Monday, May 20, 2013

Galena Triathlon

This past weekend, I did the Galena Triathlon. 

Or, the Chicago National World Championships.

Galena has become the nonofficial season opening race of triathlon season in this area.  A lot of the best athletes in the area come out to test their fitness on this very challenging (and surprisingly gorgeous) course.  Drive about 3 hours west where Iowa meets Illinois and you find beautiful rolling hills, waterfalls and bluffs carved out along the Mississippi River valley in the Galena Territory.

Like last year, I traveled with Jennifer and a few of her neighborhood athlete friends.  I thoroughly enjoyed 120 miles of Driving Miss Daisy where she not only ate all of my pretzels but talked the entire time.  Once we arrived in Galena, we dropped off our bikes along with many, many socialization stops.  Next time I travel with Harrison, I really need to consider getting one of those monkey backpack leashes that parents put on their kids at the mall.  

A few changes in the bike course and some major changes in the run course left us wondering just what we were in for so we drove the course.  There was the usual livestock warning on Pea Ridge (in Miss Daisy’s words see those baby goats? If they run on to the road on race day, it’s going to be a hot mess going up this hill).  The headwind on Elizabeth-Scales-Mound.  A new long descent into Shenandoah and a hill going into T2 – yay!  More hills.  Also a new run course that went in two directions: up or down.  The only flat section was the 400 meters leading into the finish line!

The morning of the race, we were up early and ready for multiple bus rides.  We parked at remote parking, waited (impatiently) for the bus to fill so we could depart to T2.  The bus driver admitted he had no idea where he was doing (reassuring!) so we directed him turn by turn.  This is what happens when you sit in the first seat of the bus (and if you travel with Miss Daisy you will always be in the first seat!).  At T2 we dropped off our run shoes.  Then, we boarded another bus to the lake.

We had left our bikes at T1 the day before.  Quickly we got about setting up our transition. Though we boarded the first bus at 6:40 am, we didn’t arrive to T1 until 7:50 am (plan accordingly – the bus rides take time!).  There wasn’t much to set up in transition since everything had to be stuffed back into a plastic bag so they could transport your “swim bag” back to T2 at the end of the race.  Confused yet?  Me too.  All I knew is that I needed to be on the start line at 9:36 am.  The race seemed like the easiest part of this whole adventure!

This year, I decided to leave my bike shoes along the path from swim to run.  Last year I really struggled with the rocks in T1.  Believe me, this is an entire transition area of chunky, awkward, painful rocks that slowed me to a walk – painful and embarrassing!  My plan was to exit the swim, stop before the timing mats, take off my wetsuit and put on my bike shoes to run into transition.  Many others did this – and I highly recommend it if you want to cruise through transition without worrying about the rocks (and your feet!).

After setting everything up, then, we waited.  Nothing like being in the second to last wave!  Miss Daisy informs me that this is what happens as you get older, you go close to last - something about saving the best for last or there's no way anyone woman over 35 could possibly win a race so put them last!  While waiting, I did a warm up in the water.  A week ago, the water was 57.  Race day, it was closer to 65 and perfect.  Cold to the face at first but then really refreshing.   The swim start is on the beach with a short run in.  I did a few practice run ins and realized that running and then diving in to swim really jolted my heart rate up and made me burn.  I also realized that there was no point in running – you only had room for a few steps before the depth dropped off and you had to swim anyways. 

Being in the second to last wave, I had plenty of time to watch the men with their race starts.  I noticed something else – most of the men ran in and then “bunched” in a chaotic group that actually swam outside of the buoy line.  Knowing the shortest distance is between two points (this from someone who nearly failed geometry), I knew the place to be was right on the buoy line, far right, away from the pack.  Strategy, my friends, strategy! 

 After a long wait, it was finally time to start.  In my wave were Jenny Garrison and Jenny Harrison (< ----- also known as Miss Daisy).  Two long time friends and strong competitors.  I lined up right behind Harrison when she pulled me up and said you belong next to me.  I know her well enough to know she would bolt at the gun and get ahead.  My goal was to get behind her without blowing myself out in the first 200 yards.  The gun went off, she and Garrison bolted and I took my “casual” run into the water, lined myself up with the buoys and started swimming.  I kept the Jennys in sight for first 100 yards where they were just slightly ahead of me.  And by the first buoy, we met (as I suspected we would!) so I hopped on their feet for what was glorious ride – Harrison leading, Garrison to my left, another women to my right, moving through the course with ease. 

The three of us exited the water at the exact same time – sub 8 minutes and almost two minutes faster than last year!  I popped up to hear Harrison say nice swim, Elizabeth while I was thinking get outta my way!  I ran to my bike shoes, stripped the wetsuit and ran to the timing mat – this put my time a little slower than the Jennys but the trick helped – I ran through transition quickly and painlessly, exiting with Garrison.

Immediately out of T2, there’s a long, big hill, big enough that you need to be in the small ring.  I powered up it, passing Garrison but soon after, she passed me and dangled in front of me for awhile until fading away.  She is a beast on the bike!  I knew I would need to ride this course very aggressively – no regard for power or how I felt – just destroy the legs the entire time.  The run was too hilly to require sharpness or speed, everyone would be tired and it was hot – my “tired” leg run speed would be faster than most people’s “fresh” leg run speed so I had to take the risk and blow this bike out.  I stomped up every hill in an unwise gear.  I threw my wattage up high with no regrets.  I recovered anywhere I could – mostly the downhills and honestly this is where Garrison made up huge amounts of time on me.  If you’re going to excel at this course, you must be prepared to push the ups and downs and do it for 17.8 miles with no recovery. 

The new T2 was well-organized.  The run out was on grass with a short, steep hill before dumping you out to a road that goes up.  And up.  In fact, the first mile is entirely uphill.  My legs were feeling a little rough but again, I knew I didn’t need to be fast, I just needed to be tenacious.  At mile 1, I made a left turn to start climbing again.  I saw a woman ahead and set her in my sights.   We began the long descent – honestly, this was harder and more painful than the uphills.  Hard to gain speed because I felt like I was going to trip over myself.  And I’m pretty sure I heard my quads and shins crying!  The course flattened out, momentarily, I passed the other woman and made a turn into the neighborhood.

The loop around the neighborhood seemed to last forever, every hill was work and there were no more women ahead of me that I could see.  At this point, I started racing “flat” – I didn’t realize we had tailwind and started to get a little hot, tired and wishing I had more water, even salt!  When we finally reached the golf cart path, I should have kicked it up.  Every second counts when you start in different waves – you’re always chasing the phantoms in front of you but I eased back.  And I’m not sure why.  I crossed the finish line thinking I didn’t give it everything I had out there which is one of the most regretful things you can think when you cross the finish line because you can’t go back and fix it.   

Sure enough, when results were posted, I ended up in 4th place overall – by 16 seconds.  And 50 seconds to 2nd place.  Over the course of over 90+ minutes of racing.  Frustrating! But if you’re going to truly race a sprint and go for a front of the race performance, you’ve got to give it 100 percent.  Not 99 percent, not 99.5 percent – the full 100 percent through the finish line.  You must keep the pressure on yourself. 

After the race, we all stood in our race gear wondering how we were supposed to get to our gear at T2.  You guessed it – another bus ride.  Making the grand total of bus rides I took today at 3.  For a sprint race.  Yet something about this race makes you want to come back – maybe it’s the beauty, the challenge, socializing with the Chicago triathlon scene or just being pent up all winter ready to race again.  I’ll be back in the future.  And let’s face it – how often as an adult do you get to enjoy a bus ride?

Or 3 in one day?

Something fun to point out: the ages of the top 6 women:


Well what do you know, us old women CAN race!  What I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older in this sport: racing smarter is just as important as racing faster.  The gains you can make by arriving at a race with a plan, assessing the course, reading race reports, using strategy, warming up, open water skills, pacing, nutrition – all of that is worth much more and comes much easier than more training.  All of this is the very valuable stuff you accumulate as you get more experienced (dare I say older) in the sport.  And this is why it’s never too late or you’re never too old to breakthrough or get faster.  When I go to a race I do all of those things.  Those things make me race faster than any single training session!  And, they’re free. 

On the way home, Miss Daisy talked me into doing something I never thought I would do – order chocolate ice cream at Dairy Queen.  Turned out to be of the best decisions I’ve made lately.  Add to that chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels and Reeses peanut butter cups and I had myself wondering why I didn’t order a large. 

I keep notes of what worked and what didn’t work from every race.  Something to put in my notebook to read before my next race:  What didn’t work - post race DQ needs to be large.


Monday, May 06, 2013

Living the Dream

I’ve just returned from 4 days of sun, fun, swim, bike and run in San Diego.
Amanda, a good friend and one of my athletes, came along.  Last summer, Amanda lived with us for a few weeks before setting off on a once in a lifetime worldwide travel adventure.  During that time, she pulled me many laps in the pool, pushed me on the bike and listened to me talk to myself on the run; you can do this, keep the pressure on, pass her with authority.  I knew we’d be a good fit for training out west.
As a coach and athlete, I think carefully placed “overload” blocks of training can be a very beneficial boost in your fitness and confidence.  For most age groupers, this is not something you can or should do often because we simply do not have the time required to properly recover from it. Remember, without recovery there is no fitness gained, only fatigue accrued.  Anyone can train 20+ hours a week.  Doing work is not difficult.  Recovering and benefitting from that work is the difficulty.  I see many age groupers train far more than they can recover from and it yields nothing but fatigue, under performance or injury.  Train to your limit – then look for ways you can recover more so you can train more.  Separate obsessive-compulsive “activity” from doing purposeful training that will actually improve your performance.
All that said, I am not a “low volume” or “less is more” or "high volume" or “high intensity vs high miles” coach.  Any coach who labels themselves into one particular approach misses the point of coaching.  What works for one athlete may not work for another.  Every athlete has a critical volume required to meet their goals and fit their lifestyle.  Ultimately, an athlete’s “recoverability” determines how much they can train – and determining that for each athlete is the art of coaching. 
All that said, these days, I know my training limit rests around 10 to 14 hours a week.  Beyond that, I start to feel unbalanced, spreading myself too thin in the other areas of my life that are far more important than training.  I have a family, house, business, yard, dog and hobbies.  Investing my time in all of those things will yield a much higher return and much higher level of joy than investing more time in training.  But every once in awhile, it’s good to push a little further.  This week, I trained nearly 20 hours.  To do that, I had to leave my life behind for 4 days and travel across the country.  It was hard for me to justify something so selfish while burdening other people in my life with the demands of my “real” life.  My husband and mother are incredibly generous with their time and support of me, I can’t thank them enough for giving me this (indulgent!) opportunity.

And yes, while I was away, it occurred to me that I need to reconsider what I find an indulgent opportunity, perhaps one that doesn’t include bike shorts and salt tabs!

With my real life 2000 miles away, I set out to swim, bike and run as much as I could tolerate for 4 days. Kurt gave me some ideas which I worked into the plan of what I know I can do and need to do when in San Diego.  I’ve trained out here enough times to know where and how to push myself.  This time, I did some familiar routes and tried some new things.  I also brought along Amanda, knowing that having key people around to push you, to make you face your weaknesses, to ask you to keep giving it a little more is how you breakthrough. 

We arrived in San Diego on Thursday.  I started with an easy run along the Carmel Mountain Preserve trail followed by an easy ride along the coast.  Despite the traffic and stoplights, riding along the coast is one of my favorite things to do when I arrive in San Diego – to be so close to the ocean is amazing. We made a quick stop at Nytro to be sure that our rear wheels wouldn’t fall off.  Can’t say that the mechanic was all that impressed with our bike assembly skills but he gave us a “you made a good effort” as he reattached my derailleur.

The next day, we packed up the car to head to Palomar Mountain.  I trash talked Amanda with stories of the climb’s length and difficulty.  By the time we arrived in Pauma Valley, she feared I was already out-hydrating her, how would she out climb me?  We did a short warm up before setting out from the taco shop.  From there, it’s nearly 90 minutes of straight up climbing.  Within a few minutes you are geared out, baking in what eventually would be a 101 degree day rising up from the valley.  An unexpected stop by a construction worker gave us a chance to regroup.  Amanda said I can’t do this.  I said yes you can, you don’t have to be fast, you just have to finish.  We made the turn towards the South Grade and Amanda started climbing like a champ, making it look effortless as she ascended the switchbacks above me.  Proud moment as a coach.  Rough moment as an athlete as I could not bridge the gap between us.  Definitely I struggled – physically, mentally, I just wasn’t “on” but it didn’t matter – work is work, get it done.  We stopped shortly at the store for water before climbing the remaining 300 feet up to the observatory at 5500 feet.  It was a warm 87 degrees at top which meant for a surprisingly warm descent!  Amanda descended like a pro while I descended like I needed training wheels.  Thankfully, we descended the East Grade which is much shallower and straightforward (except for the potholes and big cone pines all over the road).  When we returned, I did a 20 minute run off the bike.  At this point, it was 101 degrees with those “who opened the over door” waves of heat you feel along the Queen K in Kona. 

Afterwards, I found Amanda sitting in front of the taco shop drinking chocolate milk (for recovery) and a beer-garita (for mental health).  Maybe it was heat delirium but she convinced me to take a trip to the nearby casino.  And that’s how I found myself walking into a casino on Friday afternoon, sweaty, salt-caked, in running shorts, to gamble with can only be described as most of the ex-cons, addicts and unemployed of Southern California.  Amanda, looking all too comfortable whipping out her players card, headed to the craps table while I wandered around finding some penny slots to play.  In the end, I lost a whopping two dollars while Amanda came out one dollar ahead.  As if there was any doubt that we were winners….

We got back to the hotel and I literally laid in bed for 13 hours – this is what it takes to truly recover from hard work!  Impossible to do in my real life.  And honestly, who would want to do that day after there!  There is life to be lived beyond sleeping and training.  But sure enough, I woke up the next morning feeling energized.  Perfect for one of my favorite rides – Del Dios.  Wanting to redeem myself from yesterday’s lackluster climbing, I just went after it today - pushing watts beyond my current fitness, going after it, taking risks.  We followed a few other cyclists to the start of Harmony Grove before hitting the Elfin Forest where I warned Amanda: it’s a few miles of twisty roads that ends in a big climb.  From there, I pushed the pace, attacked any incline, out of the saddle, don’t think, just go.  We ended up in Leucadia heading back towards the coast – a long, drawn out ride of stop lights and Saturday traffic.   

Afterwards, we drove up to Encinitas for a swim, choosing this pool for it’s proximity to Stone Brewery, our next destination.  When I say I have a plan you can be sure it includes some fly!  After the swim, we went to the brewery and drank beer in the beautiful surroundings of Stone Brewery.  At one point, Amanda proclaimed I am happy, this was the perfect day – biking, swimming, sun, beer.  I wholeheartedly agreed and then had another beer.

Sunday morning started with a swim at UCSD masters.  Arriving on time meant we became free labor in pulling the covers off of the pool.  Great warm up for the arms!  The coach wrote a workout on a white board, you chose your base pace and then swam.  A little different than how we run masters at home but an easy way to cruise through 4000+ yards without much fluff or fuss.  After the past few days, I didn’t feel too zippy and knew better than to look at the pace clock.  Just put your head down and do work.  Don’t get caught up in judging yourself on every workout.  We were also pretty sure the pool was a long 25 yards. 

Later in the day, I headed out for one of my favorite runs at Penasquitos Canyon – the weather was perfect; rainy and cool.  The run itself is challenging – about 12 miles out and back on packed sand, chunky rocks, steep hills adding up to nearly 1700 feet of climbing.  I warmed up the first 2 miles and then pushed every hill before recovering on the downhills. At this point my legs were heavy and my mind was tired – this run was great for finding focus when fatigued and pushing off to power up hills when the legs wanted to shuffle.  On the way back, I pushed the hills and set the goal to do the last 2 miles at race pace.  Nailed it.  Overall, I was over 20 seconds per mile faster than when I did this run 8 weeks ago.  In running, there is the place you need to be, where you want to be and where you’re currently at – the closer those three things align, the better your running, the higher your confidence.   

Now, it’s time for re-entry back into real life.  And time to absorb all of the work.  I will take today off since I’ll be stressed from the workouts and travel.  I’ll also take the next 2 to 3 days fairly easy.  Aside from that, most of the recovery took place before, during and after workouts.  This meant doing a “pre-race” breakfast and executing my fuel plan on every single workout.  Recovering with carbohydrates in the window of time that lasted the duration of the workout from the point at which it ended.  Rehydrating, especially in the heat we felt on the first 2 days.  And, in all honestly, it took a lot, A LOT, of carbohydrates.  In general, I slept quite well which is always a good sign that you are meeting your recovery carbohydrate needs.  As far as what I ate – anything/everything, I do not limit or eliminate any food groups, I just try to eat as much real food as possible.  Too many athletes make eating far too complicated.  They get into a hole of under recovery from trying to follow complicated, stressful eating patterns and restrictions. Keep it simple.  Remember, simple is sustainable.  Sustainable is successful. 

As far as the workouts – we went mostly by feel.  Wake up every day and see how you feel.  This is not always the best way to train as you must be very in tune with the subtle signs of fatigue (ie., taking your resting HR in the morning, sleep quality, mood) and we, as overachieving athletes, are not always honest with ourselves!  I pushed when I felt good and gave myself permission to just do work when I didn’t feel good.  We stopped when we felt like we did enough because in my experience, you lose attention and risk injury/crashing when you push too far when you’re tired.  We overloaded the bike because there’s a far lower risk of injury than overloading the run.  We also abided by this rule (and I’ve learned it the hard way – by making mistakes!): never do anything today that would prevent you from doing ____ again tomorrow.  Follow that rule and you’ve got a smart, simple way to approach your training. 

What a fun weekend!  I couldn’t imagine living near the ocean, the mountains and having bike lanes everywhere – what a dream!  It was the perfect escape to do some solid work and recharge my excitement about this coming season.  Hopefully I’ve also shared some tips on how you can successfully get through your own overload block.  Now I’ve got a little boy to see, a pile of stinky workout laundry and a yard that needs to be mowed.  Welcome home!