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.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Next Step: Getting Faster


At the Derby tri on Sunday, as I was relaxing (and eating cookies) with one of the athletes I've trained, she said something that's stuck with me all week:

"I just need to get faster."

A lot of readers who find their way to this blog are just getting started. But I have a feeling that there are many more of you who have a few races under your belts. You've done that first event, felt the rush of finishing (no matter how long it took or how hard it felt), and are now into it enough that you feel comfortable telling people, "Yeah, I'm a triathlete."

But there's a problem. You're beyond the point where just finishing is enough; you've "just finished" a couple times, and are tired of being stuck on the last page of the results. Or maybe you've done a few races and have seen your run or bike or swim get a little bit faster each time, but now those times are starting to slide backwards. You want to be faster.
How the hell do you do that?
As a coach, I could give you some basic guidelines about building aerobic base and improving technique and working out in a group and getting on a training plan and blah blah blah. And all of those things are good.
But what will be much more valuable, I think, is to tell you from personal experience what's worked for me. Because I've gone through the experience of spending a few months working hard and training and reading online articles and blogs and doing everything right . . . and then being shocked to find my name still one of the bottom ten. Um, I've also had races where I didn't do anything right and didn't train enough and went in thinking, "I'm tough; I'll get through in such-and-such a time." Have to say I wasn't really shocked to be one of the last five across the line that time, though.

The point is that I didn't have the experience of coming into the sport and being good at it right away. I was a back-of-the-packer (still am, sometimes), and have worked hard to get into the competitive reaches of my age group (at least at small races). That's how most of us do this sport, right? We're not going to be pros (wrong genetics), but we work hard and we get to where we consistently get an age-group or division medal, maybe even expect to win. We can certainly work our way up into the top quarter of all finishers, whatever our genetics.
That's the question I want to address: How do you start getting faster?

I started out trying to address it all in one post. Then, after I previewed it and realized it would take hours to say all I wanted to say, I decided to break it up. So over the next few weeks, I'll be talking about my take (based on personal experience) on how to get from beginner to competitor.
  • Consistency
  • Technique
  • Specific training
  • Racing
  • Single-sport focus
  • Chasing it down
Look for the article on consistency to appear on Monday. See you then, and happy training!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Performance

Take that, hipsters!



(Just to clarify, I have nothing against fixies. But we all just ride them to get stronger, right?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beginners' Guide: The Proper Application of Body Glide


I don't think that I've ever chafed as much as I did at this last race.

There are always blisters, mind you. There's always at least one toe that gets rubbed a little raw, and I walk funny for a couple days after.

But this time, I have blisters on the ends of most of my toes, the back of my heels, a nasty-looking cut from where the chip-timing band cut into my leg, and a little spot on my right hip that's from God-only-know-what.

All that to say that lube is important. And if you're a newbie, you might not know that.

Body Glide is probably the most popular choice for triathletes and runners, but you have other options as well. I've found that Chamois Butt'r, which is more popular with cyclists, works just as well and is easier to apply, in some cases. I'm sure there are other suitable options, as well. But Body Glide seems to be the one that most triathletes use, so I'll stay within that realm for the purpose of not confusing the hell out of everyone.

Body Glide looks like a stick of deodorant. It's a lubricant that will help prevent chafing in . . . all kinds of uncomfortable places. It's an important thing to have in your gear bag, whether you're swimming, cycling, running, or doing all three.

But where do you put the stuff? Are there any sort of guidelines for which areas need to be covered?

Before I answer that question, understand that Body Glide is probably not something that you want to share with your friends or teammates unless you are very, very close.

That said, there aren't really any guidelines as far as where you use Body Glide. The main thing is to put it wherever you find you blister or chafe. But here are a few places that I find it to be really helpful.

Feet
Backs of the ankles, tips of the toes, side of the big toes, in between the toes (particularly between the fourth toe and the little toe), and the inside of the medial sides of your feet. Body Glide will help prevent blisters, so be liberal with it on your tootsies, especially if you're planning to race without socks. I also like to put Body Glide on the backs of my cycling and running shoes, where they rub my ankles.

Legs
Sometimes I have trouble with chafing along the elastic leg-gripper bands on bike shorts; this isn't usually an issue with silicone grippers, I've noticed. More importantly, hit the creases of your thighs with the stuff, right where the leg joins your hip. I've had that area rubbed raw by the flat-lock seams of the chamois in my tri shorts; it seems like it's worse in tri shorts. If you have thighs that rub together (like me) when you run, you can also rub Body Glide in that area, and you'll be much less likely to deal with those uncomfortable quarter-sized patches on the insides of your legs that take forever to heal and hurt like a mofo.

Arms
Armpits, especially if you shave them. Even a little stubble can be excruciating if your arms are swinging back and forth for hours at a time. Also hit the insides of your arms all over. It's entirely possible that you'll have a seam in your top that can rub the soft inside of your upper arm raw. That's another place that's very uncomfortable and takes a while to heal.

Wetsuits
Very important to have some Body Glide if you have a wetsuit swim. Put body glide on your wrists and ankles first, to make it easier to slide the suit over your hands and feet. Also put body glide all around your neck, or wherever the suit hits you, and on the insides of your arms, if you have a sleeveless suit.

In addition to Body Glide, you can do yourself the favor of not wearing cotton for racing or training, and that includes socks. Technical clothing is more expensive, but it's well worth it in terms of value and comfort. So drop the extra $20 for the good stuff. Improper run mechanics and ill-fitting shoes can cause blistering, so work on your run form and make sure you have quality shoes. These seem like things that wouldn't be a big deal, but they can make a big difference in how you feel on race day, which translates to a better race.

Beyond those basic (and very common) guidelines to prevent chafing, you need to find your own way. For example, I have got this spot on my hip about two inches above my ASIS that is rubbed raw. I have no idea what did it; it's never happened before; but you can bet that I'll be putting some lube over that spot before my next race.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Race Report: Derby Rock 'n' Route Tri


I only have one thing to say.

Boo-yah.

I don't know when this race got to be such high stakes for me. Maybe it was the thought of smashing my time from Emporia. Maybe it was the promise of a small field, and a chance to place high. Maybe it was the local feel, a race where everybody knows your name.

Or maybe it was that the (awesome) race director pulled in a big sponsor (Wal Mart) that donated a couple of iPods for the top finishers.

Whatever the reason, I came into this race with high expectations. And I feel like I (and the race) delivered on them.

Pre-race
I did this one alone, and I was okay with that. I set up a nice playlist for pre-gaming. Okay, actually (as a quick aside) I set up three playlists: one for 4:30-5:30 (wake up/shower/eat/drive to race site), one for 5:30-6:00 (packet pick-up and transition set-up), and one for 6:00-7:00 (my "get in the zone" mix). I know. It is a little excessive.


Anyway, I didn't really have anyone coming to cheer me on. No family present. Plenty of people I know were/would be there, but all of us were there to race. No one spectating for me. And I was (I think for the first time) completely okay with that. I was there to race for myself. I wasn't trying to impress anyone. I was going mano y mano with yours truly, and I was going to see how I measured up.

Also, my family was kind of getting on my nerves this week.

Transition was smaller than I expected, but definitely more crowded. There were chip-timing mats everywhere, indicative of getting really good splits. I set up quickly, collected everything I would need, and headed out to make sure my TT bike was in good working condition (because, um, I hadn't been on it for two weeks prior to that day). Everything seemed to be okay (ha!), and I had my bike shoes on my pedals (which is the real reason I warm up on the bike), so I re-racked and headed out for a little run.

Oh boy did it feel good. I felt strong. I felt confident. I felt like a runner.

I felt like I was gonna kick some ass.

Swim: 400 m, 8:28 (2:07/100 m)
This race was set up similar to Emporia: pool swim, time-trial style, with athletes leaving every 20 seconds. So we had a long, friendly snake traveling the length of the pool. I was anti-social and kept my headphones in until the last possible second, trying to simultaneously psych myself up and calm myself down. I definitely got the psyched part, no sweat.

When the moment finally came, I wasn't quite expecting it. The race official said, "Number 53, GO!" and I went. I just hopped in and wasn't totally prepped and ended up with a little water up my nose. But I pushed off anyway and went for it.

The lap pool at Rock River Rapids is long course. I haven't been in a long course pool since the last time I went back to USC, which was over a year ago. I forgot how nice it is. But because of that, you get one lane all to yourself. None of the down-and-back crap we have to deal with at Emporia; no worrying about running into another swimmer because he/she can't stay on his/her side of the lane line; no messy congestion if someone (heaven forbid) should need to pass. Just one big, wide, long lane all to yourself. Flip turns under the rope at the end of each length, too. I flubbed the first three, but nailed the fourth one and didn't have any trouble after that.

The guy right behind me caught up to me at about the 300 m mark. He had pretty much passed me when we came to the wall, and I would have let him go except he took so long to turn! He stopped and grabbed the wall and turned around and pushed off and by the time he did all that, I had already flip turned under him and was gone. He pulled alongside me again, and I was kind of anxious for him to pass; I would have appreciated the draft! But I kept on my own pace, and he apparently didn't have enough to get past me. By the end of that second-to-last length, I was in front of him again, and stayed there the whole time. 

The swim felt so, so good. I felt like a fish. Somewhere in the middle I'm sure I had a little moment of feeling myself slowing and starting to fight the water, but I got it worked out and stayed slow and smooth the whole time. I'm kind of surprised by my time, for that reason. 8:28? It felt like I was swimming fast enough to go with no more than 7:30! But I (ahem) hadn't been in the pool for a while, and I guess that is bound to happen when you have a little lay-off. At any rate, I felt strong and capable, and set myself up for a nice bike.

T1: 23 seconds
Fastest time of all competitors. I am a bad-ass.

Bike: 14 miles, 43:42 (19.2 MPH and second-fastest female split)
Wow. I really thought it was faster than that. Ah well.

The bike is where things started to get interesting. Because (like I said earlier) I haven't been on my TT bike lately; I've been spending a lot of time with the roadies, getting ready for cyclocross, building some power. So the first thing was I didn't know if my bike was going to work. I mean, I assumed it would; no reason why it shouldn't. But then again, things have a way of happening to bikes that sit in the garage for long stretches of time, and this one hadn't been ridden in a couple of weeks. Long story short, everything did not work. I had no speedometer. Which wasn't the end of the world, as I wasn't racing with a heart rate monitor or even a watch. So the lack of one more bit of data wasn't too crushing.

The other result of my long absence from aero was that my body was a little cranky in the tucked position. First thing out on the bike course (after I got into my bike shoes, that is), my hamstrings started cramping really bad. And I thought right away about how stupid it was to ignore my poor Specialized for so long.

Plus, the course was hilly and windy. And these (of course) are not big hills. These are not even medium hills. These are just tiny little bumps in the road, but they just kept coming! And combined with the wind, it was a fairly tough course. But I was trucking along so well, so still I'm shocked that my average speed was just barely over 19 MPH; I figured it would be closer to 21. I guess the hills and the wind too their toll.

It was certainly work. The wind was coming sort of from the south and east, so we had a headwind/crosswind going two directions. And even with the (baby) hills, there aren't a lot of trees in the area, so there's plenty of places where you really have no protection from the wind's gusting. It wasn't the worst I've been out in (no 40 MPH gusts today!), but it was enough to make the effort noticeably harder, and the speed (apparently) noticeably slower.

There was one incredibly wonderful stretch of flat road with a good tailwind, and I managed to hammer pretty well through that section. Of course, I don't know how well, because my speedometer wasn't working. And then the end of the bike course took us through a suburban neighborhood. Lots of twists and turns. I made up some more time on competitors there.

All-told, I don't feel like I got as much out of the bike as I normally do, as I could have and should have. And I think a lot of it has to do with the kind of training I've been doing recently. Not that I necessarily regret the direction I've taken, and I don't think I would have changed it. Well, maybe I would have gotten out on my Specialized at least once this last week.

T2: 24 seconds
Third out of all the women on this one. That's okay, I guess (wink wink).


Run: 5 k, 26:45 (8:36/mile)
Oh boy did this hurt. Right at the end of the bike course, I managed to pass four women. Three of those four passed me within the first mile (the fourth passed me near 2.5 miles). That part wasn't what hurt, though; I figured I put enough time into them on the bike that I could beat all but one of them in the overall standings (so weird, this staggered start thing).

The part that hurt was the running. I put out a lot of effort on the bike; I could feel it while I was doing it. And I knew that I was going to pay for it on the run, but I was flirting with that thin line between going hard and exploding.

On this run, I kept waiting for the explosion.

It never came, which was good, but I still suffered quite a bit. Derby is fairly rolling, but--again--we're not really talking hills, here. More like false flats. Little downhills, little uphills. Well, at least one big uphill, and one long, gradual incline in the last half mile.

This was the part of the race where I regretted not wearing a watch. I think I could have pushed myself a little better if I'd had some sense of pacing. I'd really like to be one of those athletes who can push entirely off of perceived exertion, but I'm not (yet). I do really well with a heart rate number that tells me, "Hey! Only 178! You can go faster!" or a pace reading that says, "8:20 for that last mile; you can surely keep that up, right?" Perceived exertion . . . I feel like I just don't have the focus to go my hardest and hold it there, especially with triathlon. In a bike race, it's easy; all I have to do is ask myself, "Would I be able to run after this?" and if the answer is yes, I need to work harder. But triathlon is so much more about conservation, and it's hard to get out of that mindset on the run. I kept telling myself, "Even if you do blow up, so what? What else do you have to do today, anyway?" But I still felt myself slowing down.

Towards the end, I caught one of the girls who had passed me early on. She was slowing down quite a bit, obviously suffering. Throughout the run, I'd told myself that all I needed to do was just keep contact with her, and I would be able to sprint by her at the end. Around the 2-mile marker, I realized I probably wouldn't have to sprint by her. I pulled along side her and we started chatting (in pants and gasps). She was cramping. It was her first race. She'd never felt anything like this before. I started to pull away from her on an uphill.

Then I felt a niggling little sting at the back of my ankle. Blister. Uh-oh. It came on suddenly and it came on hard. It was sharp. It was unbearable, actually. I thought back to when I was putting on Body Glide; it seemed at the time like I was forgetting some place very important, and I knew now what it was. I have these Zoot racing flats that I love. They're light and dashy looking and perfect for what I use them for. But if I don't put lube on the backs of my ankles, they cut the dickens out of them. And I'd forgotten. (Quick note: the back part of my shoe is all bloody from where it rubbed my ankle raw.)

Suddenly all the other pain in my body was magnified, and I had trouble concentrating. The girl I had recently passed was pacing off of me beautifully. I wanted to tell her good job, but I didn't have the energy anymore. At the next water stop, I slowed down to grab a drink, and that was my big tactical error. The other girl kept running at the same speed, and I never came close to her again; she was completely out of sight by the time I finished. She was 19, though, and I think she was carrying some adrenaline she hadn't used yet. Once she figured out she'd dropped me, I'm sure she took off like a rabbit.

After that, it was just a process of ignoring the blister on my Achilles and hanging on 'til the end. That long, steady uphill came at the end, and I got passed again. I tried for a second to run with her, but I just couldn't. My right rhomboid and glute medius were both in knots, and that blister was surprisingly annoying! I had just enough energy to summon an acceleration at the end. Nothing like a plane coming in for a landing, I'm afraid, but enough to get a few cheers from the crowd.

Still, bad as it hurt, and hard as I faded at the end, I'm pleased with my run. It's not as fast as I think I have in me (I'm going sub-24 next year, just wait), but considering how bad I tightened up on the bike and how hard I pushed with the wind and hills, I think 26-ish is respectable.

Total: 1:19:43, 2nd F 20-24, 6th overall
I was three minutes and three spots away from overall podium. One of these days I'm gonna get there, you know.

One little niggling thought that has stayed with me all day is how self-absorbed I am. I want to be one of those quality athletes who's always staying 'til the last person crosses the line, watching and clapping, everybody's cheerleader. That's not my personality to begin with, so it's unlikely. But I feel like I need to get outside of myself more. Be a little less self-involved, what with my race and my results and me me me all the time. I'm not sure how to do that. But I think that as I get to know more and more of the local athletes, it'll come more and more naturally.

I'm happy with this race. I'm happy with how I performed, especially considering my recent training. I'm happy that I'm getting to the place where I know people by sight (and they know me), where we can catch up with each others' lives at every race, where we're a community. I think it's growing in Wichita, and it's exciting to see. And it's a good reminder that speed (i.e. 19 MPH) is relative; the course and the way the day plays out are going to impact objective performance, and that's okay.

Also, I'm happy to have another medal to add to my personal shrine.

But I'm still not satisfied. I've had several second-place finishes, this year; I've had three top-tens. I'm ready to go for the top of the podium; I'm ready to be number one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Checking In

Just a few notes . . .

First off, watch this. Moderately amusing. A pleasant way to spend a few minutes of your boring, boring day.

Second, check out Racevine.com. They're currently running a competition for race reports! I won something, and I never win anything. I really like this site. Gives me a chance to use my expensive English major. And I have high hopes for what it's going to become. So go check them out! Help them become!

Third, I totally had my ass handed to me in an actual group ride with actual cyclists. And I realized, as I was having my ass dropped for the umpteenth time, that I have never been on a group ride with cyclists; I've only been out with triathletes. And triathletes I can hang with. Awesome cyclists who are just cyclists? Not so much. Seriously. My ass. Handed to me. Give me a few weeks, though. I'll be owning those Wednesday night sprints after a while.

I'm racing Sunday. Look for the race report soon. Hoping for a good showing on this one, even though I'm past my prime. I think I'll do well.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Race Report: Clearwater Summer Scorcher 1 mile and 5k

My preparation for this race was not optimal.

It involved abnormally large quantities of beer (which for me is anything more than two drinks) and not much sleep.

Yesterday, I also (for some reason) felt it was a good idea to swim (which I haven't done in a week and a half), do a hard 30-minute spinning session, and take two different group classes--a yoga and a Pilates. Do not ask me why I thought this made sense. I was feeling fat and lazy and trying to overcompensate for it all. And besides (I told myself, when the sensible part of my brain tried to politely suggest that I am an idiot) swimming, spinning, yoga, and Pilates are all different things! They're not running! I'll be fine.

Clearwater is my home town, by the way. I spent my middle school and high school years in a district that routinely took top honors at the state cross country meet. I, of course, wasn't a part of that; the only sport I ever played in high school was football (my coaches asked if I had asthma, because I ran so slow and breathed so hard). So even though this was my first year at this race, I expected a fairly significant field of young, fast runners.

It's been a while since I've run a straight-up 5k; in fact, I can't remember the last time I've done one (have I ever done one?). The last mile I did was the Jingle Bell Run last year, and I did 7:49 there. So I was hoping to set PRs for both races, but obviously wasn't taking that goal too seriously, or I would have behaved differently yesterday.


The 1 mile started at 7:00 a.m. I was not feeling my best. I wasn't hung over, but my stomach was rumbling and squishing and generally making me uncomfortable. And I knew that I hadn't prepared adequately to run my best. Late nights, booze, and hard training do not make for fast legs. Add to that the fact that I haven't really been training (as a runner), and a PR does not look likely.

At the gun, I tried to go out fast but not too fast, and immediately wished I were somewhere else. The first thoughts in my mind were "I don't want to do a 5k later; I don't even want to do this." Fortunately, a mile is not very far. And each stretch we ran was only a couple blocks; having the run so broken up was helpful. I remember coming around the last turn onto the main road through town. I checked my watch, and it was just ticking over 6:00. I thought, "Holy cow! I could still come in under 7:00, I bet!" But I felt like I was running through Jell-o, and the last three blocks were longer than they looked. I crossed the line in 7:27, feeling awful, but happy with my new PR. I also got first place in my age group! A new trophy for the shrine!

During the mile, I felt generally miserable, and really didn't want to run the 5k. If it had been just me, I would have DNSed it and gone home. But my dad was running (just) the 5k, and there was no way I was going to bail on him. At about that point, I did decide to scrap the PR plans, and just run at my dad's pace, try to help him do really well.

We settled into a comfortable pace, although every time I looked at my heart rate monitor, I was surprised by the numbers that I saw. 166? Really? At a 10-minute-mile pace? About halfway through the 5k, I realized that the humidity was probably taking its toll on our bodies, jacking my heart rate way up and making me regret wearing a shirt. 

The last mile or so, my dad really started slowing down. The 5k course ends with a long (for Kansas) uphill, a similar downhill, and then one more block to the finish. We toiled up that hill, and at the top I said, "Hey Dad, you see that guy with his shorts bunched up between his fat little thighs? Well do you think you can catch him?" And with that, I took off down the hill, trying to get my pop to use his momentum to carry him past the fat dude. We did catch the fat guy, but had nothing left for a kick. I think that was another effect of the humidity.

We finished the 5k in 30:20. Afterwards, I sort of regretted not running as hard as I could. But on this day, in these conditions, I guess it was understandable (if not exactly commendable). I don't know what I might have done had I actually tried. But there will be other 5ks, there will be other PRs, there will be other opportunities to break 24:00. I can wait.

Even with the new PR, this race didn't feel particularly successful. My legs were dead in a way I haven't felt in a while--maybe since after my last half marathon. It's not so much that they hurt. And they were working well; my form was fine--probably better than usual. But my legs just didn't have the power and force I wanted to demand from them today. And the humidity was palpable. Only 65% or so, with a heat index around 80*. But it felt much worse than that, and I know that made a difference.

Still, 7:27 is the best I've ever run, and I'm starting to see that sub-7:00 performance within reach. On a good day, with proper training and preparation, I think I could run sub-7:00 . . . well, not exactly easily, but without going beyond the red-lining zone. And I'm sure I'll have that opportunity soon.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Race Report: Wichita Specs Criterium


You know, one of these days I'm going to do a crit with more than a couple of women and see how I really stack up . . .

But today was not that day. Today, there were 4 women in the Cat 3/4 field: myself, two other Specs riders (Shannon and Alicia), and a local, unattached, wicked-strong woman (Beth).

Because this was a small race and it was 3-on-1 and Beth is wicked crazy strong and we're not men, so the egos involved are considerably smaller, this was definitively a training race. For everyone except Beth, that is, although I suppose you could consider it coach training. Because she was definitely coaching us.

During the warm-up, Shannon, Alicia, and I discussed race strategy. Or rather, Shannon related what Beth had suggested that we do. May I just say that riding with teammates is a blast. I enjoy the aspect of team strategy and having a few partners to rely on.

Our strategy was to keep trying to attack, constantly making her chase one of us down so she couldn't rest. Hopefully, we would be able to keep her reeled in, then lead each other out in a group sprint to the finish.

The course was fairly mild, with only one truly sharp corner. The rest of the corners were either more curved, or the roads were wide enough that it didn't make sense to make a sharp turn. There was a little wind on the back stretch, which gradually shifted to the home straightaway. That meant that there was only one really ideal place to attack--that first sharp corner, although there's always opportunity to attack.

And attack we did. The first lap, everyone took it easy, Beth instructing us all the way. The second lap, I tried to go off the front. Beth caught me easily. We worked on pace-lining, protecting our strongest rider, keeping Beth from edging into our pace-line, blocking the draft by guttering another rider . . . feel like I learned a lot in this race.

We tried to keep attacking, but couldn't make anything stick. Mostly, I think that Alicia and I weren't strong enough and couldn't recover fast enough to keep attacking with the pace and ferocity we would have needed to break Beth down. But it was never discouraging. I never had that moment of "Oh shit! I suck at this!" that came at the Omnium.

Because I'm stronger now than I was then. I've been putting some more time in on my road bike. I've been hitting my spinning classes a little harder. I've been working on my handling skills. I've started lifting weights again (I still hate it, BTW). I'm a better cyclist than I was in May.


Anyway, I tried again to attack with something like 7 laps to go. Shannon countered after Beth pulled me back, and I couldn't keep up. Alicia and I fell off the back. We worked together brilliantly to pull back up (although they slowed down considerably to let us get back on, I think); Alicia did a lot of the work on that section, as I was still spent from giving it all in my last attack. By the time we were almost in contact with them, I had recovered sufficiently. I told Alicia that I was going to slingshot off her back wheel and try to attack again, try to surprise them. That attack didn't stick either, but it was my one truly tactical move. I'm actuallly pretty proud of it. Now if only I had the legs to back it up . . .


Beth accelerated with 5 laps to go and easily dropped us again. Shannon clung onto her back wheel and managed to stay with her 'til the final sprint. Alicia and I started working together to try to pull them back in, although by the time we were two laps from the finish, I was more concerned with not getting lapped. By the end, we were switching off beautifully--quick, 5-second pulls, getting lots of rest. On the last lap, we slowed our pace a little bit, and pulled up even. We discussed how we wanted to do the final sprint and decided to keep the short, even pulls (so we could both be as fresh as possible going into the last few 100 m) and then leave it to whoever had the stronger sprint. I felt like we were pretty evenly matched as far as strength, speed, and technique. I suspect that this kind of conversation never happens when men race. But I might be wrong.


About 200 m from the end, just a little before the last turn, I up-shifted and started turning my legs. I looked behind me when I first went, then just concentrated on putting my head down and giving it all I had. And I definitely gave it all I had! I came across the line feeling like I was going to puke. I don't know that I've ever hurt that bad from such a short interval, but I ended up beating Alicia by a little less than a bike length.



Looking back, I think I learned a lot about tactics. I didn't know about guttering, or really about blocking. I have no problem getting close and aggressive on a bike, but I don't know all the situations where I can use that to my advantage. I also thought a little bit about wind. If you try to attack into a headwind, the energy cost to you is much greater than if you attack in a crosswind, where a faster pace is going to hurt both cyclists equally. Of course, if you attack with a tailwind, you're unlikely even to get away. I still have a lot to learn.


But I did feel much stronger and much more capable in this race. I felt like I had more power (both in immediate bursts and in staying power) than I had in the last race. And I felt like I could contribute something to the team effort.


As far as how I stack up against other cyclists, I think this race gave a fair indication. My skill and power are both somewhere in the middle, maybe towards the lower 50%. Actually, just like when I started in triathlon. But I have no doubt that with a lot of hard work, I can work up to the top ten. Just like I did in triathlon.

Beginners' Guide: Race Day

 
Yep, that's me! Second-to-last person across the line.

At this point, many of you have already done your first race. It's well into the season, and if you haven't raced yet, you're running out of time! That said, there's always the next potential crazy coming up after us who needs to know "What do I do?!" with knees knocking and hands shaking. So here's a primer on things you should know before you confront the excitement and anxiety of your first race.


#1 What to Wear
A lot of the decisions you make in preparation for race day have to do with your primary target for race day--in this case, how do you want to feel? Many experienced triathletes will wear the same thing for the swim, bike, and run. They do this because it's time-consuming to change clothes in a transition area, and part of triathlon is to get in and out of transition zones as quickly as possible. If you want to participate in that part of the experience, plan on wearing one thing for the whole race. The most effective way to make that happen is to buy an outfit specifically designed for a race. You can expect to pay $50-$100 for a tri outfit. Alternatively, you can wear bike shorts and a skin-tight shirt.

If you're less concerned about a quick transition and would prefer to be comfortable, then you have a little more lee-way. Men, you can swim in nothing but bike shorts, but most races now require that you wear a shirt on the bike and run. Do not put a t-shirt (especially the race t-shirt) on for the bike and run! Choose a technical shirt that will breathe and wick away moisture. Women, wear bike shorts over your bathing suit, or wear bike shorts and a sports bra on top. Even if you wear just a bathing suit, put a sports bra under your suit unless you are very, very small-breasted. If you are not wearing at least a moderately supportive bra, you will regret it by the end of the run.

So men: bike shorts and a technical top. Women: bike shorts and bathing suit/sports bra.

#2 Equipment
This isn't really the place to discuss what equipment you need, or how much you should spend (or the bare minimum you can get away with). But you do need to know what to have at your first race. You can customize a checklist and print it off here, or you can just make your own checklist in the weeks leading up to your race. I have 4 sticky notes hanging on my wall by way of reminder: one for swim gear, one for run gear, one for bike gear, and one for everything else (i.e. things I need to bring if I'm traveling to a race). The basics are:

Swim: Goggles, swim cap (the one provided in your race packet, if applicable), swimsuit, wetsuit (if you're using one).
Bike: Bike and helmet; you're not racing without those. Bike shoes, if you have them. Tools, spare tube, and pump are all recommended. Socks and gloves are optional.
Run: Running shoes and your race number. Again, socks are optional. A hat or visor is a good idea.

# 3 Food
For this first race, don't go crazy in trying to fine-tune a carb-loading strategy; just focus on eating in a way that's worked for you leading up to big/long/key workouts in the past few months. Keep in mind that the things you eat for several days leading up to the race will impact the way you feel on race day. So be good the week before your race! And don't eat anything new or exciting the night before a race, especially if you've traveled to get there and are eating in an unfamiliar setting.

I had baked manicotti the night before my first race. You'd think that with all the cheese and spices and rich, heaviness of that dish, I would have had some kind of stomach problems that day. But that is close enough to what I eat normally that it didn't really affect me.

That said, everyone has different needs and will respond differently to foods. Some people are super sensitive to foods, and some people are walking, talking garbage bins. You need to figure that out before the day before your race, though. If it's too late for you to figure that out, just try not to do anything too unusual before you race tomorrow (and I know there will be at least a couple people who read this the day before their races).

So don't try anything new or fancy the day before your race!

#4 Day of
Know what time you need to be there! If your wave is the third or fifth (or twentieth) wave, you still need to be there at the beginning of the waves. Every race is a little different in how they handle staging. If you have questions about that, you should ask at the race meeting (if there is one) or ask a volunteer at packet pick-up.

Give yourself an hour or so to set up transition. There's no way you'll need a full hour to set up transition, but it'll make you feel better to have that padding of time. You can use the leftover time to go for a short jog to get warmed up and spend some time in the water to get used to it. If you see someone doing something new and you think, "Hey, maybe I should try that!" forget about it. Race day is not the time to experiment.

As far as setting up transition, you just need to find something that works for you. There are all kinds of tricks and tips that are supposed to get you in and out of transition quicker, but your concern need not be so much for speed; instead, you should focus on comfort. So--again!--find something that works for you.

Triathletes are usually pretty friendly, so go ahead and talk to the people around you. They're probably about as nervous as you are, and can help set your mind at ease.

So find what works for you and stick to it, the day of the race. Be at the race site with plenty of time to spare. Warm up, chit chat, and do what you can to put yourself at ease.


#5 The swim
You're going to freak out. That's it. Get used to it now. At some point in this swim, you are going to freak out. You'll panic. You won't be able to breathe. You will become suddenly incapable of putting your head down and swimming like you've practiced for the past several months.

If (when) that happens, flip over on your back or onto your side. Do a back stroke or a side stroke until you can settle down a little bit. Then try again to get into your freestyle. Don't be afraid to side stroke the whole swim, if you need to; I did in my first two races.

So don't be afraid to slow down and side/backstroke; remember that this is only the first part of your race, and you don't want to be exhausted already!


#6 Transitions
Again, just try to stay relaxed, stay comfortable. Slow down and breathe. Sit down, if you need to. People will be zooming by you on either side. Just remember that your race goals are different from their race goals, and in order for you to be successful, you need to stay relaxed and comfortable.

So slow down, do what you need to do, and stay in your comfort zone.


#7 Bike/run
These should be pretty self-explanatory. Try to save a little bit of energy when you're biking, then start slow and get faster on the run. In your second transition, keep your legs turning over at a good clip. Walk if you need to. Stop and get water at every aid station.

At some point--maybe on the bike, maybe on the run, maybe both--you're going to start hurting. A triathlon is not an easy thing. It will feel like the hardest thing you've ever done in your whole life. You will ask yourself why you signed up for this torture. You will never want to exercise every again. You will hate yourself for thinking you could do such a crazy thing.

But you know what? You are doing it. And all you have to do is get through those last few miles. And you've done a few miles in training, right? You can do a few more miles now. No matter how your brain tries to trick you into thinking you're too slow or too fat or too stupid or too lazy or too ill-prepared to do this, you are doing it. You can do it. And you will finish, even if you collapse right after you cross the line.

So try to pace yourself well on and then off the bike; take it easy at first and then hammer it home at the end. Above all, trust yourself! You can do it!


#8 Finish!
You've done all the work, and you've finished! Whether you're first or last, you have achieved your goal. Enjoy it!