Saturday, December 26, 2009

On Holiday

This being my 666th blog post since 2006, I'm a little leary about putting up a post here. The blog is on holiday on January 4th. Go back through the hundreds of posts before this and enjoy! See you next year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Eyeball It

Things have been very exciting around the Waterstraat household. Excitement in the form of a new tile floor in my bathroom. Notice I said my bathroom. This would be different than our bathroom. My bathroom is just that – mine, no men allowed. Chris has his bathroom, the boys room, down the hall.

The extra walk will not kill him.

Unfortunately, my bathroom was built by a man. How do I know this? Because it is (was) carpeted. With white carpet. Women everywhere are cringing as they think about the thousand drops of make up, lotion, sparkly eye shadow powder stuff and dog pee (the stage where they mark things + white carpet = not a good outcome) that rest in a grave between carpet strands and body hair.

Oh quit your scowling. All humans shed body hair just like all humans poop.

It was about 5 weeks ago when Chris came home from work, dropped his pants (routine) and started ripping out carpet (not part of the routine). I heard the rip, tear, snap of the carpet being tugged up from the floor to reveal the most exciting treasures below:

Padding and sand.

We still cannot explain the sand. But it’s nice to know I’ve been living close to the beach for the past 5 years.

Like a little boy, he tore it out until nothing was left. And that is how it stayed. For about a week until I think he realized that something had to go on top of it. Like tile. In the meantime, I got used to walking around on plywood and discovering just how much hair I lose on a daily basis. The carpet does a good job of hiding it. The plywood did not.

I have no idea how I am not bald.

I believe we purchased three different types of tile before we found the one we liked. And then Chris set about to glue the tiles on to the floor. Rulers, grids, levels – these are unnecessary layers of precision. I’m more of an eyeball it kind of home repairer. This is why I am not allowed to do home repairs.

Meanwhile, the neighbors figured out that something of large scale installment was going on in our house. It might have been the tile cutter that was buzzing like an overactive bee every night in the garage. I remember when Doc, the crazy neighbor guy responsible for what I like to call “Christmas Pollution” hanging from the tree in front of his house, was outside one evening when he said to me that I should probably kiss my husband for laying tile.

And to think I was thinking he should probably kiss me for one day pushing his hopefully less than 9 pound child out of my you know what but wait you are right, the tile project totally trumps that.

I guess in the world of man, laying tile is pretty high up on things you can to do gain street cred with other men. Forget just painting your house. My husband speaks the language of grout. Dark grey. In my world, though, laying tile was becoming a big mess. My clothes were spread throughout two rooms, there were tiles I could step on and tiles I couldn’t step on (you try remember that in the middle of the night) and there was the fact that every time I wanted to be in my bathroom there was a man in there. Yes, it was my husband and yes, I could have used his bathroom but it is best not to set foot in the man bathroom without: scrub brush and gloves.

Four weeks later, the project is nearly done. Done to the point that I may put my clothes back into the closet and finally clean the bathroom.

As a warning: you should never let your bathroom go used but uncleaned for four weeks.

Chris just informed me that tonight the project will be totally done. Including the garage.

I forgot about the garage.

We have three cars. Before you think we live in the lap of luxury let me describe these said cars: the ghetto Honda which on a hot day of the seats baking in the sun smells like a combination of armpit and coffee. Too many sweaty workouts that ended in the car and too much coffee. The shake machine is a little sports car that cannot be driven when it’s less than 40 degrees outside. That pretty much cancels out 7 months of the year around here. And then there is the mini van which is on its way to becoming our second ghetto Honda because it met one too many tight parking spaces and tall curbs in the city.

Seriously, it was a 12-inch curb along Hubbard. Explain, oh city planner, HOW that is necessary.

Currently the shake machine is the only car living in our garage because the other half is filled with tile, trim and Chris’ ghetto table that he likes to set up in the garage and do man projects on. The tile cutter is on the ghetto table. It’s ghetto because the only thing missing from our driveway when this tile is in use would be cinder blocks.

So the other two cars live on the driveway. This is not a big deal unless you live in Chicago and unless it has been under 20 degrees lately. I got into the car the other morning and it was 12 degrees. I am convinced it was 5 in the car. Since I only drive places that are less than 10 minutes away (please do not “ride your bike” me – I have a will to survive) it barely warms up enough to stop saying out loud to myself “f*ck it’s cold, f*ck, f*ck!.

Sometimes it is the only word to accurately describe our winter situation here.

I am looking forward to the night that one of our other cars can sleep in the garage so it stays a little warmer. But it’s already 7:30 pm and I doubt that Chris will be doing trim installation now. And so I wait another night. Or week. Or month. I can’t bug him about it because then it becomes “nagging” and delays the project by at least another week.

I’ve lost more hope about tonight, though. He just turned on Man vs. Food and the challenge tonight is chicken n’ waffles. No work will be done.

A week later and the project was still in holding. The only thing left was nailing the trim to the cabinets. Doesn’t sound too complicated. But remember, my husband is the master of unnecessary levels of precision. Recall about a year ago when he installed trim on our living room wall. There was an electric laser level involved.

Need I say more.

So when I found Chris under the bathroom cabinet, in a space so small it required a grown man to form himself into the shape of a ball, holding a nail, a hammer, a brass plate and wearing knee pads – I knew this project could take him all day. I’m still not sure what the knee pads were for – unless he was expecting a fight from the hammer – or why there were about two dozen drill bits all over the bathroom counter too. It seemed pretty easy to me. Hammer + nail = pound the nail until it’s in.

Eyeball it.

Not good enough. Ended up requiring wood glue, tape and all sorts of cuss words. There is still a piece of tape holding the trim on. I’ll be damned if I’m the one to pull it off.

Just when I thought it was complete, Chris asked me where the tiny nub of wood was that was laying on the floor.

Oh that?

You mean the one that I found on my bedroom floor chewed to pieces when I got out of the shower the other day?

You’re going to need to ask Boss about that.

What I found funny he found…not. I guess this was a piece of wood, the last piece of wood for the trim that required an angle so unique it didn’t even register on a protractor. Made up a whole new angle. Took him over an hour to create. Unfortunately, Boss does not realize the difference between a standard 90 degree angle and one crafted at 44.3 degrees.

The other neighborman was at our house tonight. He told me that Chris was a brave man for laying the tile. Man can go to war. Man can battle against giant plate of chicken ‘n waffles. Man can wed woman. For life. But none are as brave as man who attempts to lay tile.

And no wife is as brave as she who waits for her bathroom to be done. Completely. No tape. Nub of wood nailed down.

Tick tock...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pedal Power

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of questions about cycling. It must be the time of year, athletes looking to put new gadgets and toys on their list for Santa or other nondenominational nonholiday gift bringer. Or they’ve lost focus on anything work-related and turn to triathlon talk instead.

I looked to my husband for information because he’s a pretty fast guy and has been cycling competitively since college. If you’ve ever been to our basement, you also know that he has a bike problem. It’s not just a few bikes propped against the wall. There are entire roof racks installed on our floors with so many bikes that I have stopped asking the how, why or where.

Let’s turn to tonight’s conversation when another cycling-brand box appeared at our door.

What is that?

It’s a stem.

In that huge box there is one stem?

Well, it’s a stem that you can adjust to any degree to see which stem you really want for your bike, like if you want an 80 degree stem with a rise or a 90 degree stem.

My initial thought is why would anyone need this. But then again, that is my thought for about 99 percent of the tools and gadgets in our basement. Like the laser-level on a tripod. Or the sonic jewelry cleaner meant only for bike parts. Or how about the one time I found 18 stems on a table down there.

18 stems.

I consider him an authority on cycling. For no other reason than he reads about it incessantly, talks about it even when I stop listening and has serviced my bikes for years without leaving (and I’ve created some ridiculous bike problems over the years). So today I asked him to talk with me about the most important factors for getting faster in cycling.

Speed is sexy, isn’t it? Yet not many triathletes understand the science – and the art – of getting and going fast on the bike. Here’s a few tips to get your wheels going faster:

1) Get a proper fit on a bike. A lot of set ups are just "tweaks" by the user until they were comfortable. There is a moderate science behind a fit, like cleat adjustment, crank arm length, saddle position, and reach to the bars. Getting the user into a position that properly recruits the major leg muscles is important. Ideally, get the fit first. Then, choose a bike and components that matches your fit. A "good deal" on a bike one size too large is not really a smart deal and will only cost you later in pain, injury or components to try to make that bike fit you.

2) Select the right shoes. A decent pair or road shoes and pedals is far superior than the best MTB shoes and dual entry pedals. If there is one thing you don’t want to go cheap on it’s a good pair of cycling shoes. Cheap shoes can be terribly uncomfortable leading to pain or injury. The longer your race, the more important the shoe. Consider if you want a triathlon-specific shoe or a road cycling shoe. Road cycling is more adjustable and comfortable. Triathlon shoes make for speedier transitions but afford you less adjustability. And like your bike, the shoe needs to be fitted (cleat position is important for prevent injury and optimizing power).

3) Be sure the gearing is correct for you and the courses you plan to do. Do you live in the mountains and have a 55/42 paired with a 12/21 or live in the flats of Florida with a 32/50 paired with a 12/27? Consider the terrain of most of your races this season. If they are hilly – then how hilly? Will you need a compact crank? If it’s a flat course, are you willing to sacrifice speed for range in gears? Learn how to count your gears and what they mean. Then, ask your coach or local bike shop if you have the proper gears for your season.

4) Make sure the bike works properly and take care of it. Maintaining your bike is like maintaining your car. You would never drive a year without an oil change. Your bike should be serviced before the start of your training and prior to racing season. Check your cables, chain, tubes, spokes and bolts. For all the time and money you put into traveling to a race and training for it, it’s a waste to show up on race day with a bike that is 3 miles away from something malfunctioning (and could have been easily fixed in a routine tune-up).

5) Upgrade where it counts. A "cheap" aluminum frame with aero wheels is better than an expensive carbon frame with training wheels. An aero helmet gets more performance gain than a carbon water bottle cage. And remember, all the upgrades in the world will not replace the cheapest and most basic way to get faster: do the right training at the right time.

6) Learn proper nutrition, especially hydration. Cycling workouts are usually 1-hour at the minimum, extending up to 8 hours if you are training for Ironman. Even at the shortest distance, it's still an endurance event. The longer you can stay at optimum performance during a training session, the more effective that workout will be. Proper nutrition and hydration during a cycling workout are necessary for optimum performance.

7) Going fast on the bike really hurts. Running fast taxes your cardiovascular system. Swimming fast is about the swim stroke. Cycling is just pure burning in the legs and pushing past your normal threshold for pain and staying there. Once you can get over the idea of working in a lactic acid pool of pain is normal, that's where progress begins.

8) You can't learn to go fast without training fast. Your training should include some intensity throughout the year. Riding slow is like running slow – it keeps you slow. And, learn to utilize the conditions to become faster. Slogging into a headwind and coasting back in the tailwind section really limits the amount of intensity you can achieve. At higher speeds such as in a tailwind or draft, there is much more room to find that line between "pushing it" and "too much".

9) Cycling involves a lot of muscular endurance. Long rides are important to build strength and form. Nothing improves your endurance – both mentally and physically – better than sitting on your trainer and turning those pedals relentlessly – no coasting – for a few hours. There is a fine line between long and too long. Doing century rides with your friends just to rack up miles is not effective training (unless you are doing an Ironman – and only done during the IM specific build phase).

10) Keep your easy rides easy. Even easier. Pushing the pace on every ride is as ineffective as pushing the pace on every run. You end up training in that dead zone where you never recover enough to go into your quality ride with the freshness required to truly go hard and breakthrough. Turn off your computer or power meter for the easy rides and focus on low effort and pedal stroke efficiency instead.

11) If you splurge on one item in triathlon, make it a power meter. Many athletes have no idea how to go hard enough or how to go easy enough until they see their watts. A watt never lies. From a power file you can see who is drafting, who is slacking, who is grinding and who is nailing it. Power meters cost money – yes – and it pays to buy the ones that are costly. Power Tap and SRM are the most reliable and durable out there. The pay off, however, comes from the training and racing benefits. Racing with a Power Tap is the key to a better bike, better run and in turn a better race. Used properly, it eliminates room for pacing errors on the bike that tend to kill your run.

12) Body composition counts. Yes, a bigger cyclist produces more power but that same bigger cyclist loses more power when fighting inertia and gravity during hill climbs and accelerations. In cycling all that matters is power to weight ratio. The higher than ratio, the better cyclist you are. You improve that ratio by increasing your power or dropping weight. How much would it cost you in equipment to remove one pound from your bike? Let’s say you add race wheels – you’re looking at up to 1K for a decent set. Now, what if you just lost that one pound of body weight – or more? How much would you save in money and gain in speed?

13) Learn how to pedal a bike. Watch any novice (or slower) cyclist and you will see them riding with their cadence under 85 rpms. Why? It’s a very easy, lazy way to ride. It does not take much cardiovascular fitness to turn the pedals slowly. However, it does take a lot of force and muscle recruitment. As you engage more muscle fibers to push those pedals, you start to fatigue your legs for the run that follows the bike. Also, you burn calories at a slower rate which if not accounted for can leave you with GI problems in your race. Often athletes will complain that raising their cadence over 90 rpms brings their heart rate up – BINGO! When you can master it without the heart rate going up you have gained fitness. Then, the key is to hold that higher cadence in a bigger and bigger gear. Here’s another test: watch what your power does when you start spinning over 100 rpms. The stronger cyclists will see improvements in their power the faster they spin those pedals. Weaker cyclists tend to see their power drop when they get over 100 rpms.

14) Save the big cookie for important things. This is a lesson I learned on Ragbrai. You don’t go into the big cookie unless you mean something serious. That said, the small ring is an effective place to ride for warm ups, cool downs, recovery intervals or hills. Again, it helps you to truly go easy and helps you to work on your pedaling efficiency. Big cookie means business.

15) Race and ride within your limits. How many big dudes go out there on race day ready to drop the hammer then walk the run? What you do in training is what you will do in the race. If you’ve never held 20 mph for 3 hours on a training day chances are you will not do it in racing. So don’t set out to do that and blow your race. Learn the art of pacing – whether with a power meter, heart rate monitor, cadence or speed. There are so many ways to monitor yourself in cycling that there really is no excuse for poor performance other than the little voice in your head that talked you into overriding.

All this talk about biking makes me want to hop on my trainer right now and pedal nowhere. But at least I'm riding! And, I like it. The more you like something, the more you will get faster because you enjoy doing it and want to do it better.

That also costs nothing.


Friday, December 11, 2009

20 Things You Can Do

It’s that time of year – squirrel time. Everyone is ansty about their 2010 plans. Races are being selected and goals are being set. Inboxes are filled with scenarios and questions. But for all the talking and planning we do, there are some basics for how to make progress. It is not as hard as you think. But, like most things in life, we humans tend to overthink ourselves into complexity.

I have been to the top (and bottom) of the sport. Seen it from nearly 360 degrees. I often think back to what made me a successful athlete because when my athletes tell me they want to do _______(top level goal), I have to honestly tell them “this is what it takes.” I thought about some of my athletes who are highly successful with their goals and some of my friends who have reached that level too. While there are many ways to achieve success, there are commonalities in the habits of successful athletes. Here are 20 things you can do to be a better athlete:

1. Learn how to eat. Garbage in = garbage out. Learn how to integrate more real food into your diet. Resist the urge to eat coffee as a meal, to skip meals, to eat processed foods, and to consider a "bar" a meal. Real food gives you real energy. Yes, it costs more but most worthwhile things in life are costly.

2. Follow the plan. If you are going to hire a coach to help you, put your trust in them and commit to following the plan. Not the parts of the plan that you like most. Not adding things you think you need to do. Follow it because unless you do, there is no guarantee it will deliver you to your goal.

3. Less talking, more doing. We are great planners and thinkers. Very few are great doers. On race day nothing else matters but the work you did. The 10 minute email you composed explaining to your coach why you couldn’t do the workout, there goes 10 minutes you could have been working out instead.

4. If it sounds like something you want to do, it’s probably not something you need to do. Not my words, but great words nonetheless. We want to do the things that sound sexy, fast and hard. Right now you need to be doing less of that and more of the ho-hum, easy, technical work. Remember, performance improvement is quite boring at times.

5. Be honest with yourself. Stop thinking in terms of who you used to be or who you think you should be. Face yourself as you are, accept it and commit to working from there. The longer you put this off, the more you delay your progress.

6. Learn to recover. Know that in training recovery is all that matters. Without it, you do not gain fitness. Spend one week paying extra attention to the space between the workouts to see the benefits of recovery. Learn how to eat right after a workout, get more sleep and do the little things that add up to big changes.

7. Teach yourself how to swim, bike or run all over again. Choose your weakness and then pretend like you’ve never done it before. Meet up with your coach or an instructor to learn it from the starting point. Maybe swimming is your struggle. Forget what you know and teach yourself how to swim again.

8. If you have an eating disorder, first admit it then get the professional help to overcome it. There is nothing magical your coach will say or do to fix the problem. It is also not fair to expect your coach to address your pathology – and that is what it is. Accept that and commit this year to getting help for it. Until you do, nothing will change.

9. Leave the analyzing to your coach. For one week, don’t look at your Garmin or your power files. Download them for your coach to analyze and wait for them to get back to you. How many times do I hear someone telling me the workout sucked when they actually had a breakthrough! We overanalyze ourselves to the point of losing sight of the little gains we are making.

10. The 2010 season begins now. Not in January, not when the weather is good. If you think that the girls/guys going to Clearwater/Kona/_______(where you want to go) are skipping workouts because the weather isn’t good, they didn’t feel like it, it doesn’t matter this time of year anyways….you are wrong.

11. Put your money where your mouth is. It’s one thing to set big goals, it’s another to buck up and do the work to get there. First, set realistic goals. You will not magically drop 1 minute from your 5K time next year. Second, do the work. If you tell your coach you want to achieve something, they are putting together a plan to help you get there. If you don’t do the work, you don’t want to get there. Simple as that.

12. Worry less about your weight and more about your body composition. As you get more into the sport, the composition of your body changes. Weight may go up though your body may be getting smaller. Learn to let go of the scale numbers and focus on what counts instead. From what I’ve seen, women obsess about the scale number, restrict food to get to their magical number when actually their body is leaner than ever (and then they ruin their performance by restricting food).

13. Let’s talk about Kona. If you want to go, and plan to qualify at a 70.3, ask yourself this: can you go there and honestly win that race? If you are in the 18 – 44 age group groups, that is nearly what it takes. If you want to go and plan to qualify at a full Ironman, look at the qualifiers from last year, view their times and ask yourself can I honestly produce that time? Do you get close to those times in training? Same goes for Clearwater. If you want to go, look at the results from your AG and ask yourself if you could honestly get into the top 5. If not, take it out of your vocabulary for this year.

14. Write your goals down and look at them every day. Face them, make them real. Write down one thing you can do to work toward them every day. Write down one thing you will sacrifice each week to get there. When you look back, you will have a list of everything you have done and everything you have sacrificed to get there.

15. Just fucking swim. Trust me, someone had to tell me that once too. If you want to get better at something you have to do it. Not think about it, read about it, talk about it or whine about it. DO IT. Do something 3 times a week for maintenance, 4 times a week for progress and 5 times a week for quicker progress.

16. Less weight lifting, more body strength. The funny thing about triathletes is that they can run a 4 hour marathon or do lat pull downs with a weighted bar but ask them to do 1 minute of single-legged squats and they poop out after 30 seconds. Remember that endurance sport is all about carrying your body weight over time. The stronger you are at carrying your body weight, the faster you go, the less injury you will sustain.

17. As you select your race plans, plan for less racing and more recovery. Keep in mind that for every half Ironman you do, you sustain a 3-week period where you do not gain fitness (1 week taper, 1 week race, 1 week recovery). That period goes up to 6 – 8 weeks for Ironman. Plan your races accordingly. If you include too many races, you enter too many weeks of race/recovery in which you cannot gain any fitness. Don’t stagnate through a year, grow.

18. Use equipment that makes sense for you. Just because so and so uses that bike or that shoe supposedly does this thing doesn’t mean it is right for your biomechanics. Choose products for logical reasons, not marketing reasons. Remember there is no magic shoe (unless you are off to see the wizard) and no magic wheel (but there may be a magic bus).

19. Work on your mind this year. Athletes will train their body but the best races comes from the combination of body and mind. Train your mind. We have over 50,000 thoughts that roll through our heads each daily. Learn to shape those thoughts to the outcome you desire. Your training plan should include a mental preparation component.

20. Consistency. Trust that no amount of talk, smarts, equipment, wishing, hoping or praying will replace consistency. That means doing the work day to day. I leave this as the last one because after over 10 years of competing and 3 years of guiding athletes towards goals, the one thing I have found that you cannot replace is consistency (which is a result of doing all of the things mentioned above). When you are constantly skipping workouts you are not consistent. When you are sick or injured because you don’t recover well or eat crap, you are not consistent. If you do anything this next year, learn to be more consistent and everything else will all into place.

Good luck in your 2010 season!

Monday, December 07, 2009

All In Love Is Fair

I was talking to a friend the other day and she was telling me this great story (read: nightmare) about a husband and wife doing Ironman together.

And it did not go well.

I could only laugh because I could relate. And I thought it might be interesting to write about the ups and downs of training (and racing) with a spouse because I know there are many out there who make it work – or try to make it work. Any relationship is a delicate balance of saying the right thing at the right time, choosing your battles, sometimes biting your tongue to keep things calm. But when you have two supercharged people who are highly competitive and driven athletes – is “calm” even possible? Especially when your outlet for releasing the competitiveness (training) is something you do together. Can you train with your spouse without competing with them? Is it possible? Is it advisable?

Imagine you could do everything you love to do with the person you love. Swims, bike rides, runs, races. When it comes to sport there is nothing that is off limits. A sporty vacation? Why not. Your spouse is right there with you. A trip that includes a race? Totally acceptable. Spending a good chunk of your change on a new bike, wheels, goggles? No permission necessary. Talking about training, racing and chafing? Appropriate dinner conversation. Cleaning your plate – and then trying to clean theirs? Not uncommon.

In other words, you don’t have to make any excuses, special requests or changes for yourself. You can do as you please because you are with a person who gets it and supports you. In fact, they want to do all of this with you and more! Together you are like junkies tapping into a new triathlon vein every month. And you’re convinced when you run out of veins, you can just go to and buy a new one.

We love to train and we love to race. But it’s not always easy together. There have been countless strains, arguments and fits along the way. Pull buoys have been thrown, hell once an entire bicycle was thrown (not Chris’ finest idea considering we were about 15 miles from home). Accusations have been made.

So that was your zone 2, eh?


So you can run that fast in zone 2.


THAT pace while staying in zone 2, really?

You get the point.

Competition and love do not mix. Because if you want to stay in love you cannot compete with the person you love. You cannot even give the illusion that you are competing with them. It will not go over well. I learned that the hard way. Especially when you are dealing with a man. The man does not like to be beat by the woman. No further detail is necessary (but shall be given for journalistic purposes).

Flashback to Kona 2007. I remember running along at mile 19 when Ruben (a friend from Chicago) was all of a sudden standing there (though he was in the race – I’m not sure how that happened), clapping while shouting Chris is less than a mile ahead, you can catch him!

And for a moment I entertained the thought. I was feeling good. Sure, I could pick up the pace. But then I thought about his family watching. And all of his friends back home. And I realized that if I had any visions of staying married for the long-term, I best keep my pace right here. And not chase after him. Because if I know one thing about a man and his friends, I know that if the wife passes said man at a world championship, he will hear about it from them for the rest of his life.

We finished less than 8 minutes apart.

So you make sacrifices. You change your approach and you otherwise know there are things you can do and things you should do. If you want to stay married.

Chris and I do not run together. We’ve tried. Oh, we’ve tried so hard. But I’ve learned it’s better to just run apart. He warms up slow, really really really slow. I warm up sorta slow. I think he’s a path hog. Inevitably I end up running off the side of the path while he’s got 6-feet of middle path to himself. He hates the sound of my turnover. He doesn’t like me chasing him. He doesn’t like me pulling ahead. He thinks the GPS lies. There are so many warning signs and sirens sounding DO NOT RUN TOGETHER (!!!) that I finally just stopped telling him when I had to run so we would just run by ourselves.

What he doesn’t know, will not hurt him.

For whatever reason, we did run together a few months ago. It was 5 times up a 6 minute hill (yes, they do exist around here!). If I can do anything, I can beat Chris up a hill. He will still try to tell me otherwise and I guarantee he will chime in on the blog comments and tell me IT’S ON, PIPSQUEAK, IT’S ON, but I tell him all the time when it comes to long runs and hills I have two things working for me:

Superior nutrition plan and freakishly high power to weight ratio

Anyways we were running up the hill, stride for stride, until the last one. So far the run was evenly paced so of course I noticed when the pace upped about half way up the hill. Relentlessly, I would not give up. I matched his pace. He picked it up more. Nothing like an uphill sprint. We neared the top and I noticed that he slowed down. A weakness was sensed. I took this as my opportunity to bolt at full tilt speed while making overexaggerated panting noises and turning back to look at him like you want a piece of me the whole time. A delayed reaction but he finally realizes what I’m doing and chases after me laughing. At the top, we obviously have found ourselves hilarious when another couple walks by and says “it’s not enough that you ran up that hill, you had to race too?”

Yes, yes we did.

You see, that is acceptable competition because it was ridiculous and fun-loving. But I’ll tell you where competition really doesn’t work. In the pool. Maybe it’s because we are both know the pool is our weakness and because it’s so fickle. Some days you go and you’re whipping out top speed 100s at your best pace. Other days you’re giving it just as much and you’re 10 seconds per 100 off pace. Why? Who knows. That’s just how swimming is.

Nevermind that we met in the pool. Chris wooed me in a chlorinated bath kept at a boiling warm 102 degrees (he was either try to woo me or cook me). Soon after getting together the pool quickly turned into a woo-less place of that can’t be your warm up pace, of get out of my draft, of stop watching me. When I ask Chris about this today, he admits something that surprises me:

It wasn’t you, it was me.


I always wondered how can I be 4 times your size but not swim as fast as you.

Imagine Tugboat Tom. He’s like 40 times my size and sometimes doesn’t swim as fast as me.

You’re too competitive in the pool.

Guilty. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why we swim with other people? I’ve never understood the whole training as socializing. When I show up to a workout, I show up to throwdown, to get into that zone of discomfort - especially in the pool. I do not show up to make friends and socialize. Tea time and recovery rides are for socializing. Not training.

My favorite thing to secretly drive Chris nuts in the pool do is to race him without telling him. That’s because he pushes me. He’s just that much faster than me now that I have to work to stick with him. He’s like the little Metal Man on the Computrainer who’s always one pedal stroke ahead of you no matter how hard you work. The best time to race Chris is when I’m using paddles and pull buoy. I can really throwdown. Especially on something like a 400. And when I reach the wall first I pretend like I didn’t realize I was there first or didn’t realize that I beat him.

Were you racing me?

Not guilty.

Sitting at dinner this evening, I asked Chris his favorite memory of us racing.

Lifetime Fitness Triathlon

I recall one of several trips to Lifetime Fitness in Minneapolis. We were up there one year with Liz Attig (now Ott) and a wee bit tipsy when we walked into Lund’s market and saw a…short cart. Like they forgot to build half the cart, painted it fancy nancy green. Seeing the short cart for the first time when drunk is the quickest way to find yourself racing the short cart around the store and filling it up with post-race recovery snacks like….cookies. I remember another time up there when Eric Ott joined his pre-wife and us for Lifetime Fitness and we finished up the weekend with a trip to MOA to ride the log ride. Again, tipsy. Notice all of these memories involve drinking and not racing. There were times when priorities were more about good times than fast times.

Chris, however, recalls a Lifetime Fitness that I clearly forgot.

Our waves were 11 minutes apart. I remember coming up on you in the last ½ mile and thinking how nice it would be to have a Kodak moment of us crossing the finish line together.

Go on.

But then you bolted to a full on sprint with 100 meters to go and left me behind.

Was it not a race?

Do you remember the time before the World’s Qualifier when we bought a bundt cake and nearly ate the entire thing?

I remember that. And the stomachache that followed. Note to self that a chocolate bundt cake is not a good pre-race snack. And neither of us qualified for worlds.

Nationals in Shreveport.

Oh yes, I remember that.

Remember that evening? We were daring everyone to take shots of TriGenix. Then we ended up running through some fountain racing Liz and Eric Ott, Starky and a then unknown TJ Tollakson.

There has to be 100 more memories just like that. And for all the ups and downs, the memories of training and racing with Chris are mostly up and good. And makes me wish for many miles, yards and watts ahead.

Tonight we swam together. I found some evil workout that consisted of mostly IM.

200 warm up
4 x 100 as 25 kick, 25 drill, 25 kick, 25 drill in IM order
4 x 100 pull w/paddles
3 x 50 fly
4 x 100 IM

3 x 50 back
4 x 100 IM

3 x 50 breast
4 x 100 IM

3 x 50 free
4 x 100 IM

I made Chris lead. I used fins at times when he went without. I sometimes swam free instead of fly. I sat so close in his draft that I could see the bottom of his wrinkly feet. And at 2650 yards into it, with one more set to go he said:

I’m tired.

And whereas in the past I would have egged him on to quit being such a nancy about the whole thing and nut up to finish the set, I told him to do 3 x 50 more and call it done. Because if I’ve learned anything in the past 10 years, it is when to push, when to pull, when to buck up, shut up or just plain keep the yapper shut all together. When the man has led the entire set of IM it is not time to tell him to nut up.

Unless you want see a fin fly across the pool. Or worse yet, be forced to lead the set yourself.

Love. Still going strong – thank you.

And yes, for the record, that was my zone 2 pace.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Good Old Days

The other day, excited about my decision to plan a 2010 season, I sat down with a pen and paper ready to write.

Ready, waiting….nothing….

(enter sound of crickets)


Usually something jumps out at me. Something big, something worth the sacrifice. A driving force that pulls me through a season, keeps me honest and makes me want to hurt. The big race, the peak race, the one that you’ll give up sugar for two weeks, go to bed early, stop drinking wine. That race.

But right now, I cannot think of one.

Immediately I started looking around. Gathering dates, ideas, asking friends. There was a lot of chatter. Do an Ironman, do Vineman, Rev 3, 2011 long course worlds, go local, go far, do a series, try to qualify. The first thing that struck me is that we have a lot of options in our sport. The second thing that struck me was…nothing. None of those sound good to me.

I immediately cancelled out Ironman. No thanks. Been to Kona twice, did it well and feel no need to revisit that. I also immediately cancelled out 70.3s. I’ve done many of them and some are good. But unless I plan to try to qualify for Clearwater (answer: no) there is no need to pay over $275 to race on a course with up to 3000 other athletes. Think about that: 3000 athletes. Yikes. I also cancelled major travel. Travel is fine for one race or so. But it’s different now. Baggage fees, oversized fees, hotels, different time zones. Simply put, travel is very draining on the wallet and the body.

The problem is that I’ve been in the sport for over 10 years. In terms of triathlon, I am a dinosaur (if that's the case, then Jennifer is an artifact). Not only that but I’ve done things. Many things. Everything from sprint to Ironman, regional/national/world championships. Chances are I’ve been there, I’ve done it. Next.

I thought some more about it and what I realized is that I miss the good old days. The little races with grassroots organization that were just about the race. Not about the logo, not about the finisher’s gear, not about the tattoo, not about changing the swim venue because it’s windy, not about one thousand signs marking the course. Not about making it easy. It was truly an endurance event with all of the good, bad and ugly, uncensored. Because the uncensored parts were the best parts. Overcoming them is what made racing….racing.

But triathlon has gotten watered down. It’s a kinder, gentler sport now. Maybe it’s because our society is so litigious. Maybe it’s because it’s a sport that is very accessible yet it’s challenging. It’s one thing to sign up for a marathon but imagine the glory of doing an Ironman. It’s like a frontier of challenge that awaits the ordinary man proving he can conquer just about anything.

Except weather. But wait, yes he can. He can just change the course because the water is too choppy.

Not just that but it’s become diluted. Years ago, everyone did nationals. It was the race, the only big race that you aspired to. There were regional championships and special qualifiers. And only the best showed up. Nobody focused on half Ironmans. Everyone did Olympic distance. The point was to race often and race well. Long course wasn’t where it’s at. That said, you saw the same people year after year because they stayed healthy enough to race. Nowadays, I see athletes disappearing after two years. Too much long course, too much injury or maybe that is just how it seems.

Back then, Kona wasn’t even in the vocabulary of most people. Remember how you used to get to Kona years ago? Around here, you had to win Mrs. T’s (which is now the Chicago Triathlon). That’s right, you had to win an Olympic distance race that took place SIX WEEKS before the big event! Looking back on it, it was one of those what were they thinking situations. But sure enough I know a girl who indeed won Mrs. T’s, took the slot to Kona and then learned that 6 weeks of Ironman training really was no way to prepare for the day.

When racing was really racing, that is what I miss. When I first started racing I hit the local scene in the Great Lakes area. The competition was tough because they all stayed around here to compete. The national scene was not as big as it is today. Everyone did the same races. There was Galena, Tri Shark, Three Rivers, Elkhart Lake, Muncie, Ironhorse, Danskin, Seahorse. Your season ended in September because that’s when the races ended in the midwest. Nobody traveled. And then you would focus on running. It made sense and helped keep you healthy.

I keep thinking back to some of my favorites.

(cue sound of bad Barbra Streisand: Memories...light the corner of my time trial bike...)

Enter the Lake Macatawa Triathlon held in Holland, Michigan. I remember I signed up race morning and transition area was a parking lot. You threw your bike into a parking space. And then you headed to the lake which was actually the color of rust. There were dead fish floating along the shore and you could walk about 150 yards out to the first bouy. Of course I did! I could barely swim back then. Still can’t. No one complained. No one wrote a letter to the race director. No one yapped about it on an online forum. The swim was not cancelled. I ended up placing 4th overall winning $200 and a pair of wooden shoes. The overall winner? Laura Sopheia at a young 46 years old. She’s still smoking fast at age 55 today.

Back when race maps would say things like “wicked downhill” as a warning to watch your ass. Or when water quality so questionable that you might need a prescription to get rid of the crazy scratch you got from swimming through a pond full of goose crap for 1.5K (true, happened to Chris in Ohio). Or when there were no volunteers telling you where you go. You had to figure out by yourself. And if you got lost, you didn’t blame the race director or some volunteer. You just turned around and found your way back, drove home and raced again the following weekend.

Back then racing was raw. It was real. It was not catered, watered down or safe. It was at times just plain crazy. There was no bigger picture. No bragging rights for crossing a line with a line with a noisy hubbub. You crossed the line. You finished the race. You stuck around to eat bananas and pick up your award. If you did TriShark you got a wooden shark. If you did Pigman you got a golden pig. Sometimes you just got the race experience. And that was enough.

Timing chips? Maybe it was a guy named Chip holding a stop watch who would actually pull that detachable tag off your race number and feed it on to a string that marked your place. Your placement was in the hands of a piece of twine and a tiny tag covered in your own sweat. Could you imagine!? Maybe you got splits. Maybe not. You never cared any way. You just raced.

At some point, though, it turned. Things always do. You got a little too caught up in competition. Damn Type A personality. Must achieve must achieve must achieve. Got to be bigger, better. All of a sudden you found yourself doing 6 half Ironmans in one year that required extensive traveling. It became less fun. It was less about pure racing and more about gathering – money, awards, experience. You lost the point of it all.

And the point is – you love to race because it feels good and it’s fun.

The other day Chris was saying that he has forgotten how to race. This is so true of athletes that spend a few years focusing on long course triathlons. Unless you are the top of the top, you cannot race an Ironman or even a half Ironman. You survive. Even the top age groupers survive, they just survive faster than everyone else. You lose the ability to go head to head, to get a fire under your ass and haul ass to the finish line. Top age groupers can do it at the half distance but even then it’s so much about pacing and nutrition. Our sport has become so saturated with long course that it’s becoming more about completing than competing.

I think all of this means I am getting old. And a little ornery at times. But mostly I am cupcakes, sunshine and lemonade. Like all girls. Anyways, Jennifer and I often joke about how we are like to two old Muppets sitting in the balcony scoffing at the scene below. It's not that the scene is bad, it's just that we remember it from a different time. And maybe all memories are sweeter when you are younger and more innocent.

In my quest to put together a race schedule, I started looking around at the local scene. I want to race often and race hard. I have been all over the country racing the big races against the big names. I want to be home. I just want to race my race without worrying about putting together my bike, adjusting to a time zone, attending mandatory pre-athlete meetings and just want to start the race when the race director shouts the two most exciting letters in our language...


I don’t know about you but I just got the urge to race my dog to the top of the stairs.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Running 101

Seasons change, the weather cools off but still a hot topic with athletes is running. Everyone wants to improve their run. There is something sexy, powerful and sleek about finishing a triathlon strong. No one wants to start their race with a bang and fizzle (poor swimmers!). Or, rock a fast bike split then shuffle the run (poor cyclists!). The run is where it’s at. If you can do all that – swim, bike and still run, you are something very special in triathlon.

So what is the secret? How do you improve your run? Is it a winter marathon? Wearing a Garmin? Biking with a power meter? Plyometrics? Losing weight? Let’s take a look...

Body Composition

Any discussion of how to improve running has to start with the basics – body composition. Running is a sport that requires moving your own body weight and absorbing the impact. How much impact? A runner comes down with 3.5 times their body weight in each step. Consequently, no fancy shoe, no magic training, no amount of marathoning will drop more time than dropping body fat. Extra weight increases the energy cost of running. Those who carry less body fat can run more, reduce their risk of injury and therefore make quicker progress from the frequency and consistency of training. For every pound you lose, you drop about 1 percent from your time. Let’s say you run a 53:45 for the 10K. Lose 1 pound and 32 seconds disappear no work necessary. There is a fine line, however, between lean and too lean. When body fat drops below approximately 5 - 7 percent for men and 12 - 14 percent for women, the immune system becomes impaired. When you are sick more often, you cannot train consistently. And without consistency you do not make progress. If you are looking to lose weight, track your body fat and not weight on the scale. Weight fluctuates often due to muscle mass, hydration and hormones. Tracking body fat is more appropriate.

Varied Races & Paces

Marathons, to triathletes, make sense. More is more. Right? No. Marathoning tends to cause the opposite reaction of what you are seeking. Not only do you risk injury with a more intensive run schedule but you lose the time to focus on the precursors to better running: the swim and bike. Remember, you can be the best runner in the world but if you cannot swim and bike efficiently, your strength becomes lost in miles of weakness before the run. Not only that but in the course of marathon training you become good at locking in that one steady pace. In turn, you become a very monotone runner. When you spend a few months locking in one pace, you lose the ability to switch gears. The best runners have many different gears; easy, steady, tempo, fartlek, threshold, all out. Monotone runners have one pace where they might deviate 30 seconds from on both ends. Therefore, if you want to become a better runner, include several shorter races of varied distances 5Ks, 8Ks and 10Ks into your plan. Skip the half and full marathons, for now.

Run Economy

Run economy is the measure of how far a person can run using a given amount of energy. More economical runners can run at a given speed with less oxygen consumed. More economical runners will be faster runners. How do you improve your run economy? (1) High-Intensity Interval Training (short pops to promote neuromuscular adaptation), (2) Hill Training (for power & form), (3) Strength Training (getting strong helps you to hold form when fatigued), (4) Explosive training (plyometrics and power moves allow you to develop more force in your stride), (5) Periodized training (log in the right miles, the right work at the right time). Again, you can see the advantage of varying your training and performing work specific to improving run form, strength and power. Doing this work the right amount and at the right time is where most athletes struggle. There is where a coach or any educated resource can help.

Proper Pacing

If you showed me the HR graph of a good runner and a not so good runner, you would see this: the good runner would warm up at a pace about 1 to 2 minutes slower per mile than their peak pace for that workout whereas the not so good runner would start out at the peak pace or slightly faster and then hold it. In running, the warm up is everything. Even in a race coming off the bike you have a warm up time. In a sprint it might be the first ½ mile, in Olympic the first 1 to 2 miles, in a half IM you might take the first 3 miles and in an Ironman you are looking at the first 6 to 8 miles at an easier than your goal pace. Pacing allows your body to ease into the workload. Studies have shown that negative splitting a workout or race is a much faster strategy than going out at the same pace or going out fast to only fizzle. Practice negative splitting all workouts – even just a little, even in the easy runs. Keep in mind that learning how to run well in a triathlon also requires pacing well on the swim and the bike. If you overswim or overbike, you will be so fatigued by the time you get to the run that your good run will not have a chance to come out.

Run Efficiency

Running efficiency is a measure of how effective your form is with each step. In other words, how much of your energy is being directed to actually running instead of being consumed by errors in your form. Just like with swimming, if you have inefficiencies in your form, the faster you go, the more they add up and cost you. If you have ever found that your “fast” 50 is the same speed as your “easy” 50 in swimming, then you have experienced the cost of inefficiency. Running is very similar. Inefficiencies add up, quick. There are several key factors to improving run form; foot strike, stride rate, stride length, arm carry. Do a quick internet search of each term to see the optimal form. Remember, improvements in form lead to more energy being directed to moving forward with the least energy cost. For a great video on what efficient run form looks like, go to the “5:45” mark of this video:

How do you improve your form? Like swimming or biking, drills, practice and mindfulness. Start by taping yourself in your current run form. Consult with a coach on what needs work. Identify drills to improve your weaknesses, practice and then tape again. This constant loop of practice and feedback is critical for making progress.

Consistency in Training

One of the most important factors in mastering any skill is frequency. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice it and practice it often. That said, it’s better to run 4 times a week at 30 minutes then 2 times a week at 1 hour. Especially at this time of year, your time is better invested in focusing on shorter sessions that emphasize drills and form rather than “logging in the miles”. Shorter runs allow for more neuromuscular adaptation. You can integrate change in shorter sessions without losing your good form due to fatigue. Beyond that, vary your training, routes and paces to get the most out of your running. Not only that, but run more often off the bike. Include a few short runs (ie.,10 minutes) off the bike that focus on holding your form – and nothing else. Above all, be consistent. Consistency is one of the single most important factors in making training progress. You are consistent when you are committed and healthy. Work on your run form and follow smart training to stay healthy and consistent.

Become a Better Biker

Simply put, to run better, bike better. The longer the race, the more important this becomes. The easiest way to bike better? Use a power meter. Trust me, it works. Not to make you magically fast but to properly pace yourself out there and ride within your limits. Overbiking gives you that slick bike split but then…raise your hand if you’ve ever walked part of the run. Other than pacing and riding realistically, bike progress takes time. It takes time (and practice!) to develop the skill, power, muscular endurance and strength required to bike well. First, focus on the skill of riding. Learn how to pedal a bike properly and hold over 85 rpms. Then, develop the strength to pedal strong without getting fatigued (hip flexors, glutes, core). Power development comes after all of that (and is a result of all of that!). In addition to riding stronger (and better), you also need to fuel smart on the bike. Errors in hydration or fueling in the bike (or even before) will come out on the run. It all adds up – so, have a plan, practice it and execute that plan on race day. Don’t just be a better biker, be a smarter biker to run well.

To achieve faster running in triathlon, recognize that it is more complex than just going out and running more. Consider the smaller things that make up for bigger gains – body composition, technique, pacing, bike ability, address those, then structure your training appropriately. Here's to many fast miles in 2010!