Sunday, May 31, 2009

Runner's High: Knocking it Out

 Today I was thinking about a drive I made a couple years ago.

I was dropping some friends off at Griffith Park for the inaugural running of the Los Angeles Half Marathon. I don't remember why I'd volunteered to wake up before the ass-crack of dawn and drive an extra 20 miles or so on a Sunday; may have been simply because they were teammates.

I do remember waiting for them to get ready. I remember them talking about taking a long-sleeved "throw-away shirt" to keep warm pre-race. I remember them discussing warm-up methods and field size (which was big, for a first-time event--about 10,000 people). I remember conversations about how they thought they would fare in what was essentially, for them, a training run, one for which they'd done no specific training.

I remember being astounded at the fact that they could just knock out a half marathon like it was no big thing, like it was just another training run. I remember thinking it remarkable that a person could have so many race t-shirts that they wouldn't mind throwing one away like it was disposable.

I would never just knock off a half-marathon; I would never sacrifice one of my precious race shirts to the pavement. My race shirts were like medals in themselves; I could wear those around campus, and everyone would know that I am a triathlete. And a half marathon is a long, long race! It takes hard training and planning and (like approaching the Most Holy Place) a good amount of fear and trembling (and maybe bells on your ankles).

But that was three years ago (two-and-a-half?). And now?

Now there's a half marathon/5k next weekend, the weekend before my half-ironman. I haven't done any special training for a half marathon; it would be a last-minute decision; I'm definitely not evidencing any signs of fear and/or trembling. But I'm still entertaining the thought of doing it.

So what? It's only a half marathon. I can just knock it out.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Race Report: Overview of the Omnium

All three of us--Shannon, OK Girl, and myself--at Sunday's criterium.

So I've done a bike race.

I wasn't very good at it. I don't like not being good at things. It tends to inspire me to push myself harder and harder until I become better at them (mediocre, at the very least). That's what I've done with triathlon.

This weekend was definitely a learning experience, in a variety of ways:
  • I'm not nearly as strong on the bike as I thought I was. I might be able to hang with some of the faster women in a triathlon, but throw me in with true cyclists, and I'm no match, even in a time trial. And the cycling classes? Um, I don't think they're helping that much.
  • My training is not conducive to racing like this. I have zero endurance at threshold power, even though I've begun some threshold intervals, those are about holding intensity, not wattage, and it apparently doesn't translate. But that's okay. My main focus, at this point in the season, is being able to go the distance for Lawrence 70.3. And once I'm done with that, I can shift my focus to power and speed, try to hit my peak, and really hammer the shorter races and (we hope) the cyclo-cross races.
  • I'm much better at putting three sports together than I am at focusing on one sport exclusively. At least for now.
  • I really, really like criterium style racing. That's why I like cyclo-cross; that's why I like the ITU format; and that's why the Oak Park Crit was my favorite part of this weekend. I think that's the format where I'm most likely to excel, as well.
And there are lots of things I'm trying to keep in mind to silence the "You suck!" voices. There were only three women in the field, so there's no telling how I'd stack up against a field of, say, 30. At my second cyclo-cross race, I ended up right in the middle of the pack, and that might be where I would finish in a bigger race (instead of at the very bottom). My training has focused heavily on running this year, and I've seen my biking and swimming improving at a much slower pace than I saw last year. I haven't been training for this, and if I start, I'll probably be better able to hang with the big girls.

A little more about my training: I really felt for the first time how much difference this year has made in terms of preparation. I have always had the top end speed above everything else, even though I couldn't hold it for very long. But this year I haven't worked at all on developing that, and I can really tell. I never thought I would lose that (and I should know better), but it's not currently there. Which isn't to say it's gone forever, of course. But it won't come back until I work on it.

But I did make enough money to cover my entry fees, plus a little bit extra. And I won a little bit of gear from the prime yesterday. Small field=payouts for everyone! Whee!

So lots to work on. I'm hoping that I can do another stage race towards the end of the summer/beginning of the fall so I can see how I stack up against more women and myself.

Race Report: Kechi TT and Oak Park Crit

The time trial did not go off as I expected, certainly not as I wanted. I'm a triathlete. I should own time trials, man. But I did not own this one.

There were two other women in the TT (only one was a repeat from yesterday). I was the first woman to leave, with one a minute back and the other two minutes back.

Long story short, the girl who started a minute back from me caught me and passed me. I caught her and passed her on the next little incline. She passed me back in the flats. It was the weirdest thing; Saturday I couldn't hang with her on the hills, but on Sunday I couldn't keep her reeled in on the flats.

Very disappointing. It completely bummed me out, actually. All the negative self-talk of Saturday came back. I'm not a cyclist. I'm not strong. I don't belong here. I'm no good. I suck.

I went home and ate lunch, then switched out bikes and headed to Riverside for the criterium, which I decided to do after all (since the worst I could get was third place).

Notice that I am nowhere to be found, in this photo.

The crit was a new experience for me, and one I was pretty nervous about. I would describe my handling skills as decent, but I wasn't sure how well I would react to serious, aggressive pack riding.

Turns out I needn't have worried, because there were only three of us (back to the original three from Saturday), and they decided against combing us with the Cat 5 men because someone said she wasn't comfortable with pack riding.

So it's the three of us--me, Shannon (a Specs teammate), and a girl from Oklahoma--on this .8 mile course, 15 laps for the race with two prime laps. Shannon and I warmed up together, talking over tactics. We determined there was no reason we shouldn't take first and second, seeing as how there were two of us and only one of her. So we planned to keep her out in front, let her set the pace and do most of the work. Then we'd jump at the end and try to drop her.

The course wasn't too challenging. All of the turns were nice and wide, and there were no hills (although there were a few slight gradients). However, there was a section that was paved in brick--cobblestones! Two of the corner marshalls suggested that we try to attack there, since most of the other riders seemed not to like it too much.

We rolled up to the line, had roll call (for all three of us), and once again had the unauspicious beginning of rolling off to the casually-spoken word "go." Shannon set off at a brisk pace, I jumped on her wheel, and OK Girl brought up the rear. We spent most of the first two laps drifting back to let OK Girl take the lead, which she eventually did. Around lap 4, Shannon let on that we should do at least some of the work (although I disagree; if she wants to do everything, I'll let her), so I passed OK Girl to take a pull. I finished the lap, then drifted off the side for rest.

Unfortunately, I had chosen to drop off the front at the beginning of the prime lap, and the other two took off like rockets. I wasn't prepared for that; I wasn't expecting that (of course, I'm not sure I could have hung with them even if I knew it was going to happen). I got my ass dropped.

Shannon took the first prime, and I spent the next 4 or so laps trying to catch them again. I hopped back onto the end, with OK Girl in the lead and Shannon sitting on her wheel. I had just enough time to catch my breath by drafting through that lap before the bell rang again for the prime, and we were off again. This time, I managed to stick with Shannon as she pulled ahead. OK Girl caught my wheel, but we were hammering, and at least I wasn't watching them disappear into the distance this time.

About three-quarters of the way through that lap, Shannon got tired and asked me, "You got it?" I shot off past her like a rocket, and that lasted for about 20 seconds before I fell back, exhausted. They both passed me, with Shannon in the lead. But I pulled just long enough for Shannon to rest and outsprint OK Girl for the prime.

After that prime, it only took me about half a lap to catch them up again. And we sat in, letting OK Girl lead. I snuck up to Shannon's side and tried to discreetly discuss strategy. I told her that I probably didn't have much more than 15-20 seconds of power in my legs, so it would be better if we could drop her with one colossal effort, rather than gradually ratcheting up the speed. In retrospect, it actually would have been better if I could have tried to outsprint her, but I might not have won that contest either.

We decided to try to drop her at the beginning of the 14th lap, right at the cobblestones. OK Girl led us over the line, then Shannon and I jumped, accelerated, and tried to outrun her. Sure enough, about 20 seconds later, my legs decided they had had enough. They gave me the finger, locked up (literally, cramped up tight as rocks), and deposited me back on my seat to do my best to hammer down on the pedals and watch OK Girl pass me in pursuit of Shannon.

They gained about half a lap on me through that lap and the next one, but Shannon managed to outsprint her at the end. So at least the team brought home the win. I gave it all I had, and managed to finish only about 5 seconds back from those two.

The result was the same as Saturday, and in this race, OK Girl was still just so much stronger than me. She's like a freakin' ox. Strong as a horse, that one. But I felt much better after the crit than I did after the TT. I'm not sure why. I think I just really like the criterium format. That's probably why I enjoyed cyclo-cross so much, too. And I was happy to get to work with a teammate, and work well together. We could have executed better in terms of strategy, but considering that it was our first time really riding together, I can't imagine it going any more smoothly than it did.

Most importantly, none of my fears about criterium racing came true. I executed every corner without trouble, I bumped wheels (both from the back and from the side) a couple times, and didn't have any problem. I just stayed relaxed and comfortable, like Nicole Freedman taught us, and had no trouble at all.

Of course, the handling isn't enough, and I need to work on my power output, but I'll talk about that more in my next post, when I review the entire Omnium experience.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pre-Race: Kechi Time Trial and Oak Park Criterium

Tomorrow, I'm doing my first crit.

I hope I don't hurt anyone.

At least the time trial should be good, yeah?

Race Report: Latham Road Race

Well almost none of my fears were realized. I did get dropped, and pretty early, too. But I managed to catch a small group and work my way midway through that before the pack broke up.

There were only two other women racing, so they combined our race with the cat 5 men. That downgraded our distance from 60 miles (2 laps) to 30 (one lap). I wasn't too excited about that, because I needed a long ride for training purposes today, and 60 miles would have been perfect. But as I talked with my teammates, I quickly began to appreciate the fact that my first road race would be considerably shorter than I had earlier planned.

Absolutely no pomp accompanied the start. We scooted up to the line for roll call and sat for a minute. Then one of the officials noticed that the hand cyclists were coming to the finish, and said, "Okay, we're gonna start a little early so we can clear out for the hand bikes. Cyclists read? Go!" And we went. There were a couple dozen of us, mostly cat 5 men, us three women, and one junior male. The start was much more gentle than I expected, given what I've seen of cyclo-cross, where you start with an early sprint for position.

Within the first quarter mile, there's a sharp turn and a steep hill. Then there's another hill, and another, and another . . . the whole course is rolling. Now admittedly, "rolling" in Kansas is sort of a separate thing from "rolling" in, say, a place where there actually hills. But the course was still pretty tough, because the hills just keep coming. There's no recovery on the entire course; the whole thing seems like it's up and down, and the downs are never quite long enough.

Anyway, someone jumped on one of the early hills, and everyone tried to stay with him, which stretched the field out considerably. And I--climber that I am--completely lost the group. Yep. I got dropped in the first five minutes.

There was some really nasty self-talk during that period. "I suck. Why did I even come out here? I'm not a roadie, I'm not a cyclist. I'm a triathlete. Guess teaching cycling classes all the time doesn't help me that much. I might as well just settle in for a $30 training ride and call it a day." This low point was compounded by the fact that the wheel vehicle passed me at about this time, following the rest of the racers. Man that sucked.

But I saw a couple of other riders up ahead, and figured I could work my way back up to them. And one of them happened to be my cross yoda, so that gave me further incentive to catch them. It took several minutes, but I finally hopped onto their (short) paceline and we all worked through, taking our own turns pulling. After another few miles, we caught the other two girls, who were working together (I assume). We picked them up, along with another guy, somewhere along the way (although he dropped off the back pretty quickly). So we had a pack of six, for a while.

And that was nice. I'd pacelined before, but never at this intensity level. I'd never experienced the difference between working so hard for a short time, then sitting in and recovering. No wonder intervals are so important to cycling.

We got within about 7 miles of the finish before I got dropped again. We'd just come down a long hill (very glad we didn't have to go up that one, by the way). I was second in line, and one of the other women was leading. We started up another hill, and she kept gaining on me. The rest of the pack was dropping back, too, and I called out, "Gap!" At that point, though, she was in her own rhythm and climbing on her own. She broke away and we never caught her.

The other woman was right behind me, with the rest of our pack (only two men left, at this point) falling farther and farther behind. I started pursuing Shannon, but she put more and more time into me going up that hill. We crested the hill (my heart was thumping and I could barely turn my legs). I thought that I might be able to catch her on the downhill, but it wasn't long enough. We came quickly to another hill, and she pulled away some more. She was gone, unless there was a long (really long!) flat stretch coming up (there wasn't) and I could keep her within striking distance (I couldn't).

But at this same time, the other chick was right behind me. She'd pass me on the uphills, I'd pass her on the downhills and flats. We finally hit a long downhill with a slight flat stretch immediately following, and I dropped her by about 50 meters. I thought I had her.

Then we hit the inevitable next hill. She blew past me with no apparent effort. Just out for a pleasure cruise. I kept her within striking distance for about the next mile, but there were just too many hills. Towards the end, I could see them cresting the hills ahead, and the chaser was catching the lead woman (I found out later that the lead woman had dropped her chain).

The wheel vehicle passed me again, and I began vascillating between bouts of "You can still catch 'em! C'mon, in the drops, and work this next downhill!" and "Oh God. I suck. I want this to be over." I started looking for landmarks that would tell me the end was near. Finally, we passed Latham cemetary, and I knew we were within a mile of the end. I could still see the other two women, could even see them as they crossed the finish line, but it was definitely too late to catch them. With that knowledge firmly in my mind, I settled into my drops to make sure that I finished as strongly as possible.

I didn't sprint, at the end. I've got a one-hour run scheduled for later today and a 2800 m swim tomorrow--not to mention the time trial and crit, the other two elements of the Wichita Stage Race. Considering that my position (3rd place AND last place; woohoo!) was set, it seemed unnecessary for me to kick it to the end with tomorrow's races looming on the horizon. Better to save some juice for a finish at the TT than blow it on looking good at the finish line today.

So that was my first foray into road racing. I hope it won't be the last, but it probably won't be a regular thing. I'm just not strong enough. If I concentrated on building some biking power, I might be able to hang a little better. But I'm a triathlete, still, and I like the challenge of putting all three sports together. Maybe as I improve as a triathlete, I'll improve as a cyclist, too; in fact, I know I will. It's only a matter of time.

30 miles
19.4 MPH

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pre-Race: Atlanta/Latham Road Race

 Ruh-roh. They look pretty tough, don't they?
Pic courtesy of Lanterne Rouge.

Tomorrow I'm doing my first-ever cycling road race.

Remember the first time I did a cyclo-cross race and totally had my ass handed me?


I'm nervous about this one. I've never raced like this. I have minimal experience with pack riding. I don't know if I'll be able to keep up. I'm not hip on the etiquette and afraid I might embarass my team (oh, and myself, too). I'm afraid I might crash and there goes my half Ironman. I'm afraid I might do something dumb and make a whole bunch of other people crash. I'm afraid everyone will be snooty and/or bitchy.

I'm just generally kind of freaked out.

But whatever. The worst that can happen is that I finish dead last and everyone is already gone by the time I get back.

And that's already happened once before.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Race Report: International Boathouse Triathlon

 See that? That's my baby. That's what I have instead of a girlfriend.
This race was awesome.

It was way smaller than I expected. It was way better organized than I expected. And it was way easier than I expected. Here we go . . .

My parents came along with me on this one. At the last triathlons races we attended as a family, we were late. Really late. No-chance-to-warm-up kind of late. So I insisted that we leave no later than 5:30 for a race that started at 7:30. Woke up at 5, and we were out the door by 5:30. Awesome.

Pre-race activities included picking up timing chip and swim cap, along with body marking. Transition area was tiny--there were only about 225 athletes racing the age group race. Pre-race rituals progressed as they should, except for a few little hang-ups. I had a great run warm-up, but when I tried to go out for a bike warm-up, the Gatekeeper stopped me at the bike in/out timing mats and asked if I had already racked my bike. "Um, yeah . . ." Apparently, once you racked your bike it had to stay racked. I've never encountered that rule before. Anyone have any idea as to what the point is?

Also, ran out of time for a swim warm-up, because there was a mandatory (pointless) pre-race meeting. Interesting tidbit, though--there were somewhere in the range of 30 USAT officials at this race, I assume because of the elite and junior elite races the day before. This is the first race where I've actually seen penalties in the results, I think.

The swim took us under a bridge AND a railroad trestle!
Swim: 1500 m, 33:14 (32:18 unofficial, 2:01/100 yd)
Oh man that river was dirty. Not as dirty as Lake Afton (of the infamous Mudwater!), but pretty damn close. It was dirty enough that I'd watched the pros come out of the water the day before with what looked like a reddish-brown 5 o'clock shadow. Apparently, the North Canadian River contains a good amount of silt in the Oklahoma City area. Interesting.

Actually, even with the mud, the swim wasn't at all bad. The water didn't have that muddy smell/taste that truly dirty lakes have, and didn't taste bad when I inevitably swallowed some of it. And I still haven't gotten sick, so woohoo!

The swim felt almost effortless. I'd been a little worried about it, since last Monday was my first open water swim after a long winter off and it hadn't gone very well. Actually, I was an absolute mess. But Saturday, everything seemed to come right back to me. I didn't push myself overly hard, and I lost sight of the lead pack pretty early on. But the wave behind me didn't catch up to me, for the most part, and I did manage to catch a few of the men from the wave immediately before us. I remember while swimming thinking about how confident I was, how smooth and capable I felt, and how I needed to include that in my race report.

But now that I've seen the results--seen that my swim ranked 25 out of 42--I'm a little disappointed. I feel like I should be swimming better than this; I should be able to go around 28 minutes for a 1500 at this point, and should certainly rank in the better half of the pack for the swim. Honestly, I feel like I'm moving backwards with my swim. But that's a topic for another post. I'll just say that I was happy and feeling good, coming out of the water.

Oh! And there were wetsuit strippers! I have never been at a race that's had wetsuit strippers before! They were literally right at the swim exit, which didn't give me time to unzip my wetsuit and wriggle my arms free, so it was unnecessarily time-consuming; I could have done it faster myself in transition. I think that's what added the extra minute to my official swim time.

Way to get the most flattering shot of me, Dad.
T1: 48 seconds
Fourth best in the field. Only three women faster than me through T1, and one of them is an elite.

"Grr! Get that turn!"

Bike: 40 km, 1:17:59 (19.1 MPH)
The hardest part of this section (besides the shitty pavement) was keeping my effort level in check. It was a four-lap out-and-back course. I went out hard on the first lap, just to get things going, then sent my heart rate into the red zone on the second lap trying to pass someone on an uphill. Got past her, got up the hill, and had no zoom. I was going 15 MPH in the flats. At that point, I realized that I really needed to back off for the next two laps. Lap four, maybe I could drop the hammer (but just a little hammer).

The course was scenic, but not a ton of fun. The road was poor--the first portion coming away from transition was under construction. I wrote a review of the course, so if you want to hear all about it, you can go to and read all about it.

I worked hard on the bike, and felt I put forth a good effort. I worked hard, but kept my heart rate and breathing under control. I did well with handling, executing the corners at either end of the course well at a decent speed. But again, looking at the results, I feel like I should be doing better; I should be around 21 MPH, at this point, not 19.

"Ooh look! A quarter!"
T2: 53 seconds
I forgot all about taking my feet out of my shoes at the end of the bike course, so this was a little slow. Also, trying to jog in road shoes really sucks ass.

That is not a tan; that is mud.

Run: 10 km, 57:38 (9:16/mile)
This was really the proudest part of my day. I nailed this run like I've never nailed an Olympic-distance run before. Although I suppose that's not a huge deal, considering this is only my third race at the distance.

Once again, the course consisted of four out-and-back loops, which made it unbelievably easy. On the first loop, I could think already about how nice it would feel to be on that next loop, and before I knew it, I was on the second loop! And 2.5 km is not very far to run--that's like a mile and a half! So the out-and-back went really quickly.

It was interesting to see all the different people on the run. Pretty much everyone was on the run course at the same time. I passed the fastest racer, and I passed the slowest racer--you saw everyone, at some point. And it was pretty cool to run past the spectators and have them cheering at so many points on the course. Really, the feel of the ITU style course was just so different!

The support was unbeatable--two aid stations on each loop, for a total of eight aid stations total. The volunteers were great, very helpful and encouraging. And there were USAT officials positioned at crucial points on the course to make certain you didn't run the wrong way.

I had enough left for an awesome kick at the end, had my name announced, had people yelling and screaming for me, and I saw my name on the Jumbotron after I crossed the line. It was pretty cool. And the post-race food was the best I've ever seen!

Silt + Powerade + 3 hours of racing = instant beard! Don't worry; I've shaved since this was taken.

Total: 2:50:30
This is a 25-minute PR for me, and I met my big goal of breaking three hours. I am completely happy with my performance. I know I pushed it, I know I gave all I had on the day, and I can see how drastically I've improved (also, I didn't repeat the fueling mistakes of Wildflower).

At the same time, I know I can do better. I placed 23 out of 42--just outside of the top 50%. I can do better than that. I can swim a 28-minute 1500 m. I can bike 21+ MPH. And I can run 8:30 miles on a 10k. So while I've allowed myself time to enjoy my success, congratulate myself on a PR, and eat junk food (okay, just on Monday), I know that with hard work and the proper training, I'm going to be doing better by next year. Hell--I'm going to be doing better by the end of the season!

So hurray for me! And on to the next thing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I know! It's been like two weeks with nary a word from me (unless you happen to follow me on Twitter).

I spent all of last week in Ohio, relaxing with my very laid-back aunt and uncle and training in the hills of Amish Country (not kidding; actually biked passed several horse-drawn buggies).

Did you realize that Ohio has hills? Lots and lots of them. Somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew this. I knew when I asked my aunt and uncle if I could chill at their place for a week that I would be encountering a few rollers in my training. I've driven those hills; I've gotten carsick on those hills. But until you get out and bike and run on 'em, you don't really know what you're up against.

But I am absolutely positively not complaining. The course of Ironman 70.3 Lawrence has changed since last year, but I'm sure it's still a beast. Lawrence has some pretty rolling terrain, and I am decidedly unprepared to encounter it. Or was unprepared, although after this week's long ride, I feel like I can probably take it on.

This week was not by any means strictly training, however; it wasn't really a training camp. Yeah, I brought my bikes (both) and my running shoes (3 different pairs) and my wetsuit (which I never got around to using), but my plan of attack was simply to relax, and I can confidently say that I accomplished my mission. I slept a good 9-10 hours every night, with a few naps thrown in for good measure. I ate wonderfully (thanks to my generous relations). And I got to meet up with some family (including my cousin's newborn baby).

I didn't feel as refreshed as I would have liked, coming back. In fact, this week has sucked ass. But at least now it's almost over. And this weekend, I'm going to Oklahoma City to race the International Boathouse Triathlon, so look for the pre-race report tomorrow!

Thank you guys for hanging with me.