll it anyway. Especially when you have an extra tube. But that's exactly what I did, and I certainly paid for it later.

The course was well-planned, championship grade, and very tough. The loop was almost two miles long, and it took me somewhere around 12-15 minutes to do one circuit. In a 30-minute race, that means only twice around. Course began with about 100 meters uphill in the grass. After cresting the hill, it dropped you down through a snaking, flowing section that weaved back and forth through trees at a downhill speed. There was an off-camber turn, a long stretch on hard-packed dirt, a slight ditch, then a long, flat, grassy straight-away. A slight downhill led into the first set of barriers (which I really slowed down for, believe me!), then up into another off-camber turn. Another hard-packed section, more winding back and forth through trees, then a steep off-camber turn, followed by a sharp incline (run-up, for those of us with a little less muscle and a little more weight). Last 300-400 yards of the course were on cobbles, with a steady uphill gradient. That section led to the finish line or (for those brave enough to tackle the beast again) a sharp left into a grassy section, the wheel pit, and a second set of barriers, before tackling the initial incline a second time.



I was still having trouble unclipping from my SPD pedals on Thursday, so I decided to run a pair of platform pedals on my bike with trail running shoes. There were a couple points on the course where that ended up being a great decision--I fell out on one of the off-camber turns, and if I'd been clipped in, I might have done some serious damage to my ankle. But of course I lost a ton of power, especially on the initial uphill. I'd gotten the chance to run the course before my noon race began, so I knew if I could just make it all the way up the hill, I'd be fine. Coming to the top of that hill, I was dead last out of all the women. Then I got over the hill, and bombed it. Passed three chicks straight away who weren't interested in taking all the curvy-windies at speed. Started chasing 'em down, confident that my handling skills and power on downhills and in the flats was the best (or among the best) in the field. I handled the first set of barriers with finesse (passed a girl and a masters rider there), fell out and changed the off-camber turn into a run-up (thank goodness for the platform pedals), and cut loose on the hard-packed dirt. Maintained speed going through another twisty-windy section, and tried to maintain speed in the grass. That next big off-camber turn was also a run-up for me, and the masters guy gained on me there. The cobbles were so tough, with that constant grade! Second set of hurdles were no problem, but I wasn't looking forward to tackling the initial climb again.

Second time around, everything felt tougher. I couldn't believe how hard I was having to work on the first uphill. A juniors rider passed me, and one of the six (or so) women I'd passed earlier re-passed me. I gained ground on her again in the downhill stretch, hit two bumps in the off-camber turn HARD. Tried to really push through the hard-packed section. Cleared the first set of barriers, but was really slowing down. Passed another masters rider at the barriers, but then completely slid out on the off-camber turn. Like totally fell down and slid a little bit. Pushed uphill, remounted, and managed to stay neck-and-neck with the old guy. He gained on me in the second hard-packed section, and the woman who'd re-passed me had broken the elastic and was out of reach by this point. Coming into the grass section next to the lake, I looked down and realized that I was riding on the rim on my front wheel. I kept riding it, because where else was I going to go? Slid out on the next off-camber turn, fought through the twists and turns, but hopped off when I got to the cobbles; no way was I running my rim on that bumpy brick road! Walked my bike back up to the finish. DNF.

I was absolutely bummed to have my first ever DNF, and to have missed out on yet another cyclocross race. But once I'd gotten past the initial ohmygoshthissucks part of it (and I at least didn't actually cry this time), I felt okay. My calf was definitely stiff by the end of the first lap, but my ankle handled everything fine, including the running, jumping, mounting, dismounting, and all that. I think I'm ready to run with my SPDs for next weekend, and that will give me more power.

Also, I think I need a different set of tires. My current tires are 700x26, and they're so narrow that they tend to sink into anything soft. And that'll slow you down, because it's like your tires are constantly rolling uphill. So I wasn't something wider and knobbier and more supple that'll spread out a little bit and give me less rolling resistance. The Specialized Infinity tires I'm currently running I'll keep on my road rims as a spare wheelset (lesson learned!) and I can use those for the dirt road series coming up in November.

Best part about this race was that it reminded me how flippin' fun this sport is. I love cyclocross. I can't wait to do it again next week.

But if something goes wrong this Saturday at Capital Cross, I'm scrapping the season, listening to the voice of the Universe, and cutting my losses before I wind up with something broken!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

As it Stands (and looking to the future)

First of all, the ankle is getting much better. It's not ready for running, yet; I want to give it at least one more week before I try any impact on this poor achilles tendon. But it's to the point where I can walk normally, and do most activities. I can even unclip my right foot from my SPD pedals, as long as I take it slow. Next week, I'm going to try a few miles on the elliptical, and I've been water jogging as well. Swimming is going (ahem) swimmingly. I'm hoping I'll be back to running within the next two weeks, and Chris Cross (next Sunday) is looking like a good possibility.


Now for what comes next. If Chris Cross doesn't or can't happen next week (that is if I decide that a cyclocross race isn't worth compromising the long-term health of my ankle), I'm ready to just scrap the cross season. There's always next year, after all.

This next week begins a long-term training plan for me, building up to a 26.2 mile journey in L.A. on March 21. I've always felt sort of ambivalent about marathons. Everyone does them. They don't seem like that big a deal, anymore. It's like a 4-minute mile: still impressive, but not superhuman. At any rate, I wasn't really interested in running one.

But after finishing at Lawrence, my mind started wandering here and here, and even here. And I knew that in order to make those dreams reality, I would (almost) have to run a marathon. (Quick note: I know people who have gone Iron without ever having done a marathon; it's possible, but not something I want to do.)


So here's the run-down on Jamie's future: P.F. Chang half-marathon in Phoenix in January. L.A. Marathon in March. Then depending on how that marathon feels . . . well, if it totally kicked my ass, then I'll see you in Lawrence in June. If I finish and I feel good and I feel strong and I feel excited . . .


Then I'll see you here in September.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Next Step: Chasing it Down


It's not enough for you to be able to swim, bike, and run faster than you are now; hell, it's not even enough for you to go faster than the competition. Your best pace in a tempo run, your smoothest technique in the open water, your fastest speed on your bike isn't going to matter a lick if you can't call upon it (and a little more) when race day rolls around.

Triathlon is an inherently painful sport; all endurance sports, actually, entail more suffering than most humans (at least humans in our culture) are comfortable with. So when the intense discomfort of racing near your limits smacks you in the face, what do you turn to? How do you ensure that the hard work you've put in leading to your A race doesn't fizzle out when you need it most?

One way is to establish a rival. This is what I did for the Boathouse International Triathlon. I checked the list of registered athletes for women in my age group; I looked up their USAT rankings and previous race performances, trying to determine which ones would pose a threat. I found race pictures of them online and posted them above my desk (note: this creeps people out) with their times from races I'd also been at last year. Seriously. Ask my co-workers and clients. I had to look at those pictures every day, and before going out on training runs, I would see those photos and get a surge of adrenaline that told me, You want it more than they do.

Another method I've used with great success is focusing on a mantra--a phrase you repeat to yourself constantly to drown out the noise of pain and stink of lactate in your body. The best one I've found so far is "Trust the work"; that's what brought me through my first 70.3. But you can use any phrase that you find appealing. Works best when it's short, succinct, and burns an image in your brain. One of my athletes likes to use "Slow and steady"; another took herself through her first tri with the phrase "Home stretch." Keep it appropriate to your goals, though; if you're looking to podium for the first time, "Just finish" is probably not going to be immensely helpful to you.

My favorite method is to get a song stuck in my head. This can be tricky, if you're not a particularly musical person. It can also disrupt your rhythm if you try to match your cadence to an inappropriate song. And I've found that I can't always choose what song ends up swirling around in my brain (it's been this one in every workout I've done for the past two weeks, which is downright annoying). But when your brain hits on the right song--maybe something from your pre-race playlist--and it keeps coming back to (again) drown out the noise of your body, it's golden.

A key thing to note is that different methods are going to work differently for each individual. Personally, the rivalry thing doesn't prompt me to push myself into the realms of true pain. Speedy, on the other hand, thrives on that kind of competition. "Trust the work" brought me to a new half marathon PR, because I knew that I could run 2:15, and I just had to stay on the pace I knew I could run. But when you're racing against other people, it's less effective, because you have to trust that your work is also better than theirs. My most successful method is the song, because I can completely let go and take my brain out of my body. I still have to maintain enough focus and awareness to keep the legs turning over, but I no longer have to think about how bad it's hurting or how much I want it to be over already.

At this point, all I can do is offer you these three strategies, with examples of how they've worked for me. But I'm sure there are other strategies out there. Best bet is to ask more experienced athletes what they do to push themselves through the pain to the next level on race day. Experienced athletes, do you have anything to add? How do you mentally prepare for and execute your race in order to get the most out of training?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Head Position in Freestyle


So yesterday I was swimming with a pull buoy (because what else can I do with this damn bum ankle?). And I was doing drills and generally enjoying the feel of slipping effortlessly through the water. At any rate, I had my moments. And at one point I lifted my head just a little bit to look slightly ahead in the water. As soon as I did that, I felt my speed increase. It was instantaneous. It was amazing!

It's been a long time since I felt that kind of improvement in my swimming. Crazy thing is that I already knew to do that. I distinctly remember a clinician telling me to look 45* in front of me at a workout in college. And then after I got into Total Immersion and a different clinician told me to get my head down, I started focusing more on streamlining. I just assumed that was the fastest way to swim.

And it might be the fastest way for some people to swim. But apparently not for me.

And then tonight I read this article about it. So enjoy. I hope my little journey helps you in your swimming.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Diamond Blackfan Cross Challenge: DNS

Another race missed due to the bum ankle.

Also I had a shitty date.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As it Stands

I was pretty freaked out by Monday about my ankle. Not sure if this has come up before, but I don't have health insurance. That means that if I fall off my bike and break my collar bone, I am (going to censor my language for the protection of readers who are younger and/or related to me). So all day at work, people kept asking, "Have you seen a doctor yet?" No! You know I don't have health insurance, so you should know that the medical profession is a last-resort type of thing for me! But of course, everyone thinks that doctors are the end-all-be-all to telling you how your body works and what it needs (here's a quick clue: they're not).

But having everyone tell me how important it was that I get it checked out was really making stressed. I started creating scenarios: what if it is broken, or torn? What if I have to have some kind of surgery? What if my ankle is permanently screwed unless I do such-and-such A.S.A.P.?

Then I talked with one of my physical therapist friends (who began by saying, "Have you seen a doctor yet?"). I know there's no telling without an X-ray or possibly and MRI, but in her opinion, the ankle's not swollen enough to indicate break, tear, rupture, or anything else equally unpleasant. She recommended that I go through as full and natural a range of motion with it as possible and put as much weight on it as I could stand. In other words, treat it as close to normally as you can.

So I hobbled around on crutches for a couple days (just to take some of the weight off the leg), and each day has gotten progressively better. Today I'm off the crutches and walking almost normally; if you didn't know I'd been hurt, you wouldn't notice me limping. Ankle is still swollen, and there's going to be some pretty severe bruising, I'm sure. It's tender on the medial side of the Achilles (but it was always sore there, where I have tendinitis), and on the lateral front ankle, where I think I hyper-stretched something (peroneals, maybe?).

I've been swimming with a pull buoy, and lifting weights. I guess one good thing about this injury is that it forces me to do the two things I haven't been doing at all over the past month or two! I think I'll be back on the bike by the weekend, and if it's feeling all right, I'll go ahead and race women's cat 4 at the DeStad opener this weekend; I was really wanting to do all five of those races!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Race Report: Wichita Cyclocross Weekend, Day 1

I shouldn't have tried to do this race.

I was taking one more lap to practice the course before we started staging. I didn't really want to (it hurt!), but I figured I should make the best of my last 15 minutes and not let my body get cold. Coming up on the second set of barriers, I was moving too fast. I didn't release my right foot in time. My front wheel ran into the barrier. My bike tried to go up and over. My foot tried to stay in the same place. My ankle sort of got caught in the middle.

It seems like I have a pretty hardcore sprain. I've got a puffy, flesh-colored tennis ball connecting my shin to my foot. It was extremely painful for a while. Like crying and quivering kind of painful. Now it's just faded to a dull ache. Hurts to dorsiflex.

As soon as I could (probably about the time the ibuprofen kicked in, actually), I got up and started walking around. USAT club championship is tomorrow at Redman; I was slated to race the sprint. I figured that if nothing else, I could walk the 5k, assuming I could walk. Driving home from the race, I was convincing myself that I could do it, that I should at least drive down to Oklahoma City and see how I felt tomorrow.

My best friend, who broke her ankle freshman year of college (it's still not back to normal), talked me back out of it again. She pointed out that if I tried to walk/run tomorrow, I might damage the ankle further; I might damage it permanently. And she also questioned whether I should really try driving on the interstate (this is my right foot, we're talking about). Sure, I can depress the brake and the accelerator. But if something ran out in front of me and I had to brake quickly, would I be able to?

Ultimately, it's not worth the risk. Redman was important to me, but it's probably not worth the potential long-term problems that running (ha! hobbling) on it at this stage might cause.

So I'm sitting at home with frozen vegetables wrapped around my ankle, which is propped up on a chair.

And the worst part is that I don't even get to try out my new, over-priced, team custom Oakleys.

(Um, actually the worst part is that this is the end of my tri season and I was in great shape for it. But the sunglasses thing is funnier.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Next Step: Single-Sport Focus

 
This is the standard view for me when riding with the full-time cyclists.

You are a triathlete. That means you train for three sports simultaneously. You are (as one of my friends once put it) striving to be solidly mediocre in three sports. That means that when you pit yourself up against dedicated swimmers, focused cyclists, and well-trained runners, you are probably going to come up short. Why? Because you're not trying to be the best swimmer, biker, or runner; you're trying to be the best triathlete.

But when the triathlon season is over, there's no reason to continue to pursue adequate mediocrity in three sports at once. Why not focus on just one sport, and get really, really good at it? What if you can make your "solidly mediocre" as good as a single-sport athletes' top performance?

It was this step, more than any other, that brought me more success as a multisport athlete. Running was always my weakness. I didn't like it; I didn't want to do it; it was my primary limiter in every race I did.

But I signed up for a half marathon anyway. And then I did another one. And somewhere in that training to go long, I encountered a runner within myself that I didn't know existed. I started to enjoy running, to look forward to it, to consider myself a runner. Of course, once the triathlon season came back around, I became (once again) a triathlete. But the hard work I'd put in and the improvement I'd seen stuck around, and by this season, I was running 8:30/mile instead of 9:20.

My guess is that for most triathletes who weren't previously athletic, running is the limiter. If you came from a running or cycling background, swimming is probably your biggest struggle. If cycling is your weakness, that's completely legitimate, too. Whatever your weakest sport is, you need to figure that out (I bet you already know it, if you think about it). My recommendation to you is that you do an end-of-season focus on that sport.

The alternative to choosing your weakness is to choose what you like. You probably won't see as much benefit going into next season, as far as catching up to your competition, but you will still come back stronger, more capable, and more confident in your abilities. Last year, I focused on a half marathon at the end of the season, and it saw my average speed drop by 50-60 seconds per mile; this season, I'm focusing on cyclocross and group riding, and I think by the end of next season, I can easily be averaging 22 MPH. That's not going to provide as great an edge as if I were to drop my run times by another 30 seconds per mile. But cyclocross is fun and I'm enjoying racing with my cycling team. (FYI, I'm planning to do a half marathon and marathon after the cyclocross season).

Once you figure out which sport you're going to focus on, here's what you do:

Swim: Find a swim meet in your area or close enough to drive to. Determine which events you'll compete in. Challenge yourself! Don't do three long-distance freestyle events; try the 100 breaststroke, or the 200 IM. Developing your skills in the other competitive swim strokes will give you more overall strength and confidence in the coming year, as well as balance out your muscular engagement (which will reduce your chance of shoulder injury).

From there, you have two options: join a masters swim team and work with them on preparing to race your target meet, or prepare on your own. If you're going to prepare on your own, you need to make a plan. It could be as simple as committing to swim 5 days a week; it could be as involved as building a periodized schedule with weekly yardage and daily training objectives. Read up on swimming--coaching techniques, tapering, stroke mechanics, and so on. The more you learn about your swim stroke from this phase, the more you'll have to bring into your next tri season. If you're going with a masters group, be sure your coach knows about your plans and goals; he or she might not write up a whole plan for you, but you'll get some more specific help in workouts, and maybe even some workouts written with you especially in mind.

Bike: Again, you pick an event. It might be a race. It might be a series of races. It might be a tour; check at a local bike shop, as they'll usually have flyers up, or will at least know the cycling scuttlebutt. Whatever your event, commit to it (psst: that means go ahead and register!). Once you've chosen what to do, start riding with a group. Start with a casual, local ride; again, check with a local bike shop. Be sure to ascertain what kind of pace the group keeps (you need to be able to hang in) and what kind of purposes the ride serves. If you're racing (as opposed to doing a long tour), I highly recommend you find a friend who's into the cycling scene and has some experience with racing. Cycling races aren't quite as beginner-friendly (and not nearly as welcoming) as triathlons. Be prepared for that.

Commit yourself to getting out of your comfort zone. If you're used to riding triathlon-style, you probably prefer to train by yourself. You're not necessarily used to hanging in a draft; you don't often need to feel responsible for holding your line. These are things that are valuable for a triathlete to learn and be comfortable with, just likes it's beneficial to be able to swim all four competitive strokes (yes, even butterfly).

Run: This is probably the easiest of the three to focus on in the off-season. You have a few options available to you as far as how you pursue this emphasis, but all of them start with the same basic premise: choose an event! Maybe you want to gun for a PR at the mile, 5k, or 10k distances. Maybe you want to run your first marathon or half marathon. Maybe you want to try something new, like trail running. Whichever it is, choose an event and commit to it (yep, that means register)!

If you're prepping for a PR, you should already have run the distance you'll be gunning for. You should have an appropriate base of distance built up. And you should already have been working in some intensity (i.e. sprints, intervals, track work). Set up a detailed plan with a couple of speed workouts a week, a long run that isn't more than 50% of your weekly volume, and some cross-training. If you're looking for speed, I recommend 5 days of running per week; if you're not running at least 4, are you really doing a single-sport focus?

If you're shooting for your first half marathon or marathon, it's all about building distance slowly and safely. Otherwise you get hurt. Plan on 3-5 days of running per week, with at least 2 days of cross-training. Look not so much at daily volume as weekly volume, especially at the beginning. The long run becomes all-important eventually, but at first you need to accustom your body to taking so many miles. When in doubt, take it slow. Never increase weekly mileage by more than 10%; never increase your longest run by more than 10%. And don't do all your mileage in one big, long run!

The main physiological benefit you derive from a single-sport focus (in my opinion) is putting in all the time. Because you're not dividing yourself (at least) three ways (we're not even getting into weight lifting, flexibility, yoga, and bricks), you have a lot more time and energy to devote to quality workouts in a single sport. And that leads to big improvement fast.

But equally important is the psychological benefit--you become more confident. I went last year from claiming that my strength was transitions to firmly believing "I am a runner!" And the same will happen to you, whether you choose to spend this season focusing on swimming, biking, or running (or something else entirely; why not focus on weight lifting or yoga?).

So. Which one will you be doing?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Derby Rock 'n' Route Pics!

 
Being anti-social and focused pre-race
 
 
Still with the ear-buds!
 
 
Not me swimming, but that's what it looked like.
 
 
Smoking T1!
 
 
My bike looks so little with me on it!
 
 
Heading out on the run.
 
 
And . . . podium!
And that was Derby Rock 'n' Route in pictures! 

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Next Step: Race to Train


Last time, I discussed the need to train like you race; the day of an event is not an effective time to try out new ideas.

The other side of that equation is to race the way you train. But if you ask me, the relationship between the two is not exactly reciprocal. For example, let's say you do some tempo runs--that is, runs at race pace. And in these tempo runs, you keep your heart rate at around 165 BPM. But then you go out to a race, and end up averaging 171 for 5k. You don't blow up and you don't feel like you worked that much harder, but your heart rate ends up being outside of your race pace zone. You didn't race the way you trained.


There's nothing wrong with that. Racing presents a different mindset and different conditions and a different environment than you encounter in everyday training. And on some level, you can't train for that.

Which is why, if you want to get faster, at some point you start racing to train.

Think about it. Not every race is top priority for pros; you can't expect them to peak for Timberman the same way they peak for Kona. They have A priority races and B priority races and C priority races . . . they might do some races just for fun, some for the community, some for the money, and some for the fame. And while we age groupers may not be peaking hard core so we can be in top shape to win $200,000, we can take a lesson from this.

Long story short? Race as much as you want to. Race as much as you can afford to. Race as much as you can.

That includes single-sport racing. So you've got a 5-mile tempo run scheduled for Saturday? Why not hit your local 5k, with a mile to warm up and a mile to cool down? It's not that you're trying to set a new 5k PR at Podunkville's Summer Fun Run; it's that it gives you an opportunity to practice the race-day thrill, the competitive environment, and the surge of adrenaline as you toe the starting line.

I've found that the more I've raced, the more comfortable I've become with racing. At a certain point, you (I hope) got over the newbie nerves--not the butterflies in the stomach that flutter as you approach the big day (those are fun), but the feeling that everyone at the race is faster than you, better than you, and knows more about what they're doing. The next step is to perceive yourself as someone who is faster, better, and knows what he/she is doing. That gives you a confidence and a presence that (I think) translates to faster times and more intense races (it has for me, at any rate).

There are a few drawbacks to the race-to-train mentality. For one thing, it's expensive. Let's say you want to race a tri a month (probably $50 minimum for entry fee, not to mention travel, nutrition, and accommodations), then also do a race-to-train 5k ($20-$30, probably) and a local road race or time trial ($20-$30). Congratulations. You've just racked up $100 in one month just on race entry. And that's assuming that your races were pretty cheap and you didn't have to travel.

So how do you get around that? You go with a group, and everyone in the group has the understanding that you're going balls-to-the-wall and racing. It's easy to find a group cycling ride that has that mentality, but don't go there unless you have a road bike (take the damn aero bars off, for God's sake), have decent handling skills, are comfortable riding in a pack, and can hold 18-20 MPH. Not every cyclist-centric group ride is going to have those requirements, but based on my experience with group cycling workouts, if you don't have those things, you're not going to have much fun (and you may end up in a crash or--even worse--causing a crash). 

Alternatives: go out with a group of triathletes for a no-drafting casual "group" race. You won't get to catch up with Steve about how his two kids are doing in cross country, but you'll have raced to train (sort of) without having to drop $20 on a time trial. You can also look for a semi-formal time trial; Wichita has one (every other Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., see www.aircapitalracing.com for details), so I assume that they have them just about everywhere. They're free, they're timed, and someone will hold your bike for you so you can do a fancy TT start.

Competitive running groups (it seems) are harder to come by. Maybe there's a running or tri club that does regular track workouts you can join; those always end up as races at our track workouts. Same goes for Masters swimming; I know sometimes the atmosphere in a lane can get pretty competitive. Or you could do a "catch me if you can!" set.

These aren't perfect replacements for regular racing, but if money is a concern, it's probably worth it to sacrifice perfect preparation for the hundreds of dollars in entry fees you'll save. 


A fear I had as I got more into racing and became more and more confident in my abilities was that I'd lose the nervous thrill that comes before a race. I remember being completely unable to sleep the night before my first race. I had strange dreams that I was running late and didn't get to start on time. I was nervous in the week leading up to it. And I was so keyed up on race day that I could barely speak.


My experience has been that I don't (usually) get very worked up for the B and C priority races. But when it comes time for the A game, the nerves go into full swing. I don't think that feeling ever really goes away; I hope it doesn't.


When it comes right down to it, nothing is going to prepare you for racing like racing will. So be prepared to fill in your schedule a little, next year. Give yourself the depth of experience to present your best at next season's A race.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Next Step: Train to Race

Train like you race, race like you train. Have aerobars on your bike? Better try 'em out in training before you attempt to get down in them during a race. Doing a race that'll take you longer than 90 minutes? Be sure you practice your nutrition strategy--both in terms of what you eat and when you eat--sometime before the big day. Planning to wear a sombrero for the Cinco de Mayo Splash 'n' Dash? Okay, maybe you don't need to do your training runs around town in a sombrero. That might earn you some strange looks. And heaven knows we don't need to give motorists any more excuses to try to run us off the roads.

Specificity is an important element of training for any sport. Every sport requires (in some measure) the basic elements of strength, speed, and endurance. So every serious, successful athlete trains all three, at least a little bit. I remember having to run a mile and a half in football conditioning (hated it). But we spent a lot more time lifting weights for football, because strength is way more important than endurance when you're only running far enough to hit the person directly across from you.

You could probably have figured this out on your own, but triathlon is primarily a sport of endurance. Hence long bikes, long runs, long swims. Coincidentally, of strength, speed, and endurance, the most effective training is to put endurance first, then strength, then speed. But that doesn't mean that triathletes never need to work on strength, or on speed.


If you've been doing this sport long enough to want to get better, you've been in it long enough to know you can go the distance. You've got the endurance to run a 10k or bike 50 miles or whatever the case may be. What you don't have is speed at those distances.


Here's where the specificity comes in. Let's say you want to be able to run a 10k in under 60 minutes. That's a pretty good goal, right? So you need to run 6.2 miles at a sub-10:00-minute pace. But you do all of your training runs at a pace of around 10:15/mile. Now there's definitely something to be said for race-day adrenaline, or whatever it is that allows us to outperform our best training at a big event. But if you can't do a 3-mile tempo run at 9:40 pace, what makes you think you're going to be able to go twice that far after swimming and biking for an hour?


It's been my experience that you get so comfortable with your long, steady pace when you're training endurance that it can be hard to shift out of that gear and into a speedier one. I started paying a little bit closer attention to my heart rate on training runs, and realized I wasn't getting my heart rate up quite as high as I was supposed to. I had built a really good base, had good endurance, and that had prompted better efficiency and less effort at my base-building pace. One day, during a mid-distance run (probably 6 miles), I decided to push a little bit to see what it would take to get my heart rate in the target zone. Ended up doing my six-mile run on about a 9:20 pace. I'd been doing all my runs right around 10:00. Had no idea I could hold 9:20 for 6 miles. After that, I was more willing and able to push on my runs, especially the long ones.


Practically speaking, there are a few things you can do. Train with a heart rate monitor. Know your heart rate zones. And know which one you need to be in for each workout.


Pace is a little bit trickier to measure, at least on the run (if you have a decent cycle computer on your bike, you're set); generally, you don't know what your pace was until you can get a split, whether that's at a mile marker or half mile marker or what have you. If you want to drop some money to improve your training, you could always get a fancy-schmancy GPS device that'll tell you your pace while you're running. But that's not strictly necessary. What you can do is have a sense of where in your run you are. If there's a Dunkin' Donuts half a mile into your run, you should know that. And not so you can stop for a little carbohydrate pick-me-up, but so you can check your watch and say to yourself, "Okay, 4:50 for that first half mile; that's probably about right." Or pick it up/slow it down appropriately.


There's more to specificity of training than what I've covered here, of course. But we want to look at the things that'll make you faster in a big-picture sense, and making sure you hit the appropriate training intensity and pace in your workouts will do that for you.


A quick note: this article is written mostly from the point of view of improving the run. When trying to hit the right numbers on your bike, you'll need to pay attention primarily to your heart rate or power meter (if you have one), because speed is so variable depending on wind and terrain. With swimming, you'll want to watch your pace more carefully, because heart rate can be unreliable underwater. Something to do with vascular pressure.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Burnout

It would figure.

I go the whole season--swimming, biking, running, doing yoga, lifting weights, trying Pilates, teaching cycling and water aerobics--without being overtrained.

I shift to a single-sport focus, and boom. Overtrained.

(Of course we all know that it's not really a single-sport focus; it's two simultaneous single-sport focuses!)

Actually, it might be a little bit deeper than overtraining. Physiologically, I'm having a little trouble; I'm achy in ways (and in places) I normally don't have trouble. But my resting heart rate is at 48 BPM (right where it should be), and I'm not having any trouble getting it up for workouts.

But I just don't want to train. I would rather stay at home and sleep, or play DDR. I haven't run in a week and a half, haven't swam in a week. I've been biking plenty. But I always bike plenty.

Here's the deal: I don't have a lot left to do, in the way of triathloning. I want to maintain the speed I have for Redman (which is in three weeks). But that won't take much more than one hard workout a week (which is one more run workout than I've been doing lately). And the race I'm targeting for the one-mile PR is in early December. Plenty of time.

The main thing I'm struggling against is a self-conscious feeling of laziness. Is it guilt? I'm not sure. I just know that it makes me nervous not to be swimming and running. Makes me feel that I'm not doing enough. Of course, I'm still training hard on the bike (and still enjoying it!), which is exactly one more sport than your average person trains hard for. But it feels strange not to be doing at least three swims and at least three runs each week.

Man, this sport makes you crazy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Next Step: Technique

There's a crucial advantage that long-time athletes have over those of us who came into triathlon without much of an active history (or, in my case, a history of something with almost no direct skill correlation, i.e. American football).

Technique.

I've seen the difference in athletes I coach who started swimming at an early age. True, they haven't swam seriously in twenty years, and were never much good in high school or middle school or whatever age they left that sport. But they've retained so much technique from that time swimming as kids that they leave my other athletes in the dust!

It's sometimes frustrating to look at these athletes and see them swim by me like I'm standing still. I'm in the pool with them. I'm putting the same amount of training time in (well, not currently, but I was earlier in the year). I swim my heart out in races. And they're still able to finish minutes ahead of me.

What's even more frustrating is knowing that it took them at least a dozen years to build up the muscle memory and kinesthetic awareness to do something that is very difficult for humans. And so if I want to swim with anywhere near that skill level, I'm looking at spending the next 10 years or so refining technique and training by body and mind to work properly in the water to propel me forward.

It's daunting.

On the other hand, knowing that I have such a long way to go means that every time I get in the pool, I have a chance to get better. Not faster, necessarily; at least not right away. But better. Each time you swim, you can refine the entry a little more, work on keeping the elbow higher, focus on your body roll. Because you, assuming you haven't been swimming since you were 4 years old, can always improve, you can always be earning a little more speed, a little more efficiency from your swim stroke, but without the pain and suffering of trying to hit interval after interval at a specific speed (which is what your teammates who've been swimming since they were 4 years old will be doing to improve their speed and efficiency).

So here's what you do.

Have yourself evaluated--swimming, biking, and running. Doesn't have to be by a coach. See if you have at least one friend who knows enough about sport that they'll know what to look for when they watch you swim (or bike or run, but we all know that technique means most in swimming, right?). My college roommate was one of those 4-year-old swimmers (her mom was a swim instructor), and she used to watch me and give me tips. I have one athlete who's benefited greatly from the collective "expertise" of our gym's lifeguarding staff.

That said, you will greatly benefit from working with a coach. If you're in Kansas, I can help you. If not, check with your local tri team (and you should be a member, if you're not already) or a regional YMCA or another local gym. Just make sure that the gym actually has a pool. If you're looking for someone to help you with your swim, make sure they know what they're talking about. The head lifeguard who teaches kids' swim lessons is not going to help you. The masters swim coach will (probably). Your best option is to get with a swim or tri coach who has swimming experience and coaching experience specific to triathlon. And if you're going to spend the money on having someone help you, why not get the best value you possibly can?

Technique is most crucial on the swim, but it's also important when cycling and running. It shouldn't be hard to find someone to help you with run form. Again, a friend who's been running for a while will do. I've had local track and cross country coaches who have been willing to offer advice to me and my athletes. Or you can check your local running shop for a coach in your area. My local running shop has a team that has a weekly track workout; if you have something like that available to you, you might get some help with coaching there. For cycling help, it's a little tougher. If you can find a spinning workout coached by an actual cyclist (as opposed to a group fitness instructor), that's probably ideal. See if you can bring your bike in on a trainer, and let the instructor know that you need some help. Might want to feel out the different classes; not every spinning instructor is going to be willing or able to help you, so try a few classes before you approach someone for help.

Besides getting some objective help on your swim, bike, and run, you can read up on what constitutes good form. Read books. Read articles online about what good form looks like. Try to get an objective sense of whether or not you're doing those things. Try to feel your body doing those things.

And once you've got an idea--both objectively and subjectively--of what you need to work on, it's time to drill. Remember, at this point, technique will still do more for you than speedwork. So why would you spend more time sprinting than you do on drilling? Doesn't make any sense.

You guys got the take-aways, yes? Get someone to watch you and analyze (nitpick) your form. Learn as much as you can about good swim, bike, and run form. And then make drills your priority, especially in the early and off season. And keep in mind that although the ex-collegiate-swimmers and cross country runners might have you beat in the technique department, that means that you'll always have something to gain from technique and drill work.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why Yes, I DO Know Better

I have one more race left for the triathlon season. Redman sprint. USAT Club Nationals. Hoping to win my age group and get good points for my team, KSRVTC. May be just on the edge of a realistic goal. I haven't won first at any race except Emporia, and the field is so small that I don't know how I'll measure up at a bigger race.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Here's the thing: at the end of the tri season, most of us start focusing on a single sport, yes? We start planning for a fall half or a spring marathon. We target 5ks and 10ks with hopes of a new PR. We do cyclocross or masters swim meets (actually, does anyone actually focus on swimming competitively in the off-season?). Triathletes are very good at multi-tasking. The whole point of the sport is to be solidly mediocre in three different sports. Focusing on a single sport for a while allows us to get ahead for next season, make our solidly mediocre a little better than everyone else's solidly mediocre.

Make sense?

The point is that when you focus on one sport, you can come much closer to your potential than when you're trying to get better at three sports at once.

So I have two goals for this off-season: Podium in the DeStad Cyclocross series (and, again, I'm not sure if that's even a realistic goal; I feel like I have it in me) and break 7 minutes in the mile.

In other words, I have high-performance goals in two separate sports.

Yes, yes. I do know better.

I know that I can't reach my ultimate potential in both sports simultaneously. I've got these two different training plans--one chock full of power intervals on the bike, the other chock full of speed intervals on the run--and I'm trying to juggle the two. Putting these two single-sport training plans is ludicrous. Ridiculous. And (quite possibly) futile. And I know better! But I'm still gonna try it. Oh! And I'm going to keep doing masters swim as (erm) "cross-training."

I am, in other words, soooooo a triathlete.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Next Step: Consistency

On Friday, I started a little series on how to take your racing from "Yay! I finished!" to "Sweet! I'm in the top third of the field for the first time ever!"

It begins with consistency, just like with most improvements in fitness. If you're like me, you came into tri with no previous background in sport (and if you're not like me, most of this series probably won't help you anyway), which means no athletic base to speak of. Any working out you do when you're just getting started will be beneficial, so try to do something every day, even if it's not swimming, biking, or running. Maybe try a group fitness class like cycling or kickboxing. I remember the first year I was training (junior year of college), and I was starting to really think that I could handle anything that fell within the realm of "cardio." One of my friends from my a cappella group invited me to her cardio kickboxing class. And for some reason, I thought it would be easy (surely it wouldn't hold a candle to a transition run). I got my ass kicked.

So I did the class a few more times.

In terms of training principles, the kickboxing class wasn't specific to what I wanted to accomplish. It wasn't swimming, biking, or running. It wasn't the appropriate intensity to get me the aerobic base (zone 2, anyone?) that I most needed at that stage in my training; my heart rate was through the roof the whole time. Those classes didn't fit into my training in any way that The Triathlete's Training Bible would suggest. But doing those classes gave me a confidence that I wouldn't otherwise have had; yes--I really could make it through 45 minutes of cardio hell.

Point is, when you're just starting, it's not so important what you do as just doing it. If you have time to get in a two-hour ride on Saturday morning, great. If you oversleep and miss that two-hour window but you can hit a spinning class later in the day, then do that. The spinning class won't be as specific to triathlon (and therefore less effective than getting out on your bike), but it's still good.

Another aspect of consistency is maintenance. If you're consistent for a month and then lose it, you're not going to see the improvement you want. Through most of my first two years in the sport, my running was especially inconsistent. I would start the season with the best of intentions, with three runs a week. Two months into my training plan, the only workout I was still hitting consistently was a weekly track workout--no long run, no tempo run, no easy run, no group run . . . and then I wondered why I wasn't seeing as much improvement in my run as my teammates.

A lot of maintaining that kind of consistency--hitting all of the workouts you want to do, week in and week out--has more to do with fun than with motivation. If you're looking forward to that 4-mile run, you're much more likely to get out and do it! How do you make workouts more fun? Easiest way is to do them with other people. Find a training group in your area. Even if it's runners or cyclists (as opposed to triathletes), find a group and start working your way into their workouts. Be sure, however, that you find athletes who are of similar abilities; running alone because you got dropped by the rest of the group after 5 minutes will be even less fun than running alone would have been.

So here's a quick run-down of how to improve your speed with consistency:
  • Do something every day, even if it's not swimming, biking, or running (taking one day off per week is fine).
  • Stay consistent day-to-day, week-to-week by hitting all of your scheduled workouts (even if "scheduled" is just in your head, not on a fancy-schmancy training plan).
  • Find a group workout or two to help you hit your goal workouts.
Do you have questions? Ideas? Vicious insults? Sound off in the comments, or send me an e-mail at jamielynnmorton[at]gmail[dot]com.