Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Season Opener

On Sunday, I did a race.  But let me back up.  Originally, I was supposed to race a sprint triathlon last weekend.  Race morning, I woke up and it was snowing.  SNOW-ING.  Living in Chicago, I expect a lot of snow each year.  But not in April and certainly not before my first triathlon of the year!  I switched things up and decided to race this weekend.

Sunday morning, Amanda (who offered her sherpa services) drove up to Wisconsin with me.  You can’t beat a race where you can sleep in your own bed and wake up at 7 am.  My wave started at 11:30 am which gave me plenty of time to get caffeinated, get up there and even take the scenic route (Highway 12!). 

The race was held at UW-Whitewater.  A 500 yard pool swim, 13 mile bike and 3 mile run.  We walked into the transition, literally we both walked into it (the rules were a little loose here).  I told Amanda that we need to do races like this to keep it real – low key, sawhorses with metal pipes for bike racks, no frills, just racing.

After setting up transition (which included my ceremonial placing of my bright blue hibiscus jersey around the bike rack to mark my spot, to which Amanda said why didn’t you just bring a balloon?), I went into the pool area to watch the swim.  Rumor had it that the race had a tendency to run ahead of schedule so I didn’t want to be caught off guard.  I warmed up in the diving well and then waited. 

The race start was a little unusual.  When a lane opened, they called three numbers out and they started you in numeric order.  Not by swim time.  I was third in the lane, with a faster woman ahead of me and a slower woman ahead of her.  I’ll never complain about the opportunity to draft off a faster swimmer – it felt just like masters!  We were told we could pass on the left at any time. 

I got my start and took off.  Swimming state the other night really prepared me for hard breathing, hard charging intensity of this swim.  I took off, trying to bridge the gap to the woman ahead of me.  By the first length, I had already passed the slower swimmer.  And by the 5th lap, we had lapped her 4 times.  Maybe more, to the point where I actually felt bad for this woman because myself and the other fast swimmer were all over her!

I hit the 500, hopped out of the pool and it was time to transition – fast!

During the swim, I wore a speedsuit.  No matter how short the swim, always take any advantage (ie., using a speedsuit)!  The 10 seconds you spend in transition standing there taking it off is 10 seconds you’re standing still with a lower heart rate versus 10 seconds swimming harder with more drag!  The pavement was rough so I ran in my bike shoes to the mount line.  Unfortunately when I stopped, my shoes kept running and I slid out but quickly regrouped.  I told Amanda, I hope you got a picture of that!

The bike course was like a black hole for power.  The road surface was rough and there had to be two dozen turns or curves that required you to slow because of sand or gravel.  Kurt always says: speed is harder to gain than maintain.  Unfortunately, maintaining speed on this course was nearly impossible!  Not only that but I chuckled when I recalled the race director saying the course is FLAT – extra emphasis on FLAT.  Yes, this was Wisconsin flat but not Illinois flat!  There were plenty of inclines and false flats that seemed to eat up any effort or power.  I was holding nearly 20 watts lower than what I expected. After a few miles, I knew that it was time to ignore power – I was getting speed on less effort.  And when that’s the case, you just go with it, don’t get caught up in judging yourself or asking what’s wrong – just race!

The entire time on the bike I kept thinking of my athlete, Jen F.  I couldn’t see anyone else out there on the course, except for a few people I passed at the half way point but Jen was pushing me.  You see, Jen was also racing today.  The good thing about racing against one of your athletes is that they make you proud.  The bad thing about racing against one of your athletes is that you know their strengths and weaknesses!  Jen outswam me by nearly a minute and I knew I couldn’t give up any time on the bike if I was going to come out ahead of her.  Jen rented one of my Power Tap wheels to incorporate power into her training.  It’s paid off – her bike has really improved!  I know her potential and knew we would finish very close.  But we were in different waves.  Every second counted out there!

I hit my time goal for the bike except – the bike kept going!  It was a little over a half mile long.  Coming off of the bike, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My run legs have been on and off lately.  A few weeks ago, I did what I can only call a shitacular 5K.  You know it’s bad when you have to make up a new word to describe it!  Since then I’ve had some great runs but the night before the race, I did my 20 minute shake out run which did not go well.  In my words from Training Peaks, this run was dramatically awful!  I try not to think too much about how I feel before races, knowing that some of my best races come after some of my worst feeling workouts the day before.

Off the bike, surprisingly, my legs felt great!  I knew this course was going to be very challenging.  I looked at results from years past and noticed that no woman had ever held sub 7:00 pace on the course.  It appeared to be on part of the UW-Whitewater cross country course that went through a little bit of everything – hills, grass, sand, pavement, rocks, bridges, mud, gravel and more.  A perfect course for me – I train mostly on crushed gravel trails and grass.  I do most of my intervals on the path, knowing that if I can put forth the effort to hit intervals on a challenging surface, there is NO reason I can’t hit them in races.  I set out thinking no one is doing to run this course faster than me.  NO ONE!  (well, except the men) 

I took off and noticed pavement on a straight path in front of me.  My plan was to bolt the first mile as fast as I could as long as the course was fast.  Bank the time!  I don’t think about can I hold this, is this too hard, what if it hurts - I just go.  For this race, I also grabbed my Garmin; I don’t usually race with it but figured the data would be good to have.  I noticed I was holding under a 6:30 pace for the first half mile and once the course took a turn up a hill into the grass my focus was on maintaining the effort to hold that pace.  I hit the first mile around 6:30 and then the course became much more challenging – sand, a sloshy bridge, turns, downhills, uphills, and then a long wooden bridge through the woods.  This course was something straight out of XTerra!  I used the Garmin to keep pushing me, gaining speed anywhere I could.  Since this race really was like a time trial start, it became a fun game of me against the Garmin - looking back, I think this is one of the best things I did for this race when there’s no one out there to really “race” against!

Around mile 2, I saw a guy ahead of me.  I took advantage of a hill and fence which contained the world’s loudest barking dogs to surge past him.  The entire run my breathing sounded like I was on the edge of death – a sound I had gotten used to on Wednesday night’s run and reminded myself that you can hold yourself at this edge for much longer than you think!  Stay there!  I passed the guy, came around a grassy bend and the next thing I know, an orange saucer came fast flying at me and hit me smack in the chest.  I yiped!  Now I’ve been chased by a lot of crazy things while racing; competitors, a strong tailwind, farm dogs but I had never, ever before been hit, while racing BY A FRISBEE at full speed!

The volunteer nearby jumped up, you’re on a Frisbee golf course!  The college kids who launched it from in the woods said, did we just hit you? 

Yes, I was bruised on Monday!

I just kept running, the hilarity of it made me charge even faster!  At that point, I could see the finish line – finally, pavement again!  I hit the 3 mile mark and – sure enough – the course kept going!  Regardless, I crossed the finish line averaging under 7:00 miles and outrunning the rest of the field by nearly 2 minutes! 

In the end, I finished first female overall with Jen less than a minute behind me.  Together, we were ahead of the rest of the field by nearly 6 minutes!  It felt great to do well in my race and feel pushed by one of my own.  Proud coach today!

Amanda and I ran the course in reverse for a cool down before heading home.  We stopped at one of my favorite places in Wisconsin, Backyard Bikes, for a good sandwich and beer (Rocky’s Revenge – new favorite). Years ago, Chris and I would head up to Kettle Moraine for mountain biking and visit that shop after riding.  By the way, any man who goes on to marry me after mountain biking with me deserves a lot of credit!  He actually talked me into doing a 10 mile mountain bike race there many years ago.  I thought to myself – 20 miles, pfft…that’ll take an hour, maybe.  OVER TWO HOURS AND MANY TEARS LATER, I learned a valuable lesson: I need to stick to triathlon! 

Each year I start racing again, I never know if I’ll have that same drive.  The same drive that pushed me towards the sport in the first place.  Is it still there?  Can the fire really burn that long?  When I was out there racing on Sunday – I felt it.  I was having fun.  I said to myself I forgot how fun this is!  To push, to breathe hard, to race.  To enjoy every minute of it.  Winning helps but really it comes from the start gun – just going after something with all of your energy and heart.  Connect to that on race day and anything is possible.

On to the next one!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Swimming State

I’m still here.  And things are going swimmingly!  


It’s been a long time since I’ve done a swim meet.  They’re always fun with the exception of the fact that you have to get wet.  And then you get cold.  Then you get wet again.  Cold again.  And by the time you get to the 200 free you’re really tired of being wet and cold!

But this year, to be a team player, I signed up for the meet.  You see, our masters team has been state champion a few times.  The pressure to participate in the meet builds and builds until finally you either give in or face the scorn of the entire team being labeled as one of those who did not swim at the meet.  There are entire lanes of those people at our practices.  You don’t want to in there!

Each year, they alternate the 1000 free with the 1650.  I’ve done the 1000 free a few times at the meet, never impressed with my performance, feeling that when you take away the draft of my big boys (I routinely swim with 3-4 men who are well over 6 feet tall and each over 190 lbs), you take away most of my swim speed.  After all, I am a self-proclaimed fake swimmer. 

Did you know fake swimmer tweets some of her finer swim experiences?  Like the other day when someone in the lane next to me said did you know that you don’t roll your shoulders with backstroke?  Hmmm…. do you know that I only lane line pull instead of backstroke?  Or when someone new enters our lane as says Liz, you haven’t led yet, would you like to lead?  Clearly you do not understand how this lane works.  I do not lead!  Or the time we were doing our 200s on a descending interval which ended at the 2:30 – the coach looked at me and said Liz, you realize this set ends on the 2:30 which was her polite way of saying, Liz do you realize there is a slim chance that you will actually make this send off so save yourself now and go on the 2:40.  My response?  I have paddles. 

This year, I signed up for the 1650 for the team, with no particular plan, no expectations that I would swim any faster than I do in practice.  When I seeded myself, I randomly pulled a time that I recalled seeing in the past when we did a timed 1650 at distance free practice.  As the meet got closer, Jennifer informed me that I sandbagged my time.  It occurred to me that I should do the math to figure out the pace I said I would swim and Jennifer was right – it was a little slow.  But not as slow as the person I watched in the first heat who seeded herself at 40 minutes and dropped a sub 19. 


Friday night, my heat went off at 6 pm.  I warmed up 1400 yards, just like we do at masters.  I talked to the coach before my heat, telling her that I hadn’t dove in years and didn’t intend to dive tonight!  To me, it just wasn’t worth it.  The risk of losing my goggles over the course of a 1650?  Besides, what would a dive save me, 2 – 3 seconds?   The coach told me there would be 3 short whistles and then one long whistle.  When I hear the long whistle, I would get into the water.

And yes, I know that for swimmers, me showing up in a pink swimsuit, not diving, not flip turning at the state meet is like any of you showing up to walk a 5K with your dog and a stroller.

As 6 pm neared, I stood behind my block.  Because the 1650 was so crowded (and so long) there were two to a lane.  The guy sharing my lane assured me that he wouldn’t get in my way.  I told him it didn’t bother me!  The guys I swim with create a massive wake of churned water and lost paddles.  I was actually looking forward to having someone in the lane with me because it would feel more like practice! 

The starter called us to the blocks.  After one long whistle, I did what I was told – got into the water! Unfortunately, it was NOT my heat.  It was my lanemates turn.  And that is how I was told to get OUT of the water at the state meet.  Fantastic start for the fake swimmer!  And not the least bit embarrassing.  

Need I also tell you that while everyone else was in a fast suit I was in a pink flowered Dolfin Ugli suit?

Finally, in my heat, 3 short whistles, one long.  I hopped in.  According to the psyche sheet, there were a few women in my age group who had already swam and a few in the wave with me.  I knew that I needed to beat every woman in my heat because there were no other women in my age group swimming for the night.  If I swam fast enough, I could be state champion!

The buzzer went off and I bolted!

My plan was simple: 500 steady, 500 build, 500 strong, 150 all out!  I felt great!  There are those times in the pool where you get in and immediately know that you have it or you don’t.  It’s that elusive feel for the water.  Tonight I felt that.  Soon after starting, I had passed most of the women around me in the other lanes and then set my sights on lapping them.  I had no idea what pace I was holding, I just kept trying to pick up the pace and gain more time.  All of this while open turning!  And, yes, several times, Timmy told my counter: tell her to flip turn!

I hit the wall over 40 seconds faster than my seeded time.  When I got out, I saw some posted results and was pretty sure I had beaten everyone who had swam in my age group.  I cooled down with the glory of knowing that fake swimmer could prevail!  You don’t need to taper, shave, flip turn, dive and wear a speed suit to come out on top.  You just need some luck (there really was no one fast in my age group) and freakish endurance (I can hold the same pace allllllll day). 

But alas, the glory was short-lived.  When I realized that someone in an earlier heat had seeded themselves at 37 minutes but ended up going about 3 seconds faster than me.  I don’t actually understand how you can underestimate yourself by 15 minutes.  That’s like starting the 5K by the 11 minute per mile sign when you’re fit enough to bust out sub 6’s?


So….3 seconds.  And it goes without saying, those were the 3 seconds I spent not diving.

Fake swimmer, POINT TAKEN.

But, at the end of the night, I ended up 2nd in state.  My mom wants to know when I get my ribbon.  I told her I didn’t know.  She also wants to know if I beat the guy in my lane.  Yes, my mom admitted she had no idea what was going on during the meet.    It was confusing, there were people swimming in every direction!

I know a lot of triathletes out there get scared or frustrated by swimming.  I used to be one of them!  I’m certainly not the fastest in the pool but over time I’ve made big gains.  Swimming is a complicated sport – it’s technical, it’s got its own language.  Even going to a meet might seem very daunting – how do you seed yourself, when exactly do you swim, what do all of the whistles mean, what is a psyche sheet.   Or attending masters practice (no, you won’t be the slowest and yes, you will fit in!).  Don’t be scared to do something because you think you’re not ready or don’t know what you’re doing.   You don’t have to dive, flip, fly to give it your best.  You just have to SWIM!   Same goes for trying a cycling race or running a track meet.  You can spend a lot of time in life worrying that you don’t have the speed or skill set to do something.  But if you have the desire to do it – why not? 

What’s holding you back?  

Jen Harrison & I are hosting a triathlon-specific swim clinic on Sunday, May 19th from 2:45-4:45 pm in Naperville.  $39 per person.  Each athlete will learn:

·        Three personalized observations to improve your swim stroke
·        How to improve efficiency through proper use of swim drills & equipment
·        Open water drills & skills to develop confidence & faster swim splits  

For registration, contact Jen at jhtriathlon at sbcglobal dot net